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EDITORIALS

Sharif’s triumph
Acquittal re-opens doors for him
W
ITH the setting aside of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s conviction by the Pakistan Supreme Court in the plane hijack case close on the heels of the removal of the bar on his contesting elections, the way has been paved for Mr Sharif’s return to centrestage in the country’s politics.

Jakarta bombings
Make war on terror broad-based
T
HE Jakarta hotel bombings on Friday mark the return of terror to Indonesia after a four-year lull. Militants first struck in the world’s largest Muslim nation in 2002 when they attacked foreign tourists holidaying in Bali’s nightclubs, killing 200 people. They belonged to the Jemaah Islamiya, which was the prime suspect in the latest suicide bombings too, and had received training in Al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan.



EARLIER STORIES

Bringing out the best
July 19, 2009
No to wheat exports
July 18, 2009
Dealing with terror
July 17, 2009
Letting Hafiz Saeed free
July 16, 2009
Murder and acquittal
July 15, 2009
Mishap shakes Delhi Metro
July 14, 2009
Focus on food security
July 13, 2009
Blueprint for growth
July 12, 2009
In the dark
July 11, 2009
Zardari speaks
July 10, 2009


Den of corruption
AICTE top brass in CBI net
T
HE arrest of All-India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) Member-Secretary K. Narayanan Rao along with a middleman in New Delhi while allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 5 lakh from the owner of an engineering college in Andhra Pradesh shows the extent of corruption in this premier regulatory body in charge of approving private institutes in technical education.
ARTICLE

Education Policy — A Tribune Debate
Re-schooling, re-tooling society
Time to focus on learning
by B.G. Verghese
A
PART from the projected Food Security Act to fight hunger and malnutrition among impoverished families, there is reason to rejoice in Education Minister Kapil Sibal’s desire to reform schooling as part of the larger educational thrust programmed during the next few years.

MIDDLE

Fill-o-sophy
by Raji P. Shrivastav
M
ISS Philomena Siqueira, better known as ‘Filly’, taught needlework to reluctant Carmelites with ruthless perfection. Her brusque turn of phrase and austere mannerisms were legion. A fund of Filly jokes and anecdotes were handed down from generation to generation of students. She was certainly the one teacher you were least likely to forget years after you passed out.

OPED

False hopes
Afghanistan gears up for another election
by Ian Birrell
A
ND so the charade begins once again. A state ripped apart by war, poverty and corruption promises to hold elections, and optimistic Western leaders pump in money and troops in a bid to ensure a window of comparative peace for the ballot. The battered populace votes, the results are declared and everyone proclaims the triumph of democracy in another land.

Punjab budget silent on subsidies
by Ranjit Singh Ghuman
A
budget is not only an accounting exercise but is also expected to spell out the government's development agenda. However, this year's budget and even the preceding two budgets of Punjab do not meet this criterion. The Finance Minister, Mr Manpreet Singh Badal, has admitted that his hands are tied and his pre-budget proposals are often knocked down by the Cabinet.

Chatterati
Ambika gets tough with officials
by Devi Cherian
Ambika SONI has built a reputation for her quick wit and no-nonsense approach. She has enough experience of dealing with all kinds of situations. At a recent meeting with Prasar Bharti Board officials, each member narrated long tales of grievances. After lending them a patient ear, she really hit them hard when she asked them to put everything in writing. There was a shock element and complete silence after that.





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Sharif’s triumph
Acquittal re-opens doors for him

WITH the setting aside of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s conviction by the Pakistan Supreme Court in the plane hijack case close on the heels of the removal of the bar on his contesting elections, the way has been paved for Mr Sharif’s return to centrestage in the country’s politics. Mr Sharif was convicted of “hijacking” a commercial jet carrying the then army chief Pervez Musharraf after denying the aircraft landing rights on October 12, 1999, as Pakistan was convulsed by a coup that brought General Musharraf to power. The plane eventually landed and General Musharraf seized control of the country. The Supreme Court has now ruled on Mr Sharif’s petition that “looking at the case from any angle — the charge of hijacking, attempt to hijack or terrorism does not stand established against the petitioner.”

As it stands, Mr Sharif will now contest a byelection at the earliest to return to Parliament. In talks with President Zardari, he has already refused the offer for his party to re-join the government. Evidently, he is playing for higher stakes. With Mr Zardari having come round to surrendering some powers of the presidency, including the power to dismiss the Prime Minister and to dissolve the National Assembly, Mr Sharif would predictably have his eyes set on the prime ministerial chair. Seeing the surge in his popularity in recent months, even the Americans, to whom he was anathema some time ago, now seem reconciled to his return.

However, the army is still a crucial element in Pakistan’s scheme of things. It is a moot point whether it would agree to support Mr Nawaz Sharif to maintain the façade of genuine democracy. Significantly, Mr Sharif has not been critical of the army as he was in the immediate aftermath of his return from exile in Saudi Arabia. Much as his party may bay for General Musharraf’s blood, the army would perhaps not be willing for him to be brought to book for his acts of omission and commission while he was in power. Mr Sharif’s return to power can only be on the basis of a hard bargain. He will indeed have to walk a tight rope.

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Jakarta bombings
Make war on terror broad-based

THE Jakarta hotel bombings on Friday mark the return of terror to Indonesia after a four-year lull. Militants first struck in the world’s largest Muslim nation in 2002 when they attacked foreign tourists holidaying in Bali’s nightclubs, killing 200 people. They belonged to the Jemaah Islamiya, which was the prime suspect in the latest suicide bombings too, and had received training in Al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan. Be it Indonesia, Pakistan or India, terrorists have been targeting hotels and other places frequented by foreigners. And yet security was lax at the two luxury hotels in Jakarta. Suicide bombers stayed in one of the hotels as guests, carrying explosive material with them undetected.

The latest Jakarta bombings came barely nine days after the re-election of Indonesia’s President, Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is pro-US and has taken a tough stance against terrorists. His widely-praised crackdown on militants had restored peace and perhaps led hotel managements to be complacent. Although most intelligence agencies, including the CIA, were taken by surprise, an Australian think tank had in a report on Thursday warned of the possibility of “violent attacks” by the Jemaah Islamiya. Despite increased cooperation among countries after 9/11, more needs to be done to contain the spread of terrorism.

The Jakarta attacks have happened two days after the NAM summit in Egypt where terrorism was animatedly discussed. Such summits do not produce results unless good intentions are followed by concerted action. The UN must give the lead and a platform for a joint fight against senseless killings by terrorist groups. The US has made its security seemingly foolproof after 9/11. It should share its expertise and intelligence with other nations. Pakistan and other states/organisations aiding and abetting terrorism need to be dealt with sternly. International pressure and cooperation alone can identify and isolate terrorist organisations and make the war against terrorism truly effective.

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Den of corruption
AICTE top brass in CBI net

THE arrest of All-India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) Member-Secretary K. Narayanan Rao along with a middleman in New Delhi while allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 5 lakh from the owner of an engineering college in Andhra Pradesh shows the extent of corruption in this premier regulatory body in charge of approving private institutes in technical education. The CBI has also booked cases against, among others, AICTE Acting Chairman Ram Avtar Yadav and Adviser H.C. Rai. It has seized fixed deposits and other investments worth crores of rupees from their houses during raids. Clearly, there is so much corruption and maladministration in this organisation that what has come to the fore seems to be a tip of the iceberg. An internal inquiry of the HRD Ministry in 2007 had revealed rampant corruption in the AICTE’s process of granting approval to new colleges.

Significantly, Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has given the go-ahead for action against the AICTE top brass with a view to cleanse the body of corrupt elements. This is in sharp contrast to the attitude of his predecessor, Arjun Singh. Though Union Minister of State for HRD D. Purandeshwari had earlier brought the sad state of affairs to Mr Arjun Singh’s notice, he did not take any action against the malcontents. There is a need to book all those involved in corruption and exemplary action should be taken against them.

Unfortunately, though most engineering colleges don’t have proper infrastructure, quality faculty, the approved student-teacher ratio and laboratory facilities, the AICTE mandarins have cleared them, evidently, for a consideration. The facade of regulation hides the reality of no inspection, monitoring and punishment for violations. What will be the fate of technical education in the country if this is the state of affairs? The Centre needs to examine the feasibility of winding up bodies like the AICTE and of setting up an independent regulatory authority for higher education as recommended by the National Knowledge Commission and the Yashpal Committee.

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Thought for the Day

Worry is like a rocking chair: both give you something to do, but neither gets you anywhere.

— American proverb

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Corrections and clarifications

  • In Calendar (Page 8, July 16) in Guru Harkrishan Singh Jayanti “Singh” should not have been there. Only the 10th Guru became “Singh”.
  • The headline “FIR registered in disappearance of Ferozepur advocate” (Page 13, July 17) should have been “FIR registered in case of missing Ferozepur advocate”.
  • In the report “Seechewal to take on environmental terrorists” (Page 4, July 18) the intro says “Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal has promised to play a crusading role in reigning environmental terrorism…”. The correct expression is “reining in” not “reigning”.
  • The headline “3 Hizbul militants shot in Doda” (Page 6, July 18) should have been “3 Hizbul militants shot dead in Doda”. The headline given fails to inform the reader that they had died.

Despite our earnest endeavour to keep The Tribune error-free, some errors do creep in at times. We are always eager to correct them.

This column will now appear thrice a week — every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error.

Readers in such cases can write to Mr Kamlendra Kanwar, Senior Associate Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections” on the envelope. His e-mail ID is kanwar@tribunemail.com.

H.K. Dua
Editor-in-Chief

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Education Policy — A Tribune Debate
Re-schooling, re-tooling society
Time to focus on learning
by B.G. Verghese

APART from the projected Food Security Act to fight hunger and malnutrition among impoverished families, there is reason to rejoice in Education Minister Kapil Sibal’s desire to reform schooling as part of the larger educational thrust programmed during the next few years. His statement has opened up a lively debate in what had become an ossified system of education with heavy emphasis on cramming, tutorials, examinations and mark-sheets rather than on learning and the cultivation of curiosity and creativity.

Triggered by ideas emanating from the National Knowledge Commission and the Yashpal Committee, the minister has put forward a tentative raft of proposals which forecloses nothing and is open to discussion among schools, teachers, parents, administrators, Parliament and the state governments who obviously must have a large say in a very diverse, federal country. What is proposed is that the Class X board examination be made optional, especially in CBSE schools. Those terminating their schooling at this level or planning to migrate to another institution may take an examination and receive an appropriate certificate from a recognised body. This would lift an enormous burden from countless numbers of children and allow for more flexibility and creative latitude in their final years of schooling. The optional examination can well be held by state boards under the aegis of a central body that sets broad norms and standards.

The minister hoped that in due course the Class XII examinations might also be abolished and a grading system introduced instead of marks, which can be arbitrary. Even if examinations were held, entry to university should be not on the basis of mark-sheets and absurdly high cut-off points, a symptom of supply shortages more than anything else, but on a common college entrance examination which could again be decentralised on the basis of national standards. Entrance to IITs, IIMs and National Law Colleges is already being conducted on the basis of a common entrance examination. The Medical Council is also now considering an all-India entrance test for MBBS courses to ensure merit-based selection and fair play. Here are suitable models on which to build.

In a sense, we are back to somewhere where Ivan Illich left off in terms of re-schooling and re-tooling society. If India is to maintain an 8-9 per cent rate of growth over the next decade, ensuring an escape from poverty with a doubling of per capita incomes, it will have to overcome a huge constraint of trained human resources. Accordingly, a vast quantitative and qualitative expansion in education is proposed with a lot of gap-filling in backward areas and among weaker or neglected segments of the population, including girls, and the universalisation of secondary education as the next major national goal.

India has to gear up to become a knowledge society. Some children stream off into vocational education after middle school. Therefore, ITIs and junior polytechnics need to be multiplied and upgraded at that level. Not all students need or want to go to college immediately after school. Many must work but they, too, need wider opportunities for learning and skill formation at their own pace so that they may improve their prospects. Community colleges, which constitute a strong educational base in the US and elsewhere, are not new to India but are now planned to be greatly expanded. Only 5 per cent of the labour force in the 20-24 age group have formal vocational skills, and there are only 2.5 million training places for skill acquisition as against the annual entry of 12 million persons into the labour force, quite part from the backlog of untrained hands in the unorganised sector that accounts for the bulk of employment in India.

Community colleges, established and managed by local industry and entrepreneurs and catering to local needs, resource bases and opportunities, can help meet this yawning gap. IGNOU has undertaken to mentor many more community colleges with the aim of having one such institution in each of our 600 districts. Those acquiring a two-year associated degree at a community college will also be enabled to win a formal degree after spending a third year in any regular graduate college. The object is to democratise education and make it inclusive and functional.

As with education, so with health. Even up to 30 years ago, the GP was a familiar figure and family friend in most urban communities. He was essentially a health practitioner who would refer patients to a specialist only when absolutely necessary. Now, with GPs extinct, all medicine is dispensed by super-specialists. What has got lost in the mad rush for specialisation, elaborate tests and living off expensive drugs is the fundamental adage that health precedes medicine. The old LLMs, who manned semi-rural health outposts, have also disappeared and primary health centres are poorly manned.

This trend needs to be reversed. Apart from reinforcing programmes like the MD Family Practice conducted at the Vellore medical college, deliberations at the Indian Academy of Pubic Health have encouraged some groups to think of promoting a BSc Health degree to train a cadre of health supervisors who could oversee the work of PHCs and similar facilities staffed by a variety of para-medics, and auxiliary health workers. A sound knowledge of health, hygiene, sanitation and preventive health could pre-empt many medical problems. These alternatives need to be vigorously debated and adopted to upgrade the national health base.

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Fill-o-sophy
by Raji P. Shrivastav

MISS Philomena Siqueira, better known as ‘Filly’, taught needlework to reluctant Carmelites with ruthless perfection. Her brusque turn of phrase and austere mannerisms were legion. A fund of Filly jokes and anecdotes were handed down from generation to generation of students. She was certainly the one teacher you were least likely to forget years after you passed out.

“Class, take out your knickers!” was not to be interpreted as a criminal command to practice mass nudity. Everyone knew that this meant you just worked on the project of the day, i.e. to sew a pair of girl’s knickers and embellish it with pretty lace work. Woe betide you if you sniggered or giggled, for Filly brooked no nonsense from impertinent young misses and ruled with an iron hand to crush frivolity at all times.

“Is this the way you hand someone a needle, girl?” she would roar at a hapless delinquent who offered her a needle pointy-side up. “At this rate, who do you think is going to sew buttons onto your husband’s coat?” she would ask of a particularly clumsy seamstress. Filly’s legendary temper was feared by all. Nobody could spare a thought for the imaginary future husband, all they cared about just then was how to stop Filly’s paroxysms of rage.

Filly demanded neat, regular stitches, dainty crochet work and meticulous knitting. She expected even the reverse of a piece of needlework to be a work of art. I could do nothing right in her eyes. She ignored my “Good morning, Miss”, made a face at me each time I passed her, and left me in no doubt that she despised me. The feeling was mutual. But while she could express it, I couldn’t. I was the favourite of many other teachers but I spent my school years trying in vain to win Filly’s approval.

Twenty years later, I happened to visit my old school with my eight year old daughter. Much to my delight, the Convent still had some familiar names in residence. Sister Arabella, our former Principal, now retired, was thrilled to meet me and hear that I had achieved my cherished career ambition. She had always had a soft corner for me. “Your mum was the star of our school, my girl!” she told my daughter. I smiled in joy. It felt nice to be in the midst of people who loved you unreservedly, I thought.

Suddenly a saturnine figure appeared from the velvet-curtained doorway to the chapel and squinted at us all in the afternoon sunshine. Sister Arabella piped up, “Come, Philomena. Meet one of our old girls. She has done us proud...and look at her sweet daughter, also a Carmelite…..”

I wondered if Filly would remember me after all these years. She ignored me completely. She scowled piercingly at my daughter and said in tones laced with vinegar, “Your mother was no good at needlework, girl. See that you do better.”

Was it my imagination or did the unrelenting eyes twinkle a little behind the unfashionable spectacle frames?

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False hopes
Afghanistan gears up for another election
by Ian Birrell

AND so the charade begins once again. A state ripped apart by war, poverty and corruption promises to hold elections, and optimistic Western leaders pump in money and troops in a bid to ensure a window of comparative peace for the ballot. The battered populace votes, the results are declared and everyone proclaims the triumph of democracy in another land.

This time it is Afghanistan's turn again. More troops have been sent in to pacify the country for next month's elections, despite the sharply rising death toll.

There needs to be a heavy dose of realism. Once again, we are chasing a chimera, falling for the myth of democracy rather than the reality. Buttressed by our own history, we see the ballot box as the ultimate expression of democracy. In recent years, elections have spread into many places ruled by demagogues and dictators, and there is a widespread expectation that in their wake come new freedoms and prosperity. The assumption is that casting a vote somehow empowers citizens to seize control of their country.

But it takes more than an election to salvage a failed state. All too often, behind the façade of democracy is the same rotten, stinking edifice of murder, extortion and theft. The same big men stay in power, siphoning off state revenue and aid into offshore accounts, while nothing changes for the millions of people for whom voting is a brief interlude in the daily struggle for survival. In many cases, life gets worse.

Afghanistan itself offers a salutary warning. The last election in 2004 was hailed by Western leaders for installing democracy in the country. In truth, as Human Rights Watch exposed, there was massive intimidation of voters, journalists and political rivals.

"Half of parliament are fundamentalists and warlords and criminals," says Wadir Safi, professor of political science at Kabul University. "Looters, smugglers – they are all there." And President Karzai has proved an embarrassing failure, allowing corruption to blossom, giving free reign to local despots and doing deals with the women-hating Taliban.

Now the country is gearing up for another election. Afghan diplomats in Washington tell think-tanks how the vote will empower women, the young and the disabled, while James Carville, the renowned Democrat strategist, is advising one of the main opposition candidates. The dream is back on. Meanwhile, warlords wash the blood from their hands and dress up as democrats, doing deals to carve up the country.

There is nothing unique about this scenario. Three years ago, the United Nations spent nearly half a billion dollars of aid money overseeing an election in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Such was the confidence in the magical power of elections that the international community planned to withdraw peacekeepers the day after the second round of voting, despite a recent history that encompassed Africa's biggest war, its most brazen kleptocracy and most brutal colonial exploitation. To say nothing of the need to count the votes in a vast country where much of the infrastructure lies in ruins.

Instead, things became so unstable after Joseph Kabila's victory that extra peacekeepers were rushed in and fighting broke out between supporters of the winner and Jean-Pierre Bemba, his defeated rival.

Visiting the country a year later, I saw many houses in the more expensive areas of Kinshasa – Bemba's stronghold – still riddled with bullet holes. Tattered election posters were still in evidence, but so was the corruption, the poverty, the plunder, while, hundreds of miles away to the east, the fighting and refugee crisis dragged on.

The lesson of Afghanistan, of the Congo, of Iraq and of many other places is that it is comparatively easy to hold elections, however raw the wounds of conflict. But there is a world of difference between an election and democracy, even in its most ramshackle forms.

Democracy is when there is an independent electoral watchdog, when a leader quits after losing an election, when the courts are unshackled, when the media is free to cause trouble, when the security forces serve the people rather than terrify them. It is the difference between Zimbabwe and its neighbour Botswana.

It is the difference between Iran and India. And it is why President Obama was right to go to Ghana, where an incumbent president stood down recently after the narrowest of election defeats.

Elections in shattered societies can actually make life worse. Paul Collier, a former World Bank economist and author of two brilliant books on failed states, has demonstrated that while political violence falls in the run-up to an election, it often rises in the aftermath as losers seek their share of the spoils.

"Perhaps in encouraging elections, we have landed these societies in an unviable halfway house that has neither the capacity of autocracies to act decisively nor the accountability of a genuine democracy," he says.

Collier does not suggest we ignore their plight. Nor would I. We cannot abandon millions of fellow humans to lives spent in misery. First and foremost, there is a strong moral case for intervention, the human duty to help those less fortunate. It is also in our own interests: if one country collapses, the effects ripple out across the globe, whether in warfare, terrorism, piracy, migration or simply a weaker economic environment. And democracy remains a worthy aspiration, although countries must be free to create variants rooted in their own traditions.

It has taken Western nations centuries to evolve their parliamentary democracies, however imperfect they may sometimes seem. Obama says he does not envisage a "Jeffersonian democracy" in Afghanistan – a big step forward from the glib rhetoric of his predecessor.

But if our troops are to remain in Afghanistan, it will take many years to achieve even a messy brand of democracy. At the end of the process, there will still be some tribal tensions, gangsterism and poppy fields. Even to get to this point will cost billions. It will take many years. And sadly, there will be scores more teenage soldiers slaughtered and maimed.

In many ways, the key question is whether developed nations are prepared to pay this heavy price; to accept intense short-term pain in return for substantial long-term gain. In crude terms, is there the stomach for the fight? Or will we just buy into a comforting illusion of democracy and, after the elections, prepare to walk away from a failed state once again?

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Punjab budget silent on subsidies
by Ranjit Singh Ghuman

A budget is not only an accounting exercise but is also expected to spell out the government's development agenda. However, this year's budget and even the preceding two budgets of Punjab do not meet this criterion.

The Finance Minister, Mr Manpreet Singh Badal, has admitted that his hands are tied and his pre-budget proposals are often knocked down by the Cabinet.

The ever-rising revenue, fiscal and primary deficits are a cause of worry. Yet the budget does not spell out any strategy to mobilise additional resources. Not to talk of new taxes, even the large-scale tax evasion and a rapidly growing size of black money have not been touched in the budget.

Lowering the size of black money even by 10 to 20 per cent could mobilise Rs 7,000 crore to Rs 14,000 crore annually.

The Finance Minister could have saved Rs 1,500 crore to Rs 1,800 crore annually by rationalising and targeting free power to the needy, leaving out medium and big farmers whose average land holding size is 15 and 38 acres, respectively.

There is a widespread feeling that the subsidies and freebies should only go to the deserving sections of the population. The Finance Minister is on record that the indiscriminate subsidies/freebies should have to be stopped if the financial health of the state exchequer is to be improved. However, the budget is silent on this issue.

Both the government and farmers must understand that free power is not in any party's interest. In the name of free power, the PSEB has started charging hefty amounts under one scheme or the other.

The relatively better-off farmers may be able to bear the burden of those charges, but marginal and small farmers would be further marginalised.

Already nearly four lakh applications for tubewell connection are pending with the PSEB spanning over the last 20 years.

Instead of free power there are many better alternatives which can be of great help to the farm sector. For example, there is an urgent need to regulate and licence the arhtiyas; a one-time settlement of non-institutional loans; a provision of adequate institutional loans at a reasonable rate of interest; relief to the families of suicide victims; increased public funding for R&D in agriculture, dairying and other allied activities to make them cost effective; save farmers the cost of diesel by providing adequate electricity; development of the rural non-farm sector so as to generate employment for unemployed youth.

The budget and the development agenda of the state must focus on rural development, health, education, generation of additional electricity and eventually the development of the secondary and tertiary sectors.

This requires political will. The political parties, the bureaucracy and policymakers have to be proactive to the needs of the state.

The writer is a Professor of economics at Punjabi University

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Chatterati
Ambika gets tough with officials
by Devi Cherian

Ambika SONI has built a reputation for her quick wit and no-nonsense approach. She has enough experience of dealing with all kinds of situations. At a recent meeting with Prasar Bharti Board officials, each member narrated long tales of grievances.

After lending them a patient ear, she really hit them hard when she asked them to put everything in writing. There was a shock element and complete silence after that.

Then again, there was a member who was constantly threatening to resign. The minister turned to him and asked for his papers. That really shook all of them.

Not many ministers are so brave to take on their officials head-on. Ambika is a firm lady who delivers and is not ready to compromise on issues which she believes in.

Taming the royals

No more 'Kunwar', 'Raja', Rani', 'Begum' and 'Shrimati' in the Congress now. Forty years ago Indira Gandhi did away with privy purses in what was then meant to signal the arrival of a post-colonial egalitarian age.

Even though the titles of Maharaja and Rani were abolished, the royal references lingered in conversation. The royal and feudal honorifics remained prefixed to the names of leaders in the Congress party records.

Now, hopefully, the order will be followed as the party has decided to deglamourise the royals while also striking at their world-view of a social hierarchy that sets them apart from the hoi-polloi.

Young and powerful

Whenever Parliament is in session, it's a mix of work and party time for members of Parliament. This Parliament has a mix of the mature and elderly trying to leave a hallmark and youngsters ready to learn. It's always a treat to see them all at work and play.

The older generation has this know-all arrogance. The Congress's young brigade is aged between 25 and 35, whereas the other parties’ young look around 50.

The brand new lot is grinning from ear to ear. It's after all an achievement. They have made it and are all in Rahul Gandhi's team. Some are new to politics, some have inherited it. The new ones have stories to tell about how Rahul picked them up and how they think they are the future.

The second-timers are a bit more careful. They don't utter a word out of place. You don't know what will be interpreted as what and carried where. They are trying to settle without upsetting seniors and carefully creating a platform for themselves.

But it's a pleasure to see these educated, smart MPs with their sophisticated wives lead normal lives. In the evenings you can spot them at five-star hotels, dhabas, pubs or even strolling in the Khan Market. They are health conscious and all are members of different gyms.

The seniors are never seen at a gym or a park, only at the five-stars. You can never catch them at a Sagar, where you will find Rahul Gandhi more than often enjoying his simple meal. No security for the youngsters as they value their freedom.

One notices the change brought about by the young, educated MPs. Thank God, it's a healthier change. After all, it's a world of young, dynamic, educated yet normal youngsters. The world's most powerful man — the US President — is only 47.

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