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EDITORIALS

On a fast track
Gujarat culprits may be punished now
S
EVEN years after the Gujarat riots shook the world, the Supreme Court has finally put the trials on a fast track by ordering the setting up of six courts for day-to-day hearing. The apex court itself had stayed the trial in nine major riot cases, including the Godhra train-burning case, in November 2003 following complaints of tardy investigation and allegations that several accused were not booked. 

Threat to democracy
New House must ban criminals in polls
T
HE reports that 10 per cent of the candidates in Haryana contesting the Lok Sabha elections face criminal charges are disturbing. According to a survey by the National Election Watch, which has more than 1,200 NGOs working on improving the process of elections, democracy and governance in the country, Bhiwani, Mahendragarh and Faridabad lead in candidates with criminal charges (four each) with Hisar and Rohtak not too far behind (three each).



EARLIER STORIES

Intellectual and society
May 3, 2009
Low voter turnout in Mumbai
May 2, 2009
Combating the Taliban
May 1, 2009
Mr Q. again
April
30, 2009
Modi remains in the dock
April
29, 2009
Guns fall silent in Lanka
April
28, 2009
Advance of the Taliban
April
27, 2009
Qualification for MPs
April
26, 2009
Pakistan worries US
April
25, 2009
The electoral odyssey
April
24, 2009


The Sukhoi crash
Thorough check-up has become essential
L
AST Thursday, the Indian Air Force lost its first Russian-made Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter leading to a temporary grounding of the entire fleet of this long-range multi-role aircraft following initial suspicions that the cause of the crash may have been structural defects. Along with this sophisticated aircraft, the IAF also lost an experienced pilot, a Wing Commander, when his parachute apparently failed to open properly.

ARTICLE

Editor’s Column
Obama’s AfPak
Pakistan situation should underpin US policy
by H. K. Dua
A
FTER spending 100 days in the White House and getting his priorities in order, President Barack Obama seems to be coming to the conclusion that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan needs tackling with firmness and urgency. This is evident from two statements that have emanated from Washington during the last one week.

MIDDLE

Nimbu pani
by Roopinder Singh
T
HERE is hardly any nimbu, some sugar and a lot of water in Sukhia’s Nimbu Pani, but we all love it,” said a fellow student as he introduced me to the most famous dhaba at St Stephen’s and its legendary owner, ably assisted by his son, Rohtas. The kiosk that housed the dhaba was ironically a Coca Cola tin shed, but what far outsold the imported aerated drink was the home-made concoction that surely goes back to time immemorial, with local and other variations that have been passed with pride from one generation to another.

OPED

What next in Sri Lanka after LTTE defeat?
by S.D. Muni
Sri Lanka’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has reached its conclusion. The security forces may still take a few days in the last stage of moping up the war zone. The area is heavily mined, a large number of civilians are still suspected to be trapped in it, and there are last-ditch attempts by the remaining Tigers to kill as many Sri Lankan soldiers as they can.

Burma neglects cyclone victims
by Andrew Buncombe
O
N the anniversary of the Burmese cyclone, more than a hundred thousand survivors are still living in makeshift shelters hopelessly inadequate to the monsoon rains that will soon engulf the country. But despite the population’s desperate need, the ruling junta has now tightened regulations to make it harder for aid workers to get visas.

Chatterati
Film stars in  politics disappoint
by Devi Cherian
C
ALL it the awakening of the public or just the fading of film stars. Political parties have thankfully not fielded many Bollywood stars this time. Whether it was Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Smriti Irani and Dara Singh for the Bharatiya Janata Party or Govinda Ahuja, Rajesh Khanna and Sunil Dutt for the Congress.





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On a fast track
Gujarat culprits may be punished now

SEVEN years after the Gujarat riots shook the world, the Supreme Court has finally put the trials on a fast track by ordering the setting up of six courts for day-to-day hearing. The apex court itself had stayed the trial in nine major riot cases, including the Godhra train-burning case, in November 2003 following complaints of tardy investigation and allegations that several accused were not booked. There is utmost need for early completion of sensitive cases, particularly those involving communal disturbances, and as such, such alacrity should have been shown from the beginning, but it is better late than never. The step has indeed given a new ray of hope to the victims who had been banging their heads against a wall raised by the Narendra Modi government. Perhaps they can now dream that they will get the elusive justice after all.

Given the brazen manner in which the government has tried to subvert the process of law, the apex court has given the required powers to the special investigation team (SIT) headed by former CBI Director R K Raghavan. It will have the final say in the appointment of public prosecutors and the right to seek their replacements or the appointment of additional public prosecutors. It is the Gujarat High Court Chief Justice who would be appointing senior judicial officers to conduct the trials.

In the past, there has been a concerted effort to influence the witnesses. If the court has still not accepted the petitioner’s plea to shift the trial outside Gujarat, it is only because it feels confident that the SIT chief would be able to take adequate steps to make sure that they cannot be pressurised. If required, some witnesses can be given security by paramilitary forces and if the threat to their lives is grave, they can be relocated to other states, under an arrangement to be worked out by the Centre. In any case, the Supreme Court has not altogether closed the option of shifting the trial outside Gujarat. Mr Raghavan has said that the trials will take about a year. One hopes that with day-to-day hearing, there will be no need to extend this time period.

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Threat to democracy
New House must ban criminals in polls

THE reports that 10 per cent of the candidates in Haryana contesting the Lok Sabha elections face criminal charges are disturbing. According to a survey by the National Election Watch, which has more than 1,200 NGOs working on improving the process of elections, democracy and governance in the country, Bhiwani, Mahendragarh and Faridabad lead in candidates with criminal charges (four each) with Hisar and Rohtak not too far behind (three each). In Rajasthan, too, 10 per cent of the candidates in the fray have a criminal record. In fact, no state is free from the candidates with criminal charges and every political party is guilty of fielding criminals. In states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Maharashtra, national parties have given tickets to criminals.

Disturbingly, Bihar has given a new twist to the menace of criminalisation of politics. If husbands are convicted and imprisoned for murder and refused permission by the Supreme Court to contest the elections, their wives join the fray. Pappu Yadav’s wife Ranjeet Ranjan is contesting from Supaul on the Congress ticket, Mohd Shahabuddin’s wife Heena Shahab is standing from Siwan for the RJD and mafia don Surajbhan Singh’s wife Veena Devi has been put up by the LJP from Nawada. This is a mockery of the law. Is the nation lacking in upright persons with integrity and character that the political parties are depending upon the criminals or their relatives?

The people should ponder over the debilitating effect of criminalisation of politics on the representative institutions and the quality of governance. If tainted people get elected as MPs or MLAs and then become ministers, they will pose greater threat to the system. The new Lok Sabha, which will be constituted after the ongoing elections, should examine the issue of criminalisation of politics. As every political party is guilty of giving tickets to criminals, the new government should try for an all-party consensus on the matter and ban the entry of criminals to Parliament and state legislatures. The Election Commission, too, should step up pressure on the Centre for early implementation of its recommendations on electoral reforms.

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The Sukhoi crash
Thorough check-up has become essential

LAST Thursday, the Indian Air Force lost its first Russian-made Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter leading to a temporary grounding of the entire fleet of this long-range multi-role aircraft following initial suspicions that the cause of the crash may have been structural defects. Along with this sophisticated aircraft, the IAF also lost an experienced pilot, a Wing Commander, when his parachute apparently failed to open properly. While a court of inquiry has been ordered to investigate the causes leading to the crash of this twin-engine aircraft and the death of one of its pilots, the incident has revived memories of the Russian Air Force grounding a substantial number of its MiG-29 aircraft only last March following the detection of structural defects. But this is not the first time that the IAF has had problems with the Su-30. In 2003, an entire Su-30 squadron had to be grounded following the detection of what was described as “nicks” in the engine blades.

In addition to the Sukhoi-30 MKI being India’s most advanced fighter, it is also the IAF’s most potent one. The IAF currently flies about 60 Su-30s or three squadrons of this aircraft, which was first inducted 12 years ago in June 1997. This aircraft has flown as far as the UK and the US, participated in a number of bilateral air exercises, including the coveted multilateral Red Flag Exercise in the US in 2008, and has the distinction of actually “defeating” the US Air Force fighter aircraft in one such bilateral exercise held in 2005. Even more significant is the fact that the IAF’s Sukhoi-30 MKI is of strategic importance. The fighter’s manoeuvrability, its sophisticated avionics package, a high payload capacity, a deep penetration range of over 5,000 km and a “loitering” capability of up to 10 hours make the Sukhoi-30 MKI a possible choice as a delivery platform for India’s nuclear weapons.

Although Russian in origin, the customised Sukhoi-30 MKI is also equipped with advanced avionic and electronic warfare packages specially bought from Israel and France. Pegged at over $8 billion, India’s decision to buy as many as 190 Sukhoi-30 MKI’s is among the country’s most expensive defence contracts. It is thus imperative for the IAF to conduct a detailed check-up before declaring this expensive aircraft, currently under induction, as air-worthy. The IAF cannot afford any more crashes of this aircraft, so vital for India’s defence.

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Thought for the Day

If men are to respect each other for what they are, they must cease to respect each other for what they own.

— A.P.J. Taylor

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Editor’s Column
Obama’s AfPak
Pakistan situation should underpin US policy
by H. K. Dua

AFTER spending 100 days in the White House and getting his priorities in order, President Barack Obama seems to be coming to the conclusion that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan needs tackling with firmness and urgency.

This is evident from two statements that have emanated from Washington during the last one week. One is the statement the US President made to the White House press corps; the other is what General David Petraeus, Commander of the US Central Command, told the US lawmakers in Washington.

President Obama seemed somewhat clearer than before on what has come to be branded by Washington as AfPak policy. Possibly, he is beginning to agree with India – although to some extent – that the key to the US success in Afghanistan and its fight against the Taliban lies in Pakistan. The President’s remarks suggest that he is not happy with the level of cooperation Islamabad is extending to the US in tackling the Taliban in the tribal areas, which is crucial for its operations in Afghanistan.

President Obama, perhaps, was making an auto-suggestion to Pakistan when he said that the US was encouraging Pakistan to recognise that its “obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided, and that their biggest threat right now comes internally.”

This is precisely what the Indian government has been telling Mr Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy who has been assigned the task of sorting out the Afghanistan-Pakistan mess.

That the US is becoming impatient with Pakistan’s being half-hearted in cracking down on the Taliban is also evident from General Petraeus’ remarks to American lawmakers that the US was looking for concrete action by Pakistan to destroy the Taliban operating out of its territory in the next two weeks, “before determining the next course of action.”

General Petraeus, who is known for being a no-nonsense man, was quoted as saying that “The Pakistanis have run out of excuses,” and are “finally getting serious” about combating the threat from the Taliban and the Al-Qaida extremists. The general did not spell out his options if Pakistan did not go beyond putting up a token fight against the Taliban and other militant outfits functioning under various labels.

Pakistan’s establishment has always tried to evade its responsibility in tackling the Taliban operating from its territory on the ground that it is facing security threat from India and this restricts its scope for pulling out its troops from the eastern border for deployment in the North-West against the Taliban and the Al-Qaida operatives, who have made the hilly terrain their sanctuary.

Actually, India has not created a military situation along its borders that should worry Pakistan’s rulers. About three years ago, Pakistan merrily withdrew as many as 80, 000 troops from its borders with India and felt free to rush them to Balochistan to quell a major rebellion in the province where Islamabad has always felt uncomfortable.

The grisly events of 26/11 in Mumbai were a serious provocation for India to mobilise its forces against Pakistan, but it desisted from doing so. This was mainly because of its keenness to deny Pakistan the excuse that it was facing threats from India and as such it could not spare troops for the North-West.

Apparently, President Obama had this in mind when he tried to pull out Pakistan from its “obsession” with India, and also what General Petraeus described as the “excuses” Pakistan was making for not fighting the Taliban hard.

It remains to be seen how far the Obama administration’s pressure works on Pakistan’s rulers, particularly the Army led by General Ashfaq Kiyani. So far Pakistan has either been not willing to act against the Taliban, or has not been able to do so. Either way, the impact of the Taliban on Afghanistan as well Pakistan has not been conducive to the health of either of the two countries.

What the Americans are acknowledging now about the nature of the threat the Taliban is posing to the region, India has been telling them over the years. Washington’s realisation about the danger from the Taliban to Afghanistan and Pakistan is belated, but still welcome if it succeeds in making Pakistan crackdown on the Taliban with sincerity and force.

For Pakistan’s generals it has been always a difficult decision to cut off the Taliban’s umbilical cord.

The Taliban was created with American blessings, Saudi Arabia’s petrodollars and Pakistan’s complicity to fight the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. It was rewarded by allowing it to come to power in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

It suited Pakistan most. Islamabad chose to evolve a strange and untenable concept that being a strip of a territory on India’s North-West, it needed what it called “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. While Pakistan pursued its goal to acquire “strategic depth” through the Taliban, India lost all influence in Afghanistan during the time the Taliban was in power until 2001.

As it often happens in dealings with unattended monsters, the Taliban has by now grown tremendously to threaten not only the NATO troops in Afghanistan, but also Pakistan from within as well as the region.

The Taliban’s tentacles have spread to different parts of Pakistan and also into the Pakistan Army which should worry General Kiyani and the other generals who form the collegiate that really runs Pakistan.

What has happened is simple: Instead of Pakistan acquiring a “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, it is the Taliban that has acquired a “strategic depth” in Pakistan. And this should be of utmost concern to both the civilian government as well as the men in uniform in Pakistan and propel them into action against the Taliban and the other armed outfits parading through the streets of Pakistan.

The roots of President Obama’s policy in effect lie in his desire to create conditions which permit the US to pull out from Afghanistan. And signals emanating from Washington suggest that he would like to get out of Afghanistan a year or so before his present term comes to an end in January 2013. The recession in the US, and the high cost of keeping troops in Afghanistan also indicate a keenness to pull out from Afghanistan.

Here there is a gap between the Indian position on Afghanistan and that of the US policy under President Obama. New Delhi thinks that the real problem essentially lies in Pakistan. The solution also lies in Pakistan, and not in Afghanistan.

The Obama administration will be on the wrong policy track if it continues to believe that it can get out of Afghanistan without clearing the dangerous situation in Pakistan. A policy pursued with the single aim of pulling out of Afghanistan during the next two to three years will not succeed if Pakistan explodes – with splinters flying all around the subcontinent.

Last week’s statements by President Obama indicates the US is becoming aware of how grave the situation is in Pakistan, but it is Afghanistan that provides the underpinning of his AfPak policy. To be realistic, it is the Pakistan situation that should under-pin the US policy.

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Nimbu pani
by Roopinder Singh

THERE is hardly any nimbu, some sugar and a lot of water in Sukhia’s Nimbu Pani, but we all love it,” said a fellow student as he introduced me to the most famous dhaba at St Stephen’s and its legendary owner, ably assisted by his son, Rohtas.

The kiosk that housed the dhaba was ironically a Coca Cola tin shed, but what far outsold the imported aerated drink was the home-made concoction that surely goes back to time immemorial, with local and other variations that have been passed with pride from one generation to another. The dhaba was situated next to the cafe, woe to anyone who called it a canteen. A place that served scrambled eggs and mince was special, not like other eating joints in the campus and beyond.

As I saw a luscious nimbu filling up the TV screen during a commercial break, I remembered those hot days when we went to Rohtas to get a nimbu pani, and a glass, at times two, were enough to beat the summer heat and cool us down. Sometimes, we would ask for a bun-samosa as a special treat.

Rohtas would use an enormous cauldron, that the uninitiated thought was an aluminium patila, to stir the concoction, and a wooden squeeze would make short shrift of dozens of fresh nimbus and squeeze the last citrus drop of lime.

The late General Zia-ul-Haq liked to flaunt his connection with St Stephens. He had studied in the college for a year, an excuse seized by many Stephanians to explain away his dictatorial behaviour—he had not spent enough time in the college to imbibe the true values that St Stephens stands for. Whatever little hope the good General had of being recognised as a Stephanian was dashed to the ground by Sukhia. Asked if he had any recollection of the young Zia-ul-Haq, Sukhia said: “No. He did not have any account with me”.

All of us philosophy students who routinely hung around at the dhaba while waiting for our 3 pm Philo Soc meetings every Friday totally appreciated the neat way in which Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) was mutated by Sukhia into: “He had no account, therefore he did not exist”.

Zia, ever the master PR person, sent a basket of mangoes for Sukhia. Lately we have been inundated with TV advertisements of a bottled mango flavour that is supposed to be sexy and sweet, and the new drink Nimbooz, which uses the fruit and the squeeze brilliantly contrasted against the azure sky. It made a pretty picture, but for us who have been brought up on the real thing, these bottled drinks are not even poor substitutes, merely well-packaged pretenders.

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What next in Sri Lanka after LTTE defeat?
by S.D. Muni

Sri Lanka’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has reached its conclusion. The security forces may still take a few days in the last stage of moping up the war zone. The area is heavily mined, a large number of civilians are still suspected to be trapped in it, and there are last-ditch attempts by the remaining Tigers to kill as many Sri Lankan soldiers as they can.

The question of LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s fate still remains unanswered. At one stage, Sri Lankan Army sources had conceded the possibility of Prabhakaran having already escaped through the sea route. This is not impossible despite the claims of the Sri Lankan Navy to keeping the area under strict surveillance. Eight of the innocent Tamils from the war zone reached the Tamil Nadu coast in a rubber boat without navigation equipment by dodging the Sri Lankan surveillance only a couple of days back. It is possible that even if Prabhakaran is still there in the so-called “No Fire Zone”, his son Charles Anthony might have escaped with a trusted band of associates to keep the struggle for Eelam alive. If the Sri Lankan Army succeeds in getting Prabhakaran dead or alive, the world will soon get to know. If Prabhakaran has indeed escaped alive, he may not find it too difficult to get a shelter, if not asylum, outside the Sri Lankan shores.

But if Prabhakaran or his son has escaped alive, the myth of the LTTE will remain alive and the organisation may be revived in due course of time. Support for the LTTE’s revival may come from two sources. One is the Tamil diaspora. Though the LTTE’s credibility among the Tamil diaspora has been eroded for the past few years, and increasing curbs were placed on the flow of funds to them, the core of the diaspora support for the LTTE remains intact. This was evident in the demonstrations in Europe, the US and Asian countries, including India, to protest against the genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils by the Rajapakse regime. These diaspora groups may be easily mobilised to rebuild the LTTE.

The second source of support to the LTTE revival project would depend upon the way Colombo responds to the Tamil question. There are clearly two aspects of the Tamil question in a post-LTTE Sri Lanka. One is of immediate attention, to take care and rehabilitate more than 2,50,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) resulting from the last phase of the conflict. There are also millions of other IDPs from the north-east scattered in Sri Lanka as a result of the conflict. President Rajapakse is seeking assistance of at least $1billion from the international community for this purpose. How much of this assistance will flow in and how it will be used will depend considerably on the sincerity and efficiency of the Rajapakse administration. Various NGOs and international donors will also be involved in this massive exercise of reconstruction and rehabilitation to make the process complicated and diversified. Any lapse, and there are bound to be many, in looking after the IDPs and ensuring their permanent resettlement will be politically exploited by the managers of the LTTE revival project.

The other aspect of the Tamil question is the lasting resolution of the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka. This will be a slow and tardy process. Before addressing this question, President Rajapakse may like to fortify his political position, in relation to his political opponents in Parliament and otherwise, by taking advantage of his “military victory”. His approach to the ethnic question may be outlined in the way he runs his campaign for political consolidation.

But there are clearly three alternatives. First is that he sincerely pushes for a devolution package that is acceptable to the majority of the Sri Lankan Tamils. This might be easily said than done in view of the opposition not only from the Sinhala chauvinist forces in the opposition parties like the JVP and the Hella Urumaya, but also within his own party. Even the coterie around him may not let him proceed smoothly in this direction. His brother Gothabaya Rajapakse and the Sri Lankan Army Chief have clearly laid the parameters of accommodation to the Tamils. They would not prefer their hard-won military victory to be frittered away by “political generosity” to the Tamils. In their perception, Sri Lanka is a country of the Sinhalese and for the Sinhalese. The Tamils could live here if they so want but peacefully. There are people around this coterie who have for long been planning a demographic restructuring of the Tamil-dominated north-eastern part of Sri Lanka.

The second option is that under the influence of the Sinhala chauvinist forces, President Rajapakse fails to carry out any meaningful devolution of powers to the Tamils and plays just with cosmetic concessions. This would be resisted by the international community. Not that the Rajapakse administration has cared much about the international community, but in the months and years to come, his dependence on the donors will increase and he may have to listen to them. Countries like China have stood by President Rajapakse in waging the war, and these countries will also extend financial support to his task of reconstruction and rehabilitation, but that support would not be adequate or even politically viable, particularly so if nations like India and the US are alienated and left out.

This will take Colombo to the third option: to accommodate Tamil demands only partially.Partial accommodation of their rights and aspirations will only build the frustrations of the Sri Lankan Tamils. President Rajapakse may seek the help of non-LTTE groups led by Duglas Devananda, Col. Karuna and Anand Sangari to push his partial package which may also keep his coterie in good humour. It is, however, doubtful if these Tamil group will become his allies to only a truncated and half-hearted resolution of the ethnic question. These groups have their strong internecine political rivalries and have found so far difficult to come to one platform.Anyone who is seen getting closer to Colombo will be opposed by the others. This is where Prabhakaran’s LTTE-revival project will draw strength from. The possibility of non-LTTE groups, which have hitherto been collaborating with Colombo because of the fear of LTTE, now taking up the Tamil question in their mutual competitive political mobilisation also cannot be ruled out.

The challenge of stability in Sri Lanka after defeating the LTTE is a formidable one. President Rajapakse can meet this challenge only by sincerely resolving the ethnic question in a just and fair manner, to the satisfaction of the Tamil community.

The writer is Senior Visiting Research Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore.

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Burma neglects cyclone victims
by Andrew Buncombe

ON the anniversary of the Burmese cyclone, more than a hundred thousand survivors are still living in makeshift shelters hopelessly inadequate to the monsoon rains that will soon engulf the country. But despite the population’s desperate need, the ruling junta has now tightened regulations to make it harder for aid workers to get visas.

A year after the devastating Cyclone Nargis tore through the Burmese Delta leaving up to 140,000 people dead and further exposing the disregard and inefficiency of the country’s military rulers, half a million of those who are still alive continue to depend on hand-outs just to survive.

“There is a lot of concern about shelter,” said Chris Kaye, the country director of the World Food Programme. “Around 130,000 families do not have an adequate place to live.”

With rice yields down nearly a third due to the increased salinity of the paddy fields and with a severe shortage of drinking water, aid groups warn that hundreds of millions of pounds will be required in the coming months and years to rebuild the region’s battered infrastructure, provide people with livelihoods and help treat widespread psychological trauma.

A quarter of a million people will likely have to be fed by aid groups until the end of the year.

“It’s getting better, we are making some progress. But there is still a hell of a lot of work to do,” said Mr Kaye. “We are still feeding 350,000 people. We had hoped to phase out by now but we are still going to be there until the end of the year.”

The concern is pressing. With monsoon rains just weeks away and 200,000 children – many of them orphans – among the 500,000 survivors still living under hastily-constructed huts of bamboo and tarpaulin, aid groups say the need for action is urgent.

The so-called Tripartite Core Group (TCG), comprising the United Nations, Burma and its South-east Asian neighbours, has drafted a plan requiring $691m (Ł470m).

But the problems facing the beleaguered people of Burma are not just those caused by the fury of Cyclone Nargis’s 130mph winds and the surging 12ft wall of water they created.

Campaigners say that the authoritarian regime, hidden away in its remote jungle capital, is continuing to imprison people simply for trying to help those affected by the storm.

They also point to the regime’s recent decision to return to the more stringent visa system that applied before the disaster struck.

“Basic freedoms for cyclone survivors are just as restricted as they were before the cyclone,” said Elaine Pearson, from Human Rights Watch.

“Donors and friends of the military government, such as China, should press Burma’s generals to free activists like Zargana who helped the survivors.”

Zargana, one of the country’s most popular comedians, helped organise hundreds of volunteers to collect and distribute aid to the affected.

Despite years of oppression and with many in Burma fearing the presence of informers, countless ordinary people got together to gather rice and cooking oil.

But after criticising the response of the so-called State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the junta terms itself, the comedian was arrested and jailed for 35 years. He is now held in a prison far from his family and said to have fallen into poor heath. Zargana is one of 21 still in prison for such community organising.

Many believe the crackdown was part of a broader effort to jail dissidents ahead of elections due to be held next year but which have already been boycotted by the imprisoned Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition.

In addition to the aid organisers, the junta last year jailed scores of activists who had taken part in democracy demonstrations during the summer of 2007 and later that year when the protests were joined by thousands of Buddhist monks.

For many in the Delta, a fringe of land where the Irawaddy river pours into the Andaman Sea, democratic rights are a less pressing need than clean drinking water.

The flooding caused by Nargis, which drove sea water miles inland, polluted many wells. “We now have to depend on a local NGO or water sellers from the north for our daily drinking water,” Tin Aye, a villager from Pathee Wai Chaung, told Reuters.

Another villager, Ba Thin, 72, who lives near the town of Bogale, which suffered some of the worst devastation, pointed to the bamboo, thatch and tarpaulin huts lining the road.

“Everybody lives on food handouts and most of us don’t have decent shelter or a job,” he said. “Without help, almost all of us will not be able to grow anything in the coming crop season.”

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Chatterati
Film stars in  politics disappoint
by Devi Cherian

CALL it the awakening of the public or just the fading of film stars. Political parties have thankfully not fielded many Bollywood stars this time. Whether it was Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Smriti Irani and Dara Singh for the Bharatiya Janata Party or Govinda Ahuja, Rajesh Khanna and Sunil Dutt for the Congress.

The poor performance of these stars as politicians has earned the displeasure of the voter, and also created problems among party cadres. Film stars are being used during campaigning. Tickets are given only to those stars who may still have a chance.

Govinda was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2004 from the Mumbai constituency after defeating the BJP’s senior leader and four-times sitting MP Ram Naik. Govinda and other stars do not understand the responsibilities that come along with the seat and the entire constituency had to regret its decision. This is why Govinda has been dropped and Sanjay Nirupam fielded now.

The three-time sitting BJP MP from Gurdaspur, Punjab, Vinod Khanna, has been given a thumbs-down by the Citizen’s Report on Governance and Development 2008-09 for his lack-lustre performance in his third term.

With an average attendance of only 5.5 per cent and only four questions asked, the party saw Vinod Khanna as a spent force. Also his return to the celluloid world as an actor of television soaps has reflected badly on his commitment to the post of an elected MP.

Dharmendra’s attendance in the House has been only 1.5 per cent and even during his brief appearances, he never asked any question or raised any issue pertaining to his constituency, Bikaner. This has irked the electorate. His long absence from his constituency has also been a cause of concern for the party.

Hema Malini has opted out of the race. The Rajya Sabha MP said that her duty towards her two daughters had forced her to take the decision, but it would not deter her from soliciting votes for other candidates.

Katrina and ‘Rajneeti’

Katrina Kaif’s character in Prakash Jha’s “Rajneeti”, it seems, is based on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s life. Like Sonia, Kat’s character enters politics after her husband’s sudden death and ends up becoming a huge political figure. Jha has denied the character bearing a resemblance to any person living or dead.

Recently, some sequences of Katrina were shot on a stage with her huge cutout in the backdrop. Her dress code, body language and the heavy Special Protection Group presence around her betrayed what Jha has been trying to hide. The character does bear an uncanny resemblance to Sonia.

The role requires Kat to deliver fiery speeches in Hindi. Jha is a perfectionist. So Kat is attending voice modulation classes to look convincing in her role. Jha has even chosen the cotton fabrics for Katrina’s clothes in the movie.

Well many movies based on Sonia’s life had been shelved after failing to get approval from the family. Filmmaker Jagmohan Mundra’s Monica Bellucci- starrer, “Sonia”, is one of them.

Another movie, which was to be directed by T.D.Kumar, the former Income Tax Commissioner of Mumbai, failed to take off after a petition was filed against him. Back in 1997, an Italian producer had started working on a film based on Sonia’s life but she reportedly hired a London-based law firm to scuttle to move.

In “Rajneeti”, Ranbir Kapoor will play Kat’s husband. As of now Prakash Jha is busy in elections in Bihar. This is the second time he is trying his luck there.

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