Criminals in politics
Inflation is in
The changing face of Tibet
Critical but stable
Criminals in politics
UNION Home Minister Shivraj Patil's proposal to convene an all-party meeting to examine the issue of barring "criminally-inclined" persons from contesting elections is welcome. The Chief Election Commissioner is also exercised about the issue as we have mentioned in these columns. It is a shame that the number of candidates with criminal background has been increasing with each election. Worse, these criminals, in turn, become ministers at the Centre and in the states. Consequently, the damage they inflict on the entire system of governance and administration is incalculable. Criminals will have to be rooted out of all the representative institutions - from Parliament to village panchayats. However, this is possible only if there is the required political will, backed by an all-party consensus. It is hoped that the Centre will demonstrate the necessary zeal and urgency in pushing through this crucial reform at the all-party meeting.
There should be no problem regarding the cut-off period for charge-sheeted politicians. The Election Commission has suggested that candidates be barred from contesting elections if they are charge-sheeted at least six months before the announcement of the poll date. This appears reasonable. Mr Patil's fear that cases may be booked against Opposition candidates even before one year of the elections seems far-fetched. The Centre can make headway on the issue only with a positive frame of mind. If there are differences, Mr Patil should try for a mutually acceptable cut-off period at the all-party meeting.
Clearly, political parties themselves can tackle this problem effectively if they take the initiative in the right spirit. Let them first refuse to give tickets to tainted politicians. The problem will be solved automatically. Lawbreakers should not become lawmakers and they will have to be halted in their tracks at the stage of nomination itself. Thus, the reform process should begin at the level of the political parties themselves. It is hoped that the proposed all-party meeting will take into account the national sentiment on the issue and act accordingly.
Inflation is in
CONTRARY to the RBI prediction and the Economic Survey's expectations of inflation staying at a manageable level of 5 per cent or so, it has shot up to a two-year high of 7.51 per cent. This means a sharp rise in the cost of living. The prices of a number of commodities are monitored through a wholesale price index and any rise in it is bound to disconcert citizens. The government says the price rise is due to the delayed monsoon. It has alerted the RBI, which can tighten the monetary policy. It means the bank rate - the rate at which the RBI lends money to banks, which at present is 6 per cent - may be raised. This will, in turn, lead to a rise in the interest rates, which would hit all those who have taken loans.
However, the government has only limited control over inflation. This is because the current rise in inflation is largely due to a steep hike in the global petrol and steel prices. The global crude price is at a record high of $44.70 a barrel. The Central and state governments also charge a high tax on petrol and diesel. They can cut down the tax drastically to soften the impact of high petro prices. The oil price hike has a cascading effect on general prices as transportation costs more. Steel and iron prices are ruling high because of a massive demand from China. The recent Union Budget had also hiked the duty on steel.
Although the government claims inflation would ease with the arrival of the monsoon, harder times are ahead even if the monsoon does not disappoint. The cost of living will rise further once the Budget for 2004-05, which has effected a 2 per cent increase in the service tax and imposed a 2 per cent education cess on all existing taxes, is passed by August-end. If the interest rates turn upward following the RBI intervention, the demand for loans for housing and white goods would slow down, adversely affecting industry and employment prospects. At the end, it all depends on the world oil prices and the government's will to cut the levies on oil. The monsoon, of course, can brighten or spoil the party.
AFTER Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra has become the third state to offer free electricity to its farmers. The chief ministers of these states have apparently learnt no lessons from Punjab where the state power board had sunk deeper in a financial quagmire. The water table has also fallen sharply because of the over-exploitation of underground water. Besides, the Badal government was voted out despite the supply of free power and irrigation water to the farm sector. Maharashtra's power board is also near bankrupt and has outstandings of about Rs 7,000 crore. The free power to some 23 lakh farmers in the state will further burden the board with an additional Rs 5,200 crore.
Such a scary economic fallout, however, does not worry Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde or other short-sighted politicians like him for whom winning an election is more important than providing responsible governance. They have mistakenly interpreted the Andhra result as a vote for free power. What ordinary people want is the supply of regular power at affordable rates. What is the use of free power when there is, or there will be, no power at all?
The decision to give free power is also illegal. The recently passed Electricity Act specifically lays down that no state government can provide free electricity to any user. In their desperation to win elections, political parties vie with one another in announcing pre-election sops. Voters do not always see through their game-plan. Loan-waiver is next on the sop agenda of political parties in Maharashtra. The Centre watches such state-level developments helplessly. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his pro-reform team have many times pleaded for the levy of user charges for public services, but in states no one takes them seriously.
Death must be distinguished from dying, with which it is often confused.
The changing face of Tibet
RIGHT since the Chinese annexed Tibet in 1951 — they call it “liberation” — a systematic attempt has been made to assimilate it. This process is now almost complete. The invitation extended for the first time to Indian journalists last month to visit Tibet and “see things for yourself” by the newly formed China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture has to be viewed in that context. It was a veritable presentation of fait accomplii.
Indeed, China is very much in command there. The internal ferment that one has heard so much about is not perceivable anywhere. The whole Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is as quintessentially Chinese today as its other provinces.
Thirteen hundred years old Lhasa could be a replica of any other medium-sized Chinese city. There are wide roads, high-rise buildings and a flourishing market in the “city of sunlight”. There are no signs of impending revolt. Life goes on as usual. There are long lines of devotees at the imposing Potala Palace, which is the residence of various generations of the Dalai Lama and towers over the town, the Jekhong temple, the holiest of holy shrines of Tibetan Buddhists. People wear modern clothes and yet prostrate themselves while going round the monastery.
Whatever the Chinese officials may say, they have not been able to obliterate the memory of the Dalai Lama from the collective mind of the Tibetans. For most of them he is still the living God. If the Chinese government thinks it can win the battle for the mind of the Tibetans without the support of the Dalai Lama, it is deluding itself.
His name does not find mention in any publications. Even carrying his picture in public is a grave offence. Still, he continues to be the conscience keeper of the teeming Tibetans. This love for him has not diminished in any way; it has only gone underground. The flight of the Karmapa Lama from China sometime back was only a manifestation of this disillusionment.
That does not mean the average Tibetan is ready to rise in revolt against the “foreign domination”. Far from it. China has pumped in billions of dollars for the upliftment of the backward region. There has been a marked improvement in their standard of living. An old colleague who had visited Lhasa 50 years ago vouchsafed for it. This prosperity seems to be enough for them to forget that they have been “liberated” of their independence. And for those who still may have the urge to resist it all, there is also the strong presence of the Chinese army which means business. Interestingly, while it is known to everybody that there is a formidably large number of armymen in Tibet, they do not make their presence obtrusive. In fact, more security personnel may be visible on the streets of Chandigarh than that of Lhasa.
What matters is that the life goes on as usual. There are crowds not only at the monasteries but also at the pubs. After the initial targeting of monasteries, China now follows a mellowed down policy under which monasteries are allowed to be free in their day-to-day management, of course under Chinese supervision. They boast of a huge collection of Buddhist art works and historical relics. Engravings, frescos and murals are to be seen to be believed. While the Potala Palace is a world heritage site, the Jokhang temple and some other monasteries are under national or Tibetan protection as cultural relics.
Monks and nuns today have to do more than reciting scriptures and meditating. They have not only to know the political ideology but also to be “adept” in “useful” work like agriculture. In other words, they have to have the clearance of the Chinese government.
Still, thousands of devotees throng the monasteries. Many of these imposing buildings have undergone restoration and preservation. Precious statues and stones are very much there at the Potala Palace, Jekhong temple and the Samye monastery, the first one to be established in Tibet way back in 775 AD. Over 1,400 monasteries are in existence. Unless one has a complete list of monasteries that were in existence before the Chinese excursion, it is not possible to say how many have been closed down.
It is but natural to be nostalgic about the lifestyle of Lhasa which is extinct now. But then things have changed a lot in, say, Leh as well. The key factor is that the majority of the local people seem to be reconciled to the changed circumstances.
Obviously, every Tibetan living in exile in India or elsewhere nurtures the fond hope that some day his country will be independent again. But travelling through Tibet does not refurbish this belief. For one thing, there is no sign of an impending uprising against the “foreign” yoke. Two, the region is too vital for the Chinese — to keep an eye on several countries to the South, particularly India — for any sort of compromise. Three, international support is limited to extending only lip sympathy to the displaced Tibetans.
What is also significant is that India has already stated that it recognises that the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is a part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China. Delhi has also reiterated that it will not allow Tibetans to engage in anti-China activities in India. This recognition was given during the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Beijing in June last year and it was even mentioned that it was “consistent with its stand since 1954”.
How many Han Chinese have settled down in Tibet is a matter of conjecture. According to official figures, the number is no more than 5 per cent of the population. Tibetan exiles put it at over 30 per cent. What is remarkable is that the climate at the roof of the world is so extreme that very few people from outside can make it their home. Besides Chinese officials and armymen, those who come to Tibet for trade do so only for a few months during the summer.
Whatever the political cost, it is undeniable that there has been a lot of economic development. Tibet now has a good network of roads. It will be linked by railways also in about two years. Greenhouses abound even in villages where very little grew before the Chinese advent. Tsedang, the capital of the Shennan prefecture, 200 km from Lhasa, that we visited boasts of all modern amenities. The area is rich in minerals but very little of it is being mined because of the fragility of the ecology. So, the opening up is not an unmitigated disaster.
But it is also a fact that there is a lot of gap between the development of villages and towns. The town-centric growth has not percolated to the villages as much as it should have. Cell-phones can be seen even in the remotest villages of this land of distances, but as far as competing with their city cousins in the matter of doing trade or competing for jobs is concerned, the village folks are nowhere in the reckoning. This imbalance is sought to be corrected but will take a long time to rectify.
The overall rate of growth in some sectors is better than that in India. The two countries can learn from each other’s experience, if only their relations improve and India stops patronising the western models which are far less suitable to the Indian situation. The Chinese and Indian systems of governance may be different but the problems that they face are essentially similar in
Critical but stable
AS the days succeed into tomorrows and I set on the journey towards ripeness, many bottled-up emotions are released when I come across the health bulletin mentioning the condition of an ailing VIP as critical but stable. This exactly is the case of all those senior citizens who have entered the evenings of their life and are facing difficulties despite the fact that innumerable welfare schemes have worn many a pencil down.
Out of a crowd of memories let me draw attention to a few incidents which were warnings of the dramatic transformation ahead and provided an insight of realities of the coming days.
“Colour of the hair” was one of the columns of a form that was required to be filled in for the renewal of my passport. It was grey but the transformation was hard to swallow like the polluted water. However, a little pluck and intelligence suddenly outshined. I wrote that it was “black but turning grey”. This was the first warning of the rough roads ahead.
Probably I was born with a tiny piece of roasted chicken in my mouth as my love for Indian curry made of chicken and meat has grown from strength to strength. My favourite eating haunt was a “dhaba” specialising in tandoori chicken and its delicacies. I had immediately struck a rapport with its owner as he could read my innermost thoughts and serve the dishes I desired most on each visit. Once with a piece of tandoori, out came one of my teeth. I never realised that this was the second warning.
We were required to go through the newspaper everyday. The Tribune was the only paper published in the Punjab during those days and each member of the family read it. Eversince, my mornings would begin with a prayer and the paper. One day it became difficult for me to read the small prints as they appeared blurred. The eye specialist advised me to wear glasses. Thereafter came a warning to do away with excess fat and resort to raw green, to adopt more and more of nature’s bounties and end up with delicious health-giving salads. I then realised that it was time for me to take care of “Roti, Kapda and Makaan”.
It is high time that “critical but stable” was replaced by our customary salutations and recurring refrain “Baqui Sab Khairyat Hai” woven into almost all our traditional epistolary efforts. I am now immune to all kinds of pinpricks and as the days roll by, I go on humming to myself these lines:
“I feel no hurt
I feel no pain
I feel no sunshine
I feel no rain
I feel no laughter
I feel no tears
I have felt them
OVER lunch on an uncommonly pleasant August Sunday afternoon a friend related a troubling anecdote. An acquaintance, on his way home after a day’s work at his law office in downtown Washington, was stopped by a pair of policemen and ordered to reveal the contents of his briefcase. After a cursory examination, he was waved on.
“It’s very disturbing that things like this are happening here,” my lunch mate declared. “What next, a police state,” he asked, answering his own question.
He isn’t the only one worrying about curbs on freedoms once taken for granted in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Since September 11, 2001, America has been held hostage by a faceless group of terrorists.
On August 1, the nation’s capital went on high alert after the Department of Homeland Security raised the terror level to Code Orange — a high risk of terrorist attacks.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge cited “unusually specific information” that certain financial centres of New York city and northern New Jersey, and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were purported targets of these terrorists.
The police on Capitol Hill — the nerve centre of US policymaking — has closed a major thoroughfare and numerous checkpoints and concrete roadblocks have sprung up.
Manoeuvring his taxi through these barriers and frustrated by unexpected road closures, Sergei, an East European emigre, gestured furiously: “They [the Americans] used to talk about Russia’s Iron Curtain. What do you call all this?”
Similar security arrangements have been provided in the vicinity of the World Bank and the IMF.
Both financial institutions have moved forward their 2004 annual meetings by two days to the weekend of October 2-3 and condensed the conference schedule. William Murray, IMF spokesman, explained the decision took into account “the issue of security and allowing the District of Columbia to function on weekdays.”
In the city’s metro system, police patrols have been stepped up. The metro board also recently requested funds to purchase sensors to detect the presence of chemical and biological weapons.
Law enforcement personnel have been instructed to rearrange exterior vehicle barriers (traffic cones) to alter traffic patterns; approach all illegally parked vehicles in and around potential terrorist targets, question drivers and direct them to move immediately, if the owner cannot be identified, have vehicle towed. One of the more interesting steps on a list of security suggestions is a plan to install “special locking devices on manhole covers.”
“We know this is a terrorist organisation that does its homework. Al-Qaeda often plans well, well in advance. We also know that they like to update their information before a potential attack,” Mr Ridge darkly declared last week.
Such alarming prophecies are, undoubtedly, taking a toll on mental health.
The National Mental Health Association features the document “Understanding Your Mental Health In Times of War and Terrorism” on its Website.
“Facing a new war and the continuing terrorist threat, Americans are experiencing many powerful emotions,” the document notes. “For most people, the intense feelings of anxiety, sadness, grief and anger are healthy and appropriate. But some people may have a more profound and debilitating reaction to the war.”
In order to cope and maintain a sense of normalcy,the NMHA suggests people “remain engaged in the world by staying connected with people, keep up on the news but don’t watch it round the clock; make an emergency communication plan with family and friends; reintroduce yourself to neighbours and exchange phone numbers.”
Ironically, the association’s antidote for sanity is much the same as that prescribed by liberal analysts for the treatment of America’s stricken foreign policy.
In a city as celebrated for its political power as it is for the simple elegance of its monuments to leaders past, the memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt is one of the most striking.
Pink Carnelian granite walls and paving stones are matched in elegance by bronze statues and Minnesota granite benches. On the walls are inscribed quotations from the late President. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” the wartime leader once proclaimed.
In its entirety the quote reads: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
RAILWAY Minister Lalu Prasad, who is desparately trying to shed “Yadav” from his name, has now his eye on the South to garner votes for strengthening his RJD. Though the RJD is confined to Bihar, he is desirous of his party striking roots outside Bihar. No sooner did he express this desire than a few parties in the southern states approached him. One of them suggested that he should hold a RJD convention in Kerala in September. He agreed on the condition that the dates of the convention should not clash with a session of Parliament. However, the leaders of another party in the South whose activists reportedly sent feelers to Lalu Prasad are not enthused. This leader was in Delhi recently and when asked about her party’s plans, she nonchalantly asked: “Lalu, who?” That effectively closed her party’s doors on Lalu Prasad which left many of her minions red-faced.
However, the leaders of another party in the South whose activists reportedly sent feelers to Lalu Prasad are not enthused. This leader was in Delhi recently and when asked about her party’s plans, she nonchalantly asked: “Lalu, who?” That effectively closed her party’s doors on Lalu Prasad which left many of her minions red-faced.
suggestion Former Samata Party President Jaya Jaitley is in favour of a content regulatory authority for the broadcast media and thinks that Tehelka was a creation of the visual media. Jaya spent the entire day at the National Museum auditorium at a national consultation of women and the media to understand problems of women journalists and suggest ways to check indecent representation of women in the media. She suggested that readers should stop subscribing to newspapers which project women in a derogatory manner. She said that readers ought to reject what they do not wish to see and write to newspapers saying that they would not buy the newspaper if it continues to project women in an indecent manner. “No sale is the biggest punishment, but we will buy and also cry and curse,’’ she said.
Former Samata Party President Jaya Jaitley is in favour of a content regulatory authority for the broadcast media and thinks that Tehelka was a creation of the visual media.
Jaya spent the entire day at the National Museum auditorium at a national consultation of women and the media to understand problems of women journalists and suggest ways to check indecent representation of women in the media.
She suggested that readers should stop subscribing to newspapers which project women in a derogatory manner. She said that readers ought to reject what they do not wish to see and write to newspapers saying that they would not buy the newspaper if it continues to project women in an indecent manner. “No sale is the biggest punishment, but we will buy and also cry and curse,’’ she said.
Beauty, not brains Journalists blame managements for their working conditions. Unions, which have become redundant under the contractual system of employment, blame women journalists for not coming forward to contest elections in journalist unions. During the national debate on women in the media, journalists highlighted problems ranging from discrimination in opportunities and assignments and said that they had their share of covering kitchen gardens, flower shows, dog shows, zoos, school fetes and other soft assignments. Women from the electronic media said that pretty young women with visual acceptability are being preferred by a private television channel which had even defined the age limit for hiring news presenters.
Journalists blame managements for their working conditions. Unions, which have become redundant under the contractual system of employment, blame women journalists for not coming forward to contest elections in journalist unions.
During the national debate on women in the media, journalists highlighted problems ranging from discrimination in opportunities and assignments and said that they had their share of covering kitchen gardens, flower shows, dog shows, zoos, school fetes and other soft assignments.
Women from the electronic media said that pretty young women with visual acceptability are being preferred by a private television channel which had even defined the age limit for hiring news presenters.
TRS chief gets
reprieve After Shibu Soren, Telengana Rastra Samiti chief and Union minister without portfolio K Chandrashekhar Rao is now in the spotlight with a non-bailable warrant issued against him in Andhra Pradesh. He wasted no time in meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and impressing upon him that this is yet another attempt in political vengeance by the Teleugu Desam party. Interestingly, the court has given him a reprieve till September. However, the problem for the Prime Minister on the tainted ministers’ front remains. Contributed by Prashant Sood, Tripti Nath , R Suryamurthy and S Satyanarayanan
After Shibu Soren, Telengana Rastra Samiti chief and Union minister without portfolio K Chandrashekhar Rao is now in the spotlight with a non-bailable warrant issued against him in Andhra Pradesh. He wasted no time in meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and impressing upon him that this is yet another attempt in political vengeance by the Teleugu Desam party.
Interestingly, the court has given him a reprieve till September. However, the problem for the Prime Minister on the tainted ministers’ front remains.
Contributed by Prashant Sood, Tripti Nath , R Suryamurthy and S Satyanarayanan
Spread the truth and preach the doctrine in all quarters of the world, so that in the end all living creatures will be citizens of the kingdom of righteousness.
— The Buddha
The Guru is the ladder, the beat, the raft by means of which one attains to God.
— Guru Nanak
By two wings, a man is lifted up from things earthly: by simplicity and purity.
— Thomas A Kempis
Be dissolved in the Lord even as the crude medicine is dissolved by spirit.
— Sri Ramakrishna
The only God to worship is the human soul in the human body.