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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Polls now, tie-ups later
Arithmatic of seats will decide alliances
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s observation in
an interaction with editors that he is prepared to do
business with Left parties for the formation of a secular
government, in a way, reflects a recognition of the
ground realities in a situation where no single party
can come to power.

Cash for votes
Candidates violating law must be punished
T
HE manner in which political parties have been spending huge funds in the run-up to the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa is deplorable. The ceiling for every candidate — Rs 25 lakh for a Lok Sabha seat and Rs 10 lakh for an Assembly seat — is observed more in breach than in practice.


EARLIER STORIES

A state within a state
April
16, 2009
Not by violence
April
15, 2009
Heed the EC
April
14, 2009
Criminal cases on the rise
April
13, 2009
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



Regulate clinical trials

Indians are not guinea pigs
I
NDIA has become an attractive destination for clinical research and drug trials.
On an average in a month 25 to 30 companies seek the drug controllers’
permission for testing the efficacy and safety of drugs. According to the
Planning Commission, 139 clinical trials have been outsourced to India in the
recent past compared to 98 in China.

ARTICLE

Campaigns turn dirty
Excuses more shameful than the deeds
by Inder Malhotra
N
EVER before in the history of elections in this country has the Election Commission been driven to expressing so much “anguish” and “pain” as over the current state of electioneering. One can only sympathise with the commission that bears the onerous burden of “superintendence, direction and control” of elections in this vast, complex and diverse country, and has hitherto discharged its functions creditably.

MIDDLE

Below the voter’s belt!
by Vepa Rao
N
AMASKAR to all my beloved voting brothers, sisters, mothers and wives. Namaskar, pranam. This humble soul before you needs your vote and support. Please. Please, vote for me from the bottom of your kind hearts this time also. Your vote is so very precious. After all, this is our own lovable democracy.

OPED

Politics without values
Crime and corruption have taken firm roots
by Kuldip Nayar
R
AHUL DEEPANKAR, a distinguished Indian physician from Chicago, said goodbye to his roaring practice to contest the elections in his country. Being a Dalit, he thought he had all the advantages of contesting from a reserved seat. His first call was on Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). But, to his dismay, he found that his “high qualifications” were in his way.

Europe heads for elections
by Adrian Hamilton
T
HE one thing this June’s European elections will not be about is Europe. The EU indeed will barely get a mention. Even the LibDems in areas such as the South-west where they fear to lose seats to the Tories will tread gingerly on the subject. The strongest voice on the subject will once again come from the anti-Europeans.

Health
Kids’ health suffers when parents divorce
by Theola Labbe-DeBose
S
ean Smith knows his two children, ages 5 and 7, eat balanced meals. Still, he wanted to make sure they got all the right nutrients. So when the Rockville, Md., resident heard about special kids’ vitamins, chewable like Gummi Bears, he wanted his children to take them. Their mom disagreed. Carolyn Rutsch also knows the kids eat healthy. So, she said, why would they need vitamins?


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Polls now, tie-ups later
Arithmatic of seats will decide alliances

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s observation in an interaction with editors that he is prepared to do business with Left parties for the formation of a secular government, in a way, reflects a recognition of the ground realities in a situation where no single party can come to power.

The Left, too, in recent days, seems to have toned down its criticism of the Congress, realising that there may be no option but to support a Congress government to keep the BJP at bay.

For the record, some Left leaders are saying that the Third Front would throw up a leader who would be in a position to form the next government, but the reality is that the future of the next coalition would depend more on the results than on any pre-poll surmises. At that stage, it would be cold arithmetic of seats that would determine the formation of a new coalition at the Centre.

For the Left, the BJP continues to be an anathema. Left leaders, particularly Mr
Prakash Karat and Mr A.B. Bardhan, would ideally want a “Third Front” government
of regional groupings.

Alternatively, the Left may ultimately become open to suggestions after the polls about supporting a Congress government.

But if the Congress emerges as the single largest party, it is difficult to imagine that the Left will be able to force a Prime Minister of its choice on the Congress which has already announced Dr Manmohan Singh’s name for the post.

Predictably, the regional parties, as is their want, would seek to strike hard bargains with the Congress, or the BJP, after the polls. Many of their leaders would vie with one another to don the prime ministerial mantle.

Except the Left not going with the BJP, nothing can be said definitively about which way the other parties would go. Ideology and consistency may well be thrown to the winds in a display of crass opportunism.

There indeed are many imponderables in this impending election. Elections in India can always throw up surprises, pleasant or otherwise.

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Cash for votes
Candidates violating law must be punished

THE manner in which political parties have been spending huge funds in the run-up to the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa is deplorable. The ceiling for every candidate — Rs 25 lakh for a Lok Sabha seat and Rs 10 lakh for an Assembly seat — is observed more in breach than in practice.

As a result, elections have become enormously costlier. The poor candidates are unable to match their rich rivals. This has made the contests unequal and elections have ceased to be a level-playing field for all. According to reports, the Andhra Pradesh police has seized huge bundles of currency to the tune of Rs 24.20 crore at different places, presumably meant for distribution among voters.

As many as 425 cases have been filed and the money of those failing to satisfy the authorities about its source will go to the state exchequer. There are also reports of seizure of TV sets, cricket kits, pressure cookers, sarees, etc,. presumably meant for distribution to voters.

Surely, the malaise is widespread in the country. Consider what happened in the last Karnataka Assembly elections. The police seized cash bundles, clandestinely being transported by ambulances, for distribution among voters.

In a byelection in Thiruvangadem in Tamil Nadu earlier, political parties pumped in huge funds. Candidates need to spend on pamphlets, meetings, supporting staff, food and transport.

But there are limits to spending and they cannot violate the statutory ceiling for election expenditure. The candidates of all political parties do not observe the limits, but generally file false returns of expenses.

Unfortunately, successive governments at the Centre have done little to check the role of money power in the elections. While the Election Commission has expressed its helplessness to control this malady, the Centre has not implemented the recommendations of the Law Commission (170th report), the Dinesh Goswami Bill and the Indrajit Gupta Report.

There should be strict auditing of political parties’ accounts. The parties should maintain accounts, including their sources of income and details of expenditure for due auditing and scrutiny by the Election Commission.

Mere seizure of the cash won’t do. The authorities must take exemplary action against those distributing cash or gifts to voters.

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Regulate clinical trials
Indians are not guinea pigs

INDIA has become an attractive destination for clinical research and drug trials.
On an average in a month 25 to 30 companies seek the drug controllers’
permission for testing the efficacy and safety of drugs. According to the
Planning Commission, 139 clinical trials have been outsourced to India in the
recent past compared to 98 in China.

While this may mean more business for companies and more employment for youth, it also implies a serious health hazard for Indians, who may be treated as guinea pigs at the behest of multinational drug companies.

Clinical trials in the developed world are effectively regulated with unambiguous guidelines and stiff penalties for violations. The developing world in general and India in particular has only lately woken up to dangers from unsafe and illegal drug testing. Animal lovers off and on protest against cruelty to which animals are subjected to by researchers.

Earlier, testing was done on prisoners, tribal people and blacks. Protests led to the Geneva (1948) and Helsinki (1964) declarations containing ethical dos and don’ts. The issue resurfaced in 1994 when a US firm wanted to try its anti-HIV drug in a developing country.

How ill-prepared India was in acting against companies that violate the norms for clinical trial became clear after an infant died during a clinical trial in Banglore last year. What shook the nation, however, was the media revelation that 49 babies had died in the prestigious AIIMS after new drugs had been tested on them for two and a half years. Worse, the government itself had earlier relaxed the law to allow foreign firms to test their new drugs on Indians.

Now the Indian Council of Medical Research is framing new guidelines to regulate clinical trials. The amended drug law may provide for 10 years’ jail for violations. Hopefully, the new government at the Centre will pursue the issue with the seriousness it deserves.

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Thought for the Day

Not all the water in the rough rude sea/ Can wash the balm from an anointed king.
— William Shakespeare

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Campaigns turn dirty
Excuses more shameful than the deeds
by Inder Malhotra

NEVER before in the history of elections in this country has the Election Commission been driven to expressing so much “anguish” and “pain” as over the current state of electioneering. One can only sympathise with the commission that bears the onerous burden of “superintendence, direction and control” of elections in this vast, complex and diverse country, and has hitherto discharged its functions creditably.

For, it is now being “flooded” with complaints — through CDs and in writing — of violations of the model code of conduct. This diverts its attention from urgent tasks. As if to underscore what the commission is up against, the unspeakably barbaric murder of a parliamentary candidate at Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh within hours of the appeal for restraint being issued has shaken the country.

There are three major areas of concern on which the EC has focused. First, the “intemperate and derogatory remarks of a highly personal nature that “many important leaders and office-bearers” of political parties are making against leaders and candidates of rival parties.

Secondly — and this is far more dangerous — there are “highly provocative and inflammatory” speeches and statements that have the effect of “inciting communal hatred and ill will, and aggravating the differences between different classes of citizens”. Thirdly, the EC has quite rightly taken notice of the crass practice of leaders, candidates and canvassers brazenly to distribute money to voters on the pretext of “local customs” or some other ruse. This does not merely violate the model code but also is an offence under both the Indian Penal Code and the Representation of the People Act.

One way of looking at this dismal situation may be that in view of the consistent, persistent and almost total collapse of discipline and decorum in Parliament over the last five years, nothing better can be expected during the election campaign. Some also feel that since none of the major parties has anything worthwhile to offer and, in any case, thanks to the great and growing fragmentation of Indian polity, elections have become state-specific and bereft of any large national issue, all concerned have been reduced to mutual mudslinging. Surely, this kind of rationalisation cannot be allowed to pass.

To revert to the Election Commission’s pertinent points in its appeal to all recognised political parties, it does seem that a certain amount of asperity has crept into the exchanges between even the top leaders of the two mainstream parties, the Congress and the BJP. Yet, they have managed to express themselves in parliamentary language though each side has sometimes claimed to be “hurt” by the accusations of the other. But immediately below the top layer restraint begins to diminish at each stage until electioneering descends to very low depths indeed.

A brief comment on the heated rhetoric at the highest-level is, however, in order. It was the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee, Mr L.K. Advani, who fired the first shot by repeatedly describing Dr Manmohan Singh as a “weak Prime Minister”. After initial reluctance, the Prime Minister hit back in kind. He spoke of Mr Advani’s “unique ability” to combine “strength in speech with weakness in action”.

He then witheringly contrasted the pusillanimity of the government in which Mr Advani was Home Minister at the time of the hijacking of the IC-814 to the strong and decisive action by his own government in the case of the horrific terrorist attack on Mumbai.

Besides retorting that Dr Manmohan Singh had “devalued” the office of Prime Minister, Mr Advani also clashed with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and, at one stage, demanded an apology from her for saying that internal threats were greater than those from foreign terrorists.

And so it went on until Mr Rahul Gandhi rubbed in that Mr Advani’s claim of ignorance of his colleague Jaswant Singh’s infamous flight to Kandahar could only mean that either his leader didn’t trust him or he was “not telling the truth”. Mr Advani protested. Is it too much to expect that both sides having made their respective points can now shift to some other topic?

On the subject of “hate speeches” the Supreme Court has yet to give its verdict in the case of Mr Varun Gandhi, the BJP’s candidate in Pilibhit in UP and, therefore, a detailed comment will have to wait. However, the apex court’s two observations are significant. In the first place, it said that the use of the National Security Act in this case seemed “harsh”, and asked the UP government if it had any objection to the young man being released on interim bail.

Secondly, the court asked whether Varun would give a written undertaking not to make “provocative speeches like this (evidently, the previous impugned speech)”, and his lawyer immediately stated that his client would. All this is eminently reasonable. What could have consequences of a different kind is Mr Advani’s announcement that his party would not “disown” Varun “even if the (disputed) CD of the earlier speech turns out to be genuine”. To be Prime Minister Mr Advani does need to project an image of moderation.

At the same time, the BJP has reason to complain that while Varun has been booked under the NSA, a senior minister of the UPA government, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, has been let off with a mere reprimand for his statement that were he Union Home Minister, he would have run a “roller on Varun’s chest”.

Of the hypocrisy and cynicism of those who get caught on the camera distributing money to the voters, the less said the better. There is no doubt that it is the money that makes the electoral mare go.

The technique of handing round cash to potential voters is ubiquitous but is essentially chickenfeed compared with the overall display of the money power in the elections, often in conjunction with muscle power.

A report from Hyderabad states that in Andhra Pradesh, where parliamentary and state assembly elections are taking place simultaneously, the three parties or combinations in the fray are spending Rs, 3,600 crore. In one place the state police seized Rs 21 crore and a stock of liquor meant for pre-poll distribution.

Even so, the votaries of the “notes for votes” syndrome — Mr M.K. Stalin, the proclaimed heir of Chief Minister Karunanidhi, in Tamil Nadu; Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP; Mr Jaswant Singh in Rajasthan; and Mr Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra — must be condemned, if only because their excuses are more shameful than their acts of distributing dough.

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Below the voter’s belt!
by Vepa Rao

NAMASKAR to all my beloved voting brothers, sisters, mothers and wives. Namaskar, pranam. This humble soul before you needs your vote and support. Please. Please, vote for me from the bottom of your kind hearts this time also. Your vote is so very precious. After all, this is our own lovable democracy.

I solemnly promise to supply everything free —water, bijli, cash, anything — to all those voting me to power. Oh, sorry, how I hate the word power! Service is better. Isn’t it so, my brilliant voters? You are all so lovable, so intelligent. That’s why I distribute cash amongst you, just to keep tradition and charitable works going, and to keep you all singing happily.

Leaders like me feed on intelligent voters like you all. Yes, I should also warn you not to vote for criminals caught red-handed. Such fools don’t know how to cheat, loot, murder, etc, without being caught and convicted. The poor fellows are not clever enough to handle the laws and “manage” the system effectively.

They are not fit to govern. Look at me. I am not a saint. Most of you know my history. But, was I ever caught! Did I ever leave the litter of evidence behind me? Committing crimes and escaping the so-called long arm of law is a great art, a neat science. I have been serving you to the best of my ability.

I have cut hundreds of ribbons, laid foundation stones, travelled in lal-batti vehicles, acquired just a dozen houses and factories, made foreign tours with family and friends, arranged transfers and postings of officials, and entertained you with clever speeches. Oh yes, remember my promises to chop off any fingers raised against you lovable voters, or to crush your enemies under a road-roller?

I swear now by the names of Gautam Budhdhaji and Gandhiji and promise I will hang your opponents upside down over huge fires, torture them in dungeons, carry away their wives and daughters, usurp their Swiss accounts, and, and.… Let me remind you, I have all such capabilities and of course adequate experience. Nobody will ever hit you below the belt — I have made sure it’s not worth it! I love you all.

By the way, must I remind you about my many clean-chits? I never approved of killing innocent masses in riots. But who can stop God’s hands itching to recall good souls to his abode? What are we but mere mortals going through the drama of life!

Ha, it was so, even when we threw scores of people into jails or sterilised the masses forcibly. We have been part of a large family, so compassionate that a member of our gang those days (now estranged from us) spends much time looking after the poor stray dogs. So sweet!

Let me end this speech. Please vote, in your own interests and, errr… safety, for me, this humble man whom you call Bhai saab, so lovingly.

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Politics without values
Crime and corruption have taken firm roots
by Kuldip Nayar

RAHUL DEEPANKAR, a distinguished Indian physician from Chicago, said goodbye to his roaring practice to contest the elections in his country. Being a Dalit, he thought he had all the advantages of contesting from a reserved seat. His first call was on Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). But, to his dismay, he found that his “high qualifications” were in his way.

“She does not like highly educated persons in her ranks,” someone from the party told him. He had heard that he had to grease the palms to get the ticket but not that his learning would come in the way. He tried for nearly five months to have an interview with her, but she thought he would have got the message.

Rahul is secular and would not touch the BJP. The second best bet was the Congress. He drew a blank here too. Sonia Gandhi had no time for him. The second-rung leaders kept him twiddling his thumbs. He could not beak into the inner ring which has its own hang-ups.

He met Ajit Singh to find out if he could get his party’s ticket. But when Ajit Singh joined the BJP, purists like Rahul had no place in Indian politics. Disappointed, he has gone back to Chicago after spending a lot of money on “contact men.” His resolve is not to return to Indian politics, which has grown rotten over the years and which has blocked the entry of people with values.

With crime and corruption having the run of politics, it is difficult for a person like Rahul to get a party ticket. Leave the national parties aside, even regional parties have fallen in the hands of those who use them as a vehicle to do all illegal acts. Crime and corruption are the readymade tools which the regional satraps use for their personal end.

It is often argued that a candidate to the legislature or Parliament should have minimum educational qualifications. I do know why. There is no study to suggest the assembly members or parliamentarians from among the educated have excelled others either in speech or action.

The drawing-room type of sophistication may get more space in the press or television networks. But in reality it means little. Pakistan’s National Assembly has not become better in tone and tenor because a member has to be at least a graduate. The issue of educational qualifications came up in the Constituent Assembly. President Rajendra Prasad regretted that the Constitution, which he claimed to be the best in the world, would be interpreted and advocated by the best of minds but those who would be legislating required no qualification.

In reply, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said that when they were fighting for freedom, the poor and the uneducated were with them while bright minds were on the side of the British.

Still, the debate did not degenerate into communalism and casteism. The discussions were mostly issue-based. Nehru would pose them, like the role of public sector in industry or the balance between agriculture and manufacturing.

There was no television. But the word of mouth would take the questions to the countryside where they would be discussed in the light of Nehru’s explanation. Those were formative years of the country. Election campaigns would reflect that.

When Mrs Indira Gandhi assumed power, the emphasis got changed from issues to personalities. Her slogan was: “You give me vote, I shall oust poverty.” Indira became India and India, Indira.

The voters had no alternative. The Jana Sangh, now the Bhartiya Janata Party, was too communal to their liking. Nurtured in a secular environment, they returned the Congress again and again for about 50 years. They could see the party deteriorating and losing the ethos of freedom struggle. Still they had no alternative.

Dr Ram Manohar Lohia’s plea that non-Congress elements should join hands was not first accepted because the Congress had come to represent India’s unity. Slowly and gradually, the magic of the party wore out.

When Mrs Gandhi turned authoritarian, the voters punished her by defeating her and her alter-ego, Sanjay Gandhi. The Congress could win only two seats in the entire northern India.

Chastened in the wilderness, she begged for one more chance. The electorate returned her to power. The three-year-long experiment of the Janata Party, an agglomeration of different opposition groups, except the Left, had turned sour because of the clash of leaders’ ambition.

After Mrs Gandhi’s election, the content moved from the cult of personality to the greed of power. With years, this stigma has got stuck to political leaders more perniciously and more firmly. How to grab the kursi has become the ethos of political parties. First, the sentiment of anti-Congressism brought the parties together, then the anti-BJPism. Now, it is about who can get whom on its side to enable them to cross the magic figure of 272 in the 545-member Lok Sabha.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee effected a combination, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and ruled for six years. He devised the formula of allotting ministerial positions in proportion to the strength a political party enjoyed. The Congress learnt from the BJP’s experiment and constituted the United Progress Alliance (UPA), which was primarily a Congress-Communist front. Like the NDA, the target of the UPA, was also power. The Congress now wants to come on its own.

It has, therefore, disbanded the UPA. All allies are fighting elections on their own and may be joining the alliance later. The party has, however, entered into a seat-adjustment with only anti-Communist leader Mamta Bannerjee in West Bengal. Ironically, the Congress, which has run its full five-year term with the help of the Left, picked her up, the virulent opponent of the Communists, as the first ally.

The Congress alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) is neither here nor there. Sonia Gandhi has learnt enough of political tricks to be vague. She cannot limit her party to mere 15 seats, the offer by the SP, in UP which has 80 Lok Sabha seats and where the Muslim electorate, roughly 15 per cent, is not too happy with Mulayam Singh because of his alliance with Kalyan Singh, the state chief minister when the Babri Masjid was demolished.

The BJP, in contrast to the Congress, has gone out of the way to sustain the NDA. Many parties have left it. The biggest loss is that of Orissa’s Biju Janata Dal, which has opted to stay away after 11 years of alliance. The Telugu Desam, headed by Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh, had walked out of the NDA earlier.

Elections provide breath to democracy. But when they are fought in the manner in which Indian political parties are doing, with hate speeches and threats, they suffocate dissenters who want space and a free say.

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Europe heads for elections
by Adrian Hamilton

THE one thing this June’s European elections will not be about is Europe. The EU indeed will barely get a mention. Even the LibDems in areas such as the South-west where they fear to lose seats to the Tories will tread gingerly on the subject. The strongest voice on the subject will once again come from the anti-Europeans.

What the vote will really be about, however, is whether people want to use the
opportunity to express anger at the Government or whether they’re too turned
off politics to bother to vote at all. There’s nothing new in this. Turnout for the
European elections has always been abysmally low. Nor is this unique to Britain.
In France and in the new members of central and eastern Europe exactly the
same will hold true.

Give people a referendum and they may lock into the issues raised by membership of a continental-wide community (although even in referendums there is a strong element of using the opportunity to vote against a sitting domestic administration). Give them a chance to choose a representative for the European parliament, and it is doubtful whether the average citizens even knows the name of the candidates let alone what they do.

That is an indication of just how little the great European experiment has impressed itself upon the consciousness of the ordinary citizen. Of course it should be more democratic, its decisions should be more open to scrutiny (Edward Heath even suggested that the meetings of the Council of Ministers would be in public, and he was right). But talk of accountability and openness keeps falling into the chasm of public disinterest in its institutions, the parliament most of all.

The reality of European politics is that each nation uses the Union for its own purposes, not to subsume their sovereignty but to confirm it, the smaller countries to give the impression that they are bigger players than they are and the bigger countries to look as if they are the governors of a whole region.

The British in contrast have never shown any aptitude for European politics being both too pedantic in their interpretation of its rules and too dismissive of its importance in the round. That has resulted in a European policy that has always been more co-operative at the operating level than politicians here have liked to admit, but also far more self-justifying than it need be. Europe for the last 30 years has been treated as something apart, a foreign object separate from, and in many ways inimical to, our interests.

It hasn’t helped Britain in the past and it certainly won’t help us now. Just as with Tony Blair, it is wrong to pin Gordon Brown with the label of being pro-American and anti-European. In fact, like Blair, Brown personally enjoys good relations with many of Europe’s leaders, far better indeed with Nicolas Sarkozy than ever Blair had with President Chirac. But, just as with Blair, Brown tends to see British interests as best served by a close alliance with Washington, in which the Europeans have walk-on parts as supporters of an Anglo-American policy.

For Blair it was the decision to go in with President Bush in the invasion of Iraq. In Brown’s case it is to join with the US in a campaign to restructure the global economy along their lines. Fair enough. The two countries share a common system of finance and a joint shock in the crunch. But that sense of intimacy with Washington can be a dangerous seduction as Blair found.

At the same time Europe itself is changing. France and Germany, as we have seen from the G20, have reasserted their joint leadership on economic issues and on other major questions such as relations with Russia and the future of Nato membership, where Britain’s siding with Bush put us on the other side. But economic circumstances are forcing national governments to look to their own, in Europe as elsewhere. The reassertion of the Paris-Berlin axis is in itself a reassertion of major power dominance of Europe at the expense of the smaller countries.

Behind all the debates on the Lisbon Treaty and a new configuration of the Union lies a deeper question of whether Europe should be heading for a federalist, all-together future, a two-speed association in which the economically successful pull ahead of the less successful or a Europe of variable geometry entry in which different countries combine in different ways as the issue arises – France and Britain on defence, Britain and others on enlargement, France and Germany on fiscal matters. With Sarkozy now at the helm, France clearly leans towards the latter course. Germany, with its eye eastward, tends to the former. And the fact that so many countries, from old Europe as well as new, face economic problems has only added to the sense of fragmentation ion the continent.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Health
Kids’ health suffers when parents divorce
by Theola Labbe-DeBose

Sean Smith knows his two children, ages 5 and 7, eat balanced meals. Still, he wanted to make sure they got all the right nutrients. So when the Rockville, Md., resident heard about special kids’ vitamins, chewable like Gummi Bears, he wanted his children to take them. Their mom disagreed. Carolyn Rutsch also knows the kids eat healthy. So, she said, why would they need vitamins?

A typical difference of views, one of many small disagreements in parenting. But Smith and Rutsch are divorcing, and nothing about raising their children is as simple as it used to be. Decisions about children’s health, the small, everyday choices intrinsic to child-rearing, take on an added complexity when parents are split up.

Experts say that with legal questions of child custody focused on safety, visitation schedules and child support, how to handle health care for children without serious medical problems often becomes a lower priority on the long list of issues to settle — if it comes up at all.

Along with such minor issues as taking vitamins or not, there are larger questions: Will co-pay costs be shared? Should doctor’s appointments be at a time that works for both parents, or go by the schedule of the parent who’s with the child the majority of the time?

The answers depend on several factors, experts say, including the kinds of custody and financial arrangements that have been reached, either informally or through a court order. The divorce decree may spell out which parent will carry the insurance and how medical bills are to be split. For divorced parents, as well as for parents who never married, states such as Oregon require parenting plans that can be as detailed as how often a child is supposed to brush his teeth.

No matter what health-care arrangement may exist on paper, the biggest
contributing factor to successful coordination between separated parents is
the quality of their co-parenting relationship, said Brette McWhorter Sember, a
former divorce lawyer and mediator who has written several books on divorce
and co-parenting.

When that happens, a heated blame game ensues, she said. “When there’s
one parent that’s not on the ball and not as vigilant, it’s something that
drives a wedge through even the most stable couple,” Blair said. “If the
parents aren’t together and one parent isn’t being as vigilant, the anxiety
for the other parent goes through the roof.”

In cases where parents don’t communicate about appointments, access to medical records can be one way to stay up-to-date. Kaiser Permanente has an electronic medical records program that allows authorized users to access a child’s medical records online, including a summary of doctor visits, a complete overview of what happened and any needed follow-up.

No medical detail between separated parents is too small, said Blackstone-Ford, who initially clashed with her husband’s ex-wife; the two women later became friends and founded a nonprofit, Bonus Families, to help others.

“It doesn’t matter which parent goes to the appointment with the child, but they should volunteer as much information as possible. ... When you keep the information and use it as a weapon, that’s when you’re failing as a parent,” she said.

On a positive note, experts say that a child’s serious illness can bring together the most disagreeable parents, and even their new partners. That can be of great assistance in the child’s treatment, said Lynn Hardesty, who manages the Patient and Family Support Program at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s National Medical Center.

Hardesty said she always starts with a new family by talking with the mother and father, and then, depending on the family dynamics, she tries to incorporate new partners if there is a long-term relationship or a remarriage.

“Sometimes (those other adults) are the caregivers who have the best chance
to help children do some things that are difficult, like take the medicine that
tastes nasty or have blood drawn,” Hardesty said. “They can be supportive but
a touch more removed.”

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Corrections and clarifications

The report about eminent citizens joining hands to ensure a fair poll (Page 2, April 15), has been repeated with a PTI report on Page 7 the same day under the headline, “Ethical Fight” in the column Pollscape. It was avoidable.

In the report about Arjun Singh’s son being denied a Congress ticket (April 5, page 2), the minister has been described as Human Resources minister. It should have been ‘Human Resources Development’ minister.

In the report from Jaipur on Rajasthan Congress (April 5, page 2), a sentence speaks of ‘pressure being employed’. It should have been “pressure being applied”.

A report on the IMF (front page, April 3) speaks of ‘fighting the global crisis’. A more appropriate usage would have been to overcome the crisis.

Despite our earnest endeavour to keep The Tribune error-free, some errors do creep in at times. We are always eager to correct them. We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error.

We will carry corrections and clarifications, wherever necessary, every Tuesday & Friday. Readers in such cases can write to Mr Uttam Sengupta, Associate Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections” on the envelope. His e-mail ID is uttamsengupta@tribunemail.com.

H.K. Dua

Editor-in-Chief

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