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EDITORIALS

Deepening crisis in Pakistan
Nawaz Sharif defies arrest
Political uncertainty continues to dog Pakistan with President Asif Ali Zardari’s position remaining precarious. Active back-channel diplomacy by the US and the UK, and intervention by Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani failed to defuse the crisis that developed after the Supreme Court judgement barring PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif from contesting elections.

Infighting in BJP
Jaitley’s stand another setback to Advani
Notwithstanding Mr Arun Jaitley’s presence at his party meeting on Saturday, the rumblings in the BJP stemming from his resentment against Mr Sudhanshu Mittal’s appointment as co-incharge of the party’s affairs in Assam by party president Rajnath Singh continue. There is no indication yet of his willingness to attend the party’s central election committee meetings, two of which he had skipped on Friday to record his protest.



EARLIER STORIES

Manifesto of an unborn party
March 15, 2009
Third Front
March 14, 2009
Pakistan on the brink
March 13, 2009
Army’s warning
March 11, 2009
Et tu, Naveen?
March 10, 2009
Limits of protest
March 9, 2009
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


Security prime concern
IPL schedule may have to be re-worked
T
HE Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 cricket tournament is going through scheduling problems as it is sought to be held right in the middle of the Lok Sabha elections, scheduled in five phases from April 16 to May 13. Ever since the Mumbai terrorist attacks, there has been much concern about such events being the focus of terrorist attention.

ARTICLE

Save polity from criminals
Prevent their entry into legislatures
by S. S. Johl
L
OK Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee retraced his steps on his observation, made on the behaviour of a large number of members of Parliament and later went into reconciliation mode. But the frustration he expressed through his remarks that such members did not deserve to be in the House and his wish that they were not returned to the next Parliament by the voters, echoed the inner feelings of the people at large.

MIDDLE

Seven up
by Anurag
M
Y numerologist friend never tires of waxing eloquent on the significance of numbers which, he claims, not only characterise one’s personality but also play some role in making a person’s destiny. Be that as it may, I am fixated on number seven which is deeply entrenched in our customs, culture and consciousness and much more.

OPED

Chaotic urban growth
Improve infrastructure in rural areas first
by G.S. Grewal
According to a press report, many acres of acquired land in Gurgaon remained unutilised for about 30 years. Now every inch of it has been occupied by encroachers. The government is in a fix how to get it vacated. Many of the illegal occupiers are influential persons. This is not an exceptional case. Such examples can be multiplied.

China worried about loans to US
by Sean O'Grady
China's premier, Wen Jiabao, has said that Beijing is ready to expand its fiscal stimulus if the economic situation worsens. Mr Wen said on Friday: "We have made a huge amount of loans to the United States. Of course, we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I'm a little bit worried. I would like to call on the United States to honour its words, stay a credible nation and ensure the safety of Chinese assets."

Chatterati
Remembering Scindia
by Devi Cherian
T
HE function to release a biography of the late Madhavrao Scindia brought back fond memories of an age goneby and a person who has never been forgotten. Besides his wife, Madhavi Raje, and the author, the only speaker was Sonia Gandhi, who spoke with warmth about a leader who belonged to the same generation as her husband.





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Deepening crisis in Pakistan
Nawaz Sharif defies arrest

Political uncertainty continues to dog Pakistan with President Asif Ali Zardari’s position remaining precarious. Active back-channel diplomacy by the US and the UK, and intervention by Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani failed to defuse the crisis that developed after the Supreme Court judgement barring PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif from contesting elections. Even the offer of filing a review petition in the apex court against the controversial verdict by the PPP-led government could not end the impasse in the relations between the Sharif brothers and their ally-turned-foe, Mr Zardari. Describing the offer, which came too late in the day, as a clever move, Mr Nawaz Sharif adamantly refused to stay away from the Long March by lawyers and opposition activists. He defied the house arrest order served on him. The police in Lahore apparently changed its strategy on seeing the fast rising number of protesters. The crackdown on PML (N) activists and other protesters only added to Mr Zardari’s unpopularity while resulting in increased public support for Mr Sharif.

Mr Zardari suffered a major loss of reputation when his Information Minister Sherry Rehman resigned following a controversy over media handling. Her resignation came soon after a similar step by two other PPP stalwarts, Mr Raza Rabbani and Ms Naheed Khan, though on different issues. Evidently, Mr Zardari underestimated Mr Sharif’s capacity to create the level of unrest Pakistan is faced with. At stake for both is the future of their political career. Mr Zardari sees it ‘necessary’ not to reinstate dismissed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry because he fears that the latter will rescind the immunity from corruption cases earlier granted by General Musharraf, resulting in the PPP leader’s probable imprisonment and a possible end to his political career. On the other hand, Mr Sharif perceives that his return to electoral politics would only be possible if Mr Justice Chaudhry is reinstated.

Democracy in Pakistan remains as fragile as ever. The Pakistan Army, which has a history of capturing power on any pretext, has a nexus with religious extremists and terrorists, and perceives itself to be as much the nation’s ideological guardian as territorial protector. This further complicates the situation when the influence of the Taliban in society is fast gaining ground. Unfortunately, the instability in Pakistan is likely to continue which will be of serious concern to India and the West alike.

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Infighting in BJP
Jaitley’s stand another setback to Advani

Notwithstanding Mr Arun Jaitley’s presence at his party meeting on Saturday, the rumblings in the BJP stemming from his resentment against Mr Sudhanshu Mittal’s appointment as co-incharge of the party’s affairs in Assam by party president Rajnath Singh continue. There is no indication yet of his willingness to attend the party’s central election committee meetings, two of which he had skipped on Friday to record his protest. In particular, the episode is a blow to Mr L.K. Advani whose protégé Mr Jaitley is and who is nursing the ambition to be Prime Minister. Recently, Mr Jaitley was appointed as the party’s chief election campaigner. If such a vital functionary skips crucial poll panel meetings, one can imagine the state of affairs in a party that styles itself as a viable alternative to the present dispensation at the Centre. Mr Jaitley considers Mr Mittal as a political lightweight. His controversial appointment, without Mr Jaitley’s consent, brings to the fore the conflicting pulls and pressures involving several rungs of leadership in the BJP, including Mr Advani and Mr Rajnath Singh.

It is no secret that the BJP has been reeling under intense factionalism for some time. Top leaders do not see eye to eye on many issues and there is no organisational cohesion. Mr Advani’s hold over the party seems to be weakening. Consider how Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had refused to meet him in Mumbai recently. And if the BJP did manage to stitch a pre-poll alliance with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, it is more because of the initiative of the second-rung leadership rather than the top leaders.

Even as the BJP was licking its wounds after the Biju Janata Dal dumped it in Orissa and enlisted the support of the Left Front and other parties for saving the government, the party leadership felt that Mr Mittal’s appointment had become a necessity in the wake of the controversies surrounding the seat-sharing negotiations with the Asom Gana Parishad in Assam. However, the Jaitley episode has triggered a great deal of negative publicity for the BJP ahead of the elections. It is a moot question whether Mr Jaitley will climb down from his demand for Mr Mittal’s removal, but the damage has been done and the party’s image has received a beating.

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Security prime concern
IPL schedule may have to be re-worked

THE Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 cricket tournament is going through scheduling problems as it is sought to be held right in the middle of the Lok Sabha elections, scheduled in five phases from April 16 to May 13. Ever since the Mumbai terrorist attacks, there has been much concern about such events being the focus of terrorist attention. Indeed, the recent firing on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore has dashed all hopes that the subcontinent’s love for cricket would not allow anyone to target the game or its players. Given this background, nothing but the highest level of security is needed to ensure an incident-free series.

Many of the top players of the world, celebrities and important persons from various walks of life come together at the same venue when these matches are played, and it is thus necessary to ensure their safety, along with making smooth and secure arrangements for the spectators. No doubt the IPL has hired a private agency, but at best that will only serve a marginal purpose in supplementing the cover provided by the government forces, which alone can be entrusted with the safety of the event.

While Lalit Modi, the IPL boss, wants to stick to the original April 10-May 24 window because of player availability, it must be realised that election duty ropes in security forces in large numbers. The states are justified in demanding that the matches should not clash with poll dates. In fact, only Chennai has responded positively to the new schedule sent by IPL, whereas Delhi, Hyderabad and Vizag have said they can’t give security on the days the matches are scheduled. Kolkata and Mohali have extended conditional support, asking for the local police to be exempted from poll duty on these days, and Bangalore maintains that it can’t provide cover on all the match days. Even as Lalit Modi and his IPL top brass seek a way out of the impasse, it is clear that for the nation, public safety comes first and the IPL spectacle, no matter what promises it makes, cannot be allowed to take place at the cost of national security.

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Thought for the Day

I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week, sometimes, to make it up.

— Mark Twain

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Save polity from criminals
Prevent their entry into legislatures
by S. S. Johl

LOK Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee retraced his steps on his observation, made on the behaviour of a large number of members of Parliament and later went into reconciliation mode. But the frustration he expressed through his remarks that such members did not deserve to be in the House and his wish that they were not returned to the next Parliament by the voters, echoed the inner feelings of the people at large.

An organisation of deeply concerned individuals named Freedom From Criminals has come out with revealing data on criminals in Parliament. Of the 539 members, 125 (23 per cent) have registered criminal cases against them. Daman and Diu has 100 per cent criminality with only one member in Parliament, who has a criminal background. Twelve states have criminals above the national average. In the northern region, Punjab stands fifth in the rank with 50 per cent criminals and Haryana 15th with 20 per cent criminals in Parliament.

Fortunately, according to the survey, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir have no criminal member of Parliament. Partywise, the JMM tops with 100 per cent criminals in Parliament, the Shiromani Akali Dal comes fourth with 50 per cent criminals. Among the major national parties, the BSP ranks fifth with 42 per cent criminals, the RJD with 38 per cent, the SP 31 per cent, the CPI 30 per cent, the BJP 21 per cent, the INC 18 per cent and the CPM 16 per cent. This clearly shows the serious systemic rot with which the Indian polity is infected.

One wonders how and why these people with a criminal background are occupying the highest seats of custodians of law! This indicates appalling deficiency in the country’s eligibility criteria and the system of elections to the democratic governing bodies of the country. Freedom From Criminals is not the only group that is concerned about this fast spreading rot. There are quite a few other groups and organisations such as the People’s Party in Punjab that are working for the cause.

These like-minded groups who feel for the country and its deteriorating political culture need to be together and get counted in cleansing the political governance. Yet, this group has particularly appealed to the awakened people to report to the organisation names of criminals in politics with authentic details so that they communicate with political parties not to give party tickets to such elements for contesting the next parliamentary elections. Time being short, the effort may not have the desired effect for the ensuing parliamentary elections, yet it will create awareness in the masses and sensitise the political parties. Whether or not political parties give any weight to such communications and appeals from the public at this juncture, it would indicate the concern of the people.

If the country is a democracy, the parties must pay heed to the public cry. Distribution of the party tickets is the right stage whereby criminality can be eliminated from the polity. Once the tickets are given, the votes are demanded and appealed for in the name of the party. As the Indian voters stand considerably divided on party lines, suitability, integrity, qualifications and character of the candidates do not count much. What mostly counts is the alignment with the parties. Then come castes, relations and religious alignments and the role of criminals in wooing and arm-twisting, briberies, intoxicants and booth-capturing as well as other unfair means and measures. Therefore, elimination of criminals at the entry point to the election contests is the crucial step that must be taken.

The role of the Election Commission is pivotal through chiselling out the election process in respect of eligibility to contest and then devising a prohibitive process of elections that eliminates the rot. For instance, if a Red Button is added to the key board that lists the candidates and is marked as No One, it will provide a solid alternative to the voter to reject all the candidates if he or she feels that none of them comes up to his/her expectations for this position of highest political responsibility.

Still more important is the provision that these No One votes are counted along with the votes of the other contestants. It should be made obligatory that the winning candidate must get more votes than the No One votes. Otherwise, it should be construed that the majority of the voters did not prefer to choose anyone of the contesting candidates for the seat.

In such a situation, the will of the majority should prevail and elections should be rescheduled for the concerned constituency, and the rejected candidates should be declared ineligible to contest the elections for the next six years. It is possible that for the first time in a large majority of constituencies the elections may have to be rescheduled in view of the fact that our political system has degenerated to the extent that no amount of logic and appeals for not to field criminals in the elections will find favour with the political parties at this stage, because all have gone immune to the informed public opinion. Yet, the effort and cost involved in such a repeat of the elections will pay in its own way.

It will hit at the very roots of the indifference of the political parties and individual politicians to the public opinion and they will think a hundred times before fielding their candidates for contesting elections. With this one sweep of action, the Indian polity will get considerably cleansed of criminals. At present, voters have little choice but to vote for one of the fielded criminals by the parties and individuals? This is one of the major reasons that voting percentages remain low and we start gloating over the percentage voting when it touches 60 per cent !

Have we ever tried to find out the reason(s) for such low voting? Since the choice is between equally undeserving candidates, the majority of the informed persons do not vote, because for them anyone of them would be an equally bad choice. It is the majority of the illiterate and ignorant voters who vote on the strength of candidates wooing them through intoxicant, money and other sops and unfair means.

With this provision, in one sweep the criminals will fall in elections like men of straw and the Indian polity will get cleansed of criminals to a considerable extent right in the first round of the elections. As a result, honest and committed candidates in the service of society will appear on the scene. Yet, the question is whether the Election Commission will be able to come out of the groove of the long-trodden path and apply itself to cleansing the Indian polity of criminals through such a befitting punishment to these elements for the crimes they are committing on society!

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Seven up
by Anurag

MY numerologist friend never tires of waxing eloquent on the significance of numbers which, he claims, not only characterise one’s personality but also play some role in making a person’s destiny.

Be that as it may, I am fixated on number seven which is deeply entrenched in our customs, culture and consciousness and much more.

Seven days constitute a week whereas the famous seven sa re ga ma pa dha ni define a sargam which is the foundation of Indian music. Our fairy tales and folklore are replete with what happens on the seventh level of sky. Different time periods have used a different definition of the seven seas. Remember the idiom, sail the seven seas. Seven Hills of Rome, seven-up card game and Seven years’ war (1756 — 1763) in Europe add to the list.

A Hindu marriage is solemnised only after the bride and the groom together have completed saat phere (perambulations) round the sacred fire. Indeed, the sagacious seven has a ring to it. It has a zing to it. That is why Hollywood made a hugely popular movie called se7en which won many awards, including an Oscar in 1996.

It was on 07.07.07 that a declaration ceremony was held in Lisbon to announce the new seven wonders of the man-made world, elected by 100 million votes.

The magic of seven also extends to the rainbow colours of nature. Seven distinct colours — violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red — make up a ray of white light.

Even the Western world abides by the seven heavenly virtues — truth, love, courage, wisdom, creativity, tolerance and freedom. Catholic faith, too, prescribes seven sacraments which are the necessary vehicles for salvation.

The spectre of seven deadly sins is waiting in the wings to take the wretched of the earth to the nether world. They are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. About a year ago the Vatican newspaper published a list of seven modern social sins which have appeared on the horizon as a corollary to the process of globalisation.

But Gandhi had a different take on it. He considered the following most spiritually perilous to humanity:

Wealth without work,

Pleasure without conscience,

Science without humanity,

Knowledge without character,

Politics without principles,

Commerce without morality, and

Worship without sacrifice.

Ironically, the country which shows little patience with Gandhian ideas displayed utter impatience to buy back his material possessions in an auction.

The number seven must have inspired Stephen R. Covey who wrote “Seven habits of highly effective people”, published in 1989, a self-help book which sold 15 million copies in 38 languages!

You may think of many more sevens, but beware of the seven year itch — the supposed tendency to infidelity after seven years of marriage.

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Chaotic urban growth
Improve infrastructure in rural areas first
by G.S. Grewal

According to a press report, many acres of acquired land in Gurgaon remained unutilised for about 30 years. Now every inch of it has been occupied by encroachers. The government is in a fix how to get it vacated. Many of the illegal occupiers are influential persons. This is not an exceptional case. Such examples can be multiplied.

The Land Acquisition Act was enacted in 1894. It is difficult to conceive a harsher Act. It suited the British rulers. Some changes have been made, but its hardship persists.

To begin with, the Punjab Regional and Town Planning and Development Act, 1995, under which planning is done for development, was quite reasonable. There were provisions in it for people’s participation at all stages of selection of site, planning and implementation of schemes of developments. People could be made partners in development and land pooling policy could be adopted.

But even The Punjab Urban Development Authority (PUDA) never acted on those provisions. As a consequence, some of the best and ambitious projects had to be given up for violation of mandatory provisions of law.

The prestigious project of Anandgarh in the neighbourhood of Chandigarh could not materialise because of this reason. The high court quashed 29 notifications issued under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act for the construction of a new city of Anandgarh for only the reason that the authorities did not follow all provisions of the law.

Twentynine appeals were filed each by the state of Punjab and the Development Authority separately to challenge the decision of the high court. Crores of rupees were spent on those appeals in the Supreme Court. Best advocates were arranged. Still the Supreme Court was not convinced that non-compliance of the law was justified. All appeals were dismissed.

As a consequence, the project had to be shelved. No one analysed, why? In 2006 even Punjab amended the Regional Town and Planning and Development Act, 1995. All people-oriented provisions have been deleted, but the situation remains the same.

Due to an unsympathetic attitude of the authorities, people are provoked. They fight both in courts and on the streets, obstructing and slowing down development.

The law may be harsh or soft, what matters is its implementation. Mostly, the attitude of the bureaucracy is secretive and hard. It provokes suspicion and resentment.

In Haryana and the UT there is no procedure to select sites for development, which is done arbitrarily and in haste. Many a time mistake is realised after spending crores of rupees on land acquisition. Land remains unutilised and attracts grabbers.

The Punjab Regional and Town Planning and Development Act, 1995 is almost a copy of the Maharashtra Act. Maharashtra is an industrially advanced state in the country. It has an effective urban development wing. Very few writ petitions are filed regarding acquisition. In that state the total land required for development is not acquired. Only that land is acquired which is needed for roads, drainage, hospitals or schools etc. The remaining land is developed by the local authorities or by people by forming land-pooling schemes. The process may be slow but it works with the cooperation of people and there is much less resentment.

In northern states, the authorities have no patience to plan things in advance and in detail. They know how to acquire land, eject people, take possession and then make plans for development. Neither in Punjab and Haryana nor in the UT any scheme is ever made for the resettlement of oustees.

After making roads and drainage and laying water pipes and fixing electric poles, plots are sold at a price which the lower middle and poor classes cannot buy. They remain homeless and shelterless even under new projects.

Most of the plots/flats around Zirakpur have been purchased by middlemen to make profit. To buy a three-bedroom flat in these colonies is beyond the reach of an average middle class family.

There are about 100 slums around Panchkula the UT and Mohali. If half the population of Mumbai lives in slums, then more than one-third of Chandigarh also lives in slums. The UT has tried to settle a few thousand poor people near Malloya village, but the number of slums around Chandigarh, Panchkula, Mohali has not decreased.

Now they are adopting another method. The government developing authority demarcates some area and gives a licence to builders to purchase land and make colonies. In this method farmers are happy because they get a reasonable price of their land. But flats constructed on such land are comparatively expensive for an average citizen. This procedure is better because it avoids resentment of the original owner of land. In this method the government has to see that the contractor provides facilities like sewerage, roads and water supply.

There is something drastically wrong in our planning. Planned portions of cities do look imposing and beautiful. But our planning is also creating slums, misery, diseases and crime.

It will be an admission of the failure of system if we keep believing that all growth invariably creates misery and we are helpless.

The Constitution has provided method of planning which start at the grassroots. Article 243 ZD provides for creating district planning committees comprising elected representatives of panchayats and municipalities. These planning committees are to be guided by experts.

These committees are most suited to create infrastructure at the base level. Our rural people should be able to get employment in their own surroundings. This is the only way to stop the rural exodus to the urban areas. To keep cities worthy of living, we have to improve our rural infrastructure first.

For the last 60 years Indian planning has been starting from the top. Its impact is lost by the time it reaches lower levels. The need is to reverse the process. Guidelines are provided in the Constitution. We have to reverse the whole process. Maybe it produces better results at lower costs. Just in one push, Punjab succeeded in constructing road links to each village. This one step has played a major role in the advancement of Punjab even without big industries.

Planning through district development committees is successfully working in some states. The authorities in northern states are avoiding these provisions because it requires detailed planning and hard work. We must try new ideas and should not shirk hard work, otherwise we would have no development but protests and agitations.

The writer is a Senior Advocate at the Punjab and Haryana High Court

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China worried about loans to US
by Sean O'Grady

China's premier, Wen Jiabao, has said that Beijing is ready to expand its fiscal stimulus if the economic situation worsens. Mr Wen said on Friday: "We have made a huge amount of loans to the United States. Of course, we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I'm a little bit worried. I would like to call on the United States to honour its words, stay a credible nation and ensure the safety of Chinese assets."

One of the great "global imbalances" of recent years has been the US-Chinese relationship, America's vast trade deficit being funded by equally lavish purchases by the Chinese of US government paper.

Now, as the US government takes up the slack left by the American consumer, the hope in Washington is that China will continue to provide a healthy market for US Treasuries, and in particular for those issued under the $787bn (£563bn) stimulus package passed by Congress.

About half of China's $2trillion in foreign currency reserves comprise US Treasury bills and other official notes. Mr Wen's remarks came as the G20's finance ministers gathered in London to set the agenda for the main G20 summit, to be attended by the leaders of the world's largest and most dynamic 20 economies, in Downing Street on 2 April.

In London, the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, warned that 2009 would be a "very dangerous year", with "waves of challenges" hitting ministers and central bankers. The fiscal stimulus packages now being planned or implemented by the world's governments need to go further.

The danger, he said, was that it would be a case of "too little, too late". He also pointed to the additional danger that many Treasury departments around the world were planning to reverse their stimulus packages in 2010.

He called on governments to follow the International Monetary Fund's guidelines and boost their economies by 2 per cent of GDP through tax cuts and public spending increases. So far, the European Union has committed to only a 1.5 per cent boost.

Again, Mr Zoellick warned that the world's "blameless" poorest nations would be among the hardest hit, and that the World Bank estimated between 200,000 and 400,000 babies will die in poverty each year as a result of the downturn. He pointed to a "fiscal gap" of between $270bn and $700bn that needed to be plugged to rescue emerging economies most at risk, especially some in eastern Europe.

However, splits between the G20 participants are continuing to emerge.

The US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, is pressing for a new co-ordinated stimulus – but European governments, led by Germany, and the European Central Bank, are reluctant to take on more debt.

Mr Zoellick, recognising differences between the US and some EU powers over the right response to the crisis, stressed that even if they could agree on the right level of fiscal stimulus, that would not be enough – and that the world's dysfunctional financial system was in desperate need of repair.

"Stimulus packages alone are not enough," Mr Zoellick said. "The International Monetary Fund research of some 122 fin-ancial and economic crises shows that turnaround can't happen unless you clean up the bad assets and recapitalise the banks ... If you don't take on the banking issue, the stimulus is just like a sugar high. It pushes some energy into the system but then you get the letdown unless you reopen the credit markets."

Next month's G20 summit, to be hosted by Gordon Brown, seems destined to be bogged down by arguments over virtually every aspect of the economic crisis, from the correct level of fiscal and monetary stimulus through banking regulation and protectionism.

The World Trade Organisation is preparing a paper on protectionist abuses by G20 members, which may embarrass some governments. While most observers expect a united front and impressive-sounding words from the eventual communiqué, many will fear that the substance will be lacking.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Chatterati
Remembering Scindia
by Devi Cherian

THE function to release a biography of the late Madhavrao Scindia brought back fond memories of an age goneby and a person who has never been forgotten. Besides his wife, Madhavi Raje, and the author, the only speaker was Sonia Gandhi, who spoke with warmth about a leader who belonged to the same generation as her husband.

She remembered with affection that Scindia had the rare quality of being able to give both good advice and straight answers - a message that must have been taken to heart by politicians gathered to honour a friend who had left them seven years ago.

The erstwhile royalty, the political glitterati and close family friends were in attendance.

While Mrs Gandhi had her daughter Priyanka and son-in-law for company, Madhavrao’s rarely visible sister, Vasundra, also made her presence felt. While son Jyotiraditya was the gracious host, his sister Chitra chose to sit quietly, perhaps overwhelmed by fond memories. The evening saw Scindia admirers ranging form Shiv Raj Patil, Shiela Dixit to Margaret Alva.

Wet and wild

The festival of spring and the “rang birangi Holi” had mixed reactions in the capital. Sonia Gandhi and Rajnath Singh’s houses were a riot of colours while the residences of Advani and Lalu Yadav saw no colours this year. Both have been known for their wet, bhang Holi parties. Advani avoided it because of the Mumbai terrorism attacks and Lalu because of the Kosi floods.

While 10 Janpath had a flow of people to play Holi with Sonia Gandhi , Lalu’s 10 Circular Road bungalow had shut its gate till late afternoon.

There was no “kurta phaad” Holi this year. Lalu’s Holi celebrations have always been no-holds-barred allowing even the tearing of clothes.

The famous Vineet Jain party was the same wet and wild as it is every year. But the party which rocked was of the Akois the owners of Imperial Hotel.

Their son got married to actress-turned-politician Nafisa Ali and Pickle’s daughter, Armaana, last week. A dignified wedding of who’s who. Now this was a Holi bash which had “rang, bhang” and celebrities with mouth-watering food. The Akois have always been famous for their Holi bashes.

The Ravi Jaipuria Holi bash saw Jagdish Tytler relishing the old Delhi chaat and playing with dry colours. Mika rocked the stage at JK Jain’s Holi party, his jhatka, matkas attracted lots of starlets at the bash. Now this do had bhangra stage performances and hip hop full of masti. The DJ played on the rain dance floor with his peppy remixes. So, bhang, gulal and gaana all the way.

Ragged to death

The death of a young student from Gurgaon has shocked everybody. This is because Himachal has a history of tranquility and tolerance. Two qualities clearly not possessed by the brutes who chose to end a junior’s life.

Ragging is alien to India’s vast university system, and certainly to Himachal but it’s clearly growing unchecked. Some laws are currently in place but clearly the adherence is poor. Somewhere there seems to be a mixed-up tale of complicity of law-enforcers unwilling to force what has been laid down.

Suspending a principal and a few officials is clearly not enough. Strict action must be seen to be done and the state needs to act with conviction to ensure that such violent actions do not take more innocent lives.

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