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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

A shocking give and take
Mulayam couldn’t have been more crass
It is a fact of life that many deals are struck in politics, not all of which are holy. But nobody talks about them in public as brazenly as Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has done, saying in so many words that his party would support only that party which promised to dismiss Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati’s “unconstitutional” government in Uttar Pradesh.

Low polling in Delhi, Bihar
Signs of increasing voter apathy
I
t is rather strange that there is virtual euphoria over the 52 per cent polling in the seven Lok Sabha seats from Delhi. That Delhi’s chief electoral officer found it apt to congratulate the Capital’s residents for “coming out in large numbers” and the turnout was a record speaks of the low expectations from Delhi-ites whose apathy is chronic.


EARLIER STORIES

Obama to Zardari
May 8, 2009
Wanted: Partners
May 7, 2009
Get back black money
May 6, 2009
Crisis in Nepal
May 5, 2009
On a fast track
May 4, 2009
Intellectual and society
May 3, 2009
Low voter turnout in Mumbai
May 2, 2009
Combating the Taliban
May 1, 2009
Mr Q. again
April
30, 2009
Modi remains in the dock
April
29, 2009
Guns fall silent in Lanka
April
28, 2009


‘Husband’ redefined
SC applies anti-dowry law to live-in ties
T
he Supreme Court has once again proved itself the saviour of helpless women who are harassed and tortured by greedy men. It has come to the rescue of a hapless woman by ruling that the Anti-Dowry Act and anti-cruelty laws will apply to any man who lives, cohabits and exercises the authority of a husband over any woman, irrespective of whether they are legally married or not.

ARTICLE

Disgraceful cover-ups
But they can’t remain under wraps forever
by B.G. Verghese
T
he Quattrocchi cover-up is not surprising but disgraceful. This has been going on from the very start and the NDA’s record in pursuing some of the guilty is not a great deal better than that of the Congress. Each government has protected its own friends and used the CBI as a cat’s paw.

MIDDLE

The Leftover Billionaire
by Rajbir Deswal
W
e met him in Mcleod Ganj by the side of a momos vending stall. He was wearing dark brown branded ankle boots. Loosely laced. Worn out. His T-shirt was also branded. Red. With golden image of a fist. Torn. Leftover.

OPED

Pakistan’s critical hour
Govt lacks counter-insurgency strategy
by Ahmed Rashid
P
akistan is on the brink of chaos, and Congress is in a critical position: U.S. lawmakers can hasten that fateful process, halt it or even help turn things around. The speed and conditions with which Congress provides emergency aid to Islamabad will affect the Pakistani government and army’s ability and will to resist the Taliban onslaught. It will also affect America’s image in Pakistan and the region. Pakistanis are looking for evidence of the long-term U.S. commitment about which President Obama has spoken.

Drug addiction spreads
by Gobind Thukral
T
hree decades ago we visited the inner Malwa area of Punjab to find out the level of drug addiction. We heard shocking tales of how youth were getting hooked to opium, bhuki and narcotics. Worse, pharmaceutical combinations meant to treat diseases were being consumed for a high.

Bicycling away from bitterness
by Bob Pool
F
or a dozen years after a 1987 motorcycle accident cost him his left leg, Felix Hackenberg was bitter that he was no longer physically active. “My idea of fun had been to get out and run six miles to the top of Mount Hollywood and back,” he said. “Losing my leg was emotionally devastating. It didn’t make sense that my life should continue.”

 


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EDITORIALS

A shocking give and take
Mulayam couldn’t have been more crass

It is a fact of life that many deals are struck in politics, not all of which are holy. But nobody talks about them in public as brazenly as Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has done, saying in so many words that his party would support only that party which promised to dismiss Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati’s “unconstitutional” government in Uttar Pradesh. Lack of morality was writ large on this statement, but Mr Yadav had no qualms about that. Has the standard of politics really fallen so low that there is no need to make even a pretense about moral values? Mr Yadav has been a Chief Minister and even India’s Defence Minister and ought to know that a state government can be dismissed only if there is a total breakdown of constitutional machinery in a state. Even if his allegations that BSP functionaries have been extorting money are true, these cannot be the ground for sending her packing.

Ironically, he has himself been a strong opponent of the Centre having unbridled powers to sack a state government. But when it comes to pulling down his opponent, he is all for a disgusting quid pro quo and outright defiance of democratic norms. His shocking statement makes one wonder about the extent to which secret deals must be going, if this is what is freely admitted in public.

Now that he has let the cat out of the bag, whichever party joins hands with him will be liable to be accused of targeting Ms Mayawati. Perhaps that is why the Congress has been quick in clarifying that “whatever is constitutionally possible, we will not hesitate to do but we will not indulge in extra-constitutional activities”. To that extent, he has not really made himself more acceptable. But such are the vagaries of coalitional dharma that it won’t be a surprise if some parties do agree to the sordid give and take he is keen to make. The country must start thinking right now what to do if things indeed come to such a pass.
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Low polling in Delhi, Bihar
Signs of increasing voter apathy

It is rather strange that there is virtual euphoria over the 52 per cent polling in the seven Lok Sabha seats from Delhi. That Delhi’s chief electoral officer found it apt to congratulate the Capital’s residents for “coming out in large numbers” and the turnout was a record speaks of the low expectations from Delhi-ites whose apathy is chronic. In 1999 the turnout in Delhi was a mere 43 per cent and in the last elections in 2004 it crawled up to 47 per cent. But while 2009 is an improvement over earlier elections, it would be naïve for Delhi-ites to compare with Mumbai and Thane where poll percentage was an abysmal 49. Why don’t they compare with West Bengal which recorded 75 per cent polling or Punjab and Haryana where 68 and 64 per cent voters respectively exercised their franchise.

It is indeed a shame that the country’s Capital and its commercial hub Mumbai have both been guilty of lack of participation in the democratic process. While both metros have a substantial middle class who are adept at finding fault with everything around them and choose to blame the government for all the ills without accepting even a modicum of responsibility, at the other end of the spectrum are the impoverished states of Bihar and UP where polling has been very low this time as earlier. Considering that together the two states account for more than a fifth of the total seats of the Lok Sabha, their low participation inevitably casts a shadow on the quality of our democracy.

A contributing factor for the generally low turnout this time is that the election is being held in the searing heat of summer. Another is that there are no issues of wide appeal to charge the voters. There is also an element of disgust with the brand of politics and the quality of politicians. All in all, it is a matter of concern that voter apathy is growing as reflected by dipping percentages of voting in many states.

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‘Husband’ redefined
SC applies anti-dowry law to live-in ties

The Supreme Court has once again proved itself the saviour of helpless women who are harassed and tortured by greedy men. It has come to the rescue of a hapless woman by ruling that the Anti-Dowry Act and anti-cruelty laws will apply to any man who lives, cohabits and exercises the authority of a husband over any woman, irrespective of whether they are legally married or not. The Bench consisting of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice A.K. Ganguly has ruled that in cases in which dowry harassment has been alleged or a dowry death has occurred, a man cannot get away by claiming that he is not legally married to the woman. It has thus not only redefined the term ‘husband’ but also expanded the scope of the Anti-Dowry Act to cases involving live-in relationship.

The judgement came in response to a review petition filed by a man from Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh. Facing charges of harassing his wife under Section 498A IPC, he claimed that since he was earlier married and had never married the complainant in question, the question of dowry harassment would not arise and that he could not be punished under the law. He lost the case in the Andhra Pradesh High Court. Interestingly, the Supreme Court refused to go by the strict interpretation of the term “husband” as that would destroy the purpose of the statutory provisions and encourage harassment of a woman over a demand for money.

Justice Pasayat has ruled that while the terms “husband” and “wife” may require strict technical and legalistic interpretation where claims for civil rights or right to property may follow, a “liberal approach” is acceptable when the question of curbing a social evil is concerned. A narrow interpretation would defeat the purpose of anti-dowry laws, the court maintained. Few can disagree with this judgement as there is a dire need to check increasing cases of harassment of women engaged in live-in relationships. There is need to interpret laws enacted to curb evils like the dowry menace with a “certain element of realism”. Surely, the ruling will act as a deterrent against those harassing and torturing women for dowry and yet trying to escape from punishment.
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Thought for the Day

Go to where the silence is and say something.

– Amy Goodman
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ARTICLE

Disgraceful cover-ups
But they can’t remain under wraps forever
by B.G. Verghese

The Quattrocchi cover-up is not surprising but disgraceful. This has been going on from the very start and the NDA’s record in pursuing some of the guilty is not a great deal better than that of the Congress. Each government has protected its own friends and used the CBI as a cat’s paw. The reputation of the CBI, “India’s premier investigation agency”, is in tatters as weak officials have bent before scheming and dishonest superiors. The H.R. Bharadwajs and Milon Banerjis will be swept into the dustbin of history but they will have left their mark by their betrayal of the majesty of high office. The Attorney-General, a constitutional functionary, is there to give independent advice and has the right to address Parliament, thus making him a servant of the people and not a lackey of the government.

The damage done to the CBI over the years is irreparable. It needs to be totally reconstituted under a new charter that guarantees the autonomy of its personnel and functioning. It must also be equipped with independent prosecution machinery that is self-actuating so that it can act on its findings without taking partisan directions from the government of the day. The conspiracy of silence and masterly inactivity in formally announcing accession to the UN Convention on Corruption, which India has signed, shows - as in the case of police reforms - that a coalition of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats across the board does not wish to pursue graft, which has become the lubricant of (dirty) politics and dubious commerce. Activating the UN Convention would have enabled India to seek Quattrocchi’s extradition and the freezing of his bank accounts. These issues do not figure in current party manifestos.

Fortunately, not all cover-ups remain permanently under wraps. The Supreme Court has just directed that 14 heinous Gujarat 2002 riot cases shall be prosecuted in special courts on a day-to-day basis under the direction of the Special Investigation Team. There had been a five-year stay on these cases, on a plea that they be heard outside the state. This prayer has not been granted but the fact that the Supreme Court has assumed direct supervision of the progress of the cases under the SIT is reassuring. But why did it take five years to vacate the stay in respect of such supremely abhorrent cases that allowed the prime accused to walk free, assume office, strut around and use their influence to subvert justice.

The court has also ordered the SIT to probe the role of Mr Narendra Modi as Chief Minister in aiding and abetting the Gujarat riots as charged by Mrs Zakia Jafri, the widow of the Congress MP who was vivisected and then roasted alive in one of the many gruesome acts of utter barbarity that characterised the Gujarat holocaust. And what has been the reaction? Mr Modi’s supporters have asked Gujarat’s electorate for votes to prevent him from being jailed, a perverse plea that grotesquely suggests that electoral victory places those charged with complicity in murder and mayhem above the law. Mr Modi himself has called the Supreme Court order a conspiracy against him and the people of Gujarat who have benefited from development. Development is a virtue but not an absolute value irrespective of the larger environment. Hitler, too, made trains run on time. Mr Modi knows the net is slowly closing in on him.

In Sri Lanka, the “humanitarian crisis” being forecast by Tamil chauvinists and distant international observers who would divert attention from their own sins nearer home, has proved increasingly hollow. Television footage and statements made by senior LTTE leaders who have surrendered and fleeing Tamil refugees long held hostage to provide a human shield tell a very different story. And anybody who thinks that one can make omelettes without breaking eggs must be both fool and charlatan. Wars are not happy events. Indiscriminate terror against innocents is worse. Meanwhile, the chauvinist hysteria roused in Tamil Nadu has led to a shocking attack on Army jawans that should not go unpunished.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the Hurriyat displayed some backbone for a couple of days by defying its Pakistani mentors’ call to boycott the ongoing elections. It then slavishly fell in line, making another of its inane justificatory declamations. The absurdity lies in the fact that Pakistan is being destroyed by the very terrorist jihadis that the Hurriyat upholds.

Finally, in West Bengal, the Left has had to surrender to irate Naxal-backed tribals in Lalgarh, a clutch of 118 villages in West Midnapore district where people have been antagonised by alleged police zoolum. The Left’s heroic rhetoric notwithstanding, emerging facts speak to the contrary. The democratic record of the Left government has been poor. Governance has systematically favoured cadres against citizens. The development record, especially HDI indices over the past several years, has been poor with West Bengal steadily losing ground as against states that were until recently behind it. A report card prepared by Bibek Debroy, citing Central and official West Bengal statistics, maps how the state is becoming comparatively disadvantaged and unable to utilise the resources provided to it by the Centre. In Kerala, too, the Left is hopelessly divided and ideologically unable to grasp the opportunities that come its way. Unless the Left can get out of the ideological hole it has dug for itself, its dreams of Third Front primacy will remain a chimera.
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MIDDLE

The Leftover Billionaire
by Rajbir Deswal

We met him in Mcleod Ganj by the side of a momos vending stall. He was wearing dark brown branded ankle boots. Loosely laced. Worn out. His T-shirt was also branded. Red. With golden image of a fist. Torn. Leftover.

In between the boots and T-shirt, he wore nothing. His age? A little more than a year. His hands flew reflexively for a grab. Money. Eatables. Anything. Not that his photo might make it to the front page, yet he liked the flash on being shot. He was a child too besides being a ‘thoroughbred beggar’.

Did he have his polio drops on time? Did he have his vaccinations and inoculations? Did he have his daily fill of belly? Will he go to the kindergarten? Will he have games and fun? Will he have his parents’ care and caressing? Will he find his mother’s lap, when the thunderstorm will scare him? Well, I don’t really think so.

A couple came out of the monastery discussing 14th Dalai Lama’s name being Tenzin Gyatso. The woman bought a plate of momos.  She ate one and was about to throw the rest. The child’s little hands went up in the air when she generously shifted the dump into his little waiting hands.

He accommodated the throw. Secured it like a good catcher. Didn’t stop to show obligation to the woman. With the momos firmly in his grip, he rushed to his mother. To show her his gain. And seek her kudos. His joy was that of a champion.

She smiled at him. His milk teeth landed on the momos to make some dent there. He licked them. And then ate up. Tears trickled from his eyes. But he was happy. With a loud burp he sat almost as if on his haunches. He didn’t claim what others possessed. He was happy to make do with the leftovers.

I give him all my Oscars. For he is the child of our making. And who knows some 20 years from now, he sits on the hotseat to answer a scion of the Bachchans, the last question for one billion rupees, on Dalai Lama’s real name!

I and my wife would also be invited at the Oscars presentation ceremony to walk that red carpet then, for we were the ones, who came out of the monastery, to give ‘the leftover billionaire’ his cue.

Whoever said, “It takes the whole village to raise a child!”
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OPED

Pakistan’s critical hour
Govt lacks counter-insurgency strategy
by Ahmed Rashid

Pakistan is on the brink of chaos, and Congress is in a critical position: U.S. lawmakers can hasten that fateful process, halt it or even help turn things around. The speed and conditions with which Congress provides emergency aid to Islamabad will affect the Pakistani government and army’s ability and will to resist the Taliban onslaught. It will also affect America’s image in Pakistan and the region. Pakistanis are looking for evidence of the long-term U.S. commitment about which President Obama has spoken.

Since Obama announced his strategic review of U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, worsening conditions here have nudged Afghanistan from the top of his foreign policy agenda. Pakistanis are beset by a galloping Taliban insurgency in the north that is based not just among Pashtuns, as in Afghanistan, but that has extensive links to al-Qaida and jihadist groups in Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan.

That means the Taliban offensive in northern Pakistan has the potential to become a nationwide movement within a few months. Violence is already spreading. In recent days, at least 36 people have been killed in Karachi.

In the past, many of these jihadist groups, including the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, have been fostered by Pakistan’s army and intelligence services — at the cost of global security, democracy and civil society. The Bush administration ignored this trend for years while it pumped more than $11 billion into Pakistan. The bulk of that funding went to the military, which bought arms to fight Pakistan’s historic enemy, India, rather than the insurgency.

The army’s recent counteroffensive against the Taliban was prompted in part by U.S. pressure and, more significant, by a dramatic shift in public opinion toward opposing the Taliban. Many people are beginning to see the country threatened by a bloody internal revolution. This public pressure can lead to a major change in army policies toward India and Afghanistan.

But the army and the civilian government still lack a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy as well as a plan to deal with the 1 million refugees who have fled the fighting. Every government official I have met says that the country is bankrupt and that there is no money to fight the insurgency, let alone deal with the refugees.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asked Congress for $497 million in emergency funds to stabilize Pakistan’s economy, strengthen law enforcement and help the refugees. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked for $400 million in aid to the army, funds that would be monitored by U.S. Central Command. Lawmakers are hesitating, wanting to tie these emergency funds to the $83 billion the administration has asked for to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But delays are dangerous. Congress should authorize these funds quickly, giving the Obama administration tools to convince the Pakistani people that it is standing behind them. Immediate aid, and providing U.S. helicopters for the army’s use, would shore up Pakistanis’ resolve and could help persuade the army to accept the counterinsurgency training the United States has offered for the past year (but which has been refused because of the army’s focus on India).

Other legislation before Congress would provide $1.5 billion a year to Pakistan for the next five years. But the extensive conditions — as varied as improving relations with India, fighting the Afghan Taliban and allowing the U.S. interrogation of Pakistani nuclear scientists — are too much for any Pakistani government to accept and survive politically.

Certainly the United States can demand that its money be used for good purposes. The original Biden-Lugar bill introduced last year had the mix just right, setting down three strategic benchmarks — that Pakistan be committed to fighting terrorism, that Pakistan remain a democracy (in other words, the army must not seize control), and that both nations provide public and official accountability for the funds. Unlike the extensive conditions that lawmakers are seeking to impose now, such broad parameters would provide space for further negotiations and progress between Pakistan and the United States.

Pakistan is deteriorating. Congress should pass the emergency funds quickly and, at minimum, offer the first year of the $1.5 billion without conditions to foster stability between the two sides at this critical juncture and ensure that the powerful right wing here has no excuse to once again decry U.S. aid as politically motivated. At the least, U.S. lawmakers should stipulate that aid for Pakistani and Western aid agencies involved in development, particularly agriculture, education and job creation, should not be conditioned.

U.S. flexibility to set a minimum of conditions that can be further negotiated once aid delivery begins could become a model for donors in Europe and Japan.

For three decades, I have written about the fire that Islamic militancy has lit in this region. I do not want to see my country go down because Congress is more concerned with minutiae than with the big picture. Yes, there must be a sea change in attitudes and policies in the army, intelligence services and civilian government. But tomorrow may be too late. Pakistan needs help today.

The writer, a Pakistani journalist and a fellow at the Pacific Council on International Policy, is the author of “Descent Into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia”

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
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Drug addiction spreads
by Gobind Thukral

Three decades ago we visited the inner Malwa area of Punjab to find out the level of drug addiction. We heard shocking tales of how youth were getting hooked to opium, bhuki and narcotics. Worse, pharmaceutical combinations meant to treat diseases were being consumed for a high.

At Bathinda’s Red Cross de-addiction centre, some well-built youth hailing from rich land-owning families looked pale and forlorn. Some were even married and had children. Doctors and relatives were working hard to wean them from the deadly habit but with limited success.

Parents cursed their fate as wives and sisters prayed to the Almighty to help their husbands and brothers recover. Farm labourers were more miserable as not many had relatives and friends to help them get out of the killer habit. In all, it was a miserable story of hopelessness.

Those were then the sad tales from the Malwa of Punjab. Now drug addiction has spread to all corners of Punjab and Chandigarh. In many villages, towns and cities, not a single family is spared. Haggard youth, locally called “smackia”, greet you at bus terminals, in street corners, close to chemist shops and liquor vends. At marriages and other social gatherings they form separate groups.

Elders advise you to steer clear of these louts. Many parents and elders wish them either dead or move to some foreign lands with the hope that work would reform them.

A senior doctor at Chandigarh’s PGI has estimated the number of drug addicts at several lakhs in Punjab. He also revealed shocking tales of ingenuity like roasting of lizards or even consuming pain killers and tranquillisers of various forms. Narcotic powder and heroin seized in Punjab in the last three years is sufficient as a single dose for over 50 lakh people.

Once hooked, young men soon graduate to cough syrups and then move on to a lethal diet of opium, charas, ganja, mandrax, smack and heroin. Those who cannot afford these take a deep breath of petrol or spread Iodex on bread to get a momentary thrill.

Studies by PGI doctors over the years have found peer pressure, thrill-seeking and even curiosity about drugs as the main factors that make youth take to drugs. Lack of any purpose in life was another key reason.

Myths related to sexual potency, thrill-seeking and punitive attitude of elders and lack of support during periods of stress were other reasons for drug addiction. This widespread consumption of intoxicants gives a false sense of coming-of-age status for youth.

The Punjab Department of Social Security Development of Women and Children conducted a survey in 2005 and found 67 per cent of the rural households in Punjab having one drug addict each. The report that covered Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur, Amritsar, Ferozepur, Ludhiana, Muktsar and Gurdaspur found narcotics were the most common form of addiction.

Dr Ravinder Singh Sandhu, Professor, Department of Sociology, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, found more than 73 per cent of drug addicts belong to the age group of 16-35 years. There are numerous studies to warn political and social leaders of the dangerous situation where Punjab has landed in. Intriguingly, the excise policy followed by the successive governments is liberal and aims at getting more and more taxes through more and more liquor vends.

Currently, the revenue is around Rs 1,728 crore as opposed to Rs 1,656 crore in 2007-08.

There were 6,902 liquor vends in Punjab. In Chandigarh there are more liquor vends than government primary schools. Now add to this illicit distillation, almost two times and the sixth river of Punjab is full of intoxicants.

There is a well-knit nexus that makes the supply and sale of drugs a smooth lucrative business and it puts to shame the government’s lethargic corrupt functioning. The smuggler-police-politician nexus, aided by a chain of retail outlets, works smoothly. Interestingly, politicians and law-enforcement agents blame each other for the mess. We all know how politicians use smugglers for money and musclemen.

Chemists along with quacks, drug peddlers and truck drivers have been identified as the main supply sources of drugs in Punjab. Chemists provide drugs to addicts without a prescription. Even many of the so-called de-addiction centres are actually proving to be addiction centres. These are, in fact, supplying drugs to the inmates. The number of chemist shops and de-addiction centres has increased at an unbelievable rate. Private de-addiction centres lack basic facilities but earn a quick buck.

Now during the election time, the supply is maintained by political leaders to please voters. Several thousand new drug addicts have been added during the present elections.

The problem has assumed epidemic proportions in the rural areas where the education level is low and unemployment rampant. Not a single village is without scores of drug addicts.

Is this not the time for leaders like Mr Parkash Singh Badal and Capt Amarinder Singh to at least instruct their candidates and cadres not to supply drugs to voters?
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Bicycling away from bitterness
by Bob Pool

For a dozen years after a 1987 motorcycle accident cost him his left leg, Felix Hackenberg was bitter that he was no longer physically active.

“My idea of fun had been to get out and run six miles to the top of Mount Hollywood and back,” he said. “Losing my leg was emotionally devastating. It didn’t make sense that my life should continue.”

But during a 1999 appointment with a prosthetist Hackenberg was asked if he had considered riding a bicycle. No, he replied, but he was willing to try.

“I thought I’d have to put a mattress on my left side in case I fell,” he said. “But I got on the thing and immediately had balance. I could ride it.”

He hasn’t stopped pedaling since. The 58-year-old is a daily fixture on streets near his Hollywood home, in Griffith Park and on steep mountain roads such as Mulholland Highway.

Motorists do double-takes when they notice that the man in the colorful spandex racing clothes has only one leg. Other bicyclists’ jaws drop when he overtakes and then passes them on steep inclines.

Hackenberg has removed the left pedal from each of his four bicycles — a titanium-framed Lightspeed Firenze road bike, a single-speed Italian race bike, a 21-speed Raleigh mountain bike and a cyclocross-tire-equipped Giant fitness bike.

“I don’t need the extra pedal. I’m interested in having a light bike and going fast, so I sawed the left pedal arms off the bikes,” he said.

A cleat on his shoe clips onto the right pedal. “It holds on there so you can pull up as well as push down with your leg.”

When he has to stop, he pulls over to the curb and grabs a pole or signpost or twists his foot out of the pedal clip and rests it on the ground.

Hackenberg enjoys bike riding so much that he has given up his car.

He rides in the Los Angeles Marathon’s Acura bike tour and placed 35th in a recent one, covering a 24-mile course in 59 minutes.

His longest ride has been 70 miles around the west side of Los Angeles County.

Hackenberg particularly likes riding in Griffith Park near downtown Los Angeles.

“Sometimes on top of Mount Lee there are clouds and mist, and the sun is coming through, and it’s just absolutely gorgeous,” he said of the mountain behind the Hollywood sign.

“Bombing down those hills with the hairpin turns is just outrageous. It’s like skiing. When I was a kid, I was a snow skier and would do swoops. You can do that on a bike,” he said.

Those seeing Hackenberg on his bike for the first time sometimes flag him down.

“The reaction of people is usually like, `Whoa, dude! You’re the man.’ One woman stopped me and said she was having a terrible day, but when she saw me riding the bike everything changed for her,” he said.

Stephen Box, one of Los Angeles’ leading bicycle activists, said Hackenberg has lapped him and others who ride a six-mile Griffith Park circuit that is popular with cyclists. “Seeing him makes you realize you really do have a great deal to be thankful for,” Box said.

Hackenberg’s wife, Karen, who was riding on the motorcycle with him when a car pulled in front of them in April 1987, was less seriously injured in the crash. Although she realizes that city streets are still hazardous, she is supportive of his urban bicycle riding.

Hackenberg uses what he calls his “fake leg” during the day when he works as a Scientology minister, he said. But he leaves it behind when he heads out on his bike.

“It’s cumbersome, and usually you’ve got one pain or another going with it,” he said of the prothesis. “For my pleasure time it’s time to get rid of that thing, hop on the bike and go.”

And he has let go of the despair that followed the loss of his leg.

“There was a lot of apathy and grief going on those 12 years,” he said.

“I could be bitter at the guy for pulling out in front of me. But ultimately we’re all responsible for whatever happens to us.”

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
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