SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
O P I N I O N S

Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Deaths in custody
Men in uniform can be callous
THE front-page report in The Tribune (February 10) revealing the steady rise in the number of custodial deaths in Punjab is deeply disturbing. It portrays the state police in poor light. Based on the figures given to the Supreme Court, the table used along with the report shows how deaths in custody in Punjab have increased from two in 2004 to a whopping 80 in 2006 and 63 in 2007!

Hope intact
Slowdown is not that gloomy
T
HE advance estimate of India’s economic expansion this fiscal at 7.1 per cent, released by the Central Statistical Organisation on Monday, does not come as a surprise. Though the latest CSO figure is sharply lower than the 9 per cent average GDP growth achieved during the last three financial years, it should, nevertheless, reassure the people that despite a difficult economic environment the country’s growth will not wilt.





EARLIER STORIES

BJP in two minds
February 10, 2009
Nuke Khan is set free
February 9, 2009
To handcuff or not
February 8, 2009
Vanishing jobs
February 7, 2009
Resignation as a farce
February 6, 2009
Shorter the better
February 5, 2009
Trouble in EC
February 4, 2009
Terror networks intact
February 3, 2009
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



The sound of Indian music
Rahman and Zakir carry it to the world
Music lovers, rejoice. It is celebration time for Indian music as three international awards came its way. The prodigal music director, AR Rahman, has done it again. He picked up the prestigious BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award for the score of Slumdog Millionaire, which only recently fetched him the Golden Globe, and many other awards. Keeping him company is FTII alumnus Resul Pookutty for the best sound design along with Glenn Freemantle.

ARTICLE

A Tribune Debate
Powers of CEC and ECs
There are some fallacies
by Ramaswamy R. Iyer
Questions such as whether the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is competent to make a recommendation for the removal of an Election Commissioner, and whether this requires a reference from the government or can be exercised suo motu, have been answered definitively by Soli Sorabjee (The Indian Express, February 4, 2009).

MIDDLE

On the wings of a wig
by Trilochan Singh Trewn
During 1979 my wife and I were guests of an American family in Wilmington, North Carolina. We had met our hosts during a rotary meet where we, together with my captain and his wife, were invited. Our host, Mr Jerry Cooper, had served for three years in the US embassy in New Delhi. Mrs Cooper relished Indian food and admired Indian culture and Indian ethos. She was a widely read lady with a degree in hair fashion and cosmetics.

OPED

Attacks on women
Moral police can’t dictate a lifestyle
by Nonika Singh
I
N the wake of the MF Husain controversy, eminent artist Krishan Khanna had remarked, “Anyone can infringe upon our lives”. At that point, when Husain’s paintings had stirred a hornet’s nest, he was referring to the artistic community. But today, it seems, his assertion could well apply to all of us.

Politicians vilify bankers
by Steve Richards
T
HE unpopularity of the bankers is without precedent. In the late 1970s, reckless trade union leaders could always count on support from parts of the Labour Party and the media. Now, the bankers face universal vilification.

Southeast Asia faces trade shift
by Tim Johnston
S
timulus packages being put in place by many export-dependent nations in Southeast Asia may not do enough to protect those economies from the consequences of the fundamental shift in trading patterns that underlies the current financial crisis, analysts warn.

 


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Deaths in custody
Men in uniform can be callous

THE front-page report in The Tribune (February 10) revealing the steady rise in the number of custodial deaths in Punjab is deeply disturbing. It portrays the state police in poor light. Based on the figures given to the Supreme Court, the table used along with the report shows how deaths in custody in Punjab have increased from two in 2004 to a whopping 80 in 2006 and 63 in 2007!

The Punjab government has supplied these figures in an affidavit before the Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathasivam. Shockingly, Mr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, amicus curie in a PIL case, told the court that the Punjab government has not taken action against those responsible for these custodial deaths. Clearly, this indifferent attitude of the authorities is the root cause of the continuing malady.

Deaths in the lock-up have been reported in both police stations and jails with sickening regularity in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh, yet the guilty policemen have gone scot-free. No wonder, they have no fear of the law and those in their custody, with their crime yet to be proven, continue to die. Not all the deaths could be natural.

Custodial deaths are also common in other states. There are several cases where the police officers have brazenly abused their powers. Though they are the custodians of law, they tend to torture people, oblivious of their fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has been voicing concern over the alarming trend. In 2003, it ruled that life or personal liberty under the Constitution included the right to live with human dignity. There is an in-built guarantee against torture by the state and hence, it is difficult to comprehend how custodial violence can be permitted to defy rights flowing from the Constitution, it said.

The Supreme Court, the high courts, the National Human Rights Commission and the Law Commission have decried the use of third-degree methods by the police during interrogation. Yet, this goes on unchecked throughout the country. It is time to take exemplary action against those responsible for lock-up deaths. A policeman who is insensitive towards the human rights of the accused has no right to don the uniform.

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Hope intact
Slowdown is not that gloomy

THE advance estimate of India’s economic expansion this fiscal at 7.1 per cent, released by the Central Statistical Organisation on Monday, does not come as a surprise. Though the latest CSO figure is sharply lower than the 9 per cent average GDP growth achieved during the last three financial years, it should, nevertheless, reassure the people that despite a difficult economic environment the country’s growth will not wilt.

The CSO projection is in conformity with that of the RBI and the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, though most international agencies, including the IMF and the World Bank, have much lower expectations. What comes as a nasty surprise in the latest data is the sharp slowdown in agriculture, which supports 65 per cent of the country’s population.

Contrary to previous hopes of a robust agricultural growth, the farm sector will expand only by 2.6 per cent against a healthy 4.9 per cent in the previous year. The industrial growth has shrunk as expected. The service sector too has belied expectations. What cheered the stock markets to register a 283-point rally in the BSE Sensex despite the markets remaining largely mellowed elsewhere on Monday was the hope for more stimulus measures in the interim budget to be presented on February 16.

Since inflation is inching down, the RBI has sufficient reason to effect a cut in its key rates to lower the cost of borrowings for individuals and institutions. Apart from a slump in global demand, which has badly hurt the export sector, the high cost of capital and its not-so-easy availability has battered the economy in general and corporate profitability in particular.

Despite limited cash at its command, the UPA government is set to present a please-all interim budget to boost the economy as also its chances of victory in the coming Lok Sabha elections. That it will saddle the country with a painfully high debt is another matter.

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The sound of Indian music
Rahman and Zakir carry it to the world

Music lovers, rejoice. It is celebration time for Indian music as three international awards came its way. The prodigal music director, AR Rahman, has done it again. He picked up the prestigious BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award for the score of Slumdog Millionaire, which only recently fetched him the Golden Globe, and many other awards. Keeping him company is FTII alumnus Resul Pookutty for the best sound design along with Glenn Freemantle.

In a different, albeit no less significant, international league is tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain who has won a Grammy in the contemporary World Music Album category for his collaborative album Global Drum Project. Other Indian Grammy hopes Louis Banks nominated in the Best Contemporary Jazz Album category, slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya and classical vocalist Lakshmi Shankar who were nominated in the Best Traditional World Music category may have been dashed. But there is no denying that Indian music is on a song, keeping the Indian flag high.

Hussain’s and Rahman’s feats are no flash in the pan brilliance. While awards have been raining on Rahman, gifted percussionist Hussain’s earlier project Planet Drum with Micky Hart, which was released in 1991, had won the first-ever Grammy Award in the World Music category.

Actually Indian musicians’, especially classical musicians, tryst with the world began back in time. Renowned sitarist Pandit Ravi Shankar had not only put sitar on the world map but also became the Indian face of music and is easily one name music aficionados all over the world know.

Incidentally, he has won three Grammies, most recently in 2002. Among others who have walked the hallowed path is Pandit Ravi Shankar’s disciple, Mohan Veena exponent Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt whose album “A meeting by the river” was awarded a Grammy in 1994.

Indian classical music and musicians have been India’s undisputed ambassadors of culture, wooing listeners around the globe. The number of Grammy nominations each year is not only proof of its growing international acceptance but also of the innovative abilities of Indian musicians in creating the right world sound.

Rahman has shown that mankind can be reached through popular music. Whether he bags the coveted Oscar or not — with three nominations it stands a chance — the West has already been won.

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Thought for the Day

Bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions.
— G.K. Chesterton

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A Tribune Debate
Powers of CEC and ECs
There are some fallacies
by Ramaswamy R. Iyer

Questions such as whether the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is competent to make a recommendation for the removal of an Election Commissioner, and whether this requires a reference from the government or can be exercised suo motu, have been answered definitively by Soli Sorabjee (The Indian Express, February 4, 2009).

Perhaps, one may add the following: If the wording had been “on the advice of” or “in consultation with” it might have implied that the President (the government) will initiate the removal action and will consult or seek the advice of the CEC; the wording “on the recommendation of” clearly implies at least the possibility, and perhaps even the necessity, of the action being initiated by the CEC. Leaving that aside, there are certain other observations made by some commentators that have not been adequately discussed and need to be deconstructed.

For instance, the Law Minister has observed that it is a case of one man’s word against another’s, and that it cannot be verified. The answer to that is, first, that it is a case of the word of a functionary specifically authorised by the Constitution in this regard against that of another not so authorised, and so the two “words” are not on the same footing; and, secondly, that there is no question of verification.

What the CEC makes is not a complaint to be verified but a recommendation to be accepted or rejected; and it has been made clear by Sorabjee that it has to be accepted unless there are strong reasons to the contrary.

The words “shall not, except on the recommendation of” would ordinarily imply “shall, on the recommendation of”. If we interpret the words as meaning that even after such a recommendation the President has the option of not acting on it, two alternative inferences follow: (i) that the Election Commissioners enjoy an even higher degree of protection than the CEC; or (ii) that the EC reprieved by the President will be beholden to the President and will, therefore, cease to be independent.

Some have expressed concern at the power given to the CEC and fear his (or her) tyranny; even the Supreme Court had uttered some words of caution in this regard. Whatever the merits of those apprehensions, we cannot write our own view of what we consider desirable into the Constitution. If such concern is widely and strongly felt, the right thing to do would be to amend the Constitution. Meanwhile, we have to go by what it says, not by what we think it ought to have said.

Certainly, the government can reject the CEC’s recommendation if it is manifestly capricious or perverse or malicious, but such a conclusion has to be arrived at through a careful reading of the recommendation itself to see whether it is cogent and persuasive. Any separate inquiry by the government would nullify the power vested in the CEC by the Constitution.

Some have argued that the principles of natural justice would require both sides to be heard, but that is a completely wrong argument. It places the CEC and the EC in question on par as disputants and treats the Presidential decision as a case of adjudication. That is simply not the case. Such a view would make nonsense of the constitutional provision.

The power vested in the CEC must, of course, be exercised with great caution and in rare cases. There is prima facie no reason to believe that it was not so exercised in this case. Whether the EC in question has been functioning in an improper manner, making things difficult for the CEC, or the CEC has been harassing his colleague, should be clear enough from a careful perusal of the CEC’s report itself.

The second proposition to be deconstructed is the well-meant advice to the CEC and the ECs not to fight with one another but to get on amicably and attend to the job of holding elections. This springs from widespread unhappiness at the spectacle of a divided Election Commission. That is indeed unfortunate and one shares the general regret, but such things do happen occasionally. When they do, we are tempted to be even-handed and admonish both sides to see reason. Such an admonition may often be appropriate, but not necessarily always.

The proposition that there is something to be said on both sides and that the truth lies somewhere in the middle may not be true in every case. In a particular instance one side may be right and the other wrong; or the differences may be so deep as not to lend themselves to a friendly resolution. It is not being argued that the present case is one such, but merely that generalised advice without full knowledge of the specifics of a situation is inappropriate.

In this case, we do not know how serious the difficulties have been. However, the CEC and the ECs are surely well aware of the need to function together and conduct elections. They have been doing so, and will, one hopes, do so in the case of the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

That brings one to the crucial question of timing. An explanation has been given by the CEC which needs to be given due consideration. Apart from that, let us reflect on the following (which is written entirely from the outside, without any knowledge of what went on within the commission or in the CEC’s mind). Having asserted his power to recommend removal, the CEC could have immediately exercised it, if that was what he had in mind all along; but he did not do so. Evidently, he wanted to consider the matter further.

Eventually, he issued a letter to Mr Navin Chawla, received a reply after six months (as he says), and then issued his recommendation to the President. He must have known that it would raise a storm and that he would be severely attacked by the Congress. He must also have expected criticism even from other quarters, including the general public, particularly because the elections had drawn near.

He himself was about to retire. He had functioned with Mr Chawla for over three years, had conducted the state elections, and could in the same manner have held the parliamentary elections as well. In fact, he would necessarily have to do so despite his recommendation, and that would not be rendered easier by the recommendation.

He was not going to have the opportunity of functioning without the presence of Mr Chawla. He must also have known that his recommendation of removal stood no chance of being accepted, and further, that far from weakening Mr Chawla’s chances of becoming the next CEC, it would actually strengthen them.

Having received Mr Chawla’s reply, and taking into account the approaching elections, and the improbability of his recommendation being accepted, he could have refrained from sending it, and retired quietly with honour and kudos, with no abuse or vilification from any quarters. If nevertheless he chose to do the unpleasant thing and face obloquy, is it not at least possible that he felt strongly that it was the right thing to do?

The writer is a former Secretary, Government of India.

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On the wings of a wig
by Trilochan Singh Trewn

During 1979 my wife and I were guests of an American family in Wilmington, North Carolina. We had met our hosts during a rotary meet where we, together with my captain and his wife, were invited. Our host, Mr Jerry Cooper, had served for three years in the US embassy in New Delhi. Mrs Cooper relished Indian food and admired Indian culture and Indian ethos. She was a widely read lady with a degree in hair fashion and cosmetics.

Wilmington Harbour is an open harbour susceptible even to small vagaries of ocean weather conditions. This made us stay in the harbour for about six weeks and enabled us to socialise. Our American friends came on board and we reciprocated in a fitting manner by presenting a brass replica of Nataraj to them.

Two days before our day of departure they invited us to a farewell dinner in their spacious seaside bungalow with their cosmetics showroom located close by. Before we bid farewell Mrs Cooper presented a set of ladies wig of matching colour and size to my wife. To make sure about absolute suitability of the wig she adjusted it with professional skills on my wife’s head aiming at a perfect fit.

Mrs Cooper had also served in a beauty institute of international repute while in New Delhi. She wanted my wife to keep the wig on while returning to ship after dinner. Mr Jerry Cooper and myself agreed that this wig made my wife look several years younger. Mrs Cooper overruled my hesitation and we headed towards the ship.

It was about 11 o’clock at night. As we alighted from the car we saw the captain and ship’s agent engaged in an animated discussion standing on the jetty. I asked my wife to walk across the jetty and board the ship while I was to join her after a few words with the captain.

The captain did not recognise my wife and rather looked at me with subdued suspicion. Meanwhile, my wife not conscious about the change in her appearance stepped on board the ship. The sentry did not recognise her and refused to identify her even after she said that she was the chief engineer’s wife.

There was no one else near the ship’s gangway while the argument was going on. Just then the captain and myself arrived. The captain too was confused to see an unknown young lady stepping on board at odd hours.

He looked at me and asked me to introduce the lady to him. He was deeply amused and visibly relieved to know that the young lady facing him was no one else but my wife whom he knew so well.

He suggested that she should continue using this wig during the ship’s current voyage. Later too, in random parties the wig helped her to spring more surprises!

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Attacks on women
Moral police can’t dictate a lifestyle
by Nonika Singh

IN the wake of the MF Husain controversy, eminent artist Krishan Khanna had remarked, “Anyone can infringe upon our lives”. At that point, when Husain’s paintings had stirred a hornet’s nest, he was referring to the artistic community. But today, it seems, his assertion could well apply to all of us.

Indeed any time, anywhere, anyone can transgress our private space and not only create a hullabaloo but also intimidate us physically, mentally and emotionally. In short, strangers in the garb of moral police can take charge of our lives.

The recent pub incident in Mangalore targeting defenceless young women and the ensuing fracas, including the Sri Ram Sene’s threat for a “repeat performance” on the Valentine Day, is perhaps too fresh in public memory to bear repetition.

But what needs to be hammered is the growing intolerance and unpardonable boorish behaviour of the self-styled moral police.

The nauseating manner in which certain elements have become an extra-constitutional authority speaks volumes of not only their growing intolerance, but also utter disdain towards fellow citizens, especially women and artists.

The pub squabble is actually a manifestation of a deeper malaise, of a rot that has plagued and ruined our free society for long.

This is not the first time the “moral” brigade has decided to take law unto its own hands, all in the interest of “upholding” Indian culture and tradition.

Their hackles have been raised before too and one would say invariably without real provocation and amazingly by acts of “intransigent” women.

In fact, this self-styled moral police considers it its prerogative as well as moral obligation to discipline “errant” women for violating Indian tradition and culture.

Actually, women are their pet-hate targets, chosen objects of harassment and derision, to whom they must dictate what to wear, what to drink, what to say and where not to go.

So they pick up cudgels when actor Khusboo speaks her mind about safe sex. They are rattled when Shilpa Shetty receives an innocent peck from Richard Gere. To many rape victims, they have told point blank that it was their un-Indian attire that instigated the rape. More recently, they want to target noodle straps.

The ripple effect of their misdemeanours is evident. In Haryana, a young woman is thrashed publicly by her husband for daring to don jeans.

Most shocking is the remark of Nirmala Ventakesh, member, National Commission for Women, who instead of coming down heavily upon the hooligans, shifted the onus on women alone. Her comment, “women have to safeguard themselves” is at best loaded, with sexist connotations.

Yet another vulnerable group is of artists, who often come under scrutiny. Indeed, it is not Husain alone whose creative freedom has been challenged and he has been forced to live in exile after a series of cases were slapped against him for painting Hindu deities in nude and offending religious sentiments.

A young artist, Chandramohan’s academic exhibition at MS University, Vadodara, too invited similar charges. The student was not only attacked but also booked by the police and he spent a week in jail.

That Hindutava parties of varying names — Sri Ram Sene, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal — have been the frontrunner in this misguided campaign, there is little doubt.

However, remember the manner in which noted Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen was hounded out of the country by fundamentalists.

At Chennai, an exhibition on Emperor Aurangzeb had to be taken off under pressure from the TMMK (Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam), instigated by the Nawab of Arcot, who thought certain paintings reflected the Mughal Emperor in bad light.

It is clear that the moral high ground is inhabited by all religions, by all political parties. And, ironically, by both genders. Women, the prime victims of this misguided culture campaign, are no less obscurantists in their beliefs.

Actually, the pub incident may have happened in the BJP-ruled state of Karnataka with activists of Sri Ram Sene, which was once a part of the Bajrang Dal, leading the charge. Yet Sene chief Pramod Muthalik’s views found an instant echo in others, cutting across party lines.

The first to chorus similar sentiments was Ashok Gehlot, the Congress Chief Minister of Rajasthan.

Then Health Minister Anubhmani Ramadoss, always on the look out for a new cause, too joined in. He, who now wants to frame a national alcohol policy grandly, declared that pub culture is most certainly not part of our culture.

Indeed! May one ask, what exactly comprises Indian culture — wife beating, female foeticide and dowry? If one were to go back in time, weren’t Sati, child marriage, bigamy and many more regressive customs Indian too?

If we have left those behind, indeed many other norms are likely to change as well. Tradition and culture are anything but static. India anyway has been a huge melting pot, open to influence, even from outside.

However, the self- anointed moral police is caught in a time wrap. It seems it was enjoying a Kumbhkarani sleep as India was changing and evolving, when its large number of women were being educated, trained for jobs.

With new-found economic freedom, they have sought and attained social freedom too. It is both their right and privilege and none can be permitted to snatch it.

Indeed, no one is suggesting that India should throw the baby out with the bath water or that the new modern India morph into an amoral morass, a nation with no values in our socio-cultural bank.

But can values be inflicted by force? Can lifestyles be dictated? Going to or not going to a pub is a minor issue.

Though the Minister for Women and Child Development, Renuka Chowdhry, the only sane voice amidst insanity is taking Sene’s warning to vitiate the Valentine Day very seriously and has promised to respond suitably, even belligerently with a “pub bharo” response.

Indeed, if not checked now, where will this saffronisation and Talibanisation stop? Today, the upkeepers of Indian tradition have an objection to women going to a pub. Tomorrow it could be markets, cinema halls and, worse still, workplaces, colleges and schools.

It has happened before in other nations. If unruly elements are not reined in now, their mania could snowball into an Indian variant of Taliban, which has only recently forbid girls from going to schools and forced marriages upon them.

Closer home, the ominous signals are already palpable. In Tamil Nadu, Anna University had issued a diktat asking girl students not to wear jeans, sleeveless tops and t-shirts.

In J&K there were reports of a “farman” against dating. In Manglore again, Kerala CPM MLA’s daughter had to bear the wrath of miscreants for something as innocuous as returning home with a Muslim boy.

The Shiv Sena and Sri Ram Sene have “promised” dire action against those expressing love on the Valentine Day. Lovers, by the way, are under constant watch.

Seriously, India lives in many layers, has many realities and many worlds. Who is to decide whether the sari clad is more Indian than a jean-attired youngster? Certainly, these vigilante groups can’t be left to measure the yardstick of Indianness.

Amartya Sen’s Argumentative Indian cannot be allowed to become an intolerant boor without cause and without respect or regard for others. Among all things Indian, tolerance for difference is authentically and indigenously Indian.
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Politicians vilify bankers
by Steve Richards

THE unpopularity of the bankers is without precedent. In the late 1970s, reckless trade union leaders could always count on support from parts of the Labour Party and the media. Now, the bankers face universal vilification.

Political leaders are in a contest to shout the loudest in their condemnation of big bonuses. Powerful newspapers fume at their immoral behaviour. As the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, declared: “The party’s over.”

Or is it? Gordon Brown’s response in terms of policy is to hold a review. That is always Mr Brown’s response to areas which are complex and controversial. Indeed, in the past, he appointed senior bankers to conduct his reviews.

Most famously the former banker, Derek Wanless, reviewed NHS spending. That was when Mr Brown considered it to be fashionable and politically expedient for him to be associated with bankers, a Labour chancellor dancing arm in arm with wealth-creating entrepreneurs.

It worked for him at the time. In 2003, Mr Wanless proposed tax rises to pay for the NHS, and – behind the protective shield of such a revered member of the financial community –Mr Brown dared to make his move.

Now he turns to Sir David Walker, a senior adviser at Morgan Stanley International to review the bankers. I can imagine the fevered thinking that led to the setting up of this review.

Mr Brown would not want to decide who should or should not get a bonus. There are legal contracts entitling some to bonuses. He wants to keep a distance and yet at the same time he wants to be seen doing something. So he sets up a review. When the review reaches its conclusion at the end of the year he will be acting on behalf of Sir David Walker, another protective shield.

The timing is also highly political. The review will report its preliminary findings in the autumn. That will give ministers a set of headlines about a tough new approach to banking. I can assure you now that the preliminary findings will be the same as the final ones scheduled for the end of the year, which will give Mr Brown another hit as he responds to the definitive report.

Mr Brown recognised long ago that the anti-politics culture in Britain means it makes more sense for a non-politician to take the controversial decisions. It is a depressing and yet valid insight.

Nonetheless, in this case, Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne have good cause to spot the ploy and mock it. It does not take a review to discover what has been going on in the banks. Mr Brown and others know exactly what happened and why. The review is a timid device when action is needed.

But Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne are severely challenged by the banking crisis too. They make much of changing capitalism through cultural pressure, a nudge here and there. In his generously received speech in Davos, Mr Cameron argued that “if markets and capitalism, and the activities of individual businesses conflict with our vision of the good society and a better life ... we must speak out”.

A lot of powerful forces are speaking out at the moment and the banks have told them all to get stuffed. The response is the most vivid proof yet that exhortation is not enough. If they won’t yield to such forces as the mighty media and all the main political parties it is difficult to imagine them relenting to any combination of words and cultural pressures.

In fairness, the Conservatives accept the banks need a tougher regulatory framework. I spoke to one of their frontbenchers yesterday asking some more interesting questions about the efficacy of markets.

Why was it, he wondered, that some bankers were being paid huge sums for offering advice and information that were in the possession of any senior financial journalist being paid a tenth of the salary?

One example of many, he concluded, in which markets were not working effectively. The analysis is thoughtful. The problem is that merely telling the bankers and others to behave themselves evidently will not do the trick.

Currently, political leaders dare to speak out but are fearful for different reasons of coming up with precise policies.

Mr Cameron’s latest move is to form a new Economic Recovery Committee, another gesture, an attempt to be seen doing something rather than addressing more fundamental questions about the Conservatives’ economic policy.

Mr Cameron’s committee and Mr Brown’s review are symptoms of fearful caution as the world moves on.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Southeast Asia faces trade shift
by Tim Johnston

Stimulus packages being put in place by many export-dependent nations in Southeast Asia may not do enough to protect those economies from the consequences of the fundamental shift in trading patterns that underlies the current financial crisis, analysts warn.

The exporting nations have taken slightly different paths in attempting to combat the global slowdown, but all their packages rest on a similar assumption: that the world economy will pick up in the third quarter, causing things to return to normal.

Regional analysts say, however, that the present crisis is not just another cyclical downturn but is instead a structural realignment and that Southeast Asia’s export economies need to act quickly to adjust to a new reality in which American and European consumers will no longer be the main market.

“We are geared towards selling what the U.S. and Europe want, not what Asians want. We need a readjustment,” said Supavud Saicheua, the managing director of Phatra Securities in Bangkok. “In the long term, Asians have to consume more, and Europe and the U.S. have to consume less.”

In a world dominated by born-again Keynesians, deficit-funded stimulus packages are all the rage. In Southeast Asia, there have been a variety of approaches: Vietnam has chosen to support industry, Thailand is trying to mitigate the effects on the most vulnerable, and Singapore has gone for a mixture of the two.

Tai Hui, head of economic research for Southeast Asia at Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore, said he believes that the packages will work for the region’s bigger economies but are likely to have limited effects in smaller nations.

“It will work well for India and China, but for the smaller economies like Hong Kong and Singapore, no matter how much you spend, it is not going to compensate for the slowdown in Europe and the U.S.,” Hui said, adding that the packages “will at best break the fall.”

For the countries in the middle, the scale of the problems they face appears to have blunted governmental ambitions. Korn Chatikavanij, Thailand’s new finance minister, said his $3.3 billion stimulus package was designed to “stop the bleeding” until the global economy picks up. His biggest fear, he said, is that the global economic revival will not come soon enough.

Some analysts have said that the packages raise two questions: What effect will they have on domestic demand? And if they are effective, will they save the region’s export industries?

Compared with the rest of the world, Asia has very high savings rates, which are considered likely to rise, given the present mood of uncertainty.

“Domestic demand was starting to come off even before you saw the collapse of exports,” said Prakriti Sofat, a Singapore-based economist with HSBC.

The high savings rates mean that consumers will take at least some of their country’s stimulus money and squirrel it away, further limiting the effects of packages that are in some cases fairly small, anyway.

Many analysts contend that even if the stimulus packages manage to reignite domestic demand, that demand is unlikely to be for the narrow range of manufactured products that Southeast Asia’s most export-dependent economies have long produced in vast quantities, such as Thailand’s pickup trucks and hard drives, and Vietnam’s furniture and shoes.

If the problem were merely a short-term one, export companies could probably weather the storm with government help, but according to Supavud, the Phatra Securities analyst, a long-term structural shift in the global economy means that the demand profile for Asian exports will never return to its pre-crisis form.

In Southeast Asia, the pain is likely to be spread unevenly. At one end of the spectrum will be countries such as Indonesia, the region’s largest economy. Economists say it is better off than most, thanks to its lower dependence on exports, particularly manufactured products.

Economic growth, which was about 6 percent last year, is expected to slow to 4.5 percent this year. However, the country’s longer-term prospects are considered relatively healthy.

At the other end is Singapore, which has seen domestic exports shrink and is already in recession.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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