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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

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O P I N I O N S

Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Terror networks intact
Pakistan’s diversionary tactics won’t help

P
akistan’s
action against the terrorists operating from its territory remains unsatisfactory despite much international pressure brought to bear on it. The terrorists’ infrastructure, including their communication and funding networks, still remain intact as pointed out by Army Chief Gen Deepak Kapoor in Srinagar on Saturday.

Ignoring health
India spends only a pittance

I
ndia
is not among the poorest countries of the world, but when it comes to total annual health expenditure (THE), it does rank among the lowest. At 4.8 per cent of the GDP, it’s THE is far lower than the WHO recommended 6.5 per cent, with the result that only Nigeria, Indonesia and Bangladesh have lesser expenditure. The latest report of the Independent Commission on Development and Health in India paints an even more grim picture.



EARLIER STORIES

EC in crisis
February 2, 2009
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


Connecting the poor
Give them free mobile handsets

M
obile
connectivity has increased manifold in recent years in India. However, according to the latest figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) mobile penetration in rural areas is less than 13 per cent, compared with 73 per cent in the urban areas.

ARTICLE

India’s growth target
Calculations may go wrong
by Arun Kumar

T
he
US Congress passed President Barack Obama’s new $825 billion (82 per cent of India’s GDP) bailout package and in India the RBI announced its policy that changed little even though a lot was expected. It stated that India’s growth would marginally come down from the earlier anticipated 7.5 per cent to 7 per cent. Mr Pranab Mukherjee, while acting on behalf of the recuperating Prime Minister, backed this by saying that the economy will clock a 7 per cent rate of growth.


MIDDLE

Death of an INA hero
by Simrita Sarao Dhir

M
y
grandfather, Santokh Singh Sidhu, passed away last week. His death marked the end of an era that he symbolised. He was among the last of the World War- II veterans.  He was also among the last of Subhas Chandra Bose’s INA heroes. For me, his association with Bose and the INA will forever be his most enduring legacy.


OPED

Embodiment of values
Ch Ranbir Hooda was a determined freedom fighter
by Gobind Thukral

D
uring
numerous travels in Haryana, largely to cover political events and elections, one leader whom I was more than eager to seek was Chaudhry Ranbir Singh Hooda. Three months ago I had gone to Rohtak to revive my old association and once again listen to his wise comments on public life.

Dissent spreads across Russia
by Shaun Walker

T
he
Kremlin’s rule is beginning to look much shakier than at any time since Vladimir Putin came to power, after a series of protests in cities across its vast landmass this weekend by Russians disgruntled about the economy.

Delhi Durbar
RTI fallout

Everyone has begun to feel the heat of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and at the same time is using it to poke fun at others. The latest one to come under its scrutiny is none other than the RTI watchdog, the Central Information Commission (CIC).

  • BJP blog war

  • BRT woes

Corrections and clarifications

 


Top








 

Terror networks intact
Pakistan’s diversionary tactics won’t help

Pakistan’s action against the terrorists operating from its territory remains unsatisfactory despite much international pressure brought to bear on it. The terrorists’ infrastructure, including their communication and funding networks, still remain intact as pointed out by Army Chief Gen Deepak Kapoor in Srinagar on Saturday. This reflects the height of Pakistan’s indifference as well as its reluctance to abandon the policy of using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh specifically mentioned this dangerous policy adopted by Pakistan with a view to telling the world that Islamabad must be forced to leave this destructive path in the interest of peace and progress.

There are confusing signals from Islamabad with regard to the dossier submitted to it by India on the Mumbai terrorist strike. On the one hand, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi says that the initial outcome of Islamabad’s enquiry into 26/11 will be conveyed to New Delhi through the diplomatic channel, Pakistan’s High Commissioner in London Wajid Shamshul Hasan told an Indian TV channel last week that “Pakistani territory was not used (for planning the Mumbai massacre) so far as the investigators have made their conclusion.” If this is the finding of the three-member enquiry committee set up by Pakistan, it is evident that Islamabad continues to remain in denial mode despite the conclusive proof that elements in Pakistan planned and executed the terrorist attack with the kind of precision not possible without support from the ISI and other official agencies.

All actions of Islamabad reinforce the conviction that it is doing little to root out terrorism. It has made no serious effort to bring to book the terrorist masterminds associated with the extremist outfits like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba, responsible for the Mumbai attack. India cannot allow Pakistan to go scot-free by indulging in diversionary tactics. Justice demands that Pakistan conduct thorough investigations into 26/11 and share the outcome with New Delhi through the proper channel, as External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has stressed. Any step that tends to encourage the Pakistan-based terrorist networks will only further expose Islamabad’s duplicity. 

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Ignoring health
India spends only a pittance

India is not among the poorest countries of the world, but when it comes to total annual health expenditure (THE), it does rank among the lowest. At 4.8 per cent of the GDP, it’s THE is far lower than the WHO recommended 6.5 per cent, with the result that only Nigeria, Indonesia and Bangladesh have lesser expenditure. The latest report of the Independent Commission on Development and Health in India paints an even more grim picture. The public health expenditure is as low as Rs 215 per capita per year – working out to only 1.2 per cent of the GDP and 25 per cent of the THE. Only four countries – Nigeria, Indonesia, Myanmar and Sudan – provide a smaller state share towards total health sector resources than India. The consequences are all around for us to see. The public health service is ailing and the sufferers are the poorest of the poor, who cannot afford to go to private doctors and hospitals. According to the last economic survey, there is a shortage of 19,269 sub-centres, 4,337 primary health centres and 3,206 community health centres in the country.

The issue is not just the inadequacy of health centres but also their failure to function effectively. The Tribune recently did an investigative report on the state of health of government hospitals and medical colleges in Patiala, Faridkot and Amritsar. What was common to them was the widespread neglect and decay. That is why the series was named “Medical mess in Punjab”. Things have not improved much despite repeated warnings by the Medical Council of India.

The paucity of funds is only one part of the problem. Laxity, negligence and apathy compound it. That is why shocking incidents like the charring to death of five infants in the Rajindra Government Hospital in Patiala take place. At least this gruesome happening should prick the conscience of the nation so that genuine correctives can be applied. A country which is miserly when it comes to sectors like health and education can never hope to progress sufficiently.  

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Connecting the poor
Give them free mobile handsets

Mobile connectivity has increased manifold in recent years in India. However, according to the latest figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) mobile penetration in rural areas is less than 13 per cent, compared with 73 per cent in the urban areas. Many analysts and social activists are rightly concerned about the digital divide, both geographical as well as economic; and they see this gap as a threat to development and emancipation of the poor. It is precisely for this reason that the government established the Universal Service Obligation (USO) fund—to provide access to telecom services to people in the rural and remote areas at affordable and reasonable rates. All operators contribute 5 per cent of their adjusted gross revenue (AGR) towards the fund.

The Indian Cellular Association’s proposal of providing subsidy to 50 million families that live below the poverty line to provide free handsets needs to be considered seriously and urgently. Until now, only telecom operators received support from the USO fund. Now, the mobile phone manufacturers are asking the government to invest in providing free mobile handsets and connections with 100 free calls per month. Their suggestion that the handset also have AM radio to make it more useful is welcome. However, many practical difficulties would remain, especially in identifying the beneficiary families in such a large population.

We only have to look at the Grameen Bank experiment in Bangladesh where, among other activities, poor rural women were given micro-loans and encouraged to use their mobile phones to provide public call services, and thus run a small business. This brought about a significant and positive social change. Given proper planning, guidance and execution, subsidised “free phones for the poor” is a concept that can significantly empower individuals and has the potential of adding value to their lives.  

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Thought for the Day

In the factory we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope. — Charles Revson

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India’s growth target
Calculations may go wrong
by Arun Kumar

The US Congress passed President Barack Obama’s new $825 billion (82 per cent of India’s GDP) bailout package and in India the RBI announced its policy that changed little even though a lot was expected. It stated that India’s growth would marginally come down from the earlier anticipated 7.5 per cent to 7 per cent. Mr Pranab Mukherjee, while acting on behalf of the recuperating Prime Minister, backed this by saying that the economy will clock a 7 per cent rate of growth.

In contrast to this, there is little wrong with the Indian economic stance. President Obama in his inaugural speech talked of being “in the midst of a crisis”, not only because of the war but because “Our economy is badly weakened…” If India maintains a 7 per cent growth rate it will possibly be the fastest growing economy in the world in 2008-09. Now that the US economy is shrinking even at a faster rate (3.8 per cent last quarter and 5 per cent this quarter), President Obama again said that the crisis was deep. He has suggested that action has to be immediate and quick.

India’s policy makers are repeatedly asserting that the economy will only slow down slightly, implying that no major steps are required. So, even though two stimulus packages have been announced earlier, a huge supplementary budget was presented in October and the RBI has tried to increase liquidity rapidly (without much success); overall, the government is not intervening aggressively enough to boost the economy. This is in sharp contrast to the aggressive interventions not only by the US but also all the other major regions and economies of the world – Europe, Japan, Britain, China and South-East Asia.

It is being argued that India is not dependent on exports and so the effect of the global slowdown would be limited. It is said that we are dependent on internal consumption-generated demand and that is not affected by the global crisis. Further, it is being suggested that our banks are well capitalised and did not participate in the creation of the toxic assets that have plagued the major banks in the world that had resorted to high leveraging. As such, they are not expected to be adversely affected by the ongoing global financial crisis. It is also argued that while the urban areas are linked to global markets and will, therefore, get affected, the rural areas, constituting a huge market, are insulated from what is happening at the world level and so the demand will be maintained.

These arguments are a throwback to the decoupling theory, which has been discredited long back but is making its appearance in a different garb. If these explanations hold, then the government is justified in not taking drastic steps as other economies are doing. However, if these assumptions are incorrect and the government is only posturing because of the coming elections, then we are in deep trouble because if correctives are not applied in time to salvage a deteriorating situation the new government would confront a deep crisis.

It is true that agriculture employs about 50 per cent of the work-force and the rural population is 72 per cent of the total population. However, now agriculture only generates 17 per cent of the total output of the economy. Even if it grows at twice its recent rate of growth of 2.5 per cent, it can only add 0.4 per cent to the growth rate of the economy. If industry slows down from about 10 per cent to about 3 per cent then that would lower the rate of growth by 1.4 per cent.

Finally, if the services sector slows down from around 10 per cent to about 4 per cent, as appears to be likely with trade, real estate, business services, transportation and other services slowing down while very few are maintaining growth like telecommunications, banking and health services, then the rate of growth of the economy may be in the range of 3-5 per cent. In fact, the IMF has cautiously lowered its growth forecast to 5 per cent in contrast to the Indian government sticking to the 7 per cent figure. In brief, the rural market is not very large and can hardly compensate for the decline in the urban markets.

India’s share of exports in its GDP was about 20 per cent in 2007 according to the WTO figures. The comparable figure for China is a whopping 40.8 per cent and for Germany 46.5 per cent. No wonder, as soon as the US recession started, these economies landed in trouble. Germany is in recession and the Chinese economy has drastically slowed down. So, it is correct to say that India will not be affected as much as Germany and China did. However, for the EU as a whole, the comparable ratio is 16.3 per cent and for Japan 19.2 per cent, both less than India’s and both have been in recession for two quarters. Does that give us any hope of escaping a rapid slowdown?

The Japanese banks were not exposed to the toxic assets like those in the US and Europe and yet they face a crisis. As the profitability of major corporations dips, defaults will start and then the bad loan portfolios of the presently healthy banks will take a hit. For instance, Toyota for the first time in its seven decades of existence has made a loss. Many other big corporations are reporting that in the latest quarter, their profits have either dipped sharply or have turned into losses. This is also true for the Indian corporates with Tata Steel, Reliance, Maruti, etc, seeing steep declines. Add to that the sharp decline in prices and activity in the real estate markets and one realises that defaults will rise in India too.

Unemployment is rising rapidly globally and the ILO is projecting a loss of 50 million jobs in 2009. These are mostly middle and upper middle class factory workers and white collar workers who used credit cards and bought against loans on which they are paying EMIs. There is a crisis brewing there. Banks have already turned cautious in India and are not lending as freely as they did earlier, and the Cabinet Secretariat has asked them to remain cautious. This is protecting them from bad loans, but when there is a steep down-turn, will there be anything safe as witnessed in Japan?

Consumption of the well-off sections has taken a sharp downturn. Reliance Retail, Subhiksha, Spencers, etc, are closing down many of their outlets. Sales of automobiles, air travel, etc, have been affected. So, internal consumption cannot be as robust as is being claimed and especially in the face of rising unemployment.

However, help is on the way from a rising fiscal deficit (by up to 5 per cent) due to a reported drastic fall in tax collections and increased expenditures, but this is likely to be offset by the rising trade deficit and the falling investments due to the slowdown and growing uncertainty.

All this raises doubts about India achieving 7 per cent rate of growth this year. In the event, as the economy performs worse than anticipated, the government’s and industry’s calculations are likely to go wrong. The contrast in action planned by other major economies is sharp. We are postponing necessary correctives like employment generation, accelerated rural development and preventing industries from closing down. Are we inviting a worst disaster by being ostrich like?

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Death of an INA hero
by Simrita Sarao Dhir

My grandfather, Santokh Singh Sidhu, passed away last week. His death marked the end of an era that he symbolised. He was among the last of the World War- II veterans.  He was also among the last of Subhas Chandra Bose’s INA heroes. For me, his association with Bose and the INA will forever be his most enduring legacy.

His first meeting with Bose was one that he recalled with fondness and clarity. It took place soon after the British Indian troops were captured by the Japanese in Singapore in 1942. With his unmistakable charisma and strength of purpose, Bose inspired the Indian POWs to embark on the greater mission of fighting for Indian Independence. 

Bose invoked the patriot in the 21-one-year old soldier and from that point, my grandfather embarked upon an extraordinary odyssey from Singapore to Imphal and ending ultimately at the Red Fort in Delhi. It is a story of utmost patriotism, tremendous courage an supreme sacrifice. It is the story that precipitated India’s Independence from the British by pulling the most nationalistic chord in the Indian consciousness. 

Claude Auchinleck, the then Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army, lamented that the impact of the INA shortened British rule in India by 15 to 20 years.  The story of the INA is a story that shook and infuriated Mountbatten to the point that as soon as the allied troops re-occupied Singapore in 1945, he ordered that the INA War Memorial to commemorate the “Unknown Warrior” of the INA be completely destroyed. 

It is also a story so ignitable that after World War- II, the British government forbade the BBC to broadcast the INA saga not just in India but all over its colonies because it feared mass uprisings and revolts all across its empire.

It is the story that my grandfather loved to narrate with patriotic fervour.  Sitting in his patio, I listened to him with wide-eyed curiosity, trying hard to envision scenes from the World War even before I could fully comprehend the meaning of World War.  Today, he is not around to narrate the story anymore but since last week, I have recalled my grandfather’s story in my mind numerous times. 

At a quiet moment, I can still hear him humming the tune of the INA regimental quick march, “Kadam Kadam Ba haye Ja…” that he so loved to sing when recalling his years on the war front. My grandfather and many of his fellow INA warriors may no longer be among us but I know that aside from history books, the heritage of the INA will be kept alive by children and grandchildren over coffee tables, in classrooms, across phone lines and via the Internet.

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Embodiment of values
Ch Ranbir Hooda was a determined freedom fighter
by Gobind Thukral

During numerous travels in Haryana, largely to cover political events and elections, one leader whom I was more than eager to seek was Chaudhry Ranbir Singh Hooda. Three months ago I had gone to Rohtak to revive my old association and once again listen to his wise comments on public life.

Chaudhry Ranbir Singh Hooda
Chaudhry Ranbir Singh Hooda

He was admitted to hospital only a night before and could barely respond to my greetings. He spoke a few sentences before falling silent. He passed away at the ripe age of 94 on February 1 and a saga came to an end.

With ease, he could present a clear picture of events and personalities involved in public life. In simple language, shorn of any political jargon, this octogenarian public man, involved in social causes in later years, enjoyed explaining the significance of elections.

He would neither dissect any political personality nor speak loudly. Measured and optimistic, his emphasis used to be on the significance of democracy and its long, arduous journey in India.

Chaudhry Ranbir Singh’s saga is that of an inspired person. He got inspiration particularly from his father, Chaudhry Matu Ram. His uncle, Dr Ramji Lal, along with leaders of the freedom movement exercised great influence on his mind.

Incidentally, Dr Ramji Lal did his degree in medicine when mere matriculation was considered a huge achievement and resigned in protest against British atrocities while he was the civil surgeon of Hisar.

This gesture moved youth and peasants alike towards the freedom movement in this arid zone of old Punjab.

The Arya Samaj was another powerful movement that shaped his life; he was simple and austere and yet committed to the freedom struggle. Interestingly, his idols ranged from Mahatma Gandhi to Bhagat Singh. He found them passionate leaders, devoted to the struggle for independence.

We find a lucid perception of his political agenda in his speech delivered in the Constituent Assembly on November 6, 1948.

“We want to create a classless society. All backward people are either peasants or workers. In Russia, those who did not work or who earned money by other means and their earning was not due to their work were all disfranchised. We may not do that here. We should give those rights as per their percentage of population. We should protect working classes; those farmers and workers,” he had observed.

He went through tough times and the steel frame of this peasant leader was tempered in jails and tortures during British rule. Commitment to social reforms and ceaseless efforts helped Chaudhry Ranbir Singh achieve rare distinctions in life.

“I never had regrets in life and never hankered for office, though I was a member of the Constituent Assembly, Parliament and the Punjab Assembly and a minister. It all came on the way,” he once told me, adding that “faith has a great power to guide”.

His mother, Mrs. Mam Kaur, devoted to family and society, exercised a very subtle influence in shaping this young man. She was a kind lady who would always go out of her limits to help the needy.

She was the daughter of an army man who had lived in Fiji and was a quiet, hard working, affectionate and caring lady. She shaped his life in the silent school of the family.

Born in a patriotic family of Haryana on November 26, 1914, at Sanghi in the Jat heartland of Rohtak, his childhood influences were inspiring. His father, Chaudhry Matu Ram, was an agriculturist but unlike most other zamindars, was a committed nationalist.

He contested the elections to the Punjab Legislative Council in 1923 as a Swarajist, but was cheated by his rival, Rai Bahadur Lal Chand of the Zamindara Party. But he challenged the election and his petition was finally accepted with costs and his rival was fined.

Chaudhry Matu Ram was a zealous social reformer and founder of the first public high school in Rohtak. He joined the Congress.

Impressed by his sincerity and keen interest in social reforms, Mahatma Gandhi had shown his desire to meet Chaudhry Matu Ram during his visit to Bhiwani in 1921.

The Tribune on February 19, 1921, reported that the public meeting in Rohtak where Mahatma Gandhi spoke was presided over by Chaudhry Matu Ram and was attended by over 25,000 people. He must have been a great organiser.

Ranbir Singh got his early education (1920-1925) in his village school and Gurukul at Bhainswal. Later, he was educated at Vaish High School, Rohtak, and Ramjas College, Delhi, from where he obtained his B.A. degree. He was married to Hardoi, a daughter from a respectable family of Doomarkhan (Jind), in 1937.

It was on April 5, 1941, that he first joined the freedom movement, as an individual satyagrahi, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. He was arrested and sentenced to a short term of imprisonment.

Immediately after his release, he defied the ban. Lest the police should lay its hands upon him, he went underground, but under Gandhi’s instructions, he made a voluntary surrender and was sentenced to imprisonment.

When he was released, he took part in the Quit India Movement. He was arrested in September, 1942, and released on July 24, 1944.

Chaudhry Ranbir Singh all along showed his deep interest in the welfare of farmers. He founded the Rohtak Krishak Multipurpose Cooperative Societies. He became the secretary of the Socialist-sponsored Punjab Kishan Sabha in 1946. Then he was also the president of the district Kisan Sabha. In 1949-50 he was selected as a delegate to the International Agriculture Producers’ Conference.

Prompted by the same urge to improve the lot of farmers, he started a chain of primary schools in his home district. In 1946 he laid the foundation of the Subhash High School at Rohtak.

Taking a greater interest in education, he founded the Subhash High School at Kharkhande and primary schools in the villages of Munger Bilbilan and Polangi. He also started a weekly called the Hindi Haryana and headed the Haryana Vidya Parcharani Sabha at Rohtak. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1947 and, after three years, became a member of Parliament and served as a member of important panels including the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Rehabilitation.

His other concerns for which he spoke passionately were decentralisation of powers, adequate representation for peasants and workers and improvement in the lives of women through education and social reforms — signs of an enlightened mind. He was elected in 1952 and 1957 from Rohtak for the Lok Sabha, where he ardently pleaded for welfare of the downtrodden and backward people.

In 1962 he was elected to the Punjab Vidhan Sabha from the Kalanour constituency and was a Minister for Irrigation and Power. His meticulous work in the execution of the Bhakra-Nangal Power Project is still remembered. This helped Haryana and Punjab to usher in the Green Revolution.

On November 1, 1966, on the reorganisation of Punjab, Haryana came into existence and he again became a minister. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha from April 1972 to 1978. Then it was a goodbye to active politics, which he was discovering now, thrived on group loyalties and even intrigue. He then dedicated himself to social welfare. He has since worked hard to get freedom fighters a place of honour and pension. 

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Dissent spreads across Russia
by Shaun Walker

The Kremlin’s rule is beginning to look much shakier than at any time since Vladimir Putin came to power, after a series of protests in cities across its vast landmass this weekend by Russians disgruntled about the economy.

And as the country starts to feel the effects of the global credit crunch, there are also signs of a growing rift between Prime Minister Putin, and his hand-picked successor as President, Dmitry Medvedev.

In Vladivostok, 2,000 protesters took to the streets, with some carrying banners reading “Kremlin, we are against you”, and other people chanting directly for the removal of Mr Putin.

The Pacific port city, seven time zones away from Moscow, has become a focal point for dissent after riot police broke up a march last year over car imports and detained 100 people. Saturday’s demonstration, under the watchful eye of the police, passed off peacefully.

Nearly every major city had a street rally, and though most were low key, the unusual scale of dissatisfaction is likely to worry the authorities.

The Russian economy has been hit hard by falling oil prices, many oligarchs have seen billions of pounds wiped off the value of their shares, and ordinary Russians are feeling the pinch as factories struggle to stay afloat and companies lay off employees.

In Moscow, a motley band of communists, anarchists and liberals gathered at several points across the city to protest against Kremlin rule.

At one spot, a dozen protesters taped over their mouths with white tape, held up white placards with no slogans, and handed blank white flyers to passers-by.

Bemused by such a conceptual approach to protest, the police rounded them up and arrested them anyway, and the organiser got five days in prison.

Mr Putin has made several speeches blaming the economic chaos on America, and says he expects things to improve by the end of the year.

State-controlled television is playing down the crisis, and most newspapers are also toeing the Kremlin line, but the internet is a worrying medium for those in charge, and offers a forum for dissenters to exchange ideas.

Tiger, an acronym for The Society for Proactive Russian Citizens, is an online community of anti-government activists based across Russia’s 11 time zones. Participants use the online forum to discuss how best to oppose the government. Those involved estimate that about 10,000 people have signed up since last autumn.

“We’re waiting for warmer weather because it’s simply difficult to stay outside for long when it’s minus 20,” said Maria Baranova, a 27-year-old resident of Vladivostok active in the Tiger movement.

“But in the spring we plan to mount protests every weekend. Before I got involved I never realised how many people are unhappy. I can’t believe that there are so many people living near me who are politically aware and saying smart things.”

While there are signs that the ripple of anger could turn into a tidal wave, few analysts expect street protests to have any chance of bringing down the government.

“There will be more unrest, but it will be localised,” says Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst in Moscow. “There is not the organisational structure in place for anything more.”

But, says Mr Oreshkin, the business and political elite, who largely accepted the trade-off of political freedoms for the economic prosperity of the past few years, is becoming disillusioned.

“Two or three years ago, we could talk about the ‘Putin Consensus’ among the elites. Now that consensus has broken down. The elites are better informed than the rest of the population, have more to lose, and understand just how bad things are.”

Mr Medvedev, who was swept into the Kremlin last year with the backing of Mr Putin, has begun to emerge as a more independent player.

He has criticised the government for failing to implement anti-crisis measures effectively, stating that only 30 per cent of measures had been put through and the government was working “more slowly than the current situation demands”.

Though he did not mention Mr Putin by name, the economy is traditionally the responsibility of the Prime Minister, and many commentators noted the water he was putting between the presidency and the premiership.

“Everyone serious knows that in six months, things will be catastrophically bad here,” says Mr Oreshkin. “Medvedev is subtly trying to make it clear that the economy is Putin’s responsibility. However well-disposed he is towards Putin, it’s very clear that the beginnings of a divide are there.”

By arrangement with The Independent

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Delhi Durbar
RTI fallout

Everyone has begun to feel the heat of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and at the same time is using it to poke fun at others. The latest one to come under its scrutiny is none other than the RTI watchdog, the Central Information Commission (CIC).

After causing a flutter recently by asking the Supreme Court to provide the assets details of its judges to an RTI applicant, the CIC now finds itself in focus for the same reason as its own commissioners are not willing to disclose their assets.

In fact, the RTI Act itself became a reality only after facing stiff resistance from various quarters reluctant to part with information such as file notings. Now that its scope is so wide, no conversation is complete without a reference to the RTI.

A few days ago, Punjab counsel submitted the results of a recruitment examination to an apex court Bench in a sealed cover. Replying to a query from the Bench, the advocate said he had not seen the results before these were sealed. "Why, doesn't RTI apply to you?" the judges wondered.

BJP blog war

Looks like the BJP's PM-in-waiting L.K. Advani is facing competition and rivalry on all fronts.

First, his prime ministerial aspirations were challenged by none other than his old time associate and friend, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Then another saffron veteran, Kalyan Singh, also dismissed his claims of being Sardar Patel-II.

Recently Advani started his blog called AdvaniforPM.com amid much fanfare. Now he seems to be facing competition on this front too.

A known detractor of Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi launched his blog Murliforvaranasi.com with greater enthusiasm at the IIC on Saturday. Joshi is contesting the next Lok Sabha election from Varanasi. He shifted to Varanasi, abandoning Allahabad, which he won thrice before losing in 2004.

Advani watchers are keenly observing who all in the party will start of their blogs to send across their individual messages.

BRT woes

The Delhi Government's BRT corrdior project had been in the news for all the wrong reasons, the main being its ill planning and woes it has created for the residents of South Delhi. But just when people had come to live with it, the bus rapid transport (BRT) system is now again in news with the Delhi Traffic Police saying that it has no jurisdiction over the traffic plan on the corridor and it is to be handled by the consortium which constructed the BRT.

The private company has stopped traffic in two particular directions, causing inconvenience to the residents of the two colonies situated right next to the corridor.

But how can the law-enforcing agency shrug its responsibility off the corridor? The traffic police is in charge of regulating traffic in the entire city.

Contributed by R. Sedhuraman, Faraz Ahmad and Girja Kaura

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Corrections and clarifications

The name of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was wrongly spelt in the page 2 news-item “NCW chief has nothing to say on Gehlot” on January 31.

In the page 3 news-item “Travel agents protest against foreign airlines” (January 31), the third paragraph should have read: “As a mark of protest, the agents not only returned promotional literature to the airlines concerned but also decided to serve on them memoranda saying that they had been their business partners for a long time”.

The news-item “Countries backing terror must pay ‘heavy price’: Pranab” on page 1 of The Tribune on January 20 should have mentioned that the External Affairs Minister had said that “Countries that sponsor or tolerate terrorism must be left with no choice but to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism,’’ without directly naming Pakistan. The published report had used the word “with” in place of “without”.

Another page-1 report on the same day, “Look after your parents and senior citizens in Punjab or go to jail”, had said that “grandparents or senior citizens can prefer their application before the District Social Welfare Officer”. What was meant was that “grandparents or senior citizens can proffer their application before the District Social Welfare Officer”.

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

We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error. We will carry corrections and clarifications, wherever necessary, every Tuesday.

Readers in such cases can write to Mr Amar Chandel, Deputy Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections” on the envelope. His e-mail ID is amarchandel@tribunemail.com.

H.K. Dua, Editor-in-Chief

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