Sunday, February 27, 2011

Political uprisings in Arab World sure to impact global economy

It goes without saying that India has inherent resilience ability. Even in the past, it has dealt well with such global and regional level challenges like the Gulf war or the more recent economic meltdown in 2008.

Today, India is held in high esteem for showing maturity in democratic functioning as well as protecting the country’s economic scene, especially the job scenario, after the economic recession.

India is today seen as a valued partner of choice by major world powers
including the likes of US, Russia and UK on one hand and even Brazil, South Africa and Japan. The successful management of the country’s democratic polity amid a hostile surrounding and the sound handling of the economy after 2008 global recession has earned it an enhanced stature.

Similar challenging phase is practically knocking the doors, and it would be befitting to India's history and pride that yet again the country can overcome the hurdles. Just as they say, when the going gets tough; it’s the tough who gets going.

There is a time-tested theory in physics that every action results in opposite and equal reaction. In geo-political and economic terms, the results for any mega event often are of much greater dimension. The wave of changes passing through the Arab world is threatening to leave such multi-dimensional impact.

The political unrest in Egypt and the subsequent political uprisings in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain, many fear, may alter the strategic balance in the restive region.
It is estimated that more than 1.7 million barrels a day of crude oil crosses the Suez Canal and the Suez-Mediterranean pipeline. Now, if the Suez Canal is closed completely or even, partially, oil transportation will become a difficult proposition. This could bring in bigger cause of concern for the world. It goes without saying that these developments have raised eye-brows all around as countries like the United States and even emerging influential economies like Brazil and India would soon feel the heat.
There is growing concern over the swelling budget deficit across the globe as fuel prices are subject to subsidy in several countries. Though Egypt per se has a very modest economy and oil output in global market; ever since the Egyptian crisis broke towards the end of January, the price of crude oil has been shooting up. This is just one aspect of the problem.

The fear of escalating oil price and that leaving cascading affect on the prices of other commodities would be a challenge every country will probably have to face in times to come.
There are other issues of importance too. A large number of Indian diaspora live in this region and contribute largely to the economic building in these countries. There have also been demonstrations even in Algeria, Jordan, Iraq and Morocco.

The larger Arab world comprises 22 countries and territories spread over parts of North Africa and West Asia, with a total population of 360 million. The collective gross domestic product was estimated at around 2.75 trillion US dollars.

Therefore, the focus has obviously moved to the need for taking urgent and comprehensive steps to ensure safety and security of Indian diaspora.
Accordingly, the External Affairs minister S M Krishna has already given an assurance on the matter.

Crucially, from Indian point of view another important feature that ought to be looked into is the threat to substantial economic assets in those countries. India has two oil and gas assets in Egypt. ONGC Videsh holds a 70 per cent participating interest in an offshore project in the Gulf of Suez.

Similarly, in Libya, several public and private Indian companies have made a significant presence including ONGC Videsh Limited, BHEL, Oil India, and even private sector companies like Punj Llyod and Sun Pharma.
The Government of India and public sector, private companies and business chambers are taking a closer look at the emerging challenges and are trying to get the act together to confront the disturbing situation.
Rising geo-political concerns in one of the major oil producing countries and the region has led to fears of disruption in supplies, said the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM).

The External Affairs minister S M Krishna has rightly said that the government has already held inter-Ministerial meetings to take stock of the situation in the region and its impact on Indian and Indian origin community in the region. Accordingly contingency plans are being worked out even as the government has put in place plans for possible evacuation by land, air and sea.

The government has also issued travel advisories Indians to avoid non-essential travel to countries like Bahrain, Yemen and Libya.
True, all these reflect challenging time unfolding. The problems ought to be dealt in totality and no piece-meal solution can be prescribed.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sibal cut a sorry figure, JPC set up after war of words

The telecom minister, an articulate Mr Kapil Sibal, cut a sorry figure in Lok Sabha, first tendering an apology for his remarks against BJP leader Sushma Swaraj and then abruptly ending his speech mid-way after being virtually told to do so by the leader of the house and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. This only shows, probably Dr Manmohan Singh has erred in his judgement by making Sibal the new Telecom minister.
BJD member Pinaki Mishra, acidly made the wisecrack saying, it would be better if Sibal quit the government and defended A Raja in a court of law.
Sibal left the treasury benches in Lok Sabha red faced with embarrassment when he reiterated his now celebrated claim that there was “no loss” in 2G spectrum allocation. He was intervening in the debate on the motion moved by Mr Mukherjee for appointing a JPC to probe the 2-G spectrum scam.
Amid repeated acrimonious scenes, Mr Sibal sought to justify his statement made earlier that contrary to the findings of CAG there was “no loss” in the 2G allocation. Mishra said, Sibal was in microscopic minority to believe in such a scenario. Opposition members including Mr Yashwant Sinha, Kirti Azad – both BJP, Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI), Basudeb Acharia (CPI-M), M Thambidurai (AIADMK) demanded that in such a scenario Mr Mukherjee should withdraw the motion which sought the House approval for appointment of the JPC to specifically probe the scam involving huge loss of revenue to the government.
“Please take back the resolution….,” taunted BJP member Mr Yashwant Sinha, leaving the ruling party members clearly embarrassed. "We dont want charity", some said even as Mr Sibal was seen justifying his remarks to a party colleague, a stern looking Mukherjee gestured to the loquacious lawyer to be done with his speech and resume his seat. With visible discomfiture Mr Sibal complied with the ‘message’ from his leader and sat down without properly winding up his speech.
Earlier at the very start of the speech, Sibal had to tender an apology after he said the Leader of the Opposition Ms Sushma Swaraj had a special skill to present truths as falsehood and vice versa. As several opposition members sprang to their feet in a howl of protests, he made a hasty retreat, saying, “I apologise. I did not intend to mean any offence”.

The Lok Sabha later adopted the motion to set up the much awaited
Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe into the alleged Rs 1.76
lakh crore 2 G spectrum scam after a heated debate angry exchange of words.

The committee will have 20 members from the Lok Sabha and 10 members
from Rajya Sabha. Moving the motion, Leader of the House Mr Pranab
Mukherjee in a spirited speech said the Committee will also examine
"irregularities and aberrations, if any" and the consequences thereof
in the implementation of government decisions and policy prescriptions
for the period between 1998 and 2009.

"It will make recommendations to ensure formulation of appropriate
procedures for implementation of laid down policy in the allocation
and pricing of telecom licences," he said adding that the JPC report
will be submitted by the end of monsoon session.
Making a veiled attack on the opposition parties for their insistence
on the demand, he said the “parliament cannot be mortgaged to concede
to a demand”. “Is this the way Parliament should function?”
He singled out BJP to pour his ire on for insisting on the
demand, especially after having first rejected a JPC on
similar corruption charge during Tehelka scam.

Referring to frequent disruptions of the House and complete wash out
of winter session of parliament, he cautioned that if "hatred and
disrespect for parliamentary institutions was generated, it would
lead to the rise of extra-constitutional authorities" as had happened
in a neighbouring country way back in 1958 when Martial Law was
imposed. “It’s a law of nature, there cannot be any vacuum; if executive fails other wings will take over. It's our constitutional responsibility to discharge our duties as parliamentarians," he said.

He said government’s refusal for a JPC earlier was not due to any
‘arrogance’ but rather it had thought that it would be able to carry
conviction to the opposition camp about the futility of such
“On my part, I regret I could not convince the members and also I had
failed to understand the aspirations of the members,” he said.
Mr Mukherjee said though a JPC was not conceded, there was no lack of
interest in investigation 2G Spectrum. Besides the CBI even other
agencies like ED were probing the criminality of the case.
The 20 members on the Committee from Lok Sabha are: Kishore
Chandra S Deo, Paban Singh Ghatowar, Jai Prakash Agarwal, Deepender
Singh Hooda, P C Chacko, Manish Tewari, Nirmal Khatri, Adhir Ranjan
Chowdhury, all Congress, T R Baalu (DMK), Kalyan Banerjee (TMC),
Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Harin Pathak, Gopinath Munde, (all
BJP), Sharad Yadav (JD-U), Dara Singh Chauhan (BSP), Akhilesh Yadav
(SP), Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI), Arjun Charan Sethi (BJD)and M
Thambidurai (AIADMK). Mr Mukherjee requested
the Speaker to nominate a chairman.
Supporting the motion, the Leader of the opposition Ms Sushma Swaraj,
however, took strong exception to Mr Mukherjee’s reported statement
made in January in Siliguri that by insisting on a JPC and sabotaging
the functioning of Parliament the opposition parties were behaving
like Maoists. “Was our demand a violent demand or was it
undemocratic….,” she asked and said by accepting the demand earlier
the government would have only shown its “maturity and magnanimity”.
She said as union Health minister during NDA regime, she had readily
accepted the demand for a JPC on allegations of presence of pesticides
in cold drinks and had even offered the chairmanship to opposition
member Mr Sharad Pawar. She demanded the terms of reference should
also empower the JPC to recommend measures for reviving the sagging
image of democratic institutions in the country.
She said by conceding to the demand, the government could have saved
itself from the ignominy of getting strong flak from the Supreme Court
including the directive to submit an affidavit from the Prime
Minister. This has never happened in the past, she said.
Lalu Prasad Yadav,RJD, in a hilarious speech demanded that Radia tapes should be handed over to the JPC.
TDP member Nama Nageshwar Rao said the proposed JPC did not have
members from several political parties.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mid-term election is better option than PM getting helpless on corruption

An highly disappointing media interaction by the Prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh. He goes escapist; blaming coalition politics for corruption. He sounds helpless and himself showing 'ethical deficit'. The best self-respecting thing for him is to quit....
Samajwadi Party leader Mohan Singh has a point when he says, the "fear of election" is no justification for corruption and if the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh sounds so helpless about it; well Samajwadi Party is ready to accept
election, says Mohan Singh. So would be the country. Mid-term election is better option than to have a government and a Prime Minister which wants to
continue in office notwithstanding all the vexed corruption cases against it.
During the news conference, the Prime Minister admitted that as the head of the government he has moral responsibility for whatever happening in the government; "but Prime Minister also said elections cannot be held every six months".
These contentions are only laughable and do not augur well for a Prime Minister, who wants to be respected as an honest guy among the so called
"Such contentions are not acceptable..... The Prime Minister
justifying corruption due to coalition politics and the fear of
election does not augur well for someone like Dr Singh's stature," said SP leader.
I also agree to the argument that this news conference only reflected inherent contraditions the Prime Minister is facing as also the internal bickering within UPA and the Congress party.
Dr Singh needs to explain as to how the vice of corruption could be lincked to coalition partners and at the same time continue to
enjoy the fruits of power. This is really uncalled for.
The UPA 2 and the Congress also face certain contradictions. Congress wants a JPC only to probe 2G scam so that entire blame can be passed on to the allies. Dr Singh's regime has already singled out DMK and kept it out from key cabinet committees.
BJP stalwart L K Advani has now demanded a JPC for probe into all issues of corruption including ISRO, Adarsh and Commonwealth games wherein the needle of suspicion is directly against Congress leaders.
So parliamentary logjam may be continued even as all parties would want budget to be passed.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Will Assam's civil society forget and forgive ULFA

Assam has suffered enough. The long armed conflict has resulted in agony for the battered people. ULFA was floated in 1979.
The month of April is generally bright in Assam. April 7, 1979 was
also a bright sunny afternoon. A group of young men had gathered to
discuss the state of affairs at Sibsagar’s famous Rang Ghar, an amphi
theatre constructed by the Ahoms over three centuries back. Among
others who had attended the conclave in that otherwise historical
township of the region included a former freedom fighter’s son –
Aurobindo Rajkhowa alias Rajiv Konwar. Rajkhowa was to later become
the chairman of the outfit floated that day called “United Liberation
Front of Asom (ULFA)”. According to the ideological line circulated
those days, ULFA represented an “expression of opposition” to the
age-old exploitation and oppression. Contrary to what is often made to
understand, the ULFA is not an offshoot of the All Assam Students
Union (AASU). Many of the ULFA leaders owed allegiance to “Chhatra
Parishad”, a radical leftist students’ body who had found themselves
sidelined in the entire gamut of Assam movement as AASU stole most of
the limelight.
ULFA has undergone severe change of image from time to time.
In fact, on April 7, 1979 meeting itself among others
Aurobindo Rajkhowa reportedly said that the students’ (read AASU)
agitation programme would not serve any purpose to Assamese interests.
They talked about “swadhin (independent)” Assam and one of them coined
the phrase --- Joi Aai Assam (Long live My Motherland Assam).
Secessionism was born.
In 1989-90, when AGP government in the state was lost amid internal problems and deep corruption, ULFA struck. The Robinhood image that ULFA had acquired through “social services” and some other populism means was lost after the outfit indulged in large-scale extortion, mayhem and murder plunging the state in to an atmosphere of all pervading fear and insecurity.
The ULFA slowly created long time terror in the state, disrupting
communications and hitting various economic targets, abducting
prominent businessmen for ransom and killing civilians and police and
government officials.
Now, the big question is whether the civil society in Assam will forget and forgive ULFA for all their mistakes and possible sins to use a strong word.
Well, there is a pinhole of hope as ULFA's foreign secretary and now the chief spokesman for the outfit, Shashadhar Choudhury, has said it well - "past is past..... we have to be pragmatic".

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

ULFA talks: Will Assam's agony be finally over?

The Robinhood image that ULFA had acquired in 1990-91 through “social services” and some other populism means like anti-corruption drive and campaign against alcoholism was lost after the outfit indulged in large-scale extortion, mayhem and murder plunging Assam into an atmosphere of all pervading fear and insecurity.
The common people deciding to corne ULFA only reflected the change in attitude of people towards the outfit and one-time dream organisation – pledging to take ‘Aai Assam (Mother Assam)’ to new frontier was only provoking a series of surrender by its cadres.
Bhutan and Bangladesh then co-operated with India and finally ULFA has been cornered.
Finally on February 9, a 20-member high level delegation from Assam
comprising 11 senior state government officials and ULFA core group
led by chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa arrived in the national capital to
begin the formal talks with the centre from February 10, 2011.
The ULFA delegation comprise among others, key leaders from the rebel
group's decision-making central executive committee, including deputy
commander-in-chief Raju Barua, general secretary Pradip Gogoi, foreign secretary Sashadhar Choudhury, Cultural secretary Ms Pranati Deka, finance
secretary Chitrabon Hazarika and media secretary Mithinga Daimary.
The ULFA leaders would make a courtesy call to union Home Minister Mr
P Chidambaram and later begin the formal talks with the Home
Secretary, Mr G K Pillai in presence of centre's interlocutor P C Haldar, former IB chief.
The ULFA leadership is also likely to meet the Prime Minister Dr
Manmohan Singh, also a Rajya Sabha member from Assam, during the
weekend. From the state government, Assam chief secretary N K Das, additional DGP (special branch) Khagen Sarma, and state home commissioner Jishnu Baruah would be among others in the delegation to participate at the talks.
The ULFA leaders are still keeping their fingers crossed on the agenda
to be brought at the table from their end.
As a major booster to the peace process, government and the ULFA are
likely to announce 'ceasefire or cessation of arms conflict' to take the talks forward. However, the militant group is also likely to raise issues like border sealing along Bangladesh and several pending developmental projects. The government is keeping a close eyes on ULFA's stance on citizenship issue in Assam. The 25th April, 1971 is one cut off date discussed from time to time in Assam by political parties like AGP and students' body All Assam Students' Union.
According to that demand, any citizen allegedly from Bangladesh who
arrived Assam after that cut off date should be deported. This is
something very complex issue for the government to implement and also
has been rejected by sizeable Bengali population of the state.
The Congress thinks it can benefit from the talks process in ensuing state
assembly elections.
In Mizoram, Laldenga signed an acoord in 1986 to become Chief Minister. In Assam too, the accord was signed in 1985 heralding then nascent regional outfit AGP's coming to power.
What are the expected scenes this time, the answer to lay remains in the womb of time, as one of favourite patrons put it.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Literature: Cloak of Reality, Sentiments make Sarat Chandra's characters more emotional

So, our – husband-wife- joint venture on various facets of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s writings vis-à-vis the female protagonists continue. In our endeavours for interactions with academicians on the subject, we hit upon a Siliguri-based professor of Bengali, Prof Subodh Kumar Jash of North Bengal University on January 30, 2011.
During discussions, we did talk at length on certain elementary points which would put Sarat Chandra in different plane than other writers of his age.
Firstly, very few Indian writers more so in Bengali letters have attained the popularity like that attained by Sarat Chandra. His characters still appeal to the common Indians across the spectrum irrespective of language, society and creed.
The ability to attract readers was phenomenal in Sarat Chandra. His popularity thus spread across the common man; something unlike Rabindranath Tagore. Unlike Sarat Chandra, the Nobel laureate mostly remains popular and confined among academic intellectuals and experts.
Moreover, Tagore’s beauty is mostly appreciated by the common man only in terms of poetry. So Tagore so highly respected and worshipped by the followers of Bengali literature will never have the fortune to attain the popularity of a character like Devdas.
Sarat Chandra’s ‘Devdas’, Shrikanta or other characters like Saudamoni remain popular in all his translation works – Urdu, Malayalam or Marathi.
Prof Jash also argued eloquently that Saratchandra “vastaber pralep diye, aabeg tairi kare, ek ekti charitra jibonto kare tulechchen (By giving the cloak of reality, Sarat Chandra created emotions in each of his characters)”.
The readers once into reading his novels always feel attracted by the manner he created the climax of each plot. He was rather over sentimental at times but handled his characters very well.
For instance, we can cite the example of ‘Bamuner Meye (Daughter of a Brahmin)’. The female protagonist Sandhya lives to believe that she is born to a Brahmin family and hence should dominate the relationship with foreign-returned Arun. Like all other villagers, Sandhya also grew up to believe that Arun though born Brahmin has been to a foreign soil and was thus a ‘mlechcha’ (one who is abandoned by his own caste). The sensitive caste issue is handled so well that Sandhya even throws out the pan she was chewing when Arun accidentally happens to touch her. Here the climax is handled in a masterly manner by the author as slowly the reader is engrossed to understand that contrary to her belief Sandhya was herself a daughter of a barber. This is Sarat Chandra’s beauty.
Similarly, in portraying the character of Kusum in much popular ‘Pandit Moshae’, Sarat Chandra keeps the readers guessing on the vital fact that whether Kusum is a widow or not.
While her neighbours and even the brother knew that Kusum was a widow; but her marriage (second) remains a mystery. The master story teller in Sarat Chandra conceals this climax very well as no one other than Kusum’s mother knew of the marriage.
Sarat Chandra himself sounded clueless on whether Kusum was really married off earlier. “The second marriage was true or not – no one could either confirm or deny this,” runs the line in the novel itself.
So to one section of readers, Kusum was a widow and to another she need not be. Here lies the beauty of Sarat chandra’s creativity.