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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Criminal cases on the rise
Need for due reform of system
There is reportedly a 3 per cent rise in criminal cases but a 6 per cent fall in civil cases in the country. Understandably, Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan finds this trend “disturbing”. Obviously, a criminal case is often followed to its logical end but in a civil case the aggrieved party usually has a choice to seek a legal remedy, try an out-of-court settlement or stay away and suffer in silence.

Nascent front
Mayawati’s fortunes may be hit
Releasing the Samajwadi Party’s manifesto in Lucknow on Saturday, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav stressed the need for improving relations with India’s neighbours, particularly Pakistan and Bangladesh. This, he believes, is the key to effectively tackling terrorism. This may well have been aimed at humouring the minority community, which got disenchanted with Mr Yadav after he declared his alliance with former BJP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh.



EARLIER STORIES

Filmstars and elections
April
12, 2009
Belated, but right
April
11, 2009
Fighting Taliban
April
10, 2009
Abuse of language
April
9, 2009
ULFA at it again
April
8, 2009
Only votes matter
April
7, 2009
Back to Hindutva, softly
April
6, 2009
State has to protect its police
April
5, 2009
A trillion is not enough
April
4, 2009
Cash for votes
April
3, 2009


The Karnataka muddle
Congress fritters away advantage
W
ITH Karnataka being the only southern state where the BJP has built up a strong presence, the party is leaving no stone unturned to make an impression in the Lok Sabha elections. Considering that the Yeddyurappa government is barely a year old, anti-incumbency is not a significant factor just yet.

ARTICLE

Need for new energy policy
Oil will not be there forever
by Jaskaran Teja
T
HERE could not be better news than falling oil prices for consumers worldwide and for the governments in importing countries that face elections. This bonanza is, however, not likely to last very long. When the global recession ends and the world economy begins to recover, energy prices will surely rise as demand grows while supply lags behind.

MIDDLE

Getting by missed calls
by Satish K. Sharma
B
AD news travels fast by itself. With technology it travels faster. Old timers would recall with what trepidation the common folks greeted a telegram when it was the fastest mode of communication. A trunk call from a superior created similar flutter. Mercifully, it didn’t materialise fast enough.

OPED

Ailing medicare
India spends too little on health
by Nonika Singh
I
NDIA may have joined the world in celebrating the World Health Day but it had little cause for cheer. Far from being in the pink of health, India has been ailing and failing. Be it the world reports or the home-grown National Health Family surveys, India’s health card reads like a shame card.

Are Tamils’ claims of abuse true?
by Andrew Buncombe
I
N recent days large crowds of Tamil protesters have taken to the streets of London to highlight the plight of thousands of Tamil civilians caught up in the apparent endgame of a long and vicious civil war in Sri Lanka.

Chatterati
Political ‘tamasha’
by Devi Cherian
T
HE political circus has started its 24/7 “tamasha”. It has stars, villains, suspense, drama and bribery. Friends turn foes and vice versa. One cannot take anything for granted not even “Mulayam and Amar ki amar jodi”.





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Criminal cases on the rise
Need for due reform of system

There is reportedly a 3 per cent rise in criminal cases but a 6 per cent fall in civil cases in the country. Understandably, Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan finds this trend “disturbing”. Obviously, a criminal case is often followed to its logical end but in a civil case the aggrieved party usually has a choice to seek a legal remedy, try an out-of-court settlement or stay away and suffer in silence. If fewer people approach courts for the redress of their civil wrongs, it is largely because cases drag on for years and the cost of litigation is prohibitive. Pursuing a case in court after court and dealing with unscrupulous lawyers is a nightmare many would like to do without.

Besides, a vast majority of Indians, especially the poor and uneducated, are unaware of their legal rights. States with higher literacy levels report more civil cases than those with lower literacy rates. Dependent women tend to cope with domestic violence, torture for dowry or/and denial of property rights rather than get entangled in a judicial battle. Justice has, obviously, gone beyond the reach of an ordinary citizen. It is not difficult to understand why people with a choice keep off courts. The Chief Justice of India is aware of the malaise afflicting the judiciary but appears helpless in failing to break out of the mould.

The huge backlog of cases can be cleared if lower courts are further empowered, more judges appointed, procedures simplified, second appeals discouraged at the high court level and advocates guilty of professional misconduct are debarred from practice for life. There is greater chaos at the lower level. According to the Chief Justice, 87 per cent of the total cases pending in India are in the subordinate courts. Lawyers have a vested interest in prolonging cases but judges too often fail to rescue litigants. Concerned at the possible loss of business, advocates have even opposed the latest Cr.P.C. amendments, making arrests optional for offences punishable up to seven years in prison. Commission after commission has suggested ways to clear the judicial mess. Yet political will is lacking to implement their reports.
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Nascent front
Mayawati’s fortunes may be hit

Releasing the Samajwadi Party’s manifesto in Lucknow on Saturday, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav stressed the need for improving relations with India’s neighbours, particularly Pakistan and Bangladesh. This, he believes, is the key to effectively tackling terrorism. This may well have been aimed at humouring the minority community, which got disenchanted with Mr Yadav after he declared his alliance with former BJP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. Interestingly, the SP leader is no longer seen in the company of Mr Kalyan Singh, who is believed to have played a key role in the demolition of Babari Masjid in 1992. The Muslims in UP, who have been overwhelmingly voting for the SP, had first felt betrayed when Mr Yadav supported the UPA government over the nuclear deal with the US.

The SP leader’s loss appeared to be Chief Minister Mayawati’s gain. Mr Yadav’s predicament made the BSP leader feel comfortable. With her large support base among the Scheduled Castes, the Dalits, the Brahmins and the Muslims, she was hoping to repeat her party’s impressive performance seen during the 2007 Assembly elections. But the situation seems to have changed dramatically after Mr Yadav formed a front with Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD and Mr Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party. The birth of the front, which covers UP and Bihar, has improved the SP’s position substantially.

The large presence of Dalits and Muslims at the front’s election meetings shows that Ms Mayawati will have to work hard to remain as the top performer in the coming elections. Mr Lalu Prasad and Mr Paswan have considerable appeal in these two sections of voters, which is bound to benefit Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party. The caste factor continues to influence the course of politics in UP. The BJP, which has been trying to polarise the voters on communal lines, appears to have failed. It hopes to win over 10 seats because of its alliance with Mr Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal. The Congress could have done better had there been no Lalu-Mulayam-Paswan front. But in the fluid politics that now prevails, there is no finality to any seeming trend.

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The Karnataka muddle
Congress fritters away advantage

WITH Karnataka being the only southern state where the BJP has built up a strong presence, the party is leaving no stone unturned to make an impression in the Lok Sabha elections. Considering that the Yeddyurappa government is barely a year old, anti-incumbency is not a significant factor just yet. The Congress could have gained some ground but serious infighting in its ranks and failure to forge an alliance with Mr H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (S) have neutralised whatever gain it may have made. Taking advantage of incumbency in the state, the government presented a populist budget in February to appease voters across a broad spectrum. Only time will tell how deep is the impact of these but, apparently, the party is sitting pretty.

On the economic plane, the state is in a shambles not just on account of the ineffectiveness of the BJP government but also the disastrous showing of the Congress and the JD (S) when they were in power. Rampant corruption is the order of the day and the people have to bribe their way to get basic services far more than in other southern states. The growth rate has dipped to 5.5 per cent in 2008-09 against 11 per cent the previous year and public debt stands at 27 per cent of the state’s GDP. The state’s fiscal deficit has virtually spun out of control with the government on a spending spree.

In such a scenario, it should have been relatively easy for the Opposition to make an appreciable dent in the BJP’s vote share, but the Congress is in disarray. The BJP got a head start when it finalised the names of its nominees for the 28 seats well before the Congress and the JD (U) did. With both the Congress and the JD(S) vying for the same “secular” votes, the gainer is the BJP. The portents are indeed not reassuring for the BJP’s rivals though the Yeddyurappa government has little to show in terms of performance.

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Thought for the Day

War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.

— Georges Clemenceau

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Need for new energy policy
Oil will not be there forever
by Jaskaran Teja

THERE could not be better news than falling oil prices for consumers worldwide and for the governments in importing countries that face elections. This bonanza is, however, not likely to last very long. When the global recession ends and the world economy begins to recover, energy prices will surely rise as demand grows while supply lags behind. The cumulative impact of an expanding demand and contracting supply trends will be especially harder on oil-dependent countries like India. We need a comprehensive energy policy to fuel our future and keep up high growth rates.

Looking beyond the current economic recession, a serious threat looming on the energy horizon is the long-term global oil demand and supply imbalance, one that should most concern the developing nations’ strategic planners. The annual demand for oil in fast growing economies is ballooning nearly three times faster than in developed countries: China at 3.5 per cent and India at 3.9 per cent as of 2007. At this rate, by 2030, India could become the world’s third largest oil consumer, importing 90 per cent of its oil consumption. This degree of foreign oil dependence would inevitably have far-reaching economic and political consequences.

More critical than the rising demand for oil by our burgeoning automobile and road transportation sector is the specter of a falling world production capacity. An immediate consequence of the current global economic crisis is the delay or postponement of several capacity building projects in oil producing countries that affect potential new oil coming to the markets. This could cause a shortfall of some 8 million barrels a day, or nearly half of the planned capacity addition over the next five years, according to the Cambridge Energy Associates.

Another ominous threat looming beyond the current economic crisis is the declining yield from the existing oilfields. According to a ground-breaking study by the Paris-based International Energy Agency, there could be a shortfall of 45 million barrels a day in the next 20 years because of the declining recovery of oil in the 800 large existing oilfields worldwide. These aging fields, representing two-thirds of oil production capacity worldwide, produce less oil progressively and require increasing investment to squeeze out the hard-to-reach underground reserves. This supply/demand scenario is based on the assumption of the 2007 oil consumption of 86 million barrels a day. If the higher future oil demand from developing nations is included, the world oil deficit would be higher at 65 million barrels a day or the equivalent to six Saudi Arabias’ production. A substantial amount of new oil would undoubtedly come to the market from smaller fields but this would not make up for the shortfall.

Clearly, enormous capital investment will be needed to finance oil and gas exploration and production over the next two decades. Oil prices will need to substantially rise in real terms to attract capital in new oil. To compensate for the decline from the existing oilfields alone, the IEA estimates the size of worldwide capital requirement at an astronomical $ 6 trillion or $ 300 billion annually. Can the oil exporters increase their production capacity to meet this magnitude of future demand?

In theory, yes. The national oil companies in oil-rich countries would have an incentive to produce more as long as oil prices continue to rise. But since most of the oil resources around the world are now owned by sovereign developing nations, not multinationals, the national oil producers are likely to encounter serious hurdles in committing huge capital investment from among the competing national objectives such as consumer subsidies, social objectives, national defence and so on. Geopolitics and international tensions are also important factors.

In some countries there is a strong popular opposition to “give away” natural wealth to external investors. There can be no assurance that the biggest oil exporters can or will invest in new production capacity. Equally, there is no certainty about how large consumer nations will react to the continuing oil supply shortages and the growing dependence on imported oil. The conventional wisdom of buying equity stakes in oil-producing countries will surely not be sufficient and may require other side-benefit from oil importers as some countries have recently done in Africa.

Finally, not only the production of oil and gas but its transportation and distribution have also become an extraordinarily complex endeavour, requiring technical and financial resources as also diplomatic skills and political assets in clinching deals. Popular rhetoric is no substitute for national interests.

The fast rising scramble for oil and gas underlines the urgency in devising alternative energy strategies that do not depend on oil beyond the next two decades. While it is important to develop alternative renewable energy resources, including nuclear energy, coal and hydro-power, tackling the consequences of vanishing oil should be at the heart of any new energy strategy. Overdue reforms in the Indian energy sector also need to be addressed like conservation and energy efficiency, phasing out the subsidies, greater investment in domestic oil and gas exploration, coal sector reforms as well as an overhaul of bureaucratic structures and overlapping jurisdictions. A clear set of national priorities and focused approach for energy security are imperative for facing the coming energy challenges.

After the general elections are over, it would be time to start planning for the inevitable disappearance of oil as the engine of modern economic growth. The sooner we start devising an effective, long-term, national energy policy, the better equipped India will be to resist future shocks.

The writer is a former Ambassador of India and a Geneva-based strategic affairs consultant.

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Getting by missed calls
by Satish K. Sharma

BAD news travels fast by itself. With technology it travels faster. Old timers would recall with what trepidation the common folks greeted a telegram when it was the fastest mode of communication.

A trunk call from a superior created similar flutter. Mercifully, it didn’t materialise fast enough. So, one escaped the first flash of ire. But the STD facility removed this safety cushion. Now a distant boss could pounce upon a subordinate even when he was red hot.

Mobile phones marked a paradigm shift in bad-mouthing. Now the boss can read the riot act to a junior anytime and anywhere. But it did not affect yours truly because by the time officers got equipped with the devil’s invention, one had risen in hierarchy. The only person who can use it, now, to give one some anxious moments, is one’s full half.

But more than a regular call, it’s the wife’s missed call, which is bad for the heart. Why experts haven’t studied its damaging potential only they know but husbands would agree that I am telling the truth.

Here one is not talking about predictable missed calls — such as the one received during the office meeting. It’s only a signal to call her back and is prompted by such emergencies as not finding her emerald ring or to know whether one would have pulav or just plain boiled rice in dinner. Nor is it about those that come after the close of office hours, which can be safely read as “You’ve a family too”.

It’s about the missed calls that she uses strategically. For example, the one that one gets at the golf course is a hint to speed up the game. It can’t be mere coincidence that such calls come mostly when one is having a rare good round and help to wreck it.

The missed call received soon as one has left for office, is an invitation to settle a week-old argument. In the hurry to reach office, one acquiesces to whatever she-logic she proffers.

Woe to you if you ignored her missed calls when she is, putatively, not on talking terms with you. For, like Trojan horses they hide such messages as “I can accept an unconditional apology” or “you aren’t doing enough to restore peace in the house.” Needless to say that one’s commitment to the relationship is judged by how fast one can respond to her missed calls. As if that were so easy.

Previous few days hadn’t seen the best of peace at home. To divert her mind, she went for shopping and I stayed at home — watching an engaging movie on the HBO. During a commercial break, I happened to glance at my mobile kept on silent mode. To my alarm, there was a missed call from her — a good half an hour earlier. I immediately punched her number. But she did not pick up the phone, nor when I tried again some minutes later. Mighty upset she must be, I thought and lost the track of the movie.

She was cheerful when she returned. Sensing a chance I said, “Sorry. I didn’t take your call immediately. But you didn’t respond when I rang up? “Oh, I wanted to talk to a friend and had pressed your number by mistake”. Then, retrieving her phone from under sundry items in her handbag and reading its screen, she said the magical word — sorry.

Want to know why it left me amazed? Well, the word had been deleted from her dictionary after initial years of our marriage and its place taken by “So what!”

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Ailing medicare
India spends too little on health
by Nonika Singh

INDIA may have joined the world in celebrating the World Health Day but it had little cause for cheer. Far from being in the pink of health, India has been ailing and failing. Be it the world reports or the home-grown National Health Family surveys, India’s health card reads like a shame card.

Home to a large number of the malnourished in the world, India accounts for 30 per cent of the world’s TB patients. Its record in treating mothers and children, the most vulnerable sections of the population, seems most disheartening. There are nearly one million neonatal deaths annually. As many as 78,000 women die due to pregnancy and childbirth complications.

Whichever way one looks at it, health news is gloomy. Safe motherhood, safe syringe practice remain just slogans. Each new survey stands as an indictment, portending a more unmanageable health crisis.

Threatening to become the world’s diabetic capital by 2050, a tobacco epidemic awaits India. It is estimated that the 10 lakh people might die every year due to smoking alone.

And all this while the government has been proclaiming time and again that health and education are the nation’s top priority. But the ground reality is India spends little on health. The public health expenditure, is merely Rs 215 per capita per year and falls way short of what developed countries spend. At 4.8 per cent of the GDP as against the recommended 6.5 per cent, India’s total annual health expenditure is only better than countries like Nigeria, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

In fact, from meagre public spending to ramshackled infrastructure to shortage of doctors to expensive medicines, patients’ interest is sacrificed at every step.

About the public health system marked by absenteeism of medical staff, shortage of medicines and unavailability of diagnostic kits, the less said, the better.

According to the Chronic Care Foundation, merely 34 per cent of the rural population in India has an access to diagnostic centres for chronic ailments.

To cap it all, dwindling medical ethics exacerbate the scourge of diseases. In Gujarat, the reuse of syringes had not only led to an outbreak of hepatitis but was also a grim reminder that in times when medical science is crossing new frontiers each day, a large section of Indian patients are denied something so basic as a safe syringe.

While the brain drain of doctors continues, doctors remain in short supply. The doctor-patient ratio is abysmal overall and worse in rural areas. Healthcare continues to elude the rural populace. About 80 per cent of the doctors, 75 per cent of the dispensaries and 60 per cent of the hospitals are located in urban areas.

Ambitious programmes like the National Health Rural Mission are strapped for there is paucity of doctors, forcing the government to contemplate compulsory rural posting.

As 65 per cent of the Indians (as per a UN report) have no access to essential medicines, as immunisation still leaves many children uncovered, as 53 per cent kids under five lack basic health facilities, universal healthcare remains a pipe dream.

Besides being bogged down by the burden of diseases, India’s track record on under-nourishment, too, is appalling.

Worse still, malnutrition not only afflicts both children and women but also leads to 50 per cent of child deaths. Earlier, reports had put India’s malnourishment rates worse than that of Africa.

It isn’t as if schemes are not in place. To address diseases like TB, India has the second largest DOTS programme in the world. To tackle the problem of malnutrition, the government has a slew of programmes.

Community Food and Nutrition Extension Units of the Food and Nutrition Board in the Ministry are engaged in running nutrition awareness programmes and organising training courses for improving the dietary habits of people.

The Government of India’s Integrated Child Development Scheme, NGOs, CARE and USAID have been trying to reduce infant mortality and child malnutrition in several states.

The National Rural Health Mission appears earnest in its endeavour to improve and provide health to rural India. In the interim budget too, a lion’s share was assigned to the NRHM.

Still, India, especially rural India, is miles behind the cherished goal of health for all as there are wide gaps in implementation.

While states like UP are pulled up by Vice President M H Ansari for failing on the health front, even prosperous states like Punjab fare poorly on health parameters.

A large number of children in Punjab are anaemic. The dismal condition of public healthcare can be gauged from tragic incidents like the one at Rajindra hospital in Patiala where babies were burnt in incubators. Surveys reveal that in both Punjab and Haryana people prefer private medical care to public health systems. Never mind that private healthcare is simply unaffordable and pushes many families deeper into debt.

While the BJP has unveiled a grandiose “health-for-all” agenda, the fact is when parties come to power they conveniently forget that health of people is the first and foremost indicator of national well-being.

Thus, while there is an urgent need to hike government spending, even more essential is political will. Together with bureaucratic momentum and NGO support, it can ensure what the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had underscored “the obligation to streamline public healthcare system.”

Of course, healthcare alone is not enough to ensure good health. Often people are exposed to health risks for a host of other reasons. In India, poor sanitation aggravates susceptibility to diseases and about 2.6 million people die because of poor sanitation alone.

With just 33 per cent of the population having access to safe sanitation and millions living on less than Rs 80 a day, is it any wonder that even curable diseases become life- threatening. Thus sanitation, nutrition and safe drinking water are allied areas whose significance cannot be ignored.

Decentralising the public healthcare system, involvement of panchayati raj institutions and public-private partnerships require greater attention. Besides, there is a need to shift the doctor-centric system to patient-centric. Patients’ education and awareness stressing upon early diagnosis too can play a crucial role.

To meet its health-related Millennium Development Goals, India has to act fast in increasing the efficiency, coverage and impact of its programmes.

The government has to ensure that the nation that boasts of having the world’s best of doctors does not become —if it has not already— the sickest nation. Only then the observance of days like World Health Day will have some meaning.

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Are Tamils’ claims of abuse true?
by Andrew Buncombe

IN recent days large crowds of Tamil protesters have taken to the streets of London to highlight the plight of thousands of Tamil civilians caught up in the apparent endgame of a long and vicious civil war in Sri Lanka.

The demonstrators are demanding that Britain use its influence to try and enforce a ceasefire between the Sri Lankan army and the fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Police arrested four people – one for violent disorder – after scuffles broke out when officers moved protesters off a bridge into Parliament Square.

The fighting between the LTTE and the government forces may now be in its last phase. Apart from a tiny patch of jungle no more than one mile by two, over which the two sides were last night still fighting, the remnants of a once powerful LTTE force are now holed up in an area measuring no more than 7.7 square miles. This area is a so-called “no-fire zone”.

“I am deeply concerned for the lives of over 100,000 civilians trapped in the 14 square km area of the Vanni declared by the Government of Sri Lanka. Large numbers of civilians have been killed or wounded.

Following reports that LTTE fighters now have been pushed entirely into this zone, many more are at risk of losing their lives,” said Walter Kaelin, the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons.

“I urgently repeat my call to the LTTE to allow all civilians under its control to leave this zone and to seek safety elsewhere. I also call on the Government of Sri Lanka to scrupulously respect the no-fire zone.”

Journalists have been banned from getting anywhere near the war zone, apart going on sanitised officially organised visits escorted by the military, so the picture is not entirely clear. Aid groups say conditions there are dire; there is insufficient food, water and medicine and people are pushed together under makeshift plastic shelters.

“It’s desperate, desperate, desperate,” said Sarah Crowe, a senior regional official with Unicef. People have been stuck there for months and while thousands of civilians have managed to slip out of the no-fire zone, many more are trapped. UN officials say that the LTTE is preventing people from leaving in order to provide themselves with a bulwark against an onslaught by government troops.

“The government has said this is a hostage situation,” said Gordon Weiss, a Colombo-based spokesman for the UN. “They have indicated they are going to play a wait and see game and to seal this area.”

There are no official figures but in recent weeks there have been reports that hundreds of civilians are being killed every week and many more wounded, having been caught up in crossfire and shelling by both sides.

Medical facilities in the zone are all but non-existent. Those who are able to get to the evacuation points on the coast are taken by ferry south to Trincomalee where, under heavy guard, they are moved for treatment in hospitals. After that they are taken to internment camps.

The Sri Lankan authorities say they are doing this to ensure that no LTTE fighters are hiding themselves among the civilian wounded. Mr Weiss said around 65,000 civilians may now be held inside these camps.

The fighting between the Tigers and the government has taken place since as early as 1983. The Tigers, led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, have been fighting for a separate homeland for the largely Hindu Tamils, claiming that the Sinhalese Buddhist majority has long discriminated against them.

The Tigers have used brutal tactics, including the suicide bombing of civilian targets, in addition to the many Sri Lankan politicians they have killed. At least 70,000 people have died in fighting but the death toll might even be much higher – possibly double that.

There have been widespread calls for a ceasefire to allow an evacuation of civilians but there has been remarkably little action. India, the most influential regional power, has asked Sri Lanka to find a political settlement for the Tamils – of which there is a large population in Southern India.

But by pitching the operation of the government troops in the language of so-called “war on terror”, Mr Rajapaksa may have insulated himself from anything other than words. Yesterday Foreign Secretary David Miliband, became the latest to express concern, saying: “Recent reports suggesting that the Sri Lankan military have now captured all the territory outside the so-called no-fire zone and that fighting is now going on inside the zone, where the civilian population is concentrated, are deeply worrying.” These words are unlikely to assuage the anger of London’s protesters, however.

Can there be a military solution to the conflict?

Yes...

* Destroying the Tigers now would leave them without a stronghold and potentially without a leader

* The government is better at preventing money getting to them

* The government’s actions against the Tigers have been popular among the Sinhalese majority. They will use that to seek re-election

No...

* The last remnants of the Tigers will hole up in patches of jungle and fight a hit-and-run war as they once did

* The political demands of the Tamil population have to be addressed. There is too much evidence they are treated like second-class citizens

* The Tigers still receive significant support from outside Sri Lanka

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Chatterati
Political ‘tamasha’
by Devi Cherian

THE political circus has started its 24/7 “tamasha”. It has stars, villains, suspense, drama and bribery. Friends turn foes and vice versa. One cannot take anything for granted not even “Mulayam and Amar ki amar jodi”.

Flop stars are getting post-retirement jobs as wannabe netas. Brothers, sons, mothers are busy campaigning. It’s a family business now.

Well, if Kapil Sibal takes a ride on the Metro to woo voters, Vijay Goyal associates himself with senior citizens. Varun Gandhi’s statement has started a national debate on motherly emotions. But he is a national figure now, thanks to Maya, Maneka and the BJP trying to take full mileage out of this episode.

On the other hand, India goes the Bush way. A disgruntled journalist hurled a shoe at the Home Minister’s press conference. Mr Chidambaram showed flexibility, poise and grace. But the shoe clean-bowled Tytler. And gave the upper hand to the Akalis, supported by Tytler’s enemies within his own party to strike while the rod is hot.

All the clean chits, unfortunately, proved to be of no avail. Though Tytler flaunted evidence that the charges against him were not real, he got tied up in shoe laces.

Amar Singh is now busy wooing the fourth front after the fourth estate. Nafisa Ali, frustrated with the Congress president, lept on to Amar’s back for a free ride. Sanjay Dutt utilises his cinematographic skills to do stealth stings.

It’s really fun time for some, frustration time for patriots and most just don’t care out of sheer disgust. The Congress is using a broom to clean its party by trying to field new candidates. And letting go off its crutches, trying its luck going alone in U.P. and Bihar.

The BJP’s manifesto has come back to Ram Mandir and ailing Vajpayee’s pictures. But what takes the cake is that these high-flying politicians are poorer than you and me. They really think they are going to be “sarkari mehmaan” forever. Most of them have no house or car.

To top it all, lands they own are one-tenth the price of the neighbouring farms. Some are caught on camera, distributing cash. This is the “Great Indian Tamasha of Democracy”.

Youth brigade

Priyanka Gandhi has always been a force to reckon with. But now she has her own personal force. What an idea she has come up with! In Amethi and Raebareli she has raised a band of “youth commanders” who will guard the polling booths in the two VVIP constituencies from where Rahul and Sonia Gandhi are contesting, respectively.

The youth brigade has been trained by two retired officers of the elite Special Protection Group (SPG), who are now a part of the Congress establishment. The opponents are still in shock after the overwhelming response by the locals over her recorded voice message to all the voters to in that area to make a personal contact.

Time to retire

Arjun Singh and George Fernandes are to sit down and exchange notes. Singh may not have ever liked Fernandes, but some Congress leaders feel both are behaving in a similar fashion at the fag end of their political lives. First, both are losing respect of their political parties only because they cannot face it that they should retire gracefully.

Secondly, both are unable to accept the successor they had groomed. In Fernandes’ case, the rise of Nitish Kumar has become an eyesore, while Singh cannot stomach the glory his protégé and AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh is cornering.

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