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EDITORIALS

Amarinder’s expulsion
New SC Bench to examine House powers

T
he
five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court will have a major question to examine: whether the Punjab Assembly had the power and legitimacy to expel former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh from the House on the basis of the alleged wrongs committed by him while discharging executive duties during his tenure in an earlier House.

Taliban challenge
Force alone is no answer

W
ednesday’s
well-coordinated suicide bomb attack by the Taliban in Kabul, resulting in the killing of at least 27 people, sent across the grim message that the nine-year-long drive by the US-led multinational coalition against terror in Afghanistan has failed to bring about the desired results. Taliban insurgents continue to be in a position to strike at will anywhere anytime in the war-torn country.



EARLIER STORIES

Violence in the House
February 12, 2009
Deaths in custody
February 11, 2009
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


Ensure air safety
Too many near-misses

T
wo
cases of possible collisions between aircraft have shaken up the public’s confidence in air safety. Just a day after a near-miss involving an Air India aircraft and a IAF VIP squadron helicopter at Mumbai airport came the report of an Air India flight narrowly missing a government IL-76 plane near Jorhat in Assam. While it is too early to find out what exactly happened, it is clear that safety has been compromised. 

ARTICLE

Ensuring food security
Time to rely on yield within the country
by Sucha Singh Gill
T
HE concept of food security involves availability access and affordability of food in adequate quantity and quality to meet nutritional needs. The existence of under-nourishment in the long run highlights the marked prevalence of hunger in the countries that experienced a food crisis for several consecutive years. Food crisis can emerge, according to the FAO, in the world or any part of it as a consequence of adverse weather conditions, natural disasters, economic shocks, conflicts or a combination of these factors.


MIDDLE

CC, DC and TC
by D.K. Mukerjee
I
had the privilege of witnessing the three reorganisations of states, formation of Chandigarh as Union Territory and also the partition of the country. I grew up in Patiala state and was a school student when the country was divided and there was influx of refugees from Pakistan striving a place for them in the city followed by massacre of the Muslims in retaliation, which I saw from closed doors. The painful incidents still haunt me and I miss my Muslim school friends who had left seeking a new horizon.


OPED

Ban on tree felling
State policy limits green cover expansion
by S.S. Johl
T
HE Himalayas with its forests act as the lungs of India. Its green cover not only needs to be conserved, but also must be expanded further in terms of the area under trees, density of the forests and the quality of plants.

Israeli poll result hurts peace plans
by Paul Richter and Ashraf Khalil

E
lections
in Israel left uncertainty about the shape of a new government, but little doubt that the Obama administration had suffered a setback in its bid to mobilize efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.

Delhi Durbar

  • Arjun Singh  on his guard

  • Lalu avoids Nitish even in ads

  • Venkaiah, Jaitley not in fray



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Amarinder’s expulsion
New SC Bench to examine House powers

The five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court will have a major question to examine: whether the Punjab Assembly had the power and legitimacy to expel former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh from the House on the basis of the alleged wrongs committed by him while discharging executive duties during his tenure in an earlier House. On Wednesday, a three-member Bench headed by Justice B.N. Aggarwal requested Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan to constitute a larger Bench to examine the issue. It ruled that the issue needed to be resolved by a Constitution Bench as it involved substantive questions of constitutional law relating to the expulsion of a member of the legislature. While the court refused to restore the Captain’s membership, pending a decision on his petition, it had given him a major relief last time. On October 3, 2008, it stopped the Punjab Assembly from declaring Capt Singh’s Patiala constituency as vacant.

When the Punjab Assembly had expelled Capt Singh on September 10, 2008, in a most arbitrary, whimsical and shocking manner, serious questions were raised about its powers to do so. It was contended that the legislature had arrogated to itself the power and jurisdiction to find a person guilty in law, pre-judged his case, directed the investigative machinery to recover “ill-gotten wealth” and peremptorily expelled him from the House. The petitioner’s counsels argued that the Assembly order itself was replete with illegalities and that this was a gross misuse of the privilege of the House for “political vendetta”. More important, it was cited that the notification pertained to an earlier government’s action.

Capt Singh’s Special Leave Petition and writ petitions raised an important question: Could an Assembly with a huge majority exercise judicial powers and hold a person guilty of criminal charges? However, adjudication of the case by a Constitution Bench has become imperative because the issue is not confined to a member of the Opposition or the ruling party. What would happen to democracy and its representative institutions if legislatures arbitrarily expel members only because the ruling party enjoys a brute majority in the House? The issue has wider ramifications inasmuch as it deals with the Assembly’s powers and privileges to expel members. Thus, the Constitution Bench’s judgement on the key points of law involved in the case will be keenly awaited.

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Taliban challenge
Force alone is no answer

Wednesday’s well-coordinated suicide bomb attack by the Taliban in Kabul, resulting in the killing of at least 27 people, sent across the grim message that the nine-year-long drive by the US-led multinational coalition against terror in Afghanistan has failed to bring about the desired results. Taliban insurgents continue to be in a position to strike at will anywhere anytime in the war-torn country. If the Taliban spokesman, who claimed responsibility for the daring strike at the buildings housing the Justice and Education Ministries and the Prisons Directorate, is to be believed, there are more suicide bombers in Kabul than the eight killed. They must be prevented from executing the orders of their masters.

What happened on Wednesday is the third such incident in Kabul this year after an attack on a convoy of French and Afghan soldiers on February 1 and the killing of five people outside the German Embassy on January 9. If this is the situation in Kabul, nothing can be safe from Taliban attacks elsewhere in Afghanistan. After all, the Karzai government’s writ hardly runs beyond the country’s capital. On February 2, Taliban insurgents took the life of 21 policemen in the capital of Uruzgan province, the birthplace of Taliban founder Mullah Omar. They have been killing and disabling people with frightening frequency. There was some respite last year, when incidents of suicide bombing came down to 80 from 140 in 2007. But there are enough indications that 2009 may be worse than 2008 if the increased presence of the US armed forces, as announced by President Barack Obama, does not succeed in taming the Taliban.

The Taliban in Afghanistan cannot be weakened unless the Pakistan factor is handled effectively. The US obviously knows this better than any other country. That is why President Obama has been talking of Pakistan’s cooperation in defeating the Taliban even before he took up the reins of administration. The appointment of a US Special Representative for Pakistan-Afghanistan is not without reason. But the most important factor working in favour of the Taliban is the failure of the Karzai government in reviving economic activity throughout Afghanistan. Development can prove to be the most powerful weapon in taking on the Taliban.

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Ensure air safety
Too many near-misses

Two cases of possible collisions between aircraft have shaken up the public’s confidence in air safety. Just a day after a near-miss involving an Air India aircraft and a IAF VIP squadron helicopter at Mumbai airport came the report of an Air India flight narrowly missing a government IL-76 plane near Jorhat in Assam. While it is too early to find out what exactly happened, it is clear that safety has been compromised. The pilots’ quick response, an emergency stop aborting take-off on the one hand and a quick dive in the second case saved the day. However, the question remains: Why was this situation allowed to develop in the first place?

While the number of airlines and aeroplanes taking off and landing at Indian airports has been rising sharply, adequate attention has not been paid to infrastructure, manpower requirements and safety. And unfortunately, this results in mishaps and near-misses and this is reflected in the figures, too. There were 13 incidents in 2003, 15 in 2004, 21 in 2005 and 26 in 2006. Many of them, like the two recent cases, involve a mix of civil and IAF aircraft, thus pointing towards lack of coordination.

The statements by Indian Air Force officials and the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) after the incidents have given an impression of discord between the two organisations. It is obvious that steps taken to iron out their differences have not yielded results. Immediate steps need to be taken to ensure smooth functioning of these two bodies.

The aviation sector is growing and the DGCA is right in seeking help from the International Civil Aviation Organisation to set up national projects to monitor flight safety, airports and air navigation. The government must take short-term measures like acting on the enquiry reports’ findings and ensure that such incidents are not repeated. 
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Thought for the Day

I don’t wish to sign my name, though I am afraid everybody will know who the writer is: one’s style is one’s signature always. — Oscar Wilde
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Ensuring food security
Time to rely on yield within the country
by Sucha Singh Gill

THE concept of food security involves availability access and affordability of food in adequate quantity and quality to meet nutritional needs. The existence of under-nourishment in the long run highlights the marked prevalence of hunger in the countries that experienced a food crisis for several consecutive years. Food crisis can emerge, according to the FAO, in the world or any part of it as a consequence of adverse weather conditions, natural disasters, economic shocks, conflicts or a combination of these factors.

India produces a large quantity of foodgrains and maintains adequate stocks. It has an established public distribution system (PDS) for people living below poverty line (BPL). In spite of this, starvation deaths have been reported from some parts of the country.

This brings in the issue of access and affordability of food to the affected population. The various studies bring out that it is a vast majority of poor (both rural and urban) households who suffer from malnutrition. In India, starvation deaths in 2002 and 2008 were reported from primitive tribal groups. Investigation reports bring out that the victims could not afford to buy food due to poverty when food was available in the market. It is further brought out that the vast majority of the victims of malnutrition are children and women.

In India, during 1990-92 the malnourished population consisted of 24 per cent of the total which was reduced to 21 per cent during 1995-97 and stayed at that level during 2003-05. But the prevalence of malnutrition was much higher among pre-school children. During 2003-05 it is reported that 43 per cent such children were underweight and 48 per cent suffered from stunting growth. When a family suffers from the inadequate availability of food due to the lack of purchasing power, the women and children are the first to experience malnutrition in the form of less consumption.

The implication of poverty and malnutrition quickly transfers to the withdrawal of children from schools and access to health care in the case of sickness. The rise of prices of foodgrains without a corresponding rise in the income of the poor and vulnerable leads to an increase in the level of undernourished population. During 1990-92 the undernourished population in India was 206 million which was reduced to 199.9 million during 1995-97 but increased to 230.5 million during 2003-05. The reason underlying this phenomenon has been that under the neo-liberal policy the issue price of wheat and rice under the PDS was substantially raised leading to serious shortfalls in the offtake under the PDS and the rising stocks of foodgrains when output was stagnating. After 2002 food prices in the country increased, which further adversely affected the poor and vulnerable sections of the population.

The FAO (2008) estimates of undernourished population of India coincide with the report of the National Commission of Enterprises in the unorganised sector (2007) on the estimated number of extremely poor (70 million) and poor (167 million) of the total population. If in this number the marginally poor with a daily average expenditure of Rs 15 (who fall between the official poverty line and 1.25 PL) and vulnerable with a daily expenditure of Rs 20 are added, this proportion rises from 22 per cent of the total population to 77 per cent. These are the people who have very little capacity to absorb shocks like the rising prices of food and an increase in unemployment due to recession. They can quickly fall a victim to malnutrition even when enough food may be available in the stocks.

The experience of the world prices of foodgrains between 1975 and 2008 brings out their cyclical behaviour. The price index of foodgrains in real dollar with the base of 1998-2000 (100) fell from 250 in 1975 to 100 in 1993-94 and again rose to 175 in 2008 (FAO, 2008). This has a more serious effect on the domestic prices in developing countries depending on their relationship to the dollar in terms of the exchange rate. The poor/developing countries cannot afford to build their food security largely on the external supplier. This is particularly the case for countries like India and China, the two largest countries of the world in terms of population.

In order to feed such a large population (120 crore) by 2015, India must produce 230-240 million tonnes of foodgrains. Since rich countries are food surplus and poor countries are food-deficit, the possibility of food being used as weapon by the former to exploit the latter cannot be ruled out.

As the area under agriculture is shrinking, the increased production of foodgrains has to be obtained by raising agricultural productivity. Agriculture being dominated by small and marginal holdings accounting for 83 per cent (82.90 per cent) of the total holdings and cultivated areas are more than 1/3rd of the area, these farmers largely grow foodgrains and are resource-poor. They require seeds and other technologies matched to the local agro-climatic conditions, labour availability and market conditions. The new technologies must be environment-friendly and produce sustainable development. They have to come from a conventional as well as scientific approach.

The scientifically sound technologies must be environmentally safe, raise, yields and be affordable to small and marginal farmers. This would require the sustainability of these farmers which may necessitate organisational changes from individual to cooperative farming to reap economies of scale with a small number of machines like tractors and related equipment. The empirical research brings out that there is a clear relationship between the rise in agricultural productivity and the reduction in poverty.

The recent phenomenon of recession in the country, which is threatening the job loss of estimated 10 million workers in export-oriented enterprises, is going to affect food security of an equal number of families which deserve the government support to the poor beyond NEREGA. The social security and safety nets for the poor need to be strengthened. The recent controversy relating to organic farming as against India’s food security misses two points. One relates to the fact that food security is closely related to food safety. The population is not only to be fed but has to be fed with safe food, which is free from poison residues in the grains, vegetables and fruits. Those who died from starvation in 2007-2008 had been eating roots and leaves containing poisonous elements. This supports the cause of organic farming.

Secondly, organic farming removes the dependence on chemicals and emphasises on peasant-produced manure, bio-pesticides and returning of biomass to earth. It reduces the cost of production, increases soil productivity through a reduction in micronutrients deficiency and is helpful in restoring the viability of small and marginal peasants.

As authentic studies are not available both on the productivity levels of organic farming and their cost structure, the idea does not deserve out-right rejection. In fact, it needs to be treated as the technology/farming of the future and successful ventures deserve support. A part of the subsidies on chemicals (both pesticides and fertilisers) needs to be shifted to agricultural research on organic cultivation and to the farmers to build and experiment with alternatives of the present farming system.

Ultimately a combination of measures leading to an increase in agricultural productivity, production of safe foods, reduction in poverty and vulnerability and existence of the distribution of foodgrains at affordable prices and its efficiently working through the involvement of the poor and vulnerable that can help ensure food security in this vast country. Food has to be produced largely within the country as global price volatility and blackmail do not favour the poor and their food security.

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CC, DC and TC
by D.K. Mukerjee

I had the privilege of witnessing the three reorganisations of states, formation of Chandigarh as Union Territory and also the partition of the country.

I grew up in Patiala state and was a school student when the country was divided and there was influx of refugees from Pakistan striving a place for them in the city followed by massacre of the Muslims in retaliation, which I saw from closed doors. The painful incidents still haunt me and I miss my Muslim school friends who had left seeking a new horizon.

One fine day Patiala State was merged with other princely states and PEPSU came into being. The Maharaja of Patiala was sworn in as the Rajpramukh by the Iron Man of India, Sardar Patel, in a glittering ceremony. I was in the crowd watching Sardar Patel driving through the roads and later heard his hard-hitting speech in a public meeting. Some of these are still fresh in my memory.

It was in 1956 that Pepsu was merged with Punjab and we, the employees of the State, had to migrate to Chandigarh. Due to paucity of accommodation only the Chief Minister, his members of the Council of Minister, Administrative Secretaries and a few important functionaries were stationed in the City Beautiful. The rest had to function from Simla, which was a part of Punjab. The Secretariat Office was located in the building which was earlier known as Command Hospital and is now the Post Graduate Research Institute.

In the new state of Punjab I had to face various official difficulties. I decided to meet the then Chief Minister Sardar Partap Singh Kairon, who was considered not only a top administrator but also a terror for the government servants. He would meet the public at morning hours at his residence. I decided to meet him and after hearing me, he asked me to accompany him in his car to office. On the way he also glanced through my petition. Believe me, after an hour of my reaching office, an officer was at my table with the modified order. I was surprised and realised that the terror for the employees was kind hearted and justice-loving administrator.

The formation of Haryana was the next historical event. There was not only division of the territory and employees but also the accommodation in the Secretariat building from which two governments started functioning. Different levels were allocated to both the governments.

An incident spontaneously comes to my mind. The newly constituted Finance Commission was visiting Punjab and the team had to meet in the Committee Room of the Punjab Government, I was asked to welcome them at the entrance and escort them in the lift to the meeting. While crossing level three, I quietly mentioned to them that we were passing through Haryana Territory. The Chairman was quick to remark “That too without a valid visa”. There was a smile on all the faces and the meeting was a grand success.

Punjab had to part with Chandigarh for the carving out of the Union Territory of Chandigarh with the Chief Commissioner as the head of the government officers and employees from both the states of Punjab and Haryana, in a fixed ratio, were allocated and also sent on deputation for prescribed periods. The Chief Commissioner, apart from the Senior officers, was also assisted by a Deputy Commissioner and a Sub Divisional Magistrate. One of the Chief Commissioners was easily accessible to the people, was always anxious to mitigate their problems and became very popular.

It so happened he had a seasoned and dedicated Deputy Commissioner and also Sub Divisional Magistrate, Mr T.C. Gupta, a brilliant officer from Punjab. They were also keen to solve the problems and redress the grievances of the city dwellers promptly.

This so-called “Three Musketeers” had won the hearts of common man with their actions and very soon everyone started saying that Chandigarh was efficiently and ably administered by the CC, DC and TC! This has now mingled with the sand of time leaving fond memories.

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Ban on tree felling
State policy limits green cover expansion
by S.S. Johl

THE Himalayas with its forests act as the lungs of India. Its green cover not only needs to be conserved, but also must be expanded further in terms of the area under trees, density of the forests and the quality of plants.

There are limited areas in other parts of the country that have a similar favourable environment and capacity to develop forest coverage on a similar scale and absorb as much quantity of green house gases, specially carbon dioxide, as in this region.

However, these areas from the East to the West in the North of India are in a dilemma. Food and development needs of a fast increasing population require more land to be put under cultivation.

Inter alia, housing requirements, industrial development and associated infrastructure, specially road network, power generating facilities, tourism infrastructure and other structures demand land that cuts into tree cover, legally or illegally.

For instance, in the nine states of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkam, Arunachal, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura the population increased from 217 lakh in 1991 to 284 lakh in 2001 and 301 lakh persons (projected) in 2003-04.

Human load on forests and the net sown area has been increasing through this period and this pressure is rising at an increasing rate year after year. All this in spite of the huge investment on increasing the area under forest cover in the country.

The other side of the coin is that the economy of these states and wherewithal of the populations of these states depend to a considerable extent on forest products, specially timber of all qualities required for building houses and other structures as well as firewood, furniture and other wood work.

Whereas in the interest of maintaining the green cover, green-felling of trees has been banned completely, there is no compensation in lieu thereof available either to the state governments or to individuals.

The law enforced in its spirit is appreciated, yet when applied literally and beyond its scope, it becomes restrictive and reactive and does not remain proactive.

For instance, sometimes travellers meet trees at the centre of a road because of the prolonged delay in obtaining the permission from the designated authority to fell it.

At many places trees on the side of a road are too close and invite accidents. Yet it is not permissible to remove them.

And under our system the permission to fell such trees does not come easy. Applications in the normal course move majestically upwards and downwards with jerks and jolts and take long time to reach the hands of the entities that need them.

Although the law applies to only the public and private forests, in practice trees cannot be cut from private fields and houses even if they lean menacingly over the buildings and are a threat to the lives of the residents.

All such fellings too are made to require permission. Such a blanket restriction leads to the devious methods that are adopted by individuals in the form of bribery and/or nominal fine to be paid.

Private forests were allotted to the tea estates for producing packaging material, yet the ban on felling has rendered the forest land of little use to the owners except an empty sense of ownership. A tea plant requires only partial shading, the tea growers are not allowed to lop trees and excessive shade invites diseases to the tea plant.

If they lop off the trees, they are not allowed to sell the wood as fuel even to the government departments.

For the governments of these states, forest resources are major potential contributors to their exchequers. Yet the trees cannot be touched. Any axe invites the wrath of the forest officials and provokes chipkos.

There is no proactive trade-off policy that can encourage the expansion of green cover and forest development on a sustainable basis and at the same time make the forest wealth available to the states to improve their budgetary provisions and individuals to enhance their incomes.

There are ways to render the forest protection policy as a proactive one that makes income generation from tree felling consistent with the expansion of area under green cover in these hill states and even elsewhere.

For instance, it should be made mandatory to grow two trees up to the age of 10 years before the government or an individual is permitted to fell a tree. The trees so grown by the government and individuals may be numbered and protected under the law.

No tree felling should be permitted under the suspended law of timber distribution rights, for any purpose without compensatory plantation and its nurturing to ten years age and after getting it numbered.

If a place for growing the trees is not available, the forest department can mark spaces in the existing forest lands and create enclosures for new forest areas for the purpose.

In order to avoid subjectivity, there should be a local committee of four or five members from the department of forests and revenue and public representatives from panchayats on a two yearly rotation basis to mark the trees to be felled by the state and/or to be allotted to individuals.

There should be a system of creating a reserve of such entitlements. From an existing base any addition to the number of trees, mature up to ten years, for the governments and individuals, the entitlement to green felling may be reserved to fell the trees as per needs.

In fact, selective green felling plays an important role in keeping the forests healthy and optimally green. It makes no sense to restrict the felling of trees in houses and courtyards because it is very rare that a house owner would like to remove the tree unless he really needs to remove it.

Similarly, there are some trees such as tuni and wallnut that can be grown commercially on the sides of the individual fields and farm boundaries or as plantations. There should be no bar on felling such trees.

Plantations like this are, in fact, long-term capital investments that mature with time without affecting the regular flow of annual farm incomes.

Thus, in order to encourage the expansion of green cover under forests and other trees in houses and fields of these hill states and elsewhere, there is a need for a rationalised, proactive policy aimed at expanding the green cover rather than the restrictive and reactive policy on tree protection as is being implemented at present. The courts and governments involved need to give a serious thought to the issue.

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Israeli poll result hurts peace plans
by Paul Richter and Ashraf Khalil

Elections in Israel left uncertainty about the shape of a new government, but little doubt that the Obama administration had suffered a setback in its bid to mobilize efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.

The surge in votes for conservative parties revealed declining Israeli support for negotiations with a divided Palestinian leadership. Analysts and officials said that whether the new government is formed by the right-wing Likud party or the centrist Kadima, it will likely be too divided to conduct a peace negotiation, even if it wants to.

Neither party could form a government "that would have much receptivity to a major negotiation effort," said Samuel W. Lewis, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

The Palestinians had an even bleaker assessment.

"The Israelis have voted in favor of a state of total paralysis," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

While U.S. President Barack Obama's new team might be able to help stabilize the Gaza Strip after weeks of heavy fighting, and gradually improve Palestinian living conditions and institutions, experts say chances for a comprehensive peace deal have been diminished.

U.S. officials acknowledged the difficulty of their task but said they thought Israel's new government would move toward peace because it's in the national interest.

"We have plenty of basis to work with whatever government comes in," said a State Department official who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Middle East experts said the new conservative cast of the government makes U.S.-Israeli friction more likely in several areas.

One is over the accelerating growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Another is over how to deal with the Palestinian government if the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, tries again to form a unity government with the rival Hamas faction that controls Gaza.

Many experts foresee a potential clash over how to deal with Iran's nuclear program. While the Obama administration is preparing to make a diplomatic approach to Tehran, Israelis are worried that Iran may be close to acquiring the means to make a nuclear weapon – and inclined to use force.

With 99 percent of the vote counted Wednesday, Kadima led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, had 28 seats in the 120-member Knesset, one more than Likud, which is led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But Likud and the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu Party gained 19 seats between them, while left-leaning parties lost seats. That led Netanyahu to demand that he, rather than Livni, be given the right to form a new government.

Israeli President Shimon Peres is expected to ask Netanyahu or Livni to try to put together a governing coalition, perhaps as soon as next week.

Many analysts predicted that Netanyahu will prevail. But they said that even if Livni, who has worked with the Bush administration on peace efforts, forms the government, she would have to rely on conservative coalition partners who would keep her from moving toward a settlement.

David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, wrote in Wednesday's editions that the results don't necessarily mean that the peace effort is over.

"But the fact that Livni will be unable to form a coalition without right-wing parties indicates that Israelis want a new direction. They feel that the current path of negotiating with a Palestinian Authority that lacks any real authority over the Palestinians is meaningless, and that Israelis want reciprocity."

The elections have made Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beitenu, the kingmaker. Lieberman has been called a demagogue by some for proposing that Israel's Arab citizens be required to take loyalty oaths.

Some Kadima officials warned that if right-wing parties form the new government, Israel could lose international support.

"To speak in terms of a right-wing government will cause a disengagement of countries with which we have strategic alliances and understandings," Avi Dichter, a Livni lieutenant, said in a radio interview.

Netanyahu had a strained relationship with the Clinton administration during his years as prime minister, from 1996 to 1999. Books written about Clinton's peace efforts quote the former president and aides delivering scalding denunciations of the strong-willed Netanyahu.

The Likud party leader was critical during the election campaign of the peace process promoted by the Bush administration, and skeptical that a deal could be struck. He has called instead for Israel to work on an "Economic Peace Plan" for the Palestinian territories.

But with most Israelis eager for harmony with the United States, Netanyahu clearly tried to establish good relations with Obama at meetings they held during the U.S. presidential campaign.

He has also signaled that he could be open to peace negotiations with Syria, another interest of the Obama administration. Analysts expect that Netanyahu would focus on small steps with the Palestinians, such as the removal of checkpoints in Palestinian territories, efforts to strengthen Palestinian Authority security forces in the fight against militants, and economic development.

Those efforts fall far short of what has been sketched out by Obama, who has already sent a special peace envoy, former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, to the region.

"It's time to return to the negotiating table," Obama said in his interview with Al-Arabiya television network.

As long as the Gaza issues remain unsettled, Lewis, the former ambassador, believes that Mitchell "will be limited to working around the edges, helping with a bit of conflict management, rather than anything far-reaching."

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Delhi Durbar
Arjun Singh on his guard

Known for his controversial murmurings, human resource development minister Arjun Singh was unusually guarded the other day when he emerged from his reclusive life to meet the press.

As was expected, the actual agenda for discussion — minority education — soon slipped into the backdrop, and hard political issues moved the centre-stage.

On a roll were queries on the Mulayam Singh-Kalyan Singh tie-up and political consequences for the Congress of this “seemingly unholy” marriage between one man, who was the UP chief minister when the mosque was demolished, and the other, a self-professed messiah of the Muslims.

After a long pause, a guarded Arjun Singh smiled at the media and said: “The Congress has clarified its stand on the issue and has not been very appreciative of it. My party’s stand is my stand also.”

Lalu avoids Nitish even in ads

It’s election time and that is visible in the rhetoric and pre-campaign rallies by political parties all over the country. However, the impact of political rivalry was also visible in one of the Indian Railway advertisements brought out to announce the inauguration of the eastern dedicated freight corridor in Bihar.

The advertisement had UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Railway Minister Lalu Prasad’s photographs at the top followed by those of four Union Ministers, including Meira Kumar and Kanti Singh and that of Rabri Devi, Leader of Opposition in the Bihar assembly.

The advertisement, surprisingly, made no mention of the Nitish Kumar government in the state, let alone carrying the photograph of the Bihar Chief Minister in whose state the project is being launched.

Venkaiah, Jaitley not in fray

BJP prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani has set at rest all speculation about his two lieutenants — Arun Jaitley and M. Venkaiah Naidu — contesting the next general election.

It is well known in the BJP that initially all his three top camp followers — Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu — were reluctant to contest, pleading too much party work.

Advani had, however, urged all top leaders to contest the elections. While Sushma immediately took the hint and announced her candidature from Bhopal, the other two continued avoiding the subject.

Advani has spared both. While declaring that he himself had asked Jaitley not to contest in view of all his other responsibilities, about Venkaiah, Advani said, “Venkaiah has promised that if he were left free to concentrate on election management he would ensure the BJP victory on many more seats in Andhra Pradesh.” Can Venkaiah deliver on his promise?

Contributed by Aditi Tandon, Girja Kaura, Faraz Ahmad

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