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EDITORIALS

EC in crisis
Gopalaswamy’s move is arbitrary
A
FTER Parliament, the executive and the judiciary another institution of the State, the Election Commission, has now fallen in public esteem. That the three-member body has been ridden with differences was known. But the nation has to worry about the latest crisis the Chief Election Commissioner, Mr N. Gopalaswamy, has caused on the eve of the 15th Lok Sabha elections. 

Who will hear babies’ cries?
Death lurks in Punjab hospitals
T
HE tragedy that struck Patiala’s Government Medical College and Rajindra Hospital with the burning to death of five infants in the small hours of Saturday morning is shocking. The incubators where the babies were kept to save their lives turned into coffins for them when a fire broke out in the photo-therapy unit of the hospital’s Gynaecology Department.



EARLIER STORIES

Crisis in higher education
February 1, 2009
Ekla Chalo
January 31, 2009
Kashmir is bilateral
January 30, 2009
Outrage in Mangalore
January 29, 2009
Have autonomy talks
January 28, 2009
Pin Pakistan down
January 26, 2009
Civil services: The blunted edge
January 25, 2009
Credibility, the best asset
January 24, 2009
Obama on Pakistan
January 23, 2009
Words to remember
January 22, 2009


Corporate greed
Obama gives titans a mouthful
F
OR business and industry leaders to target politicians as being greedy and irresponsible characters, who enrich themselves at the cost of the majority, is par for the course. In fact, in recent years this was not only fashionable among the class of corporate titans but also considered politically correct.

ARTICLE

Nuclear upswing
It’s a buyer’s market for uranium
by O.P. Sabherwal
T
HE Indian nuclear scenario is brightening up, dispelling apprehensions that the global economic recession may act as a spoilsport on the big expectations generated by the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s waiver. In fact, it turns out that the global financial crisis may help in making India’s nuclear power plans bigger and better — both in the indigenous nuclear power domain and in respect of light water reactor imports.

MIDDLE

RV Mama
by R. C. Rajamani
T
HOUGH he was popularly known as RV in political circles, former President R Venkataraman was affectionately called “RV Mama” by young Congress leaders from Tamil Nadu.  One of the youth leaders was the late Rangarajan Kumaramangalam who always sought the late President’s blessings before he did anything new.

OPED

Sense and nonsense
The view from the post bag
by Robert Fisk
M
AIL that you don't see in the Letters to the Editor column. First, here's reader Jack Hyde tipping me off about a possible (real) reason behind Israel's bloodletting in Gaza. He encloses a paper by University of Ottawa economist Michel Chossudovsky who says that "the military intervention of the Gaza Strip by Israeli Forces bears a direct relation to the control and ownership of strategic offshore gas reserves".

Changes that swept South Africa
by Scott Kraft
S
OUTH Africa and I have a history, one that goes beyond the headlines. I arrived here as the Los Angeles Times' bureau chief in 1988, when college campuses back home were pulsing with anti-apartheid protests, to cover what would turn out to be the last years of the black freedom struggle -- bombings, funeral processions and brutal clashes with police.

Chatterati
Poll strategies
by Devi Cherian
A
S the Lok Sabha elections approach strategies are being formed. Sonia Gandhi plans to use the same strategy that she used before the 2004 polls. Rahul wants 30 per cent of the ticket allocations for young Turks. In Bihar the Congress has to reconcile with Lalu and Paswan over seat sharing.





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EC in crisis
Gopalaswamy’s move is arbitrary

AFTER Parliament, the executive and the judiciary another institution of the State, the Election Commission, has now fallen in public esteem. That the three-member body has been ridden with differences was known. But the nation has to worry about the latest crisis the Chief Election Commissioner, Mr N. Gopalaswamy, has caused on the eve of the 15th Lok Sabha elections. To that extent, his suo motu recommendation to the government that Mr Navin Chawala, one of the two Election Commissioners, should be removed for partisanship could not have come at a worse time. What is all the more intriguing is that the Chief Election Commissioner, who had been keeping quiet for a year, has chosen to make his move at this time when final arrangements and poll schedules are to be worked out. Naturally, there is a deep sense of disquiet among all the right-thinking people about the state of affairs. The controversy presents Mr Gopalaswamy in a highly unflattering light. The minimum that the public expects from the Election Commissioners is that they should act in unison and with discretion. Differences can be there but these should have been sorted out in private amicably and much before the polls.

 Although it is a debatable point whether the Chief Election Commissioner at all has the powers to make such a recommendation; even if he does have, it cannot be exercised so brazenly and arbitrarily. Eminent jurists like Fali Nariman, Shanti Bhushan, K K Venugopal and Soli Sorabji are unanimous on that point. The action becomes all the more uncalled for at the 11th hour when Mr Gopalaswamy himself has to lay down his office on April 30.

Unmindful of the fact that the political overtones of the allegations will put a question mark on the fair and impartial image of the Election Commission, Mr Gopalaswamy has already done the unthinkable by sending a letter to the President. But it is in no way binding on the government and it will be very much within its right to reject it with the contempt it deserves. Home Minister P. Chidambaram has already given a hint of this and weighty legal opinion is also in agreement. The credibility of the Election Commission has certainly been compromised, which is unfortunate.

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Who will hear babies’ cries?
Death lurks in Punjab hospitals

THE tragedy that struck Patiala’s Government Medical College and Rajindra Hospital with the burning to death of five infants in the small hours of Saturday morning is shocking. The incubators where the babies were kept to save their lives turned into coffins for them when a fire broke out in the photo-therapy unit of the hospital’s Gynaecology Department. Surprisingly, no doctor or nurse was there. The fact that the nurses’ station is outside the photo-therapy unit shows the height of the negligence of the hospital authorities. Five of the 10 infants in the incubators survived because of the efforts of some attendants who noticed the flames that began to devour the innocent lives. More lives could have been saved had there been someone to take care of the babies.

The fire reportedly broke out as a result of a short circuit. Obviously, there was no foolproof arrangement to prevent such incidents. All those responsible for the tragic occurrence must be given exemplary punishment. The enquiry that has been ordered must be held meticulously. The resignation by the Minister for Medical Education and the suspension of the Principal of the college-cum-hospital and some other staff members are not enough. All the government hospitals in the state need to be thoroughly overhauled to ensure that no lives are lost due to a tragedy of the kind Patiala has gone through. The committee appointed by the government to improve the health of the hospitals was long overdue.

A recent Tribune survey of Punjab’s government hospitals brought out a picture of total neglect of the health care system in the state, particularly in its hospitals in Patiala, Amritsar and Faridkot. The infrastructure in these hospitals is too poor to enable them to save lives. The state’s medical institutions are running short of staff, including doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians. The Punjab government seems to be the least interested in improving the lot of the health care facilities, where it is not surprising to find rats roaming around and live electric wires enmeshed in units where patients are supposed to get treatment. The government needs to realise its responsibility.

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Corporate greed
Obama gives titans a mouthful

FOR business and industry leaders to target politicians as being greedy and irresponsible characters, who enrich themselves at the cost of the majority, is par for the course. In fact, in recent years this was not only fashionable among the class of corporate titans but also considered politically correct. With the times having changed, and so many scams and skeletons tumbling out of corporate cupboards across the world, business icons stand exposed. The financial tide in their favour has gone out and everyone can see who was swimming naked. So, it comes as no surprise that US President Barack Obama should have slammed Wall Street promoters and executives who gave themselves over $18 billion in bonuses even as financial institutions collapsed in the economic meltdown.

Mr Obama pulled no punches in describing this as “shameful” and “the height of irresponsibility”. Vice-President Joe Biden added, for good measure, that he would like to throw these guys in jail. The presidential rage was triggered by the New York state comptroller report showing that business leaders pocketed the same level of bonuses as they did in 2004. Mr Obama made it clear that “folks on Wall Street who are asking for help should show some discipline and sense of responsibility”.

The remarks have a resonance in India, too, where the corporate class has been on a binge – and still is. Business tycoons are living it up, splurging on luxurious jets and cars for themselves and their families. Hundreds of crores are spent on unproductive items and exercises, including marriages. It is often forgotten that these businessmen own only a small percentage of shares in their companies in which public institutions have huge investments. Perhaps, now that Mr Obama has cracked the whip, the Government of India, too, may show some spine to rein in the excessive indulgence and self-enrichment of India Inc.

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Thought for the Day

Professional men, they have no cares; /Whatever happens, they get theirs.

— Ogden Nash

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Nuclear upswing
It’s a buyer’s market for uranium
by O.P. Sabherwal

THE Indian nuclear scenario is brightening up, dispelling apprehensions that the global economic recession may act as a spoilsport on the big expectations generated by the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s (NSG) waiver. In fact, it turns out that the global financial crisis may help in making India’s nuclear power plans bigger and better — both in the indigenous nuclear power domain and in respect of light water reactor imports.

For once, it appears that there could not have been a better timing for fructification of the Indo-US nuclear accord. Initially, after the Vienna conclave announced the NSG waiver for India, lifting sanctions on India’s international nuclear commercial transactions, an unprecedented world-wide financial crunch made it appear that the Indian nuclear programme too will be mauled. But what has happened is the reverse.

Uranium — the key requirement for the Indian indigenous nuclear programme — has suddenly become cheaper, and it appears, in ample supply. The constraints on its supply are lifting. The economic recession has brought uranium prices plummeting down nearly three-fold, parallel to the similar fall in crude oil price from $145 a barrel to about $38 a barrel.

After the NSG waiver, India is being welcomed with open arms by most uranium rich states — Canada, Kazakhstan, South Africa and Mongolia. The Australians — despite early protestations — may not be far behind. Kazakhstan, with the second largest uranium reserves in the world, has been quick to stitch a big deal for uranium supplies for Indian indigenously built PHW natural uranium fuelled reactors. Uranium from Kazakhstan may be the first to land, synchronised with IAEA safeguards.

This development has a dramatic impact on India’s nuclear power plans. There is a dual connotation. Ample availability of natural uranium will spur Indian indigenous reactor construction based on the PHWR design, now recognised as the most attractive for India in the long run. Not only will the 14 functioning PHW reactors, which are to be under safeguards, be able to perform at the optimum capacity factor, plans for building six new upgraded-design 700 MWe reactors, held up for meagre uranium resources, will be able to take off early.

Lowering the uranium price to one-third will also significantly improve economies of nuclear power in comparison to oil and gas, and even coal. India’s meagre uranium resources plus the fuel’s exorbitant price abroad will no longer be a brake on Indian nuclear power development. The hazy uranium fuel outlook, with doubts centering on guarantees for the life-time availability of uranium for reactors under safeguards, will be a story of the past.

A similar transformation is developing in the other area of nuclear power development in India, namely, imports of advanced light water reactors from major nuclear powers, especially France, Russia, the US and Japan. A seller’s market has been transformed into a buyer’s market. In fact, India and, to an extent, China are the only countries that are expanding their nuclear power capacity in a big way. For the nuclear industry of the developed nations, especially France, the US and Russia, the prerogatives are limited. India is the main buyer because of its vast needs of electricity in the next few decades, as well as its scientific capability of absorbing advanced nuclear technologies. The economic recession is not a hurdle but advantageous to India, enabling the best competitive deals in terms of pricing, advanced technologies and finances.

The first round of negotiations with Canada, France, Russia and the United States on nuclear cooperation has been very satisfactory — although the parameters are varied between the four advanced nuclear capable nations. More, the spectrum of nuclear cooperation between India and the advanced nuclear capability nations is widening to include scientific-technological interaction and nuclear equipment imports, besides the light water reactor exports offered by these countries.

Russia and France have come forward with attractive offers for their advanced light water reactor designs. Russian cooperation is already being tapped for the construction of two 1000 MWe capacity reactors of VVER design at Kudankoolam. The two reactors — now in an advanced pre-commissioning stage of construction — are expected to become operational this year. A 300-tonne first instalment of low-enriched uranium fuel for the reactors landed in Cochin mid-2008, and life-time guarantee of LEU fuel for the two reactors has been assured with the backing of the Russian government. Terms for four more 1000 MWe capacity Russian reactors, which incorporate an enhanced technology design, are being negotiated between the Indian and Russian governments as also their nuclear establishments.

Negotiations with France are on for six light water reactors of the most advanced design and bigger capacity — 1600 MWe. These are next-generation reactors of the largest capacity in operation anywhere. France has given a life-time guarantee of LEU fuel for the reactors that it sells. A big consignment of the fuel is expected to land ahead of reactor construction. No doubt, a stiff bargain is likely on the price sought by France. What also remains to be settled is the financial terms — whether they are similar to the attractive financial terms offered by Russia, like a long-term interest-free loan, covering the nuclear portion of reactor projects, equipment as well as scientific manpower for reactor construction, leaving India to meet the costs of land, civil construction and ancillaries.

It is worth noting that nuclear cooperation agreements now being reached in between India and the developed countries denote wide-ranging nuclear cooperation, including nuclear equipment trade, and scientific and technological interaction. France, a world leader in fast breeders, has offered to step up interaction and many-sided cooperation with India in assisting this country’s fast breeder programme. Canada is keen to have nuclear technology exchange as also step up nuclear trade, especially of uranium. Since India and Canada share commonality in reactor design — natural uranium-fuelled, heavy water-moderated — the level of nuclear trade and scientific-technological exchange can be very large and profitable to both.

As for the US, there are some apprehensions about the new Obama administration seeking India’s adherence to the test ban treaty as a condition to large-scale Indo-US nuclear cooperation. Such apprehensions are imaginary. In fact, pressed by the severe economic crisis that it confronts, Washington is likely to seek a very large portion of the Indian nuclear pie: export of GE-advanced 1400 MWe capacity reactors besides wide-ranging Indo-US nuclear interaction and trade. This might develop slowly because of America’s constraints — and India’s constraints too.

In this nuclear scenario, the most interesting is the widening horizon in uranium-rich developing nations, Kazakhstan being the most conspicuous. Not only is that country uranium-rich, but also has a foot-hold in nuclear technology because of the past Soviet connection, which it is keen to develop. India has shown willingness to help Kazakhstan build nuclear power reactors fuelled by natural uranium — of PHWR design. Two decades of R&D in pressurised heavy water reactor design has made India a leading nation in this reactor technology. Not only quality-wise but also in terms of costs — for nuclear reactors the costs are formidable — India is the best. Kazakhstan could import this capability without inflated costs that developed nations impose.

There is plenty of scope in this widening nuclear horizon not only in Kazakhstan but also in Mongolia, which too has ample uranium resources and is keen to acquire capability for nuclear power build-up. The fifty years of self-reliant nuclear research and development by the Indian nuclear establishment can now become the base for significant Indian nuclear exports, especially of PHW design nuclear reactors and its prime requisite — heavy water.

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RV Mama
by R. C. Rajamani

THOUGH he was popularly known as RV in political circles, former President R Venkataraman was affectionately called “RV Mama” by young Congress leaders from Tamil Nadu.  One of the youth leaders was the late Rangarajan Kumaramangalam who always sought the late President’s blessings before he did anything new. “I have told RV Mama about it”, he would often say, referring to some decision or the other he took as a Congress MP and later as a central minister. 

When Rangarajan touched his feet after he took oath as a central minister in 1991, RV exclaimed to the assembled VIPs, “ He is the third generation minister,” alluding to Rangarajan’s father Mohan Kumaramanagalam and grandfather K Subbarayan, both ministers at the Centre. RV had great love and affection for the Kumaramangalams. 

If he was a copybook President, RV was equally a copybook Chairman of the Rajya Sabha which he chaired for five years from 1982 to 1987 as the country’s Vice-President. He conducted the house with clinical precision, always going by the rules. He would often come out with famous quotes from history. “The politician thinks of the next election and the statesman of the next generation,’’ he reminded the house during question hour when the subject matter revolved around falling standards in public life.

RV was adept at explaining subjects ranging from the earthy to esoteric. As a beat correspondent I covered the Rashtrapati Bhavan function in 1991 when Nelsen Mandela was given the Bharat Ratna. During the refreshments, the great African leader was savoring Medu Vada and coconut chutney in the company of RV and talking to journalists. RV explained to Mandela all the minute details of the ingredients of the south Indian dish and its preparation. I sought and got Mandela’s autograph and then turned to RV. “Sir, Tamizhila Podungo” (Please sign in Tamil), I requested. I was a little surprised when the late President signed in English.  It took me sometime time to realise that RV, already hard of hearing, could not have heard my whisper in the general chatter at the refreshments. 

RV had a special love for Delhi where he was one of the leading lights behind the construction of the Uttara Swami Malai (Swami Malai of the North) at RK Puram. He was its president for a number of years and was its patron till his death on January 27.  He was closely involved in all the functions and celebrations organised by the temple.

He was always there with wife Janaki on the occasion of Kanda Sashti every year. He attended the function during the last occasion on November 3 last year, though he was far from fit to brave the early winter cold.  In fact, RV attended a meeting of the temple as late as the first week of January to discuss its programme for Pongal. But he took seriously ill on January 12 and was hospitalised.

A religious man, RV’s last duty was perhaps destined to be in the direction of spiritualism.

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Sense and nonsense
The view from the post bag
by Robert Fisk

MAIL that you don't see in the Letters to the Editor column. First, here's reader Jack Hyde tipping me off about a possible (real) reason behind Israel's bloodletting in Gaza. He encloses a paper by University of Ottawa economist Michel Chossudovsky who says that "the military intervention of the Gaza Strip by Israeli Forces bears a direct relation to the control and ownership of strategic offshore gas reserves". It's not exactly The Plot. But it's something that Obama and his lads and lasses may need to study in the next few days.

For according to Chossudovsky, British Gas and its partner, the Athens-based Consolidated Contractors International Company – owned, apparently, by two Lebanese families – were granted 25-year oil and exploration rights off the Gaza coast by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority in 1999. About 60 per cent of reserves along the Gaza-Israel coastline belong to "Palestine" (wherever that is these days).

But since the Hamas election victory in 2006 and its coup in Gaza in 2007, the Hamas government has been by-passed, even though poor old "President" Mahmoud Abbas, marooned in the West Bank, can only glimpse the Mediterranean from a hill near Jenin.

Many negotiations later – and after Israeli "defence" officials claimed that the Palestinians could be paid only in goods and chattels for their gas rather than cash which might go to the dreaded Hamas – there was a proposed agreement under which Palestinian gas from Gaza wells would be channelled via undersea pipelines to the Israeli port of Ashkelon, thus transferring the control of gas sales to Israel. British Gas withdrew from these talks in December 2007.

But in June of 2008 – when, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Israel began its invasion plans for Gaza – Israel suddenly asked British Gas to resume talks. And, so says Chossudovsky, negotiations began again for the purchase of natural gas from the Gaza offshore fields.

Israeli tanks have now driven out of the Gaza Strip, but Israeli naval vessels still control the coast and there's an obvious question: if the Israelis can continue to violate international law by seizing Palestinian land in the West Bank, why cannot they seize the sovereignty of Palestinian gas fields off Gaza? If Israel can annex Jerusalem, why not annex Gaza's maritime areas?

Less wholesome material is now turning up in my mail bag. Lebanese friends have shown me copies of a new Palestinian blog in which photographs of Palestinian women waiting at Israel's abominable checkpoints and Israeli soldiers firing at Palestinians are "matched" with archive pictures of the Jewish Holocaust.

But the women and children waiting in the older photos are queuing at the infamous Auschwitz death ramp and the black-and-white image of a Nazi soldier firing his rifle has been artfully cropped to delete two figures on the right of the original picture: a cowering Jewish woman holding her child, who are being shot in the back.

Yes, I believe the Israelis have committed war crimes in Gaza. And in Lebanon. But this Palestinian comparison is utterly self-defeating because it is based on a lie.

What am I to make, for instance, of another pamphlet that has flopped out of my mail package from the "refugees of Ein Karem, Jerusalem"?

These Palestinians, originally expelled from 1948 Palestine in Israel's initial act of ethnic cleansing, state that "in view of the current events in Gaza and Palestine", Israel should be "dismantled" because "the savage acts by its forces (are) far beyond war crimes committed in World War Two".

Ye Gods! Sixty million humans were slaughtered in the Second World War and the number of murdered Jews equals the entire present-day Palestinian population, including refugees.

But do not think that this is the only nonsense floating around. A letter with no printed author's name and no address arrives to tell me that I am encouraging "extreme fundamentalists to carry out attacks on Western Countries" by exercising "the old chestnut" of "proportionality".

Disregarding the fact that Muslims are enraged by Israel's savagery in Gaza – not by our reporting of it – the reader asks me: "Were not far more German civilians killed in the last war than British civilians? Should all the British Generals be held up as war criminals? Don't talk nonsense!"

Of course, it's the same old canard. Now, it appears, it's OK to kill 100 Palestinians in Gaza for every Israeli in the area because "we" killed more German civilians than the Germans killed Brits in the Second World War. Note, here, how Germans subtly become the slaughtered Palestinians, the Israelis (and their ruthless generals) transmogrified into, I suppose, Air Marshal Harris.

There's an even more amazing letter that arrived on my Beirut desk this week – it came from an address in Wimbledon – which deserves to be quoted in full:

"Dear Mr Fisk, I recently saw an interview that you gave on French News TV. I was amazed at the size of your massive long nose that (sic) you have. Is it true that the Hamas Neo-Nazi thugs want to use it next time they need to hide from the Israelis? Yours faithfully..."

Again, the Palestinians become Nazi Germans. Do I reply to this racist dirt? Yes, I rather think I do, with the usual threat of legal action. But I absolutely promise – a repeated pledge by your reporter – I will not mention the Second World War!

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Changes that swept South Africa
by Scott Kraft

SOUTH Africa and I have a history, one that goes beyond the headlines. I arrived here as the Los Angeles Times' bureau chief in 1988, when college campuses back home were pulsing with anti-apartheid protests, to cover what would turn out to be the last years of the black freedom struggle -- bombings, funeral processions and brutal clashes with police. My phone was tapped by the government and, during one township visit, I was dragged from my car by armed young "comrades" from the African National Congress, saved only by my laminated media pass.

Our children were born here, our daughter just a toddler when I watched Nelson Mandela walk free from prison. Our son arrived later that year, on the eve of another historic moment -- the first round of negotiations between whites and blacks for a new constitution.

Mandela's release in February 1990 was a watershed moment, and those of us there that day, like the millions watching around the world, had the palpable sense that things would never be the same. Although it touched off a new burst of violence, the country survived four more years to hear Mandela, inaugurated as president, promise to build a "rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world."

By then, our family had moved on to another posting, in Paris, and eventually to Los Angeles. But I've returned to South Africa frequently on reporting assignments and, over the years, watched it grow into a multiracial nation with economic opportunity, democratic decision-making and the respect of the world.

When I returned again recently, I brought my son, Kevin, now 17. As we traveled the country, we reconnected with friends and many of the people I had interviewed over the years. I wasn't sure what we would discover, or how it would look through the eyes of my son, who hadn't been back since he was a toddler.

Was South Africa living Mandela's dream?

Fancy new shopping malls glitter like jewels on the northern fringe of Johannesburg, and construction cranes preside over the skyline. Suburbs there, once the legal preserve of the white minority, have swelled in size and diversity. But high crime rates have driven more suburbanites into new gated communities, redoubts where white and black children clatter down safe streets on skateboards.

Kevin and I stopped for a look at our former rental home in one of those suburbs and found a fortress: 10-foot walls have replaced our chest-high ones. Across the street was a private security company's new guard station.

A 10-minute drive away, at Morningside Clinic, Ronald White, our obstetrician, emerged from his office to greet us. "Nice to see you again," he said to Kevin, as if he had seen my son just last month, rather than when he was just a few minutes old.

White lamented the number of doctors who have emigrated to Australia, Europe and the United States. "So many of us are leaving," he said. But the view outside his office told a different story: Where once there was a farm, a major expansion of the clinic was under way, and the doctor acknowledged that the area was booming.

"A colleague and I wanted to buy the Harley-Davidson dealership up the street about 10 years ago," White said. "But they wanted 80,000 rand (about $8,000) and we said, `Man, that's too much.' "

"It's worth half a billion today," he said, laughing. "That's why I'm still working."

"People are always saying that it's bad in South Africa today," the doctor's white receptionist said, "but it doesn't feel so bad. And some of the blacks are doing quite well."

Among them is Zwelakhe Sisulu, a one-time newspaper editor and son of the late anti-apartheid fighters Walter and Albertina Sisulu. He was imprisoned in the 1980s for criticizing the white government, and I remember delivering care packages to his family in Soweto from his American journalist friends.

After the 1994 elections, Sisulu became head of the South African Broadcasting Corp., which used to be the mouthpiece of apartheid, and today runs a private investment group, serves on corporate boards and has homes in a wealthy Johannesburg suburb and on the waterfront in Cape Town.

As he put it: "Black people . . . are serious players in business today. A political leadership, but also a business leadership, is important in a young democracy."

Blacks outnumbered whites 5 to 1 when we left South Africa 15 years ago. Today, the ratio is about to 8 to 1, and the 5 million whites are a mostly silent minority, having accepted that their lock on political power is gone. For some, it has been a relief. The international sanctions are gone, the economy is intact, and when they travel abroad, they feel a welcome they never felt during the apartheid era.

But they keep a close eye on the ANC, which won nearly 70 percent of the vote in the last elections. After a power struggle within the ANC between populist Jacob Zuma and President Thabo Mbeki, the latter stepped down late last year and a caretaker president was installed. If the ANC wins a majority in elections later this year, Zuma, who lost his job as deputy president in 2005 amid allegations of corruption, is likely to be the new president. Whites, and many middle-class blacks, are worried that he'll move away from Mbeki's pro-capitalist policies, scaring off investors and endangering the nation's economy.

Later, when the ANC came to power, Hennie Durr was deeply worried about the appointment of Trevor Manuel, one of the country's most strident anti-apartheid leaders, as minister of finance.

As we ended our journey, I took stock. This was clearly a country with simmering day-to-day frustrations over what it sees as the slow pace of change, as well as the increase in violent crime, the AIDS epidemic, the gap between rich and poor, and the disheartening power struggle among its elected leaders.

Many of our friends were disappointed in their country. They hadn't expected a miracle when Mandela's ANC took over the government. But they expected more.

Still, I was struck by the speed and depth of South Africa's transformation. I was reminded of that as I viewed the nation through my son's eyes. It wasn't so long ago, after all, that this was a nation ruled by a white minority that denied blacks the most basic civil rights. What Kevin saw was a vibrant, modern country where a growing black majority was clearly in charge, wielding real political and economic power.

Perhaps it was inevitable that, as an occasional visitor, I would see more change than they felt. Like the child whose growth we track on the bedroom wall, the citizens of a new democracy don't always notice when they're maturing. South Africa is coming of age, though. The marks on the wall don't lie.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Chatterati
Poll strategies
by Devi Cherian

AS the Lok Sabha elections approach strategies are being formed. Sonia Gandhi plans to use the same strategy that she used before the 2004 polls. Rahul wants 30 per cent of the ticket allocations for young Turks. In Bihar the Congress has to reconcile with Lalu and Paswan over seat sharing.

The BJP’s strategist Arun Jaitely is busy trying to rope in Ajit Singh. On the other hand, the BJP does not know how to react to former Vice President Shekhawat’s outburst and is also trying to get professional by making former Air Chiefs A.Y. Tipnis and S.P. Tyagi along with KPS Gill, Anil Baijal and ace shooter Jaspal Rana to fight the elections.

The Samajwadi Party is strengthening its alliance with Bollywood. Kalyan Singh’s alliance with the SP and the party’s refusal of the ticket to former Union Minister Salim Sherwani and a couple of other people in the party is harming its Muslim base.

L.K. Advani’s decision that the BJP’s generation next leaders will have to fight the elections has left many unhappy. They include Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Venkaiah Naidu. They have been told to choose their constituency.

Several leaders of the BJP and the Congress have always got away from fighting the elections by saying that they have to be kept free for campaigning. Venkaiah Naidu was very sure that he would be asked to be the organiser of the elections.

Advani thinks that every Lok Sabha seat will be crucial this time for his party. Hence, no leader should be allowed to sit out of this election. Arun Jaitley may have to fight for the New Delhi seat. While Venkaiah will fight from Andhra and Sushma says she is ready to fight from anywhere.

Martyrs’ families

On Republic Day when the awards were being collected by the widows of the Mumbai heroes, our hearts were filled with pride and eyes with tears. Such supreme sacrifices in the line of duty! OK it’s part of their job but then their families could be made to feel always that they belong to the highly respected families of the martyrs.

To their credit, I have not seen such composure and self-respect elsewhere. What do they need? Children’s education to be looked after, a roof on their heads and pension that could afford them a respectable middle class life.

To my horror and shock, I learned that the Param Vir winners receive an allowance of Rs 3,000 per month only. Come on, it’s a joke. No! Actually a shame!

The recipients of Param Vir Chakra by the way, can be counted on one’s fingers. And the rest of the awards handed out to our brave soldiers fetch even less. The winners of Ashok Chakra, Mahavir Chakra and Vir Chakra get around Rs 2,000 or less. Why don’t we cut the perks of our bureaucrats and politicians and give more to these deserving families. Otherwise, why would any patriotic mother allow her son to join the forces or the police? Or why would a wife allow her husband to give his life for his country?

The country needs to support the martyrs’ families as they are our precious heritage and make sure that their basic needs are taken care of without any fuss or trouble.

One expected that some of Mumbai’s business and glamour world would go to these brave cops’ houses, console the bereaved families and announce long-term aid for education of their children or interest-free loans to build houses. All they did however, was indulge in a good English-speaking exercise, get all the media coverage and go back for the reopening of the Taj and the Oberoi and wax eloquent over the spirit of Mumbai.

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