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EDITORIALS

Lahore again
Time to tackle all jihadi outfits
The terrorists based in Pakistan, it seems, remain unaffected by the anti-Taliban Army operation in the Swat valley. They struck in Lahore on Wednesday for the third time this year, killing over 35 persons in a car bomb blast. Their success in triggering the powerful blast in an elite locality — near Civil Lines, Mall Road — which has the Punjab Assembly building, the Punjab High Court and the ISI’s provincial headquarters, shows that the militant jihadis continue to have the capacity to strike anywhere, anytime in Pakistan.

Maya versus law
SC directive to reinstate 18,000 policemen
The Supreme Court directive to the Uttar Pradesh government to reinstate around 18,000 of the nearly 22,000 dismissed policemen is a serious setback to Chief Minister Mayawati. She had sacked them en mass in a most arbitrary and whimsical manner only because they were recruited by her predecessor, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, during his regime in 2007.






EARLIER STORIES

Let peace prevail
May 27, 2009
PM’s appeal
May 26, 2009
Mayawati goes berserk
May 25, 2009
Mandate for Manmohan
May 24, 2009
Manmohan Singh’s A team
May 23, 2009
Perils of “arrogance”
May 22, 2009
The failed fronts
May 21, 2009
Advani stays put
May 20, 2009
Vote for growth
May 19, 2009
North by North-West
May 18, 2009

The taste of sugar
Ban on futures trading welcome
The Forward Markets Commission has suspended futures trading in sugar till December this year. The step may hurt traders and sugar mills, but will benefit consumers. The aim is to bring down the sugar prices, which had risen sharply — touching Rs 30 a kg at many places — in the past few months due to an expected shortfall in production. India is the biggest consumer and second largest producer of sugar in the world.

ARTICLE

Challenges from China
India must forge partnerships with other countries
by G. Parthasarathy
T
he non-proliferation “Ayatollahs” in the US close to the Democratic Party establishment have recently been publishing “revelations” of Pakistan constructing two new plutonium reactors at its nuclear nerve-centre, Khushab. The timing and contents of these “revelations” are intriguing. They appeared just as a new government was assuming office in New Delhi.

MIDDLE

A ‘sutra’ for our times
by Raji P. Shrivastava
W
hen Vishakha, a chartered accountant in Vadodara, got married to Mehul Desai, a well-placed multinational executive based in Mumbai, she left behind much more than her comfortable maternal home in a familiar city. Her company was headquartered in Mumbai, so they happily placed her in their Churchgate office.

OPED

Internal politics drives North Korea to second test
by John M. Glionna
N
orth Korea’s previous nuclear test and missile launches had a ring of foot-stamping about them, certainly a modest security threat but one that smacked heavily of a demand that the United States pay it some attention.

Polling booths abroad?
by Saionton Basu
H
aving just stepped out of the sanctum sanctorum of the High Commissioner of India to the UK, a mandarin waiting in the wings of the sprawling mansion, which houses the Indian High Commission in London, pounced upon me and proceeded to chastise me for “screwing” up the High Commissioner’s timetable for the day.

Looking back at Mount Everest
by Cahal Milmo
H
AVING walked for seven hours in freezing darkness to reach the summit of Everest at the third attempt, Sir Ranulph Fiennes last week became the first individual to have crossed the globe via both poles as well as climb its highest mountain.


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EDITORIALS

Lahore again
Time to tackle all jihadi outfits

The terrorists based in Pakistan, it seems, remain unaffected by the anti-Taliban Army operation in the Swat valley. They struck in Lahore on Wednesday for the third time this year, killing over 35 persons in a car bomb blast. Their success in triggering the powerful blast in an elite locality — near Civil Lines, Mall Road — which has the Punjab Assembly building, the Punjab High Court and the ISI’s provincial headquarters, shows that the militant jihadis continue to have the capacity to strike anywhere, anytime in Pakistan. On March 30 they targeted the Police Academy at Manawan, close to Lahore, gunning down 10 persons, and on March 3 they attacked the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team, leading to the death of eight persons.

Reports indicate that the latest incident appears to be the handiwork of the Taliban or a terrorist network aligned with it in retaliation for the anti-Taliban Army action in the Swat region. The Pakistan Army claims to have cleared most parts of Malakand division, including Swat, of the Taliban presence. It is now preparing to move to the Bajaur Agency, where residents have been asked to vacate their houses immediately. Pakistan, which created the Taliban in the nineties as part of its larger goal of acquiring strategic depth in Afghanistan, in under pressure from the international community, particularly the US, to continue the anti-Taliban drive till the scourge is wiped out.

However, a large number of Taliban activists have escaped from Malakand division, melting into the fleeing civilians. These elements cannot keep quiet. Their bases in different parts of Pakistan remain in tact. Perhaps, they have targeted a city like Lahore to gain maximum publicity. Pakistan will have to uproot the militant jihadi culture, wind up the training camps and habitats of the off-shoots of the Taliban and other extremist groups if it is serious about fighting terrorism to the finish. It will have to destroy all the terrorist networks to win the battle against the enemies of peace. Focusing only on the Taliban in the North-West will not be enough.

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Maya versus law
SC directive to reinstate 18,000 policemen

The Supreme Court directive to the Uttar Pradesh government to reinstate around 18,000 of the nearly 22,000 dismissed policemen is a serious setback to Chief Minister Mayawati. She had sacked them en mass in a most arbitrary and whimsical manner only because they were recruited by her predecessor, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, during his regime in 2007. The ruling given by a Vacation Bench consisting of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Deepak Verma is a blow to Ms Mayawati because she had made it a prestige issue and even defied the Allahabad High Court’s directive to reinstate the hapless policemen. The state government had been maintaining that the constables had been illegally appointed through the recruitment boards set up by the earlier government. Interestingly, the Bench has refused to stay the contempt of court proceedings against the Principal Secretary (Home) and the Director-General of Police for their defiance of the Allahabad High Court ruling.

In a clear message to the Chief Minister that it will not allow her government to circumvent the rule of law and scuttle established constitutional norms, the Bench questioned its rationale behind dismissing the policemen. “Is it the case of the state that these constables are surplus? You need them. The state had sufficient time to take steps as per the High Court order,” it ruled. The government contended that the examiners had written the candidates’ answer-sheets; and that higher marks were awarded in interviews to the candidates who had secured less marks in the physical test and vice-versa. However, the Bench brushed them aside and ordered their reinstatement, pending disposal of the government’s review petition.

Ms Mayawati has proved umpteen times that she is given to taking arbitrary decisions and has no respect for the law. Disturbed by the sheer enormity of the exercise, she feared that Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav had packed so many policemen with his people that they could create trouble for her. Interestingly, no sacked policeman was ever served notice or called for inquiry or heard at any time before the appointments were peremptorily cancelled in September 2007. Significantly, while 25 suspended IPS officers involved in the recruitment process have been reinstated, the poor constables have been running from pillar to post for justice. The apex court has given relief to them by ordering their immediate reinstatement.

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The taste of sugar
Ban on futures trading welcome

The Forward Markets Commission has suspended futures trading in sugar till December this year. The step may hurt traders and sugar mills, but will benefit consumers. The aim is to bring down the sugar prices, which had risen sharply — touching Rs 30 a kg at many places — in the past few months due to an expected shortfall in production. India is the biggest consumer and second largest producer of sugar in the world. Against an annual domestic consumption of 23 million tonnes, sugar production is expected at 15 million tonnes during the current sugar season from October 2008 to September 2009. In view of the 40 per cent proposed fall in production, traders started pushing up prices, much to the detriment of consumers.

However, the ban on futures trading, earlier imposed on wheat, plays a limited role in cooling prices. The basic problem is the supply of commodities falls short of demand. Curbs have also been imposed on the private holding of stocks of the scarce commodity to discourage its hoarding. This too may have helped up to a point. As a short-term measure, the government has imported sugar and may go in for more imports. But the root cause of the problem is that growing sugarcane is no longer as remunerative for farmers as, say, paddy and wheat. Besides, sugar mills do not make timely payments, subjecting growers to much hardship.

The sugar mills have their own problems. They say the minimum support price for sugarcane is kept high by the government on political considerations. Some state governments, like the one in UP, announce sugarcane prices higher than the statutory minimum price, which cause losses to sugar mills. The government obviously needs to balance the interests of the grower, the consumer and the sugar mill owner. The need is to raise farm productivity and efficiency of sugar mills to cut costs and make sugar affordable for the people.

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Thought for the Day

And much it grieved my heart to think/What man has made of man. — William Wordsworth

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ARTICLE

Challenges from China
India must forge partnerships with other countries
by G. Parthasarathy

The non-proliferation “Ayatollahs” in the US close to the Democratic Party establishment have recently been publishing “revelations” of Pakistan constructing two new plutonium reactors at its nuclear nerve-centre, Khushab. The timing and contents of these “revelations” are intriguing. They appeared just as a new government was assuming office in New Delhi. While claiming that these two new reactors will substantially increase Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and voicing fears of a jihadi takeover in Pakistan, the authors are demanding that in order to prevent such weapon facilities from being taken over by jihadi elements, India should immediately join Pakistan in stopping the production of fissile materials for weapons. This would fit in perfectly with China’s aim of making India’s nuclear weapons development programme totally Pakistani-centric and depriving New Delhi of a credible nuclear deterrent, which can safeguard the country against Chinese challenges, overt and covert.

On April 23, 2009 the US-based Institute of Science and International Security published satellite imagery taken from Digital Globe, showing two large plutonium reactors being constructed in Khushab, near another plutonium reactor, which was built in the 1990s by China. The Americans know that in the 1990s China supplied Pakistan with not only an unsafeguarded 40 MW plutonium reactor, but also a plutonium reprocessing plant. Moreover, as such reactors require “heavy water”, and Pakistan’s heavy water production facilities (built with Chinese assistance) a have limited capacity, Islamabad’s requirement of heavy water for these reactors is also evidently being met by diverting Chinese heavy water supplies to nuclear power plants built with Chinese assistance in nearby Chashma.

China joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1992 and thereafter pledged that it would stop supplies of all unsafeguarded nuclear material and facilities to Pakistan. Moreover, in 1991-1992, China pledged to abide by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), thereby ruling out supplies of missiles with a range of over 300 kilometres. China continues to violate all these undertakings. The plutonium reactors in Khushab, now under construction, are nothing more than a continuation of the assistance China gave for Pakistan’s first 40 MW plutonium reactor.

Apart from having supplied Pakistan the designs for their original uranium nuclear warheads, the ongoing Chinese assistance to Pakistan’s plutonium weapons facilities is obviously meant to enable Islamabad to make more potent and miniaturised warheads, which can be fitted to the Chinese-designed Shaheen I and Shaheen II missiles, capable of targeting cities across India. Thus, when America’s non-proliferation “Ayatollahs” start demanding that India should hold negotiations with Pakistan because of threats arising to international security from China’s unrestrained nuclear and missile proliferation to Pakistan, New Delhi should tell its American friends that they are barking up the wrong tree and that India is not going to allow the size or capabilities of is nuclear and missile arsenals to be limited because of American unwillingness to check unrestrained Chinese nuclear and missile proliferation.

The view of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the Sino-American relationship is the “most important bilateral relationship of the 21st century” has in recent days fuelled Chinese arrogance and aggressiveness in its relations with India. Following the recent display of its naval prowess, China has made it clear that it is embarking on a massive naval expansion. If in the 1990s China asserted that “The Indian Ocean is not India’s Ocean”, a senior Chinese naval officer went even further earlier this month in suggesting to the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Timothy Keating, that the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans should be regarded as spheres of predominant Chinese influence.

Keating was told: “You (the US) take Hawaii East and we, (China) will take Hawaii West and the Indian Ocean. Then you need not come to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean and we will not need to go to the Eastern Pacific”. The recent move of the Chinese fleet into the Indian Ocean, ostensibly in the name of dealing with piracy, together with its quest for facilities and bases from Gwadar in Pakistan to Hambantota in Sri Lanka are obviously part of a longer-term plan to dominate the sealanes of the Indian Ocean.

Chinese aggressiveness on its territorial claims has also grown. Chinese scholars have spoken of “liberating” Southern Tibet (Arunachal Pradesh) in the event of tensions between India and Pakistan. China has moved to block credits to India amounting to $2.9 billion from the Asian Development Bank because there is provision for assistance to development projects in Arunachal Pradesh. If China did have reservations on the score, it could surely have recorded reservations instead of blocking the programme of an entire country.

In Nepal, the Chinese have fished in the troubled waters, attempting to finalise a treaty with the Himalayan nation, which obviously raises Indian security concerns. Beijing has also been encouraging Maoist plans to undermine the functioning of key institutions like Nepal’s army and judiciary. In Myanmar, China used the support it gave to the military regime in the UN Security Council to undermine India’s access to offshore gas from a project in which New Delhi had an equity stake.

As Dr. Manmohan Singh commences his second term in office, he will have to take note of the serious challenges that an assertive China now poses across India’s land borders and its maritime frontiers. Given the ongoing US-China honeymoon, it would require imaginative diplomacy to persuade the Obama Administration of our concerns on Chinese behaviour. China has not hesitated in using force to enforce its territorial claims on its disputed maritime boundaries with countries like Vietnam and the Philippines.

Under the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas, China was required to intimate where its maritime frontiers lie earlier this month. In its presentation, China has laid claim to thousands of square miles of maritime territory in the South China Sea based on its unilateral claims to several offshore islands bordering Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. It has enforced these claims by force. When the Philippines objected to the Chinese claims, its envoy was summoned to receive a protest with a high-level visit to the Philippines indefinitely postponed.

With India’s communist parties, which have tacitly backed China’s global ambitions and policies, no longer pulling the strings of power, New Delhi should not be constrained in responding appropriately to Chinese manoeuvres in India’s neighbourhood. It is not only India that is concerned about China’s “rise”. Partnerships will have to be forged with Japan and others to meet the challenges a resurgent and aggressive China poses, even as New Delhi fashions policies to accelerate economic growth and develop its conventional defences and nuclear capabilities.

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MIDDLE

A ‘sutra’ for our times
by Raji P. Shrivastava

When Vishakha, a chartered accountant in Vadodara, got married to Mehul Desai, a well-placed multinational executive based in Mumbai, she left behind much more than her comfortable maternal home in a familiar city. Her company was headquartered in Mumbai, so they happily placed her in their Churchgate office.

Mehul was a sweet guy, if a bit of a Mamma’s boy, and his parents were friendly too. Mehul’s grandmother Reva Baa lived with them. Just as in our TV serials, Vishakha became Reva Baa’s instant favourite.

After returning from a honeymoon in Singapore, the bride settled to a frenzy of post-wedding socialising with her in-laws in tow. The Great Indian Extended Family enveloped her in its gregarious folds and swamped her on occasion with its enthusiastic invitations and in-your-face suggestions.

When it was time to return to work, she was relieved and happy to pack away her Panetars, Gadcholas and chunky jewellery from Zaveri’s. She organised her Wills Lifestyle churidars and minimal trinkets from Oyzterbay in readiness for work.

Her office was several train stations from their Kandivali home, and Vishakha soon learnt how challenging it could be to simply get sucked into the local trains in a sea of bodies and then get pressed out at her destination likewise. Her ‘Allen Solly for Women’ shirts were crushed beyond redemption and her tiny diamond earstuds almost came off loose in the melee.

Within a week of commuting, she was welcomed into the sisterhood of fellow passengers. Falguni, the excise inspector, Vandana, the bank clerk and Sonal the graphics designer were regulars. They advised her not to wear her elaborate mangalsutra chain with its big pendant. “Look at us, we have two mangalsutras - a pepper spray can in our bags and the original in our bank lockers,” they chuckled.

Vishakha broached the subject with her mother-in-law, Padmaben, who was horrified. “It is bad enough we allow her to work, now she wants to take off her mangalsutra also !” she grumbled. “It is a symbol of ‘suhaag’, it will protect Mehul’s life, how can she do something so inauspicious as taking it off !” said Padma to her husband, Kantibhai, whose silent melancholy only increased as the Sensex entered the nether world.

For one week, tension brewed in the Desai household. Padma was shocked that her new daughter-in-law could contemplate parting with her mangalsutra. Vishakha was stunned that such issues could trouble people living in India ‘s biggest metro for the past 40 years. Mehul spent his free time mall-crawling with his chums. Reva Baa tried to reason with Padma that wearing gold in a crowded local train could be an invitation to injury or even murder.

Ultimately, Reva Baa clinched the issue with a firm hand. “Vishakha must pack her mangalsutra in a red silk cloth with a betelnut and ricegrains and store it in her jewel box in her State Bank of India locker,” she ruled.

“What about my Mehul’s prosperity, his health, his life?” wailed Padma.

“Mehul is my grandson, don’t forget. His life will be as secure as Vishakha’s mangalsutra will be in a bank locker,” came the decisive rejoinder.

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OPED

Internal politics drives North Korea to second test
by John M. Glionna

North Korea’s previous nuclear test and missile launches had a ring of foot-stamping about them, certainly a modest security threat but one that smacked heavily of a demand that the United States pay it some attention.

This time, North Korea’s motives seem more complex, the international bravado blended with the mysteries of the secretive regime’s internal politics.

Instead of tweaking the United States, the testing of a second nuclear device might have been aimed more at shoring up an ailing Kim Jong-il’s support from the country’s military establishment, many analysts said, perhaps to ensure that power remains within the Kim family in any succession.

Since reportedly suffering a debilitating stroke last year, Kim has been seeking a smooth handoff of power – presumably to his youngest of three sons – and would like to settle the country’s long-running clash with the U.S. before that leadership shift takes place.

“Because of his declining health, Kim now feels he must be on a faster timetable,” said Moon Hong-sik, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul. “The U.S. has ignored him. He feels the pressure, and he’s upping the odds.”

The nuclear test is the latest sign of a more assertive North Korean foreign policy. The North has escalated tensions with South Korea in recent months, abrogating some trade deals and professing to be preparing for war.

And Monday’s underground explosion comes weeks after an April rocket launch that North Korea claimed placed a communications satellite into orbit launch but which most independent observers said was a disguised long-range missile launch.

The satellite did not reach outer space, analysts say, but the U.S., South Korea and Japan nonetheless sought new U.N. sanctions.

Monday’s nuclear test was accompanied by the firing of a short-range missile test, and possibly two more, according to unnamed South Korean officials. The news spawned protests in Seoul, where scores of activists marched brandishing a model of a nuclear weapon papered with pictures of Kim Jong Il to protest the North’s move.

Analysts speculate that Kim is providing a fireworks show to secure the approval of his military generals.

“Since the appearance of health issues with Kim Jong-il last year, the North Korean military became more influential,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of Inter-Korean Relations Studies Program at Sejong Institute near Seoul. “Therefore, I have a sense that the military may have concluded that possession of nuclear weapons is very important.”

Since his apparent stroke, Kim has been giving a larger hand in internal affairs to his brother-in-law, Jang Song Taek, who he has publicly anointed as his second in charge and might play a role in any transfer of power.

But analyst Cheong said North Korea might claim the nuclear test was in some part planned by Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader’s youngest son and frontrunner to assume control of the secretive state.

“The outside world tends to underestimate Kim Jong-un at his young age,” Cheong said. “If Kim Jong-un played a decisive role in this nuclear test, it helps spread internally and externally a perception that he is a man of resolution.” But the opaqueness of the North Korean state makes it difficult for outsiders to pull together a clear picture of the regime’s motives.

For one thing, the regime simply might be continuing to test its nuclear devices and missiles because testing is the only way to improve the reliability of the threat. Indeed, North Korea’s official news agency said that Monday’s nuclear detonation helped resolve technical problems that had prevented the country from improving its nuclear arsenal.

Other analysts say the nuclear test was one more swipe at the United States, a reaction to a sense in North Korea that the Obama administration has sidelined security issues on the Korean peninsula as it fights wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and tries to contend with what it sees as an emerging Iranian nuclear threat.

“Last year, a lot of people from Seoul and Washington visited Pyongyang telling Kim and his people that that once Obama was in the White House, the U.S. was going to be a totally different entity to deal with,” said Lee Dong-bok, a senior associate in Seoul for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But it’s not working out that way. That’s the reason North Korea is acting in such an erratic manner.”

A North Korean official in Moscow has warned of new tests if the U.S. continues it “policy of intimidation against North Korea,” according to the Russian news agency Tass.

The risk in conducting two tests on the same day, some observers said, is that the North might have laid all of its weapons-related bargaining cards on the table.

“They played all their aces – they don’t have much else,” said Andrei Lankov, a political scientist at Kookmin University in Seoul, who specializes in North Korea.

He said North Korea also might “try to be inventive” and make a publicized attempt to sell nuclear materials to a Third World nation to keep its enemies guessing.

In Washington, U.S. military officials remained puzzled over North Korea’s motives. “North Korea is a closed society so knowledge and understanding of the motives is very difficult,” a Pentagon official said. “Clearly this is a regime that has in the past used these sorts of military activities to garner attention. But it is really difficult to say with any clarity what is on their minds.”

But Lankov said only the speed of North Korea’s move was unexpected.

“I would have predicted that they would have waited a few months from their rocket launch to increase the tension, raise the pressure,” he said. “This was a message not only for the U.S. but for all other parties involved: Don’t forget us.”

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Polling booths abroad?
by Saionton Basu

Having just stepped out of the sanctum sanctorum of the High Commissioner of India to the UK, a mandarin waiting in the wings of the sprawling mansion, which houses the Indian High Commission in London, pounced upon me and proceeded to chastise me for “screwing” up the High Commissioner’s timetable for the day.

He made me feel like a man, whom history would remember or forget as the single most critical foreign policy transgression.

For all the intellectual conversation I had just concluded with the High Commissioner, Mr. Mukherjee, an erudite man indeed, this seemed like a rude shock from the Indian bureaucracy.

I shoved off this man and walked off, but the harassment continued on the phone - a textbook case of the bark being worse than the bite. So, on my way back from Aldwych to my abode in the Docklands, I plotted revenge on this official, whose name shall not be taken in polite company or even otherwise.

I tried to reason, why he was so obnoxious. When nothing concrete occurred to justify even an ounce of his deplorable actions, it dawned upon me that he was perhaps plain bored. After all, there is very little for him to do besides “screwing” those who “screw” the High Commissioner’s schedule. Obviously cannot be a very happy situation for him.

So why not give him some work? While, it is too late for this election, I believe if the right moves are made right away, we could make this a reality before 2014 or whenever the bells toll for the incumbent government.

Whilst no official figures are available estimating the number of Indian diaspora – 20 million is assumed to be a safe guess, ranging from Australia to the United States. A large proportion of them have been effectively disenfranchised due to the physical impossibility of them casting their votes.

My proposal is simple: why do we not ask each of the Indian embassies and consulates in every country to double up as polling booths come election season for eligible Indian voters residing in that country?

The first argument, which would be thrown to scuttle such a move, is the “de minimis” one – that too much hassle for too few votes.

Well then, facts must be fought with facts. If four polling officers could set up a polling booth in the heart of the lion county in Gir for the lone registered voter, surely a polling booth in Algiers, Luanda or Canberra on existing infrastructure paid for by tax-payers’ money would attract more humans than lions!

The Government of India spends huge sums to keep intact its diplomatic missions in most countries in the world and it is time that we start thrusting the mandarins with duties ranging from drawing up voters lists under the supervision of the Election Commission, popularising such a scheme to Indians who are entitled to vote and manning polling booths on D-day.

There are administrative intricacies involved such as delivery and repossession of electronic voting machines, custody and safekeeping of the ballot machines post polling and declaration of results. However, with the advances made in information technology, these are only logistical issues which can be sorted if the right intention is there.

The second and potentially more debilitative argument for this proposal would come from the logistics. By way of example, since in a Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha election, we elect representatives based upon territorial demarcations, which candidate would an eligible Indian voter, living and working in London, with no connection to any one territory in India vote for?

There are two ways out in my mind and I invite suggestions about any others. One, we ascertain the population of the voters in various corners of the world and insert parts of them into the existing Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha constituencies. Accordingly, all voters living in say, the United Kingdom could be made a part of the New Delhi constituency. Of course, the Delimitation Commission will have its task cut out for this.

The other more artificially simple one is to ensure that eligible voters living abroad are part of the voters’ lists in the constituency as per the permanent address on their passports and during elections, such voters can hop, trek, bus or train it to the nearest consulate and cast their votes.

Of course, this option would require some amount of imagination and creativity in designing voting systems, whereby each such voter can access details of candidates in their constituency.

Perhaps electronic voting machines will make way for electronic platforms on a screen and wherein the vote is registered at Nirvachan Sadan directly once the button is pressed.

At any rate, there is no reason not to provide for postal ballots for the huge numbers of eligible Indian voters living in lands faraway on a real-time basis. The Election Commission has displayed enormous statesmanship in the past by making arrangements for displaced Kashmiri migrants to vote through postal ballots and this move could hardwire their progressive halo.

From a bare review of the legal provisions surrounding conduct of elections, I do believe such a move requires any legislative amendments to the existing framework and thus could be pushed through by means of administrative instructions from the Election Commission.

Now that the momentum of truly creating a participatory democracy has been set in motion through painstaking efforts of several citizens’ groups, it is time the eligible diaspora are able to stand up and be counted where it matters most.

The writer is an advocate in the Supreme Court of India and Solicitor, Supreme Court of England and Wales.

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Looking back at Mount Everest
by Cahal Milmo

HAVING walked for seven hours in freezing darkness to reach the summit of Everest at the third attempt, Sir Ranulph Fiennes last week became the first individual to have crossed the globe via both poles as well as climb its highest mountain.

The 65-year-old explorer has returned to Britain to admit that he had had to conquer his fear of heights before looking down from the 8,848-metre peak to take in his achievement.

Sir Ranulph described how his progress up the mountain to raise (pounds sterling)3m for the Marie Curie Cancer Care charity was punctuated by the sight of bodies of climbers who had perished. But he said the sight from the top of the Himalayas had made the three-week physically and mentally exhausting ordeal worthwhile.

Speaking at a press conference to mark his return to London, he said: “I get vertigo and don’t like looking down. But if you are there, you might as well look once. When I actually got to the top, the emotional side of getting there was, to some extent, blurred by amazement at what we could see.

“Way down below, you could see the top of all the frilly clouds, and here, there and everywhere you’ve got mountain tops poking through. To use a cliche, it’s just like fairyland.” The grizzled veteran of more than 30 expeditions completed the climbing feat only after twice having to turn his back on the summit in the final stages of the ascent on previous attempts. In 2005, he suffered a heart attack at 8,500 metres and last year returned to the mountain only to be defeated by exhaustion.

After that attempt he declared that he had learnt his lesson and would never try to climb Everest again, saying that to do so would be “bad luck”.

That assertion was underlined by medical tests which showed that a triple heart bypass operation in 2003 and years of battling through arctic conditions had left him with lungs that function at just 80 per cent of capacity even in normal air quality. Oxygen levels at the summit of Everest are just one third of those at sea level.

But the explorer, known as Ran to his friends, decided to try once more after falling (pounds sterling)400,000 short of his (pounds sterling)3m fundraising target last year. He has raised nearly (pounds sterling)6m for Marie Curie after he lost two of his three sisters and his first wife, Ginny, to whom he had been married for 33 years, to cancer in an 18-month period.

He said that he had been spurred on last week by the twin mantras of “Plod for ever” and “Die high”. He explained the last encouragement was based on the idea that “If you’re going to die anyway, why die low?” The explorer, who has tested his mortality in the world’s most extreme environments with alarming regularity and once sawed off his own finger tips after suffering frostbite, said he had been regularly reminded of the perilous nature of the climb by the frozen remains of climbers.

Mrs Fiennes said that the challenge had forced her husband, who is also the first British pensioner to climb the mountain, to behave in a manner that did not come to him naturally n “slowly, carefully, acknowledging his body and being patient”.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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