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EDITORIALS

The failed fronts
The sight of shattered ambitions is amusing
T
rue to the expectations, the so-called Third Front has crumbled in a heap before it could find its way. In the wake of the Congress-led UPA’s victory in the Lok Sabha elections, its leaders are groping as never before. Much ado was made about the front which had the Left as its torch-bearer and a disparate group of parties, including the Telugu Desam, the AIADMK, the BSP and the JD (S) among those in tow.

Nitish stands tall
He has also raised people’s hopes of him
Bihar sends as many as 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha and, in a role reversal of sorts, a major share has gone to the Janata Dal (United) headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. By bagging 32 seats, the NDA coalition in Bihar turned the 2004 verdict upside down because five years ago, it was the UPA alliance which had won almost the same number of seats from the state.




EARLIER STORIES

Advani stays put
May 20, 2009
Vote for growth
May 19, 2009
North by North-West
May 18, 2009
Risat 2: A feather in the cap
May 17, 2009
The countdown begins
May 16, 2009
Regional satraps in demand
May 15, 2009
Well-done, EC
May 14, 2009
Can’t be just goodwill
May 13, 2009
Before and after
May 12, 2009
Plunder of Aravali
May 11, 2009


Women in Parliament
No major change in the new Lok Sabha
The women’s representation in the 15th Lok Sabha has slightly gone up. There are now 59 of them — 13 more than in the last House and nine more than the previous best of 49 in the 13th Lok Sabha. Now they constitute a little over 10 per cent of the total strength of the House. However, as India has over one billion people, this number is too small.

ARTICLE

A famous victory
The issues that merit govt’s attention
by B.G. Verghese
T
he results exceeded everybody’s expectations. Mr L. K. Advani, Mr Narendra Modi, Ms Mayawati, Mr Sharad Pawar and others need no longer keep vigil, waiting to be annointed prime minister. Nor need Mr Prakash Karat wait to play his superior role as king-maker. The electorate has declared otherwise. The Third Front, a mis-alliance if there ever was one, and the Fourth Front have crumbled without a trace. There are no mourners.

MIDDLE

Lines of loyalty
by B.K. Karkra
W
hen the Indian Cricket League and the Indian Premier League tournaments were launched in our country, I thought that I would have nothing to do with these. Though I myself have been captain of a club-level cricket team in Delhi, I often wondered if I really had any interest in proper nuances of the game.

OPED

Politics of caste and religion may soon get outdated
Ashis Ray writes from London
T
he past 20 years have been an agonising period for many a non-resident Indian (NRI); the kind of people whose circumstances may have kept them overseas, but who remain steadfast to their Indian roots by refusing the convenience of a first world passport.

Meltdown: Repeating a 1930s mistake
by Sebastian Mallaby
T
hose who are ignorant of history will be condemned to repeat it, as a teacher no doubt told you long ago. But the urgent question today is actually the opposite one: Can a team that is positively steeped in history — particularly the history of the 1930s — avoid the mistakes of that era and engineer a quick recovery from a Depression-size shock?

Inside Pakistan
Hopes from India after the polls
by Syed Nooruzzaman
The outcome of the Lok Sabha elections in India has led to the expectation in Pakistan that the stalled India-Pakistan dialogue process may get revived in the near future. This is based on the fact that the Congress-led UPA will be in a position to provide a government that can take bold decisions. The Pakistan media also hopes that the US may now be more actively working for better relations between the two neighbours.

  • Support for Army operation

  • Why preach hatred?


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EDITORIALS

The failed fronts
The sight of shattered ambitions is amusing

True to the expectations, the so-called Third Front has crumbled in a heap before it could find its way. In the wake of the Congress-led UPA’s victory in the Lok Sabha elections, its leaders are groping as never before. Much ado was made about the front which had the Left as its torch-bearer and a disparate group of parties, including the Telugu Desam, the AIADMK, the BSP and the JD (S) among those in tow. With nothing in common, the only glue was the desire to take advantage of a pre-conceived situation in which no party or group was expected to emerge with a majority. Practically every constituent’s leader was nursing a desire to become Prime Miniter. The results must have made them realize that Indian voters do not go by the wishes of the leaders cut off from the people

The results of the Lok Sabha elections have indeed come as a rude shock to all the leaders of the Third Front, including its sponsor, the CPM. Little had they expected that the Congress-led UPA would come through with a decisive mandate that would make all others virtually redundant. Equally stunned are the leaders of the so-called Fourth Front of the Samajwadi Party, the RJD and the LJP which made a public display of flexing of muscles with the Congress only to find that it had over-played its card.

While the CPM’s Prakash Karat is today a chastened man, acknowledging belatedly that the Third Front was a serious error of judgement, the mercurial Mayawati is doing everything to please the Congress. Her bete noire Mulayam Singh Yadav is no different, promising outside support to the upcoming UPA government. The normally-irrepressible Jayalalithaa is also striving for the new dispensation’s attention. The theatrical Lalu Yadav appears a different man altogether. As for H. D. Deve Gowda’s JD (S), a change of stance is virtually a habit. It is indeed surprising how an election can change the entire picture with erstwhile hawks turning doves in quest of some crumbs of power. In a polity in which principles and ideologies count for little, the sight of fallen leaders and shattered ambitions can only be amusing.

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Nitish stands tall
He has also raised people’s hopes of him

Bihar sends as many as 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha and, in a role reversal of sorts, a major share has gone to the Janata Dal (United) headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. By bagging 32 seats, the NDA coalition in Bihar turned the 2004 verdict upside down because five years ago, it was the UPA alliance which had won almost the same number of seats from the state. The UPA partners this time paid for the folly of contesting independently in the state. While Mr Ram Bilas Paswan failed to retain even his own seat, not a single candidate put up by his Lok Janshakti Party ( LJP) managed to win. Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav returned to the Lok Sabha crestfallen, leading a pack of merely four RJD MPs. With a serious dent in their image and power, the LJP and the RJD are likely to face dissension in their state units. The clamour for the removal of Mr Lalu Lalu Yadav’s wife Rabri Devi, who remains the Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly, is also likely to become shriller and it may not be easy for him and Mr Paswan to keep their flocks together.

The Congress also paid for its last-minute decision to go it alone in Bihar, and for the unseemly haste with which it accepted dubious characters like Mr Lalu Prasad’s brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav and jailed don Pappu Yadav into the party fold. The Congress may have managed to galvanise its moribund state-unit for the elections but at the end of the day it could manage to win just two seats out of the 37 it contested. The election was virtually a referendum on Mr Nitish Kumar’s government, and the electorate left no doubt about what it felt while outrightly rejecting the negative campaign of Messrs Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Bilas Paswan, who accused Mr Nitish Kumar of doing little for the state. The result has not only strengthened the JD(U) leader’s position but will also have a far-reaching impact on the state’s politics.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which had a piggyback ride in the election campaign led by Mr Nitish Kumar, who, incidentally, forbade the BJP’s star campaigner Narendra Modi from visiting the state, may also find itself like a lost child. With the JD(U) driving a distinction between its agenda of governance and the BJP brand of Hindutva, it seems only a matter of time before the two allies part ways. Mr Nitish Kumar has emerged taller in Bihar’s politics and has also raised expectations of the people who will be asking him to pull the state out of the mess it has been in for years. The indulgent can be cruel, when disillusioned.

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Women in Parliament
No major change in the new Lok Sabha

The women’s representation in the 15th Lok Sabha has slightly gone up. There are now 59 of them — 13 more than in the last House and nine more than the previous best of 49 in the 13th Lok Sabha. Now they constitute a little over 10 per cent of the total strength of the House. However, as India has over one billion people, this number is too small. Parliament had the privilege of having many prominent women as members over the years. Veteran MPs such as Sushila Gopalan, Gita Mukherjee, Pramila Dandavate and Mrinal Gore had effectively championed the cause of women in the debates. More recently, while Ms Renuka Chowdhury (who has lost the election from Khammam) had done good work, Mrs Sushma Swaraj, Ms Selja and Ms Priya Dutt have won the election. Surely, the Lok Sabha needs more female MPs for safeguarding women’s rights and interests.

Surprisingly, the gender ratio in Parliament has not improved despite the political parties’ commitment to give greater representation to women. In this context, the Congress and the BJP have not measured up to the task. The Bill providing for 33 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures has been hanging fire for years in the absence of an all-party consensus. When the UPA government introduced the Bill last time, regional parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party played a spoilsport.

Now that the Manmohan Singh government need not depend upon the regional parties for its survival, thanks to the Congress party’s good performance in the elections, it should take the initiative to improve the gender ratio in Parliament. There is no need for a constitutional amendment. If all political parties agree to reserve one-third of the seats for women in Parliament and the state legislatures, a simple amendment to the Representation of the People Act will do. This is the best possible way to empower women — a formula which was approved by the Election Commission. We must have more women MPs and MLAs to help improve their status and give them their due in our male-dominated society.

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Thought for the Day

A neurosis is a secret you don’t know you’re keeping. — Kenneth Tynan

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ARTICLE

A famous victory
The issues that merit govt’s attention
by B.G. Verghese

The results exceeded everybody’s expectations. Mr L. K. Advani, Mr Narendra Modi, Ms Mayawati, Mr Sharad Pawar and others need no longer keep vigil, waiting to be annointed prime minister. Nor need Mr Prakash Karat wait to play his superior role as king-maker. The electorate has declared otherwise. The Third Front, a mis-alliance if there ever was one, and the Fourth Front have crumbled without a trace. There are no mourners. The 24 x 7 channels and their unceasingly talking heads, which trivialised the elections as they do much else, are busy reading profound meanings in what they trashed.

The BJP has had its comeuppance. It ran a poor and largely negative “presidential” campaign under an arrogant and divisive leadership, harking back to its Hindutva plank and proving once again the hugely complex fact for some that you cannot walk backwards into the future. It embraced Mr Varun Gandhi’s poisonous vituperations while appearing to reject him.

It put forward Mr Modi as Mr Advani’s successor as prime minister forgetting that with the Supreme Court having assumed supervisory control over justice in Gujarat through the SIT, special fast track courts and independent public prosecutors, the man may have little time a year from now, what with keeping himself from being arraigned for complicity in the 2002 genocide. Nor was the electorate forgiving, especially in Mumbai, for the BJP’s attitude on 26/11, critisising the Congress for its handling of terror yet seeking to protest the trial of “Hindu terror” so-called only because it labelled all other terror “Muslim terror”, a staple in its hate campaign.

The BJP will now have to introspect and decide whether it wants to continue on the path of irrelevance, exclusion and violence by pursing an inherently divisive and wounding Hindutva agenda or reinvent itself as a democratic right of centre party, free of such negative, unaccountable encumbrances as the RSS, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, the Shiv Sena, the Ram Sene and the Hindu Munani, albatrosses around its neck. If Hindutva is to go, Mr Advani must go too as he has assumed the role of its mentor ever since the disastrous rath yatra and its bloody toll.

The Left has also suffered a great fall, as a consequence of its arrogance, politics of blackmail and seeking power without responsibility while claiming to support the UPA. The notion that the UPA owes thanks for highly successful programmes like NREGA — which has fared poorly in West Bengal — and the RTI to the vanguard role of the Left is nonsense. It blocked reforms and sought a veto over the civil nuclear deal which, over time, will increasingly be seen as a major gain that has restored India equity and room for manoeuvre on the international stage. What it sought to do in West Bengal and Kerala it noisily sought to block elsewhere in India.

It remains an ideological fossil in a fast changing and modernising world. And the Big Brother CPM was poorly led by an inflexible, egotistical commissar whose days in leadership are surely numbered. This is probably end-game for the Left Front whose smaller partners may now prefer to go their own way to political oblivion.

Ms Mayawati, another self-propelled prime ministerial hopeful, has been cut to size not on account of conspiracies against Dalit-ki-beti but because of her own greed, corruption and authoritarianism that is fast blunting her original appeal as a Dalit leader intent on forging a wider social alliance. People do not want innumerable self-aggrandising statues and mausoleums at the cost of good governance and welfare. She perhaps still has time to learn and mend her ways.

J&K’s nationalist consolidation and the defeat of the Amarnath Yatra leader, Mr Leela Karan, paves the way for quick movement on internal resolution within the state. The Yadav-RJD caste combine in UP-Bihar is licking its wounds. The UPA does not need their kind of opportunistic caste and vote bank politics, nor the petty intrigues of men like Mr Amar Singh. Mr Nitish Kumar has done well by focussing on governance. In Tamil Nadu, Dravida chauvinism over Sri Lanka has found little purchase. The DMK has done well but cannot, therefore, demand three Cabinet seats for the ruling family.

Dr Manmohan Singh has emerged far stronger and must now not yield to pressures to have others choose persons for and portfolios in his Cabinet. There was a lot of deadwood, misfits and corrupt elements in the outgoing ministry. This is unacceptable if reform and performance are to be the hallmark of the new government. Mr Rahul Gandhi has certainly done well as a campaigner and party organizer, but it is feudal and foolish for sycophants insistently to demand his induction into the Cabinet as prime minister-in-waiting. If the Congress wants to renew itself it must be build itself bottom up.

Finally, the new government need not hunt for any bogus “magic number” of 272 and invite horse-trading. It will enjoy a three to six month honeymoon within which to push through its earlier thwarted agenda and its new reform programme. Reforming the police, intelligence, CBI-anti-corruption apparatus and the criminal justice system are fundamental. The restructuring of foreign relations, especially with regard to the neighbourhood policy, also merits attention.

The Congress now has a clear mandate to go forward on previously contested issues. The BJP and the Left tin turn have an obligation not to stall their implementation by preventing Parliament from functioning as they very undemocratically did before.

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MIDDLE

Lines of loyalty
by B.K. Karkra

When the Indian Cricket League and the Indian Premier League tournaments were launched in our country, I thought that I would have nothing to do with these. Though I myself have been captain of a club-level cricket team in Delhi, I often wondered if I really had any interest in proper nuances of the game.

I felt fascinated to cricket merely because this is one sport – a major one at that – where my country counts. The meaningless clash of a few clubs, where there was no scope for taking sides, would, thus, never excite my interest.

Soon, however, I was to find myself sucked in the vortex along with millions, because of the hype created around these meets by the media and the money power. Once there, I learnt to take sides to enjoy the carnival. After all, Delhi is the place where I live. Rajasthan is the state where my parents lived and died. Punjab is the land of my ancestors where they fought the Mughals by the side of Banda Bairagi and where one of them was to later hold the high office of the Diwan of Nabha.

A belief also prevails in our family that one of our ancestors paid a  huge amount of money to the then fauzdar of Sirhind to obtain bodies of the two sahibzadas of the tenth Guru to ensure performance of their proper last rites. There was, thus, enough material for my regional sense of loyalty to feed on.

My one wish is to see that Delhi, Rajasthan and Punjab make to the semi-finals of the IPL this year and two of them contest in the finals. I am sure my compatriots haling from other parts of the country must be suffering from similar obsessions of their own.

Our lines of loyalty, in fact, run in many directions. We are committed to our countries, communities, clubs and have countless other allegiances too.  All make a demand of their own on us. Accordingly, my second wish is that the Indian players should outshine the foreign players in their teams. I want to see our players wearing the orange and purple caps all the time.

Thus, when Chennai and Hydrabad are playing, I would like  R.P.Singh to mop up the wickets of Hayden and other outsiders, rather than that of Raina and Dhoni. In fact, the permutations and combinations in the situation are so many that sometimes I do not really know what I actually want. This way, however, I manage to keep my interest alive in all the games.

Occasionally, when the things do not move in line with my liking, I put myself at ease thinking that the others also have an equal right to wish their own way. After all, one God is every one’s God and He has to be just and fair to every body.

What adds to my sense of interest and elation further is that those who thought nothing much of our country the other day are now so keen to be a part of our show.

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OPED

Politics of caste and religion may soon get outdated
Ashis Ray writes from London

The past 20 years have been an agonising period for many a non-resident Indian (NRI); the kind of people whose circumstances may have kept them overseas, but who remain steadfast to their Indian roots by refusing the convenience of a first world passport.

(And who, by the way, are still denied the exercise of their franchise. Even South Africa — only a 15-year-old democracy — arranged for their expatriates to cast their votes at its diplomatic missions last month.)

The ugly ascent of communalism in India has been an embarrassment for the Indian abroad. Religious harmony has, of course, never been a fact in India. But the state at least maintained a scaffolding of secularism; and most political parties generally adhered to this constitutional edict.

But the decay in the Congress under Indira and Rajiv Gandhi not only resulted in their defeat in the 1989 elections, but also in a disintegration of the secular cohesion in the country.

Vishwanath Pratap Singh’s announcement of affirmative action for other backward castes (OBCs) splintered his Janata Dal into caste formations. The Scheduled Castes also abandoned the Congress to consolidate independently. By default, even non-religious elements turned to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP’s comparative lack of electoral support persisted right up to the 1984 general election, wherein they only garnered 7.4 per cent of the votes. They had only two MPs in the Lok Sabha.

In 1989, this figure catapulted to 85 (thanks partly to V P Singh leaving uncontested a swathe of seats); in 1991 the number became 120 seats, before it peaked at 182 seats in 1998 and 1999, prior to declining to 138 seats in 2004.

In 1989, the BJP crossed the 10 per cent mark for the first time by mustering 11.36 per cent of votes. This in 1998 rose to 25.59 per cent, although it recorded its best success rate per candidate — of 53.69 per cent — in 1999. In 2004, this fell to 37.91 per cent.

In the six years of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government, the Sangh Parivar relentlessly injected its poison into the system. Wherever the BJP has been in power in the states, minorities have been terrorised, if not actually killed. Nuns have been raped. Ironically, even Hindus have been assaulted in the name of upholding Hindutva.

The outlook of the central administration was altered into a Hindu chauvinist orientation. Nepal was encouraged to become a Hindu Rashtra. The country’s official diplomatic representation in the United States was sought to be undermined by a grotesque appointment of an effectively BJP ambassador.

Persons of Indian Origin or PIOs — those who have either never had or have dumped their Indian nationality — constitute the core of “Overseas Friends of the BJP”.

The Nehru doctrine on foreign policy was friendship with all based on ideals and principles, which was not opposed by the then united Communist Party of India (CPI).

Indira Gandhi tilted towards the Soviet Union in 1971 because of the West and especially the US’s incurable hostility towards India and the threat it posed in its desire to prop up Pakistan.

Consequently, in a climate where there has been a sea change in Washington’s attitude towards New Delhi — it has extended to India the extraordinary favour of extricating it out of its nuclear isolation — it was ridiculous to oppose the Indo-US deal. This has opened the gates for the import of state-of-the-art technology to produce nuclear power from France and Russia as well.

The economic progress unleashed by the 1991 reforms is beginning to reshape the Indian electorate’s thinking. Where incumbency was a liability, this has become an asset for governments delivering development.

The BJP has benefited in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, where its chief ministers have distanced themselves from religious claptrap and concentrated on providing food, shelter and utilities.

On the other hand, the ineffectiveness of the Left in West Bengal has been punished, despite Mamata Bannerjee being a fearful alternative. The Communists are an endangered species unless they embrace nationalism and realism.

The setbacks suffered by Ram Vilas Paswan and Lalu Prasad, the deflation of Mayawati’s high expectations could be an indication that the end of the road for naked caste politics may not be too far. The higher the GDP growth, the quicker Indians will divorce themselves from the obscurity and irrelevance of communalism, casteism and communism.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admittedly enjoyed the advantage of favourable economic conditions — the foundation for which was laid by him as the Finance Minister in 1991-96 — but he still had to best utilise these.

The remarkable result is a reflection of Dr Singh’s silent but dynamic showing, for electors chose between the performance of the treasury and potential of the Opposition.

This, therefore, could be a watershed; the advance of India as a modern and scientific state; when the NRIs — non-required Indians in GOI’s books —can at last hold their heads high before their host nations.

The writer is a broadcaster and former chief of CNN’s bureau in Delhi

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Meltdown: Repeating a 1930s mistake
by Sebastian Mallaby

Those who are ignorant of history will be condemned to repeat it, as a teacher no doubt told you long ago. But the urgent question today is actually the opposite one: Can a team that is positively steeped in history — particularly the history of the 1930s — avoid the mistakes of that era and engineer a quick recovery from a Depression-size shock?

Christina Romer, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and an authority on the 1930s, recently gave a hopeful answer to this question at the Council on Foreign Relations. But there was one gap in her argument, and therein lies a threat to the "green shoots" of recovery.

Romer has a right to optimism. Managed adroitly, crashes need not take a catastrophic toll. A year or two after the 1929 panic on Wall Street, there was no inevitability about calamity, as Philip Zelikow of the University of Virginia recalled recently.

There were signs of an economic rebound; Germany's democratic government was holding together; Japan remained a responsible player in the international system. It took the policy errors of the early 1930s to change all that. Those errors need not be repeated now.

What errors? In 1930, the United States imposed the notorious Smoot-Hawley tariff, setting up a pattern of retaliation that exacerbated the downturn and splintered the world. This time, by contrast, there has been surprisingly little backlash against open trade. In 1931, the U.S. Federal Reserve hiked interest rates aggressively.

This time the Fed, led by another scholarly expert on the 1930s, is forcing down interest rates by printing money. In 1932, the U.S. government tightened fiscal policy. Again, the lesson of that error has been absorbed aggressively — witness the enormous fiscal stimulus.

But there is one less comforting part of the 1930s comparison. The international tensions of the 1930s were not just about trade; they were also about exchange rates. To get a leg up on each other, countries devalued their currencies, and each devaluation triggered the next one.

In 1930, New Zealand secured a cost advantage for its butter exports by devaluing its money. The next year Denmark, its main butter rival, responded with its own devaluation. The two nations proceeded to chase each other downward.

Today, nothing quite so damaging seems likely. But whereas the world is blessed by a rules-based trading system that staves off protectionism, there is no similar architecture governing exchange rates. Countries can keep their money cheap to boost exports, even if they risk exporting trouble at the same time.

Indeed, this is a fair description of China's behavior over much of this decade. Whereas Romer can confidently say that economic policy is better now than in the 1930s with respect to trade, interest rates and stimulus, it is hard to be so confident with respect to exchange rates.

This chink in Romer's comparison with the Depression clouds her sunny outlook for U.S. economic growth. In her Council on Foreign Relations speech, Romer acknowledged that the traditional engine of the economy — U.S. consumers — will be sputtering for the near future: U.S. households lost about a quarter of their wealth during the 2007-08 chaos and must now save.

She also acknowledged that the new engine of growth — spending by the U.S. government — will have to slow down, too: The federal deficit will have to shrink once this stimulus is done. So Romer pinned her hopes for sustained recovery on export growth plus higher rates of business investment, with the investment presumably dependent on expanding markets abroad.

Will that export growth prove possible? The trouble is that other major economies harbor the same hope. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has stated categorically that Germany likes its export-led growth model and has no plans to change.

Japan, to its credit, has passed a hefty stimulus, allowing government spending to replace exports, but it cannot sustain this policy because its national debt is astronomical. That leaves one other big economy — China. Some Chinese leaders want to shift toward domestic consumption rather than exports, which is why the government's stimulus package includes money for health care.

But the Chinese also want to boost growth urgently, and the surest way to do that is to spend money on the things that they are used to spending money on — ports, roads and other infrastructure that winds up stoking China's export engine.

If the United States, Germany, Japan and China all aim to boost exports, we are in for trouble. It is impossible for all the big economies to improve their trade positions simultaneously; a jockeying for advantage, through the manipulation of exchange rates or through other measures, is certainly conceivable. Just as in the Depression, we have no rules for governing the disputes that may arise out of such conflict. It is too early to congratulate the scholar-statesmen for banishing all whiff of 1930s-style tensions.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Inside Pakistan
Hopes from India after the polls
by Syed Nooruzzaman

The outcome of the Lok Sabha elections in India has led to the expectation in Pakistan that the stalled India-Pakistan dialogue process may get revived in the near future. This is based on the fact that the Congress-led UPA will be in a position to provide a government that can take bold decisions. The Pakistan media also hopes that the US may now be more actively working for better relations between the two neighbours.

Business Recorder says, “A comfortable victory for the Congress-led alliance is good news for Pakistan. It means the government there will be in a position to restart, with new confidence, the composite peace dialogue that came to a sudden stop after November’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

“Even though criticised for adopting a soft approach towards Pakistan, (Dr Manmohan) Singh had stalled the peace process, demanding that Pakistan first bring the suspects to book. Things are likely to get better now that his government has got a strong mandate and the US has also indicated it might nudge India toward the negotiating table to resolve Kashmir that remains the root cause of all tensions between the two countries.”

The comment in The News is more interesting: “The question of ties with Pakistan has already been identified as the key foreign policy issue for the new administration. Indeed Manmohan Singh, known for a ‘soft’ stance on Pakistan, had already been actively pursuing this agenda until it was derailed by the Mumbai attacks last November. Now, free of the stresses and demands that election brings, he will no doubt return to the matter with new energy. The Congress will also be able to do so with greater confidence, buoyed by the fact that the economic growth ushered in by its policies over the past four years have won over people across India despite the downslide of the past few months as the global crisis hit business and investment. Pakistan now needs to get its priorities clear.”

Support for Army operation

The Pakistan government, giving hints of slowing down the anti-militancy Army operation in the Swat region, has no excuse now to do so after getting solid backing from the all-party meeting in Islamabad on May 18. Some of the religious parties and Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf, which had their reservations, though unconvincing, about the use of the armed forces to stamp out militancy, also fell in line. The major achievement for Islamabad is the support extended by Mr Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N).

As The News (May 20) puts it, now “it seems clear that all major parties in the country have recognised that there is no choice but to battle the militants with all the might we can muster.” The Pakistan Army can now go whole hog against the Taliban militants, who have threatened peace and progress not only in Pakistan but also in the rest of the South Asian region.

According to Daily Times (May 19), “In fact, for the first time, the religious-clerical community has voiced its opposition to the Taliban brand of Islam; or at least, the majority school of thought has dared to speak against a force that has hounded them over the years into submission.”

When this is the new ground reality it is surprising why the Pakistan government had floated before the all-party meeting the idea of a dialogue with the militants if they laid down their arms. Islamabad must “stand firm at this time: popular or unpopular, the military operation in Malakand in necessary”, Dawn (May 17) suggested.

Why preach hatred?

Dawn newspaper, known for its liberal views, has appealed to the Pakistan government to revise school textbooks with a view to ensuring that these have nothing that promotes “hatred, violence or intolerance”. Quoting a recent article carried in The Guardian of London, Dawn points out, “ It has been observed that the texts used in the state-run schools foster religious extremism in a less blatant but more ubiquitous way than the infamous madressahs. By propagating concepts such as jihad, the inferiority of non-Muslims, India’s ingrained enmity with Pakistan, etc, the textbook board publications used by all government schools promote a mindset that is bigoted and obscurantist. Since there are more children studying in these schools than in madressahs, the damage done is greater.”

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