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

Limits of protest
Lawyers, police must mend their ways
J
ustice B.N. Srikrishna deserves to be commended for his fair and balanced interim report on the clash between the lawyers and the police on the premises of the Madras High Court in Chennai on February 19. The former Supreme Court judge has rightly blamed the lawyers for behaving as “hooligans and miscreants” and provoking the police to resort to a lathi-charge.

The last flight
IAF bids farewell to MiG-23
Last Friday the Indian Air Force formally retired the last of its Soviet-made MiG-23 BN fighters after 28 years of service and almost a decade after this aircraft was de-inducted by most former Warsaw Pact members.


EARLIER STORIES

Underachievers at school
March 8, 2009
Mahajot in Bengal
March 7, 2009
Pawar at play
March 6, 2009
Blame-game won’t help
March 5, 2009
Pak terror in sporting arena
March 4, 2009
A destabilisation game
March 3, 2009
Zardari courts trouble
March 2, 2009
In quest of a new identity
March 1, 2009
Perfect 10
February 28, 2009
Zardari vs Nawaz Sharif
February 27, 2009
Just three years?
February 26, 2009
Terrorism is un-Islamic
February 25, 2009


Overcrowded jails
Time to do away with old Prison Act
T
he Comptroller and Auditor-General’s report has come down heavily on the administration of Haryana jails. The many ills pointed out include a shortage of the security staff, prisoners missing on parole, the absence of internal audit and overcrowding. In fact, a large number of Indian jails suffer from overcrowding, and in some jails the congestion is as high as 300 per cent.

ARTICLE

Bodyline series, Pak style
Deep penetration of terrorist outfits in society
by Sushant Sareen
L
ong before 26/11, the Indian High Commission in Islamabad had advised the Government of India not to allow the Indian cricket team to tour Pakistan. The advisory had pointed to the clear and present security threats that the Indian team would face during its Pakistan tour.

MIDDLE

Death has its own ways
by Shriniwas Joshi
O
ne cannot choose how one wants to die. We are beggars before Yamraja. It is he who writes the warrant as well as the modus operandi of death for us. We had two part-timers from nearby village Dhami for sharing the domestic chores of our household. Both of them were in pleasant health and had agreeable manners. They went on long leave and on the day of their return, only one came back.

OPED

Battle against narcotics
Drug abuse growing in the region
by Dinesh Kumar
T
he news for India and the subcontinent on narcotic drugs is not encouraging. India has since long been precariously flanked by Asia’s two biggest drug producing regions – the Golden Triangle comprising Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, and the Golden Crescent comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

Hunger stalks North Korea
by Blaine Harden
B
ehind the long-range missile it is preparing to launch and the stockpile of plutonium it claims to have "weaponised," North Korea has an embarrassing and insoluble weakness.

Chatterati
Bullet-proof clothes
by Devi Cherian
W
e have a new designer entering the Indian market. This is the man who, they say, dressed Obama on the cold chilly day in Washington. The day of his swearing-in, he seemed a bit under-dressed on the freezing day. But now we know that he wore a bullet-resistant suit that doesn’t look like one. Amazing!

 


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EDITORIALS

Limits of protest
Lawyers, police must mend their ways

Justice B.N. Srikrishna deserves to be commended for his fair and balanced interim report on the clash between the lawyers and the police on the premises of the Madras High Court in Chennai on February 19. The former Supreme Court judge has rightly blamed the lawyers for behaving as “hooligans and miscreants” and provoking the police to resort to a lathi-charge. The degree of virulence of protest by lawyers may vary but this is an affliction that affects many courts across the country. At the same time, Justice Srikrishna has aptly indicted the police for exceeding the limits in controlling the agitating pack gone berserk. His observation that the “soft” policy of the Acting Chief Justice and the administration of the High Court emboldened the lawyers to become law-breakers is a candid observation that even judges need to think about.

The Tamil Nadu lawyers have been on the warpath for the last three months on one pretext or another. With the Bar Council of India woefully lax in ensuring accountability and compliance with professional and ethical standards across the country, it is small wonder that lawyers have too often been resorting to agitations and unseemly behaviour on the court premises. The result of all this is that justice is inordinately delayed and the sufferer is the common litigant needing quick justice. When the prolonged agitation of lawyers in support of the LTTE led to the manhandling of the mercurial MP Subramaniam Swamy and the arrest of two lawyers which in turn led to the assault on policemen, a petitioner who was concerned over the plight of the litigants had pointed out in court that the High Court had been able to meet for only nine days in the 50 days of this year until then. This reflects a shocking state of affairs in what used to be a pride for the nation for decades.

It is indeed time that some lessons be learnt from the Chennai incident. In line with Justice Srikrishna’s well-thought-out recommendation, the Supreme Court should lay down guidelines for the behaviour of lawyers within the court premises as well as outside. A deterrent must be built into the law to ensure orderly behaviour. As for the current case, the lawyers in Tamil Nadu must return to work forthwith and action must be taken against the perpetrators of the February 19 violence, both among the police and the lawyers.
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The last flight
IAF bids farewell to MiG-23

Last Friday the Indian Air Force formally retired the last of its Soviet-made MiG-23 BN fighters after 28 years of service and almost a decade after this aircraft was de-inducted by most former Warsaw Pact members. The only time this swing-wing aircraft, developed in the early 1970s, fired in anger was during the Kargil War when it contributed to 30 per cent of the attack missions. But for most part of its service life, the IAF’s 95 MiG-23s flew training missions and earned the distinction of becoming the first fighter aircraft to cross Kashmir’s Banihal Pass at night. Its interceptor variant, the MiG-23 MF, which was bought in response to Pakistan’s acquisition of F-16 multi-role fighters in the early 1980s, was earlier phased out in 2007.

Nostalgia apart for the pilots of this aircraft with its otherwise high accident record, the phasing out of the MiG-23s has contributed to the depleting strength of the IAF which is down from its sanctioned fighter squadron strength of 39.5 to an unprecedented 32. It will not be until 2017 before the IAF can currently hope to return to its original squadron strength. But this again is dependent on when the indigenously developed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft can be inducted in the IAF, the timely induction of 126 multi-role combat aircraft for which a request for proposals has been floated, and a hitch-free Sukhoi-30 MKI production line. Indeed, never before has the IAF found itself in this state of depleting aircraft strength at a time when air power has become very important in military operations.

The IAF is in the midst of a major modernisation programme and is inducting altogether new weapon platforms and force multipliers. It has already inducted mid-air refuelling capability and unmanned aerial vehicles, and will soon be adding airborne warning and control aircraft while launching its first satellite next year. The IAF (as also the Navy) is central to India’s strategic interests which extend from the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf to the Malacca Straits near Singapore. Therefore, fresh inductions and modernisation have to keep pace with de-inductions, future needs and advances in technology. Else, the country will be in danger of being left with an out-dated aircraft and technology with an unstable neighbourhood and China’s growing military muscle.
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Overcrowded jails
Time to do away with old Prison Act

The Comptroller and Auditor-General’s report has come down heavily on the administration of Haryana jails. The many ills pointed out include a shortage of the security staff, prisoners missing on parole, the absence of internal audit and overcrowding. In fact, a large number of Indian jails suffer from overcrowding, and in some jails the congestion is as high as 300 per cent. Chhattisgarh’s 27 jails have 11,361 prisoners as against their capacity of 5,219. In Dasna jail in Ghaziabad district, prisoners not only vie for space but also for basic facilities like toilets. In some jails, inmates are forced to take turns to sleep. Punjab’s jails are not only notorious for jailbreaks but also violence. The large number of missing prisoners on parole in Haryana only proves that jails are failing in their basic function too.

There is little doubt that Indian jails, if not the worst in the world, are far from ideal prisons. Contrary to popular perception, jails not only house criminals but also many undertrials who are innocent till proved guilty. Rajasthan’s 13 open jails, especially the Sanganer facility, emphasise the point that prisons can be places where inmates can enjoy some degree of freedom and comfort. Realising the gravity of the situation, the Centre had announced a Rs 4000-crore package for prison reforms as part of the National Prison Policy. More recently, the Haryana government has decided to set up a video-conferencing facility between jails and courts. Punjab, which is planning to construct modern jails, will soon have a new Prison Ordinance to bring about prison reforms. Indeed, the time has come to do away with the century-old Prison Act of 1894.

To ensure that reforms do not remain on paper, it has to be understood that merely having modern buildings will not serve the purpose. To really make our jails “correctional homes”, what must also be transformed is the approach and the attitude of the jail staff towards inmates. If Asia’s largest prison complex, Tihar jail, could become a model in reform and rehabilitation, clearly other jails too can follow suit.
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Thought for the Day

No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money. — Samuel Johnson
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ARTICLE

Bodyline series, Pak style
Deep penetration of terrorist outfits in society
by Sushant Sareen

Long before 26/11, the Indian High Commission in Islamabad had advised the Government of India not to allow the Indian cricket team to tour Pakistan. The advisory had pointed to the clear and present security threats that the Indian team would face during its Pakistan tour. Had 26/11 not happened, the advisory would, in all likelihood, have fallen on deaf ears in South Block and, instead of the Sri Lankans, Team India would have been the target of the terrorists.

Fortunately for the Indian cricketers, the post-Mumbai carnage politics, and not security considerations, ensured the cancellation of the Indian tour of Pakistan. In the case of the Lankans, too, security took a back seat to politics. The decision by the Lankans to play a series in Pakistan was partly taken to show solidarity with a country that not only never refused a cricket tour even during the worst days of the civil war in Sri Lanka, and also partly to reciprocate the military assistance and supplies that Pakistan has been giving the island nation.

There is little doubt that what happened in Lahore on 3/3 could have easily happened anywhere else. Terrorists always look for high-profile targets to make a statement. It is immaterial whether the target is a place of worship (Temple of Tooth in Kandy), a school (Beslan), hotels (Mumbai and Islamabad), or a sports event (Munich Olympics). What is more, terrorism is a global problem and Pakistan alone is not suffering from this scourge. There is no way of ruling out the possibility of radicalised British youth of Pakistani origin targeting an Indian team in England, an Al-Qaeda cell mounting an operation in Australia or in Dubai, the LTTE attacking a cricket stadium in Sri Lanka, an Islamic terror group like Harkatul Jihad-e-Islami (HUJI) creating an incident in Bangladesh or a separatist terror group like ULFA disrupting a cricket match in India.

The issue, therefore, is not so much that such a heinous act happened in Pakistan. The problem really is the nature of terrorism inside Pakistan where no one is quite sure as to who the terrorists are, who is directing and supporting them and what they might or might not target. For instance, until the 3/3 attack it was assumed that cricket was above terrorism. But now there is no sanctity attached to anything anymore and everything and anything is fair game for the terrorists in Pakistan.

What makes Pakistan particularly dangerous and problematic is that the tentacles of the myriad terrorist groups extend to every nook and corner of the country, including civil society (there are Al-Qaeda supporters running human rights organisations), the security services, the political establishment, the civil services, the traders, the academia and the media. In a country where terrorism has long been used as an instrument of both foreign policy and domestic politics, by state agencies and by non-state actors who sometimes work in conjunction with the state and at other times in pursuit of their own agendas, no one can be sure who is a terrorist and who is not, who is a militant and who is a moderate.

Is it any surprise then that the driver of the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricketers was a supporter of a party like the Jamaat-e-Islami whose cadres have been closely associated with Al-Qaeda? What is more, the driver’s own brother was a terrorist who was killed in a counter-terror operation in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Perhaps, the Pakistani authorities vetted the bus driver’s background. Only they would have not found anything really strange in this man’s profile simply because it is now impossible to find anyone in Pakistan who is not linked one way or another with a terrorist outfit.

For instance, almost all the members of the Pakistan cricket team are born-again Muslims and members of the Tablighi Jamaat, an organisation famous for having many militants among its adherents. The former Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan is a great supporter of the Taliban and has very gleefully welcomed the imposition of an obscurantist form of Shariah in the troubled Swat valley. Another former cricketer, Javed Miandad, has no compunctions in flaunting his friendship with one of the most dangerous international terrorists, Dawood Ibrahim.

The head of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency ISI, Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, considers terrorists like Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah to be patriotic Pakistanis. Members of parliament and the government openly associate, aid and assist terror organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba (LeT), the Jaish-e-Muhammad and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. Jihadi journalists pervade media organisations and openly spread hatred through newspapers and TV. Innumerable police and military personnel have been found to be members of terrorist organisations and some of them have even participated in jihadi adventures in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The tragedy of Pakistan is that despite the reality of terrorism staring them in the face, and in spite of knowing that the fount of terror lies within and not without Pakistan, the Pakistanis are in denial. They refuse to admit that the root of their problems lies in a fascistic interpretation of Islam which makes it impossible for them to coexist in peace with anyone who does not conform to their worldview. Not surprisingly, after every spectacular and savage act of terror the Pakistanis construct elaborate conspiracy theories to implicate their usual suspects — Americans, Indians and Jews. At times, when the usual suspects cannot be blamed, the finger is pointed at the government of the day or the infamous intelligence agencies.

This time is no different, and right from the time the first bullets were fired at the Lankan cricketers, the media and analysts blamed India’s intelligence agency RAW. But there are two problems with this theory. First, RAW unfortunately doesn’t have lethal capability on display in Lahore, because if it did then Pakistan’s biggest export to India — terrorism — would have ceased long back. Second, it is illogical to blame India for 3/3 on the grounds that there was a remarkable similarity between the Mumbai outrage and the Lahore attack. Since it is a proven fact that Mumbai was the handiwork of LeT, unless the LeT has now started working for RAW, or it has started a training course for RAW operatives, one has to take leave of one’s senses in pointing fingers at India.

Of course, if the finger-pointing is done on the basis of motives then there are both state and non-state actors within Pakistan on whom motives can be imputed for carrying out 3/3. It could have been the handiwork of the Pakistan Army and the ISI to destabilise the elected government. Perhaps, the elected government orchestrated the attack to divert attention from the political mess in Punjab and the Lawyers’ Long March in a few days. It could have been Al-Qaeda or the Taliban who wanted to destabilise the Pakistani state and expose its alarming vulnerability. Or it could have been the jihadi militias like LeT, who wanted to send a signal of their capability of striking at will and use it to make the government back off from prosecuting its leaders for the Mumbai terror attacks.

Regardless of who was behind the attack, the result is that Pakistan has effectively become a no-go area for the rest of the world. The conjecture that Pakistan is heading for failure has been firmly established by this incident, and now everyone is waiting for the conjecture to become a reality.
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MIDDLE

Death has its own ways
by Shriniwas Joshi

One cannot choose how one wants to die. We are beggars before Yamraja. It is he who writes the warrant as well as the modus operandi of death for us.

We had two part-timers from nearby village Dhami for sharing the domestic chores of our household. Both of them were in pleasant health and had agreeable manners. They went on long leave and on the day of their return, only one came back.

Telephone used to be a luxury then. So, he was in tears when he disclosed to us that the other had popped off. Totally surprised, we passionately solicited for what and how of his death. He said, “He does not know but the dead man’s fate is to be cursed that he had readied his dal-roti and as he sat to eat the repast, he died. The poor fellow died starving with food lying right in front.”

He appeared more perturbed that his colleague died with wolf in his stomach and told us that after his death, it dawned upon him that Yamdoot could call anybody any time. So, he had started a practice of baking a roti and eat it; then go in for the next, eat it and then for the next and so on. He added that that way he attained satisfaction of blunting the likely-to-be-raised fingers of those who might make fun of him of dying hungry whenever he became Mr Late.

Aeschylus was a Greek dramatist. He had written many hair-raising plays but he himself was bald. Once a crane carrying a tortoise dropped it on his bald pate and that was the final curtains for him.

There is a gravestone at Walter churchyard in Liverpool, England. The words inscribed on it are, “Oh God, oh God! There is another and a better world!” These were the lines that actor John Palmer uttered about 200 years ago immediately before giving up the ghost on the stage itself. Had our friend from Dhami been an actor, he would have taken the precaution of never speaking the lines that dub the other world as a better one. Play, or no play.

Laughter is quoted as the best medicine. Not always. Chalchas, the soothsayer, died of laughter at the thought of having outlived the predicted hour of his death and Philomenes died of laughing when he saw that an ass was eating the figs provided for his dessert. Beware, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Archana Puran Singh!

Death comes in its own way and customarily we speak well of the dead — though sometimes it is covertly done. Voltaire was once persuaded to say a few words about a dead person, whom he had always detested. He stated, “He was a sturdy patriot, a gifted writer, a loyal friend and an affectionate husband and father — provided he is really dead.”
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OPED

Battle against narcotics
Drug abuse growing in the region
by Dinesh Kumar

The news for India and the subcontinent on narcotic drugs is not encouraging. India has since long been precariously flanked by Asia’s two biggest drug producing regions – the Golden Triangle comprising Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, and the Golden Crescent comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

A recently released report prepared by the Inter-national Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has painted a grim picture for the region. First, there is an increase in the trafficking of amphetamine-type stimulants or ATS and their precursor chemicals throughout South Asia.

This is important because ATS are abused by more people than cocaine and heroin combined. Mani-pulating pleasure centres of the brain, these synthetic drugs, which include ‘speed’ and ‘ecstasy’, are easy to produce, cheap to buy and hard to control.

They can be more potent than cocaine and usually have a longer lasting effect. Taken as pills, smoked, inhaled or injected, ATS are particularly attractive to young people because they produce a sense of high energy, a release of social inhibitions and feelings of cleverness, competence and power.

A recent report prepared by the UN office on Drugs and Crime states that ATS alone affect approximately 25 million worldwide with most abuse taking place in East and South-East Asia. It has not so far been ascertained whether the Indian subcontinent is becoming a recipient or is merely serving as a transit area between manufacturing hubs in East Asia and the rapidly growing illicit markets on the Arabian peninsula.

Second, the HIV transmission rate in the subcontinent is still high among persons who abuse drugs by injection and this has only been rising in the subcontinent. The INCB report observes that in India the prevalence of HIV infection among such drug abusers in 2006 was estimated at a national average of 8.71 per cent.

In Bangladesh, HIV prevalence among such drug abusers in the region of Dhaka alone rose from 1.4 per cent to 7 per cent in 2006. In Nepal, HIV prevalence among such drug abusers in Kathmandu was the highest in this region at 34 per cent.

In India, heroin and morphine continue to be among the substances most commonly abused. The two main illicit opium producing countries in this region are Afghanistan and Myanmar.

For India, already a victim of jihadi terrorism, this is a matter of serious concern. In Afghanistan, which has been the victim of a bloody conflict for the last three decades, there has been an upsurge in cannabis cultivation while opium is being increasingly processed into morphine and heroin.

Although Afghanistan’s problems are not caused by illicit drug crop cultivation, but in many respects they are aggravated by it and form part of a cycle of conflict and instability that is proving hard to break.

In Pakistan, which forms part of the Golden Crescent, there has been a resurgence of illicit opium poppy cultivation, which has been finding its way in the region.

But India too is a contributor to narcotic drugs. India is one of the largest producers of cannabis resin in the subcontinent. Although the law enforcement authorities in India have reportedly been regularly eradicating large areas of illicitly cultivated cannabis plants, the report states that a significant amount of cannabis still finds its way onto the illicit market in the country.

The challenges to the international drug control system are as daunting today as they were a century ago and perhaps more complex. Of considerable concern is the impact of globalisation that has been facilitated by the advances in information and communication technologies.

For example, the report observes how drug traffickers are among the most widespread users of encryption for Internet messaging and are able to hire high-level computer specialists to help evade law enforcement, coordinate shipments of illicit drugs and launder money.

The laws on this do not seem to be adequate and the ‘Convention on Cyber-crime’, which entered into force on July 1, 2004, is to date the only multilateral treaty dealing with that problem.

Another challenging fallout of the communication revolution is the emergence of ‘rogue’ pharmacies that are encouraging drug abuse among vulnerable groups. For example, the report observes that in the United States, where the abuse of prescription drugs by young adults has been rising sharply since 2002, 34 illegal Internet pharmacies dispensed more than 98 million dosage units of hydrocodone products during 2006.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Abuse similarly observes that more and more online drug retailers have the potential to spread new drug-taking practices or products, and they use targeted marketing strategies that respond rapidly to users’ demands and to changing legal and market situations.

In India, illegal Internet pharmacies may not be in vogue. But they could emerge soon. In any case, pharmacists in India mostly do not insist on prescriptions, making it easy for customers to buy drugs across the counter.

The battle against narcotic drugs is only getting more complicated and that does not auger well for the world’s most populous region, already mired in terrorism and strife.
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Hunger stalks North Korea
by Blaine Harden

Behind the long-range missile it is preparing to launch and the stockpile of plutonium it claims to have "weaponised," North Korea has an embarrassing and insoluble weakness.

Under the leadership of Kim Jong Il, the country cannot feed its people. Perennially dependent on food aid, North Korea has become a truculent ward of the wealthy countries it threatens. It is the world's first nuclear-armed, missile-wielding beggar – a particularly intricate challenge for the Obama administration as it begins to formulate a foreign policy.

The "eating problem," as it is often called in North Korea, has eroded Kim's authority, damaged a decade of improved relations between the two Koreas and stunted the bodies and minds of millions of North Koreans. Teenage boys fleeing the North in the past decade are on average five inches shorter and weigh 25 pounds less than boys growing up in the South, according to measurements taken at a settlement center for defectors in South Korea.

Mental retardation caused by malnutrition will disqualify about a quarter of potential military conscripts in North Korea, according to a December report by the National Intelligence Council, a research institution that is part of the U.S. intelligence community. The report said hunger-caused intellectual disabilities among the young are likely to cripple economic growth, even if the country opens to the outside world or unites with the South.

Hunger and handouts explain North Korea's recent round of fist-shaking against South Korea, which included the military's threat to adopt an "all-out confrontational posture." After a decade of blank-check aid, Seoul decided last year to stop giving food and fertilizer to the North unless it can monitor who the beneficiaries are.

To secure donated food from the West, Kim has had to open his shuttered state to foreign aid experts who have mapped a pernicious pattern of malnutrition in which access to food depends, in many ways, on geographical and political proximity to the ruling elite in the capital, Pyongyang.

Kim is also struggling — and by many accounts failing — to contain an outbreak of capitalism and profiteering that food shortages and food aid have helped spread. Since famine killed perhaps a million North Koreans in the mid-1990s, a sprawling, unruly and often corrupt network of private markets has replaced the government as the prime distributor of food.

The government does not release statistics about the markets, and nearly all of them are off-limits to foreigners. But according to estimates by outside economists with access to North Korean and U.N. food data, at least half the calories consumed by the population come from food sold in markets. And nearly 80 percent of household income in North Korea derives from buying and selling in the markets, according to a study last year in the Seoul Journal of Economics.

Inside North Korea, people with trading savvy can now get plenty to eat. But hunger remains widespread. About 37 percent of the population will require food assistance in the coming year, according to a U.N. food assessment in December, and a World Food Program official said the rate of stunting among children younger than 6 has changed little in the past five years.

Four nutrition surveys conducted between 1998 and 2004 by the government, UNICEF and the World Food Program found that wasting, a symptom of severe malnutrition, was three to four times more prevalent in remote provinces than in Pyongyang. Judging from a U.N. food assessment last fall, that pattern persists. Since the 1950s, the government has classified citizens based on its assessment of their political reliability and sent those it deemed untrustworthy to remote corners of the country.

Although North Korea is often called the last bastion of Stalinism, it is better understood as a quasi-feudal police state where bloodlines dictate access to the best schools, jobs and food.

Barter trade ran wild in North Korea in the mid-1990s, at the height of the famine. It was a panicked response to the government's failure to supply food.

The immediate trigger for the famine was flooding in 1995. But the centrally planned economy had been in free fall since 1990-91, when the Soviet Union collapsed and cut off subsidies. Without free fuel for its aging factories and without a guaranteed market for its often shoddy goods, North Korea came unglued.

Kim Jong Il has explained some of what happened. "When the state was unable to supply food efficiently, people began to abandon their jobs and began searching for ways to acquire personal gains," he said in 2004.

In the temporary vacuum of state authority that accompanied the chaos of the famine years, bartering spawned a scruffy network of private markets. By the time Kim's government reasserted control at the end of the decade, small-town farmers markets, street-corner hawkers, roadside vendors and traders with stalls in big-city markets were keeping millions of North Koreans alive.

By 2002, Kim had approved limited reforms that allowed some of the traders to be licensed — de facto recognition that they could provide what his government could not.

"Markets broke the government's ability to control the population using food," said Andrew Natsios, a former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development and author of a book about the famine.

Kim has tried to throttle the markets, which he blames for "giving rise to egotism and collapsing the social order of the classless society." But their importance in filling North Korean stomachs continues to grow.

"Kim Jong Il orders police to restrict the markets, but they don't always do what they are told," said Ishimaru, the editor whose journal documents daily life in the North. "So many police and other authorities are making money."

The government recently launched another of its periodic efforts to contain the markets, restrict their hours, limit what they sell, chase vendors off streets and halt unauthorized traffic of goods and people across the Chinese border. The measures have helped raise food prices, thinned profits and increased the cost of bribing border guards.

An order that prohibited women younger than 50 from working in markets was rescinded after it triggered clashes between female traders and police. Still, women must be at least 40, although many who are younger install their grandmothers as window-dressing in market stalls while they seek out buyers, Ishimaru said. Men are banned from selling in the markets.

Kim presides over a police state that tolerates no political opposition and keeps up to 200,000 people in political prison camps. His security apparatus could, if he gave the order, shut down the markets. But even in police states, people must eat — and markets feed North Koreans while lining the pockets of the elite.

"The genie is out of the bottle," said a senior U.N. official with long experience in North Korea. "Putting it back in would cause such widespread economic disruption and increased vulnerability to hunger that it would be crazy to try."

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
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Chatterati
Bullet-proof clothes
by Devi Cherian

We have a new designer entering the Indian market. This is the man who, they say, dressed Obama on the cold chilly day in Washington. The day of his swearing-in, he seemed a bit under-dressed on the freezing day. But now we know that he wore a bullet-resistant suit that doesn’t look like one. Amazing!

Now we have these designers making bullet-resistant kurta pyjamas for our desi leaders. Miguel Caballero is a bullet-proof clothing company based in Colombia. Its clients include Steven Seagal and Venezuela President Hugo Chavez. Miguel has managed to find an Indian partner.

This bullet-proof fashion designer will make kurta pyjamas for around Rs 2 lakh each and a vest for Rs 30,000 or so. I am sure his designs will sell like hot cakes here. Even if not needed, just to show off. But bullet-proof clothes will be ideal for politicians protected heavily at the cost of the exchequer. At least then the government can cut some security rings around them. Or even get our brave jawans some vests from such designers to save their lives.

Rahul shows the way

Rahul Gandhi is the Congress’s new mantra. Rahul Gandhi entered politics in his own style. He slipped sometimes, but did make a mark in many places. He made a lot of effort in a simple genuine way.

The heir apparent realised that the grand party he was going to inherit is more or less over. He started in his own way going to the root cause of the downfall of the Congress. He then realised that the ‘aam aadmi’ slogan of the Congress actually remained a slogan. There was no aam admi in the party. There were only leaders left. No roots.

So he started touring villages and started a communication with the real vote bank of the Congress, which was the Dalits, farmers and saw no religion or caste. He went from door to door in villages, eating their simple food and even at times sleeping in their broken charpais and playing with their kids. He just wanted to get a first-hand experience of their woes and sorrows.

It was called a gimmick by his opponents while senior Congressmen smirked. But his sincerity came through and his party members followed. Recently, young M.P. Scindia did exactly the same thing. In his constituency he visited Dalits homes, shared their meal and slept on their charpai too.

Many members of the youth brigade are following the Congress general secretary’s footsteps. Hopefully, it will benefit them and get them in touch with reality.

Parties get tech-savvy

As elections approach, we have interesting news coming from all quarters. First, how the political parties are becoming tech-savvy. The BJP is aggressively using the internet. Social sites are becoming a hit for campaigning. The kisan rally of Sonia Gandhi’s on YouTube was a hit and even Advani’s blog and website is doing very well.

But this is not all that our politicians are becoming savvy in. The BJP is said to be hiring Kevin Bertman, the man behind Obama’s campaign. Kevin is the one who ran Obama’s award-winning cell phone campaign. The BJP has high hopes from him.

Ad campaigns are gaining popularity in today’s world. “Jago re” was a success. Haryana’s no. I ad, which has a jingle of Haryanavi in it, is a super hit. And we will now see a modified version of “Pappu can’t dance saala” soon. Do these ads work? God knows if they reach the main voter or are stuck in the urban India. But ‘Jai ho’ takes the cake. Oscars, Slumdog Millionaire are not a part of our voter at all. Its just like “India Shinning” in the last elections.
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