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EDITORIALS

A step forward
Go further, scrap the Armed Forces Act
P
RIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh’s statement that the Centre is working on amending the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to protect human and civil rights in Manipur is most welcome. Addressing a meeting at Imphal, he said the people of Manipur were entitled to the same privileges and legal protection that those in other states enjoyed. This statement should help calm frayed nerves and convince the people about the Centre’s determination to remove their sense of alienation and integrate them into the national mainstream.

Hall of shame
High on drugs, low on performance
W
HICH is more depressing for Indians: the country’s top discus thrower Seema Antil testing positive for a banned drug and withdrawing from the Asian Games or the cricketers getting a drubbing at the hands of South Africans in the one-day internationals? The question is debatable, but the former incident has certainly brought greater disgrace to the country.



 

 

EARLIER STORIES

Invite Hurriyat to talks
December 4, 2006
We will tackle women’s problems jointly: Kamal
December 3, 2006
Setback for BJP
December 2, 2006
Protest within limits
December 1, 2006
Politics of oil
November 30, 2006
Rajnath again
November 29, 2006
Maya in the soup
November 28, 2006
Dam of discord
November 27, 2006
Career in the military
November 26, 2006
SC snubs Modi
November 25, 2006
Hu’s advice
November 24, 2006
India, China move forward
November 23, 2006
Blasting peace
November 22, 2006


Fallen bridge
More disasters waiting to happen
I
NSTEAD of just suspending two engineers following the collapse of a 145-year-old bridge on a passing train at Bhagalpur on Saturday, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad should have owned up moral responsibility and initiated steps to prevent other similar disasters waiting to happen.
ARTICLE

Cricket a national passion
But spare a thought for other games too
by S. Nihal Singh
C
RICKET is more than a game in India. It is a national passion, and when the Indian cricket team loses its way, the nation mourns. We have been treated to a host of technical details about bouncy pitches and how Indian cricketers do not travel well. But given the scale of India's defeats in One Day International in South Africa, it is pertinent to ask broader questions.

MIDDLE

Strains of colonial America
by Neha Wattas
W
ELCOME to the “18th Century”, said my fiance, as we emerged from our yellow cab right outside the high doors of the City Tavern restaurant in Olde City, Philadelphia. As we entered, the warmth of the mellow candle light from big French windows beckoned us, as did the aromas of wholesome homestyle fare.

OPED

Bush meets Maliki to rescue Iraq from chaos of civil war
by Rupert Corwell in Washington
 
P
RESIDENT George Bush arrived for a last-ditch summit in Amman last week with Washington’s entire strategy in Iraq unraveling and America’s patience all but exhausted at seeing US troops trapped in the midst of what amounts to a civil war.

Revitalising cooperatives 
by Sanjay Verma
C
ONSIDER two contrasts which are striking. Mr P. Chidambaram, Union Minister of Finance, seeks investment of the corporate sector in agricultural activities. President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, on the other hand, calls for cooperatives to accelerate jatropha cultivation in the country based on the Amul model.

Hugo Chavez re-elected
Venezuelan President
by Chris Kraul
Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez won a resounding re-election victory on Sunday, setting the scene for a promised ``deepening'' of his socialist revolution and a broader role as leftist lightening rod on the world stage.

Delhi Durbar
Protectionism of another kind

Business leaders attending the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit recently were leaving the venue after attending the morning session where Congress President Sonia Gandhi was the key speaker when they were stopped at the exit gate by the security personnel.

  • Embarrassing for UPA

  • Beijing to emulate Delhi?

  • Promotions blocked

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A step forward
Go further, scrap the Armed Forces Act

PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh’s statement that the Centre is working on amending the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to protect human and civil rights in Manipur is most welcome. Addressing a meeting at Imphal, he said the people of Manipur were entitled to the same privileges and legal protection that those in other states enjoyed. This statement should help calm frayed nerves and convince the people about the Centre’s determination to remove their sense of alienation and integrate them into the national mainstream. Equally important is his hint at amending the Act to make it “more humane”. However, it is not clear which provisions of the Act the Centre would like to amend. The Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy Committee, which was appointed a day before Dr Singh’s earlier visit to Manipur in November 2004, had recommended the repeal of the Act in Manipur and elsewhere in the North-East. The committee called it “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness.”

Unfortunately, the Centre is yet to make this report public, leave alone implement it, though it was submitted in June 2005. The high-powered committee has recommended the repeal of the Act but the Prime Minister has hinted at only amending it. It remains to be seen whether this would be acceptable to the people who have suffered long enough because of the flagrant abuse of the Act by the Army and the security personnel.

Undoubtedly, the Prime Minister is sincere and earnest in his commitment to restore peace in Manipur. But this should be clearly reflected in the nature and scope of amendments that the Centre is contemplating to make the Act “more humane”. Human rights groups and women’s organisations have been demanding its repeal to stop its abuse. Significantly, Irom Sharmila, a young poet, has been on hunger strike for the past six years protesting against this draconian Act. Though the authorities have been force-feeding her through the nose, she is unrelenting in her campaign for repeal of the Act. The Centre would do well to keep the sentiments and expectations of the people in mind while working to blunt the repressive provisions of the Act. 

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Hall of shame
High on drugs, low on performance

WHICH is more depressing for Indians: the country’s top discus thrower Seema Antil testing positive for a banned drug and withdrawing from the Asian Games or the cricketers getting a drubbing at the hands of South Africans in the one-day internationals? The question is debatable, but the former incident has certainly brought greater disgrace to the country. After all, the whitewash in cricket can still be digested with the consolation that you win some and lose some – although India did not win any of the four matches. But the doping scandal has taken the sheen off even the earlier few victories posted by Indian sportsmen. Weightlifters and boxers have already besmirched India’s name enough, so much so that the Indian Weightlifting Federation has been banned for the second time by the world body in less than two years. Seema Antil has brought a bad name to the whole continent. The Haryana girl had been stripped of her junior world gold medal in 2001 and now faces a possible life ban. Ironically, the 23-year-old Seema had become the country’s top discus thrower after previous record holder Neelam Jaswant Singh was banned for two years in 2005 when she tested positive for a stimulant at the Helsinki World Athletics Championships.

India’s hall of shame is large. Earlier offenders include “star” performers like N Kunjarani Devi, Edwin Raju, Pratima Kumari, Tajinder Singh, Shailja Pujari, Subrata Kumar Pal and B. Prameelavalli. It won’t do to sweep their activities under the carpet. There is need for a thorough enquiry to map the dope trail in Indian sport. Whether it is the players themselves who are putting their lives on line by taking steroids for the sake of elusive medals, or it is their coaches who are goading them to do so, there is need for a zero-tolerance policy.

And, as far as cricketers are concerned, it appears as if they were on some kind of performance-lowering drugs. Batsmen did not bat and bowlers did not bowl. It was that simple. Here also, it is necessary to do a reality check instead of playing the blame game. Till the matter is sorted out, it is unfair to the millions of cricket lovers to send abroad a team flying the Indian colours which is bent on playing at club level.

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Fallen bridge
More disasters waiting to happen

INSTEAD of just suspending two engineers following the collapse of a 145-year-old bridge on a passing train at Bhagalpur on Saturday, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad should have owned up moral responsibility and initiated steps to prevent other similar disasters waiting to happen. Asking for his resignation is irrelevant as ministerial standards of governance are no longer the same as during the time of Lal Bahadur Shastri. Besides, so frequent are railway mishaps that hardly any minister would stay for more than a year. If Mr Prasad justifiably takes credit for the turnaround in the railway finances, he should own up to lapses by his men in the railways as well.

It may appear as a freak accident, but it was avoidable if only the rules for the dismantling of overbridges had been followed. Debris had been falling off and on from the bridge affecting the movement of trains. And yet railway officials did not deem it fit to divert trains to other routes. Reports say a new alternative bridge had already been constructed. The bridge had reportedly been listed “weak” as far back as 1993. The Railway Safety Review Committee headed by Justice H.R. Khanna had identified 300 bridges across the country to be repaired or replaced. Obviously, little heed has been paid to this warning in the last 13 years.

In a report released in July this year the Commission of Railway Safety had noted a 44 per cent increase in incidents of train collision. Mistakes by railway employees were responsible for 50.85 per cent of the train accidents. Human life is valuable and the railways would not like to see its good work on the financial front ruined by poor adherence to the safety norms. The railway staff need to be more vigilant as most accidents are a result of negligence. To upgrade technology and hardware to prevent mishaps, the minister should make full use of the Rs 17,000 crore non-lapsable safety fund floated in 2000. There can be no excuse for man-made mishaps.

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Thought for the day

I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law. — Martin Luther King

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Cricket a national passion
But spare a thought for other games too
by S. Nihal Singh

CRICKET is more than a game in India. It is a national passion, and when the Indian cricket team loses its way, the nation mourns. We have been treated to a host of technical details about bouncy pitches and how Indian cricketers do not travel well. But given the scale of India's defeats in One Day International in South Africa, it is pertinent to ask broader questions.

First, far from being a gentleman's game, as its English origins would indicate, cricket is a great leveller in the Indian setting. Indeed, there is no other game that binds the master and the servant, the employer and his driver, the chowkidar and the burra sahib. In India's hierarchical society, it is in order to exchange scores of a test match or a One Day International with strangers, as it is to exchange notes between the high and the low.

That said, the exalted status our national cricketers enjoy has led them astray. It is all very well for Bollywood actors to double up as agents for selling colas and face cream. They are, after all, actors employing their acting skills for personal profit. But reducing cricketers to fashion models and sales agents for particular brands of cars is another matter altogether.

Such activities take them away from the rigorous training and focus that is required of top-class sportsmen. An occasional foray into the world of fashion can be overlooked, but Indian cricketers have of late been making a habit of donning quaint clothes to appear on the ramp. And since Mahendra Singh Dhoni's style of wearing his hair became a fashion statement, his scoring rate has plummeted.

Another trend, set by Sachin Tendulkar, is opening a restaurant. The Mumbai model has been copied by Sourav Ganguly in Kolkata. The logic of such unconventional enterprise is that the shelf life of a sportsman is limited and he has to think of providing himself and his family a nest egg for an uncertain future. But such ventures can only be distractions in the Spartan regimen required from a champion sportsman to be in top form. Since top cricketers earn good money, unlike a lot of champions in other sport, branded restaurants can be opened after retirement.
Nobody will begrudge top cricketers their fame and the adulation they are treated to. Their stellar performances are national joys as is the sorrow that greets their failure. When the streak of failure extends to a series, there are second thoughts akin to desperation. We are an emotional people and feel triumphs as keenly as defeats. The alternating moods of sorrow and joy that greeted Ganguly's exclusion from the national side and his subsequent return in his hometown were lead items in national television channels. But was it fair to attack poor Kaif's residence for his less than illustrious performance?

Members of Parliament gave vent to their feelings over coach Greg Chappell's less than diplomatic comment on the reaction to the Indian team's performance. Surely Chappell should know the cult status Indian cricketers enjoy. But members were equally critical of the players' performance in South Africa and Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav hit the nail on the head by pointing to the anomaly of a politician, in the person of the Agriculture Minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, heading the cricket control board.

For long Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya had made his niche in cricket governance and it needed the political dexterity of Mr Pawar to oust him. Managing cricket is, indeed, a major undertaking, given the national sentiment and big money involved, and, as the football world has demonstrated in Britain, branding and televising rights earn lucrative bids. However, a paid professional chief executive accountable to a supervisory board would be a better bet in imposing discipline on players and looking after the welfare of the organisation.

As our record at the Olympics reveals — we graduated from a single bronze to single silver in the last two Olympics — we are not a sporting nation. There is little emphasis on sporting activities in the general run of the country's schools and colleges and sedentary ways and lazy life too often become the norm in later life. Perhaps the single greatest national deficit is consistency. Momentary highs alternate with long periods of lows.

Top sportsmen the world over learn to master the stress that comes with national expectations. In the Indian case, the stress is greater because the emotional attachment to a cricket player's prowess is so complete. Bad form in one or two matches can be excused but a continuing run of failures invites a measure of hostility. It is as if we hold an individual player or team responsible for letting the country down.

Will the ill winds caused by the Indian record in the South African ODI series blow away? A good Indian performance in the forthcoming tests would make amends. But the ODIs have been a terrible blow and the compact between the nation and the cricket team seems to have snapped. Sunil Gavaskar, the wise man of Indian cricket, spoke for the nation when he said that India could kiss goodbye to the World Cup if the cricketers did not get their act together.

Indian teams have lost matches before and they have choked in finals in the past. Their previous performance in southern Africa had invited national derision. But there is something unique in the new run of losses in the ODIs; the best and the brightest have failed consistently. Mr Everyman asks, how can world class batsmen fold up match after match, bounce or no bounce? Is it a collective loss of confidence and will power? Or have modelling and managing restaurants sapped the strength of our cricketers? As if in sympathy, Navjot Singh Siddhu was convicted in a road rage case 18 years after the offence.

The sooner Indian cricketers and their governing board get back to basics, the better it will be for them and the country. A silver lining in an otherwise dark setting would be if we spared a thought for other sports and their practitioners. They have done the country some service.

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Strains of colonial America
by Neha Wattas

WELCOME to the “18th Century”, said my fiance, as we emerged from our yellow cab right outside the high doors of the City Tavern restaurant in Olde City, Philadelphia. As we entered, the warmth of the mellow candle light from big French windows beckoned us, as did the aromas of wholesome homestyle fare. We were welcomed by a vivacious “mama” — a tad younger version of Aunt Jemima — the popular face of a leading maple syrup brand in the US. Just like Aunt Jemima, our host looked utterly huggable in her frilly bonnet and white lacy apron, with the promise of a meal as hearty as her guffaw.

Before we realised it, we were ushered into the “Long room”, the largest of the seven dining rooms in the grand three-storied building. A vintage man with a long grey beard, dressed in a ruffled white linen shirt and black breeches over silk stockings, started playing an ornate golden floor-harp, transporting us to the sepia-toned aesthetics of 1773.

While sipping fine French Pinot Noir wine and relishing freshly baked cinnamon biscuits, my mind wandered to the elegant ballrooms of the high-society British America, and the resin-polished wooden floors of the Long Room. It was here, that on special occasions, the colonial dark brown furniture and dull blue table linen was cleared away for the proprietor’s daughter to practice her ballet.

As the old harpist played on, without the briefest pause, oblivious of his enchanted audience, he seemed to blend with the milieu of this 18th century theatre-production of sorts. With the movement of his nimble fingers, he navigated us through the passage of time from the late 1700s to early 1800s when George Washington and his foreign diplomat guests dined here. In the bar and coffee room below, were discussed important matters of business by leading merchants, thrusting the tavern into the center-stage of economic and social activities at that time.

When my much awaited entree of “handmade veal sausage, Pennsylvania Dutch style sauerkraut mashed potatoes and Dijon mustard” arrived, the harpsichord melody seemed to approach a crescendo of its own. It brought alive some of the turmoil of the American Revolution — climaxing in the gala first-time Independence Day celebrations in July 1778.

The melody then faded away into melancholy parting notes, making us aware of the noises of the other guests in the dining room, gently bringing us back to the present. The old man, in his musical trance, slowly wrapped his instrument to retire for the night, disappearing into the basement somewhere with the vintage wines in the cellars. I didn’t want it to end — this perfect choreography of American Colonial history. The City Tavern is more than just a theme restaurant. It is really an institution that satisfies the human tendency to edify the past.

Putting on my coat to leave, I ask Aunt Jemima: “How does it feel to wear a bonnet to work everyday?” She answered, in her distinct rustic style, “Honey, in the 18th century it was the slaves that wore it — today it’s liberating to get paid for it!”.

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Bush meets Maliki to rescue Iraq from chaos of civil war
by Rupert Corwell in Washington
 

PRESIDENT George Bush arrived for a last-ditch summit in Amman last week with Washington’s entire strategy in Iraq unraveling and America’s patience all but exhausted at seeing US troops trapped in the midst of what amounts to a civil war.

Mr Bush was joined in Jordan by Iraq’s struggling prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. The political stage for the meeting, hosted by Jordan’s King Abdullah because Baghdad was deemed too dangerous, was set in the bluntest of terms by a top-level US government memo, portraying Mr Maliki as either an ignorant or mendacious leader, unable or unwilling to take the measures necessary to restore stability. The leak to The New York Times of the five-page memo by national security adviser Stephen Hadley was almost certainly deliberate.

It appears intended by the White House to signal what the Bush administration expects the Iraqi government to do and what steps the US might take to shore up the Prime Minister - in whom, officials says, Washington still has confidence.

But the undeclared message of the leak is that time is running out as Republicans as well as Democrats increasingly conclude Iraq is a lost cause and the war no longer worth fighting.

Mr Maliki, writes Mr Hadley, “impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring how to do so.” His intentions “seem good,” but reality on the bloody streets of Baghdad suggested the prime minister was “either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”

Speaking before the talks, King Abdullah — who has warned of the region being engulfed by three interlocking civil wars in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories — declared that stability could only return to Iraq when Iraqi forces took full charge of the country’s security.

But the weakness of Mr Maliki was brutally underlined as parliamentarians and ministers loyal to the anti-US Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr temporarily at least pulled out of the assembly and government in protest at the Amman summit, saying it was “proactive and against the will of the Iraqi people.”

The prime minister, a Shia, is critically dependent on the support of Mr Sadr — whose Mehdi army, observers say, is more potent than the Iraqi forces.

In Washington, reports abounded of a major reorganisation of the 145,000-strong US troop presence in Iraq which would send more units to Baghdad, where a reduction in violence is essential if the country is to be stabilised. ABC News said American forces may be pulled out of al-Anbar province, the heart-land of Sunni resistance where 20,000 marines are tied down trying to contain the insurgency.

The Pentagon denied such plans but other US units may be shifted from more peaceful areas of Iraq to the capital. The Hadley memo referred to “the four-brigade gap” in forces needed in Baghdad — words that imply a shortfall of 15,000 or more troops in the capital, given a US brigade usually consists of at least 3,500 men.

Despite the rising carnage in Iraq, Mr Bush steadfastly refuses to describe the fighting as a civil war.

By arrangement with The Independent

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Revitalising cooperatives 
by Sanjay Verma

CONSIDER two contrasts which are striking. Mr P. Chidambaram, Union Minister of Finance, seeks investment of the corporate sector in agricultural activities.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, on the other hand, calls for cooperatives to accelerate jatropha cultivation in the country based on the Amul model.

On a deeper level, this has wider ramifications. Mr Chidambaram’s call for corporatisation is based on the rationale that the corporate sector involvement will help in value addition, increasing the income of farmers. Dr Kalam has a firm belief that cooperatives through their wide network and grassroots presence can help in pooling resources for jatropha cultivation.

While Dr Kalam’s fondness for cooperatives is well known, Mr Chidambaram’s stand is a wake-up call for the cooperative sector to fasten its belts and re-evaluate its strategies.

At a time when the corporate sector involvement in agriculture is highly advocated, it must not be forgotten that the cooperatives had played a major role in making the country self-reliant in foodgrain production which was key to the success of the first Green Revolution.

Today the scenario is different as the emphasis in the Second Green Revolution will be on per hectare. The cooperative organisations, with the help of scientists and researchers, can help in setting up societies which can provide seeds to farmers at competitive prices.

Cooperatives can play a crucial role in decentralised seed production and making seeds available to farmers in a timely manner. Today most of the farmers have small and uneconomical land-holdings as a result of which they cannot bear the high cost of agricultural implements.

Here the cooperatives, through their wide network, can ensure that farmers are not deprived of right technological tools. It needs no reiteration that the primary agriculture cooperatives have a pivotal role in credit disbursal to farmers for boosting their livelihood.

The time has now come to involve these societies in non-farming business. Besides, the huge potential of cooperatives in value addition activities must be developed. The predominant role of sugar cooperatives in value-addition is noteworthy.

While Mr Chidambaram may be true in his notion that the corporate sector involvement in value addition would be beneficial for augmenting farmers’ income, the fact remains that cooperatives already have strategic advantages in this field which need to be nurtured. The corporates would have to take a few leaves from the pages of cooperatives here.

It is sad that in the wake of farmers’ suicides in a few states, there has been no talk on strengthening cooperative credit institutions or involving them in other strategic areas like agro-industries or other agricultural services in the affected areas as a part of constructive strategy.

Generally, deficiencies in the functioning of cooperative credit institutions have been cited as one of the prime reasons for suicides.

The Punjab Government, realising the grassroots presence of the cooperative banks, is seriously contemplating to revive them, considering that agriculture is in a shambles.

The statements of a few NABARD officials in the state that unless cooperative banks are healthy and credit-worthy, it would not be possible to reach out to every farmer in dire need of credit clearly indicate that the cooperative concept has not outlived its utility.

Similarly, in the aftermath of suicides, there has been no emphasis on devising policies revolving around cooperatives by involving them in value addition in case of perishable products or engaging them in activities serving the needs of various occupational groups. This, no doubt, defies logic.

In the wake of limitations of the public and private sectors, the cooperative model is still actively advocated by policy-makers in areas like water management, rural electrification, rural tourism and rural insurance.

According to a NCUI study, cooperatives are providing employment to as many as 15.94 million people — next only to the public sector.

Of late, the cooperative sector is considering the option to forge strategic alliances with organisations aware of its strengths.

IFFCO, a well-known cooperative, has joined hands with a famous insurance company of Japan to secure the rights of farmers. IFFCO- TOKYO General Insurance Company is now India’s largest insurance company.

Eyebrows were raised when recently Sehkari Bhandar, a cooperative consumer store in Mumbai, entered into an understanding with Reliance to give a face-lift to its business. As business started soaring, it was clearly understood that the cooperatives today cannot afford to remain in isolation in the changing business scenario.

Reliance’s subsequent interest in the cooperative dairy business gave a firm signal that cooperatives need to leverage their strengths so as to send competitive signals to other players.

The private sector is aware that cooperatives have enormous reach and a strong linkage to the community which are key for any business to flourish.

The times have changed. It seems the cooperatives have woke up to the reality that they need to come out of their shell and identify niche areas based on their core competencies. They are open now to network with like-minded partners showing interest to work with them in a mutually-beneficial manner.

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Hugo Chavez re-elected
Venezuelan President
by Chris Kraul

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won a resounding re-election victory on Sunday, setting the scene for a promised ``deepening'' of his socialist revolution and a broader role as leftist lightening rod on the world stage.

With nearly 80 percent of ballots counted, Chavez had 61 percent of the vote, to 38 percent by his rival, Manuel Rosales, according to election officials.

The victory would further Latin America's move to the left after wins by five other left-leaning candidates in the region in little more than a year.

Relations between the President and the United States are at an ebb, amid suspicion by the Bush administration over Chavez's overtures to Iran, his billion-dollar arms purchase agreements with Russia and what Washington says is his lack of cooperation in anti-terror and drug-trafficking efforts.

Venezuela is the fourth largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States, and receipts resulting from the high price of crude have allowed Chavez to wield considerable influence through energy subsidies and direct-aid programs.

Addressing the crowd in front of the presidential Miraflores palace, Chavez said, ``Long live the pre-ordained popular victory. Long live the reign of socialism, the future of Venezuela ... Another defeat for the North American empire. Another defeat for the devil. Down with imperialism.''

Rosales conceded on Sunday night, saying the opposition was up against ``an entire state, all the power of a government in all its structure and dimensions.''

``Tonight we have to recognize that they beat us,'' said Rosales, addressing supporters at his campaign headquarters.

The governor of oil-rich Zulia state, Rosales mounted a challenge to Chavez in September after opposition parties belatedly formed around him. Although Rosales fell short, observers credited him for laying groundwork for a new opposition movement.

The Rosales campaign complained of several irregularities, including refusals by National Election Commission officials at some polls to open ballot boxes for audits, as legally required, and keeping voting booths open past the deadline. Chavez and other government officials, however, declared the election a success with no ``relevant'' irregularities.

``This is my fourth election where my government has been tested, and you can see the dynamism and depth of Venezuelan democracy,'' Chavez said outside a polling place in the poor January 23rd neighborhood here, driving a old Volkswagen Beetle. ``It's a happy day for Venezuela.''

Chavez, who was imprisoned after a failed coup attempt in 1992, was elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2000. He withstood a recall vote in 2004.

Revisions to Venezuela's constitution likely will include changes to allow unlimited reelections, Chavez told reporters. Without such a change, the upcoming term would be his last.

Chavez confidante and congressman Carlos Escarra said in an interview Sunday that he and other legislators would meet this week at Chavez's bidding to lay plans for a sweeping constitutional ``architecture'' that would strengthen the legal standing of presidential decrees, such as the transfer of ownership stakes in businesses and factories to worker cooperatives.

Legislative approval of such a revision is considered a foregone conclusion, since Chavez loyalists occupy all 165 seats in Congress. Opposition candidates boycotted congressional elections in December 2005.

Opponents fear that the constitutional revisions might produce a more authoritarian regime. While acknowledging his popularity among his voter base, Venezuela's poor, anti-Chavez observers say he has weakened democratic institutions by taking control of the judiciary, congress and military, leaving little room for dissent.

But endless waits to vote were the norm even in pro-Chavez neighborhoods such as Las Minas. Store manager Noreliza Iza said her three-hour wait was typical for Venezuelan elections and was ``acceptable.''

The Chavez victory had been predicted by virtually all pollsters, who cited his lavish spending on social programs and public works. Escarra said the victory would extend ``the leadership of Chavez and Venezuela in the world.''

Since last year, left-leaning candidates have won presidential elections in Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia, although not all adhere to Chavez agenda.

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Delhi Durbar
Protectionism of another kind

Business leaders attending the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit recently were leaving the venue after attending the morning session where Congress President Sonia Gandhi was the key speaker when they were stopped at the exit gate by the security personnel. Even as the delegates were visibly perplexed as to why they were being barred from going out, an announcement was made that since Sonia Gandhi was yet to leave the venue, the gates had been closed for security reasons. This prompted one of the delegates to comment: "it is protectionism of a different kind".

Embarrassing for UPA

The conviction of JMM leader Shibu Soren is a big embarressment for the UPA government as it is for the first time in the history of independent India that a Cabinet minister has been found guilty of murder and is destined to be awarded a minimum punishment of life sentence. The development is viewed with serious concern by legal experts for the Manmohan Singh government as many of the memebrs of his Cabinet, specially those belonging to Railway Minsiter Lalu Prasad's party RJD, are facing trial for serious offences like murder, extortion, kidnapping and corruption. Lalu Prasad himself is facing six cases of corruption and one disproportionate assets case arising out of the multi-crore fodder scam.

Beijing to emulate Delhi?

Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit remains optimistic that Delhi would one day surpass Beijing as a world-class city. Addressing a session at the India Economic Summit, she admitted that Delhi has not been able to manage optimally the "archaic problems", but was quick to draw attention to the reforms in the power sector. She went to declare that soon Beijing would want to emulate New Delhi and people from there would want to know why "their capital is not like ours." This won her a resounding applause.

Promotions blocked

Indian Information Service Group "B" officers have in a 12-point letter to the President and the Prime Minister have accused the IAS and the IIS Group "A" officers of indulging in manipulation thereby blocking all promotion avenues for them. They have alleged that while there is a cadre review of Group "A" officers every now and then, there has been none for the Group "B" officers for decades. They demand time-bound promotions as is the case with other specialised services.

Contributed by S Satyanarayanan, S S Negi, Smriti Kak Ramachandran, R Suryamurthy

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