April 2, 2012 He recognised the value of dissent The year was 1980. I joined a band of nervous new recruits to the Indian Administrative Service to train in the L.B.S. National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie. Our first day we were privileged to encounter a man who would in many ways define for us, not so much by his words but his actions, the highest standards of public service. His name was P.S. Appu.
Erudite and brilliant, Appu was extraordinarily understated. He spoke to us with steely conviction, but little embellishment. He was fiercely intolerant of what he found dishonest or mediocre, but was remarkably friendly and accessible. I recall days when I stormed into his open office, to brashly protest a lecture which I felt glorified police firing against democratic protest, or a senior officer who instructed us on ways to hide and deny starvation deaths, or the Academy requirements that we wear suits for formal dinners. He would smile delightedly at my youthful, immature protests, clearly enjoying and welcoming dissent. He was nonhierarchical, and had an unshakeable moral
core — qualities I was to learn in later years were extremely rare in the senior civil services.
Appu introduced us to land reforms and rural development. He spoke of the paramount values of political neutrality and independence of civil servants, and the duty to offer fearless and honest advice, even if it angers one's political leaders. We had heard many legends about his administrative career in Bihar. When appointed as Chief Secretary, he wrote to the Chief Minister the many reasons why the CM should reconsider his decision. When the CM still insisted, he laid down several conditions, including that he should have a free hand in restructuring administration, making appointments, with no interference in delegated spheres. Ruthless action should be taken against corrupt and incompetent officials. He explained that “I did not lay down the above conditions because of my arrogance or any feeling that I was indispensable. I did so because I felt that the situation in Bihar was so bad that there was no hope of effecting the necessary improvement unless those conditions were fulfilled.” Seven months later, when he felt that the CM had failed to stand by his commitments, he refused to continue as Chief Secretary.
The turning point
The most important lesson that Appu taught us was one that I would repeat, to myself and my younger colleagues many times in the two decades that I spent in the civil service. It was that no one can force an officer to do what she or he believes to be wrong. If any officer tells you that you can be forced in government to act according to the dictates of your conscience, that person is lying. Of course there will be costs; but if there were no costs, everyone would do the right thing.
We did not realise how quickly Appu would teach us the truth of this counsel, once again with actions and not just words. We were deeply dismayed to return after a year's district training to find that he no longer headed the Academy. But his absence taught us more than his words ever could.
In the batch which followed ours, during the mandatory trek in the Himalayas, one male officer whipped out a loaded revolver and threatened two women trainees by pointing
the weapon at their heads. He also threatened some men trainees by brandishing the same revolver. This young man had been asked earlier to leave the National Defence Academy for indiscipline. Appu was convinced that such a person would be dangerous to retain in public office, and recommended his discharge from service. But allegedly because of his closeness to the then Home Minister, he was let off lightly, with only a reprimand. Appu put in his papers in protest. He explained his decision in a letter to Indira Gandhi, who was Prime Minister at the time: “The only conclusion the probationers will draw is that with influence in the right quarters one can commit even heinous crimes with impunity.” The matter rocked Parliament, and his decision was ultimately upheld. But the country lost one of its most upright civil servants.
In his years of quiet retirement with his son in Bangalore, he remained a moral compass, right up to when he lost his last battle with cancer. When Gujarat burned in 2002, he wrote to the President of India. “Today I hang my head in shame as an Indian, a Hindu and a former member of the Indian Administrative Service. In the short span of eight weeks the evil men who rule Gujarat, shielded by their patrons in
Delhi, have succeeded in besmirching beyond repair India's reputation as the classic land of tolerance and moderation .... To the eternal shame of the permanent services, the majority of IAS and IPS officers collaborated with their political masters.” He recommended President's rule, advice which was once again ignored.
Thirteen years after I first met Appu, I returned to the Academy in Mussoorie, this time to join its faculty. My first lecture to every batch of young trainees would be titled: “The right and duty of a civil servant to dissent.” It was my own small tribute to my great teacher and mentor. April 2, 2012 Sack the general, did you say?
It has been a free-for-all on television and print media this past week with analysts obsessively dissecting the conduct of Army Chief V.K. Singh. Some of the commentators might have had access to the “devious” mind of the “rogue” chief, judging by the authoritative information coming the way of news consumers.
They knew, for instance, that the chief deliberately timed his interview with The Hindu – where he accused a retired Army officer of approaching him with a bribe offer of Rs.14 crore — to coincide with the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Delhi. But just in case this did not suffice, the trigger-happy general was also going to be ready with further ammunition: indeed, who else but the rampaging chief could leak a letter he wrote to the Prime Minister mid-March, lamenting the state of unpreparedness of the Army? Together, the bribery charge and the leaked letter containing the country's top defence secrets would shame India before the BRICS delegation: When it came to fighting wars, the “superpower” was super powerless!
As the person who did the “explosive” bribery charge interview, I ought to know something about its timing, and how the bribery revelation came about. I met the General at his official residence in Delhi for an hour-long taped interview a few days before its eventual
publication on March 26. This time was required to fill in some gaps in information as well as to transcribe the long, meandering content of the conversation. It wasn't as if the chief was bursting with unspilled secrets. The interview, I assumed, was about the age controversy and the state of the army, and so it was for the large part. The general insisted the age controversy was manufactured — because the school leaving certificate was the only authentic document to prove date of birth, a fact, he pointed out, had been upheld in several Supreme Court judgments. Half way into the questioning, when he was specifically asked who was behind the controversy, he mentioned “the Adarsh lobby and some equipment lobbyists.” Then suddenly he dropped the bombshell about the bribe attempt. I absorbed the information trying not to show too much excitement, and quizzed him on the details. He said it was for clearing the purchase of a tranche of overpriced trucks that had no proper facility for “maintenance and service.” Also that he was so enraged by the brazenness of it all that he took it up with Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony. But Gen. Singh simply wouldn't part with more information, nor explain what action he or the Minister had taken. “Leave it,” he said.
Journalists know when they have a scoop and they also know how far to push their source. I do not know if the General knowingly concealed the scoop in a maze of information, I do not know if his intention all along was only to disclose the bribe attempt, but at that point, my overwhelming concern was that he shouldn't retract. Significantly, the “always warring” General never once blamed the state of affairs on the Manmohan Singh government or on Mr. Antony whom he appeared genuinely fond of. The chief had a standard reply to each of my questions on political graft, and on the people in government who might have been party to the corruption he was so anguished about: “I'm concerned with and will talk about only my organisation.”
I emerged out of Gen. Singh's home with the BRICS summit, still many days away, hardly in my consciousness. The bribe news hit TV channels and Parliament like an avalanche. Commentators and politicians were scandalised that a bribe offer had been made to the Army Chief. But as the day wore on, the accuser became the accused, and questions began to be raised about why the chief had not handed over the bribe-giver to the police
and why he had not blacklisted the company that supplied the trucks. Valid questions, but by now a few details had emerged. The company was a public sector undertaking. Could the Army Chief have blacklisted it? Serving officers in the Army were also appalled at the assumption that the chief could have walked to a police station and filed an FIR against an officer who was now a civilian. “In the Army you report any such thing to the superior which the chief did by going to Mr. Antony.” The Defence Minister confirmed that the general had gone to him with the bribery complaint, adding though that he had advised him to act on it which he did not. This raised another question. Why did Gen. Singh not act on Mr. Antony's advice? But equally, why did Mr. Antony not pursue the complaint, and more importantly, why did he not sack the chief for glossing over such a serious matter? (It turned out later that he had received complaints about the trucks from Ghulam Nabi Azad.)
By this time, the leaked letter had exploded, causing further mayhem. Mulayam Singh and
Lalu Prasad, forming an undisguised caste grouping, hit out at Gen. Singh, who was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion of the Rajput Regiment. “Sack him, sack him,” they chorused even as the Congress fielded spokespersons who despaired at the lunacy of the “runaway” chief. For god's sake, the man had leaked a classified letter containing India's defence shortcomings! The articulate Sushma Swaraj did not accuse the chief of leaking the letter but she was appalled that he had written to the Prime Minister instead of having a private chat with the Raksha Mantri: “There is always the danger that a letter will be leaked,” she said.
The noise grew into a cacophony as many voices pitched in. In this bazaar of instant verdicts, anyone could say anything and it would become breaking news. Army chief writing to the Prime Minister is Standard Operating Procedure in the Army. Similar communications take place between the chiefs of Air Staff and Naval Staff and the Prime Minister. The letters, termed by the forces as routine, are usually written at six-monthly intervals and give an account of shortcomings in order that the executive is kept fully informed on India's defence preparedness. To
an outsider, these letters may appear alarmist but this is part of the drill in the services. In fact, this kind of communication happens down the line. A colonel in charge of equipment in the mechanised infantry would do similar stock-taking with respect to wastage and reserve of ammunition in communications to his immediate superior. Army commanders submit six-monthly appraisals of their respective commands to the chief and these are discussed “frankly and freely” at conferences attended by the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister.
Gen. Singh's letter to the Prime Minister was similar to a letter he had written earlier to Mr. Antony which was scooped by a newspaper. Nonetheless, the “informed” discussions quietened down only after the General, away in Jammu and Kashmir, issued a statement asking for the leak to be treated as “high treason.” But there was still a lurking suspicion that he would do something rash and unpredictable, possibly disparage the Defence Minister at the ex-servicemen's rally scheduled for March 31. As it turned out, the general lavished praise on Mr. Antony, saying he had been more than receptive to his suggestions on solving the problems of armymen.
There is no doubt that Gen. V.K. Singh is one of a kind — any army chief who drags the government to court would be. His refusal to resign in the face of the government's intransigence is painful and was entirely avoidable. The General is a highly decorated officer, and has been something of a hero to his men. Some of his arguments on the date issue are sound, and yet he has done himself and the organisation – which goes to war so we can sleep in peace – he heads unspeakable harm by taking defiant positions. The General should have delivered a grand speech and made a graceful exit. That would have made the government appear vindictive and mean by comparison.
However, the unpopular positions he took on his date of birth ought not to become justification for heaping scorn and ridicule on a man who, even his critics admit, is squeaky clean. There is something about the general which is worth noting. He attacks from the front: He went to court, he gave an on-therecord interview. He is unlikely to have leaked the letter. He did not gain by leaking the letter.
Gen. Singh and Mr. Antony are both perceived to be incorruptible. Together they had an opportunity to cleanse the Army. History will record that this was a wasted opportunity. April 2, 2012 The King and I: freedom and incarceration in Morocco
RAPPER FOR REFORM:El Haked and his translator Maria Karim at their studio in Casablanca. El Haked became one of the faces of anti-Monarchy protests in Morocco after he was imprisoned for criticising King Mohammed VI. —PHOTO: AMAN SETHI
The Spiteful One sits on a floor mattress eating cheese and scrambled eggs straight from a frying pan on a table on the first floor of an abandoned slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Casablanca. Between bites, he takes deep drags from a cigarette balanced on an ashtray; between drags he speaks in slow, deliberate sentences about the sacred one, the glue that holds the country together, the leader of the faith, the supreme commander of the armed forces, the monarch of Morocco, King Mohammed VI.
“The King is the source of evil,” he said, speaking through a translator, “*Morocco+ is not a country any more, it is like a company now. It is the King's company and the people are the consumers.” It is for airing views such as these, set to staccato beats and rhythmic hooks, that Mouad Belrhouate, who raps as El Haked (variously translatable as The Spiteful, The Malicious or The Indignant) was arrested on September 9 last year and imprisoned for four months. The case against him was been dismissed, but he was re-arrested yesterday, April 1, for criticising the Moroccan establishment. The rapper, who will stand trial on April 4, was interviewed last month at the slaughterhouse that he and a friend are converting into a studio.
Moroccan authorities told the New York Times that El Haked was arrested for physically assaulting someone in a crowd, but the rapper insists he was incarcerated for dispelling the aura of silence that surrounds the monarch. El Haked had become one of the public faces of a series of pro-democracy protests that swept
through Morocco in the course of the Arab Spring in February last year.
As the crowds filled public squares across the country chanting, “The solution of all solutions is the fall of this government,” El Haked sang phrases like: “Give me my rights or kill me,” and “while I am alive, his son will not inherit.” The Moroccan establishment moved quickly to deflate the unrest: King Mohammed announced a series of constitutional reforms to grant greater powers to the country's elected, yet largely ineffectual, parliament; a referendum was held to ratify the changes and an election conducted to reinforce the impression of that the Moroccan establishment was flexible and adaptive.
Yet protesters such as El Haked feel that the reforms fell far short of the demands of the February 20 Movement, a national coalition of protesters, trade unions and political parties. A year on, demonstrations continue across the country, particularly in the restive northern region known as the Rif where clashes between security forces and protesters have led to several arrests, violence and more protests.
“*Our primary demands are+ a democratic constitution voted by a constituent assembly democratically elected … dissolution of parliament and creation of new transitional government charged of initiating these demands … Separation of powers and independent justice,” wrote Montasser Drissi, 20, in an email. Mr. Drissi, who is one of February 20's spokespersons, noted that the King himself had appointed the panel tasked with redrafting Morocco's constitution and curtailing his many powers.
“The constitution was fantastic, bright new clothes for an old rule. No balance of powers, all the powers are in the same place: in one hand,” said Sion Assidon, 64, an activist and one of the founders of Transparency International's Morocco chapter.
Mr. Assidon said the February 20 Movement began as young people sought to articulate political demands outside of an established system of largely pliant political parties. That the political parties have largely embraced the new constitution despite widespread disaffection, he said, symptomises the gulf
between the people and those who represent them.
In a 1984 New Yorker profile titled “The King and his Children,” King Hassan II, the current King's father, made a comment illustrating the ruling Alaouite dynasty's reading of democracy. Referring to his “great dream” about the future of Morocco, King Hassan said, “I'm going to indulge in a kind of subversion — to subvert by democratic means people's natural instincts toward anarchy.” Democracy, or its simulacrum, was understood as an instrument to consolidate the monarchy's control over the state.
“Hassan II had three ways of dealing with people — corrupting them, killing them, or jailing them,” said Mr. Assidon. In his case, it was the latter. “I was imprisoned for 12 years, six months and one day,” said Mr. Assidon over coffee in Casablanca, “In the 1970s, students influenced by the struggles in Palestine and Vietnam formed a group called the ‘New Left'.” In February that year, Mr. Assidon was arrested from his home in Casablanca in the course of a crackdown on
those opposed to the regime, and summarily sentenced to 15 years.
Anis Balafrej, 64, was arrested the same year and was imprisoned for six years. “Hassan II took power in 1961, and refused all the promises made by his father [King Mohammed V] at the time of independence  and imposed despotic powers … I was active in a pro-Palestine movement. They say I use Palestine to make conspiracy against the regime,” he said in an interview in Rabat. At Mr. Balafrej's sentencing, “The judge took from his pocket the sentence and read it. That is why we are struggling for separation of powers *between organs of the state+.”
Hassan II died in 1999 and was succeeded by his son, King Mohammed VI, but little changed according to Mr. Balafrej. “Maybe the system of how to manage power [changed]. He is more soft, his father was very hard, but the system was the same,” he said, “When you discuss a country you don't discuss personalities, you discuss systems.”
That system is called the Makzhen. Derived from the Arabic word for “warehouse” or “store,” “The Makzhen is the system that takes control of the institutions of state. It includes the King at the centre, his friends, high ranking officers in the army,” said Abdullah Abaakil, 42, a management consultant and an active member of February 20's Casablanca chapter, “In the last 20-30 years the word has come to mean a select chosen elite, their families and patronage networks.”
The Makzhen, Mr. Abaakil believes, not only controls political life in Morocco, but also holds key positions in private and state-owned companies that control the national economy. The opacity of Moroccan businesses makes it difficult to establish Mr. Abaakil's claims, yet a number of pro-democracy protestors appear convinced that a small cabal, of the King and his friends, decides the fate of the national economy. Footage of last year's protests shows massive crowds specifically mentioning “the Makzhen” in their chants.
There are multiple variables driving the demonstrations in Morocco's diverse
provinces, yet numbers suggests that at least some of the anger directed at the Makhzen is a function of its apparent inability to create employment and opportunity.
Government figures show that 18 per cent of urban Moroccans with advanced degrees and 8.1 per cent of those with no diplomas were unemployed in 2010; as were 31 per cent of urban youth aged between 15 and 24 years. Services and General Administration, in which the government and public sector play a significant role, account for 36 per cent of all urban jobs. The statistics suggest that the economy has room for unskilled labour employed in low-wage positions, but the private sector is unable to create new jobs for those with an education and aspirations.
In the early 1990s, Morocco embarked on a massive privatisation drive in which the distribution of essential services like electricity and water were handed over to private operators and tariffs rose significantly. This combination of unemployment and escalating costs is common to both urban and rural areas.
El Haked, the rapper, didn't go to college. He is one of eight children raised in a single income family; his father works in a textile factory. After school, he joined his father at the factory, working nine hour shifts for 2,500 dirhams [approximately Rs.15,000] a month, until he was fired last year after his arrest. “It takes two hours to travel from my house in Oukacha to the factory. I would leave the house at 6.30 in the morning, work through the day and travel two hours coming back,” he said.
His lyrics are inspired by his life in his working class locality: hashish, unemployment, kids on the streets, the police. One of his first songs was called “We are from Oukacha and not from Harlem.” “We had never heard the music, but everybody [in Morocco] was talking about Harlem and all the rappers were trying to sound like Americans,” he said with a smile.
In October 1979, seven years into his sentence and hospitalised with a stomach infection, Sion Assidon, the activist, tied hospital blankets into a 30-metre rope and clambered out of the seventh storey window one rainy night. The break began as a tragedy when a fellow
escapee slipped and fell to his death, and ended in disaster when they were recaptured after four days of evasion.
Checkpoints were set up across the country and rumour had it that the King had decreed that not a single policeman in Morocco could go home or sleep until the fugitives were found. “But *during the escape+ I was amazed how words work,” Mr. Assidon said, describing how they were stopped by the police and asked for IDs, but convinced the officers that they were businessmen who had just been robbed off all their identity papers.
“You aren't using arms, you aren't using force. If you know how their minds work and you know the words, it works,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. It is a lesson that El Haked, the rapper, seems to have learnt by heart. April 3, 2012 Ceasefire after the crossfire Some days ago I asked a friend to give me his assessment of Manmohan Singh's government. He summed it up in less than 20 words. “The UPA-II is in the ICU. The pharmacy is locked and the doctor has run away.”
The spat between the Defence Minister and the Army Chief was being played out in the media while the Heads of State of Brazil, China, Russia and South Africa were in Delhi. The BRICS summit was all but drowned in the ocean of words on TV and in the print media. They must all have returned with misgivings about the lack of governance and an absence of cohesion at the highest levels in India. The 100 foreign missions in Delhi would be working overtime to report to their governments the unseemly washing of dirty linen in public. The washermen are distinguished and powerful individuals. The Army Chief carries his China shop with him. The Defence Minister uses one word where two are necessary. The Prime Minister, it seems, believes that no action is also action. He has been the captain of the UPA for eight years. It is his duty to enforce discipline.
Away from public gaze
Ever since he became Army Chief, the General has shown no verbal restraint. This is unprecedented. On the very first occasion the Prime Minister should have sent for him and
cautioned him not to cross the Lakshman Rekha. I have little doubt that the straight talking general would have fallen in line. Institutions are run by human beings. It is equally true that these can also be destroyed by these very individuals. This is the first time since Independence that such an unfortunate situation has been created.
Our Armed Forces are second to none in valour. They serve, they obey, they give their lives to protect the security and territorial integrity of Bharat Mata. It gives one no pleasure to say that they are being ill-served by their masters. Grave matters are being debated and discussed on TV screens. This should never have been allowed to happen.
Our system has instrumentalities where such issues can be discussed in camera, away from public gaze. The Cabinet Committee on Security is presided over by the head of government. The other members are the Ministers of Defence, Finance, Home and External Affairs. From personal experience I know that the security committee meets frequently. When necessary, the Army, the Air Force and the Navy Chiefs are asked to attend.
They have their say. They receive their instructions and carry them out. These discussions deal with the most sensitive security concerns. The committee has more pressing topics to deliberate on than the age of a particular individual.
The General's age problem should have been sorted out at the departmental level and promptly. Twice born the Army Chief may be but he should not resort to sustained logorrhoea. What a terrible example to set. Over a million officers and soldiers look up to their chief. At this time they must be asking themselves: “Is this really happening. Do we deserve this?” His age is not a national issue. The security of India is. The age farce was taken to the Supreme Court. Another example of gross disregard for the well established norms and tradition. He was emboldened because he was not restrained. At this stage the Prime Minister should have put his foot down. The chain of command is clear. The Defence Minister decides, the chief obeys. It's that clear cut. There are no grey areas. The chief should have gone to a military court of inquiry instead of the CBI.
Much has been said and written about vehicles — the Tatra from the Czech Republic. These are exiguous details. What is not trivial is the conduct of the chief after he was allegedly offered a bribe. The figure is of no consequence. It could be one crore or 14. A bribe is a bribe. The Defence Minister should not have fumbled but acted and taken drastic action against the culprit.
The Chief of Army cannot be faulted for bringing to the notice of the Prime Minister the state of our army and air force. These are ill-equipped and probably not battle worthy. His top secret letter became public property. Who leaked it and why? This is not a snakes and ladders game. We are talking about the security of India. Not a children's game. Another worrying aspect of this episode is that of serving officers giving chits of good conduct to the chief. It reminds me of junior ministers saying in public that the Prime Minister is doing a good job. If the “Air Defence” is 97 per cent non-functional, when did the chief come to know of it? Did he bring this shortfall to the notice of the Defence Minister? If so, what was his response? If not, then why not? The country is entitled to know.
On leading and inspiring
Our Defence Minister, Saint Antony, is a good and honest man. He is, alas, in the wrong job. The Defence Minister should lead, guide, encourage and inspire. Being the benign and decent man he is, he will agree that he does not do so. His performance as Defence Minister is causing serious concern.
The Supreme Court showed the mirror to the General. That is when he should have put in his papers. That would have been honourable. He keeps repeating that his honour and integrity are at stake. As far as one can gather, not one person has questioned his integrity or his honour. His valour is praiseworthy. What is in question is his judgment. Why did he get “too startled” when the bribe was offered? Brave men and brave generals are expected not to lose their cool at any time.
This entirely avoidable high-level bickering must inevitably be discussed in every regimental mess. This is not a happy situation.
How is this unholy mess to be cleaned up? Not via slow motion. Neither side has come out with glory. This directionless drift must stop. Enough damage has been inflicted on the morale of the defence forces.
Our Pakistani friends must be running to their cantonments in glee. Even our friends around the world must be worrying at this sorry state of affairs.
During the Korean war, 1950-1953, President Harry S. Truman dismissed the five-star General Douglas MacArthur for disregarding his instructions to not cross the Yalu river. MacArthur was perhaps the greatest American general of the 20th century. Truman did not let him flout his authority and get away with his high-handedness
The Prime Minister has three options. Immediate damage control. Ask the Chief of the Army Staff not to go to the media. And request the Defence Minister to be more alert and assertive. April 3, 2012 Small bypolls, big signals
P. SAINATH The elections to five State assemblies earlier this year surely deserved the public and media attention they got. The country's most populous State, Uttar Pradesh, was one of those holding polls. And many saw the millions of voters in these States as giving us a preview to the general elections due in 2014. Yet, the results of the small number of by-elections in Andhra Pradesh last month might tell us more about which way the Congress (and its leadership of the United Progressive Alliance) is going. And the results of polls to local bodies in the vital State of Maharashtra also throw up some signals worth a glance.
The big picture in A.P.
The Congress has far more to lose in Andhra Pradesh, where it is in power, than it does in U.P. It has 33 Lok Sabha MPs from here, more seats than it holds in any other State. In fact, no other party holds that many seats on its own from any other State either. So A.P. is crucial to the Congress nationally. In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress could, on its own, hit the 40 per cent vote-mark or higher. But that is something it will not do in 2014 when it might,
in fact, face disaster. The Congress contested all seven Assembly seats where bypolls were held in A.P., including six in Telangana — and lost them all by huge margins. In Telangana, it lost the Kamareddy seat to the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) by nearly 45,000 votes. It trailed the TRS in Adilabad and Ghanpur (Station) by well over 30,000 votes in each. And came third in Mahbubnagar, trailing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winner by 14,000 votes. Oddly, that was actually the seat where it performed best, in terms of the margin of defeat. It lost Nagarkurnool to a TRS-backed ex-TDP leader by over 27,000 votes. And trailed the TRS by over 15,000 in Kollapur.
Congress, TDP hit
Who held these seats earlier? The bypoll to the Mahbubnagar seat (now won by the BJP) was caused by the death of the Congress MLA there. In five others, resignations by sitting MLAs pushing the Telangana demand, forced the bypolls. Kollapur and Ghanpur (Station) had Congress MLAs who resigned to contest on the TRS platform. Both won. Adilabad and Kamareddy had TDP MLAs who quit their seats and won this time on TRS tickets.
Nagarkurnool was held by a TDP leader who left the party and contested on his own platform, backed by the TRS. He won, too. And in the coastal Andhra seat of Kovur, the sitting TDP MLA had gone with Jagan and was disqualified. He's back on the ticket of the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRC) of Jaganmohan Reddy. So both the Congress and the TDP have taken a hit.
True, the margins might have been less had the YSRC contested in Telangana as well. But then the Congress might have come third in two or three more constituencies. Jagan Reddy seems to have stayed out in order to let the TRS slaughter the Congress. But the result in Kovur in coastal Andhra, which the YSRC did contest, was in some ways more ominous. Its winning candidate here was N. Prasanna Kumar Reddy. The same gentleman had been the sitting MLA of Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party (TDP) till he chose to join Jagan Reddy. As a TDP man in 2009 he won by around 7,400 votes. This time contesting against that party and the Congress, he won by more than 23,000 votes. That is by over three times his previous margin. The Congress which he had beaten the last time, came third this time. This suggests the YSR Congress is cutting
into both the TDP and the Congress. It also means, if this is the trend, that the Congress is not just in trouble in Telangana. It might run into worse in coastal Andhra. In the Rayalaseema region, it lost the Kadapa seat last May to Jagan Reddy by over half a million votes. Interestingly, the Congress Minister then routed, D.L. Ravindra Reddy (taunted as “Deposit Loss Reddy” during that campaign), is now out of the government. He has quit following the new round of factional warfare that the latest debacle has brought on. That war has seen the Chief Minister and party factional leaders clashing in direct and indirect battles. The Anti-Corruption Bureau raids on the liquor lobby across the State are seen by many as a part of this war. The facts unearthed by the raids, whatever their reason, are fascinating. Close to 50 per cent of liquor shopowners in the district of Vizianagaram turn out to be BPL card- holders. In reality, they are “ benami ” owners fronting for a very senior State Congress leader. In Anantapur, a BPL card-holder owns a Rs.570-crore cement company. Again, a front for a Congress leader whose son and daughter-in-law joined the board of the owning company while that leader was a minister. Meanwhile, CBI charges against Jagan Reddy in the illegal assets case,
so far at least, do not appear to be helping the ruling party.
And now there's 18 more seats in Andhra Pradesh for which bypolls must be held within months. All but one of these were held by Congressmen who resigned to join Jagan Reddy. One was vacated by Chiranjeevi who has gone to the Rajya Sabha. Nine of these are in coastal Andhra, eight in Rayalaseema and just one in Telangana. Defeats in many of these could further carve up an already paralysed party. What's happening to the TDP in the State is also interesting. The perennial corporate-media favourite, Chandrababu Naidu, is floundering. The TDP failed to win a single one of the seven seats in the bypolls. It also lost its deposit in three of those. In several of the 18 seats for which bypolls will soon be due, the TDP and the Congress could be fighting for second place.
The crumbling of the Congress' A.P. bastion will have a wider national fallout for that party. The more so when it is losing ground to its ally,
the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra, another vital State for the Congress. Whether in the municipal councils, corporations, panchayat samitis or the zilla parishads , all recent local body polls have seen the NCP fare better. In the zilla parishads of this huge State, there are just two among 27 which went to the polls — Sindhudurg and Latur — where the party is in a position to rule on its own. The trends must worry the Congress. It appears Muslims and dalits — both crucial to that party's base — have not voted for it in their usual numbers. Maharashtra (48) and Andhra Pradesh (42) account for 90 Lok Sabha seats. With the Congress holding more than half of these, changing vote patterns in these States matter a lot to that party. The Congress holds 17 Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra.
The party can draw comfort from the fact that its main rival, the BJP, is not doing much better across most of the country. And in fact, the Congress-led Democratic Front (DF) in Maharashtra has been losing vote-share but winning elections thanks to the disarray of the rival front. For instance, the split in the Shiv Sena has helped the Congress pull off unlikely victories. However, the period has also seen
the NCP gain ground from the Congress. This will not help at bargaining time in 2014. When the Congress will be facing the heat from another ally in another State where it once had about 40 per cent of the vote on its own, West Bengal. But the bypolls to 18 seats in A.P. won't wait till then to cause problems. Those begin immediately in what 36 months ago was the strongest Congress bastion in the country. April 3, 2012 Set a menu that goes beyond the lunch Asif Ali Zardari's visit to India on April 8 — including a luncheon meeting with Manmohan Singh — may be an essentially private trip, yet the detour brings hope of a new phase in India-Pakistan relations. The expectation is that President Zardari will renew his invitation to the Indian Prime Minister to visit Pakistan, and that the latter will accept, setting the stage for the bold initiatives that are now needed to take matters forward.
South Asia is home to one fourth of the human race and has the largest middle class anywhere in the world. But the region also accounts for the majority of the world's poor, is hamstrung by sectarian and caste beliefs and spends a disproportionate share of its resources to
meet non-productive ends. Most significantly, South Asia has not been able to forge a cooperative framework to match the European Union or the Association of South East Asian Nations. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, now more than 25 years old, remains dormant.
Situation not dismal
Relations within the region, particularly between India and Pakistan, have always been troubled, with three open conflicts and repeated near-war situations resulting in frequent breaks in bilateral engagement. Both countries are also conscious of the fact that they are now nuclear powers. And yet the situation is not as dismal as it might appear from the outside. Saner elements in both countries have consistently worked for better relations. There have been serious discussions on a No-War Pact and a Treaty of Peace and Friendship. A Joint Commission was set up in 1983 and a framework for composite dialogue devised. The first big break came in 1999 with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee boarding a bus to Lahore where he publicly acknowledged the reality of Pakistan and assured the nation-
state that it had nothing to fear from India. Mr. Vajpayee's initiative showed that an imaginative leadership can push the envelope on India-Pakistan relations.
What followed Lahore is too well known to bear repetition. Suffice it to say that reconciliatory efforts resumed in 2001 with Pervez Musharraf agreeing to meet Mr. Vajpayee in Agra. Predictably the talks ended in failure. Peace efforts restarted in January 2004: Mr. Vajpayee signalled his willingness to hold a composite dialogue on all issues, including on Kashmir and Gen. Musharraf promised not to allow terrorism and crossborder incursions from Pakistani territory. The process suffered a jolt four years later following the November 2008 terrorist strike on Mumbai. India broke off the composite dialogue.
Two years were lost because public feeling in India was greatly aroused by Mumbai. The basic reality, however, remained. It was not in the interest of either country to depart from the path of negotiations. Eventually, a limited resumption was agreed by the two Prime Ministers in 2010. At the moment, these talks
are proceeding well, though there have been no major breakthroughs.
The two most inflammable issues that could jeopardise the peace process are Kashmir and terrorism. There are hopeful signs that mutually acceptable solutions to both can be found. On Kashmir, the back channel made considerable progress. Unfortunately, the new elected government in Pakistan has, more or less, disowned this process. To move forward courageously on Kashmir and build on the progress already achieved must now be the main objective of both countries.
Settlement on Kashmir
The crucial point in reaching a settlement on Kashmir must remain its acceptance by the Kashmiri people. The settlement must aim to put an end to the violence and the abuse of human rights so that the people can live normally and in peace. The need for cooperation on terrorism cannot be overstated. Regrettably, a number of terrorist incidents in India have been found to have originated in Pakistan which has negatively
influenced public opinion in India. Where the culprits can be identified, it is incumbent on Pakistan to satisfy India that it is making genuine efforts to bring them to book. India must do likewise. This a fight that has be fought jointly.
If dialogue is the key to resolving problems, how do we keep dialogue alive and how do we avoid its derailment, especially in the context of the changed circumstances? India's economic progress and political stability, together with its size, have lifted it to the status of a world power. But this will work to its disadvantage unless India earns the confidence of its smaller neighbours and reassures them that it does not seek to be a regional hegemon. Peace within the region is an essential requirement for India to continue on its upward path. It must make renewed efforts to convince its neighbours that it poses no threat to them. It still has to fully convince them that it is ready to honour their independence and separate personality.
Pakistan, on the other hand, is dogged by an unhappy past marked by repeated military interventions that prevented democracy from taking root. Misgovernance and the fear of an aggressive and more powerful neighbour have driven it towards becoming a security State, further ensuring the dominance of its armed forces. The country is going through what many consider the most testing phase in its history and so it needs to be at peace with India to solve its domestic problems.
Given this, it is in the interests of both India and Pakistan to forge a permanent relationship of peace and amity. The time has come for imaginative policies, a change in fundamental attitudes towards each other. The present promising state of their relations seems a propitious moment to adopt a common approach on promoting their permanent interests.
So who takes the first step? It is obvious that Pakistan's need for peace is greater, but the weakness of its civilian government and its internal problems make it unlikely that it can take any bold initiative. India can live with the present state of affairs, yet it stands to benefit
greatly from a transformed relationship. It needs to take the initiative and to lay at rest the fears of the military in Pakistan.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made clear his desire for peace and friendship with Pakistan. He has worked hard to improve relations and has revived the stalled dialogue more than once. But we are still some way from the major leap that could permanently transform relations.
What is needed now is direct engagement at the very top. Dr. Manmohan Singh must pay a return visit to Pakistan. It would be an occasion to announce agreement on some specific issues like Siachen and Sir Creek. More importantly, he could launch some major new initiatives, like reviving the offer of a No-War Pact and a Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Such formal agreements, duly supported by the international community, would effectively allay the fears of the Pakistan military.
To further allay apprehensions, discussions could be initiated on relocation of forces along the border and on regular meetings between
chiefs of the armed forces and of intelligence agencies. The need for better understanding between the two militaries cannot be overemphasised, because the security syndrome in Pakistan is the major obstacle in the way of progress.
Trade, terrorism, Afghanistan
On the major outstanding issue of Kashmir, a clear decision to resume both back channel and official negotiations is needed. Simultaneously, the Line of Control should be made truly porous for free movement of vehicles and trade. A settlement on Kashmir would be of great value in addressing the vital issue of water on which there has recently been a renewed focus.
The other major issue is terrorism. There remains the very real danger that, if another major terrorist attack in India takes place and its origins are traced to Pakistan, the peace process would again be endangered. The two countries have to address this issue as a top priority and agree that firm action will be taken against the culprits wherever they are
found. There are encouraging signs that both sides recognise the need to cooperate.
The Afghan problem has the potential of critically affecting India-Pakistan relations, either in a positive or a negative way, and must be on the agenda. Similarly, the nuclear issue must be meaningfully addressed and the existing areas of agreement expanded. In the critical field of economic development, the decision by Pakistan to grant Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India has been a major advance. It must be implemented in its true spirit. Economic cooperation is the strongest guarantee of peace.
Dr. Manmohan Singh's visit could be a decisive moment for substantive and meaningful progress. The visit needs to take place soon and intensive preparation will be required. Much can be achieved, provided both sides realise the time has come to put their relationship on stable and permanent foundations.
Official efforts will need to be supplemented by people-to- people contacts. The key to any
lasting relationship is that the people on both sides should want it. People are South Asia's greatest resource and they are also the surest long-term guarantee of the region's stability and progress. April 4, 2012 Defusing the nuclear powder keg If our cricket-crazy South Asian subcontinent knows the Sri Lankan hill-country town of Pallekelle — in the suburbs of my hometown of Kandy — for anything, it is for the Pallekelle International Cricket Stadium here where some of the 2011 World Cup Cricket matches were played.
However, Pallekelle is also home to another, more inconspicuous but no less important complex: a monitoring station to detect nuclear explosions. It is a part of an unprecedented global alarm system built by the Vienna-based Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO).
Sensors across the world
Over 300 state-of-the-art sensors in every corner of the world listen to the atmosphere, the oceans and underground for shock waves from a nuclear blast. Radionuclide stations sniff the air for radioactivity — the “smoking gun” of any nuclear test. Thanks to the most elaborate verification system in the history of arms control, which is now nearing completion, the international community can rest assured that any nuclear test will be detected.
Although the CTBTO celebrates its 15th birthday this year and has come a long way in establishing its formidable verification system, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) has yet to become global law. This is one of the main reasons why, in my presence on January 10 in Washington D.C. this year, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists decided to adjust the hands of its famous “Doomsday Clock” — a symbolic measure which counts down to nuclear Armageddon — one minute closer to midnight: it is now set at 11:55, five minutes before global disaster.
Veteran Nepalese diplomat Hira B. Thapa recently wrote about the looming danger of
nuclear warfare in South Asia for his country. I share the same fears for Sri Lanka. The detonation, accidental or planned, of even a single nuclear weapon in this part of the world, would be catastrophic for the region. A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would cause a global nuclear winter leading to years of widespread famine, as Professors Alan Robock from Rutgers University and Owen Brian Toon from the University of Colorado, United States, predicted.
Only eight specific ratifications are missing for the CTBT to enter into force: the U.S., China, Iran, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, and North Korea. In February 2012, Indonesia decided to leave this group and join the 156 countries that had already ratified the CTBT while the Obama Administration has pledged to resubmit the treaty to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent.
Since its inception in 1996, the CTBT's zerotesting norm is the expression of a zerotolerance stance against nuclear testing, treated nowadays as a reckless and atavistic display of nuclear weapon possession. It is my
hope that other countries in the wider Asian region will follow Indonesia's shining example.
On peace and the environment
The non-nuclear weapon States in our region could make a difference by leading through example: among the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), only Brunei, Myanmar and Thailand have yet to ratify the CTBT. The ASEAN countries are also members of the South-East Asia Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone (Treaty of Bangkok), which itself prohibits nuclear tests. Full regional membership of the Treaty of Bangkok and the CTBT are important steps in establishing South-East Asia as a nuclear weapon-free bastion of stability. In the wider region, the only countries that have yet to ratify the CTBT are Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Nepal, and my own country, Sri Lanka. Taking this decisive step would put the nuclear weapon possessors and the remaining eight CTBT hold-outs in the spotlight.
All these countries are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapon States and active members of the
Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). For NAM, nuclear disarmament has been a core value since its inception in 1961. Over the decades it has pushed incessantly, and vigorously, for a global ban on nuclear weapons and nuclear tests alike and has supported the CTBT.
Ratifying the CTBT is not only a matter of principle. It is not only about supporting world peace and the environment. It is in our security interests. Indonesia has shown the way — now it is up to other countries to follow suit. Each additional ratification sends a clear political signal to the remaining hold-out States.
The saga for the banning of all nuclear tests began in 1954 with a great visionary leader from Asia — Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. It would be a tragic irony for Asian nations to be an obstacle now when that goal is within sight.
( Jayantha Dhanapala is currently President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He was United Nations UnderSecretary-General for Disarmament Affairs from 1998 to 2003 and Ambassador of Sri
Lanka to the United States from 1995 to 1997 .)
April 4, 2012 China, India and the lesson of Megara's burning pigs
STRATEGY:India may well need more hardware but it needs to think about what it needs, and how to use it to best effect like the Megarans. —PHOTO: S. SUBRAMANIUM In 266 BCE, the armies of Emperor Antigonus II Gonatas laid siege to Megara, hoping to seize the small, but wealthy, city's harbours. The contest was, at first glance, hopeless: Antigonus's armies were much larger and backed, moreover, by phalanxes of battleelephants.
Faced with certain defeat — the ancient military historian Poluainos recorded in his classic, Strategems in War — the Megarans hit upon a tactic of considerable genius. The city's pigs were doused in resin and set on fire as they were pushed out of the gates. Panicked by the sight of the burning, squealing pigs, the
elephants broke ranks and fled, trampling many of Antigonus' army.
Indians panicked by Army Chief V.K. Singh's grim warnings on system-wide deficits in the country's war-preparedness might profit from the lesson of Megara's burning pigs: in war, the side with the bigger guns doesn't always win. The anxiety underpinning much of the debate provoked by General Singh's leaked letter to the Prime Minister isn't hard to miss. The rise of an allegedly-malevolent China, many in India's strategic community fear, makes the prospect of a war almost inevitable: a war that Pakistan, more likely than not, will capitalise upon.
Back in 2008, Defence Minister A.K. Anthony is believed to have issued a formal directive calling on the armed forces to prepare themselves for a two-front war. Mulayam Singh Yadav, India's former Defence Minister, even told Parliament in November 2011 that he had evidence China was “going to attack us soon.” “The attack can take place any time,” he asserted.
The facts behind fears like these are well known. China's declared military budget for this year is $106.4 billion, up from about $91.5 billion in 2011, and in line with a more than a decade-long expansion of over 12 per cent a year, a little over the growth of its wealth. It is expanding its cruise and ballistic missile arsenal; the new Dong Feng-21D, comes with a manoeuvrable warhead that constitutes the first serious threat to United States carriers in the Pacific. It has rolled out a prototype for a fifth-generation stealth fighter and inducted an aircraft carrier.
Fearsome as China's military build-up might be, though, it isn't clear if Indians need to be fearful. India isn't, for one, China's principal threat. Eight of China's 18 Group Armies — the equivalent, roughly, of a corps — face out on its south-eastern seaboard, trained and equipped for a war over Taiwan. “Much of the observed upgrade activity,” the U.S. Department of Defence noted in a 2011 report, “has occurred in units with the potential to be involved in a Taiwan contingency.”
In the Koreas, the People Liberation Army (PLA) must consider the prospect of everything from a full-blown war involving nuclear weapons to a meltdown which could send millions of refugees across its borders. Its forces must be prepared to deal with an insurgency in Xinjiang, and potential disorder in Tibet. They must protect China's trade routes, and guard contested basins of energy in the high seas. Each of these threats could conceivably lead to a showdown with the U.S. — the world's pre-eminent power.
India's second reason not to be fearful of China's military growth is this: the threat is made up of gunpowder, but also hype. The case of China's submarine threat is instructive. Five years ago, analysts in the U.S. were predicting that the PLA Navy would outstrip their submarine holdings by 2011. But Russia, concerned about the expansion of China's naval power, held back on supplies of critical technology — and the U.S. doubled its submarine production.
Last year, the U.S. estimated that China has five nuclear-powered attack submarines, three
of them 091 Han-class vessels that are reaching the end of their service lives. In addition, it has some 50 diesel submarines, half of them obsolete, and a handful of experimental ballistic-missile submarines.
The U.S. Navy, though, has 53 attack submarines, four guided-missile submarines and 14 ballistic-missile boats — 71 in all. All this not counting the fleets of its European partners, and regional allies like Japan, Korea and Australia.
Lessons of 1962
None of this, China-sceptics in India argue, is reason to be sanguine — pointing, almost always, to the war of 1962 as an example of the costs of complacency. In fact, that war is an excellent illustration of the proposition that weapons capabilities alone don't win wars. From P.B. Sinha and A.A. Athale's History of the Conflict With China, 1962 , an official account commissioned by the Union Defence Ministry in 1992, we know this: “Chinese weapons, equipment organisation and training were better than that of the Indians. But this
superiority was only marginal. By itself it would not have proved decisive.”
India's Air Force, notably, was actually better equipped than its Chinese adversaries — crippled because the country's rupture with the Soviet Union had left it without access to spares, and without airfields in Tibet from where its jets could carry full payloads. However, India chose not to use its superior air power — fearing, among other things, that it would open the way for retaliatory strikes.
John Galbraith, the U.S. Ambassador to New Delhi, also lobbied hard against air strikes, fearing his country, then engaged in a standoff with the Soviet Union over the placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba, would be dragged into the war.
The then-Director of Operations at air headquarters, H.C. Dewan, argued in a 1988 interview that the use of air assets would have been of limited use, since the North-East's jungles provided infantry with cover to the attackers.
Dr. Sinha and Colonel Athale, however, disputed this proposition, noting that air strikes would have crippled China's logistics, and made the passage of its forces through mountain passes lethal going. Either way, the lesson is simple: superiority doesn't mean military victory.
Last year, in a talk delivered around the same time Mr. Yadav was holding out his prediction of imminent assault, the scholar Kanti Bajpai offered several sound military reasons why 1962 wouldn't happen again. He pointed to the difficulties in destroying India's Air Force, necessary to secure China's logistics; the robust defensive positions occupied by India's Army in the Himalayas; the limited capabilities to wage a naval campaign in the Indian Ocean; the risks of internal conflict in Tibet breaking out; and, above all, the risk of a nuclear conflagration.
Dr. Bajpai concluded by asserting that “war between the two countries is not very likely unless one or the other engages in highly provocative, ill-judged behaviour — and even then, with nuclear weapons and air power, it would be very risky to go to war.”
What is to be learned
Indian diplomats have been listening, but not its military: the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute recently stated that India has become the world's largest importer of arms in 2007-2011 — playing catch-up with China, which held top position in 2002-2006. It seems unclear, though, precisely what kinds of war these acquisitions are intended to address. In 2010, former Army Chief Deepak Kapoor spoke of a two-front war. Not many weeks later, Gen. Singh suggested he saw little risk of conventional war, but insisted that India “should have a great amount of conventional capability.”
Precisely what a “great amount” might be has never been defined: in military debates, everything from all-out conventional wars to limited, localised wars in the Himalaya are discussed, often in the same breath. Indeed, it's hard to erase the suspicion that India is still preparing to fight the 1962 war again: its forces are deployed on much the same axis, and its tactical language remains unchanged.
Faced with questions, Indian military strategists often argue that armies need to prepare for possible wars, not just predictable ones. This proposition isn't as robust as it first seems. No army in the world has infinite resources — and in a volatile world, almost any war is conceivable.
Gen. Singh's letter has had the salutary impact of focussing attention on delays and corruption in defence acquisition. It has also had the wholly undesirable consequence of engendering a public culture in which any, and all, military claims for equipment are seen as legitimate.
For India to shape a serious response to the military rise of China, its intelligentsia and military establishment ought be studying China far harder. India's universities, intelligence services and military all have large shortages of staff even familiar with the language of our most important neighbour, let alone the intricacies of its strategic thinking. India may well need more hardware — but it needs to think about what hardware it needs, and how to use it to best effect like the Megarans.
India's pre-1962 military, the official history recorded, conducted “no studies of Chinese war tactics.” “No debriefing was done,” it continues, “after the Korean war to learn about their ways of working and fighting. Nobody seems to have cared to know * sic +.” Few, it seems, still do.
April 5, 2012 Shutting the school doors on the Muslim child THE URGE TO BREAK FREE:Muslim parents show a clear preference for sending their children to private schools. —PHOTO: SANDEEP SAXENA That a news report in The Hindu titled “In Delhi's nursery classes, Muslim children are a rarity” (March 19, 2012), found mention in the Rajya Sabha the same day, leading to “heated arguments” and a “verbal duel” in the Upper House, is symptomatic of the polarisation of public discourse on the education of Muslims. Almost any discussion on the subject slides into binaries: religious vs secular, exclusion vs appeasement, rights vs politics, reality vs
rhetoric, and conservatism vs systemic discrimination.
In 2009-10, as part of the National CRY Fellowship Programme, I had conducted a series of interviews with 20 Muslim families residing in Zakir Nagar, New Delhi, on the question of what shaped their schooling choices for their children. Unanimously, the parents regarded modern mainstream education as the single most important factor which safeguarded their children's future and clearly articulated a preference for sending their children to reputed private schools. However their narratives echoed the contesting dilemmas many faced on account of “being Muslim”; dilemmas which illustrate the manner in which the increasing communalisation of social space subtly limits choices or renders them non-existent in something as fundamental as education.
“We want schools that do not discriminate against our children.”
This statement highlights the increasing sense of helplessness and exasperation parents feel at the difficulty their children face in gaining admission to private schools. Many talked about their “feeling” that private schools have some sort of a “prefixed quota of just this much and no more Muslims”; some parents cited how the neighbourhood points seemed to have marginal weightage in the case of private schools nearby, while others talked about having to use “ jugaad ” to get their children admitted saying that this was not an option available to the ordinary Muslim.
Respecting minority sentiments
Many talked about consciously opting for Christian schools rather than the Hinduised regular public schools, as, at some level, Christian schools are “good” and respect minority sentiments. They also explained the choice in terms of pragmatism as Christian schools are generally convents, have a better command over the English language, and have a strong emphasis on discipline.
Parents shared experiences of their children being “unnecessarily picked on, classified in front of their peers and harassed by teachers.” In many of the interviews, parents repeatedly made references to derogatory comments made by teachers on the eating and dressing habits (headscarf or extra-long skirts) of Muslim children. This was corroborated by the children when I asked them about things they did not like about school. Many of them talked about how they did not like being singled out (on account of their religion), examples being a teacher adding “ M iyan ” to the child's name while taking attendance (“I don't know why my teacher keeps adding ‘Miyan' to my name ... everyone has started saying that ”) or the cricket coach's insinuating reprimands (“ Isko bouncer mat dena, sar tod dega ... ye sab garam mizaz ke hote hain ”) or as a 10-year-old girl said, “Nobody in school wants to play hideand-seek with me. Everyone says Muslims cannot be trusted with secrets.”
Parents described themselves as being very “conscious,” “mindful” and “careful” about the choices they were making vis-à-vis their children's education — what the school environment was like, where to send their children to play or for dini talim. The choices
available often lay at two ends of the spectrum — “excessively religious” people in the neighbourhood who kept on preaching Islamiyat or the excessively modern who tried to act like “everyone else.”
For many parents the biggest worry was how to straddle these two extremes. Their responses constantly brought up the dichotomy of the “Good Muslim” and the “Bad Muslim” and the difficulty they faced in ensuring that their children are brought up in “Muslim ways” without falling into the “conservative trap.” In fact this concern was shared at various points in the interviews. Parents would juxtapose their own education back home (generally where they were a part of larger families in a more “Muslim milieu”) with that of their children's education (in a nuclear set up in Delhi, where, as parents, they consciously tried to familiarise their children with the culture). Many parents mentioned how in their families, “family values” included orienting their children towards religion and conformity with a certain moral discipline. These situations often put the parents in an awkward position limiting their options to Muslim managed schools which respected their culture but did not provide the secular
grounding required for the children not to feel alienated in the future.
Educating the girl
Many parents expressed the difficulties they faced in choosing appropriate schools for their girls. For parents, many of whom aspired to remain true to their native roots located in rural or semi-urban Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, it was difficult to locate schools which ensured that their girls could avail the benefits of a modern secular education that provided some degree of certainty of access to respectable marriages and, if need be, appropriate employment but did not corrupt them into western ways; an institution which was not coeducational , had a modest dress code and was located nearby to ensure that the parents could reach them quickly in case of a “threatening” ( danga-fasad ) eventuality. I noted that in the case of girls, unlike boys, in the event of an absence of a combination of these criteria the parents generally made compromises on the quality of schooling and sent the girls to nearby (often unrecognised) schools within Jamia Nagar which promised girls education (not co-education), held classes
in Urdu and sometimes imparting dini talim , and had the salwar kameez as the uniform. But the drawback was that these schools were not necessarily recognised by boards such as the CBSE/ICSE or had classes up till class 12.
While these daily struggles are in no way representative of the Muslim experience of education, they do highlight the vicious nature of the problem. On one side the policy discourse refers to educational backwardness as one of the main causes for real and/or perceived alienation of Muslims and acknowledges inclusive education as a panacea; on the other, these real life situations demonstrate the everyday issues Muslims face in accessing these very opportunities, leading to further isolation, exclusion and excessive reliance on “Muslim managed services and networks.”
April 5, 2012 Bury the Me-First doctrines The furious ruckus for the past fortnight over the confrontation between Army Chief General V.K. Singh and Defence Minister A.K. Antony and the recent, overblown newspaper report
of “curious” troop movements towards Delhi which allegedly “spooked” the government have shocked and confused the country.
And while these supposedly subversive intentions have categorically been denied by both the army and the Ministry of Defence (MoD), an apocalyptic atmosphere of mistrust and turbulence persists in the uppermost echelons of national security vitiated by suspicion and disbelief. Today we live in times where the majority of people believe and expect the worst from our leadership.
But despite the seriousness of the situation, rival politicians, retired Service officers, civil servants and so-called military experts have spent a disproportionate amount of time attacking one another on television, giving little thought to the regretful state of the army's modernisation and operational capability development — vital requirements to equip it to operate in an increasingly militarised and nuclearised neighbourhood.
Privately, however, military planners concur that, above all, the prevailing ad hoc model of
single-Service operational readiness badly needs replacing with one in which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) takes upon itself the onus of integrated capacity building in concert with national security interests.
They maintain that it is time the MoD realised that India can ill-afford three separate Service war-fighting doctrines. And that 65 years after Independence, the MoD must perforce assume responsibility by outlining cogent national defence policy guidelines that, in turn, accrue from a comprehensive national security doctrine.
After fighting many wars and almost continuously deploying on anti-insurgency operations, India's defence planning largely remains an MoD ‘book-keeping' exercise of utilising money and resources to meet Service demands and those of innumerable and largely redundant associated departments. It has been optimistically presumed that over time these will magically get converted into desired military capability.
What the stand-off between Gen. Singh and the MoD has highlighted, albeit unnoticed, is that outsourcing this process to the respective Service headquarters, forever squabbling over allocations and Me-First doctrines is at best a counterproductive exercise. This is further hobbled by the MoD's omnipotent bureaucracy, vacillation in decision making, lack of prioritisation and recurring corruption scandals.
The only overt, proactive instruction from the MoD to the Services is the ambitious five-year Defence Ministers Operational directive. The last one was dispatched in late-2010 by Mr. Antony. Somewhat grandiosely this requires the military to prepare itself for a ‘two-front war' with China and Pakistan, but fails to provide any direction to achieve this overarching objective.
The generalist MoD, however, manned at critical, decision-making levels by itinerant and ill-informed civil servants needs to objectively assess the percept of a ‘two-front war' in the backdrop of the changing spectrum of war conflict — from nuclear conflict to low-level
insurgencies — and realistically evaluate the relevance of existing force and equipment structures required to meet prevailing and emerging security challenges.
Concurrently, the ongoing controversy over materiel imports at the cost of indigenous development is also a vital part of this equally important aspect of systematic defence planning and, more importantly, managing its economics.
For, it is now more than apparent that India can no longer financially afford the threatbased, continental model of force development which is not only wasteful but has deprived the country of desired military capability. Nor can it sustain extravagant fiscal mismanagement of meagre resources as it attempts to transform the military from a threat-based to a capability-based force. Consequently, the articulation of defence strategy in all its aspects underpinned by sensible economics is essential in order to ably formulate integrated planning and its oversight.
Perspective planning to maintain modernised forces and to address obsolescence issues is currently a three-tiered process.
A long-term integrated perspective plan is prepared by the individual Services which, in turn, is coordinated and prioritised by the recently created Integrated Defence Staff that spells out force structures and India's military capability profile over a 15-year period. These recommendations are then discussed by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by the Defence Minister and decisions taken on whether to buy, make, buy-and-make and the newest category buy-and-make (Indian) equipment.
Under this latest classification stipulated in the 2009 edition of the complex Defence Procurement Procedures, Indian companies with requisite technical and financial capability would now be issued tenders for materiel requirements. They would, in turn, be permitted to enter into collaboration with overseas vendors and manufacturers for
product and platform development. This outcome is then factored into Five-Year Defence Plans and, theoretically, form part of the capital acquisition planning of individual Services to address respective modernisation needs. From this flows the annual outlay for procurements and subsequent modernisation.
But now the hurdles begin.
The DAC meets infrequently and that too inconclusively, almost all Five-Year Defence Plans are accorded retrospective clearance, and the moneys earmarked for capital expenditure or acquisitions and modernisation are frequently returned unspent. Since 2002 — except for one year — Rs 22,572 crore have reverted to the Central exchequer as both the Services and the MoD were unable to take timely decisions.
Moreover, materiel acquisitions continue to be subject to two contrary pulls — the Services' desire to procure the latest weaponry without thought or consideration to fully integrating
the systems with existing equipment and the MoD's propensity to be guided continually by the Defence Research and Development Organisation's (DRDO's) misplaced capabilities for indigenous production.
Jointness, particularly in systems acquisitions, is the other handicap with many insiders calling it a ‘stovepipe' exercise in which each Service bats selfishly for itself. The inevitable result is delay and costly acquisitions that eventually end up at best as “product enhancers” with limited benefit to either overall operational efficiency or to local industry.
It is a truism widely reported by government appointed committees that for decades, India's vast military-industrial complex comprising 41 Ordnance Factory Board factories, nine Defence Public Sector Units and 51 sophisticated DRDO laboratories have collectively contributed marginal engineering skills — largely through reverse engineering — to the vast military-industrial complex. Unfortunately, weapon development and modernisation, including upgrades, remain almost exclusively hostage to foreign vendors.
The outcome is a perilous lack of inter-Service operability at the systems level with the Command and Control and Common Operational picture being a critical instance of this unbeneficial jumbled ‘stove-piping'.
At the Joint Operations and Intelligence Room or JOIR which is the tri-Service Command Centre, for instance, there exist no capacities to fuse together a common operational picture as the respective C3I systems (Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence) cannot be integrated. The emergent operational picture is single-Service orientated, obviating the ability to take critical decisions at strategic levels against a nuclear backdrop.
This, in turn, has led to a yawning qualitative and technological gap with China's proliferating military capabilities and near symmetrical conventional parity with Pakistan.
In military modernisation, China is speeding ahead and is on the threshold of emerging as a first world technologically savvy military, purposefully refining its “anti-access” strategy of countering superior adversarial forces by engaging them in battle a safe distance from its mainland. Even with regard to Pakistan, the relative military advantage that was tilted in India's favour both operationally and in force ratios of around 3:1 in 1971 has alarmingly depreciated to 1:1.75 according to in-house military estimates.
The reason for this indifferent growth of military capability was blamed by the K. Subhramanyam committee set up after the 1999 Kargil disaster on the mindset of illinformed Indian decision makers who remain largely apathetic to long-term and anticipatory security planning processes. According to the committee, the structure and processes of the executive functioning of the MoD persistently avoided focusing on long-term planning, encouraging at best a ‘sectoral approach'.
Perhaps it is time to appoint a neutral National Military Commission, comprising dispassionate members familiar with security and defence
issues, to re-examine India's overall defence structure. Other than equipment modernisation and Service doctrines, it would also need to scrutinise defence finances, ad hoc promotion policies and inventory and logistics management systems amongst other drawbacks and, like in other countries abroad, swiftly table its recommendations. These, unlike previous such exercises, would need speedy implementation to avert the steadily advancing ominous national security crisis. April 4, 2012 Time for house -cleaning in the Congress Madhu Limaye died in 1995. He was an oldfashioned socialist, a nationalist to the core, a superb parliamentarian and a keen student of Indian history. He had a mind of his own and never gave the impression that he could be intimidated by reputations or by vendors of political correctness. For most of his adult life he found good enough reasons to oppose the Congress, its leadership, its policies and its practices. He was passionate and principled in his opposition to the Congress. However, a few days before his death, this rare thinking man found himself compelled to write:
“The capacity of the non-Congress and non-BJP parties to win a Lok Sabha majority, in the first place, and pull together for any length of time afterwards, is at best doubtful. The reform and renewal of the Congress-I is, therefore, in the nation's interest. Faction spirit is not the answer. While I ardently hope that the challenge of the non-Congress secular parties would become stronger and more coherent and purposeful, as a well-wisher of the country, I would also like to see a reformed and united Congress Party.”
Limaye's faith in the party
An original proponent of anti-Congressism, Madhu Limaye came to see enough during a four-decade political career as well as see through many a non-Congress leader; and, by the time of his death he was addressing himself to the exacting task of devising a sustainable political order that would operationalise the Indian state. He had reason to be thoroughly disillusioned with the two non-Congress experiments in New Delhi, the Janata Party (1977-1979) and the Janata Dal/National Front government (1989-90), had disabused himself of any notion of a so-called
third front and, perforce, had come to put his faith in the Congress capacity and record — however flawed — to hold the Centre. That faith is even more justified today than it was in 1995.
Now, a decline in Congress fortunes in itself would not have been a matter of much concern had its major national alternative, the Bharatiya Janata Party, inspired reasonable confidence that it was capable of sustaining the Centre. The BJP has turned its back on all notions of responsibility and seriousness of a grand purpose that are a sine qua non in any group wanting to steer the destiny of this complex and complicated nation. The BJP's incurable infirmities cast a heavy historic burden on the Congress.
The nature of this burden is becoming clearer by the day. After we have had our fill of romanticising defiance and celebrating chaos, the country will still need a governing arrangement, commensurate with its strategic compulsions, economic profile and democratic commitments; someone has to ensure stability, coherence and public order so as to harmonise a zillion demands of a billion
impatient citizens. If that were not enough, India, its polity and its decision-makers, have to claw concessions and secure understandings out of an unsentimental global environment. The external world has no appetite for our shrill nationalist pieties and bogusly energetic platitudes, so demonstratively on display every evening in television studios. Anti-democratic forces and personalities are souring the democratic space and spirit. It is in this disquieting context that the Congress has to find — and do so, perhaps, despite itself — the verve and the energy to live up to its historic role of sustaining the Centre.
The Congress has sufficient institutional memory and resilience to take the setbacks in the recent Assembly elections in its collective stride. Nor is there any need for it to be apologetic about the Rahul Gandhi leadership issue. No one should have any doubt that Mr. Gandhi will inherit the Congress leadership mantle. Whatever the critics of the “dynasty” may have to say, this predictability about the leadership succession is an organisational asset and should, in the coming years, spare the Congress the kind of convulsions that will continue to buffet the BJP.
All that the Congress needs is clarity on political and policy fronts — but without presumptuousness or petulance. In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress will primarily be confronting the BJP — in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka later this year, and then in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi next year. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect the BJP to help the Congress push through a legislative agenda — especially if such policy initiatives are going to earn the ruling party any brownie points, a la MGNREGS, with the voters. Nor are its alliance partners under any kind of obligation to help the Congress consolidate its leadership or expand its appeal or reach. Only the Congress can help itself by pausing to undertake a course-correction, and a bit of house-cleaning.
The Congress leadership can begin by recognising that the organisation has become a closed shop. Sonia Gandhi has been president and undisputed leader of the party since 1998; yet, she has been reluctant to give her party a good shake-out. Instead, she has
allowed herself to be persuaded that organisational elections would be an inherently destabilising experiment. It has been argued that “elections” would only instigate instability and that moneyed individuals would “capture” the organisation. There may be some merit in the argument, but it cannot be anybody's case that this precaution has produced genuine and sincere cadres at any level. On the contrary, the “leaders” at the State and Central level seem to have devised a mutually self-serving protocol to keep their stranglehold on the organisational hierarchy at the expense of the party's democratic vitality. Worse, this stranglehold merely reinforces status quoist impulses.
A vibrant political party like the Congress must necessarily mirror society's changing ambitions and aspirations. It is not too late to revive and redesign Ms Gandhi's original institutional innovation — an internal “election authority.” Between now and the next Lok Sabha polls, the Congress leadership has ample time to initiate a vigorous (and genuine) internal election process in order to weed out the dysfunctional and co-opt a new crop of activists and cadres.
The Congress president can set the ball rolling by dissolving the Congress Working Committee and the Central Election Committee. These two bodies have become platforms for “leaders” to promote themselves, their families and their cronies. On the government front, the “core group” mechanism should be scrapped forthwith; it produces only political timidity and policy confusion, as was so irritatingly evident during the molly-coddling of a disgruntled general.
The Congress also needs to mind its manners. If the party wants to worm its way back into middle class respectability, it has to raise its own decency index. At the very minimum, the country needs to see for itself that the Congress has respect for constitutional and political institutions. As the oldest and the most responsible political party, it is the Congress's historic burden to inculcate good manners in the polity. It should be a matter of considerable concern for the Congress leadership that for the first time the Election
Commission had reason to reprimand three Cabinet Ministers.
Because they have become a closed shop, the Congress leaders have become far too enamoured of “jugaad.” And as it lurches from one election to another, the party is not able to see its way beyond immediate electoral gains. This unedifying preoccupation has been particularly injurious to the party's image and its government's credibility.
Only after it has kicked its expedient habits can the Congress hope to deliver on its obligation of firm and fair governance; which means Cabinet Ministers start pursuing the public interest so that the country feels reassured that while imperfect policy choices have unwittingly produced disproportionate gains — even windfall profits — for a very tiny business elite, the party and its government do possess an internal moral compass. It is not too late for the Congress to recommit itself to the first principles of good governance. A muscular pursuit of political wholesomeness can be the only basis for the party's claim to the nation's affection — and to another fiveyear mandate in New Delhi.
April 5, 2012 ‘Pastygate': how a humble pie sparked a class war Walk into any party in London these days and at some point someone is likely to come up to you and ask, in jest: “So, when was the last time you had a Cornish pasty?” Of course, you're expected to “get” the joke and join in the banter with a counter “pasty joke.”
Latest in series of mishaps
Believe it or not, a national newspaper has actually sent out an email to all Cabinet ministers asking them not only “when” but “where” they had “consumed a pasty” last time around and, “how often would you estimate you eat pasties?”
Overnight, a lowly snack has become the season's hottest symbol of Britain's deepseated class divide. Caught on the wrong side of the fence, the ruling Tories have been scrambling to declare their love for Cornish pasty — insisting on recalling their fond memories (often wrongly, as we shall see
soon) of when they last enjoyed a pasty. Hence the party joke.
Welcome to “Pastygate,” the latest in a series of self-inflicted mishaps the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition government has had to endure in recent weeks. It all started when the Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, one of the millionaires in (millionaire) Prime Minister David Cameron's super-rich cabinet slapped a 20 per cent VAT on Cornish pasty, a favourite snack of working classes, while cutting tax for top earners. It was akin to the Indian Finance Minister putting up tax on the humble samosa , or dhaba food, while giving a tax holiday for his industrialist friends.
Predictably, condemnation was swift. Once again, the Tories had betrayed their instinctive pro-rich bias and cynical indifference to plebeian concerns, critics said. Coming as it did on top of a government assault on welfare benefits and pensioners' tax credits , a whopping 20 per cent levy on the common man's staple takeaway was seen as the last
straw. It was a confirmation that despite their claims to have changed and become more inclusive the Tories remained Tories — “too posh to pasty” and “out of touch” with the “ordinary folk.”
The Sun , with an eye on its plebeian readers with a taste for Cornish pasty, launched a characteristically loud “Who VAT All the Pies” campaign, branding Mr. Osborne a modernday Marie Antoinette (“Can't afford pasties, have a pastry!”) and likening the “pasty tax” to Margaret Thatcher's infamous poll tax.
Angry pasty-lovers dubbed him “Georgie, pasty-snatcher,” a throwback to “Maggie Thatcher, milk-snatcher,” the epithet hurled at Ms Thatcher when she abolished free milk for schoolchildren in the 1970s.
The Chancellor dug himself deeper into the hole when he failed to remember the last time he had a Cornish pasty. Asked by Labour MP John Mann during a Parliamentary committee meeting: “When was the last time you bought a pasty in Greggs?” he replied with his
irritating trademark sneer: “Look, I can't remember.”
“Well — that kind of sums it up,” retorted Mr Mann.
Mr. Cameron keen to demonstrate his own pasty credentials after that gaffe claimed how only a few weeks ago he had a “very good” pasty ( “The choice was whether to have one of their small ones or large ones, and I have got a feeling I opted for the large one, and very good it was too,” he waxed lyrical ) and then blundered into naming a shop that, it turned out, was closed five years ago!
Within hours, the “breaking news” on television channels was how the Prime Minister had been telling “porkies.” The Tories' very own The Daily Telegraph was sufficiently underwhelmed by Mr. Cameron's performance to note that his “claims to be a pasty lover” had “spectacularly backfired.”
Meanwhile, like a good Opposition politician, Labour's Ed Miliband and his shadow Chancellor Ed Balls promptly popped into the
nearest bakery and had themselves photographed buying pasties.
Embarrassingly for the Tories, the “pastygate” broke even as they were still reeling from revelations that a senior party figure had been flogging access to Mr. Cameron and his cabinet ministers for a donation. Its treasurer Peter Cruddas was secretly filmed boasting to undercover reporters how he could arrange private meetings with Mr. Cameron if their client joined the “premier league” of donors who gave the party £250,000 a year. Despite his initial indignant denials, Mr. Cameron was eventually forced to admit that he had entertained a number of “significant” donors in his private Downing Street flat. Among them were bankers, hedge fund tycoons, brokers and rich industrialists some of whom may have benefited from government patronage in the past and reinforcing the perception of the Tories as a rich man's club.
According to a new poll, 65 per cent of Britons believe the Tories are more interested in the rich than in ordinary voters. Even someone like Charles Moore, the last of the surviving “hang ‘em, flog ‘em” hardcore Tories, couldn't resist
a pop at Mr. Cameron's “cabinet of millionaires” pointing out that “voters wonder whether such people — especially if they are almost all men, of much the same age, who went to the same schools and universities — have much feeling for the difficulties of life.”
The past few weeks have been difficult for Mr. Cameron and his government; or, as The Times put it with a touch of understatement, it has not been their “finest hour.” For the first time, there is a serious question mark over the future of the “Cameron project” emboldening the Labour to claim that the coalition will not last its full term. But there is also a larger issue here: whatever happened to the idea of “Cool Britannia” so assiduously promoted by New Labour when all it can take is a row over a humble pie to ignite a class war? April 6, 2012 Who says India wants to be a superpower? GRAND PLAYER:What needs more attention are our deterrent capabilities. The file picture is of the President's Fleet Review in Visakhapatnam. —PHOTO: K.R. DEEPAK A recent report from the London School of Economics (LSE) titled “India: The Next Super
Power?” — and, very surprisingly, given excessive mileage by various sections of the media — reflects a new obsession among certain global think tanks and research institutions of the need to remind India that it has a long way to go before it can join the “high table.”
The report posed the question in the context of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's 2009 visit to India when she said she considered India to be a global rather than a regional power. Do we really need to take cognisance of preachy sermons on how “India has miles to go before it can sleep,” or would we rather be driven by Rabindranath Tagore's dream of an India “where the mind is without fear and the head is held high … Into that heaven of freedom let my country awake?” I think most Indians would still prefer the latter. So let me try and explain why this argument of India aspiring to be a superpower is both historically and contextually a “no-brainer” argument.
A superpower's reach
A superpower, according to many international relations theorists, should have the ability to both exert influence and exercise power in its areas of interest, wherever that may be across the globe. Today, that area has extended into the realms of outer space. More importantly, modern neo-realists also believe that true superpower status is reflected in a willingness to engineer regime changes to protect your own way of life or interests, or even to pursue altruistic agendas of “keeping the world a safer place to live in.” No Indian in his right mind, leave alone policymakers and strategists, could ever dream of subscribing to such fanciful ambitions. I would even go to the extent of wagering my entire savings that even if all the fissures and cracks cited by the panel of LSE experts were to be filled up in a few decades, India could never get around to becoming a superpower of the likes of the U.S. of today or the yesteryear Soviet Union, or for that matter, an emerging China.
This argument of mine has historical backing. Unlike the Greeks, Romans, Mongolians, the participants of the Crusades, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union or the U.S. which had their own reasons for conquest or “expansive doctrines,” India, for centuries, was a
“potpourri” of small nation states, satisfied within the boundaries of its geographical expanse, religious tolerance, cultural diversity and abundant natural/water resources. Modern India, ravaged for two centuries by colonial exploitation, is still a nation in the making, benignly looking outward in recent times, primarily to seek energy resources and develop its vast human capital. Nothing exemplifies this aspiration more than the consistent statements of the strategic establishment that all current national strategies including those relating to security would first revolve around India's progression from a developing to a fully developed nation — a tall order by any yardstick.
Let me now dwell a bit on “hard power” and see how it is factored into this whole business of fingerprinting a “superpower.” Capability is never equal to power unless it is backed by intent and willingness to use the power in pursuit of national interests. The development cycle of hard power in respect of superpowers or potential superpowers usually commences with a preponderance of deterrent
capabilities, re-enforced as time passes with significant coercive or offensive capabilities, until a stage is reached when this coercive capability offers prospects of widespread “compellance.” Incidentally, compellance is a term propagated by the eminent political scientist, Thomas C. Schelling, during the Cold War and is still widely discussed in the global discourse on power equations. Going by these characteristics, where does India stand in this imaginary and premature quest for superpower status? India's development of force projection capability has always been governed by an overarching strategic direction of responsibility, restraint, resilience and respect for sovereignty. This has meant that deterrence has always occupied pole position, with coercive and expeditionary capabilities taking a back seat.
Our objectives too have been well calibrated with our own territorial sovereignty and regional stability being more important than influencing global affairs. Some commentators look at India's interest in the Indian Ocean Region as a logical manifestation of great power yearning; little realising that this interest is primarily driven by the need to provide a deterrent umbrella to our energy
interests and the millions of expatriate Indian citizens who not only contribute to the economy of the region they reside in, but also to India's economy. In short, does our hard power support the prognosis of an emerging superpower? No way! And we should not be perturbed at all beyond the fact that maybe our deterrent capabilities need greater attention.
Finally, such reports may be nothing more than mere reality checks because a growing number of Indians are cognizant of the challenges that their country faces and are willing to make contributions in myriad ways.
April 6, 2012 Left in the lurch in Putinland In Russia's presidential elections last month, the Communists missed a unique chance to mount a credible challenge for the Kremlin throne. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin won the election, polling 63 per cent of the votes, nearly four times more than Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who came second, but the figures do not tell the whole story.
The elections were held in the backdrop of unprecedented public outrage over evidence of massive falsification in favour of Mr. Putin's party, United Russia, during a parliamentary poll in December 2011. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in what became the biggest protests since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russians also felt insulted that Mr. Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev had struck a backdoor deal to switch jobs, with Mr. Putin returning as President and appointing Mr. Medvedev Prime Minister. Mr. Putin served eight years as President and continued to dominate Russian politics after shifting into the Prime Minister's job four years ago. People blamed Mr. Putin for endemic corruption, degradation of health services and education, and collapse of manufacturing industries. Many felt he should not run the country for another six or even 12 years, as the presidential term was extended by two years and the Constitution allows Mr. Putin to seek another term in 1918.
The December legislative election showed a distinct shift to the left in public mood. United
Russia, the ruling right-of-the-centre party, lost almost a quarter of seats, even as it retained a majority in the State Duma lower house. The Communists won nearly 20 per cent of the votes, 60 per cent more than they received four years earlier. Just Russia, which campaigned on a social-democratic platform, nearly doubled its result, winning almost 13 per cent of the votes. Taking into account claims by independent monitors that Opposition parties were cheated of at least 15 per cent of the votes, it can be reasonably argued that a majority of Russian voters supported left-leaning parties.
“At a time when the government speaks of steady economic improvements, the country is clearly tilting to the left,” Dr. Elena Shestopal of Moscow State University (MSU) said in the run-up to the March 4 presidential elections.
A survey carried out by the independent Levada Centre showed that 58 per cent of Russians shared either explicitly Communist or social-democratic ideology and only 12 per cent embraced western-type liberalism. And while it may be true that the anti-Putin protests were led by the urban middle classes,
sociologists found that the share of protesters who embraced left-wing views rose from 38 per cent at the first mass rally on December 24 to 54 per cent at the second, and so far the biggest, rally on February 4.
The combination of new civic protests, strong left-wing leanings in society and growing disenchantment with Mr. Putin created exceptionally favourable opportunities for the Opposition in the March 4 presidential elections. The Russian Communists, as the only truly nationwide opposition party with a ramified network of grass-root organisations, were best placed to capitalise on the demand for change in Russian society.
The strong performance of the Communist Party in the December parliamentary poll led some experts to suggest that the presidential election of March 4 could become a replay of the 1996 poll, when President Boris Yeltsin was forced into a runoff against Mr. Zyuganov. In fact, several independent election watchdogs claimed that Mr. Putin's victory was not as overwhelming as official results suggested and his tally tottered on the brink of 50 per cent,
but the voting returns were doctored to avoid a runoff.
In the event, the March 4 poll was a disaster for the 67-year-old Communist leader. Not only was it Mr. Zyuganov's worst result in the four campaigns he had taken part but for the first time, he received fewer votes than his party in the parliamentary elections.
The Communists have themselves to blame for Mr. Zyuganov's debacle. Their leader stopped being seen as a fighter after he failed to challenge Yeltsin's controversial runoff victory in the 1996 election. Ahead of the March 4 presidential election, Mr. Medvedev sensationally revealed that Yeltsin had stolen the 1996 poll. Meeting non-parliamentary opposition leaders behind closed doors, Mr. Medvedev expressed surprise that they were making a fuss of violations at the December parliamentary poll. “Were earlier elections ideal?” he was quoted as asking. He then said: “There is hardly any doubt who won the presidential election in 1996. It was not Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin.”
This disclosure confirmed the widespread view that Mr. Zyuganov was plainly afraid of assuming power and had long been co-opted in the Kremlin establishment along with other “constructive opposition” leaders in Parliament — shriek nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and former Speaker of the Federation Council upper house Sergei Mironov, who acted as convenient sparring partners for Mr. Putin in his presidential campaigns. As one commentator put it, “Putin's strongest point in the March 4 race was his opponents' weakness.”
The surprise success of billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov in the past election underscored the public demand for new leaders. Running as a self-nominated candidate, Mr. Prokhorov, 46, was placed third with over 7 per cent vote, despite Russians' distaste of oligarchs. Analysts believe that the oligarch, however paradoxical it may seem, took away votes from the Communist candidate because Mr. Prokhorov was a new face with new ideas.
Mr. Zyuganov's refusal to step aside and let a younger and more charismatic leader take over has put off many voters. The party caucus, happily settled in their warm parliamentary seats that come with hefty salaries, free apartments and chauffeur-driven cars, do not want any changes in the party and have crushed recurrent rebellions in regional branches. Under Mr. Zyuganov's leadership, the Communist Party has lost three-fourths of its membership, which stands today at 150,000 and is likely to decline further in coming years. The continuing glorification of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin has narrowed the Communists' support base. The party has failed to shake off the label of a “party of pensioners”: the average age of its members is 57 years, according to the Communists' own statistics.
“Russia's Communists, having missed their chance in the 1990s, and having refused to change in the first decade of this century, remain in a cul-de-sac of political development, exploiting yesterday's myths and failing to offer the country an agenda fit for tomorrow's needs,” wrote Professor Vladimir Gelman of the European University in St. Petersburg.
The new political situation shaping up in Russia may never give the Communists another chance. Political reforms the Kremlin has proposed in response to civic protests include a radical easing of registration rules for new parties. On April 2, outgoing President Medvedev signed a law that slashes the minimum membership a party needs to register from 40,000 to 500, and relaxes some other restrictions. Experts predict the emergence of a hundred new parties across the political spectrum, including many leftwing parties that would take away members and voters from Mr. Zyuganov's party.
The new law has already spurred partybuilding activity on the left front. A group of left-wing politicians from the Communist Party, the left-leaning Just Russia and some other groups have announced plans to set up a broad coalition to coordinate election strategies and avoid competition. This is an attempt to overcome a ban on forming election blocs that the Kremlin included in the new law on parties in order to fragment Russia's political scene.
The former Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, has proposed recreating a socialdemocratic party which was set up in 2000 but later dissolved by a court order for failing to meet minimum membership requirement.
The fiasco in the presidential election has rekindled the revolt against the old guard in the Communist Party, pushing it to the brink of a split. Hundreds of “dissident” activists who were purged by Mr. Zyuganov's allies during a shake-up of rebellious party organisations in regions over the past three years are planning to set up a new party. Two months ago, the rebels held a so-called “Inter-regional Communist Conference” in Moscow, which accused the party caucus of turning the party “into a cynical mechanism for obtaining parliamentary seats and personal boons.” The conference decided to launch preparations for the inaugural congress of an alternative Communist Party. For their part, Mr. Zyuganov's allies at a meeting of the Communist Party's Central Committee over the past weekend reaffirmed support for their leader and vowed to step up the fight against “traitors”.
It will take the Communist Party time to overcome the crisis, but when and if it reinvents itself, it will no longer have a monopoly on the left front that it enjoyed in the past elections.
April 6, 2012 The CTBT conundrum In his article in The Hindu “Defusing the nuclear powder keg” (April 4, 2012), Jayantha Dhanapala makes three key observations.
1. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) with its “over 300 stateof-the-art sensors in every corner of the world,” gives assurance that “any nuclear test will be detected.”
Comment: There are actually 337 CTBTO stations in the world, but only 250 or so have been internationally certified. So there is still some way to go before the level of confidence in the verification procedures can be considered adequate. It may also be noted that the CTBT does not bar virtual tests
undertaken through computer simulations. With rapid advances in computing power and sophisticated software, the actual testing of a nuclear device may not be necessary to either improve existing weapons or assemble a modest but workable nuclear arsenal. There is also the possibility of a fully tested design of a nuclear weapon or even an actual device being transferred clandestinely from a nuclear weapon state to a non-nuclear weapon one. This is what China did with respect to Pakistan in the late 1980s. The CTBT and the CTBTO provide no answer to such challenges.
2. There is a looming danger of nuclear warfare in South Asia, which would be catastrophic for the entire region.
Comment: The greater danger today is not the threat of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan but the threat emanating from a loss of control over Pakistan's nuclear weapons as a result of increasing dysfunction and even possible disintegration of the country's polity and governance structure. There is a growing risk that these weapons may fall into the hands of jihadi and extremist elements. In that case, not only India and South Asia, but also
the entire world would be under a nuclear threat.
Further, regional issues, should not detract from the urgent focus required on achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. CTBT has significance only if it is integrally located within a credible and time-bound programme of nuclear disarmament. The link between nuclear weapons and international terrorism, highlighted by the United Nations, is a new dimension of the nuclear threat which demands a renewed priority to nuclear disarmament.
3. The ratification of the CTBT by non-nuclear weapon states in the Asian region, would serve to put the “eight CTBT holdouts in the spotlight.”
Comment: This is a simplistic argument. These countries have little or no impact on the security perspectives of the eight holdouts. The holdouts themselves are motivated by different factors. India, Pakistan and North Korea have neither signed nor ratified the CTBT. It would be fair to say that Pakistan's
calculations are influenced by what India does. In 1999, Pakistan and India committed themselves bilaterally to a moratorium on nuclear testing. India's calculations are similarly conditioned by what China does and China is unlikely to become a party unless the U.S. does.
Egypt and Iran obviously link their decisions to what happens to Israel's undeclared nuclear weapon arsenal. North Korea is a problem country in its own right. What would hasten the coming into force of the treaty is a U.S. decision to ratify the treaty, which would likely trigger a chain of positive decisions among the other holdouts. Not all “holdouts,” therefore, are equal in this respect.
India has declared that it would be unable to sign and ratify the CTBT as it currently formulated, but will continue its voluntary and unilateral moratorium on further testing. At one point, India had also declared that it would not stand in the way of the CTBT coming into force, but that would require an amendment to the treaty's unusual provision that it will come into force only if it has been signed and ratified by all the 44 nuclear-
capable states, including India. India is the only nuclear weapon state to declare that it believes its security would be enhanced, not diminished, in a world free of nuclear weapons.
It is willing to engage in multilateral negotiations on an International Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Manufacture, Deployment and Use of Nuclear Weapons, at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Success in these negotiations would automatically take care of the issue of nuclear testing.
I agree that the world may be perched on a “nuclear powder keg.” But that requires us to move beyond partial and interim measures such as the CTBT and deliver, with a sense of urgency, on the long-standing international commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether as a category of weapons of mass destruction, as has already been achieved with chemical weapons. April 7, 2012 Lessons to learn from Geneva
As Sri Lanka mulls over last month's United Nations Human Rights Council resolution, it may look back with nostalgia at its 2009 triumph at Geneva. Then, barely a week after its victory over the LTTE, a group of western countries wanted a resolution passed against Sri Lanka for the civilian deaths and other alleged rights violations by the army during the last stages of the operation. With the blood on the battlefield not still dry, Sri Lanka managed to snatch victory from the jaws of diplomatic defeat, with a resolution that praised the government for its humane handling of civilians and asserted faith in its abilities to bring about reconciliation.
But few remember that the resolution contained an important line relating to a commitment by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The line, in the preamble to the text, is surprising in its detail: “Welcoming also the recent reassurance given by the President of Sri Lanka that he does not regard a military solution as a final solution, as well as his commitment to a political solution with implementation of the thirteenth amendment to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka” .
The inclusion of this reference to the 13th amendment may have well been the price Sri Lanka paid for New Delhi's decision to support that resolution, its first departure from the position that it does not vote for country specific resolutions.
Officials familiar with the backroom bargaining over the 2012 resolution say there was a brief moment when Indian negotiators considered amending the text to reflect some elements of the 2009 resolution, including the significant line from its preamble. That would have served two purposes. One, it may have pressed home to Sri Lanka that the U.S.-sponsored resolution was not something that came out of the blue, even as the link with a positive resolution would have made this one seem less dire; two, from the Indian point of view, it could have helped to refocus Sri Lanka's mind on the 13th amendment.
India's constant reminder of this statute irritates Sri Lanka no end. So why does India harp on it? For no other reason than that the
13th amendment remains the only constitutional step ever taken by Sri Lanka towards moving away from a unitary, highly centralised state, to power sharing with the provinces. New Delhi believes if implemented sincerely, it could lead to a solid political peace with the Tamil minority. The amendment came about as a result of the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Accord, and it paved the way for devolution of power. The irony is that the limited devolution envisaged by the amendment flourishes in all other provinces of Sri Lanka, where it has empowered local politicians, but not in the Tamil north or the east at which it was primarily aimed.
In fact, had Sri Lanka shown seriousness about resolving the Tamil question and taken concrete steps to bring political normality to the North and East, India might never have associated itself with the 2012 resolution. The allegations against the Sri Lankan army would not have gone away but efforts by the Sri Lankan government towards a political settlement would have brought India firmly on Sri Lanka's side, and helped it win more friends internationally.
Instead, President Rajapaksa played fast and loose. At times, he declared he was in favour of “13th Amendment plus”, raising hopes he would actually improve on it. At other times, he spoke of 13th amendment “minus” police and land powers; he talked also of a “home grown” solution. As a result, his political position on this issue is unclear, and the parliamentary select committee set up recently is seen by the Tamil leadership, not unsurprisingly, as a delaying tactic. As recently as January 2012, he professed commitment to the 13th amendment to S.M Krishna, only to later deny that he had ever made such a commitment to the Indian minister.
Officials said more than the alleged human rights violations, New Delhi's decision not to vote against the resolution was motivated by the desire to send the message that Sri Lanka must act on devolution commitments, either by implementing the 13th amendment or by using it as the starting point for a substantial political settlement of the Tamil question.
Although coalition politics had some part to play in India's eventual decision to vote with the U.S., negotiators had believed that abstaining would send that message just as well. But even as it considered abstention, India was quite clear that the text had to be amended.
Focussed as Sri Lanka was on efforts to defeat the resolution, it did not foresee that New Delhi would even consider anything other than helping in this. Its first reality check came when New Delhi conveyed to the Sri Lankan foreign office that it was considering proposing amendments to the text of the resolution, and asked for inputs.
Playing on the arithmetic, Sri Lanka has now chosen to count the abstaining countries as “friends” along with those who voted against the resolution. The eight abstentions with the 15 votes against add up to one less than the 24 votes in favour of the resolution.
But the message New Delhi received back then from Colombo was that abstention was not a choice for India. It sent no inputs for the
amendments. It is rare for one country to negotiate with another — entirely on its own — to prevent intrusive international intervention in a third country. While it is nice to think this was to protect Sri Lanka, clearly India also had its own interests in mind.
The March 19 announcement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he was “inclined” to support the resolution preempted the negotiations, and tied Indian hands from proposing radical changes to the text, such as the link to the 2009 resolution. From then on, Indian negotiators focussed on getting the intrusive portions in paragraph 3 amended. The U.S. gave in on the condition that India would definitely vote in support of the resolution.
While India believes it has succeeded in sending out a powerful message to Sri Lanka — and also laying to rest the China bogey — it is not clear if Sri Lanka has yet understood all the implications fully. Both the Sri Lankan state and the Tamil minority have always been vociferous in the demand that India must play a role to resolve the island's ethnic question, but have never been satisfied unless India
takes their side unquestioningly and completely. Predictably, in the present situation, neither side is happy — the Sri Lankan state feels betrayed by India, and has chosen to see the amendments as superficial; the Tamils are disappointed that India watered down the resolution.
New Delhi's hope now would be that the Rajapaksa government takes up seriously the issue of a political settlement, even as it implements the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission recommendations. Despite the amendments to the resolution, the country is undeniably under watch. Sri Lanka must make a presentation to the UNHRC later this year; that will be followed by the Human Rights Commissioner's report at the 22nd session next March. Unless it makes a genuine attempt to reach out to the Tamil political leadership and people, the international community will continue to look unfavourably at it. India would also hope that the Tamil leadership will play a constructive role in helping Sri Lanka, and be able to recognise and separate the possible from the impossible.
The fear, however, is that the Tamil leadership — now beholden more than ever to the extremist mindset of the diaspora that played its part in pushing the 2012 resolution — could end up making radical demands, in turn giving the Sri Lankan polity an excuse to turn down those demands. April 7, 2012 Blues by the Arabian Sea EIGHT TO THE BAR:Teddy Weatherford's band at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai in 1938 featured Indian musicians playing alongside African-Americans. Earlier this year, a stage in suburban Mumbai played host to a jazz-fusion concert headlining Niladri Kumar, a fifth-generation sitar player. The depth of Kumar's association with Hindustani classical music was satisfying, but it wasn't as surprising as the long family connection one of his sidemen had with jazz. Gino Banks, the drummer at the performance, is a third-generation Indian jazz musician — a rather astonishing fact considering that the musical form was born in the faraway port city of New Orleans merely four generations ago.
Many fans know Gino as the son of the keyboard player Louiz Banks, the most prominent personality on the Indo-jazz fusion scene, but only a few realise that the Banks' links with Western popular music stretch back to the 1940s, when Gino Banks' grandfather, George, was recruited to perform alongside a visiting African-American pianist named Teddy Weatherford.
Though jazz has now become a niche interest in the subcontinent, Gino Banks and other third-generation Indian jazz musicians continue to perform fairly regularly, living proof that our country is heir to a tradition that it can claim as its own with much passion as the citizens of France or Japan, two other nations that took to jazz early.
Laying the foundation
George Banks' mentor, Teddy Weatherford, arrived in India in the mid-1930s, part of a wave of African-American jazz musicians who had fled the harsh segregation of the U.S. South. Weatherford would spend a decade in India, and when he was asked why he liked the
subcontinent so much, he had a standard reply: “They treat us white folks fine.”
Though jazz enjoyed a vogue in India for three decades from the mid-1930s, the first “allnegro” band to visit the country in September, 1935, caused some disconcertion. Led by a violinist from Minnesota named Leon Abbey, the group threw dancers at Mumbai's Taj Mahal Hotel into disarray after their first performances.
“His style was so new when Leon first played for us that many of the die-hards insisted on simpler tunes and popular numbers,” The Times of India reported. Abbey's boys were forced to make some adjustments.
“Their quicksteps have slowed from Paris speed — the fastest in all the dancing world — to Bombay speed,” The Times noted. “They have toned down their ‘hotting' to meet the less sophisticated taste of Bombay. One oldtimer recalled Abbey chuckling, “First they swore at my music, then they swore by my music.”
The foundation of India's jazz scene was laid by the outfits that followed Abbey after he left the Taj at the end of the 1935 season (his bandmates found the heat and humidity difficult to take). He was replaced by a band led by a trumpet player named Crickett Smith. Weatherford was a pianist in Smith's band and he later began to front bands himself.
The bands of Crickett Smith and Teddy Weatherford played a vital role creating a jazz culture in India. Though Indian musicians had been performing the genre since the mid1920s, they had learnt to play the style by reading music scores and listening to records. Having these great African-American musicians in town completely energised the scene. Both Crickett Smith and Teddy Weatherford recruited Indian musicians to play with them, teaching them how to “to play like negroes.”
By that, their Indian sidemen meant that the African-Americans taught them to improvise fearlessly, to go out on a limb for their art, to play straight from the heart.
Some of the tunes
From early in its history, the Indian jazz scene has spawned restless mavericks who attempted to reinvent the musical form. Among them was a trumpet player named Frank Fernand, who received a jolt after hearing Mahatma Gandhi addressing a gathering in Mussoorie in 1946. Fernand returned from that discourse determined to give jazz an Indian voice. Two years later, his efforts bore fruit as he performed a tune called “Prabhat” at a concert in Mumbai.
Over the next few decades, others would follow in Fernand's footsteps. In the mid1960s, a guitar player named Amancio D'Silva began to perform Indian-influenced jazz during his shows at Mumbai's Sun-n-Sand hotel. In a few years, he would find himself in the U.K., making records with some of Britain's leading jazz musicians. Shortly after, one of D'Silva's sidemen, the mercurial saxophonist Braz Gonsalves, would attempt to fold his Mumbai experiences into the music he was making. Among the tunes fans remember is “Karim's Blues,” named for the owner of the speakeasy
just past Flora Fountain that musicians would visit after their Prohibition-era concerts. Gonsalves also composed “Down the Back Bay,” inspired by the reclamation project in the area that would later come to be called Nariman Point.
But away from the rarefied stages of upperclass restaurants and luxury hotels, jazz found a more organic expression on India's streets.
By the 1950s, jazz became an intrinsic element in the compositions of such Hindi film music directors as C. Ramchandra, and syncopated tunes such as “Ina Mina Dika” caught the imagination of the subcontinent with their infectious energy. The instruments employed to create these masterpieces — squealing clarinets, wailing trumpets, throbbing drums — wouldn't have seemed out of place in American jazz orchestras of the time.
Today, the audience for jazz has shrunk in India, as it has all over the world. But there's no reason to be sentimental for its passing. Jazz was popular in India when it was the world's pop music. With each passing decade,
contemporary styles have swept through the subcontinent and have been adopted — and adapted — with glee and creativity. Though a group of die-hards continue to swear by it, jazz has almost faded. But India has found new tunes to dance to.
April 9, 2012 Missing from the Indian newsroom There were almost none in 1992, and there are almost none today: Dalits in the newsrooms of India's media organisations. Stories from the lives of close to 25 per cent of Indians (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) are unlikely to be known — much less broadcast or written about.
Unless, of course, the stories are about squalor and violence. An analyst once summed up the treatment of African-American and Hispanic issues in the American media: such people “rarely travel, eat or get married,” if all you knew about them was what you learned from the media.
Is it a calamity that Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are almost completely absent from newspapers and television? Of course it is. It's a calamity for at least three reasons.
First, it means that the Constitution is not being lived up to. The Constitution promises “equality” and “fraternity.” There's something deficient about “equality” if a quarter of the population is missing from the Fourth Estate. And it's hard to fraternise — to practise fraternity — with people who aren't there.
Second, a fitting presence in newsrooms, and the varied coverage that it brings, mitigates the resentment of people who are ignored and discriminated against. Recognition of tribulations and achievements combats discrimination. And if meaningful changes do not happen, resentment will bubble up destructively — as it already does in areas of Maoist influence in eastern India. Constant, probing stories about the triumphs and agonies of people on the margins help to effect remedies and turn barriers into bridges.
A section overlooked
Third, genuine media people, who believe in the old New York Times tag about ferreting out “all the news that's fit to print,” can never be satisfied with producing a newspaper, a magazine or a bulletin that robotically overlooks a quarter of the population (except when there's violence and squalor of course). Grizzled city editors (city editors are always grizzled) used to pose a single question to selfsatisfied reporters at the end of the day: “What REALLY happened out there today, boys and girls?” It ought to flash in lights in every newsroom.
The Dalit absence from the media has been focussed on sporadically since 1996. That's when Kenneth J. Cooper, the Washington Post correspondent, himself an African-American, tried to find a Dalit media person in New Delhi. Cooper wrote about his failure to do so, and B.N. Uniyal publicised Cooper's inquiries in the Pioneer . “Suddenly, I realised,” Uniyal wrote, “that in all the 30 years I had worked as a journalist I had never met a fellow journalist who was a Dalit; no, not one.”
Not a single SC, ST
Nothing had changed by the time I published India's Newspaper Revolution in 2000. Nothing had changed by 2006 when a survey on the 10th anniversary of the Cooper-Uniyal inquiry found not a single SC or ST among more than 300 media decision-makers. And nothing much had changed a year ago when the Tamil journalist, J. Balasubramaniam, wrote a personal account in the Economic and Political Weekly .
Kenneth Cooper, now a media consultant and editor based in Boston, began a distinguished career on the St Louis American , an AfricanAmerican daily that was commercially successful. If there are similarities between the plight of African-Americans in the past (and present) and Dalits today, then why are there no Dalit-oriented media voices like Ebony or Essence magazines or the old St Louis American or Chicago Defender ?
Part of the answer lies in the fact that Dalits lack advantages that Black America enjoyed (though “enjoy” is hardly the right word) even in the 1920s. Most important was a black middle class of shop-owners and professionals.
Such people could buy advertisements and put up capital to back a publication. Black America worked in a single language, English, and had networks of churches and their pastors who provided respected leaders, education and connections. Martin Luther King was one of many. Black America was also less divided internally: caste among African Americans was not a problem, though skin tone may have been.
If you're inclined to say, “Good journalists, regardless of caste, cover stories objectively” or “Quotas and reservations are the bane of modern India — only ability counts,” consider the nationalist experience. Did the old elites who confronted British rule feel they were satisfactorily represented in The Statesman and the Times of India ? They didn't. And The Hindu , Amrita Bazar Patrika , the Hindustan Times , Young India and many others were the result. Babasaheb Ambedkar said it well: “with the press in hand it [is] easy to manufacture great men.”
What might be done to put a Dalit presence into media? Two suggestions. Neither an answer, but both worth considering.
To begin with, the Editors' Guild could commit itself to carrying out an annual census of newsroom diversity of the kind that the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) began in 1978. In that year, “people of colour” were 4 per cent of people in U.S. newsrooms, though they were close to 30 per cent of the American population. The target was to reach more than 20 per cent by 2000. They missed the target. In 2011, “minorities” were about 13 per cent of American newsrooms, though they constituted 36 per cent of the U.S. population. (That includes African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asians). The new ASNE target date has been set to 2020.
Such targets in India would be difficult. (Targets, remember. Not “reservations” or “quotas”). Caste is so raw and sensitive. But if major organisations took a lead in conducting and publishing an annual audit of diversity, and included women and Muslims in such an audit, an embarrassment factor would kick in. Lesser organisations might feel obliged to follow or be singled out for ridicule.
A middle class is growing slowly among people at the bottom of India's pyramid (BOIP). People near the bottom, most of whom are Dalits, need a publication that looks at the world from their perspective — bottom up, not top down. A BOIP middle-class needs a first-class publication — an Ebony or an Essence , two of the glossy magazines of Black America that report achievements as well as outrages.
Classy & different
A slick, view-from-below magazine (English and Hindi) would cover stories from the margins in ways that people at the margins would recognise. And its journalism could be so compelling that others would want to read it for its classiness and its difference. In a tiny, budget-conscious way, the Dalit-focussed publisher, Navayana, already tries to do this in the book trade.
Such a publication would need to be run by a trust, and some of the capital would need to come from a Dalit middle-class itself. But the
corpus of the trust could be built from donations from people-of-goodwill from all backgrounds and from one-off contributions from governments. Rs. 100 crore would make a realistic target — a mere $20 million, the cost of a couple of mid-priced battle-tanks or a small slice of 2G spectrum.
What about television? For about a year-anda-half before I first came to India in 1967, I wrote a daily television column for a smalltown newspaper in western Canada. I watched a lot of U.S. and Canadian television. There were no Black people on TV. When I came back to North America in 1970, Flip Wilson, an African-American comedian, had a popular TV show. Something dramatic had happened. Thirty-eight years later, the U.S. elected a Black President.
Are there any Dalits anchoring a programme or going regularly to camera on a major Indian television channel? My contacts tell me there aren't. It will be a big moment when that changes — and a daunting burden on the person who breaks that barrier.
Achieving “equality” and “fraternity” in India may be harder even than the path that African Americans have had to follow. There are more divisions, fewer resources and huge disparities. But until there is diversity on television screens and printed pages, the promises of the Constitution will be unfulfilled, unthinking prejudice will persist and simmering resentment will grow. Media diversity is a matter of national self-interest as well as justice.
April 9, 2012 A Sufi message from a Pakistani President That Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit Pakistan at a suitable time is important news, of course. But, put it down to my personal bias if you like, the loftier symbolism of the visit lies elsewhere. The appearance of such a large Pakistani delegation at the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti's shrine in Ajmer will strike a chord with an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis who are more comfortable with the soft, humane message of the Sufis compared with the vengefulness that Hafiz Saeed represents.
Disconcertingly, his ratings in Pakistan have shot up in an atmosphere of high voltage antiAmericanism. In this atmosphere, an American bounty even on the head of the devil would give him championship in the popularity stakes. That is why Mr. Zardari's Ajmer mission deserves applause.
Contrary to popular perception, the rapid spread of Islam across the length and breadth of India was primarily the handiwork of Sufis. At a time when Rahul Gandhi and his cohorts are wondering how to win friends and influence people, the Sufis offer an excellent model. For the model to gain traction, the first requirement is a message which can be simply put across. The message the Sufis sought to communicate offended nobody: oneness of Being ( Wahdat ul Wajood ), equality of men, Love as a universal value.
Rungs of the stratified Hindu order found the egalitarianism of Sufi Khanqahs, ashrams, hospices, compelling. The first-time visitors to the hospice were overwhelmed by the
hospitality. The cuisine was custom made for universal consumption. It was not just vegetarian but care was taken to avoid garlic and onion too which some Hindu sects abstain from.
If there was one dogma the Sufis lived by, it was their total aversion to Kings and Sultans or those who sat at the top of the feudal heap. Since they would not visit the Sultans as a matter of principle, there were instances of the rulers who, overawed by the saint's boundless popularity, expressed a desire to visit them at their hospices.
“If the King enters from the front gate, I shall leave by the backdoor” Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia once famously said. They lived by the Biblical dictum: it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. So, the poor and the intellectually precocious flocked to them.
It was not just their charming temperament, demeanour and belief which attracted the people to them. It was part of their spiritual training to harmonise totally with the cultural
environment of whichever place they had made their home. They accepted and adopted the local culture.
Their contribution therefore to folk, popular and classical art forms was immense. For instance, Hazrat Amir Khusro, principal disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, invented the sitar, tabla, ragas. And, by experimental fusion of Hindvi and Persian, he virtually laid the foundation of what later came to be recognised as Urdu. For popular participation, there were always the Qawwalis, with trance inducing rhythms deftly employed between spiritual and romantic lyrics.
It was in pursuance of the trend set by the Sufis that every great Urdu poet proceeded to strengthen sub-continental syncretism. Hasrat Mohani always followed up his “haj” by a visit to Barsana for a “darshan” of Radha, because it was a belief he fancied that God had sent prophets to every country and the one he sent to India was Lord Krishna! It can only happen in the subcontinent: Maulana Hasrat Mohani was a member of the Communist Party and a member of the Constituent Assembly. He refused to sign the Constitution because it was
“anti-people”. He is an icon in modern Urdu ghazal. The famous ghazal sung by Mallika Pukhraj, “ bezubaani zubaan na ho jai ” (hark! Silence begins to have voice) is the Maulana's composition.
Quite naturally, the rapid expansion of this spectacular, colourful Islam, far removed from the arid rigidity of Najd in Saudi Arabia, invited a puritanical reaction.
There were one or two schools of Sufism, like the one to which Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi belonged and which deviated towards puritanism divorced from the colours of India. He was principally opposed to Moghul Emperor Akbar's effort at forging Din-e-elahi or a common religion of God. Later, Shah Waliullah opposed the syncretic excess which leaned too much on the arts, music and dance as a path towards spirituality.
Darul Uloom at Deoband became the centre for puritanical reform within Islam. The effort to bring the faithful back to the straight and narrow continues. Unfortunately, politicians in search of vote banks find Deoband and one or
two Imams of mosques, the only Muslim middlemen they know.
These institutions have been plodding away for decades. However, it was the war on terror painting Muslims as terrorists which generated anger in the community, enabling Deoband to marginally augment its reservoir.
By and large, Islam in Afghanistan, Kashmir, North West Frontier Province, other parts of Pakistan and India has, for years, been cloaked in colours of Sufism. But it was the manufacture of Wahabism in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union which was at the bottom of recent Islamic upheavals, of which 9/11and its aftermath are landmarks.
Basically, a strand of Islamic extremism has been in Pakistan's DNA since the country's inception but it was only a strand. The Munir Commission in 1953 investigated what is true Islam and came to no conclusion. But a backlash from the Afghan war reached its crescendo with the fall of the Lal Masjid in
Islamabad in 2007. Extremism has remained on a plateau since, helped by U.S. policies and the military establishment in equal measure.
Hafiz Saeed is currently the most high profile representative of this extremism which is linked to Wahabism first manufactured in Afghanistan in 1980. In India, Deoband is a harmless reform school. But in Pakistan, Deobandi/Salafi alliance is embarked on a vicious Jehad for the soul of the nation.
It is for this reason that Mr. Zardari's pilgrimage to Ajmer has symbolic value for Pakistan and beyond.
(The writer is a senior journalist, television commentator and interviewer.) April 9, 2012 The Original Nine's one dollar protest In a farmhouse in the village of Durham Lead outside Melbourne, Australia, a single U.S. dollar bill is framed and proudly displayed. Judy Tegart Dalton has kept that dollar for nearly 42 years, one small memento in the great battle for women's rights.
Dalton, now 74, was a member of the Original Nine, a group of women who defied the tennis establishment in 1970 and started their own tour.
They agreed to symbolic $1 contracts on September 23, 1970, and commemorated the innovation with a black-and-white photo of eight of the nine joined by the promoter, Gladys Heldman, smiling broadly as they held up dollar bills.
42 years later
Almost 42 years later, the Original Nine were reunited here Friday night and honoured as part of the 40th anniversary of the Family Circle Cup on nearby Daniel Island, the longestrunning tournament on the women's tour.
It was the first time all nine — Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, Peaches Bartkowicz, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville Reid, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss and Dalton — had been together since 1986, and only the
second time since that tournament in Houston in 1970.
They sat down Friday afternoon to recreate that photo — Julie Heldman in place of her mother, Gladys, smiling as they held up dollar bills once again. But maybe they should have been holding million-dollar cheques instead. That is what today's players can earn, thanks to the Original Nine.
Not that they realised the impact of what they were doing at the time or what those dollars meant. Dalton is the only one who still has her dollar from 1970.
‘Making a living'
“For us, it was making a living,” said Heldman, the No. 5 player in the world in 1969, whose mother, Gladys, put together the Virginia Slims Invitational of Houston and ran a 19tournament tour with $309,000 in prize money in 1971.
“It was being able to say that I am a woman athlete and this is what I do,” Heldman said. “There was a couple of the top men tennis players *who+ said, ‘You're taking money away from us because we're breadwinners.' Well, what were we? Toast winners?”
No, but they were largely on their own. With no women's tour, they had to play the same tournaments as men while earning a fraction of what the men were paid. And the tiny purses came grudgingly.
“There was a tournament that, say, had $10,000 for the men and $1,500 for the women,” Richey said. “You're talking about a huge disparity.”
So the nine women rebelled, boycotting a tournament where they were told that they would be paid an eighth or less of what the men were competing for. Instead, they signed those $1 contracts to play a small women's tournament in Houston in late September.
‘No place to go'
“We cut ourselves off from the USTA because they said if you do that you're going to be suspended,” said Richey, 69, the winner of two Grand Slam singles titles and sister of Cliff Richey, a former No. 1 men's player. “So we didn't have anyplace to go. We didn't have any place to play. But we didn't have much, anyway. To me, it wasn't that big a gamble.”
The two Australians in the Original Nine, Dalton and Reid, were suspended by their tennis association and were forbidden to play in tournaments in their homeland.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, which had refused to start a tour for women before the boycott, reversed course and decided to run a tour to compete with the Virginia Slims tour. It was not until 1973 that King forged a merger and the Women's Tennis Association was born.
This year, tournament purses on the women's tour will total $96 million.
“That's why women's tennis really stands out among all female sports,” said Serena Williams, who is playing in the Family Circle Cup, which concludes Sunday.
“Because these nine ladies took a stand and said, ‘We want this, and we want this to happen for us and for our tour.' And now look at us. I think we're the premier sport for all females.”
The impact of what they did was felt beyond tennis. As the WTA chief executive, Stacey Allaster, said Friday night during the dinner honouring the Original Nine: “Not only did you give little girls the dream to play professional tennis, you gave little girls the dream they could be CEOs of companies. So thank you.”
Their actions took place during the heyday of the women's movement in the early 1970s.
“I think we came in at a very unique time in history for women making statements,” said
Casals, 63, who won nine Grand Slam doubles titles and three mixed-doubles titles. “I always say, since then things have been boring for women.”
Things have certainly changed. But the 68year-old King, ever the fighter, says that there is more to be done, if not for tennis, then for women. Asked if what they accomplished 42 years ago could happen today, King turned to the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. The club has never allowed a woman to join, but it faces pressure to invite Virginia M. Rometty, the chief executive of IBM, a major sponsor of the Masters, because the company's four previous chief executives had been extended club memberships.
“It could,” King said, “if all the women at IBM said they were not going to work for a day.” — New York Times News Service April 10, 2012 Delhi could be a turning point India hosts scores of international conferences every year and nine out of ten do not get even a passing mention in the international press. But the BRICS summit that concluded on
March 29 broke the mould. In just two days, March 29 and 30, it was reported in no fewer than 624 major newspapers and TV newscasts around the world. What brought about this sudden change of heart? The short answer is that the international media have sensed a challenge to the two-century-old hegemony of the West over the modern, increasingly interdependent, world.
A challenge to American, and more generally western, hegemony has been building for some time. It is reflected in China's growing determination to keep the South China Sea free from foreign military and economic influence; it has been visible for much longer in the militant Islamist challenge spearheaded by the al Qaeda. It was demonstrated most recently by Russia and China's vetoes of Security Council resolutions seeking to legitimise the ouster of the Assad regime in Syria. Against this background, the Delhi meeting acquired a special significance.
But the extent to which Delhi saw the consolidation of this challenge seems to have taken the West by surprise. Only three days before the summit, a columnist writing in the
International Herald Tribune had dismissed BRICS as “an artificial bloc built on a catchphrase.” Unlike NATO, ASEAN, and other such groupings, he pointed out, there is neither a regional nor a trade-related justification for BRICS. On the contrary, all of its members have their primary economic links with the West. Even the acronym was coined by an executive of Goldman Sachs whose aim was to drum up new business for the company in advising trans-national corporations on how to expand business in the parts of the world which were still enjoying rapid economic growth after the onset of globalisation and the gradual de-industrialisation of the West.
More than an acronym
But today BRICS has become far more than an acronym. The Delhi declaration contains not only the most comprehensive criticism of the failures of the West that has been voiced by any group of countries since the end of the Cold War, but also the outlines of an alternative blueprint for managing our increasingly interdependent world.
The need to draw up such a blueprint has been thrust upon BRICS by the West's failures. Both the financial meltdown of 2008 and the global recession that set in during the following year were products of capitalist greed and mismanagement, given full reign by governments that scrambled to deregulate all markets, domestic and international, in the name of economic freedom and productivity. What they succeeded in doing was to turn the marketplace into a hunting ground for economic predators.
Not surprisingly, therefore, BRICS first demands, in June 2009, all related to reforms of the international financial institutions, a restructuring of the financial system, energy security, climate change and trade. The tone of these demands was cooperative: their goal, the assembled heads of government hastened to reassure the West, was to “expand strategic consensus, consolidate mutual trust, coordinate to cope with the global financial and economic crisis” and lay out a blueprint for the future development of the international economic and financial system.
But as the chaos deepened and spread from the global economy to the global polity, BRICS was forced to widen its agenda and sharpen the tone of its declarations. It crossed the line from economics into politics at its third summit in Hainan, China, last April, when its leaders expressed their “deep concern for the turbulence in the Middle East” and promised to “continue their cooperation in the Security Council over Libya.”
But NATO chose to learn the wrong lessons from Libya. Instead of realising from the aftermath of its aerial invasion that forcibly removing an authoritarian regime does not lead painlessly to democracy, freedom and peace, but to a power vacuum that is inevitably filled by the most brutal and bigoted elements in that society, it came away with the belief that it had at last discovered a cheap “new way of war” that had made regime change affordable even for economically bankrupt powers. So Libya was followed by Syria, and Syria is in danger of being followed by Iran.
It is this deeply unsettling prospect of spreading chaos and war that has given BRICS
challenge to the hegemony of the West the fully matured shape unveiled in Delhi.
The Delhi declaration poses this challenge most unambiguously in six of its 50 paragraphs. The first is a critique of European and, by implication, American monetary mismanagement, which has plunged both continents into irredeemable national debt, created an overhang of international liquidity, and severely exacerbated a global recession. The second provides an equally sharp critique of the West's political mismanagement of the Middle East. A third paragraph reminds the U.S. and the EU that peace in the Middle East cannot be obtained without a “comprehensive and long lasting settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute” and commits the signatories wholeheartedly to helping them to finding it.
A fourth unequivocally reasserts the need to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states, but with specific reference to Syria. The signatories express “deep concern over (the assault on the
sovereignty of ) Syria”, call for “an immediate ceasefire” and wholeheartedly back the sixpoint plan proposed by former U.N. SecretaryGeneral Kofi Annan for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire, and “a Syrian-led inclusive political process” to create “a new environment for peace.”
The declaration saves its most trenchant observation for the end: “The situation in Iran,” it says, “ must not be allowed to escalate into conflict . We recognize Iran's right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue between the parties concerned, including between the IAEA and Iran, and in accordance with the provisions of the relevant U.N. Security Council Resolutions.” These observations fall just short of being a barely veiled warning.
The paragraphs on Syria and Iran constitute the most unambiguous rejection to date of the doctrine of “peace through pre-emptive attack,” that was formulated by the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11, and whose
repeated use since then has been justified on the grounds of not only fighting terrorism but also defending human rights, promoting democracy and exercising the ‘Duty to Protect'. The plain truth is that from the liberation of Kosovo in 1999 to the destruction of Libya last year, every such action has been a violation of Article 2, the most fundamental clause of the U.N. Charter. The Delhi declaration is therefore a reaffirmation of the continuing validity of the U.N. Charter, and therefore a warning to the West against using the institutions of the United Nations — notably the Security Council — to destroy the U.N. itself.
Even the two concrete economic initiatives it has outlined, the development of a system of international payments among the members that bypasses the dollar and the creation of an alternative international bank, have not only an immediate economic purpose — to shield their economies from the currency instability of the West, but the longer term political purpose of freeing themselves from subservience to an international banking system that has become the West's tool for imposing sanctions, sequestering funds and
thereby strangling smaller countries into submission to its dictates.
The western response to the Delhi declaration has been muted so far. Robert Zoellick, the President of the World Bank, and renowned economists Nicholas Stern, Matthia Romani and Joseph Stiglitz have all welcomed the idea of a BRICS bank, remarking caustically that “such a bank could play a strong role in rebalancing the world economy by channelling hard-earned savings in emerging markets and developing countries to more productive uses than funding bubbles in rich-country housing markets”. They could as easily have added “or accepting paper securities of dubious value as payment for their exports”.
But a conservative reaction is bound to follow and, if highlighted by the media, it could easily elevate what is at present only an admonition of the U.S. and NATO, into a threat. It is imperative for BRICS to ensure and the world to perceive, that the Delhi declaration is not the beginning of a new Cold War.
Today the disorganisation of domestic and international economic systems caused by globalisation has spread to the international political system. BRICS has found its raison d'etre in trying to arrest the spread. It is not likely to be left to do this alone. To quote Diena , a Latvian newspaper published in Riga, “It would be an exaggeration to say that this more or less informal alliance is aimed against the United States. These countries all understand that they want to live in a polycentric world, not a monocentric one that is dominated by the United States.” Latvia is a member of the EU.
(The writer is a senior journalist.) April 10, 2012 Chasing shadows in Abujmard GROUND ZERO:Apart from reports of civilian deaths and property damage, the outcomes of ‘Operation Hakka' are still unclear. A burnt house. —PHOTO: AMAN SETHI Between March 10 and March 17 this year, troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the CRPF's special Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), and the Chhattisgarh
Police's Special Task Force entered Abujmard: a 6,000 sq.km expanse of uncharted forest described, by some, as a liberated territory controlled by guerilla forces of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
Security forces have arrested 13 villagers suspected of belonging to the banned organisation. Narayanpur's Superintendent of Police, Mayank Srivastav, told The Hindu that teams in Narayanpur engaged in “at least 12 to 13” exchanges of fire with the Maoists. A nine page Maoist communiqué sent to this correspondent accuses the security forces of burning homes, looting villages and killing at least one villager in the course of the raids. In a visit to Toke, a village targeted by security forces, villagers corroborated at least some of the Maoist claims.
“Operation Haka” (described as a hunt for wild animals in the local Mariya dialect) is the first coordinated, multi-State push into Abujmard and can be read as a new phase in the attritional battle between security forces and the Maoists.
In 2009, Central and State forces conducted a series of joint operations, described as “Operation Green Hunt” by the press, along the borders of Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district and Andhra Pradesh. The raids proved controversial after eyewitness accounts published in The Hindu claimed at least 21 presumably innocent villagers, including a 12year-old girl and a 65-year-old grandmother, were killed in two separate raids.
In the aftermath of “Operation Haka,” like in 2009, sections of the media have amplified stories to reflect an official narrative of storming a “red citadel.” But the following account, based on interviews with senior sources in the police and central paramilitary forces, reveals a far more complicated reality.
One evening last week, children recited the Gayatri Mantra , a devotional hymn chanted by Hindus, before sitting down to a meal of rice, potatoes and soya nuggets cooked at the government residential school at Toke, one of three “Maoist” villages in Naryanpur targeted in the course of “Operation Haka.”
Dusu Dhurva, the school cook, said the children had picked up the hymn from two State government teachers who taught for at least two weeks in a month, and ferried government rations for the village school. The Maoists also held meetings in Toke, Mr. Dhurva said, suggesting that Abujmard could be understood as comprising zones of overlapping influence of Maoists and the State rather than hermetically sealed compartments controlled by either entity.
On the afternoon of March 16, Mr. Dhurva climbed a hill and watched as security forces appeared on the outskirts of the Toke accompanied by Udhav Ram, a middle-aged cow herder who they had caught en route. “I was returning from a wedding with my son when the force emerged from behind a forest ridge,” said Mr. Ram in an interview, “They threw me to the ground, kicked me savagely, tied my hands behind my back and marched me in the direction of Toke.” Mr. Ram said he protested his innocence, and was eventually released.
Mr. Ram said the forces moved in several batches. He and his escorts entered Toke at
about 2:30 p.m. that day and were confronted by the sight of a house allegedly set alight by preceding teams of troopers. It was Keye Dhurva's house.
“We were in the fields on the day of the operation,” said Keye Dhurva's son, Sannu Dhurva, “When I came home at about 5 p.m., the house was burnt.” Mr. Sannu said the family lost two trunks worth of clothes, all their kitchen utensils, about a quintal of grain and Rs.16,000 that was the entirety of the family's savings.
“We were in the house when the force came,” said Aite Gota, another Toke resident, “I told my husband to run away into the forest, but he said, “No, I'm going to sit in the ghotul *an open structure where villagers gather+.” Ms Gota said she saw security forces surround her husband, throw him to the ground and beat him over the head. When the beatings stopped, Ms Gota said, her husband – Dunga Gota – was dead.
Apart from her testimony, this correspondent was unable to independently verify Gota's
death as his body had been buried, and Ms Gota said she did not have a photograph of her husband. Villagers pointed to a freshly dug grave by way of evidence.
Residents said the forces stormed the village, kicking down doors, catching chickens and piglets and seizing utensils. They camped briefly near a stream west of Toke, before leaving for Jatwar at about 6 p.m. En route, resident Vatte Dhurva said, they burnt a grain store he had built on his farmlands outside Toke. “They burnt about 10 kandi of Kosara *a coarse cereal], 25 kg of paddy and 20 kg of rice,” Vette Dhurva said. One kandi is about 30 kg.
Mr. Srivastav categorically denied the villagers' allegations,
“Nobody was beaten up, this is the truth,” he said in his office, “We treated every villager we met with love. We tried to help them and we helped them.” Mr. Srivastav said he would act upon any complaint registered by villagers, adding that the absence of a body suggested that the death of Gota could be a case of
Maoist propaganda. The forces also came under fire on the outskirts of Toke, he added.
Mr. Srivastav said his forces raided Toke, Hikonar and Jatwar on the basis of prior information. “We recovered some documents from Toke…the maximum recoveries were in Hikonar where we recovered two trunks of documents and plastic explosive with boosters and detonators,” Mr. Srivastav said, noting that the discovery of plastic explosive was relatively rare.
Forces encountered the maximum resistance at Jatwar village where the guerillas fired on a helicopter attempting to airdrop supplies for troops camped at the village.
This correspondent couldn't reach Jatwar and Hikonar, but the Maoist report claims the guerilla attacked the forces between Hikonar and Jatwar and injured two CoBRA commandos; a helicopter was dispatched to evacuate the injured but the Maoists were allegedly “at its back like honeybees.” The report also claimed that forces burnt a home in Jatwar and damaged houses and property in
villages across Bijapur and Gadchiroli but the allegations could not be independently verified.
In Abujmard, as elsewhere in Chhattisgarh, the ripple effects of State and Maoist intervention in adivasi villages has made it difficult to distinguish between guerillas and villagers, “camps” and “villages,” Maoist propaganda centres from government ashrams and “Maoist rations” from the subsidised rice distributed by the State government.
Apart from reports of civilian deaths and property damage, the outcomes of “Operation Hakka” are still unclear. Senior officers acquainted with the operation freely admit that the weeklong exercise is unlikely to significantly change the situation on the ground.
“Towards the end it became an exercise in endurance,” said a senior officer speaking on background. “All exchanges of fire were over long distances…the two officers injured were struck by lucky hits from well over 400 yards. Why would the Maoists attack us directly?”
The nature of the recoveries — one 303 rifle, a 12 bore, five country made shotguns, Maoist literature, samples of plastic explosive and a portable printer — belie the existence of a socalled “Red Citadel” that can be stormed by military action.
“The operation has busted the myth of a single Maoist stronghold if anyone still believed it,” explained a source, “The Maoists are not fighting a positional war in which they try to hold and defend territory.”
Instead, the guerillas in Chhattisgarh are organised into a series of 12 fighting companies that camp as discrete units, coalesce to attack when they have the upper hand and fade away into the rolling hills when confronted by a superior force. One option, officers believe, is to expand the imprint of the force by setting up camps across Abujmard. The move could be accompanied by expanding informer networks to allow for intelligencebased strikes.
“Those inclined to view Operation Hakka as a strike at the heart of the Maoist stronghold would do well to remember Mao's dictum of guerrilla warfare reproduced in a document titled “Strategies and Tactics of the Indian Revolution,” “When the enemy advances, we retreat; when the enemy camps, we harass; when the enemy tires, we attack; when the enemy retreats, we pursue.”
April 11, 2012 In Myanmar, a calibrated but irreversible opening THE PRESENT AND FUTURE:The generational transformation within the ranks of the military as well as the role of individuals such as Myanmar President Thein Sein has led to a change in attitudes. A file picture of Members of Parliament at the Lower House in Naypyitaw. —PHOTO: AFP In a society that has been closed for decades, where brutal repression has taught citizens the value of discretion, and where decision making mechanisms are opaque, factual answers about policy choices are at a premium. Instead, speculation, theories and conspiracies
abound. So in the past year, as Myanmar's new President and its elected legislature introduced a series of reform measures, a few questions have constantly cropped up — without adequate answers.
Is there a real political change? Why is the military allowing it? Is it a strategic shift or merely a tactical ploy? And crucially, is it sustainable? Few know authoritatively, but recent developments — including, but not only, the April 1 by-elections — offer some insights.
Talk to any long-time resident, and there is unanimity that the changes are not cosmetic. There has been no “tryst with destiny” moment, but the fear of authority is gradually subsiding.
Dissidents of the 1988 generation, who were constantly followed around by military spies, say they can operate independently. Journalists, who had never thought they could return home after years in exile, have now set
up offices in downtown Yangon and even engage with the government. MPs from democratic parties which participated in the 2010 elections claim they have been able to raise controversial issues in the legislature. Diplomats say that the government has become more open — in giving access, and responding to concerns. Many political prisoners remain locked up, but hundreds have also been released.
Take the bypolls. In a reminder of the stranglehold of the older practices, a government official at a polling booth, identifying himself as “police,” tapped this correspondent on the shoulder, asked for his name and personal details, and jotted it down. But then he stepped aside and allowed journalists to freely walk around, despite strictures that the press had to be at some distance away from the booth. Voters cheerfully volunteered information about casting the ballot for The Lady.
A lot of this has been made possible due to President Thein Sein. After taking over last March, he allowed the right to form labour unions and protest, albeit with caveats;
responded to public pressure and suspended work on the Myitsone dam, at the cost of antagonising China, the country's most important ally; liberalised media regulations; reached out to Aung San Suu Kyi and amended the electoral law to enable the National League for Democracy to participate in the bypolls; set up a talks team to initiate peace negotiations with ethnic groups (except the Kachin army, most other major groups have responded positively); and ensured that elections were free and fair.
By any stretch, this is a remarkable achievement. But why has Mr. Sein, a former general, undertaken these measures, given that there was no overwhelming pressure on him to do so? And how has the military, which backs the government, allowed this to happen?
Some trace it back to 2003 when the military regime had itself announced a seven-step “road map to disciplined democracy.” Interestingly, what is happening at present ties
in with the prescribed outline, which included drafting a constitution and endorsing it through a referendum (both done in 2008); and holding elections to form national legislative bodies, and convening its meetings (implemented in 2010, and with the recent bypolls).
Several Yangon-based analysts believe that the military has broadly followed the road map since this is its “safest exit strategy.” Under this framework, it continues to retain the levers of power both inside and outside Parliament, and can determine the pace of change. At the same time, the road map broadens the social base of the polity and insulates it from any rude shock which would erode its hold suddenly and drastically. The military, this school of thought contends, realised that it would not be able to meet the rising aspirations of the citizens in an increasingly connected world only through repressive measures. The generational transformation within the ranks has also led to a change in attitudes.
Add to it the role of individuals. The autocratic Senior General Than Shwe has retired, and
contrary to expectations, has not interfered in day-to-day functioning in the past year; both President Sein and the Speaker of the Lower House, Thura Shwe Mann, appear to have genuinely reformist impulses.
But if some place an emphasis on this internal impulse for change, others point to the external setting. Myanmar's generals and decision-makers could see that from a position of historic advantage, they were now lagging behind even Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Increasing exposure, especially to the region through ASEAN, had enhanced Naypyitaw's ambitions — but this hit a wall because of the antiquated political system. Despite the brave front, sanctions had been hurting. International business interests were at play — while eager to come in, they told the generals that old ways of functioning had to change. The dependence on China had grown exponentially, and with it, the fear of being reduced to a satellite state. This created the need to diversify foreign policy options, and expand ties with the western countries, which would be possible only with democratic reforms.
And for the reforms to have any credibility, and for the West to buy it, it needed Aung San Suu Kyi's stamp of approval, which is why the joke — only half in jest — in Yangon before election day was that the government needed the NLD to win to prove its reformist credentials.
Ms Suu Kyi decided to engage with the political process after her landmark meeting with the President in August 2011.
She took a political risk and stood up to many sceptics within her party, Myanmar's democratic movement, as well as activists in exile. This group sees the “reforms” as a mere ruse to “entrap” her and get the sanctions lifted, and is critical of any engagement with the government as long as the military remains dominant. Her decision was a leap of faith, but based on hard calculations about the limited options with the NLD and the military's changed outlook. The bypoll results are expected to strengthen her hand against the more “purist” critics within the democratic fold.
Precisely because the bypolls have strengthened Ms Suu Kyi, there are concerns that the hardliners within the military — who are reported to be unhappy with the reforms — would reassert themselves. The NLD commands only a six per cent seat share in the entire legislature, but the sweep on April 1 gives the party a moral victory and also indicates that if the 2015 polls are free and fair, it would become the dominant force. The military-backed Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) would have to struggle for its political survival, and thus the concerns that it would seek to stall the change.
The President's advisers however dismiss the possibility. The opening up has created its own dynamic and unleashed latent political energy. Even if it wants, the military will find it hard to reverse the change. At best, it could slow down the pace of reforms, and block any major constitutional changes in Parliament —a key demand of the NLD. If that happens, it will lead to disillusionment within Ms Suu Kyi's camp. After the euphoria fades, they will realise the limits of their power — and their
inability to meet the growing expectations of their constituents.
How the President reins in the USDP hardliners, and how Ms Suu Kyi satisfies those restless for immediate change within the NLD will now be a critical determinant of future reforms.
If the democratic transition represents one challenge, the other is dealing with the complex ethnic question. In the past six decades, successive governments have alternately made promises, waged wars, and signed ceasefire pacts with multiple ethnic groups. But the fundamental political issues — of providing them with federalism, giving them a share of power in the overwhelmingly Myanmarese-dominated polity, and creating an inclusive sense of nationalism — have never been addressed. Ethnic parties operating within the parliamentary fold, as well as those waging an armed rebellion, are angry and impatient. The government and the NLD have made the right noises about reconciliation;
whether it translates into political will to restructure the state is yet to be seen.
Myanmar's political transformation will not be smooth, and enormous challenges lie ahead. But the change — calibrated as it may be — is real, and arguably irreversible. April 11, 2012 From Chief Minister to Chief Censor Around 1967, Warren Unna of The Washington Post asked Shiv Sena boss Bal Thackeray whether he read any books. He received a stunning reply: “I don't want to mix my thinking with that of others”. The same arrogance, bred by insecurity, explains the order of March 14 made by the West Bengal government headed by Mamata Banerjee: “In public interest the government will not buy newspapers published or purported to be published by any political party, either national or regional, as a measure to develop free thinking among the readers”. The affinities between the two leaders are striking — populism and intolerance of dissent.
However, Mr. Thackeray's preference concerned him alone. Mamata's affects 2,463
government-aided libraries, 12 government libraries, 7 government sponsored ones and the State Central Library. All English language dailies were barred. Initially, a mere eight survived — Sangbad Pratidin , Sakalbela , Dainik Statesman , Ekdin , and Khabar 365 Din in Bengali; Sanmarg (Hindi) and Akhbar-eMashriq and Azad Hind (Urdu).
Two of the Bengali dailies are headed by two Trinamool Congress MPs of the Rajya Sabha. The Hindi and an Urdu daily are headed by Rajya Sabha MPs of the same party. Sangbad Pratidin , for example, is owned by Srinjoy Bose, a party MP. Its associate editor Kunal Ghosh was elected recently to the Rajya Sabha on the Trinamool ticket to give the owner company. After an uproar, five more papers were added on March 28; namely, Himalaya Darpan (Nepali), Sarsagar (Santhali periodical), The Times of India , and two others.
There is another aspect, besides. The right to select papers belongs to the management of each library depending on the demand among
the readers in that particular area. A central edict is an insult to them. Ms Banerjee's order also flagrantly violates the citizens' right to know. It is not for any Minister to prescribe a select bibliography to the Indian citizen. An official acknowledged on March 28: “This is the first instance of such a circular. The management boards of libraries have so far been the final authority on deciding which newspapers and periodicals to offer, on the basis of readers' demands”. Now the readers are asked to read what Kolkata deems fit for their minds; “in public interest”, of course.
Arbitrary orders are invariably defended by absurd and contradictory explanations. On March 29, Mamata Banerjee and her Sancho Panza, Abdul Karim, Mass Education and Library Services Minister, explained: “We will promote local and small newspapers”. Some dailies on her approved list will not be flattered by this decision apart from the impropriety of State funding of the press.
There is a judicial ruling directly on point by a judge of eminence, Lord Justice Watkins, in the Queen's Bench Division on November 5, 1986 ( R. vs. Ealing Borough Council, ex. p. Times
Newspapers Ltd. (1987) 85 L.G.R. 316 ). He quashed decisions by some borough councils in the U.K. to ban from public libraries within their areas newspapers and periodicals published by Times Newspapers and News Group Newspapers for the duration of an industrial dispute between them and their employees. This was done as a gesture of support to the employees. The court ruled that the authorities had taken into account an irrelevant factor and abused their powers as library authorities under the Public Libraries and Museums Act, 1964. In India, the Constitution itself will render such an act invalid as being an abuse of state power.
The petitioners, represented by Anthony Lester, Q.C., relied on Section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act, 1964, which reads thus: “(1) It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof; (2) In fulfilling its duty under the preceding subsection, a library authority shall in particular have regard to the desirability — (a) of securing … that facilities are available for the borrowing of, of reference to, books and other printed materials, sufficient in number, range and quality to meet
the general requirements and any special requirements of both adults and children …”
The abuse of power was blatant. The councils had but one purpose, namely to punish Rupert Murdoch for his stand in the industrial dispute. The ban was clearly for a purpose ulterior to Section 7. The violation of Section 7 was deliberate and wilful.
India's written Constitution repairs the omission of any such statute. As H.M. Seervai pointed out in his work Constitutional Law of India , Article 294 vests the assets and properties in the Union or the State Governments, respectively, for the purpose of the Union or the State, in short, for a public purpose.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1884 that “the United States does not and cannot hold property, as a monarch may, for private or personal purposes. All the property and revenues of the United States must be held and applied, as all taxes, duties, imposts and excises must be laid and collected, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence
and general welfare of the United States” ( Van Brocklin vs Anderson; (1884-85 U.S. 117 U*S.151 at 158 ). Arbitrary expenditure unrelated to public purpose also violates the fundamental right to equality (Art. 14).
The Supreme Court of India's landmark ruling in the International Airport Authorities Case in 1979 opened another avenue of challenge. Justice P.N. Bhagwati held: “The Government cannot be permitted to say that it will give jobs or enter into contracts or issue quotas or licences only in favour of those having grey hair or belonging to a particular political party or professing a particular religious faith. The Government is still the Government when it acts in the matter of granting largesse and it cannot act arbitrarily. It does not stand in the same position as a private individual...
“It must, therefore, be taken to be the law that where the Government is dealing with the public, whether by way of giving jobs or entering into contracts or issuing quotas or licences or granting other forms of largesse,
the Government cannot act arbitrarily at its sweet will and, like a private individual, deal with any person it pleases, but its action must be in conformity with standard or norms which are not arbitrary, irrational or irrelevant.”
These tests render the order of March 14 a nullity on the very face of it. The Courts can strike it down suo moto or on the petition of any citizen.
They will render high service if they did so. For, it will provide a speedy and effective cure to a mindset which is completely out of sync with constitutional values and curbs. Ads have been stopped to “small” papers which depended on them for sheer survival. On Fools' Day, it was disclosed that the list of Banga Bibhushan awardees, who received Rs. 2 lakh each, included artistes, poets and writers who had campaigned for the Trinamool. Didi looks after her own, albeit at public expense. An Urdu saying casts her in a different light — “Halvai ki dukan par April 12, 2012 Delete the errors to save the census
ON E-BASE:An enumerator entering data collected from a family during a census operation in Mysore.—PHOTO: M.A.SRIRAM Have the census enumerators recently knocked on your door with swanky tablet computers in hand? If they have, it's because they have begun to go door-to-door in most States to complete the final phase of the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC). This mammoth exercise is being coordinated by more than 7,00,000 enumerators, data-entry operators, supervisors, trainers and government officials.
For the first time since 1931, this decennial exercise will also ask families for their traditional “caste” name. Also as a meanstesting exercise, the SECC will single-handedly determine which of India's 250 million families will be eligible for a slew of anti-poverty subsidies — from old age pensions and health insurance to subsidies for housing and electricity. Most significantly, it may be the basis to decide which families receive low-cost foodgrains.
While there has been much debate on the criteria for evaluation used in this exercise, the
on-the-ground methodology too needs scrutiny.
Last week, with a billowing dust storm to accompany us in the parched desert landscape of western India, a team of university students and I were witness to this historic exercise in a few villages.
Basic information on each household from the National Population Register (NPR) is already pre-loaded on the tablet. Each family is first asked to verify this and then answer a number of additional questions. As we walked door-todoor with the enumerators, we found that each household interview usually does not last for more than 20 minutes. Some are wrapped up in 10.
Though the tablets designed by Bharat Electronics Ltd are sturdy and of a relatively low cost, the main problem with using them is that there is no paper trail for families to verify data. And often there is a slip.
For example, in one case we noticed that the operator had wrongly entered data that the household had two instead of one kachha room. This minor error could bar them from being declared as a poor family.
The operators are also inadequately trained. While the enumerators are usually government employees from secondary or high schools, the operators have been sourced from private companies sub-contracted on short-term contracts. In some States this has resulted in manpower shortages and delays.
The most important area of concern is the definition of a household. The Ministry of Rural Development has clarified that “if any female member of a household [for example, widowed, separated, second wives, single women, etc] decides to declare herself as a separate household, she should be recorded as a separate household.”
All the enumerators and respondents we met were completely unaware of this provision. As a result a deserving, aged, visually
handicapped, impoverished widow who lives with her sons (see box) could be pegged as being “above the poverty line” and lose her eligibility to earn old-age pension. Many enumerators also did not know the simple tech-fix of how to split data on households on their tablets.
Land is another question where anomalies could potentially exclude millions of deserving families. The trouble is that most enumerators do not even enquire whether the land owned by a household is irrigated and the number of crops sown each year — both key exclusion criteria.
On a positive note, since the census and poverty identification surveys have been combined for the first time, there is a greater chance of enumerators visiting many more households, unlike in the previous BPL survey exercises.
But this time around, too many villagers are not even aware of this exercise or its significance. Often they are not even at home when the enumerators arrive. So far, the data
has also not been published at the gram sabha level for villagers to verify or apply for corrections.
In fact, a similar exercise in Peru's Juntos programme is reported to have sown the seeds of discord as even small differences in assets can make a world of a difference to a household's official poverty status. Validation of eligible households through local assemblies too has proved to be divisive, pitching neighbours against each other.
While this unique Indian census is being conducted more systematically and professionally than previous BPL surveys, a number of important hurdles still do crop up on the ground. So before it is rolled out in more States in the summer, this would be the perfect time to refine it, clarify its implications and iron out loose-ends. April 12, 2012 Food security & the cup of Tantalus
In ancient Greece, the punishment given to Tantalus was to tie a cup around his neck and fill it with water. Every time he bent to take a sip, the cup would drop further and he would never get a drop into his parched mouth. From this comes the word “tantalizing”. Something like that is happening with food security. However much food we procure and at whatever expense, not till what has been procured, stored and transported reaches the final consumer would the consumer have anything other than the cup of Tantalus tied around his neck.
The key issue in food security, which has received almost no attention from either those who advocate or those who oppose the Food Security Bill, is neither the adequacy of supplies nor the financial resources required but the question of ‘last mile' delivery: how to get the food out to close on a billion people spread throughout the country from the remotest hamlets to the most vibrant urban centres.
There is little point in undertaking the gargantuan task (and expenditure) of procuring, storing and transporting the grain
unless the foodgrains package actually reaches the intended beneficiaries. Instead of making this the issue at the heart of the Bill, the whole question of last mile delivery is relegated to a dozen lines in chapter XII of the draft legislation, vaguely suggesting that State governments might “assign by notification, additional responsibilities for implementation to the local authority.”
The very expression “local authority” in chapter XII betrays a mindset anchored in the colonial past. That was (and is) how the grassroots bureaucratic institutions were (and are) described. Now, for the best part of 20 years, our Constitution, in Article 243G, has mandated the replacement of nominated “local authorities” by democratically elected local “institutions of self-government.” The distinction is vital. For, “local authorities” are nominated civil servants, transferable at a moment's notice and with no stake in the local community. The panchayats and nagarpalikas, on the other hand, are elected bodies, locally elected by the community within which they function and answerable to the gram sabha (or
equivalent body in urban areas) comprising the entire adult electorate.
There are no less than 2.50 lakh of these institutions of self-government, to which have been elected no less than 32 lakh representatives, of whom as many as 12 lakh are women, 86,000 of whom hold office as chairperson or vice- chairperson. No one has a greater stake in food security than these women and the families they are locally responsible to. No one would better ensure last mile delivery than these elected women members and the local women's self-help groups. It is the intended beneficiaries who constitute the bulk of the electorate that vote these women (and men) to office. It is they, as the electorate, who have the authority to transfer to political obscurity the elected members of the local panchayat or nagarpalika if the elected representative fails to deliver. And it is within the same community that the one who once strutted the local political stage has to suffer the humiliation of political exile. If these panchayats and nagarpalikas, and their respective local women's self-help groups, are empowered through detailed State legislation, based on chapter XII provisions, to exercise the functions devolved on them in respect of food
security, and provided both the finances and the functionaries to undertake last mile delivery, then the community, which has the singular stake in ensuring food security for itself, will be able to hold the local institution of self-government responsible for delivering or failing to deliver on food security. That would be the democratic way of ensuring that the persistent failures of our hideously bureaucratic public distribution system (PDS) are substantially rectified.
Chapter XII ducks this vital issue by merely leaving it to “State governments” (not even the State legislature) to “assign, by notification, additional responsibilities” to the “local authority.” This chapter must be amended and lengthened to provide at a minimum for the following last mile delivery provisions.
First, the expression “local authority” must be replaced by the words “local institutions of self-government constituted under Articles 243G and W of the Constitution”. Second, the State legislatures must, in terms of these Constitutional provisions, be charged with the task of legislating the “duties and
responsibilities” that must vest in the panchayats and nagarpalikas, particularly in view of Entry 28 “Public Distribution System” of the Eleventh Schedule, which illustratively lists the functions to be devolved to the elected local bodies.
Third, in a separate schedule to the draft bill, the specific functions to be devolved to each tier of the three-tier system of panchayat raj should be detailed along with the simultaneous devolution of finances and functionaries to undertake last mile delivery. This is technically called Activity Mapping and must apply pari passu to the municipalities. Such Activity Mapping must include local procurement (with a view to building up local grain banks as was the practice till the British bureaucratised the entire process) as well as stocking and running the local ration shop, preferably, as has been demonstrated successfully in Chhattisgarh, by local women's self-help groups under the general supervision of the panchayats.
Fourth, to avoid panchayat raj becoming sarpanch raj, there must be statutory provision for each elected local body to have a committee of members, including all lady representatives, to oversee the local women's self-help groups. Fifth, the role of the District Planning Committees set up under Article 243 ZD (and ZE for the metropolitan areas) in regard to determining and projecting the district's requirements of food security must be clearly spelt out.
Emphasis on consensus
Sixth, and most important, there must be statutory provision for the gram sabha (or equivalent body in municipalities and metros) to regularly meet and discuss issues relating to food security, with the strict injunction that decisions taken by consensus or majority in the gram sabha in this regard must be respected. That is the way forward to an efficient, peopledriven, people-centric food security system; else, the present draft will be paved with good intentions to the purgatory of dashed hopes and failed delivery. April 12, 2012
Presidential Reference on 2G flawed on facts and logic The Presidential Reference against the Supreme Court 2G judgment, which carries the approval of the Cabinet, is ridden with serious misrepresentations and factual errors which could become a potential source of embarrassment for both the office of the President and the country's apex policymaking body.
The misrepresentations are despite the fact that at least three of the members of the group pushing the Presidential Reference under the chairmanship of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee have had a fairly deep engagement with the 2G mess. This includes Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, now famous for his “zero loss” theory, Salman Khurshid, who put up a strong, but futile, government defence in the 2G matter, and Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati, who approved the press release of January 10, 2008 and defended the government twice over in the Supreme Court in the 2G matter — both times unsuccessfully.
Given this level of experience, it is discomfiting to find that the reference strings together rank falsehoods and half truths to prove that spectrum has rarely been bid for in India except when it was auctioned for 3G in 2010, in order to establish that a vast majority of the sector is impacted by the Supreme Court order cancelling 122 licences for being allocated in 2008 through a serious of illegal steps.
The legal questions raised generate dangerous and unnecessary uncertainty, placing licences from 1994 vintage under judicial scrutiny by asking questions, several of which have no relevance to the Supreme Court's previous judgment.
Strangely, though the Reference has been prepared based on a presentation made to the Prime Minister on February 11, followed by one to the Finance Minister on February 24, it has managed to bypass scrutiny save for a strong rejection by Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
While describing the various cellular and basic service licences allocated between 1994 and
1997, referring to them as pre-2001 licences, the Reference concludes that spectrum for these licences was allocated on a “first come, first served (FCFS) basis without any upfront charges for spectrum.” This is wrong on both counts. The question of allocating spectrum on a FCFS basis didn't arise as there were only two licences in case of mobile and a single licence where basic services were concerned. The second highest bidder had to match the highest bidder and spectrum was allocated on that basis. The 34 cellular mobile licences in 1995 and the six basic licences of 1997 received upfront bids of Rs.20,393.84 crore and Rs.27,863.30 crore for 10 and 15 years respectively — a fact that the Reference hides.
Apart from the amounts being bid upfront and at least in the case of the cellular licences of 1995, they were nothing but a payment for the 4.4 MHz of spectrum that came guaranteed with the mobile licence. Without spectrum, the licences were worthless. The only difference in 1995 was that the upfront bid was to be paid across the life of the licence through annual payments — 10 years in case of mobile licences and 15 years in case of basic telecom licences.
Contradicting itself later, the Reference, while describing the 17 mobile licences granted in mid-2001, claims: “Similar to the pre-2001 licences, the 2001 licences required that licensees pay a one-time non-refundable entry fee”. Wrong again. In the pre-2001 period, there was no one-time entry fee. The upfront bid amount was payable across the life of the licence — as described above, while in 2001, the government received a one-time upfront entry fee of Rs.1,633 crore for 17 mobile licences with linked 2G spectrum.
Further, the Reference maintains that the 22 licences granted for limited mobility in 2001 were on a FCFS basis. It deliberately hides the fact that unlike in the case of ex-Telecom Minister A. Raja, who processed letters of intent by manipulating the FCFS criteria, the 2001 limited mobility licences received spectrum based on a detailed notification dated March 23, 2001 subject to investments in infrastructure and meeting rollout obligations. The first to meet the rollout obligations would be the first to get spectrum. This is very different from Mr Raja's tactics, which have been severely criticised by the Supreme Court and cited as the primary reason for cancelling the licences. Yet, the
Reference conveniently chooses to paint all FCFS with the same brush.
The lowest point in the Reference lies in paragraphs 12 and 16 which claim that mobile licences till 2001 were granted 2G spectrum “with no upfront payment for spectrum.” This is a blatant lie. It is a matter of record that all 2001 licences — 17 mobile and 22 basic — made an upfront payment for spectrum. The government's bid to persuade the Court that investors were paying for the licence (a mere paper permit) and not spectrum is a nonstarter considering that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on May 11, 2010, valued the Unified Access Services (UAS) licence, inclusive of national and international long distance as well as ISP services minus spectrum, at merely Rs.20 crore. The government will be hard pressed to explain its conclusions, especially since its Reference disagrees with itself in several paragraphs.
Lower still is a shocking claim that “no separate fee was payable for allocation of spectrum” for dual technology licences which received precious 4.4 MHz of Global system for mobile communication (GSM) spectrum in 2008 on their existing UAS licences of 2003 vintage. If these companies, primarily Reliance and the Tatas, already held UAS licences in 2003 and they didn't pay for GSM spectrum in 2008 — as the Reference claims — then what was it that they paid for? Why would these companies fork out Rs.1,658 crore each if they had already paid for licence and GSM spectrum came free? It doesn't end here. The Reference is riddled with similar senseless arguments.
According to the Reference, “In terms of the directions of this Hon'ble Court, GoI would be auctioning the spectrum in 2G bands.” The Supreme Court, however, has given no such direction. The Supreme Court knows that in the case of 2G, UAS licences with linked 2G spectrum were auctioned, and not spectrum. Contrary to the Reference, in paragraph 74(iv) of its February 2, 2012 judgment the Supreme Court states: “The Central Government shall consider the recommendations of TRAI and take appropriate decision within the next one
month and fresh licences be granted by auction.”
By refusing to do honest homework, the questions raised in the Reference place 80 licences — seven of 1994 vintage, 22 from 2001, and 51 between 2003 and 2007 — under the Supreme Court scanner, creating tremendous uncertainty about their future. They also indirectly cast doubts about Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.'s (BSNL) mobile licences granted in 2001 even while keeping the matter outside the Reference, since its cellular licences were given without auctions and without any entry fee.
Additional questions about dual technology licences also seem ridiculous for two reasons: the government is defending the legality of these licences in an ongoing litigation in the Supreme Court while questioning the same Court about their legal status in the Presidential Reference. Additionally, the Supreme Court's direction to the Central Bureau Of Investigation (CBI) of December 16, 2010 specifically seeks an investigation and a possible FIR into the allocation of dual
technology spectrum — at least a large portion of it. Why dual technology should be included for a third opinion of the Supreme Court is anybody's guess.
Questioning whether there should be a ceiling on the acquisition of spectrum also has nothing whatsoever to do with the judgment cancelling the 122 licences. It is a straightforward Merger and acquisition (M&A) question for the TRAI and the Competition Commission of India. The Reference then takes a second bite at the cherry by seeking a clarification on whether auction is mandatory for the allocation of natural resources — an issue which has already been posed in its review petition filed on March 2, 2012.
It is unlikely that this Presidential Reference will accomplish anything other than generating uncertainty for six-18 months and then starting afresh from exactly the same point as today. Since the Reference does not touch upon the 122 licences that have been cancelled, it cannot hope to impact any of the grief arising from that judgment. At the end of this mammoth exercise, the government
would have, at best, taken the sector back by two years. April 13, 2012 N. Ram's Bofors expose in ‘50 great stories' by Columbia J-School alumni The Hindu , on corruption in the purchase of Swedish howitzers features in the list of 50 great stories by the alumni of the Columbia Journalism School in the U.S.
In its tribute to the investigative journalism that helped expose the deal from 1988 onwards, the Columbia J-School states that Mr. Ram was “instrumental in breaking the Bofors scandal, a bombshell story about corruption in military spending that brought down Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and changed the course of Indian politics.”
Mr. Ram graduated from Columbia in 1968.
The J-School, which features exhaustive information on each of the 50 stories on its website, highlighted an October 9, 1989 story by Mr. Ram and Chitra Subramaniam in The Hindu which laid out “evidence of a
qualitatively new, unimpeachable kind…” that nailed Bofors' claims that “no Indians” had been paid in connection with the contract.
Fulfilling Pulitzer's dream
The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, which compiled the list to kickstart its centennial celebrations, has hailed the 50 chosen stories for demonstrating both “the historic sweep of Columbia journalists' work, as well as their curiosity, courage, compassion, diversity, persistence and versatility.” One of Joseph Pulitzer's great hopes for the J-School was that its alumni would educate and uplift the public with outstanding journalism, it said. “After a hundred years, it's fair to say that his dream has been fulfilled —and then some.”
Mr. Ram's investigative reports sit alongside other remarkable pieces of journalism such as the war reports by Carl Ackerman, among the earliest graduates of the Journalism School, Merryle Stanley Rukeyser's insightful writing on the Great Depression, reportage on the fall of the USSR by Stuart Loory of CNN and Ann Imse, Moscow correspondent of the
Associated Press, and more recently Rawya Rageh, reporting on the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt for Al Jazeera in 2011. In creating such a list, the Columbia Journalism School acknowledges that while this was by no means a list of these journalists' “best” work, it was a representative snapshot of their achievements over the past century.
A note on the J-School's website said the collection was compiled by “culling the school's archives, researching the recipients of a wide array of journalism prizes, consulting with colleagues and scouring some of the best journalism ever produced. Then, we enlisted our faculty and a group of distinguished judges to vote for their favourites.” A second list of 50 stories would be announced later and “will help bring the Centennial to a close.”
It said the term “story” was used loosely: “in some cases the entry is for a single work, and in other instances the entry is a more panoramic subject to which the journalist made a significant contribution.”
April 13, 2012
The flip side of fighting graft The educated middle class in India is naturally exercised over the corruption that is widely prevalent in public life. With growing concern over corruption there is growing indignation. This indignation is expressed on various public occasions, sometimes passionately, but often in a purely routine manner. Every public institution and every public office, civil as well as military, is viewed with mistrust and kept under watch for signs of corruption. The leaders of what are called ‘civil society movements' have allied themselves with private television channels to keep the pressure up against corruption and deepen the mistrust of public institutions. The attack on corruption secures instant sympathy from members of the public because many if not most citizens have had some experience of it either directly or indirectly. Corruption and mistrust feed upon each other and their combined operation puts democratic values and institutions in jeopardy.
Is it greater in India?
Most people I speak with are convinced that corruption has increased enormously in the
last decade or two. But a decade or two ago most people were saying much the same thing. I have no desire to minimise the extent of corruption in India. But is it greater in range or depth than corruption in America? Or in China? We all know that there is a great deal of corruption in the production and sale of school text-books in India. But Richard Feynman has told us how, when he started looking into the production and marketing of school text-books of physics in the state of California, he could hardly believe the evidence of corruption he found before him. I am not sure that corruption in the medical profession or the legal profession, shocking though it may appear to be, is demonstrably worse in India than in America. But in India when people point their finger at corruption they point mainly to government and politics.
If I point out that corruption is not unique to India today, this is not in order to encourage complacency regarding corruption here and now. It is hardly reasonable to turn a blind eye to the corruption we see and experience on the ground that corruption has also prevailed in other times and at other places. It is good to be watchful where the rules are ambiguous and flexible and where public misconduct is
widespread. But when the concern about corruption turns into an obsession, it makes the running of public institutions more difficult and not easier.
I do not believe that ordinary Indians, including ordinary public servants, are as corrupt as social activists and the media make them out to be. That is not to say that they are all as pure as the driven snow. When they are pressed beyond certain limits they are provoked to act as they are expected to act. People tend to slip into the roles that others assign to them as a matter of habit. A wife who is continually suspected of infidelity by her husband may occasionally feel tempted to prove him right.
I have scarcely met an IAS officer who has failed to tell me how utterly corrupt his service is, taking care to point out that he himself is an exception to the general rule. Much of this is just idle social chatter, but it does serve to inject a little bit of poison into the atmosphere. Yet, I have known many IAS officers who are hardworking and upright and do an honest day's work in an adverse environment. No doubt their official conduct must be kept
under public scrutiny. But we must ask whether a civil service which is denigrated and demoralised by continuous suspicion and allegation of misconduct can act in an efficient and responsible manner.
I can speak from personal experience of the demoralisation in our universities due to endemic suspicion of corruption and misconduct. Today, most people, including most academics, believe that university appointments are never fair but always fixed in advance. My personal experience is that this is not always or necessarily the case even though an academic appointment, whether in Delhi or in Cambridge or in Harvard, rarely satisfies all the parties concerned. As Max Weber, the greatest sociologist of his time, had said, “No university teacher likes to be reminded of discussions of appointments for they are seldom agreeable”. This ought not to prevent university teachers from exercising their judgment with a clear conscience; what in fact prevents them from doing so is the fear of being accused of engaging in corrupt practice.
The endemic suspicion of corrupt practice has taken the initiative away from the university in
favour of external, impersonal and ostensibly unbiased agencies such as the University Grants Commission or even the government's own department of education. Suspicion and mistrust have become so widespread that it has even been suggested that appointments to the highest offices of the university should be taken out of the hands of the university and entrusted to the Union Public Service Commission. When that happens it will put an end to the university as an autonomous and self-governing institution, and then university professors will have only themselves to blame.
Social movements play an important part in the life of a nation and the right of civil disobedience is or ought to be an indispensable right in every democracy. But it will be a mistake to believe that these bring only benefits and entail no costs. The struggle for freedom from alien rule built up an adversarial attitude towards the established institutions created and maintained by colonial rule. It gave to the movement a higher moral value than it gave to the state and its institutions. The adversarial attitude survived the change from alien rule to self-rule. If we are to understand why people are so easily lured by the emancipationist and antinomian
promises of those who speak in the name of civil society we must go back to the time when the nationalist movement pitted itself against the colonial state. The colonial state has gone but the attitudes we developed while it was there have remained with us.
‘Lost the excuse'
In the Constituent Assembly it was Dr. B.R. Ambedkar who saw more clearly than any other member what was at stake in the transition from alien rule to self-rule. While welcoming the advent of independence, he said: “But let us not forget that this independence has thrown on us great responsibilities. By independence we have lost the excuse of blaming the British for anything going wrong. If hereafter things go wrong we will have nobody to blame except ourselves.”
What Dr. Ambedkar was asking the people of India to do was to take responsibility for the state and the institutions created by and for them. Taking responsibility for an institution — whether the state, the university or any other institution — does not mean accepting all its
practices blindly, mechanically and uncritically. But it does mean protecting it from wilful disregard and contempt and from being treated as a mere convenience to be used or discarded in response to passing social currents. Democracy has entered into troubled waters in India. It will not find its way out of those waters if we continue to treat all its institutions with suspicion and mistrust. April 13, 2012 Bofors was a game-changer, both for Indian politics and journalism PIECING THE PUZZLE:N. Ram at his office in The Hindu during the Bofors story days.—THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY What is it that you learnt at Columbia that helped shape your journalism?
I went to Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1967 and took an M.S. in Comparative Journalism, with honours, in 1968. This was a totally new experience for me — because in India, as in Britain, the conventional wisdom at that time was that journalism was not something to be ‘studied' in a classroom, it was to be ‘picked up' on the job.
But Columbia changed everything for me as a 22-year-old start-up reporter. The M.S. course was demanding in terms of pace, having you on the go all the time, chasing stories through the week to tough deadlines, few breaks, then the pace and pressure became quite easy to handle. In terms of content, it was interesting enough, although some academics considered the content superficial, a ‘trade school': reporting, writing, editing, a bit of radio and television journalism for me, learning something about the history of American journalism, media law and society, the First Amendment, investigative reporting, a smattering of communication theory...You also did a dissertation: mine was, believe it or not, ‘Does the English language have a future in India?' My investigative reporting project was on the chequered story of ‘bleeding Madras' in the United States in the 1960s: I think I titled it ‘The rise and fall of an alien fabric'.
The Columbia course emphasised values and professional and ethical principles for journalism. You see, there is a cynical way of approaching journalism. It features the harddrinking, ruthless, unscrupulous journalist who will stop at nothing, who grins when you talk
about the principles of journalism, to whom deceit, superficiality, and dilettantism are second nature, the herd mentality that is wonderfully caricatured in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop , and so on. At Columbia, certainly at the time, you were tutored, in the belief that journalism was something of a higher calling, built on values and principles and a disciplined pursuit of truth as well as of the public interest. You were taught to investigate in a factual, tough-minded way, verify everything, take nothing for granted. You were encouraged to strike a balance between practising media freedom and social responsibility. This somewhat high-minded, idealistic approach made a lasting impression on me. By the way, I am on the Board of Visitors of the Columbia J-School and am very pleased that, while a great many things have changed since 1967-68, the same, somewhat high-minded, approach endures.
We had some splendid — wise and inspiring — teachers: for me Professors Larry Pinkham, who influenced me personally with his progressive, pro-people beliefs and approach at Columbia and whom we were able to pull out of retirement and bring to Chennai to shape the Asian College of Journalism nearly a
decade ago, and Fred Friendly, a brilliant, larger-than-life comrade of Ed Murrow, the iconic television journalist, were special. I also had some talented, generous-spirited classmates, close friends with whom I have been able to keep in touch till today — Wayne Barrett, a great investigative reporter, Robin Reisig, a wonderful journalism teacher, Josh Friedman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 1985, I could name some others as well.
Most important of all, 1967-68 was a great time to be at Columbia, in New York, in the United States of America. The anti-Vietnam War mass upsurge; and the ‘Black Power' movement — these were heady, powerful influences, my eyes were opened, and I was radicalised — for life, I am pleased to say. For many of us, the spirit of the times, the overwhelming uplifting feeling, is captured in these lines of Wordsworth, recalling the ‘commencement' of the French Revolution: Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven! — Oh! Times… There is no need to say more, as this chapter in contemporary world history is well known.
How difficult or challenging was the Bofors story?
Challenging, obviously, but in an energising, ‘in-the-zone' way most of the time after the first year of investigation, 1987.
The investigation went on for more than two years and we published our Bofors stories in several instalments. The ruling party, the Congress, smelt a conspiracy, a plot, and many of its senior functionaries often reacted in a jumpy and highly insecure, if not paranoid, fashion. For us, it was decidedly a team effort, with many people, notably Chitra Subramaniam, Manoj Joshi, Malini Parthasarathy, and V.K. Ramachandran, making good, solid contributions that helped put various pieces of the puzzle together. Swedish Public Radio fired the opening shot in April 1987, alleging kickbacks and hinting at names before switching off; other newspapers, notably The Indian Express , were competing actively to get at the truth. Arun Shourie, a formidable journalist, and Ram Jethmalani, the ace criminal lawyer with his many interrogative questions hurled at Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, were in hot pursuit.
I think what worked for us at The Hindu was a methodical approach, an investigative discipline, a way of journalism that was factual, persistent, patient — and fair and just. We relied almost exclusively on documents, more documents, hundreds of documents, in fact, all of them laid out across pages and published in facsimile form in The Hindu (in the pre-digital age). We played the devil's advocate on key story angles, verifying every detail.
I remember one occasion when we had made a significant factual error, misconstruing something Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had said in a closed meeting. We immediately published a correction, with an apology, on the front page and some people outside our newspaper believed the prominence given to the correction and apology was quite unnecessary. But we highly valued our credibility, our reputation, the trust readers placed in us. We believed in fairness and justice and scrupulously avoided throwing dirt on people against whom there was nothing like evidence (Amitabh Bachchan, famously). We did not practise anything that would be recognised as deceit in this era of hidden mikes and spy cameras. We had our own data
security methods, which, surprisingly, worked. We got lucky, repeatedly, with our sources.
Our team was bold and confident in linking pieces of evidence, in establishing factual ‘concordances', in making inferences from sensitive and complex data. Thus, we were able to offer this assessment in a prominent story in The Hindu of October 9, 1989, which the Columbia J-School has chosen to highlight in its centennial ‘50 Great Stories' site (http://centennial.journalism.columbia.
edu/1989-scandal-in-india/): “If the whole interaction from June 1987 between Bofors and the Government of India can be understood by the public in terms of a ‘fixed' football match in which all the goals scored against India have been ‘own' or ‘self' goals (scored into the Indian goal by Indian boots or heads), it is now established that the Swedish official referee, Mr. Ingvar Carlsson, has been an accomplice in the ‘fixing' of the game.”
At times, it seemed to be an unsolvable puzzle. After a full year's slog, we made a breakthrough in April 1988 when Chitra
Subramaniam struck gold with a privileged, authoritative source (whom I met and checked out) and who never let us down. And then we were on a roll, you might say.
I did most of the writing through our Bofors investigation, many thousands of words, but others contributed handsomely as well. We had our internal differences, which did turn dramatic in 1989, but what stands out today for me is how well everyone on our team, from the Editor down, pulled together to shape an unforgettable experience. And it was not as though this was the first or last investigative effort by our 133-year-old newspaper!
Analytically, I have proposed in several articles, the Bofors-India kickback affair can be understood in terms of five modes of action. The first was the decision-making on the choice of howitzer. The second comprised the arrangements for the payoffs. The third was the prolonged cover-up and crisis management. The fourth was the journalistic investigation and expose. The fifth was the CBI's criminal investigation, assisted by the Swiss Federal Police and the Swiss courts, and
prosecution before a Special Court for CBI cases.
What came of it all?
This is a legitimate question we have been asked. Some of the key accused died before the matter came up in court. Others, including Ottavio Quattrocchi, got away from the law. There was also the challenge of reconciling, or rather bridging the gap between, standards of evidence in journalism and under the Indian Evidence Act. But Bofors became a byword for top-level, political corruption, even entering the vocabulary of some Indian languages as a synonym for sleaze and skulduggery. Bofors, I believe, was a game-changer, politically and for Indian journalism. I won't say more, except that it was eminently worth it. April 14, 2012 Mr. Bo leaves behind a storm
The purge of Bo Xilai, who was suspended this week from the Communist Party of China's (CPC) powerful 25-member Politburo for “serious discipline violations,” has become a
kind of Rorschach test for China-watchers. For critics of the CPC, it is being seen as evidence of factional discord that will upend the oncein-a-decade leadership transition which will take place this year. State-run media, on the other hand, have portrayed his sidelining as reflecting the party's commitment to maintaining discipline within its ranks. For the many detractors of the ambitious Mr. Bo, his purge is a victory for reformers against a dangerous neo-Maoist demagogue. His supporters on the Left, meanwhile, are bristling at the ousting of a leader who they believed had taken on entrenched special interests and had the answers to the problems of inequality and crony capitalism that postreforms China is grappling with.
Beyond the reasons for his removal, a more important question to ask is what the recent events mean for the future of Chinese politics. Until he was sidelined, Mr. Bo, who served as the popular party secretary in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing, was seen as a key figure in the sweeping changing of the guard which will see seven of the nine members of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee step down this year. Mr. Bo had launched himself into national
prominence — and as a favourite for securing one of those seven posts — in Chongqing, a sprawling municipality of 30 million people that sits on the Yangtze river, where he had served as party secretary since 2007.
A corruption crackdown he launched there along with his close aide, the city's police chief, Wang Lijun, took on special interests and mafia groups and brought him national attention. Mr. Bo became one of China's most popular political figures for his “smash the black” campaign. Adding to his appeal was a rare charisma that eluded his technocrat colleagues. Like Xi Jinping, the anointed successor of General Secretary Hu Jintao, Mr. Bo was a “princeling”, the son of a former leader. He hailed from the highest section of the party elite — his father, Bo Yibo, was, along with Xi Jinping's father, one of the CPC's eight “immortal” founding revolutionary figures. He enjoyed support from a wide network of allies, including fellow princelings and military officers who owed allegiance to his father.
Poster-boy of resurgent Left
In Chongqing, Mr. Bo also became the posterboy of a resurgent “New Left.” His moves to loosen social welfare restrictions for migrant workers, boost the provision of low-income housing and expand the power of State-run enterprises were christened by leftist academics as a new “Chongqing model” of governance, heralded as an antidote to the problems of inequality created by three decades of economic reforms. More controversial were his Mao-inspired campaigns, including the mass singing of “Red songs” and daily dispatches of “Red texts” to the mobile phones of Chongqing residents carrying sayings of the Great Helmsman.
Mr. Bo was all set for a grand return to Beijing for this fall's 18th Party Congress to claim his Red inheritance and take his place at the highest levels of power. All that changed on February 6. Following a falling out with Mr. Bo, the reasons for which are still unclear, his once right-hand man Wang Lijun fled to a U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, reportedly seeking asylum. Rumours that circulated on Chinese microblogs, which first broke the news,
claimed he had been fearing for his safety after telling Mr. Bo he had evidence that his wife, Gu Kailai, had been linked to the death of a British businessman, Neil Heywood. In an announcement that stunned China this week, the CPC confirmed the rumours. A statement said Ms Gu had been held on the suspicion of intentional homicide, while her husband also faced investigations over serious discipline violations. Mr. Bo's future in the CPC is now all but over, while his wife faces criminal charges.
Much is still unclear about Heywood's death, his relationship to the Bos and what triggered the events of recent months. What prompted Mr. Wang to investigate Mr. Bo's family is also unclear. Sources close to the leadership say it was almost certain he was backed by a prominent detractor of Mr. Bo's in Beijing. “It was as if a trap was being laid for him,” said one source. “And he walked right in.”
What is clear is that his sidelining has exposed cracks in the façade of unity that the Chinese leadership was looking to project in a sensitive
year that will witness sweeping changes. The government's unease over the discord sown by his removal has been evident in a stream of articles published in state media in recent days urging unity within the Party. Front page editorials have appeared in The People's Daily on consecutive days denouncing Mr. Bo.
His purge is likely the first instance since 1989 — when liberals and conservatives clashed openly against the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square protests, leading to the ouster of several reform-oriented leaders including former General Secretary Zhao Ziyang — when ideological differences over the way forward for the CPC's future have spilled out into the public domain. The day before his removal as Chongqing Party Secretary, Mr. Bo was criticised publicly by Premier Wen Jiabao for his handling of Wang Lijun and more significantly, for his policies in Chongqing. He suggested that Mr. Bo was questioning the consensus adopted in 1978 to push forward economic reforms. Mr. Wen even warned of the dangers of a second Cultural Revolution. Mr. Bo's critics on the liberal Right have often levelled a similar accusation.
Mr. Bo and his critics do, however, agree on one thing: that China needs to reform its political and economic system to address rising inequalities and deep-rooted corruption. Mr. Bo's popularity in Chongqing and elsewhere stemmed from his apparent efforts to address both these entrenched problems. Those on the Right have similarly backed calls from Mr. Wen for political reforms and to curtail the power of once-again dominant State-run companies that are seen to be stifling competition.
Yet even Mr. Wen's repeated calls appear to have achieved little over the past decade under his tenure. He himself acknowledged in recent speeches the barriers he faced from interest groups. At a time when the Chinese political system is receiving much praise overseas for its supposed efficiency and smoothness, the events of recent weeks are a timely reminder that the view from China is starkly different, as concerns grow about a system that is blunting efforts to reform, from Left and Right, and a status quo that is proving difficult to dislodge. April 14, 2012
The road to universal health care “The best form of providing health protection would be to change the economic system which produces ill health, and to liquidate ignorance, poverty and unemployment. The practice of each individual purchasing his own medical care does not work. It is unjust, inefficient, wasteful and completely outmoded ... In our highly geared, modern industrial society, there is no such thing as private health — all health is public. The illness and maladjustments of one unit of the mass affects all other members. The protection of people's health should be recognised by the Government as its primary obligation and duty to its citizens.”
These are the words of the distinguished Canadian surgeon, Norman Bethune, who, in 1936, called for universal health protection in which health services would be provided to all through public funds. He pointed out that the major causes of ill health among the poor in Canada, at that time, were: financial inability to pay, ignorance, apathy and lack of medical service. These are true of present-day India, where health insecurity continues to increase with growing economic prosperity.
What is UHC?
Universal health coverage (UHC) has now been widely adopted by Canada and many other developing countries both as a developmental imperative and the moral obligation of a civilised society. India embraced this vision at its independence. However, insufficient funding of public facilities, combined with faulty planning and inefficient management over the years, has resulted in a dysfunctional health system that has been yielding poor health outcomes. India's public spending on health — just around 1.2 per cent of GDP — is among the lowest in the world. Private health services have grown by default, without checks on cost and quality, escalating private out-ofpocket health expenditures and exacerbating health inequity. While the National Rural Health Mission and the several government funded health insurance schemes have provided a partial response, out-of-pocket expenditure still remains at 71 per cent of all spending, without coverage for outpatient care, medicines and basic diagnostic tests.
The High Level Expert Group (HLEG) established by the Planning Commission has submitted a comprehensive framework for providing UHC in India. A health entitlement card should assure every citizen access to a national health package of essential primary, secondary and tertiary care, both inpatient and outpatient. The HLEG is very clear that services included under UHC must be tax funded and cashless at delivery. User fees are to be abolished because they are inefficient, inadequate and iniquitous. Contributory social insurance is not appropriate for countries like India where a large segment of the workforce — close to 93 per cent — is in the unorganised sector and vast numbers are below or near the poverty line.
Increasing public spending on health is the first immediate requirement. The President of India has affirmed that “to attain the goal of universal health care, my Government would endeavour to increase both Plan and Non-Plan public expenditure in the Centre and the States taken together to 2.5 per cent of the GDP by the end of the 12th Plan.” However,
even the doubling of public financing will not be adequate to support all the components of a fully evolved UHC. Priorities need to be defined.
The first priority for achieving UHC, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, should be “a determined effort to strengthen our public health systems.” Primary health care must be improved, starting with sub-centres, the first health post for the community. By staffing them with well-trained non-physician health care providers, both facility-based and outreach services can be provided without being doctor dependent. District hospitals too should be strengthened to provide high quality secondary care, some elements of essential tertiary care and training to different categories of health care providers.
The second priority should be to improve the size and quality of our health workforce. Without this, the promise of UHC will remain an empty entitlement. Since primary health care is our first priority, resources must be devoted to the production of competent and committed community health workers for the frontline, mid-level health workers or AYUSH
doctors for the sub-centres, and general and specialist nurses as well as non-specialist doctors for primary health centres. More specialists are needed for higher levels of health care including the district hospitals. New nursing and medical colleges should be preferentially set up in States which presently have very few, linking them to district hospitals. Public health competencies must be increased through inter-disciplinary education which is aligned to health system needs. Improved management of all of these human resources must involve better incentives for recruitment and retention, cadre review and creation of well defined career tracks.
The third priority should be to provide essential medicines and diagnostics free of cost at all public facilities. At the same time, referral linkages and patient transport services should be improved to integrate primary, secondary and tertiary health care in the public system. Difficult to reach areas and vulnerable population groups should receive special attention, even as the principle of universality must be applied while designing health services.
The fourth priority must be to put in place the necessary public systems for UHC. Regulatory systems need strengthening — from hospital accreditation to health professional education and from drug licensing to mandatory adoption of standard management guidelines for diagnosis and treatment of different disease conditions at each level of health care. A national inter-operable Health Information Network is needed to improve governance, accountability, portability, storage of health records and management. Community participation must be supported to actively engage people in the design, delivery, monitoring and evaluation of health programmes. And finally, larger investments should be made in health promoting programmes in other sectors such as water, sanitation, nutrition, environment, urban design and livelihood generation.
Role of the private sector
The Kolkata Group led by Amartya Sen, in its 2011 Public Declaration, pointed to the many limitations of the private sector in health. “Influential policymakers in India seem to be attracted by the idea that private health care,
properly subsidised, or private health insurance, subsidised by the State, can meet the challenge. However, there are good analytical reasons why this is unlikely to happen because of informational asymmetry (the patient can be easily fooled by profitseeking providers on what exactly is being provided) and because of the ‘public goods' character of health care thanks to the interdependences involved. There are also major decisional problems that lead to the gross neglect of the interests of women and children in family decisions.” It is also well known that insurance schemes (whether funded by the Central and State governments) at best provide limited health care and at worst divert a large part of the health budget to expensive hospitalised tertiary and secondary care, to the great neglect of primary care.
Clearly, there is no alternative to a progressive strengthening of the public facilities and thereby reduce people's dependence on private providers. However, the public system may need to “contract-in” the services of willing private providers, to fill gaps in its capacity to deliver all the services assured under UHC. Such “contracted-in” private
providers will have to deliver cashless services and would be compensated on the basis of pre-determined cost per package of health services rather than “fee for service” for each visit or procedure. In such an arrangement, the private sector acts as an extension of the public sector where needed and will not compete for the same set of services for the same people.
It is time to recognise that everyone, not just the poor, needs to be protected against rising health costs that can impoverish any family. We are on the threshold of a historic transition to guarantee health security for all Indians. UHC will greatly reduce out-of-pocket expenditures and provide much needed relief to people. Apart from improving people's health, adopting UHC is likely to generate millions of new jobs, enhance productivity, and promote equity. Statesmanship must assert itself to create a national framework of UHC that is capable of State-specific adaptations. It is time to give the people of India the efficient, affordable and equitable health system they desire, deserve and demand.
April 14, 2012 Never mind the elections, just rig the rolls Imagine a country without an election commission, where the state makes no effort to prepare an electoral register at national, regional, or provincial level, where it is left to citizens get themselves on the register, and where the ruling party in every province writes the rules and procedures for registration and then conducts the poll and the count. Imagine a country where a federal court decision has been necessary to bar voter intimidation by party supporters who demand to see voters' identification at polling stations, challenge voters' credentials, film them as they vote, distribute leaflets stating the penalties for voting fraud, and bombard selected neighbourhoods with junk mail, which is often returned undelivered and then used by party zealots to claim that the voters concerned do not live at the addresses shown on the electoral roll.
That country is the United States. Both voter intimidation and voter registration processes
are becoming potentially decisive factors in the November 2012 Presidential election, in the elections for the whole House of Representatives and one third of the Senate, and in those for several State governorships.
Voter intimidation in the U.S. is hardly new, and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law has published several reports on the Republicans' methods for interfering with citizens' freedom to vote.
In November 1982, the Democratic Party got a court agreement from the Republican Party after it filed a lawsuit in New Jersey accusing the Republicans of “efforts to intimidate, threaten and coerce duly qualified black and Hispanic voters from voting,” and of intimidating such voters when they assisted other African-Americans and Hispanics to vote.
In March this year, a federal court rejected a Republican request to lift the original district court agreement, and the party's National Committee is now banned from voter intimidation and from using the junk mail strategy, which is called caging.
Pro-Republican groups, nevertheless, are now using the same stratagems, often to great effect. Another Brennan Center report cites a party document which came to light during litigation in 1986; in respect of a Louisiana Senate election, a regional Republican Party director said caging would eliminate 60,00080,000 voters from the register in what was expected to be a close contest; it “could keep the black vote down considerably.”
That itself amounts to rigging the rolls, because caging is a highly unreliable way of establishing addresses. There are many reasons mail may be returned by postal staff, such as the entirely legitimate use of different surnames by different members of the same household; second, a mailbox may show only one name, perhaps that of the lessee or owner, while a letter may be addressed to another person living in the same household. Even military personnel serving overseas have been caged off the rolls for not being at home when the junk mail envelopes were delivered.
Voter fraud minimal
The fact is, however, that there is almost no voter fraud in the U.S. The lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the investigative journalist Greg Palast, writing in the Huffington Post in 2008, have pointed out that for eight years — which coincided with George W. Bush's time in the White House — a federal attorney investigated complaints about 200 voters in New Mexico, and found no evidence whatever of fraud.
The lawyer, David Iglesias, who is in fact a Republican supporter, added that his political seniors were looking for “improperly politicised U.S. attorneys” to file bogus cases. The Bush administration then sacked him and six of his colleagues for refusing to bring illegal prosecutions in “baseless cases against innocent citizens.”
Republican claims of five million fraudulent votes are, therefore, not only wildly inaccurate but almost paranoid. Kennedy and Palast cite a Columbia University researcher who concludes that, despite “massive” government attempts to identify a “voter fraud crime wave,” only 24 cases were revealed between 2002 and 2005.
Yet the Republican allegations of voter fraud, however devoid of proof, divert the media from a deadly serious threat to American democracy, namely the bewildering variety of electoral registration processes which Republican-held states in particular have created.
Will affect the minorities
Unable, at least for the time being, to overturn the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both of which outlaw denial of the vote on the grounds of race or skin colour, 14 Republican States have recently passed 19 laws and two executive orders imposing severe new conditions on voter registration and identification, and on early voting. Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III argues in the online journal Truthout that the new conditions will disproportionately affect African-American and Latino voters, who overwhelmingly favour the Democrats, as well as poorer voters and those with disabilities, who also tend to vote Democrat; the States in question include Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, and Mississippi.
It is therefore likely that about five million fewer people will register to vote in 2012 than did so in 2008. In any case, between 50 and 65 million U.S. citizens are not even on the electoral roll, out of about 220 million who are eligible to vote. In the 2008 election, determined voter-registration drives by grassroots volunteers — now themselves targets for Republican intimidation — almost certainly contributed to the fact that turnout among African-American and Hispanic voters showed the highest percentage-points increases over the corresponding figures in the 2004 election. Any voter-registration procedures which particularly affect those groups could be crucial in 2012, because the states concerned hold 171, or 63 per cent, of the 270 electoral college votes which decide the presidency.
The President is not elected in a single popular poll, but in 51 separate elections in all the States plus the District of Columbia; winning a State even by one vote gives the winner all the college votes for that State. In 2000, George W. Bush lost the popular vote by half a million or so, but by being adjudged to have won Florida he won the college votes he needed.
The new registration procedures have not gone unnoticed, and the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, is actively reviewing many of them.
After the 2000 Presidential election, which a Democrat senator publicly called a third-world banana republic election, the world has been watching U.S. elections for their probity, but the Republican Party's intentions are clear. If they cannot rig the elections, they will try their hardest to rig the voter rolls. April 16, 2012 Give the professor a raise Salaries and the terms of faculty appointments and promotion are central to the well-being of the academic profession and its contributions to the university. If salaries are inadequate, the “best and brightest” will not be attracted to academe, and those who do teach will be obliged to moonlight, diverting their attention and dedication from their academic work. Additionally, without appropriate contracts and appointments, there is a limited guarantee of academic freedom or expectation of either a stable or satisfying career. Furthermore, in a
globalised world, salaries in one country affect academe elsewhere, as professors are tempted to move where remuneration and working conditions are best.
Yet, only limited research is available about these issues, within a specific country or comparatively. Comparative studies on academics in many countries are complex, as data are often difficult to obtain; and exchange rates and the standard of living vary across countries. The research provided data using purchasing power parity, which permits more realistic salary comparisons. The project reveals key trends in 28 diverse countries on all continents.
Salaries and remuneration
This research, not surprisingly, found significant variations in academic salaries worldwide. As a general rule, salaries were best in wealthier countries, although there are significant variations among them, with the English-speaking academic systems generally paying more than those in continental Europe. Russia and the former Soviet states pay quite
low salaries, even when their economies are relatively prosperous. There were a few surprises. India ranks comparatively high in salaries. China, on the other hand, has invested heavily in its higher education system, particularly in its research universities; yet average academic salaries rank at the bottom.
It was also learned that, in many countries, salary alone does not convey a complete picture of compensation. Academics also depend on other payments and subsidies, from their universities, and other sources — to make up the total remuneration package. Chinese universities, for example, provide a complex set of fringe benefits and extra payments to their academic staff for publishing articles, evaluating extra examinations, and for other campus work. In North America and western Europe, salaries are the main academic income — while elsewhere this does not seem to be the case.
In many countries, salaries are too low to support a middle-class life style locally, and other income is needed. In many of these places, moonlighting is common. Many academics teach at more than one institution.
Indeed, the burgeoning private higher education sector in many countries depends on professors from the public universities to teach most classes.
The terms and conditions of academic appointments and subsequent opportunities for advancement available to the academic profession are also of central importance. Among the group of 28 countries, few offer a formal tenure to the academic profession, thus perhaps weakening guarantees of academic freedom and providing less job security. Tenure arrangements, awarded to academics after a careful evaluation of performance, seem largely limited to the United States, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, and South Africa in the study. In one country, Saudi Arabia, local academic staff receive permanent appointments at the time of hiring. Some continental European countries provide civil service status to academics in the public universities, and this also provides significant job security. In fact, in most countries, few are fired and few are seriously evaluated. There is a kind of de facto tenure that provides long-
term employment for most, without either a guarantee or any means of careful evaluation.
A number of important variations exist in requirements to enter the profession or (when available) to qualify for a tenured-like position. In many countries, a doctoral degree is requisite to become a university professor. In certain European countries (Czech Republic, France, Germany, Russia) a habilitation — similar to a doctoral dissertation — is needed, in addition to the doctoral degree, to achieve the rank of professor. In other countries, a simple bachelor's degree is sufficient to be hired as a university teacher. In countries where a PhD is not required, there is a trend to demand higher qualifications; and the master's degree is becoming the minimum requirement, even if it is not mandatory by law.
Among the countries that pay the best salaries, there are some that benefit from an inflow of academics from less-wealthy countries. Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Saudi
Arabia, and the United States benefit the most from the migration of academic talent. In contrast, many of the countries paying the lowest salaries are considered “sender” countries and some (Armenia, Ethiopia, Israel and Nigeria) have implemented programmes, in which better salaries and working conditions are part of the strategy to attract or retain national and international scholars. In their quest to build world-class education systems, China and Saudi Arabia are aggressively pursuing international faculty, mostly from English-speaking countries, as well as their own expatriates. In the Chinese case, it has resulted in a big gap between the salary of local professors and international/repatriated ones. Finally, there are countries that are both “senders” and “receivers.” For example, South Africa attracts professors from other African nations, but at the same time it frequently suffers brain drain to English-speaking countries — such as, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States.
This research shows a range of realities for the academic profession. Some countries offer
reasonable salaries and secure and transparent career structures for academics. The English-speaking countries included in this research — Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, to some extent South Africa, and the U.S. — fall into this category. Western European countries that offer civil service status to academics typically provide decent working conditions and compensation. But even in these nations, the professoriate is inadequately compensated when compared to other highly educated professionals. For the rest, and this includes Russia and the former Soviet Union, China, Latin America (except Brazil), and Nigeria, salaries are low and contracts often lack transparency. India offers reasonably good salaries.
A global comparison presents an array of realities — few of them extraordinarily attractive — for the professoriate. This situation, at least for the 28 countries examined in this research, is certainly problematical for countries at the centre of the global knowledge economy. For academics in those countries with quite low salaries — such as China, Russia, Armenia or Ethiopia — the academic profession faces a crisis. In general, it seems like professors are not considered the
elite in the knowledge economy. Rather, they tend to be seen as a part of the skilled labour force that such economy requires. April 16, 2012 A journey that began in Delhi reaches its conclusion MATTER OF PRIDE:Nepalese caretaker Prime Minister Madav Kumar Nepal (left) and Unified Communist Party of Nepal Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal (right) exchanging documents at the Shaktikhor cantonment site at Chitwan on January 22, 2011. Nepal's Maoists formally relinquished control of the People's Liberation Army.—PHOTO: AFP
Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda' is the central figure in the country's political process. In a wide-ranging interview to Prashant Jha at his residence on Friday afternoon, he talked about the peace process, the constitution and relations with India. Excerpts:
Till a few years ago, you were the supreme commander of the People's Liberation Army
(PLA) at war with the national army. Now, you have handed over control of the PLA to the army it fought against. How has this journey been?
It is not about handing the PLA to the army it fought against. The war was against the Royal Nepalese Army; now integration is happening with the Nepal Army (NA). That was a royalist army; this is a republican army. That is a qualitative difference. We are a political party that through the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections, through the democratic process, emerged as the biggest party. As a party now leading the government, the way we view the NA and the PLA has changed. The NA is also a national army, and the PLA which is going for integration is also going to get a chance to be a part of the national army. This is a matter of pride, and a happy moment. As the chairman of the party which led the process, I feel I got an opportunity to fulfil my responsibility. The journey that began in Delhi with the 12-point agreement has now arrived at a conclusion.
There is criticism that you made the decision not out of commitment, but compulsion, since there was discontent within the PLA.
To say that I acted out of compulsion is completely baseless. For the past one year, out of my own initiative, I have taken the peace process forward. I was protected by PLA security personnel and weapons. I sent them to the cantonments, and came under state security. When the Baburam Bhattarai-led government was formed, we took a decision to start regrouping combatants. Now I felt I had to take a bold decision and conclude the process. If I was under compulsion, I could have said the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) did not agree to integration, that they tried to stir up trouble in the cantonments, and that we should get ready for a movement.
But wasn't there trouble in the cantonments?
There was some trouble in two cantonments. But I saw it as provocation by those who wanted to derail the peace process. Yes, there was some dissatisfaction among combatants regarding their future. But primarily, it was penetration by the reactionary and royalist elements who thought that if they could derail the peace process, then there would be no
constitution and then they could re-establish themselves. They were aided in this by rightwing elements within parties, those who do not want change, want anarchy, and a small elite class. That is why I concluded that delaying peace process now would derail the 12-point agreement.
Your own party colleagues say this is ‘surrender.' How do you respond?
Those from the Mohan Vaidya ‘Kiran' faction within the party have accused us and even burnt my effigy. I don't see it as surrender at all. A rebel army is integrating into the NA; this is a matter of pride.
A little while ago, Kiranji had come home. He said, “you have given up everything.” I said, “I haven't left anything, this is transformation.” I have learnt from negative experiences of communist history, and we came to the peace process and competitive politics as a matter of commitment — not out of tactics. I told him taking your path would lead us towards the situation of either Myanmar's Karen rebels, or communists in Malay, or more recently like
those in Peru. There is a difference in our understanding of the world, balance of power, the level of economic development, and the international communist movement. I said my outlook is more realistic, scientific, pragmatic, while yours is classical.
Others criticise you for not having done this earlier and wasting the country's invaluable time.
Sometimes, when you pick and eat a fruit which is not ripe, then it is bad for health. If you take a decision without completing a certain phase of struggle, it can be negative. As leader of the party, and of the peace process, if I had not come through this path, I could not have taken this decision. Launching a decisive attack, at a time when the situation is not ripe, can be counterproductive. This also has to do with Prachanda's working style — for instance, I took more than a year-and-a-half when we decided to enter the peace process and accept competitive politics even while the war was on. There is a need to create basis for any decision, that's my working style.
The Maoists are seen to be pushing for blanket amnesty for war-time atrocities. Don't you think this is injustice for the families of victims?
It is not true that our party has pushed for blanket amnesty. Those leading the government or the army during the war, as well as Maoist leaders involved, have a common concern in finding a solution. It is about taking victims into consideration and their rights. The discussion is around providing them compensation, reparation, education for children, employment, as well as expression of regret by the perpetrator, creating a situation where victims themselves forgive, and there is reconciliation for sustainable peace.
What is the meeting point on the form of government in the new constitution?
It is more or less resolved. An all-party taskforce submitted a proposal that there should be a directly elected president, and a PM elected by Parliament — with power
sharing between the two. This is the meeting point.
What's your party's official view on the shape of the federal structure?
In principle, there is an agreement that identity and capability should be the basis for federalism. In the present context, among the two, identity is primary. The second issue is the number of provinces. There is an official 14-state proposal by the CA committee. But we are ready to show flexibility on that. The NC and the UML have also come around to accepting that identity has to be recognised. So there will be an agreement. But we will not accept a constitution without federalism. If the Maoists compromise on federalism, or leave the issue of identity, the identity of the Maoist party itself will be finished.
Will there be a national unity government soon?
We have been saying all along that if there is a national unity government, it will help the process. Now that the peace process has
moved forward, a national unity government will be formed. Our claim is that it should be led by Baburam Bhattarai, and that should remain till the peace process is concluded and the fundamentals of the constitution are agreed upon. On the day of constitution promulgation itself, we do not have any objection to even an NC-led government.
How do you see India's role in recent months?
From the 12-point agreement to CA elections, India's active help was important in taking the process forward. After a government under my leadership was formed, there was a chill in relations and ups and downs. In the past yearand-a-half, there is a certain freshness, and a greater understanding of each other's concerns. Right now, India wants the conclusion of the peace process, the writing of a constitution, political stability and wishes to see Nepal on the path of development. I don't see India having any other motive. I have also reviewed the past, both positives and negatives, and am keen that we have good
relations with our neighbours, especially India. And I am committed to finishing the peace and constitution process. I don't see any problem right now; instead there is a spirit to help each other.
What was the turning point?
All of us reviewed the situation. I presented a document in my party last April stating that the 12-point agreement must be the basis, and we must conclude the peace and the constitution process. India then changed the way it viewed Maoists, and realised it must help the process succeed. It was a realisation that we must revert to the environment of trust that existed during the 12-point pact.
Would it be right to say that Nepal's peace process and the constitution would not have been possible without Indian support?
Definitely. Saying that the 12-point understanding was signed in Delhi means that there was India's active support — otherwise it was not possible. CA elections would not have been possible. There could have been
problems with the declaration of a republic. Now also, to take peace and the constitution to a logical conclusion, without Indian support, it will be very complex and difficult.
What is your vision of the economic engagement with India? The government led by your party has approved a major hydropower project with China, yet the ones with Indian companies remain stalled.
I want to add a political preface to this. India should totally remove this perception of thinking of other parties as closer to them, and the Maoists as being a bit distant. There is a closer economic relationship with and higher dependence on India. India's support is necessary for our development, be it hydropower, infrastructure, industries. But we also need to get Chinese support. An appropriate balance is important, but we have a special relationship with India. I have advised the PM that regarding the upper Karnali project, let's have one round of discussions and take it forward. On Sutlej, a PDA is being worked upon, let us finish that soon. And on Sunkosi, an Indian company is interested. I have told the Energy Minister to take it
forward so that it does not appear that there is an imbalance. I have conveyed to the Indian Ambassador that we need and expect Indian support in our economic development and mega projects.
You are the chair of a national committee on Lumbini. What is your aim? Could you also clarify the role of a Chinese INGO which expressed interest in the project?
The government has formed a national steering committee for the comprehensive development of Lumbini; the aim is to make it a world peace city. I am very clear that without the active help of neighbours, this is not possible. Indian involvement is particularly important. Buddha was born here, but received enlightenment there. Places like Gaya, Kushinagar and others are very important and ultimately, we must create a network. Then we need cooperation from Buddhist countries. China also has a large Buddhist population.
I have had this thought of developing Lumbini for a long time, and had got involved when
representatives from China, Thailand, Taiwan and Australia approached me and said they want to mobilise international help for Lumbini. But now that there is a national steering committee, the role of any INGO is irrelevant. As the chair, I have talked to India, China, and the U.N. There is now no need to raise any questions about my previous involvement.
A personal question. You have been out of official positions for some time. What is your political ambition now?
In this period, I am not interested in official power positions. I did contest for elections for PM in Parliament seven times in 2010. But then I reviewed my role, and I felt that I should concentrate my energy on concluding the peace process and constitution writing. If I started aiming for official positions, then the peace process would only get more complex; and my relationship with the Nepali people, parties, the international community — especially neighbours — would not be good.
But this is not to say that I will never go after power. I have a comprehensive vision to take the country forward, and after the peace and constitutional process, I want to get a chance to serve the Nepali people. I want five-10 years to implement my vision to take Nepal forward.
April 17, 2012 Three cheers to Parliament
Chennai comes up with innovative ideas. ‘Prime Point,' set up by a gentleman known in true Tamil Nadu-style as ‘Prime Point Srinivasan,' has instituted a set of awards for parliamentarians called Sansad Ratna Awards. ‘PP' felicitously chose Ambedkar Jayanti for the conferment ceremony this year and conferred the honour on four MPs:
Anand Rao Adsul — Number 1 in Questions (754). The total tally of debates, private bills and questions raised — 784.
Hansraj Gangaram Ahir — Number 1 in private bills — 20 in number. Questions raised — 755.
S.S. Ramasubbu — Number 3 at the all-India level with a total score of 742 questions. Attendance — 97 per cent.
Arjun Ram Meghwal — Number 1 in debates with 251 debates to his credit. Attendance — 100 per cent.
I was asked to do the honours, I do not know why. I have never been elected to a legislative body. Nor am I ever likely to be. But then the “gracing” of occasions is ever done by those singularly unqualified for the role. Seated on the dais at the IIT-Madras auditorium with me was one who was eminently suited for the event, the veteran Era Sezhiyan. An opposition MP for 22 years, Mr. Sezhiyan has shone as a studious parliamentarian whose lack of interest in the perks of that position has been diametrically opposite to his fascination for the work-opportunities Parliament gives to a serious legislator.
Rajaji once said: “It is easy to fast sitting at home on Ekadasi but very difficult to fast sitting in the middle of Modern Café at meal
time”. Whether or not the award-winning MPs have been on a metaphorical fast or working away during “meal time,” they have been clearly conscientious legislators.
As I applauded them, I could not but recall to myself Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's words spoken on November 4, 1948 in the Constituent Assembly: “The parliamentary system differs from a non-parliamentary system inasmuch as the former is more responsible than the latter but they also differ as to the time and agency for assessment of their responsibility. Under the non-parliamentary system, such as the one that exists in the U.S.A., the assessment of the responsibility of the Executive is periodic. It takes place once in two years. It is done by the electorate. In England, where the parliamentary system prevails, the assessment of responsibility of the Executive is both daily and periodic. The daily assessment is done by Members of Parliament, through Questions, Resolutions, No-confidence motions, Adjournment motions and Debates on Addresses. Periodic assessment is done by the electorate at the time of the election which may take place every five years or earlier. The daily assessment of responsibility which is not available under the American system is far
more effective than the periodic assessment and far more necessary in a country like India. The Draft Constitution in recommending the parliamentary system of Executive has preferred more responsibility to more stability”.
The early days
The early Lok Sabhas and Rajya Sabhas more than rose to the standards of “daily assessment” set by Dr. Ambedkar, especially in MPs' stellar debating contributions. The lyrically thoughtful Nehru was matched by the rasping Kripalani. The Houses were well-served by the laser-eyed Feroze Gandhi, the fiery Bhupesh Gupta, the impassioned Hiren Mukherjee, the sedate Lakshmi Menon, the thermal Violet Alva, the acerbic Rammanohar Lohia, the excoriating Nath Pai, the striking Renu Chakravartty, the diligent Minoo Masani, the startling C.N. Annadurai, and, of course, the poetic Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
But even in our ‘own' times, the recent debate on the Lokpal Bill saw some exceptional speeches. Pranab babu , Sushma Swaraj, Kapil
Sibal, Rahul Gandhi and Sandeep Dikshit spoke with persuasion in the Lok Sabha, as did Arun Jaitley, Sitaram Yechury, D. Raja, Shobhana Bhartia and Abhishek Singhvi in the Rajya Sabha. As a citizen, as a voter, I felt proud hearing them and knew that Dr. Ambedkar would have felt proud hearing them as well, because they were actuated by a clear sense of parliamentary accountability.
The Lokpal debate brought in many dimensions of the issue, each critical, each controversial. No one spoke like the other. Indeed none could have, for each came from different political addresses. Yet, basically, what they were all saying was: The world's largest democracy deserves the world's best Parliament. We may be far from that state yet, but the country should trust the institution to rise to the occasion whenever necessary.
But so high are those “occasions,” so tall our expectations, so pressing our needs for Parliament's attention, that our disappointment at its failure to meet our aspirations blinds us to the advantages of “daily assessment”.
Such an assessment would add up to an impressive tally by any standards. If untouchability has been abolished in our country, let us acknowledge the fact that it has so been abolished by the wisdom of the founding fathers of our Constitution and our Parliament. If that ugly stain on our society — dowry — has been outlawed in our country, it is by an Act of Parliament. Likewise, land reforms were brought in by Parliament, police reforms, prison reforms, labour law reforms, and an enactment, perhaps the first of its kind in the world, for the prevention of cruelty to animals.
Gifts to the country
All these are the gifts of our early Lok Sabhas and Rajya Sabhas to the country. They also bent to heed popular opinion, most notably, in the amendment to the States Reorganisation Bill, which had in a rather wooden manner proposed a composite state of Bombay, to divide it far more realistically into Maharashtra and Gujarat.
One might say all that ‘happened' in the golden days of Jawaharlal Nehru.
And so it did. But then the record has continued. The landmark reservation of seats for women in our local bodies happened long after and, in our ‘own' times, if domestic violence has been made a crime in our country, it is by an Act of Parliament; if the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is a fact of life today, giving employment and wages and nourishment to millions, it is because of Parliament; if the Right to Information is a household name today, being utilised across the length and breadth of India, and the Right to Education Act promises education to all of India's children, it is because of Parliament. If several States have Lok Ayuktas and the Centre may — inshallah — soon have a Lokpal, it is again because our legislatures have responded according to their own lights to public opinion, to public campaigns.
We ought not to take a measure of Parliament's height (and that of our Legislative Assemblies) on a low tide. Nor put the tape to where an exceptional high-scaler has reached.
We should go by the mean level of our legislative record.
And yet, there is a sense of something missing in our parliamentary record, something that is slipping through the fingers, almost.
‘Committee work' in Parliament and in our Assemblies can be exacting. But then, some seem to work far harder than others. And on the floor of the House, some attend regularly, others frequently, yet others fleetingly, and another category, only selectively.
And speeches? Some make a tidy number of them. Others opt for silence. It has been said speech should improve upon silence. Individual silence cannot improve on ambient silence, except in a Rishi's hermitage. Walkouts too are optional, as is raising one's voice beyond the requirements of audition, stepping into the Well of the House, tearing up documents. Those options are more visibly exercised.
Individual legislators do shine, sparkle and even stun us by their good performance. But going by the strict standards of responsibility that Dr. Ambedkar spoke of, it is Parliament as a whole and our Legislative Assemblies as a collectivity, that must be seen to pass the tests — rigorous, exemplary tests prescribed by him.
The most important step that needs to be taken in the matter of improving the “daily record” of our legislatures is to increase substantially the “daily” nature of its business — in other words, to have them meet oftener, sit longer, conclude the listed business. The Ministries in New Delhi bemoan the number of Bills that are “languishing” in Parliament. The Lokpal Bill is only one among many bills, each of great import, that are just unable to come up for discussion. Surely, this situation needs remedying.
The people of India will not begrudge the happy perquisites of MP-ship and MLA-ship if they are proportionate to the work put in, to high attendance, to the number of serious questions-per-session, and quality debates on bills. The people of India are generous. But as
they also happen to be hugely intelligent, they want to see a good perk-work balance. April 17, 2012 Beyond the Right to Education lies a school of hard knocks THE LONG ROAD TO GOOD SCHOOLING:Girls on their way to school near Koraput, Orissa.— PHOTO: K.R. DEEPAK The Supreme Court's recent mandate that private unaided non-minority schools should reserve 25 per cent of seats for underprivileged children is being hailed as a landmark ruling. The spirit of the decision is indeed laudable as it reflects the egalitarian ethos of the Right to Education (RTE) Act. Thus, as private schools open their doors to children from marginalised sections of society, the government pats itself on the back for engineering a social revolution. Aside from the logistical complications this entails, the government's congratulatory mood is both premature and misguided for a number of reasons.
Undoubtedly, education is the quintessential passport to greater opportunities — be they economic, academic or social. As the RTE Act
holds, all children, regardless of their family backgrounds or individual profiles, should have access to a meaningful education that empowers them to read critically, problemsolve analytically and think imaginatively.
However, our collective enthusiasm for the court's decision would turn out to be misplaced if anyone bothers to do basic math. According to a study published online by Dr. Wilima Wadhwa of Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), enrolment in private schools in 2008 was 22.6 per cent. While this figure is likely to have increased since, over 70-75 per cent of our children still attend government schools. Even as private schools reserve 25 per cent of seats for economically backward children, the vast majority will still be schooled in government-run institutions. Moreover, most children in rural areas attend government schools. According to the District Information System for Education 2010-11, as many as 84 per cent of children in villages attend government schools. If the RTE Act has to be implemented in letter and in spirit, the government cannot ignore the quality of
education it provides under its roof just because it has “won” the reservation battle with private institutions. Even as the government makes private schools “socially responsible,” it still has to bear the onus of educating the majority of children. Further, the assumption that private schooling is superior to a government education is based on the fact that children in the former tend to outperform the latter in examinations. But that is a superficial reading of facts. Once we scratch the surface, we find that other factors also contribute to children's better outcomes in private schools, as indicated in a study conducted by Dr. Wadhwa. When parental education, tuition classes and economic disparities are controlled for, the difference in reading scores between government and private schools falls drastically from 20 per cent to five per cent.
In addition, we have to recognise that private schools differ vastly in terms of the quality of education they provide. This is why there are serpentine queues from the early hours of the morning for admissions into kindergarten in a few reputed schools. The scramble for seats is evidence of the dearth of quality education. Just herding children into private schools is not
going to ensure their learning unless teachers are sensitised and trained to deal with children with different profiles. According to a study conducted by Wipro and Educational Initiatives, there are significant differences in the scores of children attending schools affiliated to the various national and State boards. Besides, children in the “top” private schools also exhibit rote learning and prejudiced thinking on sensitive socio-cultural issues.
Three factors abroad
Thus, we cannot overlook the fact that our educational system, both government and private, is in need of serious overhaul. In 2007, McKinsey and Company published a report that analysed why some school systems in the world ranked highly in international assessments of literacy, numeracy and problem-solving year after year. Top performing countries included Belgium, Finland, Japan, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Singapore and South Korea. While the countries sported vast differences, both culturally and politically, three factors
regarding their education systems were common to all high performing nations.
First, a teaching job in these countries, unlike in India, is a high-status profession. In addition to receiving salaries comparable to other wellpaying jobs, teacher training courses are highly selective and admit only the cream of graduates. Second, teachers are provided intensive training and new recruits are mentored on the job. In our country, teachers tend to work in isolation and inexperienced teachers are expected to handle a class on their own without additional guidance. Third, in the top-performing countries, schools try to offer the best possible education for every child by supporting those who lag behind. These schools monitor student performance closely and intervene when children fall behind by employing special educators who are trained in remedial instruction.
Thus, both government and private schools need to implement systemic changes. The coming academic year is an apt starting point when the RTE goes into effect nationally. Private schools need to welcome poor children wholeheartedly and prepare to meet the
educational demands that this reservation will bring. Our educational establishments are generally insensitive to children with learning difficulties with most schools lacking formal remedial programmes. As children from weaker sections enter their portals, the need for such services is only going to increase.
A U.S. study
A study in the United States revealed that the vocabulary of a three-year-old child of professional parents was 1,100 words whereas, a child whose parents were on welfare had a vocabulary of just 525 words. Under the RTE, poor children were admitted in 2011 into Shri Ram School, New Delhi. An article in the Wall Street Journal quoted the principal, Manika Sharma as saying: “The teachers have come into my office and broken down. They say, ‘Help us. There is no learning happening for the other affluent children. What we achieved in one week with kids before is taking three weeks.'” Writer John Gardner aptly says, “The schools are the golden avenue of opportunity for able youngsters but they are also the arena in which less able youngsters discover their
limitations.” As private schools open their doors, educators have to ensure that children from poor homes do not feel threatened by their more able and affluent peers, both academically and socially. Schools need resource personnel who can counsel and help these children realise their potential. In addition to supplementary remedial classes that help students bridge the academic divide, all children should be sensitised on getting along amicably.
Even as the child who comes to school in a chauffeur driven car, studies alongside the chauffeur's child, the government cannot shy away from upgrading infrastructure, enhancing teacher quality and promoting educational attainment in public schools. As a society, we need to make a concerted effort to achieve educational excellence, both government and private. Private educators and the government have to work synergistically to loosen the shackles of our strictly stratified society.
April 18, 2012 Don't burden the poor undergrad
Educational loans formed the only new proposal for education made in the Budget 2012-13 speech of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. The Minister promised to set up a Credit Guarantee Fund, “to ensure better flow of credit to deserving students.” The role and functions of the Fund are to yet to be clearly defined. Student loans are currently operated by commercial banks — public and private — as any other loan programme. The government has laid a few bare conditions in this context, and in 2009-10, a scheme of interest subsidy on loans was announced by the government for students of economically weaker sections.
Under the scheme, the government would subsidise the interest on loans borrowed from the schedule banks for the period of studies, which would be treated as a period of moratorium. The implementation of this scheme can be expected to be the main function of the proposed Fund, in addition to overseeing the overall implementation of the scheme of educational loans. There is, however, no budget allocation made for
setting up the Fund. Allocation for educational loan interest subsidy scheme has been raised considerably from Rs.640 crore in 2011-12 to Rs.800 crore. The actual expenditure on the same scheme in 2010-11 was only Rs.203.3 crore.
Through the subsidy, the government wants to encourage students among weaker sections to go for higher education — technical and professional education. Student loans are gradually and increasingly becoming popular, with the number of loan accounts with commercial banks being 22.8 lakh in March 2011, with an outstanding amount of Rs.42,808 crore, but they are not necessarily popular among students of weaker sections. It is important to note that the government does not spend anything on educational loans, except for the interest subsidy. It does not have to spend huge amounts to promote equity in higher education either, as it believes that interest subsidy on loans itself is sufficient for this.
The Economic Survey (2011-12) makes the intention of the government behind the loans clear, when it states, “over the years, the
divergent trajectories of costs and revenues due to rapidly increasing per student costs and increasing tertiary level participation has[ve] created immense pressures on the exchequer.
Moreover, subsidies are inequitable in the sense that irrespective of one's parents' wealth, all individuals in a state subsidized institution get the same level of subsidy. Therefore, there are views that argue for reducing government support for higher education and replacing it with better commercial student loans schemes ” (emphasis added).
The government's two-fold intentions are clear: (a) to reduce government support to higher education, and (b) to replace it with student loans. Rather it intends to change the whole method of financing of higher education in the country!
Ironically, the government recognises that many countries in the world provide vast levels of subsidies for higher education. The government is also aware of the rationale. In the same paragraph preceding the above lines,
the Economic Survey , stated, “Education being an important component of economic development and a driving force for economic growth, governments in India and across the world are subsidizing higher education.”
In support of extending commercial loans for students, the government makes a reference in the Economic Survey to a paper prepared at the Indian Statistical Institute (probably “Education Financing Policy: Income Contingent Loans and Educational Poverty Traps,” by Seher Gupta, Tridip Ray, Mausumi Das and Shoumitro Chatterjee). It will not be out of context to note that the said paper — or the extracts given in a Box in the Survey — argues for income-contingent loan schemes as against standard mortgage type loan schemes; it does not plead in favour of loan schemes against public subsidisation of higher education; rather the scholars argue in favour of a type of educational loans (incomecontingent loans) against another type (standard mortgage loans). This is not new; in fact, several experts who worked on student loans argued for the same. However, few strongly prefer loans to public subsidies.
The arguments in favour of public subsidies in higher education are very strong, and so is the case against loans. Public subsidies in higher education are favoured on the following grounds: higher education is a public good, producing an immense magnitude of social, economic, political, cultural and technological externalities; higher education is a merit good, consumption of which needs to be encouraged; it is a critical investment both from individual and social points of view; it is one of the best instruments of promoting social and economic mobility and thereby equity in society; it is both equity and efficiency-enhancing at the same time; there are economies of scale in the production of higher education; and, above all, it is a human right, as stated by UNESCO long ago in 1948 in the Charter of Human Rights. These and other fundamental characteristic features of higher education provide a strong case for public subsidisation of higher education.
On the other side, the inherent weaknesses of student loan schemes as well as the practical nuisance involved in them are also widely
known. Despite several supplementary measures, student loans, in comparison to public funding, are, like high tuition levels, highly regressive, adversely affecting the demand for higher education of the weaker sections; with the burden of loans on their shoulders, students could face severe psychological pressures, affecting their educational performance during studies and labour market performance after studies; and with loans not being available equally across all disciplines but going more towards employment oriented courses, the other disciplines of study might slowly perish, affecting the very structure of the higher education edifice.
Unlike in a few countries, and in the past in India when the national loan scholarship scheme was in operation, it is not the government, but commercial banks which run student loan programmes nowadays. Banks, being banks, have their own principles of business. Obviously, they would consider the repayment capacity of the student as the main principle before advancing a loan. Hence many deserving poor students who cannot provide collateral may be denied loans. This is so, despite several regulations issued by the
government and/or the Reserve Bank of India. Banks do not necessarily have any consideration for promoting academic excellence or for helping the poor. Moreover, educational loans have become a very powerful instrument for promoting private education.
Change in attitudes
Above all, student loans change the attitudes of students and of society as a whole towards the very nature of higher education. Public financing of higher education recognises that higher education is a public good and it is the sacred responsibility of the state to provide it to its citizens. Methods like student fee dilute the state responsibility. Student loans assume that higher education is the responsibility, not of the state, nor of the families, but of the student himself, as if education is completely an individual private good, as it is mainly the student who takes the loan and it is the student who will be repaying it. Parents are at best guarantors of the loans. This shift in responsibility from state to parents and then to students will have dangerous implications not only for the development of higher
education, but also for the very social fabric and national development.
While many countries heavily subsidise higher education and rely on student loans only partially on a very limited scale, the government of India intends to use this method to altogether replace public funding of higher education.
April 18, 2012 It's a high five moment for the Agni
For India, Agni V is more than just its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). With a range of over 5,000 km, this road-and railmobile missile can be fired from deep within the country and still reach all parts of China, especially the latter's populous and economically important eastern seaboard.
The Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) created Agni V by adding a third stage to Agni III, a missile with a range of 3,500 km while carrying a 1.5 tonne payload that was first successfully tested five years ago.
Both Agni III and V have a diameter of two metres, making them capable of carrying several warheads known as Multiple Independently Targeted Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV). (Agni I and II have a diameter of one metre and the first stage of the Agni IV has a diameter of 1.2 metres.)
Firing MIRVs requires what is known as a “Post Boost Control Vehicle,” a manoeuvrable platform that sits atop the rocket and holds the warheads. After the missile has lofted it into a ballistic trajectory, the platform must be able to release each warhead with the orientation and velocity needed to reach its target.
As India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) has already demonstrated the ability to put multiple satellites into orbit in the course of a single launch, developing a Post Boost Control Vehicle should be technologically straightforward. However, developing compact nuclear warheads could be a significant hurdle in acquiring MIRV capability. Published information on U.S. systems suggests that each re-entry vehicle will need to weigh less than
500 kg. First generation missile-borne nuclear warheads typically weigh twice as much.
India now has a range of nuclear-capable Agni missiles in its arsenal, starting with Agni I that can strike targets 700 km away. These missiles use solid propellants and can therefore be launched at short notice. They are also carried on mobile launchers, making it more difficult for an enemy to locate and destroy them.
In China and Pakistan
But India's nuclear-armed neighbours, China and Pakistan, have powerful missiles of their own.
China's strategic forces still rely heavily on ballistic missiles using liquid propellants. Its first missile, the “Dong Feng 1” (DF-1), was a copy of the Soviet R-2 missile, and relied on technology and designs provided by the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. The next missile, DF-2, was designed to be capable of landing a nuclear warhead on Japan.
The country then went on to build more advanced ballistic missiles, still using liquid propulsion, which also became the basis for its Long March launch vehicles. These include the DF-3, the DF-4 and the DF-5.
China switched to solid propulsion when it developed its first submarine launched ballistic missile, the “Ju Lang 1” (JL-1). The land version of the missile was designed as the “DF-21.”
A more powerful, solid propellant missile, the DF-31, is now beginning to be deployed. The submarine version of the missile, the JL-2, will be carried aboard China's new Type 094 Jinclass nuclear-powered submarines, the first of which was launched in 2004.
“China is progressively replacing its older liquid-fuelled DF-3 and DF-4 missiles with the new solid-fuelled two-stage DF-21 missile,” according to a 2010 assessment prepared by the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in Bangalore.
Although it was within China's capabilities to equip the DF-31 with MIRVs, there was no clarity on whether this had actually been done, the assessment noted. Official U.S. sources have maintained that as the country was developing this capability, its DF-31 and all variants of that missile were currently equipped with only a single warhead.
A 2007 report from the NIAS group pointed out that China has deployed the DF-3, the DF-4 and the DF-21 missiles in bases in the Qinghai and Yunnan provinces. From those locations, these missiles would be able to reach all of India.
Pakistan, for its part, has produced a range of missiles using a mix of imported technology and indigenous capability.
Improving on sounding rocket technology supplied by the French company, Sud Aviation, to the Pakistan Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), it developed the Abdali (also known as Hatf-1). But the missile is estimated to have a range of only about 100 km.
Its Ghaznavi missile, which can carry a nuclear warhead, is a shortened version of China's M11 solid propellant missile supplied by the latter in the 1990s.
Ghauri, which uses liquid propellants, is based on North Korea's No Dong missile. The technology for this missile was imported by the A.Q. Khan Laboratories, which provided uranium enrichment technology to the North Koreans. The range of this missile has been put at about 950 km with a 1,000 kg nuclear warhead.
China also appears to have supplied the technology for the solid propellant M9 missile, with the Pakistani version being called the Shaheen-1. The NIAS team believes that the Shaheen-2, which was first tested in March 2004, has involved a second stage being added.
The missile would then have a range of 1,200 km compared to 730 km for its predecessor. If so, large parts of India, including places as far south as Hyderabad, would be within its reach.
But the range estimated for the Shaheen-2 assumed that it has a diameter of one metre, notes Rajaram Nagappa, who heads the strategic studies group at NIAS. But it was difficult to accurately estimate the diameter from publicly available images of the missile. If, as some reports suggest, the missile has a diameter of 1.4 metres (the same as China's DF-21), then its range would be considerably greater.
“Though constrained by the availability and production of uranium, Pakistan has a credible deterrent structure in place that would be largely organised around the Shaheen-1 and -2 missiles,” according to the NIAS 2010 assessment.
April 18, 2012 Trade will place peace on the fast track The inauguration of the Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Attari in India on April 13 is important for a number of reasons.
After a long time, one saw dignitaries from both Pakistan and India at the inaugural ceremony — Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Ahmad Fahim, and the Chief Ministers of both the Punjabs, Parkash Singh Badal and Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif. All this was at the Attari-Wagah border, famous only because of a jingoistic border retreat ceremony.
Looking beyond the ceremony, the setting up of the ICP is significant as it will naturally boost bilateral trade between the two countries, taking it closer to the target of $10 billion. Built at a cost of nearly Rs.150 crore and spread over about 130 acres, the ICP will have passenger and cargo terminals, security and scanning equipment, and passenger amenities, besides waiting areas, restaurants, restrooms, duty-free shops, banks and other financial services. The ICP can handle about 600 trucks at a time. As a consequence of this enhanced infrastructural capability, trade, earlier conducted only between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. can
now stretch to 12 hours — between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Thus more trucks can drive to India and cross over to Pakistan every day.
The ICP is important for a number of other reasons as well.
First, 12 other ICPs are likely to be inaugurated at other border points, improving connectivity with countries in the neighbourhood including Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Second, it will help Punjab in general and Amritsar in particular, which was virtually a twin city with Lahore but which suffered on two counts — economically as a consequence of the 1965 war and later during the decade long militancy.
Other land routes
As a consequence, Amritsar, once a trade hub of North India, was left behind, while Lahore continued to grow.
It is no surprise that Pakistan's decision to grant Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India — welcomed in India — and the setting up of the ICP at Wagah has come as a boon for businessmen of Punjab, especially in Amritsar The political class, especially the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab has not missed the opportunity to take the credit for this development. Politicians across the board have also demanded that Pakistan expand the list of trade items — a paltry 137 at the moment — that can be exported through the AttariWagah route.
On expected lines has been the demand by the political class in the State to ask for the opening of more land routes with Pakistan such as Sadki in Fazilka and Hussainiwala (both in the Malwa region of Punjab). Mr. Badal is said to have taken up the issue of opening the Hussainiwala border during his meeting with Mr. Sharif.
Even during his speech at the function, Mr. Badal urged central ministers of both sides to examine the issue. It might be mentioned here that nearly 100 trucks carrying dry fruit and other fruits from Afghanistan and Pakistan
used to pass through Hussainiwala before the 1971 war, while Indian traders exported riceshelling equipment and farm machinery to Pakistan and beyond. With the Bathinda oil refinery likely to be operational soon, the Punjab government is exploring the possibility of selling petro-chemicals via this route.
Political parties are bound to spar over claiming credit for the ICP and this will continue when other trade routes open. Indirectly, this is a positive development as it shows that there is a genuine yearning for peace and closer economic ties with Pakistan in Indian Punjab. Perhaps, some of our politicians need to learn a thing or two from this development in Punjab as far as fostering neighbourhood relations are concerned.
Those who are sceptical about the role of provinces in foreign policy should appreciate the maturity of Punjab's political class as far as relations with Pakistan are concerned and also not overlook the potential role of the State, which can act as a strong interface between India and Pakistan April 19, 2012
Who said this, Obama or Romney? AM I THE CHANGE?In the end, the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans are minimal in practice. Barack Obama, who has presided over a security strategy that differs so little from that pursued by his predecessor, George Bush, could well be uttering the words of his opponent Mitt Romney (left).— PHOTOS: AP, AFP
President Barack Obama is making American national security an election issue with his most likely Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, because he has out-Bushed George W. Bush and the GOP in general on the matter. Despite claims to be the “change” candidate in November 2008, and being swept to victory largely on the basis that he was the “un-Bush,” President Obama has, in all essentials, continued the policies of his predecessor, the architect of the global war on terror.
Mr. Obama certainly has more panache than the Texan, perhaps, but follows essentially the same policies and concepts. He can now do what no other Democratic incumbent or candidate has been able to do for some time, if ever: go on the offensive against the
Republicans who normally claim that the Democrats are “weak” on national security.
In Mr. Obama, the U.S. foreign policy establishment merely found what the old-time hardliner, Zbigniew Brzezinski, called the “new face of American power.”
Mr. Obama has successfully ridden the waves of global revulsion and the growth of considerable domestic “isolationism” — which, in truth, was closer to a rejection at home of American global “hegemony.”
Why does President Obama feel he can go on the offensive against Mr. Romney? Because he has followed a hard-line militarist programme that any Republican chief executive would be proud of.
“He” killed Osama bin Laden; he launched more drone attacks, i.e. targeted assassinations, than Mr. Bush; he's retained rendition, i.e., kidnapping, as a practice;
prevented the U.S. Supreme Court from extending constitutional protections to Bagram inmates; retained the Guantánamo Bay facility; extended “anti-terror” surveillance on a massive scale to the “homeland”; ordered and maintained the military “surge” in Afghanistan; continued to defend, finance and arm Israel despite its expansionist settlements' policy; ramped up the rhetoric of inevitable illegal military strikes against Iran; ordered coercive regime change in Libya; maintained U.S. support for corrupt and bankrupt regimes in the Arab world; and so on.
A criticism of President Bush was that he ignored China and the rise of Asia. Mr. Obama has not. He's stationing thousands of U.S. troops in Australia, making military treaties with China's border states and securing cooperation — cultural, military and other — between India, Japan and Australia. From Beijing, this could look a bit like encirclement.
I am hesitant to say that Mr. Obama has not followed a “proper” or “authentic” Democratic foreign and national security policy because he has: Democrats “do” wars — World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam; and they
overwhelmingly backed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. President Obama is the latest in a long line of Democratic war makers.
Who said this? “Our country today faces a bewildering array of threats and opportunities…. I will safeguard America and secure our country's interests and most cherished ideals. The unifying thread of ... [my] national security strategy is American strength. When America is strong, the world is safer. It is only American power — conceived in the broadest terms — that can provide the foundation for an international system that ensures the security and prosperity of the United States and our friends and allies. … [We] will defend America abroad in word and in deed.”
Tweak it just a bit by adding something about the universalism of American ideals and you could hear Mr. Obama's dulcet tones uttering those very words. But the quote is from Mitt Romney's website.
In the end, the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans are minimal in
practice: they are parties of the Establishment that are completely united in their fundamental faith in American power.
The face of power
When asked what changes he would introduce should he gain the White House, Mr. Obama responded in 2007-8: “I am the change.” And he was absolutely true to his word: the face of U.S. power is all that really changed.
There are those, disappointed supporters and “neutrals,” who say that President Obama inherited a veritable mess that no one could have done much about. And they have a point. But I would ask: if he could do little about his inheritance, what did he do about those things that were in his control, issues that arose within his own tenure? Like the uprisings in Egypt, the intervention in Libya, Bagram, and the Wikileaks revelations and Bradley Manning's incarceration in a military prison? Lest we forget, the U.N. investigated Mr. Manning's treatment as examples of the use of torture.
President Obama has presided over a national security strategy that differs so little from that pursued by his predecessor that he feels he has stolen his opponent's garb — and can wear it better than them. That's why he can make national security an election issue. This may play well at the hustings; but it augurs ill for the rest of the world which has no vote.
( Inderjeet Parmar is Professor of Government at the University of Manchester. His latest book, Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie & Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power, has just been published by Columbia University Press .) April 19, 2012 Our past is being moth -eaten How do you destroy Indian history? In Delhi, letters written by Mahatma Gandhi, Dadabhai Naoroji, and Babasaheb Ambedkar are left to rot away in rooms lacking proper temperature control. In Lucknow, secretariat holdings are dumped and burned. And in Chennai, archival records are literally washed away by the monsoons.
Among both foreign and Indian scholars, it is an open secret that most Indian archives and libraries are in a deplorable state. Over the past 15 months, I have visited many institutions across the country in connection with my dissertation research on Naoroji. What I have seen has disturbed me. Archival experiences recounted by my academic colleagues have horrified me. Unless the government takes quick and decisive action, India is at risk of letting much of its heritage literally crumble into dust. Sources of Indian history are at grave risk of being lost forever.
India is a country that is justifiably proud of its illustrious past. But this pride does not always translate into proper custodianship and preservation. Most Indians would cringe at how sources of Indian history are treated in government institutions. In spite of the plethora of capable administrators and skilled archivists in this country, many institutions do not follow clear, up-to-date, and verifiable standards for document preservation.
State-level facilities, where the majority of public archives are housed, are in the greatest need of help. Many institutions are housed in old buildings that may actually facilitate rapid damage to collections. The Maharashtra State Archives in Mumbai, for example, is located in an open-air structure built in 1888. As a result, pigeons regularly fly into the premises and leave their droppings on centuries-old colonial factory records and priceless newspaper collections. Occasionally, as an American colleague recently recalled, a pigeon will collide into a fan, plummet to the floor, and writhe around in a pool of blood until a peon is charged with cleaning up the mess.
The situation is also quite grim in New Delhi. At the National Archives of India, I consult Naoroji's papers in the Private Archives room, which has broken windows and no proper climate control. It is no surprise, therefore, that thousands of Naoroji's letters have been destroyed over the past few decades and that thousands more are now too damaged to be read: while Naoroji bequeathed over 60,000 items upon his death in 1917, less than 30,000 survive today. The papers of Naoroji's colleagues, such as Romesh Chunder Dutt, are in a similarly shameful state. How would the
Grand Old Man react to this disappearance of so much nationalist heritage?
Poor upkeep has also damaged more recent records. Some of Dr. Ambedkar's correspondence has decayed into piles of scraps. This should not happen in a country where his legacy and memory are subjects of such great contestation and debate.
Within the international academic community, Indian archival experiences are traded like war stories. In the 1990s, an eminent British political scientist found documents and files from the Uttar Pradesh Secretariat's library dumped and burned outside. The Secretariat, the political scientist noted, contained valuable revenue settlement and provincial police reports that are probably not available anywhere else. In the fall of 2005, an M.Phil. candidate from Delhi University saw staff at the Tamil Nadu State Archives in Chennai hanging a clothesline on the archives' verandah. Why? It was being used to dry out historical papers soaked during a monsoonal deluge. And in 2008, staff at the West Bengal State Archives in Kolkata chose to go on a month-long strike after an Ivy League
professor made a routine request for a document.
These three instances hint at glaring problems in the ways that Indian archives and libraries are managed. In order for there to be any hope for the long-term survival of India's sources of history, the Union and State governments need to urgently bring about real and lasting changes.
The most necessary change is also the simplest. These institutions need to be housed in proper facilities. In 21st century India, it is absolutely absurd that records and collections continue to be housed in Raj-era structures that have hardly been modernised since they were built. This is tantamount to condemning documents to 19th century preservation methods. In order for old documents to be preserved, they need to be kept in sealed, temperature-controlled environments where the elements, humidity, insects, and animals are kept at bay. The new director of the Maharashtra State Archives is pushing the State government to build such a structure for her institution. She needs support.
At the same time, new buildings must conform to the highest standards. The National Archives' annexe was inaugurated in 1991 but its construction is of such substandard quality that its roof is leaking, its window panes have fallen off, and its storage facilities are a veritable magnet for dirt and dust. Our history deserves better than this.
Secondly, these institutions need highly qualified directors and staff. There are now some encouraging developments. The National Archives, which was left rudderless for several years, now finally has a director general. He has brought about visible and commendable change in his two years on the job, helping modernise the facility and improve standards of preservation and recordkeeping. The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, the leading storehouse of non-official documents, is busy reviewing existing practices and upgrading skills and techniques. Here too, a new director is working with other experts to effect changes.
Dearth of staff
But qualified directors, alone, cannot institute real change. There is a glaring dearth of trained archivists and librarians in institutions across the country. In spite of the real talent that India yearly produces in these fields, most archives, museums, and libraries have a shockingly high number of empty posts. The reasons are not difficult to discern. It can take anywhere from two to three years for the Union Public Service Commission to clear an applicant's file for a vacancy. During that period of time, most candidates will have found another job; any remaining candidates will be deterred by low pay scales and the promise of a poor work environment. As one archival official told me, the Indian government looks upon its archivists and librarians as “dignified clerks.” It is a miracle that, in spite of everything, many central and state institutions retain a core of dedicated, professional staff.
The critical shortage of trained staff has had one very destructive consequence. Methods and technologies of preservation have greatly lagged behind what is practised elsewhere in the world. I have been dismayed to see archivists across India use technologies that were abandoned in the West decades ago. For
example, the preservation technique of lamination — whereby brittle documents are pasted in between thin sheets of paper — is still widely and indiscriminately used. This technique, as archivists in the British Library inform me, is no longer commonly practised there due to adverse long-term consequences.
I have seen these consequences first hand: Gandhi's earliest surviving letter to Naoroji is no longer legible due to lamination. Without more qualified preservationists, institutions in India are unable to keep up with international best practices or even review their own preservation policies, assimilating tried-andtested techniques with new methods.
In order to facilitate the hiring and retention of India's best talent, and in order to put an end to decades of neglect and destruction, certain institutions, such as the National Archives, should be granted a degree of autonomy. The National Archives desperately needs more qualified staff in order to assist in projects for preservation, catalouging, and upkeep. At
present, the director has limited powers even to repair those broken windows that daily let in dust, mosquitoes, and hornets into the room where I work: all repairs must go though the Central Public Works Department, adding a completely unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.
The Ministry of Culture, which oversees so many of India's cultural treasures, must provide the right conditions for allowing India's best historians, librarians, and archivists to give Indian heritage the dedication and care it deserves. The Nehru Library, which has a degree of autonomy, provides an interesting model of an institution that has fared better than most.
Indian libraries and archives have enormous potential. They are home to some of the world's greatest and most important collections of historical documents. With qualified directors, better staff, and proper facilities, these institutions can take their rightful places as internationally-recognised centres of scholarship. They can help restore India's pride of place as a global hub of learning and culture. Will the government help give India's history the future it deserves?
April 19, 2012 One year on, an outraged Bhadralok divests from Didi In the summer of 2001, it was evident as I travelled through West Bengal that fatigue had set in with the Left Front government. Earlier, in end-2000, anticipating the public mood, Communist Party of India (Marxist) veteran Jyoti Basu had stepped down as Chief Minister, paving the way for Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. This ensured the Left victories in 2001 and 2006.
The Left extended its life by a decade not merely because Mr. Bhattacharya gave it a new look but also because the only option before the people was Mamata Banerjee. Ms Banerjee leading her three-year-old Trinamool Congress, didn't seem capable of serious governance. I recall many conversations in Kolkata: yes, Bengal needs a change, but Didi simply can't be trusted to govern the State. If her trajectory as an opposition leader is clearly the stuff legends are made of, her forays into government — as Minister of State for Youth and Sports in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government (1991-93) and as Union Minister for Railways in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee
government (1999-2001) — had been less than inspiring.
That scepticism turned into burning impatience with the Left government a year after it returned to power in 2006. If the antiland acquisition agitations in Nandigram and Singur saw a rural uprising against the Left Front, the latter's inability to contain the situation and the human rights violations ensured that Kolkata's vocal middle class, from club-going boxwallas to jhola -carrying intellectuals, all signed up for poriborton.
But today, a month short of celebrating a year in power, Ms Banerjee's honeymoon with the opinion-making middle class is over, the shroud of censorship she has flung across the State proving to be the last straw. The watershed moment was the arrest of a Jadavpur University chemistry professor Ambikesh Mahapatra on charges of violating the modesty of a woman, spreading social ill will and disrupting social harmony, merely for sharing a cartoon online. Later, it transpired
that Dr. Mahapatra, as assistant secretary of the New Garia Development Cooperative Housing Society — where he lives — had blocked the Trinamool-backed syndicate's contracts to supply building materials, earning the wrath of the party's goon squads.
This episode has galvanised the middle class, especially the intellectuals who had jumped the Left Front ship for the Trinamool. Result: a Twitter campaign, “Arrest me if you dare, Mamata Bannerjee,” and an online petition on Facebook mobilising support against the government's actions. R.K. Laxman's “The Common Man,” mouth sealed with two strips of bandage, and a graphic of a male face, hands covering the eyes and mouth, adorn these accounts. Unfazed, the State CID has asked Facebook to delete morphed images of Ms Banerjee, after a Trinamool supporter complained that “objectionable comments” were flooding social networking sites. Since then, a group of intellectuals has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemning the Mahapatra episode that came on the heels of another arrest — that of molecular biologist Partha Sarathi Ray who had in April joined a protest against the eviction of slum dwellers in east Kolkata. The signatories include Noam
Chomsky, Mriganka Sur and Abha Sur of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, top scientists from the IITs and institutions in Denmark, Singapore and Sweden, as well as activists like Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey.
But Ms Banerjee remains unperturbed: for her, in an odd reversal of the State's politics, these are her “class enemies” — the elitist English speaking middle class, whom she referred to in an interview she gave last month to NDTV; those who, she said, have contempt for her humble origins.
As Chief Minister, she has made it clear she will not tolerate a differing view, much less dissent, within her party or government — or, indeed, far more troubling, in the State. If Mr. Dinesh Trivedi was unceremoniously sacked as Union Railway Minister for not toeing her line on the Union Railway budget, Damayanti Sen, the feisty, young Joint Commissioner of Police, Kolkata, who cracked the Park Street rape case, was shunted out to an obscure job for proving Ms Banerjee wrong: her first response
to the rape charge and, indeed, news of infant cradle deaths, was that they had been “manufactured to malign her government.”
Now that intolerance has spread to the wider world: last month, government libraries were told to purchase only eight newspapers — those taken off the list were those critical of her actions and policies, as they prevented “freethinking” among readers. In future, she said, she might even ask people to stop buying certain newspapers “because a conspiracy is going on against us.” The newspapers that offended her included the top-selling Ananda Bazaar Patrika , The Telegraph and Bartaman : interestingly, Bartaman , whose strident antiLeft stance played a leading role in bringing the Trinamool to power, is now running stories highly critical of Ms Banerjee. Later, under pressure, five newspapers — a Nepali daily, two Bengali dailies, and The Times of India — were restored to the “government” list. An embarrassed Library Services Minister Abdul Karim Chowdhary said the government had not imposed censorship or banned the big
papers, it only wished to promote small newspapers.
But to the “freethinking” reading public, it is more than apparent that those that made the cut in the first list were all pro-government: one such Bengali newspaper is owned by a Trinamool Rajya Sabha MP, whose associate editor, Kunal Ghosh, is among the three journalists recently elected to the upper house of Parliament on the party ticket. For Ms Banerjee, the switch from goddess-status to a daily scrutiny of her actions has been a rude shock, as all through her opposition years, she depended heavily on media support. Today, it's well-known in Kolkata's political circles that she looks to a chosen group of journalists, including the new Rajya Sabha MPs, rather than her political colleagues, for advice on all issues.
Unfortunately, for her, some of these “advisers” are now coming under the scanner as one of them works for a chain of media outfits backed by a chit fund, the subject of an ongoing controversy. Last September, Trinamool MP Somen Mitra wrote to Dr. Singh, urging action against chit funds channelling
money into real estate, film production, the hotel business — and the media. He also alleged that these chit funds were prospering, thanks to political patronage, with some owners even in Parliament. Last month, Congress MP A.H. Khan Chowdhury wrote a similar letter to Dr. Singh, asking for an investigation into the activities of these chit funds. Indeed, the link between hot money and media organisations backing Ms Banerjee's government is now an open secret in Kolkata.
In the dying days of the Left Front government in West Bengal, the CPI (M)'s harmad sena, or goon squads rampaging through its villages, came to symbolise its 34 years. Today, those goon squads have switched political allegiance to her Trinamool. If the violence continues unabated — with the Left now at the receiving end — intolerance of any criticism of the new government has added a fresh dimension to the State's politics. “Harmad theke unmad (from unmitigated violence to untempered madness”) is the despairing phrase most used on Kolkata's streets to describe the prevailing situation in Bengal.
The middle class that turned the tide of public opinion in the Trinamool's favour is angry.
Writer Mahasweta Devi, among those who had backed Ms Banerjee, recently said: “Dictatorship has never worked. It has neither worked in Hitler's Germany nor did it work in Mussolini's Italy.” Ms Banerjee needs to heed those words: for even if her popularity is still intact in rural Bengal, recent events represent the thin end of the wedge. April 20, 2012 Let a hundred children blossom Now that the Supreme Court has validated the Right to Education (RTE), its success will depend on teachers. When I said this to a friend who teaches in a primary school, she said, “you are being unfair.” I was startled to hear this response because what I had said was common sense. When I pointed this out to her, she said, “Common sense isn't enough to implement RTE — you need professional insight, so you need policies that allow teachers to develop insight and use it.” She is right. For well over a century, India has treated its teachers like messengers who need not know or understand the message themselves. They occupy the lowest rung in the ladder of
authority and status in the system of education. The younger the age-group they teach, the lower their own status and salary. That is why the nursery teacher has no status at all, and no university-level training course, which might explain why certain practices are good and others are bad, exists for nursery professionals.
Primary level teaching is similarly regarded as a drill devoid of intellectual effort. Delhi University stood alone when it started offering a four-year course called Bachelor of Elementary Education (B.El.Ed.) in the 1990s. Though this course has produced outstanding teachers, the Delhi government still denies them the status of trained graduate teachers. In its recent verdict, the Supreme Court characterised education “as a process involving many actors,” starting the list with “the one who provides education,” namely, the teacher. The list then goes on to include the owners of institutions, parents, the child, society, and the state. This clarity of analysis runs through the entire verdict which should become a compulsory reading for
administrators and teachers alike if RTE is to reach its ambitious goals.
Most ambitious among its objectives is the social engineering it proposes by guaranteeing at least 25 per cent share of enrolment in unaided fee-charging schools to children whose parents cannot afford the fee. This provision formed the focus of the petition the Supreme Court has now disposed of with its majority verdict. The petitioners had challenged the provision arguing that reserving 25 per cent seats, that too without the freedom to screen, implies an unwarranted curtailing of the autonomy of unaided private institutions. The analysis used by the Court to reject this argument is both complex and sharp. It shows why the right to run a private school is not absolute. The Court's logic is that Article 21A has come into being because certain Directive Principles, particularly Article 45, required the state to provide ‘for' free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14. The preposition ‘for' is important, says the verdict, because it is in response to the Directive Principles that the new law has established the manner in which the state has decided to follow the Principles. The chosen manner covers both state and private schools.
The verdict also reminds us that RTE has been woven into the Right to Life, on the ground that a life worth living must have dignity and that is what education promises to impart. Thirdly, the right encoded in the new law concerns children, and not institutions. Finally, RTE also covers quality as an aspect of education, not something external to it. The state has now fully admitted being a custodian of all children, so it has a right to withdraw recognition from institutions that fail to provide education in the manner stipulated by law. The provision for mixing children of different socio-economic backgrounds now defines what education is.
Upset and startled
This is as clear as it can be. Yet, one can understand why private schools are upset and startled. One simple reason is habit. Unaided schools have been used to thinking that they can isolate their children from the poverty, roughness and the pain of daily life that surrounds prosperous Indians. The belief that learning needs withdrawal from the jungle of life belongs to an old, very old tradition. In the history of pedagogic theory, this view was
challenged more than a century ago. In Europe and America, experience was recognised as the best teacher at the beginning of the 20th century, and experience meant direct exposure to the reality and diversity of the human condition. Mixed schooling was bitterly debated before it took root, and in the U.S., it had to await the pressure generated by the civil rights movement. Indian private schools, including the elite among them, are startled that they are coming under a law they did not help to formulate.
These schools have been used to seeing themselves as leaders. Their teachers are accustomed to working with a select group of children whose home environment already gives them the skills they need at school. Now, these teachers will have to cope with a mixed classroom. They will have to learn and practise new pedagogies capable of maintaining high standards in the face of India's socio-cultural diversity and economic disparity. The crucial lesson they have to learn now is that the inclusion of children belonging to the poorer sections and marginalised groups is not just
good for them, but also for the remaining 75 per cent. This is so because classroom life will now be experientially and linguistically richer. It will be easier to illustrate complex issues with examples drawn from children's own lives. In the syllabi and textbooks developed in the wake of the National Curriculum Framework (2005), all subjects — and not just the social sciences — require understanding from multiple, often contradictory, perspectives. Peer group learning is as important as what the teacher teaches.
Indeed, the teacher's job is to nurture a classroom culture which enables children to take positive interest in differences of opinion, perceptions and life-style, in order to infuse life and meaning into knowledge.
However, the owners of unaided institutions are going to perceive their critical challenge in finances. They want to know where the funds for the free seats are going to come from. RTE stipulates that the state will subsidise the cost of reserved seats by paying to private schools an amount representing the state's per child expenditure in its own schools. Owners of high fee-charging schools argue that this amount is
just not sufficient to cover the expenses that the school incurs for maintaining its quality. This argument contradicts the popular theory, espoused by private schools themselves, that state-run schools are of poor quality because their teachers are unaccountable. By describing the state's compensation for free seats as inadequate, the unaided private schools are conceding the point that the quality of education in state schools is hampered by paucity of funds. In order to substantiate their claim to greater efficiency, private schools must now show better outcomes with the same amount of funds per child that the state spends in its own schools.
Indeed, this may provide to private schools an opportunity to set their own priorities in order. Over the last few decades, a culture of extravagance has engulfed many of India's elite private schools. Many private schools now uninhibitedly flaunt their five-star luxuries, ranging from expensive furniture and marble floors to air conditioning and CCTVs. When you visit one of these schools, you wonder whether you are in a hotel. Their plea for sympathy over the inadequacy of state subsidy for 25 per cent free seats is a bit cloying.
It will be nice if they shift their anxiety to the challenges that RTE throws at everyone concerned with children's education — teachers, trainers, parents, state and society. For teachers, the critical issue is to absorb the new curricular and pedagogic perspective which focuses on learning in place of marks. RTE asks for continuous and comprehensive evaluation, and a ban on corporal punishment and private tuition. These are tall demands and our systemic preparation to meet them has barely begun. Search for short cuts has ominously surfaced in matters like the selection of distance education for teacher training and dependence on NGOs for monitoring. The state and the university system cannot any more neglect the task of regulating teacher training institutes, most of which are now in the private sector.
The RTE Act has assigned the monitoring of implementation to the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). Currently, this fragile agency has hardly any institutional capacity to look after the millions of children whose right to education and dignity has been recognised for the first time in the nation's history. Help from NGOs can
hardly substitute a workforce of academic and legal specialists that NCPCR and its State units across the country require. Let us note that the Supreme Court's verdict puts the onus for the execution of RTE on the entire society and the apparatus of the state. April 20, 2012 India did not understand the seriousness of events in the Maldives, says Nasheed MOHAMED NASHEED:‘The point is, liberal democracy depends on everyone playing by the rules — which our opponents have not done.' —PHOTO: REUTERS Ever since the February 6 coup which overthrew Mohamed Nasheed's government, the ousted Maldives President has been visiting world capitals, seeking greater international effort to ensure the restoration of democracy. The signs are bleak: the government that succeeded him has dug in its heels in the face of international calls for early elections. Mr. Nasheed discussed with Praveen Swami the future of democracy in the Maldives, his expectations of India and the unfolding political crisis in his country.
There is mounting concern over whether early elections will be held in the Maldives; the government seems to be digging in its heels in the face of mounting international pressure.
I'd like to be optimistic about the future: after all, I gave 20 years of my life fighting for democracy in the Maldives. The fact is that we have lost democracy just three-and-a-half years after our first multi-party elections, which were held in 2008. The man we fought against, Mr. Gayoom, is back. Islamists have a stronger hold than ever on power, though they have never won an election. I fear that unless India, as well as other nations, unequivocally put their weight behind the call for early elections, very dark times lie ahead for my country.
How satisfied are you with India's response to this crisis? Do you think New Delhi should be doing more?
I was sad when the coup took place, because it seemed to me that India did not understand the seriousness of events in the Maldives. I do understand India has complex issues to deal
with when engaging with its neighbours. I think India could have secured an election date much earlier though, had its diplomacy been a bit more forceful. Please don't get me wrong: I know I am speaking with the benefit of hindsight. In my years in prison, I read a great deal about the vision of Jawaharlal Nehru. I think that vision should inform India's actions.
Perhaps India's response was unclear because of divisions over whether the overthrow of your government was a coup, or the outcome of general resistance.
Look, what happened on February 6 was without dispute a coup d' é tat . It was mounted by elements of the Maldivian elite who are hostile to the progressive reforms we were instituting. Our per-capita income is $6,000 — but one in three Maldivians earns less than $1 a day. This was a disgrace. We set up an employment tribunal and instituted a minimal wage. We introduced an income-tax and a general sales tax. We succeeded in raising government revenues from $7 billion to over $11 billion. See, I grew up in a Maldivian business family. I have seen feudalism firsthand. Now, the thing is, when you have
democracy, a billionaire and a peasant get one vote each. Some people, quite obviously, prefer being feudal lords.
The government that has come to power isn't, however, just made up of the ruling elite. It consists also of the Islamists, that very elite once ruthlessly suppressed. Does this indicate that there was, in fact, a broad coalition against your government?
The coalition you see today has been put together to seize power, not to govern. The dictator we spent 20 years fighting, Maumoon Gayoom, has put together an alliance with the Islamists. My fear is that if we delay elections until 2013, Mr. Gayoom will help the Islamists expand their authority, and entrench himself. Please note, the Islamists lost the 2008 Presidential elections badly. They did not win a single seat of 77 in the elections to Parliament. They did not win a single one of the 1,081 local body seats. Now, though, they have three cabinet posts. They are already talking about changing the school curriculum and rolling back many of our policies.
In your three-and-a-half years in office, you in fact opened up considerable space to the Islamists, for example by allowing underground Salafist mosques to operate freely. Do you regret this now?
The simple answer is no. I think opening up the Maldives was the right decision. Look at what is happening in the Maldives now: women are out on the streets, pulling the beards of the mullahs and using all kinds of loaded words about them for destroying democracy. Why has this happened? In our three-and-a-half years in office, we empowered women: we ensured income support for single mothers; we gave women free health care; we gave them real political rights. Freedom of speech gave the Islamists the right to speak — but it also gave their democratic opponents a new political vocabulary. My intelligence services monitored attendance at Salafist mosques, and we saw it fall regularly. Earlier, Salafist mosques were the only places for someone with a grievance against the state. The point is, liberal democracy depends on everyone playing by the rules — which our opponents have not done.
It wasn't just a question of opening space, though. You even released terrorists convicted of a bombing in Male in 2006.
No, we didn't let anyone off. We moved some prisoners back to their homes, in an effort to rehabilitate them. There was a reason for this. The prisoners had been proselytising inside prison; young drug users in jail were very vulnerable to their message. Now Rohan Gunaratne, who I had earlier worked with in Sri Lanka, had shown exceptional results rehabilitating Jemaah Islamiyya prisoners in Singapore. We thought we would experiment with the same approach. I think it paid off. Himandhoo, one of our islands, had become a centre for Salafist extremism.
People there would not even allow their children to be vaccinated, saying it was antiIslamic. But I kept visiting — and one day, the mothers started bringing their children for their shots. Not a child today in Himandhoo is un-vaccinated.
Your critics would also say your party, the Maldives Democratic Party, is precipitating a
crisis, with the local bodies it controls in the south essentially defying the central government.
The One and a Half Degree Channel, which divides the southern Maldives from the northern Maldives, is very wide. The north and south speak different dialects and have different cuisines. But this is not the problem. The problem is that an unelected government is attempting to impose its will on elected local bodies. That is utterly illegitimate. Why should elected leaders defer to the will of unelected ones? April 20, 2012 After the fireworks, time for some diplomacy The successful test launch of the Agni V intercontinental ballistic missile takes India a step closer to mutual nuclear deterrence with China. But only diplomacy can make that relationship a stable one.
New Delhi's missile development is understandable, given its strategic situation. But the timing of the launch — hot on the heels of the North Korea rocket failure — has
put India's friends in an awkward spot. The United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Australia and others who generally wish India well in its strategic rise are being compelled openly to acknowledge that some countries' strategic missile tests are much more acceptable than others.
The fact is a stable deterrent relationship between India and China is in the interest of most nations.
The problem is, much needs to be done to ensure that the current state of competitive coexistence between the two rising Asian giants does not deteriorate into one of strategic rivalry.
On the surface at least, India-China relations have seen a turn for the better in the past few months. The two countries have not only declared their intention to build a stronger bilateral relationship, but have also backed up their words with initiatives, including a dialogue on maritime security.
But deeper mistrust lingers. The enduring border dispute and the legacy of the 1962 war constitute one driver of this. But each country has also built stronger security relations with the other's primary potential adversary.
India's relations with the U.S. worry Beijing, if not quite as fundamentally as China's history of military, missile and nuclear assistance to Pakistan troubles New Delhi. India fears what it sees as the encircling potential of China's growing role and interest in the Indian Ocean, while China remains anxious about the way Indian policy and Tibetan activism might interact on the border issue.
This volatile mix is compounded by military modernisation in both countries, competition for resources and influence in third countries, and competition within multilateral institutions. And sensationalised media reporting both stokes and reflects unfriendly public opinion across the Himalayan border.
Solutions are essential
Solutions to these tensions demand difficult political and strategic concessions that neither country appears willing to make at this point. But the two countries will need to find a solution to avoid dangerous and unpredictable crises in the future, sparked by, for example, an incident at sea or miscalculations over Tibet.
This is not to suggest that nuclear-tinged confrontation is likely between Asia's two mega-states any time soon. The imperatives in New Delhi and Beijing to maintain a stable external environment for economic development are strong. But neither power's strategic establishment believes in peace at all costs.
India presently sees a much greater threat from China than vice-versa. China's military capabilities are designed in large part to expand Beijing's options against the U.S., even though they clearly have a mission to deter New Delhi as well.
India, on the other hand, is increasingly updating its forces with China specifically in
mind, as the Agni V test demonstrates. India has at times openly described China's nuclear arsenal as a threat, and proposed confidencebuilding steps such as a bilateral No First Use pact. But China refuses to talk to India about its nuclear weapons in any dimension other than the question of their status under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This position is neither sustainable nor conducive to stable nuclear relations.
Just as the U.S. and China need to build a strategic stability dialogue that recognises a degree of mutual vulnerability, so too will China and India need to develop a stabilising nuclear dialogue of their own. The ranges of nuclear-tipped missiles deployed in China's western provinces are such that their only plausible targets are Indian cities. But the development of Indian missile and submarine capabilities has a way to go before it can credibly deter China.
There are also wider questions about the global impact of an India-China nuclear
competition. India-China dynamics could become entangled with the India-Pakistan and China-U.S. nuclear relationships, in a cascade of security dilemmas that is making the vision of global nuclear disarmament ever more distant.
In the end, only New Delhi and Beijing have the ability or the right to address their bilateral nuclear challenge. What is clear, though, is that a big part of the answer must lie in dialogue. The unofficial bilateral dialogues on nuclear issues that have sprung up in recent years are a step in the right direction, but an official nuclear dialogue is needed if real progress is to be made.
The leaders of both countries last year acknowledged a need to respect each nation's central interests. This could provide the grounding of mutual respect for a wideranging strategic stability dialogue to begin. Such talks might involve Indian acknowledgement of China's legitimate interest in secure sea lanes in the Indian Ocean, while China would need to finally face the inevitable and recognise the reality of India as a nuclear-armed state. India-China relations
would also benefit from Beijing moving to treat good relations with India as being more important than those it has with Pakistan.
A China-India nuclear dialogue could aim to reassure China and India about each other's intentions, the nature and purpose of nuclear and missile defence programmes, and nuclear policies and doctrines. The two countries need to discuss conflict “red lines” and crisis management, as well as to set up operational communication mechanisms at multiple levels to prevent conflict or escalation. The muchtouted leaders' hotline needs to be operationalised.
Denying the existence of a problem can become a big part of the problem. Now that New Delhi has underscored its indigenous technological capacity to build a workable deterrent against China, it is time for a show of diplomatic ingenuity too.
(Rory Medcalf is Director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney. Fiona
Cunningham is a Research Associate at the Lowy Institute.) April 21, 2012 Getting it right with Brangelina It isn't often that the media is presented with news that's truly worth covering, and now that it's upon us, we can only hope we can live up to the gargantuan challenge.
For a while now, it has appeared that every dire warning issued by those stentorian opponents of social media had come true. The world — and our preoccupations with its happenings — had indeed become too frivolous. Public discourse had begun to circle around Rick Santorum stepping down from his presidential campaign in the most influential nation in the First World, and elsewhere we were discussing the tsunami that didn't hit our shores when yet another giant quake rocked the foundations of Indonesia. But the cosmic balance has prevailed. Finally, we get news about people more powerful than presidents, whose merest movements can precipitate realignments in our topography. I refer of course to the announcement that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are engaged to be married. If that isn't news with a capital N, what is?
Finally, we journalists can begin to grapple with the real issues, beginning with speculations about the date. Will it be a summery May wedding? Or will they opt to marry in December, expiring movie-ready mists of cold air while intoning vows? Of course, globe-trotting celebrities do not worry about the weather like us plebs. A cursory snap of the finger will ensure that a battalion of nannies has readied their children to migrate to the southern hemisphere, whose Decembers bloom forth with spectacular suns that David Lean would gladly rise from his grave to capture. Will the event be a planned celebration, in a church (in which case, will they able to locate a minister who can stop gawping long enough to usher them through the formalities?), or will the couple borrow a leaf from a rejected romantic-comedy script and elope? In that case, will they be able to evade our much-maligned brethren, the paparazzi, perched on the turrets and bell towers of every house of worship in every Christian nation, and even a few Hindu ones? (Let's not forget that Jolie and Pitt are no strangers to India, having blessed us with their
presence while filming “A Mighty Heart,” which, when you think of it, makes a great title for the inevitable History Channel documentary that will preserve these nuptials for posterity.)
But enough about the wedding. Just as presidential campaigns cannot be covered by simply focusing on snaking lines beside ballot boxes, the Pitt-Jolie union cannot be fully comprehended without investigating its influence on our world today. We will need to install news panels to discuss, among other things, the morality of it all. Will future generations enter into wedlock only after extricating themselves from existing marriages, living with one another in unrepentant sin, all the while amassing children from dirt-poor Third World countries? What, then, does this mean for race relations, when one day in the not-too-distant future, the entire population of Burundi will reside in Beverly Hills? Isn't there a feminist issue lurking in here as well, when a woman so powerful and famous decides to supplicate before such a patently patriarchal institution? Even Cleopatra, after an understandably shortlived marriage to a sibling, chose to string along Caesar as political arm candy. Hasn't the
life of Elizabeth Taylor taught anyone anything?
Morning shows, meanwhile, after scrutinising the engagement ring with jewellers and fashion experts (who will also weigh in on the kind of dress Jolie will wear, and the consequence it will carry on Jennifer Aniston's gown, if and when the poor thing chooses to marry again), will rope in child experts and discuss what the Pitt-Jolie brood will go through, now that their parents are going to have joint checking accounts. How will these ecumenical tykes adapt from pagan holidays in exotic shooting locations to Thanksgiving with daddy's deaf uncle Harry? Can these younglings, raised on mountain spring water and soy nuggets, take to the sight of turkey, a word that they, so far, have been exposed to only in the context of their mother's film, “The Tourist”? These are vital issues with farreaching implications, and they will no doubt spawn thousands of journalism school theses.
The international desks of news agencies, naturally, will devote their energies to the international ramifications. Which country gets to claim this wedding (and deploy its armies to
protect the superstars from being felled by the solar brilliance of millions of camera flashes)? The country of the couple's birth? The country where they currently reside? Will Wall Street occupiers and beleaguered European taxpayers take kindly to contributing to a private party of multimillionaires they're not even invited to? And what will this wedding mean to Saif and Kareena, who have kept this great nation's media institutions guessing about their own upcoming union, Brand Saifeena being but a blip on the radar when compared to the all-enveloping tractor beam of Brand Brangelina? At least, they can take comfort that they aren't Will and Kate, whose carefully planned fairy-tale wedding of the century has just been trumped by the flash of an engagement ring. April 21, 2012 Moving on the Iran opportunity
ON BRICS' TABLE:The BRICS countries are qualified to point out that Iran's nuclear programme is a symbol of a geostrategic shift. The picture is of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the plenary session of BRICS 2012 in New Delhi on March 29.— PHOTO: AP
The outcome of nuclear talks in Istanbul on April 14 justifies a diplomatic cheer. For the first time in years the parties — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the European Union, Russia, China and Iran — set no preconditions for engaging. The atmosphere was cordial. The parties agreed to embark on a sustained step-by-step process of reciprocal concessions to arrive at a negotiated settlement. Crucially, the parties recognised that the Nuclear No-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) offers a basis for a peaceful outcome — a principle that has eluded the West ever since it set out to deny Iran a uranium enrichment capability in the belief that this would be used to produce nuclear weapons.
Several factors combined to make all this possible. Public opinion polls suggest little U.S. support for an attack on Iran to knock out its nuclear plants. The White House is confident that Iran is not making nuclear weapons and that any decision to start making them would be detected rapidly. Iran has an incentive to negotiate the lifting of sanctions as long as it is not required to give up its NPT right to enrich or to accept some other double standard.
Under the NPT, in return for recognising Iran's rights and lifting sanctions, the West would expect Iran to refrain from diverting nuclear material to any military use, to grant all necessary access to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, and to volunteer measures that can allay the concerns which the secret nature of Iran's early enrichment development programme aroused.
All this looks feasible within the process to which Iran and the West now appear committed. But the scope for that process to founder on distrust and misunderstanding must not be underestimated. Iran and the U.S. have hurt and disappointed each other so often in the last 33 years that their mutual trust deficit is huge. Westerners are perplexed by aspects of Iranian culture and baffled by the governance structures in place since 1979. When a state becomes hard to fathom, worstcase assumptions thrive — a feature of East/West relations during the Cold War.
Equally daunting are some wider political realities.
Since 1992, both leading Israeli parties have strained to convince Washington of Israel's value as a U.S. ally in a post-Cold War Middle East. For these Israelis, Iran's nuclear programme has been a gift from heaven — just what's needed to persuade the Americans that Iran is an evil state bent on destroying Israel, and that Iran's programme, if left unchecked, will precipitate nuclear proliferation in an unstable region. U.S. neoconservatives, in thrall to dreams of reshaping the Middle East, have provided a ready echo-chamber for these (highly questionable) propositions. These constituencies, Israeli and American, have no interest in seeing the Iranian nuclear case normalised through an NPT deal.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, though it appears to have refrained from poisoning the wells of American opinion, has been hinting that it will ignore its NPT obligations if Iran, seen as an arch-rival, is left in possession of enrichment plants. Ever since the NPT opened for signature (1968), U.S. officials have been
troubled that the treaty allows all parties access to technologies that can serve both civil and military purposes. The White House appears to have brought under control an itch to close this loophole (at the expense of a core NPT bargain); but will that last? Negotiators will also have to guard against a western tendency to self-righteousness. It would be counterproductive to make Iran's negotiators, who crave respect and justice, feel like criminal suspects engaged in plea-bargaining, just because Iran has defied several highlypoliticised U.N. resolutions and committed nuclear safeguards violations years ago...
A part for India
For their part, the Iranians are over-inclined to retaliate when keeping a stiff upper lip would be wiser. Recently, for instance, the trashing of the British embassy in Tehran, was an act of retaliation unlikely to dispose the British government to make concessions. Can Iran resist the urge to retaliate if some provocation is contrived by those who want negotiations to fail?
Such factors suggest a possible role for India and its BRICS partners. India could use its influence in Western capitals to urge patience and the turning of deaf ears to special pleading from Israel and Saudi Arabia. It could stress the unacceptability of military action unless authorised by the Security Council, both on legal grounds and because of its probable consequences for Indian living standards. It could draw on 2,500 years of cultural affinity to offer advice on Iranian sensibilities: the dos and don'ts that matter in a negotiation.
To counterpoint the tunes composed by the West's Middle East allies, the BRICS are qualified to point out that Iran's nuclear programme is a symbol of a geostrategic shift — Iran is slowly returning to the ranks of Asia's greater powers — and that wisdom lies in accommodating what can hardly be prevented without affecting the lives of billions. April 21, 2012 Public goods as the way to welfare
For close to at least five years now inclusive growth has had a central place in the official discourse on the economy. The UPA II has
itself worn its self-proclaimed success in delivering an inclusive growth as a badge of its effectiveness, not to mention its commitment to improving the lives of those at the bottom of the pyramid. However, at a recent international seminar on the economic reforms held at the prestigious Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad, one of India's leading financial journalists announced that whatever may be the case on the ground, the political class as a collective believes that the current growth process in India is not inclusive. He saw this as failure on the part of India's economists to express and communicate the actual position. While accepting readily that economists are not always and everywhere the least opaque of interlocutors, one must also reckon with the proclivity of the political class to paint the picture in ways that appeal to its constituencies. Be that as it may, it is incumbent on professional economists to say it as it is, and it is to this task I turn first.
The most widely accepted definition of inclusive growth is likely to be that of a growth
process that lifts the incomes of all households in a society. As with the proverbial rising tide, now no one is excluded. As rising household incomes — prices staying constant — imply declining poverty, inclusive growth is also poverty reducing. This is the definition of inclusive growth encountered most often in the public discourse. The point of this article is to argue that this is too narrow a view of inclusive growth to satisfy us.
However, I first sift through the evidence on the impact of growth on poverty since the early 1990s, that is, what do the data show? There is overwhelming evidence that the decline in poverty that had set in in the 1980s has continued since the launch of reforms in 1991. Among poverty researchers, Angus Deaton and Jean Dreze, upon whom the majority of professional economists would rely on for veracity, have shown that the decline in poverty has continued at more or less the same pace before and after. In fact, they are at pains to emphasise that extreme positions such as that “the poor have become poorer” or “the reforms have unleashed the poor” are untenable in light of their finding. The latter establishes conclusively that growth by reducing poverty has been inclusive. Apart
from wilful disbelief, the scepticism towards accepting this finding may well derive from a sense that India is a country of major contrasts, contrasts straddling regions and persons. In particular, social stratification is evoked. Such scepticism is healthy, and must be encouraged till it is shown to be without foundation. So, when it comes to ascertaining whether growth is inclusive or not, it is a natural to ask whether poverty is declining across all social groups. As caste has historically been a seemingly durable barrier to individual advancement, we would want to see how, when growth takes place, poverty is affected across the principal social groups of the country.
Study on poverty
Recently published research of Sukhdeo Thorat and Amaresh Dubey sheds light on precisely this issue. They study the trend in poverty across social groups and demonstrate that there has been a decline in poverty across all sections of the population grouped by caste and religion. Interestingly, according to their results, over the period 1993-2010 the decline in poverty in rural India has been the highest
among the religious minorities. And, for the period of very high growth over 2004-10, the rate of decline in poverty among the Scheduled Tribes was higher than the national average. Finally, for both rural and urban India, the decline in poverty across all of India's social groups accelerated as the noughties progressed.
So from the most recent and up-to-date of the studies on poverty we get a picture of inclusive growth, inclusion being defined as the spreading of income across the population as growth occurs. At the same time, India being a large and varied country these results are consistent with growth having bypassed some groups and possibly even whole regions. For instance, we cannot be so confident of how the Scheduled Tribes have fared in parts of India that have attracted the extractive industries, notably mining. There is also the knotty issue of how we are to square a decline in income poverty among the tribals when it is accompanied by a permanent loss of their original sources of livelihood. Clearly, a caseby-case approach would be needed to assess such special situations. But for the country on the whole the emerging picture is that of an inclusive growth, as defined. However, this is
no cause for complacency. The levels of income at the bottom of the pyramid are currently very low. To remedy this fast enough we must seek a growth process that can rapidly raise these incomes. The challenge is to bring this about at a time when growth is slowing as appears to be the case right now.
One response to the claim that growth has been inclusive in the sense of the income being shared is that this is happening in a milieu of rising inequality. This would be worrying in itself even if a rising inequality does not slow the decline in poverty as the growth gets concentrated at the top. However, the point is that inequality is yet about income, and a focus on income diverts our attention from the non-income factors that determine our well-being, perhaps better understood as ‘the quality of life'. Towering over all nonincome factors are public goods . Economists see public goods as non-rival in consumption, which renders them egalitarian in their impact on a population. They are important to us as they add to our sense of well-being. Think of roads, pavements, parks, and every kind of urban civic infrastructure including especially sanitation. It is not as if our villages abound in them, only that being less congested we miss
their absence less. Public goods enter into the economic imagination in the following way. Such goods are defined by the characteristic that access to them cannot be restricted. With unrestricted access they are rendered unattractive to potential private providers guided by the profit motive.
Once we comprehend fully the role of public goods we can see why it is necessary to broaden the ambit of the discourse on inclusive growth beyond the customary interpersonal income comparisons. We can visualise a society with a relatively equal income distribution that is yet short of public goods. That this is not academic in its import becomes clear to anyone observing the development of India over the past couple of decades. While the economy has grown, public goods provision has not expanded commensurately. In fact, our cities where growth is concentrated are getting close to becoming unlivable. Amidst the host of problems making life difficult for the ordinary Indian, a new one has emerged. Almost overnight, the management of solid-waste in our cities has sprung up as a formidable challenge. Aesthetics apart, and it is perfectly human to desire a beautiful habitat, rotting
garbage is despoiling our water supply and contributing to the spread of communicable diseases. From the evidence on the incidence of dengue and chikungunya we may infer that the public health system is unable to cope with the situation. This infrastructural deficit is the obverse of a public good. Exactly as access to public goods cannot be restricted, no one is exempt from the ill-effects of the public bad so to speak.
No escape from public ‘bads'
Santosh Mehrotra and Ankita Gandhi, authors of India Human Development Report 2011, put it pithily when they state: “Even if a single household defecates in the open, it can be a source of diarrhoea in all neighbouring households.” There can be no escape from public bads, a less immediately obvious manifestation of which is climate change. Their salience to our lives arises from the twin feature that they affect us even when we are not their cause, and those who cause it do not bear a private cost. The trouble with laissezfaire as a social arrangement is that it is niggardly when it comes to public goods and liberal with the ‘bads'.
A widening of the definition of inclusive growth has implications for the discourse on public policy. It is far from sufficient to aver that growth is not inclusive as income is not getting spread in order to justify a whole host of schemes that amount to handouts by the government of the day. Firstly, we have conclusive evidence that income is being spread though perhaps not at the rate at which we desire. But, more importantly, in democracies we elect a government primarily to provide public goods which the private sector has no incentive to do. This is far more difficult than handing out money. It requires negotiation among all stakeholders and bringing in technical expertise. India's political class needs to turn to this task to justify its existence.
Distributive politics fuelled by borrowing is not ‘inclusive growth' even if it can be sustained, which it can never be. Moreover, it is far from being democratic in a meaningful way. The success of democracy in India will be judged by the availability of public goods. April 21, 2012 Sisters under the (white) skin
A few weeks ago, the American feminist website Jezebel published an article about an Indian product called “Clean and Dry Intimate Wash” (Rupa Subramanya was the first to “Tweet” on the product); a skin lightener that allows women to bleach their intimate areas into fairness. “Fantastic,” lamented its author sarcastically; the world could now welcome another product that makes women feel bad about their bodies, invest in one more way to alter them. To someone like me, born and raised in Pakistan, encountering an American jab on anything Indian, offers some tantalising prospects nurtured by the fires of nationalism that burn on either side of these borders that the British left us. There is the urge to gloat, to spout out “no, no this would never happen in Pakistan” or smugly say ”well you know this is an Indian problem,” alluding of course to the lack of superficiality, superior ethics, and caste less equality Pakistan is so popular for.
Our pursuit of ‘whiteness'
But while an American might fall for such a fable, unable to distinguish fabrications in the sea of brown that is South Asia in the condensed western imagination, neither
Indians nor Pakistanis can buy the lie. With our hostile histories, Indians and Pakistanis may disagree on borders and water treaties and terror suspects; but in denying our brownness and dreaming of whiteness, we are united. Indeed, “Clean and Dry Intimate Wash” could not be advertised in Pakistan as freely as it is being hawked in India, but if it made its way across the border, there would, undoubtedly, be a profitable market for it. The reasons for its popularity may be different, vestiges of caste and creed and Aryan associations among Indians: the desire to locate lineage in Arab conquerors in Pakistan. But even with missiles pointed and checkpoints manned, the most fervent Hindu nationalist and the most martial Pakistani colonel can agree that whatever else happens “the bride must be fair.”
While agreement can be established, contradictions remain. It was after all, a fetal India and Pakistan who won the 20th century's most resounding victory against white colonialism, showed down the British, sent them packing and put the full stop on the saga of the British Empire. It is India today that can mock by example all those who believed that democracy belonged only to the white, the rich or the elite; it is contemporary Pakistan
wracked with casualties and plagued by terrorism that is standing up to the imperialist intrusions of the United States. If we looked at those portions of the story alone, we could never guess that our societies, with their robust anti-imperialist genealogies could indulge in the chemical absurdity of bleaching ourselves white.
These conundrums, shared by Indians and Pakistanis could be less annoying perhaps if their burdens were equally applied to all Indian and Pakistani citizens. However, in the subcontinent, the marriage of patriarchy and self-loathing has deemed that this is not to be so; from “Tibet Snow” in Pakistan, to “Clean and Dry” in India, to “Fair and Lovely” everywhere, the burden of escaping our burnished realities has been placed squarely on the shoulders of our women. And because all women must pretend that they and all their parts were born rather than bleached white, this war against brown is waged largely in secret. In beauty parlours and bathrooms from Kolkata to Karachi, brown women, both Hindu and Muslim, the very poor and the newly rich pay the price of a socially nursed delusion of whiteness, its imagined goodness, and its unquestioned purity. And as is the tradition of
all patriarchal practices, some are more slyly marketed than the others; the man who made the commercial for this latest scheme to make women whiter, feigns innocence and denies complicity. It is all “overreaction” in his words. There is no connection at all with the peddling of “Clean and Dry Intimate Wash” to the brown man's quest for the best of both worlds; the conquest of whiteness without ever having to explain why he won't change a diaper or do the dishes.
In our yet unconcluded first century of existence, Pakistan and India have spent a lot of time arguing over differences, varying interests, old wounds and new tricks, unwarranted armed overtures and all the tragic rest. On the issue of race it seems, our challenge on either side of the border is the same; the task of accepting without shame or subterfuge our pigmented reality; ending our quest for whiteness, so that we can finally become brown. April 23, 2012 In Kashmir, some hot potatoes In the charged summer of 2010, an irate cleric from the central Kashmir town of Badgam showed me startling evidence of India's plot to
destroy Islam in Kashmir: an improbably large potato. The potato, he claimed, contained piggenes which would defile the faithful.
Last month, Usmaan Raheem Ahmad — the man behind the high-yielding potatoes which the cleric had claimed induced impiety — was denied entry to India. Mr. Ahmad's pathbreaking work on rural empowerment, urban entrepreneurship and women's rights had been publicly endorsed by the Chief Minister, the Governor and even the State police. He was seen by them as representing the kind of progressive intervention needed to drain the swamps of religious chauvinism and backwardness in which the Badgam cleric thrived — opening up the prospect of a new, vibrant Kashmir. For reasons no one in the Central government is willing to explain, though, New Delhi chose to shut Mr. Ahmad's work down.
Full disclosure: I made several attempts to find out why Mr. Ahmad was denied entry and to see if the problem could be resolved. I was told, variously, that Mr. Ahmad had worked on a tourist visa (not true); that he met with secessionists (true, but so does the Home
Minister); that a 50-page Intelligence Bureau report concluded his organisation, the Mercy Corps, was working too closely in coordination with the United States (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government, some critics say, also does). No one actually accused Mr. Ahmad of a crime.
In the grand scheme of things, Mr. Ahmad's fate is perhaps trivial — but his story illustrates a paralytic malaise that has gripped New Delhi's policy on Jammu and Kashmir. In recent months, this malaise has manifested itself in dogged efforts to persuade young people in the State that India is a mindless tyranny, opaque and arbitrary in its use of power.
No one has seen fit to explain to the thousands of young people who saw hope in Mr. Ahmad's work why it was abruptly terminated. Nor has New Delhi explained its decision to stonewall the Chief Minister's repeated calls for phased demilitarisation. Not one reason has been given for why the government can't find the time to discuss A New Compact , the report of
the three interlocutors it had appointed in 2010 to address the causes of street violence and police firing that claimed over a hundred young lives.
This pattern of behaviour isn't just mystifying: it's outright dangerous.
The report of interlocutors Dilip Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari — whose details were made public by The Hindu earlier this month — essentially seeks to put Jammu and Kashmir's constitutional future on a firm basis. It advocates limiting New Delhi's future ability to intervene on legislation that does not concern the country's security or vital economic interests. The document calls for power to be devolved to the provinces, addressing the ethnic-religious anxieties and resentments that have underpinned so much of the State's problems in recent years. It calls for economic regeneration on this side of the Line of Control, and trade across it — another issue that Mr. Ahmad was working on.
Few of these proposals are contentious: as the New Compact acknowledges, some of the
ideas it deals with date back to 1952. Indeed, if there is one criticism to be made of the document, it is that the New Compact speaks to an old Kashmir: there is barely the whiff of radical idea in the document. New Delhi's decision not to begin discussing the New Compact bodes ill for the future. Kashmir is changing in ways that are imposing seismic pressures on its politics and polity, making real political dialogue imperative.
First, Jammu and Kashmir is urbanising rapidly — a process that creates huge social strains. In just the decade between 2001 and 2011, census data show, the urban population has increased from a quarter to a third of the population as a whole. It is hard to overstate the importance of these numbers. In 1951, soon after Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India, over half of the population was rural — and 10 years later, two-thirds were living in the countryside, as radical land reforms giving rural migrant workers the opportunity to become peasants kicked in.
Secondly, Jammu and Kashmir is seeing the birth of the largest youth cohort in its history — another source of strain. Three in five
Jammu and Kashmir residents are either under 19 or over 60 — and the young are growing fastest. This means there is great pressure on the productive age group, and an urgent need to create new jobs for those who will soon enter it.
Thirdly, two decades of violence have left much of the population ill-prepared to deal with the new world that has emerged around it. The literacy rate has gone up only marginally, from 55.52 per cent to 68.74 per cent. The Planning Commission's last State development report on Jammu and Kashmir noted that “all the districts affected by militancy have a low literacy rate.” Kathua and Jammu, it noted, stood at the top of the pile; Srinagar at the bottom.
Himachal Pradesh — a State with terrain and social conditions not dissimilar to Jammu and Kashmir — illustrates the point: even adjusted for population, the State has better education, health facilities and tourism infrastructure.
From New Delhi-based scholar Navnita Behera's survey of media consumption by young people in Kashmir, there is some evidence that this generation has attitudes quite different from those of its elders. There remains among young people in Kashmir a substantial constituency for secessionist politics: 36 per cent of those seeking azaadi — who made up a little over half the respondents — defined it to mean independence from India, accession to Pakistan, or a shari'agoverned state. Even larger numbers — 61 per cent — however said they understood the term azaadi to denote greater constitutional and economic rights; one in 10 simply wanted the army out.
This is evidence that the secessionist constituency is diminishing. The problem, though, is this: this generation is also disconnected, as never before, from the political system. Two decades of violence strangled democratic politics. New Delhi is now delivering the coup de grace . Little empirical work has been done on the issue, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that young people in search of agency are turning away from organised politics to diverse forms
of religious pietism, consumerism, or nihilist street violence.
Kashmir's jihadist movement was, at its core, a form of anti-politics that arose from a crisis just like this. In the 1970s and 1980s, pressures on small farmers — and growing hold of a new class of contractors and urban élites on the National Conference — created a reservoir of discontent among its traditional constituency. The party increasingly turned to religious chauvinism to hold on to its following. The Muslim United Front, representing the urban petty bourgeoisie and the rural orchardowning elite, did so too. Islam, for the classes which backed the MUF, was an instrument to legitimise the protest of a threatened social order against a modernity which held out the prospect of obliterating it.
Price of failure
Kashmir, scholar Thomas Marks has argued, was flattened by “a demographic tidal wave of unabsorbed youthful males appearing in the late 1980s”, precisely the time “political issues called into question the legitimacy of the
existing order”. Politics ought to have addressed these issues — but New Delhi's decades-old de-institutionalisation of democracy in the State ensured it could not. The price of failure was tens of thousands of lost lives.
From the English civil wars of 1642-1651 to the rise of European fascism, similar demographic trends have fuelled epic violence. In an exhaustive 2006 review of the evidence, social scientist Henrik Urdal concluded that “relatively large youth cohorts are associated with a significantly increased risk of domestic armed conflict, terrorism, riots and violent demonstrations.”
“War is father of all,” wrote the ancient philosopher, Heraclitus, “king of all.” “Some it makes gods, some it makes men, some it makes slaves, some free.” Heraclitus' aphorism has been used to illustrate the uncertain fortunes of conflict. It also, perhaps, has a deeper meaning. Efforts at peace-building often seek to discover and then fix causes that drove the emergence of a conflict. Not infrequently, they fail, because the societies they address no longer exist.
New Delhi's policy establishment still imagines it is dealing with a Kashmir that disappeared two decades or more ago: an illusion sustained by the fact that so many key actors are the children of the men who made the deals that propped up the State's dysfunctional political order. Its key instruments remain cajoling and co-optation — and, when it fails, outright bribery.
Meaningful political dialogue, least of all the new language of transparency, rights and empowerment Mr. Ahmad represented, simply isn't on the agenda. Prime Minister Singh's government won the war in Jammu and Kashmir, inflicting a decisive defeat on the insurgency. His government's actions suggest it is now doing its best to lose the peace. April 23, 2012 Do not let Agni V's shock and awe endanger Asian stability With the successful Agni V test on Thursday, India appears to be aiming for status as much as security. Yet without credible reassurances, the by-product of this quest for prestige could be an increasingly insecure region.
As so often in the past, India faces the challenge of reconciling its quest for military and nuclear status with the need to persuade the international community of its peaceful intentions. That India has the experience, skill and track record to do so is without doubt.
For decades, India's nuclear policy and discourse have been built on a curious mix of hard power and principle. The 1974 test was dubbed a “Peaceful Nuclear Explosion,” and successive governments opted to refrain from overtly developing a nuclear weapon capability. Following the nuclear tests of 1998, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee stressed that the tests and India's future nuclear policy would “continue to reflect a commitment to the sensibilities and obligations of an ancient civilization, a sense of responsibility and restraint.”
India's nuclear tests were a means of establishing India's international status and prestige. Yet refreshingly, they were not simply
an act of conformity to the dominant might-isright maxim of the international system.
A synthesis was formed with an enduring set of principled foreign policy values. In the wake of the tests, India stressed its peaceful intentions, announced a voluntary moratorium on further testing, limited itself to a minimum credible deterrent, and later pledged a nofirst-use policy.
These measures meant that India's tests were an enhancement rather than a negation of an essentially peaceable but unquestionably powerful Indian civilizational self. The clearest evidence for this is that India's gradual buildup of military and nuclear capabilities from the 1970s onwards have not resulted in new policies based on the use of force.
In a predictable echo of the nuclear tests of 1998, the launch of Agni V, India's first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), was a moment of national pride. It met with jubilation from Indian defence officials and the
Indian media. So far, the near-unanimous hype has centred on India's scientific achievements and new ranking among only a fistful of other states with ICBM capabilities. But little effort has been made to quell the fears about the dangers the launch poses to an Asia on the brink of an arms race.
The official line of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has been that Agni V “is not any country-specific.” Official commentary on the test has had little else to say about India's intentions or the actual purpose, use and deployment of the missile.
Reading between the lines, many have inferred that strategic Chinese cities are potential targets within the extended range of Agni V. While Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin evenly declared that India and China were “not competitors but partners,” China's influential tabloid, The Global Times , ominously declared that “India should not overestimate its strength” and would not profit “from being arrogant during disputes with China.”
History suggests that an ill-judged, even if unintentional, provocation of China could spell disaster for the region. India and China's battle for status in Asia in the 1950s and 1960s ended catastrophically for India in the 1962 border war.
The nuclear issue
Since 1998, the nuclear bomb has been a symbol of India's power and prestige, but the nuclear domain has always stood as a site within which India's unique moral judgment could be applied and exhibited. Dominant thinking in international relations finds it hard to reconcile the two trends, and many have scratched their heads in puzzlement over the incongruity of India's peaceful intentions and hard power hype, or the juxtaposition of “the land of Gandhi” and the bomb.
Yet in practice, if not in theory, the international community has accepted India's nuclear ambivalence. The credibility of Indian claims to nuclear restraint and responsibility contributed without doubt to the exceptional civil nuclear trading rights India received,
outside the bounds of the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT), through the IndiaU.S. civil nuclear agreement.
The launch of Agni V has yet to be tempered with the usual reassurances of India's peaceful intentions towards the Asian region and the world. Without this string to India's ICBM bow, the diplomatic resource of 65 years of nuclear restraint that makes India stand apart will weaken.
India's traditional status-seeking policy of nuclear restraint need not jar with its desire to shine in the eyes of the global nuclear elite. Back in 1952, G.S. Bajpai, a pioneer of the Indian Foreign Service and one of India's first “realists,” reconciled the two positions in his writings. He claimed that the acquisition of material power need not eclipse India's moral pre-eminence, and that power was indeed essential for moral projection.
With new declarations of strength must come new reassurances. Public statements from the highest level that explicitly reiterate India's abiding policy of nuclear restraint would go
some way towards allaying international fears. An official review of India's 2003 nuclear doctrine and incorporation of guidelines on its ICBM capabilities would go even further. Whether Agni V will push India to new international heights or simply place it in regional danger, will depend on how quickly and credibly India restates its peaceful intent.
( Kate Sullivan is Lecturer in Modern Indian Studies, Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies at the University of Oxford. E-mail: [email protected]
) April 23, 2012 For friends of Bangladesh, a walk down memory lane For many foreigners, it was a trip back to 1971 — the year that saw Bangladesh win freedom, defeating the marauding Pakistan army and its local Islamist cohorts who perpetrated the worst genocide and mass rape in history. And for those who saw the war first-hand or were participants in it, like the writer of this piece, the memorable ceremony on March 27 in Dhaka — when the Sheikh Hasina government honoured the second and the largest batch of
its “friends of 1971” — was a vindication of the truth they knew would emerge someday.
There were 561 foreign friends on the list and the government decided to honour them in three main categories in different phases, starting July 2011. The highest national award, the “Bangladesh Freedom honour” was awarded to Indira Gandhi for her stellar role in the country's liberation. Indira's daughter-inlaw and president of the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi, received the honour at a ceremony in Dhaka.
India in the limelight
The March 27 ceremony which marked the second phase, saw awards conferred on a total of 83 individuals, institutions and organisations in two categories — the “Bangladesh Liberation War Honour” and the “Friends of Liberation War Honour.” The maximum number of individual awardees, 31, were from India followed by 15 from the United States, seven from the former Soviet Union, five from the United Kingdom, three from Japan, two from Germany and one each from Nepal,
Bhutan, the former Yugoslavia, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Denmark. More than 20 individuals — former politicians, journalists, diplomats, former military officers, singers, artists, professors and social activists — were in Dhaka personally, while spouses, children, grandchildren, relatives and other representatives received the awards for recipients who had passed away or were unable to travel to Dhaka .
India also topped the charts in group honours, bagging awards for the “people of India,” the armed forces of India, Akashbani (All India Radio) and the Kolkata Biswabiddalay Shahayak Samiti.
Forty-one years ago, on March 25, the Pakistani army, disregarding the mandate of the 1970 general election — the first free election held since the formation of Pakistan — launched a brutal crackdown on unarmed civilians to suppress the Bengali resurgence led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The invaders arrested Mujib, who declared independence on March 26. As the army advanced, an estimated 100 million people took shelter in the bordering Indian States of West Bengal,
Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam. With India taking the lead, scores of world personalities came forward to condemn the military atrocities.
For India and Indira Gandhi, it was a tough call, handling the refugees on the one hand and facing the ire of Washington, which openly aligned with Pakistan, on the other. China and Saudi Arabia also supported West Pakistan against Sheikh Mujib. The Indian Armed Forces, called the Mitra Bahini, lost a few thousand soldiers while fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Bengali Mukti Bahini. It was fitting therefore that India's High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Pankaj Saran, and Indian Minister of State for Defence, Pallam Raju, received the honours for the “Indian people” and their army respectively from President Zillur Rahman.
Lt.Gen. (retd) J.F.R. Jacob, who played a crucial role as Chief of Staff of the Indian Army's Eastern Command, remarked during the ceremony: “We fought not only as an Indian army, but were emotionally moved to be beside the people of Bangladesh … It is a great honour.” Noted British journalist Simon Dring,
who was a correspondent of the Daily Telegraph and first told the world about the brutalities of the Pakistani army seemed overwhelmed by the recognition. Biman Mullick, an Indian now living in the U.K., designed postage stamps for the Bangladesh government in exile; ex-Labour MPs Michael Barnes and Peter Shore, whose daughter Mimi Miles received the award, made the British people aware of the military brutalities; Japanese photographers Takayoshi Suzuki and Naaoaki Usui (the latter's wife Kuniko Usui received the award) campaigned across Japan and raised funds for the refugees. For Rajmata Bibhu Kumari Devi of Tripura, the honour brought back emotional memories of the time when she and her late husband sheltered around 50,000 Bangladeshi families in the Ujjayanta Palace in the tiny State, where refugees overpopulated the existing population. Another recipient, the late Rawshan Ara Begum Sangma, mother of Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, had offered her land in Ampati hamlet in the hilly state, to accommodate an estimated 30,000 refugees.
French philosopher André Malraux and Seán MacBride of Ireland were honoured for their
strong pro-Bangladesh position; defying Henry Kissinger's diktats was U.S. consul in Dhaka, Archer K. Blood, who openly pleaded to suspend U.S. arms aid to Pakistan; the late U.S. physician, Joseph Garst, provided invaluable medical treatment to wounded freedom fighters; Richard K. Taylor and Ms Taylor of the U.S organised historic blockades at the Philadelphia and Baltimore ports to stop ammunition-loaded ships to Pakistan. While Brezhnev, Podgorny and Kosygin (all Soviet leaders) wholeheartedly backed Bangladesh, former Soviet militarymen led by Rear Admiral Sergey Pavlovich Zuenko played a commendable role in sweeping Pakistani mines in the Chittagong port to make it fit for use by the new country. Contributions by Prof. Tsuyoshi Nara and Takashi Hayakawa of Japan were also recognised with due honour.
Issue of war crimes
For Bangladesh, honouring her independence friends was vitally important. But it also has to meet a domestic challenge relating to 1971: the trial of war crimes which were committed against unarmed civilians. Eight key suspects have been arrested since the Hasina
government facilitated the trial under a domestic law, but already the regime is under pressure from the two major opposition parties — the Jamaat-e-Islami, which even took up arms to oppose Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan, and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, which has turned a staunch ally of the Islamist outfit.
To an extent the Opposition has succeeded in its mission. Indeed, there are critical sections which question the prosecution's commitment to seeing the trial through. The failure to produce witnesses in some cases has already been noted by the tribunal judges. In the coming days, the world will watch the Hasina government to see if it has what it takes to deliver justice to its citizens, and as importantly, guard Bangladesh from Islamic zealots determined to impose their writ on the country.
April 24, 2012 A tale of two very different summits Summit diplomacy has become the coin of the realm. More and more key global and regional
issues are thrashed out among heads of state and government, skipping the intermediaries. Professional diplomats don't like summits. Yet, given the urgent tasks, the crowded international agenda, and the increased tempo of diplomacy, there isn't much choice: summits are here to stay. This is particularly true of serial summits — that is, the institutionalised, regularly scheduled meetings at the top, like the G20, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation or India Brazil, South Africa (IBSA).
Not all of them succeed. Performance varies. Some are better prepared than others. At first, APEC grew in leaps and bounds. Its summits drew enormous attention. Yet, now they are stuck in neutral. The G7 summit was for many years the most powerful. Now it plays second fiddle to G20. Sometimes we get two back-toback summits whose radically different outcomes illustrate not just the varying capabilities of summit management, the work of the sherpas (i.e. the top aides to the heads), and the leadership abilities of the heads, but also underlying trends in world politics.
Success & fiasco
This was the case of the recent BRICS summit (in New Delhi on March 30-31) and the Summit of the Americas (in Cartagena, Colombia, April 14-15). The outcomes could not have been more different — one a resounding success, the other a remarkable fiasco. The BRICS group is dismissed by some as nothing more than an acronym in search of a role, a “solution in search of a problem”. A first line of criticism is that the five member states (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have little in common. As a group formed by democracies and non-democracies hailing from four different continents, of very different size and economic performance, of varying economic interests, they would have no business even in meeting together, let alone in developing common agendas, or, God forbid, joint policy initiatives. Given that, notwithstanding these objections, the meetings are nonetheless taking place — this one was the fourth annual gathering — and the group has expanded with the addition of South Africa in 2010.
Russia's presence is irksome to others. The standard line is that Russia should not be
rubbing shoulders with “emerging powers”, since Mother Russia herself is no such thing. Russia, according to this argument, is the ultimate “declining power” — demographically, economically and politically. Given this condition, what Moscow should do, presumably, would be to search for other such declining powers in the world (Greece? Japan? Mali?) and join them as “like-minded” nations, rather than doing so with the Chinas and Indias of this world. That is why many prefer to talk of “BICS”, leaving out Russia altogether and conforming, in their imagination, a fictional group more palatable to the taste of Western observers.
All of this is nonsense. Russia's per capita income has quadrupled since the late 1990s. International politics is not reducible to similarities and differences in political economy, though intragroup trade has grown at 28 per cent a year since 2000, reached $230 billion in 2010 and is planned to reach $ 500 billion in 2015. Agency also plays a role. And the proof is in the pudding. Far from attempting to dissolve their alleged differences into empty platitudes, the heads of the BRICS countries, most of them significant world leaders in their own right — from Brazil's
Dilma Rousseff to India's Manmohan Singh — came up with a substantial, extensive, 50paragraph communiqué after their Delhi deliberations. The latter does not stick solely to economic issues, but ranges much more widely. It addresses key questions on the international agenda, such as the crisis in Syria, the stand-off with Iran and the IsraeliPalestinian conflict. In all of them, it takes stands that vary quite significantly from the perspective of Western powers.
Fast forward to Cartagena. The Summit of the Americas has been around since 1994, much longer than BRICS; it brings together a much larger group of countries (34, when they all attend); they all come from the same part of the world, the Western Hemisphere, and all of them are “market democracies” of one kind or another. It also meets once every three years, allowing plenty of time for preparing and agreeing on a common agenda. Under such circumstances, one would expect considerable room for consensus and forward movement, for joint ventures to take on challenges like the drug trade, the escalating murder rate in
Central America or the issue of immigration to the United States, which have been clamouring for solutions for years, to no avail. The fact that South America has been undergoing an economic boom, fuelled by world-wide demand for commodities, would seem to help. The U.S., bent on doubling its exports in five years, as per President Obama's commitment, is in need of Latin markets. Already, the U.S. exports more to Latin America than to Europe.
Latin America's rise
The fact that the meeting was held in Colombia is testimony to how far Latin America has come in the past decade. Ten, even five years ago, this would have been unthinkable, given the country's internal conflicts, driven by insurgent guerrilla groups like FARC and the ELN and drug cartels like those of Cali and Medellin. In fact, Mr. Obama is the first U.S. President to spend three days in Colombia. Under the able leadership of Presidents Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) and now Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia has scaled down the violence and returned to the international arena. President Santos performed a key role in this in his previous
responsibilities as Minister of Defense. As President, he has surprised many by his pragmatic approach to problem-solving, overcoming long-standing differences with Venezuela, and stepping up to the plate in offering to work with Central American nations on curbing the drug trade.
President Obama, very popular in Latin America, with a 62 per cent approval rating in 2009 according to Gallup (he is now down to 47 per cent), had raised high expectations. In many ways, today's Latin America offers an ideal testing ground for the type of multilateralism many expected Mr. Obama would engage in, in marked contrast to the unilateralism of his predecessor. At least some of the perception of U.S. ‘declinism' so prevalent in much of the world after the fiasco of Iraq, the disaster of the U.S.-triggered Great Recession, and the looming defeat in Afghanistan, could be counteracted by working hand in hand with its Western Hemisphere neighbours, at a time when Latin America is undergoing a veritable renaissance.
No final communiqué
Yet, the Sixth Summit of the Americas was a fiasco. There was no final communiqué, a minimum threshold to measure any such meeting's success. The biggest news to come out of the summit concerned the shenanigans of U.S. Secret Service agents, which came to light because they did not pay for services solicited (there is a metaphor here for the state of U.S.-Latin American relations, for all those who want to see it). Moreover, Washington can hardly allege that any emerging summit consensus was blocked by Latin America's leftist leaders: Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua were not in attendance. President Raul Castro of Cuba was banned from doing so, which became part of the problem. The issue of Cuba's exclusion was not the only one standing in the way. That of the Falklands/Malvinas was another, pitting the English-speaking North versus the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking South. The Panamerican idea has been tested and found wanting.
The paradox is only too apparent. The BRICS summit, dismissed by some as a mere talkshop with no basis in common interests, is going from strength to strength. The Summit
of the Americas, representing the largest gathering of market democracies anywhere, led by the world's leading power, is on its last throes, and may not reconvene again. That this takes place a scarce 30 months after the Honduras crisis should have taught Washington the lesson that Latin American political cooperation and collective diplomacy is alive and well, and that the region will no longer let herself be kicked around for the sake of satisfying Washington's parochial domestic preoccupations April 24, 2012 Multilateralism is a game the U.S. and India can play The promising U.S.-India partnership that New Delhi and Washington have fostered over more than a decade has sometimes seemed less apparent in the two nations' relationship at the United Nations. Rather, multilateral diplomacy has often highlighted the diverging, not the converging, world views of India and the United States. President Barack Obama's dramatic announcement in New Delhi in November 2010 that the U.S. supports India as an eventual permanent member of the Security Council was a crucial step, but did not of itself narrow the gap between the two in New York. However, there are recent
encouraging signs of more convergence; these need to be built upon carefully by both sides to forge a more enduring partnership.
The U.S. keeps statistics on coincidence of voting in the General Assembly, and India — like many other countries in the G-77 group — gets low marks on certain issues of high importance to the U.S., especially on Israel and the Middle East, human rights reports, and the embargo on Cuba. In 2010 and 2011, India voted similarly to the U.S. on about 25 and 33 per cent of all recorded votes in the General Assembly, respectively. When the more common consensus votes are included, the U.S. and India are together 85 per cent of the time. During India's current tenure as a rotating, non-permanent member of the Security Council (since January 2011), the two countries' differing perspectives have sometimes been in sharp focus. From a U.S. perspective, India identified itself more with two other contenders for permanent membership — Brazil and South Africa — and, even more troublesome for the U.S., seemed to vote with Russia and China over the
U.S./Britain/France bloc on contentious votes. India, like Russia and China, abstained on the March 2010 resolution authorising a no-fly zone over Libya and, like them, believed that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) exceeded the Council's mandate in the following months.
On Syria, though, the record has been mixed. When members of the Council in January 2012 sought to condemn the Syrian regime's attack on its domestic opposition, India pursued the middle ground of abstention and watched Russia and China veto the effort. India then worked to find a compromise, supporting a resolution in early February that, while ruling out foreign military intervention, aligned itself with the West and the Arab League; even that fell to Chinese and Russian vetoes.
Four points of view
The U.S. and India need to work together intensively at the U.N., befitting the “strategic partnership” the two countries are forging. They are already doing so in the Security Council on issues ranging from
counterterrorism to anti-piracy policy, to Afghanistan. Improving cooperation on other issues should be achievable, but it will require some creative thinking by both sides, and a willingness to take each other's views into account.
First, the U.S. needs to acknowledge the importance to India of its “strategic autonomy.” The U.S. and India will always have different interests reflecting their geographic, economic, and strategic realities. This will translate into different voting patterns. India wants to hear why it is in its own interest to vote with the Western “bloc.”
Second, the U.S. and India need to communicate regularly in New York. “No surprises” should be the rule. The practice of the Security Council's five permanent members to consult among themselves can mean decisions are made before an issue is discussed with other members of the Council.
Third, multilateral topics should be on the table when our leaders meet in New Delhi and Washington. This June's third meeting of the
U.S.-India “Strategic Dialogue,” led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, offers an early opportunity to do just that.
Finally, the U.S. and India need to consult more closely on Security Council reform — and not just because the U.S. now supports India's bid for permanent membership.
An expanded Council needs to be large enough to be more representative, but small enough to do business. India, the U.S. and the U.N. would all gain from this outcome.
That said, the U.S. and India both need to take a pragmatic view of Security Council reform. The odds are against this rising to the top of the U.N.'s agenda any time soon. This is no reflection on India. Rather, it is a realisation that Security Council expansion is a Pandora's box that many countries would prefer to keep closed for now. Among the many unresolved issues: China's opposition to Japan's entry as a permanent member, Africa's demand for two permanent seats, dramatic overrepresentation of Europe if Germany were to
achieve its goal of permanent membership, and the role of the veto.
But delay for India certainly does not mean never. As the recently released Non-Alignment 2.0 study by eight Indian foreign policy analysts rightly points out: “India should recognise that time is on its side in this matter. As the structure of global power shifts, India's case inevitably becomes stronger. But India will also, in the interim, have to demonstrate a leadership capacity to propose solutions to and artfully handle some of the difficult challenges facing the world.”
( Karl F. Inderfurth holds the Wadhwani Chair in U.S. -India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and is a former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs. Donald A. Camp is a CSIS Senior Associate and former State Department and National Security Council official focusing on South and Central Asia.) April 24, 2012 Warts and all, micro finance is working
A MISSION DRIFT?Long heralded as a way to alleviate the plight of the downtrodden, microfinance has come under a cloud. The picture shows a beneficiary in a slum in Mumbai. —PHOTO: AP
Though micro finance has existed in India for a long time, it has emerged as an organised sector only in the past decade or so. Micro finance is about giving small loans on reasonable terms to people, mostly women, from low income groups who do not have access to loans from banks. Most people from low income groups are self-employed and tiny loans help them meet the working capital needs of such activities, besides consumption smoothing.
In the aftermath of Bangladeshi economist and founder of the Grameen Bank Prof. Muhammad Yunus receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2006 for developing the concept of micro finance, this model grew around the world as a good alternative source of loans for low income groups, caught between banks (who lend to them only under the extreme pressure of Priority Sector Lending targets) and
local moneylenders (whose interest rates could be in high double digits). However, the micro finance concept has fallen from grace due to a combination of promoters' greed, high growth without commensurate systems and controls in place, and the unsecured nature of lending which leads to the high possibility of clients borrowing beyond their immediate need or capability to repay.
And just as in cricket where we alternate between holding our beloved cricketers either as demigods or trashing them based on their last match performance, so too in micro finance we have gone the whole hog from holding micro finance institution (MFI) practitioners as being the messiahs of the poor to blood suckers now. As in everything else, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Three reasons for the fall
The three reasons often cited by critics of micro finance for its fall from grace are the high interest rates charged, over indebtedness and coercive recovery practices. Rather than dwelling on the past, I will attempt to highlight
sectoral and structural changes which have happened over the past year on these three crucial concerns.
The cost of delivery of the loan and collection is high, around 12 per cent due to the doorstep model. And with the cost of funds from banks at around 14 per cent and bad debt provision around two per cent, lending rates of around 30 per cent become necessary. It is a fact that some MFIs did charge an all-inclusive effective cost of over 35 per cent and further compounded the same by not being transparent to the client about the real interest rate.
However, through two regulations, on May 3, 2011 and December 2, 2011, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has put a cap on the lending rate of MFIs at 26 per cent per annum and a margin cap of 12 per cent over their cost of funds, whichever is lower. And today, through the Micro Finance Institutions' Network's (MFIN) internal whistle-blowing mechanism, we have ensured that no Non Banking Financial Company (NBFC)-MFI which is a member of the MFIN charges beyond these rates. Thus,
there is no more a possibility of any MFI charging usurious interest rates.
Database of borrowers
The other charge is that MFIs lend to the same clients beyond their ability to repay. In the past, there were no regulations on this aspect. And MFIs had a genuine difficulty in finding out the existing borrowings of a client because the client rarely revealed the true position. The RBI has now laid down a rule that only two MFIs can lend to one borrower and both together cannot provide loans beyond Rs.50,000. Thus, this prevents the possibility of over-lending.
The MFIN has worked closely with its members and High Mark, an RBI approved credit bureau, to create a database of micro borrowers in the country. This consists of over 30 million micro borrowers and about 60 million loan accounts. Whenever a person applies for a loan, the MFI can, at the click of a button, know all the previous borrowings of this person, even if such persons reside in a remote village. MFIs are tapping this and ensuring that not more
than two MFIs lend to one client subject to a ceiling of Rs.50,000.
There are a few critics who would like to hold that the credit bureau's accuracy is not good enough. The report we get is about 80-90 per cent accuracy, which is a fair rate. But more than the direct benefit is the indirect one. In early May 2011, in Equitas, when we accessed credit reports for the first time, we found the clients' self-declaration of earlier borrowings to be at variance with the bureau report in over 80 per cent of cases. Since then, we have been informing them about the existence of a “computer” which has all the information and then exhort them to reveal the truth. Today, we find this variation to be less than five per cent. The bureau has had a significant indirect benefit in terms of a fundamental shift in the attitude of clients because of the “know-all computer”!
Many MFIs undertake significant social activities across health, education and skill development on a non-profit basis.
While dwelling on the past, warts and all, doesn't help anyone, we can state with confidence that through a combination of a sound regulatory framework and proactive steps of self-governance by the MFIN, we can look forward to the MFI sector supporting low income groups through access to finance on reasonable terms, in a sustainable manner.
( P.N. Vasudevan is vice-president, Micro Finance Institutions Network and managing director of Equitas Micro Finance .) April 25, 2012 Soldiering is about statecraft too It was indeed heartening to see that Lt.Gen. Prakash Menon (retd) and Capt. Srinath Raghavan (retd), two soldier-scholars of some distinction, were co-authors of Non Alignment 2.0: A Foreign and Strategic Policy for India in the Twenty-First Century , an important foreign and strategic policy document that was released on February 28, 2012. Though the document has not received as much attention in the media as it deserves, I felt that it has enough to spark a debate within the armed forces on whether we are doing enough to equip our officers and men with the wherewithal required to cope with the rapidly
changing nature of modern conflict and the global geo-strategic landscape. So here are some thoughts!
The National Defence College (NDC), New Delhi, is the last bastion of semi-formal education in the Indian armed forces. It provides a fantastic opportunity for budding senior leaders in the three services and the Civil Services to widen their horizons and graduate from being “top class operational practitioners” to becoming active participants in both military and national strategy formulation; or so everyone wishes it to be! In reality however, most of us return to our operational cocoons, talking wistfully about the truly wonderful times at the NDC without trying hard enough to uphold one of the prime missions of the college, which is to “Nurture the Soldier-Scholar and the BureaucratScholar.” There is the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword,” but what history does not stress is that many a time it is the soldier-scholar, wielding both the pen and the sword who has shaped the destinies of nations and dictated how wars are fought, and how the peace is won.
Treatise on modern warfare
The motivation for me to write this article emerged while I was reading a book “The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World” by Gen. Sir Rupert Smith (retd), a British general, and one strongly recommended to us by the Commandant at the NDC. The finesse with which Gen. Smith traces the evolution of modern warfare and intrinsically links it to the contribution made by intellectually gifted soldiers like Clausewitz, Bismarck, T.E. Lawrence and Mao in shaping not only the principles of soldiering, but also those of statecraft too is wonderful. Has anyone given a thought to who are the drivers of modern Islamic extremism, one of the primary tools of current conflict? Surprise! Surprise! It is the intellectual and scholarly capabilities of soldier-clerics like Osama bin Laden and Ayman-al-Zawahiri who managed to first corrupt, then simplify, communicate and finally convert the tenets of Islam into operational concepts of “Jihad.” If we are prepared to accept that we are entering a period of momentous change in which the war of a “network and ideas” is overtaking the established state, we need to take a close look at what propels this warfare. A reality check
reveals that the terrorist-scholar, the clericscholar and the insurgent-scholar have outmanoeuvred the soldier in recent years. Therein lies the heart of my argument that calls for nurturing of the soldier-scholar in the Indian armed forces.
Are we adequately nurturing our soldiers to expand intellectually and be nimble and flexible in thought and action? The answer is fuzzy — maybe yes, maybe no! The NDC is too late a stage to nurture them. The process has to start much earlier and as soldiers we need to question more, research more, read more and write more; not because it is a bonus for our climb up the pyramid, or a fashion statement, but because it is an absolute imperative to “stay ahead and stay alive.” If chaos is the signature of modern warfare , it has to be countered with more unpredictability and chaos, something that is alien to structured militaries the world over. Am I suggesting a change in the core competencies of the armed forces? Absolutely not! What I am suggesting is that traditional military skills, a systematic problem solving abilities and structured thinking has to be supplemented with creatively modified academic and intellectual skills at every level.
Encouraging higher education among mainstream officers has been a weak area in our manpower planning and skill accumulation strategies. We need to aggressively pursue affiliations with the Indian Institutes of Management/Indian Institutes of Technology and other premier postgraduate institutions, and send officers with academic potential to pursue fellowships/post graduate courses that are exploitable in service, as well as those that provide security in a second career.
We need to network with high quality foreign universities and send our officers to do PhDs in diverse disciplines. The armed forces must upgrade their academic and research skills in various realms. Nation building is a complex issue in today's fast changing environment. Nurturing the soldier-scholar is one such strategy that is bound to pay rich dividends in the years to come.
(Air Vice-Marshal Arjun Subramaniam is a serving officer from the Indian Air Force. He is presently the Assistant Chief of Air Staff looking after Space, Concepts and Doctrine at Air Headquarters in New Delhi .)
April 25, 2012 How much the internet giants know about us To briefly state the obvious, the internet giants are seriously big: Google is not only the world's largest search engine, it's one of the top three email providers, a social network, and owner of the Blogger platform and the world's largest video site, YouTube. Facebook has the social contacts, messages, wallposts and photos of more than 750 million people.
Given that such information could be used to sell us stuff, accessed by government or law enforcement bodies (perhaps without warrants, under legal changes), or — theoretically, at least — picked up by hackers or others, it's not unreasonable to wonder exactly how much the internet giants know about us.
In the U.S. and EU
U.S. users of the sites are out of luck: there's no legal right under U.S. law to ask a company
to hand over all the information it holds on you. Users do have some say in how much companies are allowed to take, usually contained in the terms of service.
But EU citizens are in a better position — under Europe-wide data protection rules, anyone can send a written request for their full data and, for a small fee, the company has to ship it out, usually within 40 days.
It's a great chance to see exactly how much Google and Facebook really know about us, and all we need is a test subject. Perhaps an EU citizen who's been on Facebook since it came to the United Kingdom in 2005; who's had a YouTube account almost as long; and was on Gmail back when invitations to the service were something to beg, borrow and steal, rather than a nuisance. They'd also have to be enough of an idiot to write about what they dig up in public. This left one obvious, unlucky test case in the Guardian offices: me.
Things didn't get off to a great start with Google. The company has a main U.S. branch, Google Inc, and subsidiaries within other countries. In the U.K., that's Google U.K. Ltd. Here's the catch: Google U.K. Ltd., which is subject to the EU rules that let you access your data, doesn't hold it. A spokeswoman for the U.K. regulator, the Information Commissioner's Office, confirmed that EU laws on subject access requests do not extend to the U.S. parent company.
Thankfully, Google isn't totally unhelpful. It has two tools that help show the information it holds on you. The first, Google Dashboard, has run for about three years and gathers information from almost all of Google's services in one place.
Another feature, the account activity report, has launched recently, and shows Google's information on my logins in the past month, including countries, browsers, platforms and how much I've used the services. Running these tools on my work email account (the Guardian's emails are managed by Google) is disconcerting. The dashboard can see I'm a member of a few internal Google groups, and
have a blogger account used to collaborate with some researchers on Twitter riot data.
Data showing my work-gmail account has 877 contacts — and listing them — gives me some pause for thought, as does a list of the 398 Google docs I've opened. The site also lists my most recent sent and received emails.
A little more disconcerting is a chat history logging 500 conversations with 177 colleagues. Google chat is a handy way to collaborate in a large building, especially one full of journalists who seem to prefer to talk online (as Twitter activity testifies) rather than in the flesh.
The big relief comes when I note Google isn't tracking the internet searches I've made on my work account. Repeating this exercise for my personal Google account is less relaxing. There are several bits of extra information here. The most innocuous is a heavily neglected Google+ profile with a few hundred connections but almost no posts.
Slightly more embarrassing is a seemingly connected YouTube account, apparently set up
at a time when I thought using character names from role-playing games was a good account-naming policy.
It has only one surviving video — a student interview with Heather Brooke — but does link to my viewing history, which includes the Tottenham riots, Dire Straits, Pomplamoose and, bafflingly, a Q&A from the Ryan commission into child abuse in Ireland.
News was “youtube user figures,” showing I am meticulous in my research. Mortifyingly, my last blogs search was a vanity one: “james ball.” Google also holds information on my login IPs, and other anonymised non-logged-in data, but doesn't (yet) make this available.
There was some relief from the gloom though. Google insists the tracking for its display adverts — it is the market leader in online advertising — doesn't draw from user data, but comes instead from cookies, files that anonymously monitor the sites you visit. Google's ad preference page believes I am interested in online video, TV reality shows, printers, Egypt, politics and England. From this,
it has concluded I am likely to be over 65 and male. I find myself more reassured than offended that Google has got this more or less wrong.
Facebook is a much trickier prospect. Unlike Google, Facebook processes some data in the EU, through its Irish branch, making it subject to access laws. These take up to three months due to a large volume of requests from campaigners, so I once again resorted to the site's own tools.
Facebook's main download tool was familiar. A downloaded archive that opens into something looking oddly like a stripped-down, uncluttered Facebook, this lists all my friends, every post ever made on my wall, my private messages and photos.
The Facebook extended archive is a little creepier. Every event to which I've ever been invited is neatly listed, alongside its location, time, and whether I said I would attend.
One piece of information — a supposed engagement to a schoolfriend, Amy Holmes — stands out. A Facebook “joke” that seemed faintly funny for about a week several years ago was undone by hiding it from any and all Facebook users, friends or otherwise (to avoid an “... is now single!” status update). The forgotten relationship helpfully explains why Facebook has served me up with bridalwear adverts for several years, and reassures me that Facebook doesn't know quite everything.
Or does it? There are gaping holes in what Facebook has made available to me. No posts from other users in which I'm mentioned are included, not even from my friends. None of the 300+ photographs in which I feature, uploaded by friends and family, are there.
Campaigners estimate that only around 29 per cent of the information Facebook possesses on any given user is accessible through the site's tools.
The tour through a decent swath of my personal data is at once disturbing and
comforting. Disturbing because it reminds me mine is a life lived online. Among the huge tranche of information available to Google and Facebook alone is virtually everyone I know, a huge amount of what I've said to (and about) them, and a vast amount of data on where I've been. Such detailed tracking would have been an impossibility even 10 years ago, and we're largely clueless as to its effects.
This is the core of the main comfort: despite their mountain of data, Google and Facebook seem largely clueless, too — they've had no more luck making any sense out of it than I have. And that, for now, is a relief. — April 26, 2012 It can spy and also do a hundred humdrum things In the popular mind, radar satellites have a swashbuckling image that is often associated with covertly watching over other countries and tracking their military hardware. These satellites can certainly serve that sort of function. But such spacecraft also support a range of more humdrum but vital operations.
Optical satellites rely on sunlight to illuminate the ground below, working much like an ordinary camera does. Radar satellites, on the other hand, must send out pulses of radio waves and then pick up signals that bounce back.
Once the monsoon sets in over India, cloud cover often severely limits the useful images that satellites with optical cameras can supply. But radar can see through cloud and rain. Nor does darkness hamper its operation.
Optical or radar?
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has long been aware of the advantages of deploying radar in space, remarked Y.S. Rajan, who was its Scientific Secretary for many years from the late 1970s and participated in the decision-making process that shaped the remote sensing programme.
The engineering challenges of putting a radar on a satellite are “enormous” and considerably greater than for building optical imaging satellites, he told TheHindu . The processing of
radar data and interpretation of images are also vastly more complicated. In addition, there was pressure from the launch vehicle team to hold down the weight of satellites, a factor that again worked in favour of optical satellites.
So while ISRO opted to go the optical route for India's early remote sensing satellites, it was also very clear that the technological capability to build and use space-based radars needed to be developed, he said. Led by O.P.N. Calla, a group at ISRO's Space Applications Centre at Ahmedabad built a “Side-Looking Airborne Radar” that was installed on a Dakota aircraft in 1980. It subsequently built a more sophisticated “Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar.” The National Remote Sensing Centre at Hyderabad operates two aircraft that can carry such radars.
Apart from learning to build the hardware, the space agency sought to develop the necessary expertise in using radar imageries for various applications. It did so by taking data from foreign radar satellites, starting with Europe's ERS-1 that was launched in 1991.
Flood mapping, agriculture
Satellite radar data, often from Canada's RADARSAT satellites, is now routinely used during the monsoon to provide near real time flood mapping. In last year's monsoon, for instance, radar data was drawn upon to identify affected areas when floods struck Assam, West Bengal, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala.
Monitoring crops from space to derive timely and more accurate estimates of acreage and yield was identified as an important application early on in India's remote sensing programme. But with small field sizes in the country, different crops being grown in the same area and variations in agricultural practices, establishing ‘signatures' that can distinguish one crop from another has been difficult enough with optical remote sensing.
It becomes even more complicated with radar where a number of factors, such as soil characteristics, moisture levels in the soil and even the plant size and shape, influence the signals that return to the satellite.
Radar, however, opens up the possibility of monitoring crops grown during the monsoon when extensive cloud cover often hinders optical satellites. Data from Canada's RADARSAT satellites is currently being used for operational rice crop inventory at the state and national levels, according to a journal paper published by a team of ISRO scientists. There has also been some success with jute.
RADARSAT data was costly, remarked one person who was involved with the Indian remote sensing programme. “With our own satellite, we will be able to carry out more extensive studies for establishing ways to monitor other crops with the required accuracy.”
Satellite-borne radar could prove useful in studying glaciers in the Himalayas, according to Anil V. Kulkarni who earlier worked at the Space Applications Centre and is now with the Divecha Centre for Climate Change at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.
Radar techniques could potentially be employed to understand some key parameters of glaciers, including their rate of movement and area. It may also be possible to derive indications of whether they are gaining or losing mass from one year to the next. Such information could provide important insights into how climate change is affecting the glaciers.
Radar data could also be utilised to figure out how much snow was melting in summer. With suitable modelling, it should then be possible to estimate the run-off that flows into various rivers, he pointed out.
RISAT-1's radar data is likely to find many more applications, including in geology, terrain mapping and forestry. Oceanography can benefit from information on winds and currents that such data can supply. Canada is reportedly using its RADARSAT satellites to manage shipping operations, including monitoring offshore fishing activities.
After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, data from a number of radar satellites was used to keep a careful eye on the spread of the resulting oil slick.
A radar satellite opens up avenues for watching over another country's military operations. Such satellites can pick out military vehicles, aircraft and ships.
A radar satellite is “a very powerful instrument” for detecting naval movements, remarked Bhupendra Jasani of the Department of War Studies at King's College London. They could even pick up the wake of submarines moving below the surface.
Prof. Jasani has worked extensively on using commercially available satellite imagery as a way of verifying compliance with arms control and other international treaties.
Radar imageries could also aid in examining if a nuclear reactor was being used for plutonium
production. In that case, there would be signs that the reactor was being shut down more frequently, he told this correspondent.
For India, the ability to design, build and utilise radar satellites therefore represents a quantum jump in its remote sensing capabilities both for civilian and securityrelated applications. More radar satellites will doubtless follow RISAT-1. April 26, 2012 The right not to be left behind The Supreme Court in its verdict on the constitutionality of the Right to Education Act in relation to the reservation of seats for Economically Weaker Section [EWS] and socially disadvantaged [SD] children has rightly upheld the principle of integration. It is hard to see how it could have been any other way. In fact, the arguments against segregation and in favour of diversity in schools have long been settled in international debates on education. In India, where disparities are wide and reflected in the increasing gap between private and public schools, the need to make schools inclusive is perhaps even greater. This is not to deny that there will be challenges faced by all concerned — school managements, teachers,
parents and children — in enforcing the law both in letter and in spirit. But given that children from the EWS and SD backgrounds are being inducted in the “incoming” class of a school, the anxiety being expressed seems somewhat exaggerated. It is another matter that it is being expressed almost exclusively by the “elite' sections of society. No EWS parent or child, for whom the “trauma” is likely to be greater, is complaining or wanting to do away with the quota.
Nevertheless, the matter has now been settled by the Supreme Court. Legal clarity to the argument for diversity in the classroom and regulation of quality in all schools — public and private — has been provided. It is time this issue, which has taken up far more space than warranted, was laid to rest and focus shifted to the real issues plaguing the education sector.
For all the efforts of government programmes in the last decade, and especially through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan [SSA], basic education in this country is still a far cry from being
universal or of satisfactory quality. It could even be argued that the RTE may not have been needed were this the case. There is a growing realisation that education, particularly but not exclusively, in the public sector has been on a downslide, and that nothing short of radical change was required to turn the tide. This is reflected in the provisions of the RTE Act. The Act establishes for the first time standards for not just infrastructure such as classrooms, toilets and drinking water, but also for quality by stipulating that teaching — teachers' education and training, their recruitment rules, their professionalisation, their accountability — be redesigned. It also addresses teaching methods, curriculum formation and evaluation procedures, as well as corporal punishment and discrimination, all of which are intrinsic to quality and all of which are in need of reform. But bringing about a “paradigm shift” of this type and scope is not easy, especially when the subject is concurrent, involving multiple levels of government.
But the task ahead is clear. Less than 20 per cent of children in this country go to some form of private school; the rest are either enrolled in a government school or not in any
school at all. It is these children who need to be addressed and towards whom the RTE Act is largely directed. Quality education for close to 80 per cent of the children in this country still needs to be guaranteed within the framework of RTE. Herein lies the real challenge.
This challenge is made worse by the fact that even as the state has made elementary education a legally guaranteed right of every child, information on how many children are in fact “out-of-school” — not just “neverenrolled,” but not attending, dropped out or virtually dropped out — is not officially available. These are all children who have fallen out of the loop of mainstream education, but the system has no means of accounting for them. They include the urban homeless, the stigmatised, the migrant, but also the many, many children who, while enrolled, attend school at best sporadically. In an exercise conducted by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (which is mandated to monitor the RTE), a house-to-house survey was conducted in 12 districts across the country to assess the situation of out-of-school children [OOSC]. The gap between the official figures of OOSC and
what the NCPCR found was startlingly large. While the data are yet to be fully analysed, a preliminary look shows the gap to be as much as 40-50 per cent in some areas. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Identifying all the children, bringing them to school, providing adequate physical infrastructure and qualified teachers and then ensuring they attend regularly and learn all they are meant to learn in an atmosphere free of fear and trauma — all this is a very tall order. What it means is that many more resources and far greater efforts will be required, especially within the ambit of the RTE Act.
It also means that the institutional structures of the state will need to be geared towards meeting these goals. Within the education sector itself, the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) — the body responsible for overseeing teacher education — will need to be overhauled; teacher training institutes — the District Institutes of Education and Training — will need to be reformed; the Block Education Office — the administrative unit closest to the people — will need to be revitalised. The NCPCR and SCPCRs, mandated to monitor RTE, will need resources, structures and staff. At the current allocation of Rs. 50
per school/year and no sanctioned posts, it is hard to see how the huge task of monitoring across the country can be optimally achieved.
Role of PRIs
The Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), which have been given the important role of grievance redress, are yet to wake up to this huge responsibility. No rules have been framed and no resources allocated to the PRIs to undertake any form of grievance redress. In other words, the understanding that elementary education is now to be enforced as a fundamental right and not implemented as yet another scheme is still to be given institutional shape and form. For this, the Education Departments and the Panchayati Raj Departments will need to develop a framework for how grievances related to RTE will be addressed.
None of this is to say that nothing has been done so far. Many important steps have been taken to set the ball rolling. Rules have been notified in all but two States; government orders have been passed for the formation of
School Management Committees; guidelines for prohibiting corporal punishment have been issued; a Teacher Education Test to select teachers has been instituted; budgetary allocations have been increased, even a grievance redress “advisory” (albeit a rudimentary one) has been issued. But much more needs to be done if the challenges are to be addressed in real earnest. Also, the pace of implementation needs to be accelerated before people start to lose faith in the enforcement of this fundamental right.
The RTE Act provides a strong legal framework for addressing most of the challenges that confront the elementary education sector, but unless it is backed by political will and commitment translated into institutional capacities with adequate resources, it will remain a wasted opportunity.
(Kiran Bhatty is former National Coordinator [RTE], National Council for the Protection of Child Rights.) April 26, 2012 How Britain erased a shameful paper trail
IMPERIALIST TERROR:An April 2011 photograph of Kenyan nationals who are seeking justice over the brutality they claim they suffered at the hands of the British army during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising. They hope their cases would secure a statement of regret over Britan's role in the Kenyan Emergency and get a victim's welfare fund. — PHOTO: AFP Thousands of documents detailing some of the most shameful acts and crimes committed during the final years of the British empire were systematically destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of postindependence governments, an official review has concluded.
Those papers that survived the purge were flown discreetly to Britain where they were hidden for 50 years in a secret Foreign Office archive, beyond the reach of historians and members of the public, and in breach of legal obligations for them to be transferred into the public domain.
The Mau Mau rebellion
The archive came to light last year when a group of Kenyans detained and allegedly tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion won the right to sue the British government. The Foreign Office promised to release the 8,800 files from 37 former colonies held at the highly-secure government communications centre at Hanslope Park in Buckinghamshire.
The historian appointed to oversee the review and transfer, Tony Badger, master of Clare College, Cambridge, says the discovery of the archive put the Foreign Office in an “embarrassing, scandalous” position. “These documents should have been in the public archives in the 1980s,” he said. “It's long overdue.” The first of them was made available to the public on Wednesday at the National Archive at Kew, Surrey.
The papers at Hanslope Park include monthly intelligence reports on the “elimination” of the colonial authority's enemies in 1950s Malaya; records showing ministers in London were aware of the torture and murder of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya, including a case of a man said to have been “roasted alive”; and papers detailing the lengths to which the U.K. went to
forcibly remove islanders from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
However, among the documents are a handful which show that many of the most sensitive papers from Britain's late colonial era were not hidden away, but simply destroyed. These papers give the instructions for systematic destruction issued in 1961 after Iain Macleod, secretary of state for the colonies, directed that post-independence governments should not get any material that “might embarrass Her Majesty's government,” that could “embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants or others, e.g. police informers,” that might compromise intelligence sources, or that might “be used unethically by ministers in the successor government.”
Among the documents that appear to have been destroyed were: records of the abuse of Mau Mau insurgents detained by British colonial authorities, who were tortured and sometimes murdered; reports that may have
detailed the alleged massacre of 24 unarmed villagers in Malaya by soldiers of the Scots Guards in 1948; most of the sensitive documents kept by colonial authorities in Aden, where the army's Intelligence Corps operated a secret torture centre for several years in the 1960s; and every sensitive document kept by the authorities in British Guiana, a colony whose policies were heavily influenced by successive U.S. governments and whose post-independence leader was toppled in a coup orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The documents that were not destroyed appear to have been kept secret not only to protect the U.K.'s reputation, but to shield the government from litigation. If the small group of Mau Mau detainees are successful in their legal action, thousands more veterans are expected to follow. It is a case that is being closely watched by former Eoka guerrillas who were detained by the British in 1950s Cyprus, and possibly by many others who were imprisoned and interrogated between 1946 and 1967, as Britain fought a series of rearguard actions across its rapidly diminishing empire.
The documents show that colonial officials were instructed to separate those papers to be left in place after independence — usually known as “Legacy files” — from those that were to be selected for destruction or removal to the U.K. In many colonies, these were described as watch files, and stamped with a red letter W.
The papers at Kew depict a period of mounting anxiety amid fears that some of the incriminating watch files might be leaked. Officials were warned that they would be prosecuted if they took any paperwork home — and some were. As independence grew closer, large caches of files were removed from colonial ministries to governors' offices, where new safes were installed.
In Uganda, the process was codenamed Operation Legacy. In Kenya, a vetting process, described as “a thorough purge,” was overseen by colonial Special Branch officers. Clear instructions were issued that no Africans were to be involved: only an individual who was “a servant of the Kenya government who is a British subject of European descent” could participate in the purge.
Painstaking measures were taken to prevent post-independence governments from learning that the watch files had ever existed. One instruction states: “The legacy files must leave no reference to watch material. Indeed, the very existence of the watch series, though it may be guessed at, should never be revealed.”
When a single watch file was to be removed from a group of legacy files, a “twin file” — or dummy — was to be created to insert in its place. If this was not practicable, the documents were to be removed en masse. There was concern that Macleod's directions should not be divulged — “there is of course the risk of embarrassment should the circular be compromised” — and officials taking part in the purge were even warned to keep their W stamps in a safe place.
Many of the watch files ended up at Hanslope Park. They came from 37 different former colonies, and filled 200 metres of shelving. But
it is becoming clear that much of the most damning material was probably destroyed. Officials in some colonies, such as Kenya, were told that there should be a presumption in favour of disposal of documents rather than removal to the U.K. — “emphasis is placed upon destruction” — and that no trace of either the documents or their incineration should remain. When documents were burned, “the waste should be reduced to ash and the ashes broken up.”
Some idea of the scale of the operation and the amount of documents that were erased from history can be gleaned from a handful of instruction documents that survived the purge. In certain circumstances, colonial officials in Kenya were informed, “it is permissible, as an alternative to destruction by fire, for documents to be packed in weighted crates and dumped in very deep and current-free water at maximum practicable distance from the coast.”
Documents that survive from Malaya suggest a far more haphazard destruction process, with relatively junior officials being permitted to
decide what should be burned and what should be sent to London.
Dr. Ed Hampshire, diplomatic and colonial record specialist at the National Archive, said the 1,200 files so far transferred from Hanslope Park represented “gold dust” for historians, with the occasional nugget, rather than a haul that calls for instant reinterpretation of history. However, only one sixth of the secret archive has so far been transferred. The remainder are expected to be at Kew by the end of 2013. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012 April 27, 2012 Carved up and sold off, the northern hills are dying a slow death So, the notorious land developers' lobby in Uttarakhand has managed to sell off even the historic Kushavart Ghat at Haridwar to a private party. This public bathing facility in Har-Ki-Pauri was ordered to be built around 1780 by Ahilyabai Holkar, philanthropist queen of Indore, and has since been managed by a trust. After the surreptitious and illegal sale came to light this year, another detail emerged via the city corporation records presented at
the district courts: the sale was executed for Rs.5 crore by none other than the trust.
Those travelling into Uttarakhand either from Garhwal or the Kumaon region can see entire hillsides denuded by hectic building activity. Many of the plots have been sold illegally and against the ecological norms set by the State government. Not surprisingly, in most cases the sale and purchase have happened with political blessings. The plains of Haridwar and Dehradun and even the once beautiful hill towns of Nainital, Almora and Mukteswar have already lost their pristine forest cover to illegal felling. The lush green has yielded place to palatial resorts and private bungalows built for the rich and the famous from other States. Inner cities, unsupervised by the municipal bodies which have approved the sales, are slowly turning into stinking overcrowded slums.
Influx of tourists
In the area described as Dev Bhoomi (land of the gods) in posters put up by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), local temples and shrines
have turned into ugly structures thanks to largesse distributed by MLAs from the ruling party and their supporters among land developers and liquor barons. During a recent visit, one found the once beautiful and unpretentious 12th century shrine to Golu Devta, the local god of retributive justice, transformed into a shiny temple embellished with glitter and gold. Its pristine stone walls had been covered over with bathroom quality tiles (some of them carrying lurid religious motifs derived from calendar art). The outer walls of the shrine, surrounded for centuries with strings of little brass bells donated by humble believers, had been painted over in plastic emulsion paints. Nasally sung prayers over loudspeakers drowned out the natural music of the gently swaying bells. The priest was most effusive in his praise for the generosity of a notorious liquor baron-cumland grabber, reputed to be very close to a top politician. “He is a great bhakt and his donation has transformed Golu Devta's abode Mataji,” he said, adding, “may god bless him.”
Nainital is a small tourist town with a complex history of migrations and religious conversions and reconversions. It was here that many British officials of the East India Company took
shelter in 1857 when the plains erupted in gadar (revolt); the Resident Commissioner, Ramsay Sahib, urged them to stay put till the trouble died down. Up until the 1960s, the town was the summer capital of Uttar Pradesh. Even today, the Governor's residence sees an annual summer shift to the stately Raj Bhavan building in Nainital. But the summers are also when a horrifically unregulated influx of tourists arrives, armed with plastic pouches and water bottles that they leave behind, reducing the town to a stinking sewer. The developers have done the rest. A food court has come up next to the ancient temple of Nainadevi, the goddess of eyes and the guardian of the town. In the past, hill towns — even those built for use by the government and its highest officials during the summers — were so planned that locals and seasonal visitors could come together and live in harmony in an ecologically sensitive area. Visitors were expected to respect the freedom and dignity of the highlanders. Government employees in transit were not encouraged to import their requirements from the plains. Everyone learnt to live on what was locally available: rice, rotis , simple dairy products, various kinds of greens and potatoes and the luscious and plentiful local fruits. Even local bakers used local ingredients. Their atta
(wheat)-based loaves and buns looked a bit puny but were full of good taste and nutrition. The “Fruit Preservation Centre” at Chaubatiya helped preserve fruits and also held classes for making home preserves. All that has disappeared.
Education and schools
Most hill towns had their own private schools. Few would know that up till the 1970s, the towns also had excellent government-run schools. To this day these are the only public structures with their own large and well kept playgrounds. This was where children once learnt the three Rs and practised hockey, football and cricket otherwise made impossible by the uneven local terrain.
How has the education story unfolded in Uttarakhand? Thanks to the middle class obsession with English medium education provided by private schools, most of the government schools in the hills are nearly dysfunctional. The teachers are well paid and the premises are large, but fewer and fewer students go to these schools because they
teach in the Hindi medium. And even some of the good-hearted young couples who run NGOs for educating and empowering the poor of the area, have opted for private boarding schools for their own progeny.
A google search of Kushavart Ghat on Ganga yielded 4,99,000 results in four seconds. Not surprisingly, the majority of the results related to highland tours, hotel accommodation, luxury resorts and plots available for building dream houses. There was nothing at all about the mysterious sale of an 18th century Ghat under the very nose of a city corporation by persons unknown to persons unknown.
( Mrinal Pande is Chairperson of Prasar Bharati and was till recently Chief Editor of the daily, Hindustan.) April 27, 2012 Treaties that gave away the store On April 17, British telecom giant Vodafone issued a notice of dispute to the Indian government, as a first step towards launching investment arbitration proceedings under the India-Netherlands Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) signed in 1995.
The telecom company filed the notice through its Dutch subsidiary, Vodafone International Holdings BV, asking the Indian government to abandon or suitably amend the retrospective aspects of the proposed tax legislation under Finance Bill 2012 which allows tax authorities to reopen cases as far back as 1962. Vodafone has termed the retrospective tax proposals “denial of justice” and “a breach of the Indian government's obligations” as they may allow the Indian authorities to collect Rs11,000 crore ($2.2 bn) in taxes over the company's $11.2 bn acquisition of Hutchison Essar in 2007.
Growing line of cases
Vodafone's notice is the latest in the growing line of cases where foreign investors are threatening to invoke international arbitration proceedings against India under the framework of BITs.
On February 28, Russian conglomerate Sistema sent a legal notice to the Republic of India threatening international arbitration proceedings under the India-Russia BIT (1994)
if the government fails to settle the dispute related to revocation of its 21 telecom licences in an amicable way by August 28, 2012. The company claims that the cancellation of its licences by the Supreme Court is contrary to India's obligations under BIT, including obligations to provide investments with full protection and security and obligations not to expropriate investments.
On February 2, the Supreme Court had ordered the cancellation of all 122 spectrum licences issued in January 2008 by the then Telecom Minister A. Raja. Out of these, 21 belonged to SSTL. In its judgment, the Supreme Court declared the allotment of spectrum “unconstitutional and arbitrary” and maintained that Mr. Raja “wanted to favour some companies at the cost of the public exchequer” and “virtually gifted away *an+ important national asset.”
Following in the footsteps of Sistema, Norwegian telecom company Telenor also threatened to invoke the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement to protect its investments.
New Delhi has yet to respond to these legal notices. Meanwhile, a recent arbitral tribunal award ( White Industries Limited v. Republic of India ) should serve as an eye-opener to the government.
In 1989, White Industries Australia Limited (WIAL) entered into a commercial contract with state-owned Coal India Limited (CIL) for supply of equipment and development of a coal mine for the Piparwar Project in Jharkhand. In 1999, however, contractual disputes arose between WIAL and CIL. As per the contract, WIAL demanded payment of its performance bonus while CIL demanded a penalty based on poor quality production and subsequently encashed White's bank guarantee. The matter went to the International Chamber of Commerce's International Court of Arbitration and hearings began in London. In March 2002, the ICC issued an AU$4 million award in favour of WIAL.
In September 2002, CIL approached the Calcutta High Court challenging the ICC award. Within days, White Industries also approached the Delhi High Court to enforce the award.
After WIAL's appeal to the Calcutta High Court to dismiss CIL's application was rejected, it moved the Supreme Court. In March 2006, the Delhi High Court stayed the enforcement proceedings. At present, the Supreme Court is hearing WIAL's appeal and a final decision is awaited.
Incensed by judicial delays over the enforcement of the ICC award, WIAL invoked arbitration against the Government of India in July 2010 under the India-Australia BIT and argued that the delays amounted to a denial of justice in violation of several provisions of the treaty especially fair and equitable treatment (FET), free transfer of funds and expropriation. It also argued that India had failed to provide WIAL with “effective means” of enforcing rights and asserting claims.
It is important to note that the 1999 IndiaAustralia BIT does not contain “effective means” standards or any other obligations dealing with delays in court process. However, this treaty contains the MFN clause which allowed WIAL to import more favourable provisions from other treaties signed by India. Specifically, WIAL drew upon a beneficial
provision under Article 4 (5) of the IndiaKuwait BIT which obliges India to provide “effective means of asserting claims and enforcing rights with respect to investment.” By relying on the MFN clause, WIAL sought similar level of protection which Kuwaiti investors are given in India.
As per the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) rules, the three-member arbitral tribunal was constituted in July 2010 and hearings began in London. The tribunal passed its award on November 30, 2011. While dismissing WIAL's allegations on violation of FET, free transfer of funds and expropriation, the tribunal held that the inability of the Indian judicial system to provide WIAL effective means to enforce its rights is a breach of India's obligations under the India-Australia BIT. The tribunal awarded White Industries AU$4 million with interest.
Whether India will accept or challenge this ruling is still publicly unknown as the authorities have maintained complete silence over the issue. Nevertheless, the ramifications of this BIT award are far-reaching. It may encourage other foreign investors in India to
take a similar route and seek compensation from the Indian government for nonimplementation of commercial arbitration awards due to judicial delays. Given the fact that delays are endemic in our over-stretched judicial system, foreign investors may prefer to seek investment claims from the Indian government for the potential breach of the “effective means” provisions in the BITs.
Since India has signed over 80 bilateral investment treaties, it may open the floodgates for similar claims by foreign investors and the Indian government may end up paying full compensation.
Further, the BIT award raises an important policy concern: whether Indian courts have the sovereign right to intervene in arbitrations seated outside India.
Since there are conflicts between the treaty's obligations and legitimate policy objectives, a carefully and well-worded investment treaty could avoid potential disputes. There are myriad policy options available to the Indian authorities when it comes to drafting new
treaties or guiding the interpretation of existing ones.
First, India should initiate a comprehensive review of its existing investment treaties since recent cases have shattered the myth that its treaties maintain a fine balance between investor rights, investor responsibilities and regulatory space. Based on the review, India can seek suitable amendments in the existing treaties through bilateral negotiations. Since this process can be time consuming, a notification could immediately be issued by New Delhi giving its interpretation of various standards contained in the treaties. Second, policymakers should not allow investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms under which a foreign investor can initiate an international arbitration against India. In 2011, Australia announced its decision to not include investorstate dispute mechanisms under its trade agreements with the developing countries.
Third, to prevent “treaty shopping” by investors, policymakers could altogether remove the MFN clauses in future treaties or at least prohibit the possibility of importing such clauses from earlier treaties signed by
India. Vague and controversial provisions such as national treatment, FET clauses, free transfer of capital, umbrella clauses should preferably be avoided or incorporated with explicit qualifications in the treaty.
There are some exception clauses (such as national security clauses) which are exempt from the treaty's obligations. Perhaps the time has come to enlarge the list of exception clauses by incorporating other policy priorities (such as taxation and financial stability) in the treaty.
Fourth, for a more balanced outcome, policymakers should avoid using words such as “creating favourable conditions for investments” in the preamble since it could be interpreted by arbitral tribunals as removing all restrictions in favour of foreign investors.
Fifth, the main objective of treaties should not be investment protection alone. There are legitimate policy objectives (such as sustainable development and financial
stability) which should also be incorporated in the treaties. Policymakers should ensure that the state's power to regulate business activities in the public interest is explicitly mentioned in the treaty's preambles and other sections. No clauses should be included in the treaty which could bar the state from pursuing regulatory and other measures to pursue legitimate policy goals. April 27, 2012 A Chinese whodunnit with a British twist
It started as a rumour whispered into journalists' ears, but has since gained enough credence to prompt a high-power parliamentary committee to confront the government over it: was the London businessman whose mysterious death in a Chinese hotel last November sparked a political scandal in China doubling up as a British spy?
It is a question that many believe can no longer be ignored. There is a growing sense that the case of Neil Heywood — whose death (first attributed to “excessive drinking”) is now the subject of a murder investigation, with the
disgraced Chinese leader Bo Xilai's wife Gu Kailai being treated as a suspect — might not simply be one of an innocent Briton abroad inadvertently caught up in a web of China's internal political intrigues.
The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee wants Foreign Secretary William Hague to “make clear what relationship the British consulate-general in Chongqing or the British embassy in Beijing had with Mr. Heywood before his death.”
“For instance, did he supply the British Consulate or Embassy with information, either on a formal or informal basis?” the committee's Tory Chairman Richard Ottaway has asked in a letter to Mr. Hague.
He says he wants to find out exactly “who Mr. Heywood was and what he was doing.”
Tied to British intelligence?
Questions about the shadowy 41-year-old businessman's relationship with the British
government, especially its intelligence establishment, have become more insistent since it emerged that, on and off, he had worked for Hakluyt & Co. a private intelligence company founded by two former MI6 spooks. Media reports say that China is teeming with intelligence outfits run by former British spies.
The Foreign Office while repeating the standard line that it did not comment on intelligence issues significantly added that Mr. Heywood was “not an employee of the British government” leaving open the tantalising possibility that he might have worked for them in an informal capacity.
The government's muted reaction to Mr. Heywood's alleged murder has also intrigued commentators. Normally, London is quick to demand “answers” from a foreign government in situations involving a British citizen but in Mr. Heywood's case it has been curiously silent. Its silence has been likened to the “dog that didn't bark.” Was Mr. Heywood covertly engaged in activities that, if revealed, could embarrass the British government?
Who was Mr. Heywood, and, in the words of Mr. Ottaway, “what he was doing” in China that led to his death?
From all accounts, he represented a new breed of buccaneering British public school “boys” who made a killing from China's economic boom and have been compared to the 19th century American “gold-seekers.”
Mr. Heywood belonged to the 1984 class of Harrovians, former students of Harrow School, who went on to make their fortune from China's so-called “gold rush.” But his was the biggest success story and his contemporaries recall him with awe and admiration. Mysterious as his death was, so was his rapid rise in China's business and political circles. He went to China in the early 1990s, picked up Mandarin and settled down there after marrying a local Chinese woman Wang Lulu. It is not clear how, but soon he had a direct line to Bo Xilai, then mayor of the northeastern city of Dalian and a rising political star.
Mr. Heywood's friendship with the Bo family opened doors for him and suddenly he was hobnobbing with China's new “aristocracy.” For all the “expert” commentary that has appeared in the British media on his activities in China, nobody knows what exactly his day job was. He has been variously described as a consultant, a car dealer, an investor and a “free-lance gatherer of intelligence.”
Reportedly, he lived a high life — fast cars, membership of top-notch clubs, the works. He famously drove around downtown Beijing in a Jaguar with a “007” number plate.
“Heywood did things in China that other people couldn't,” one former business associate told a newspaper
There is a sense that, ultimately, he lived by his wits and limitless charm. His friends envied him for his ability to “schmooze” and his “practised Englishness” that endeared him to a certain kind of new wealthy class in China “hungry for the trappings of old copperbottomed privilege,” as one commentator put it.
Mr. Heywood became the “go-to” man for Britons seeking favours in China and for Chinese looking for privileged access in Britain. Notwithstanding lurid rumours about Mr. Heywood having an affair with Mr. Bo's wife, it would seem that his relationship with the Bo family was based solely on mutual interests. In return for the doors they opened for him in China, he smoothed their way into the heart of British privilege helping their son ease into Harrow and then at Oxford University. He also allegedly helped them funnel vast sums of money to Britain.
It is thought their relationship started to go sour around 2005 and had completely broken down in the months before Mr. Heywood's death in a Chongqing hotel. There are all sorts of theories about why they fell out, but common to all is the financial angle. It is believed to have started with a dispute over money that Mr. Heywood claimed the Bos owed him and when they refused, he allegedly threatened to “expose” them.
Days later he was dead. There is a Hitchcockian touch to it: a man who “knew too much” about powerful people ends up as a corpse. Except that, in this case, the corpse is real, and nobody knows why — and how — the man died. The case is widely seen as shining a light on the “dark side” of a new China where, as a British-Chinese academic warned, “anything can happen.” But what does it say about Jaguar-loving British schoolboys like Heywood who think they can schmooze their way through life with just a little help from friends in high places? April 28, 2012 A story, a book and a living, throbbing museum FROM 2008 TO 2012:Those who have read the novel will better grasp the many connotations of the museum, and those who visit the museum will discover many nuances they missed when reading the book, says Pamuk. — PHOTO: THE MUSEUM OF INNOCENCE “It's not as if I wrote a successful novel and then said, ‘let me turn it into a museum.' No, I conceived both the novel and the museum together,” the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, told The Hindu in an
exclusive interview on the eve of the opening of his Museum of Innocence or Masumiyet Muzesi in Istanbul.
We are sitting on a narrow bench in the tiny third floor attic of a modest three-storey house on the corner of 24, Cukurcuma Avenue and 2, Dalgic Street. This is where Kemal, the lovesick, emotionally tortured hero of his eponymous novel lived out his last days. The famous red tricycle of the novel is there, along with a narrow bed and a battered suitcase and as Pamuk's rangy frame fills the space, one can imagine “poor Kemal,” his once flamboyant playboy turning into a sad and sorry man. The museum is housed in the very building described in the novel, a building Pamuk bought before he began writing his book and which he slowly peopled with his imaginary characters and the objects he kept collecting as the characters grew. This is where the novel's heroine Fusun lives with her parents, where Kemal catches up with her after a long separation.
Although he bought the house as early as 1999, it took him until 2008 to finish his novel, the story of star-crossed lovers — a rich boy
and his poor, distant, but stunningly beautiful cousin. The novel was a runaway success translated into some 60 languages. “I began thinking of this novel in the mid-1990s, when I said to myself, I'll buy a house and imagine a family living there and then chronicle their stories, their daily lives from the kitchen to the street, what they do or say and how they live. So I thought I would collect the objects of their ordinary lives and weave these into my story — place them in the hands of the family. I wrote the novel as I bought the objects and I also wanted to write about the making of the museum as part of the novel. I don't know why I did this. But as always, a djinn entered me and I followed my inner footsteps.”
For Indian readers, the Museum of Innocence has a particularly strong resonance, since one of its main themes is sex before marriage and the hypocrisy around virginity, tradition and patriarchy. It is about social class, being modern and western and the dilemmas faced by the elites of old non-western cultures who wish to be progressive and traditional at the same time, often using their western “values”
and education to hang on to power while falling back on “traditional culture” to deny human rights, free speech and equality.
The Museum of Innocence stands at the bottom of a steep incline leading down from Istanbul's famous Istiklal Avenue. Painted a deep, dark burgundy, it is a brooding presence in a part of the city that is rundown and derelict, where stray cats prowl the dusty streets, and the pavements are broken and uneven. “It used to be a place where there were many junk shops, a flea market and some antique dealers,” Pamuk explains. But Istanbul has changed a lot in the 15 years since he first bought the building.
Going back in time
Going through the door is like walking through the looking glass, hurtling back in time. Arranged on three floors are the 83 chapters of his novel starting with a wall display of the “4,213 cigarette butts left behind by Fusun and carefully hoarded by Kemal, her desperate lover.” A small black and white video installation that recreates smoking gestures
provides a commentary on social communication in the 1970s — how the cigarette is held, carried to the mouth, and how ash is tapped into the ashtray. Hundreds of objects, including photos, clothes, cutlery, home appliances, bibelots, paintings, jewellery and other bric-a-brac are lovingly composed into stunning tableaux contained in elegant wooden vitrines or cabinets, each one bearing the number of a chapter from the book. “The ordinary reader would tend to say: ‘Poor Kemal, how much he suffers because of his unrequited love for Fusun. He's even collected her cigarette stubs.” But it's not quite like that. At the beginning of the book he is such an egoist and his love for Fusun is an excuse to suppress her, a very typical thing, actually, for the non-western world where the more a man loves a woman the more he wants to suppress her and to possess her. This is a novel about love but it also explores love in a society where men and women do not come together very easily, where sex outside of marriage is problematical and there is very little space for negotiation for the lovers. And this is not an unusual thing. I sometimes think the world is seven billion people but just one billion of them meet before marriage. For the rest of them it is arranged marriages! My novel explores what we do when we fall in love
without ‘sugarising' it with the melodrama of sitcoms, although it does have a melodramatic Turkish, Hollywoodian-Bollywoodian end!”
Asked whether the “Museum” could be called a Proustian novel in that it attempts to recapture the past, Pamuk said: “There is a lot about remembering. But compared to Proust, I have a greater desire for painting social panoramas. Proust is only about the Parisian aristocracy. My hero Kemal is from the upper class but my Fusun is from the lower class and I always want to see the whole picture. But in so far as the joys of remembering are concerned, yes, the novel is Proustian.”
The museum also displays his notebooks with sketches — Pamuk wanted to be an artist before he became a writer. “I am a chronicler of Istanbul where I have spent most of my life, and the tales I tell are often those of this city. My book maps the city as much as it does the lives of the people who inhabit it. And now the book is also a museum, and in that sense, it can be called Istanbul's first city museum,” Pamuk said.
But although he has written a love story, he says his politics are never really far behind. “I do speak of the military coup and the anarchy that prevailed in Turkey in 1980 but obliquely, through objects, elliptically, not frontally. The bourgeoisie in emerging countries say that the centre of the world is shifting and that is true. But then if that is the case these societies should no longer blame the West for their troubles. If the centre is shifting, there should be new ground for us to criticise our culture, institutions and governments in a rational way without falling into the trap of Orientalism. What we call the values of the Enlightenment are the values of all humanity and we should defend our local cultures but also embrace values such as free speech, democracy, respect for minorities and especially feminism.” April 28, 2012 Not a zero-sum game in Kabul Thanks to the efforts of both governments, there has been a perceptible improvement in the atmospherics between India and Pakistan in recent weeks. The debate in India's strategic community these days is about the nature of this apparent welcome pragmatism in Pakistan's India policy. The question being raised is: is the change in Pakistan's attitude
tactical or strategic? Is the change driven by the many challenges facing Pakistan which compel it to take a more realistic or pragmatic view of its predicament and interests, which, in turn, propel it to step back and take an enlightened view of its interests? The desperate state of economy, the strained relations with America, the unstoppable onslaught of the jihadist forces within Pakistan, the drain on its resources, human and material, caused by the involvement in Afghanistan — all these factors leave Pakistan with no choice but to seek more cooperative stance with India. The sceptics in India, who are in a majority, ask: will Pakistan revert to its bad old ways once one or the other of these crises eases, or is the change more fundamental or strategic? Has Pakistan come to the realisation that its destiny is linked to South Asia and that the only hope for it to deal with its manifold crises is to reciprocate India's ample goodwill and grasp the hand of friendship that India has extended on many an occasion?
General Kayani's remarks to the media in Skardu last week should settle the debate. “Peaceful coexistence” is the mantra that he has suggested as the guiding principle for relations between the two countries. In other words, let practical interests decide relations and policies, keep emotions or sentiments out of the discourse. Do not worry about “tactical” or “strategic” shifts in positions, act on issues in a way that would do no harm to either country and might bring some benefit to both, such as trade and economic relations. On matters each country might regard as crucial or vital for itself, keep your respective, even inflexible positions, but keep them under manageable limits. At the risk of overinterpreting Gen. Kayani's statement, it is tempting to see in it elements of the Panchsheel principles.
If the above reading of the general's comment is anywhere near accurate, it is indeed a good prescription for both countries to endeavour to follow. One area where it can be applied without harming either's interests and with positive fall-out for both and even third countries is Afghanistan.
The people of Afghanistan have suffered grievously for more than three decades in terms of lives lost, incalculable material damage and opportunities missed to construct a stable and prosperous nation, at peace with itself and with its neighbours. The attention of the international community, particularly of the United States and other countries with troops in Afghanistan, is focussed at present on the “end game”, on extricating their men and women out of Afghanistan with some modicum of dignity. It is imperative that the international community does not simply abandon Afghanistan, as it did in the 1990s. It must stay engaged in helping the Afghan people as they embark on forging a future for themselves which would ensure a decent, dignified and democratic life for all its citizens. India and Pakistan, as two important members of the international community and as Afghanistan's neighbours, ought to make their contributions towards this objective. They can do so, each on its own, but they can do much more if they were to join hands in this endeavour.
The current U.S.-led efforts at promoting national reconciliation are not likely to result in sustainable peace, given the levels of mistrust
between the stakeholders, including between India and Pakistan. Externally inspired compromises with insurgent groups, undertaken for gaining short-term objectives, are unlikely to prevent the dangers of resumption of a civil war. America having declared the date of withdrawal so much in advance, for whatever reasons, the incentive for the insurgents to agree to meaningful peace formulae has distinctly diminished, even disappeared. An inclusive approach, with the active participation of all relevant domestic and regional players, is called for.
The bilateral relationships which Pakistan and India have with Afghanistan are not, and should not be, a zero-sum equation. Each must recognise that the other has legitimate interests and concerns in Afghanistan. Equally, both ought to, and do believe that a stable Afghanistan is in the interests of both countries. An attempt by either country to exclude the other or to dilute the right of the other to establish friendly relations with Kabul, or competitive policies in Afghanistan will not succeed, will be counter-productive and will lead to increased mistrust and, very likely, more tension in our sub-region. Concepts such as “strategic depth” or “encirclement” have no
validity in the 21st century, especially given the fact that both India and Pakistan are nuclear weapon states. A cooperative approach, on the other hand, will pay healthy dividend for both our peoples as well as for the people of Afghanistan.
Time for dialogue
The time is opportune for India and Pakistan to engage in a dialogue specifically on the situation in Afghanistan with a view to exploring ways and means in which they can collaborate with each other as well as with the government of Afghanistan, on how best they can combine their efforts to help rebuild Afghanistan. While India has pledged $2 billion for Afghanistan's development, Pakistan's contribution of about $300 million is not insignificant given the state of its economy and other costs that it has had to bear in connection with the situation in Afghanistan for the past three decades. Both countries have acquired rich experience over the past decades in capacity and institution building, skills development, technology as well as in several other fields such as holding elections, primary and higher education, etc.
Furthermore, our experience would be of more relevance for Afghanistan, one of the least developed countries in the world.
The hardliners in Pakistan regard such ideas as India's ploy to gain what it has not been able to in other ways, namely, access through Afghanistan to the markets and resources of Central Asia. While there is nothing diabolic in such ambitions, since Pakistan has as much to benefit from it as India and Central Asian states, it should be possible to calibrate IndoPak cooperation in Afghanistan in a way that takes care of Pakistan's concerns. In fact, India might have more to “lose” in such an arrangement than Pakistan, since India already enjoys immense goodwill at the popular level in Afghanistan as compared to Pakistan. There are pragmatic voices in Pakistan that support India and Pakistan working together to help Afghanistan build itself.
It has been widely recognised that a regional approach is essential in order to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan. The conference held
in Istanbul in July 2011 unequivocally called for respect for the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Afghanistan as well as for the principle of non-interference in its internal affairs. Afghanistan, for its part, reiterated its commitment to respect the territorial integrity of its neighbours, in other words, nonintervention in the internal affairs of its neighbours.
The Istanbul conference, in essence, amounts to a compact between Afghanistan and its neighbours, immediate and proximate, of noninterference and non-intervention. This was a most important development. It needs to be followed by an initiative by the United Nations Secretary General to take follow-up action in the form of further consultations with the states concerned to give concrete effect to the undertaking they agreed to in Istanbul. This is necessary to inspire confidence among Afghanistan and its neighbours that all signatories to the Istanbul declaration live up to their commitments.
A monitoring mechanism would need to be set up, its form and size to be decided during the course of consultations. Some form of a
complaints procedure, combined with a United Nations observer group could be considered; this would greatly help in allaying, e.g. Pakistan's concerns, about India's alleged mischief in Balochistan. The Afghanistanspecific dialogue between India and Pakistan could cover this aspect also; however, it might be more problematic and more difficult for Pakistan. The same General Kayani is probably not ready to go that far and that fast. But cooperation in nation building in Afghanistan ought not to be off-limits for the Pakistan establishment. Conversations at Track-II have not been encouraging in this respect. Only the ISI and the army's top brass in Pakistan can give the green light for this initiative which can help reduce the “trust deficit” in bilateral relationship. It could turn out to be a win-win tactic or strategy for everyone.
( Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, former Indian Ambassador to the United Nations, was, until recently Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Special Envoy for West Asia. ) April 30, 2012 American speed machine set to crash through missile control
FAILURE, SUCCESS, GAMECHANGING:(Clockwise from top) North Korea's Unha-3 rocket at the Sohae Satellite Station in Tongchang-ri, India's Agni V being loaded onto its mobile launcher, and a 32-MJ version of the U.S. Office of Naval Research-funded Electromagnetic Railgun prototype being manoeuvred into place for evaluation. — PHOTOS: AP, V.V. KRISHNAN, U.S. NAVY
The murky world of missiles and missile technology was suddenly spotlighted in two significant news events in recent weeks.
First, North Korea's leadership watched in dismay as their April 13 satellite launch via an Unha-3 rocket went spectacularly wrong and collapsed into the sea a minute after blasting off. Second, India on April 19 turned this experience on its head with a highly successful launch of its new intercontinental ballistic missile, Agni V, in a move that drew an irritated reaction from analysts in a nowwithin-range China.
The irony of these two events was that they came days ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a major international treaty aimed at halting the global proliferation of missile technology.
While MTCR adherents may fret about the Asian churn in their global missile order, the ultimate paradigm-shifter of the missile world, a new weapon straight out of Hollywood science fiction, is actually under development in another country — the United States.
Enter the Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG), described by the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) as a “long-range” weapon that fires projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants. It relies on the use of magnetic fields, which accelerate a sliding metal conductor between two rails to launch projectiles at somewhere between 7,2008,960 kilometres per hour, more than seven times the speed of sound.
And speed is everything in the game of projectile destructive capacity. According to the ONR, the EMRG is a “true war-fighter game-changer. Wide-area coverage, exceptionally quick response and very deep magazines will extend the reach and lethality of ships armed with this technology.”
So what is the potential magnitude of the EMRG's power? In February, the ONR testfired the Navy's first industry-built EMRG prototype at a test facility in Dahlgren, Virginia. The launch platform, built by BAE Systems, delivered a 32-mega-joule powerpunch, where one mega-joule of energy is equivalent to a one-tonne car hurled at 160 kilometres per hour.
Even in this early phase of development the projected range of the weapon is 100 nautical miles (185.2 km), and it is likely to expand rapidly as the technology grows in sophistication. However the programme has not evaded serious technical challenges, the most important of which is the question of thermal management. The main problem the U.S. Navy has had with implementing an EMRG cannon system is that the massive amounts of
heat generated by the electricity and projectile friction can cause thermal expansion of the firing mechanism, leading to problems of melting equipment, decreased personnel safety, and enemy detection. Regardless, the U.S. Navy projects that the weapon will be ready for use by 2017 and integration into naval platforms is likely within a few years after that.
Fitting it into MTCR
Thus the $240-million question is, how does the EMRG fit with the parameters of the MTCR?
A quick glance at the MTCR reveals that its founding goal is to limit the risks of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by controlling exports of goods and technologies that could make a contribution to delivery systems, other than manned aircraft, for such weapons.
In this context, the MTCR says, it “places particular focus on rockets and unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering a payload
of at least 500 kg to a range of at least 300 km and on equipment, software, and technology for such systems.”
Yet the speed-based power of the EMRG makes comparisons with traditional, chemical explosives-based missile systems more complex. For example one of the fastest cruise missiles in circulation is the India-Russia collaborative, BrahMos. According to reports, this supersonic missile can attain flight speeds of Mach 2.8 or Mach 3, much higher than those of the U.S. Tomahawk and Harpoon, and France's Exocet, all of which are subsonic.
Given that the EMRG projectile travels at Mach 7 in early development and likely faster as the thermal stability of the firing platform is achieved, then, in theory, the payload size that would achieve the total explosive energy level of an MTCR-consistent missile would be less than 500 kg.
While there is no indication yet that this might be possible, if technological innovation were to permit the mounting of a warhead onto the projectile, that could further increase the
terminal energy of the EMRG dramatically. What is clear is that solving the thermal management puzzle will also give the EMRG the ability to fire up to 10 projectiles per minute, an inconceivable frequency in the world of the traditional missile.
Moving from questions of physics to international affairs, an argument that could be made to defend the EMR's consistency with the MTCR is that the Regime focuses only on export control among those member-states that already possess qualifying missile technology. There has been no talk so far of trade in the EMRG, given its nascent development.
However similar to other global treaties, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), aimed at containing the spread of technologies to nations that do not possess them, those within the umbrella of the MTCR are under no obligation to halt internal proliferation or, in other words, weapons development.
With absolute opacity surrounding the proliferation potential of the EMRG in the
years ahead, this “war-fighter game-changer” could usher in a new era of strategic dominance for the fortunate few nations who happen to possess it. The ONR's codename for the EMRG programme is “Velocitas Eradico,” or “Speed Kills.” Perhaps it is a warning to any nation that is not developing missiles by stealth. April 30, 2012 Chilling effects and frozen words While freedom of speech and expression is an individual right, its actualisation often relies on a vast infrastructure of intermediaries.
In the offline world, this includes newspapers, television channels, public auditoriums, etc. It is often assumed that the internet has created a more robust public sphere of speech by doing away with many structural barriers to free speech. But the fact of the matter is that even if the internet enables a shift from a ‘few to many' to a ‘many to many' model of communication, intermediaries continue to remain important players in facilitating free speech. Can one imagine free speech on the internet being the same without Twitter, social networks or Youtube?
One way of thinking of the infrastructure of communication is in terms of ecology, and in the ecology of speech — as in the environment — an adverse impact on any component threatens the well-being of all. The idea of cyberspace as a commons is a much cherished myth and in the early days of the internet we were perhaps given a glimpse into its utopian possibility. But we would be deluding ourselves if we believed that the problems that plague free speech in the offline world (including ownership of the avenues of speech) are absent in cyberspace. Recall in recent times that one of the most effective ways in which various governments retaliated to the leaking of official secrets on WikiLeaks was by freezing Julian Assange's PayPal account.
Direct & indirect controls
It may be useful to distinguish between direct controls on free speech and indirect or structural controls on free speech. India has had a long history of battling direct and indirect controls on free speech and with a few exceptions the interests of the press have
often coincided with the interests of a robust public sphere of debate and criticism.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a number of large media houses battled restrictions imposed on the press by way of control of the number of pages of a newspaper, regulation of the size of advertisements and the price of imported newsprint. On the face of it, some of these restrictions may have seemed like commercial disputes but the Supreme Court rightly recognised that indirect controls could adversely impact the individual's right to express himself or herself as well as to receive information freely.
In the online context, there has also been a similar recognition of the role of intermediaries in providing platforms of speech and it is with this view in mind that a number of countries have incorporated safe harbour provisions in their information technology laws.
Section 79 of the Information Technology Act is one such safe harbour provision in India which provides that intermediaries shall not be
liable for any third party action if they are able to prove that the offence or contravention was committed without their knowledge or that they had exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of such offence or contravention. But this safe harbour has effectively been undone with the passing of the Information Technology (Intermediaries guidelines) Rules, 2011.
The rules clarify what standard of due diligence has to be met by intermediaries and Sec. 3(2) of the rules obliges intermediaries to have rules and conditions of usage which ensure that users do not host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any information that is in contravention of the Section. This includes the all too familiar ones (defamatory, obscene, pornographic content) but also a whole host of new categories which could be invoked to restrict speech (“grossly harmful,” “blasphemous,” “harassing,” “hateful”).
As is well known, any restriction on speech in India has to comply with both the test of reasonableness under Article 19(2) of the Constitution, as well as ensuring that the
grounds of censorship are located within 19(2). Even though there are laws regulating hate speech in India, blasphemy is not a category under Art. 19(2) and has hitherto not been a part of Indian law. Some of the other categories such as “grossly harmful” suggest the people who drafted the rules seem to have taken a constitutional nap at the drafting board.
Sec. 3(4) of the rules provides that any intermediary who receives a notice by an aggrieved person about any violation of sub rule (2) will have to act within 36 hours and where applicable will ensure that the information is disabled. In the event that it fails to act or to respond, the intermediary cannot claim exemption for liability under Sec. 70 of the IT Act. It is worth noting that most intermediaries receive from hundreds to thousands of requests from individuals on a daily basis asking for the removal of objectionable material. The Centre for Internet and Society conducted a “sting operation” to determine whether the criteria, procedure and safeguards for administration of the takedowns as prescribed by the Rules lead to a chilling effect on free expression.
In the course of the study, frivolous takedown notices were sent to seven intermediaries and their response to the notices was documented. Different policy factors were permuted in the takedown notices in order to understand at what points in the process of takedown, free expression is being chilled. The takedown notices which were sent by the researcher were intentionally defective as they did not establish how they were interested parties, did not specifically identify and discuss any individual URL on the websites, or present any cause of action, or suggest any legal injury. Of the seven intermediaries to which takedown notices were sent, six over-complied with the notices, despite the apparent flaws in them.
Even in cases where the intermediaries challenged the validity of the takedowns, they erred on the side of caution and took down the material. While a number of intermediaries would see themselves as allies in the fight against censorship, more often than not intermediaries are also large commercial organisations whose primary concern is the protection of their business
interests. In the face of any potential legal threat, especially from the government, they prefer to err on the side of caution. The people whose content was removed were not told, nor was the general public informed that the content was removed.
The procedural flaws (subjective determination, absence of the right to be heard, the short response time) coupled with the vague grounds on which such takedowns can be claimed, clearly point to a highly flawed situation in which we will see many more trigger happy demands for offending materials to be taken down.
We have already slipped into a state of being a republic of over sensitivity where any politician, religious group or individual can claim their sentiments have been hurt or they have been portrayed disparagingly, as evidenced by the recent attack and subsequent arrest of Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra of Jadavpur University for posting cartoons lampooning Mamata Banerjee.
In the era of global outsourcing it was inevitable that the state censorship machinery would also learn a lesson or two from the global trends and what better way of ensuring censorship than outsourcing it to individuals and to corporations. The renowned anthropologist, Michael Taussig, once compared the state to a nervous system and it seems that the Intermediary rules live up to the expectations of a nervous state ever ready to respond to criticism and disparaging cartoons.
What if the real danger is not even that we lose our freedom of speech and expression but we lose our sense of humour as a nation?
The evident flaws of the rules have been acknowledged even by lawmakers, with P. Rajeeve, the CPI(M) M.P., introducing a motion for the annulment of the rules. The annulment motion is going to be debated in the coming weeks and one hopes that the parliamentarians will seriously reconsider the rules in their current form.
When faced with conundrums of the present it is always useful to turn to history and there is reason to believe that while censorship has a very respectable genealogy in Indian thought, it has also been accompanied in equal measure by a tradition of the right to offend.
In his delightful reading of the Arthashastra , Sibaji Bandyopadhay alerts us to the myriad restrictions that existed to control Kusilavas (the term for entertainers which included actors, dancers, singers, storytellers, minstrels and clowns). These regulations ranged from the regulation of their movement during monsoon to prohibitions placed on them, ensuring that they shall not “praise anyone excessively nor receive excessive presents”. While some of the regulations appear harsh and unwarranted, Bandyopadhay says that in contrast to Plato's Republic , which banished poets altogether from the ideal republic, the Arthashastra goes so far as to grant to Kusilavas what we could now call the right to offend. Verse 4.1.61 of the Arthashastra says, “In their performances, *the entertainers+ may, if they so wish, make fun of the customs of regions, castes or families and the practices or love affairs (of individuals)”. One hopes that our lawmakers, even if they are averse to
reading the Indian Constitution, will be slightly more open to the poetic licence granted by Kautilya.
(Lawrence Liang is a lawyer and researcher based at Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore. He can be contacted at [email protected]