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EDITORIALS

BJP at sea
Just doesn’t know what to do
I
T is not for nothing that the BJP’s Deputy Leader in the Lok Sabha, Ms Sushma Swaraj, recently described the condition in the party after the general elections as “volcanic” and another senior leader Arun Shourie, lamented in a letter to party president Rajnath Singh that the party had been taken over by “conspirators.”

Let not goondas rule
Ludhiana Akali attackers must be punished
J
UST because their party is in power in Punjab, Akali Dal workers seem to believe they have a right to preferential treatment in every government office. When a Ludhiana tehsildar refused to take up their case on priority, they not only beat him up in his office, but also stripped him and dragged him out in full public view, displaying scant respect for law.



EARLIER STORIES

People have right to know
June 21, 2009
Enforce the norms
June 20, 2009
PM’s offer well-meant
June 19, 2009
Beyond the handshake
June 18, 2009
Mayawati again
June 17, 2009
No changers win
June 16, 2009
That sinking feeling
June 15, 2009
Sahibs and Burra Sahibs
June 14, 2009
Swine flu pandemic
June 13, 2009
Now it’s Canada
June 12, 2009


Essence of music
Sarod maestro strived for harmony all his life
T
O Ustad Ali Akbar Khan who died in California on Friday, Hindustani music was basic to life. Those who love Indian classical music will miss the maestro playing the sarod and spreading its resonance all over the world. An undisputed virtuoso as far as performances go, his music combined the purity of ragas with an ethereal feel that both astounded his listeners and transported them to another realm.

ARTICLE

Sri Lanka after the LTTE
Can India play a role in power-sharing accord?
by Maj-Gen Ashok K. Mehta (retd)
Strange was India’s sphinx-like silence over the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils and violation of human rights and humanitarian law of warfare during the last phase of the military offensive when the fight to finish the LTTE overrode the concern over the safety and security of civilians. This after Delhi had obtained from Colombo a commitment to ending combat operations and non-use of heavy weapons.

MIDDLE

Animal instincts
by Chetana Vaishnavi
M
ODERN man is supposed to be a social animal. However, with all the antisocial activities going on in this world by the so-called civilised homosapiens, I wonder if the epithet “social” should be attached to our species, who really doesn’t deserve it. The word “animal” similarly appears blasphemous! In fact, we are really embarrassing the dumb creatures, who if they were able to speak, would put all of us to shame!

OPED

Show of strength
Dalits assert their identity in Punjab
by Gobind Thukral
Fortunately Punjab is back to normal. Its week-long nightmare — gory scenes of rioting, firing, burning and looting of public and private property and consequent loss of trade that cost nearly Rs 7,000 crore — is over. The families of three young men who lost their lives sit back and mourn. Those who lost their property, cars and buses etc take rounds of offices to file claims. Some cool their heels in jails, facing charges of rioting and violence.

Israeli PM feels the heat
by Harold Meyerson
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has at last acknowledged, with caveats, the need to establish a Palestinian state. Actually, Netanyahu’s Palestine is primarily caveats, with a dash of state thrown in for appearances’ sake. In his speech on June 14, the Prime Minister failed to address the continual growth of Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank, where close to 300,000 Israeli settlers live.

Chatterati
Bihari politicians show their colours
by Devi Cherian
Bihari politicians in Delhi are not a very happy lot. Mulayam has come to Ram Vilas Paswan’s rescue by giving him his son’s sure-shot winning seat in U.P. Paswan, who had been a member of the Council of Ministers for almost 15 years in different alliance governments, has been missing in action since his defeat.





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BJP at sea
Just doesn’t know what to do

IT is not for nothing that the BJP’s Deputy Leader in the Lok Sabha, Ms Sushma Swaraj, recently described the condition in the party after the general elections as “volcanic” and another senior leader Arun Shourie, lamented in a letter to party president Rajnath Singh that the party had been taken over by “conspirators.” Earlier, former Union ministers Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha had both given vent to their frustration with equal vehemence. Clearly, the BJP is in turmoil and is groping for direction as never before. The punishing defeat in the elections has left its cadres demoralised and senior leaders disoriented. The just-concluded National Executive meeting that was supposed to do some soul-searching and give a new direction to the party has ended in acrimony and distrust with nothing of consequence coming out of it.

The running thread in Mr Shourie’s letter and those of Mr Jaswant Singh and Mr Yashwant Sinha is that the party leadership is wilfully shying away from an honest analysis of the reasons for its poor performance in the elections. Also, that there is lack of accountability as is borne out by the fact that those charged with responsibility for the selection of candidates, leading the election campaign and working out its strategy are being rewarded with plum posts rather than being punished for failure in the tasks assigned to them. The meeting of the National Executive exemplified the deep divisions within the party and the response of the leadership, with party president Rajnath Singh rubbing it in that in the BJP, success was always a “collective credit” and “failure, a collective responsibility.” Honest introspection was, therefore, given a go-by.

The net result of the two-day meeting of the party’s top decision-making body is seeing the country’s principal opposition party caught in utter confusion and which does not know how to face the after-effects of defeat. The party, which needs a catharsis, could not face the basic question whether it should cling to Hindutva or give it up. Allied is the issue of its relationship with the RSS, which, despite denials, continues to have a hold on the party’s mind and ideology. The inability to begin afresh is also clear from its decision to let Mr L.K. Advani continue as Leader of the Opposition despite the fact that he would have taken all the credit if the party had won the polls, but now is reluctant to accept the blame for the failure. So much for his and the party’s adherence to the principle of accountability.

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Let not goondas rule
Ludhiana Akali attackers must be punished

JUST because their party is in power in Punjab, Akali Dal workers seem to believe they have a right to preferential treatment in every government office. When a Ludhiana tehsildar refused to take up their case on priority, they not only beat him up in his office, but also stripped him and dragged him out in full public view, displaying scant respect for law. The extent of their arrogance can be gauged from the fact that they did not allow the vehicles carrying the DC and the SSP to reach the spot. And when the injured revenue official was being taken to hospital, they pelted the vehicle with stones.

Such criminal conduct cannot be condoned and allowed to go unpunished. It is a matter of some satisfaction that a case of attempt to murder has been registered against the attackers. Hopefully, the police would not yield to pressure from various quarters, which is likely because of their political links. The authorities must ensure a thorough investigation and stiffest and early possible punishment for the culprits to restore public faith in the police functioning. Such incidents occur because there is no fear of the law among the well-connected. A mere councillor had the audacity to organise a mob attack on a senior official, obviously believing that he and his supporters can get away with their crime.

This is also because of the fact that the Punjab administration in general and the police in particular are heavily politicised. Some three weeks ago the tehsildar had written to the DC about the threat to his life but no action was taken. Such inaction obviously encouraged the assailants, who have disgraced the party they represent. It is perhaps because of such goonda elements that the ruling party had lost the Ludhiana seat to the Congress in the recent elections. The growing tribe of such criminals in the Akali Dal should worry Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. To let such elements flourish in the party and the administration for their selfish interests is the best way for a ruling party to lose public support.

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Essence of music
Sarod maestro strived for harmony all his life

TO Ustad Ali Akbar Khan who died in California on Friday, Hindustani music was basic to life. Those who love Indian classical music will miss the maestro playing the sarod and spreading its resonance all over the world. An undisputed virtuoso as far as performances go, his music combined the purity of ragas with an ethereal feel that both astounded his listeners and transported them to another realm. A performing artist par excellence, he was equally a giving guru who has passed on a rich tradition to a new generation as he always believed that music is the only treasure which when shared expands and finds its own universe. For the benefit of his disciples he set up the Ali Akbar College of Music in Kolkata in 1956 and in the US in 1967 and later a branch in Switzerland. He lent the sarod’s vibrant notes even to the connoisseurs of Western classical instrumental music. His emphasis was always on harmony while the Western music lovers searched for symphony. He did not find any contradiction in the essence of music.

The son of the late Padma Vibhusan Ustad Allauddin Khan, a doyen of Hindustani classical music, Ustad Ali Akbar was the torchbearer of the famous Senia-Maihar gharana which has given to the musical world many gems, including Pandit Ravi Shankar, also Allauddin’s disciple with whom the Ustad’s jugalbandis are timeless. The Ustad’s musical training began at age three under the tutelage of his father, who was an uncompromising guru and insisted on 18 hours of rigorous riyaaz.

After his first public performance at 13, he went on to achieve many firsts, including cutting an LP record of Indian classical music in the US as well as becoming the first Indian musician to receive the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He received many honours, including the Padma Vibushan, the Kalidas Samman, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, etc. The late Lord Yehudi Menuhin, a celebrated violinist at whose request he had first visited the US, called him “An absolute genius...the greatest musician in the world.” Menuhin was right.

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Thought for the Day

There are no “white” or “coloured” signs on the foxholes or graveyards of battle.

— John F. Kennedy

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Sri Lanka after the LTTE
Can India play a role in power-sharing accord?
by Maj-Gen Ashok K. Mehta (retd)

Strange was India’s sphinx-like silence over the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils and violation of human rights and humanitarian law of warfare during the last phase of the military offensive when the fight to finish the LTTE overrode the concern over the safety and security of civilians. This after Delhi had obtained from Colombo a commitment to ending combat operations and non-use of heavy weapons. The rescue mission to liberate 100,000 civilians from the no-fire zone was achieved at an enormous human cost, figures varying from 5000 to 30,000 to “unacceptably high” dead and one million displaced.

Sifting through the Sri Lankan media, one can detect admissions of use of government artillery and mortars by a sailor in LTTE captivity, government doctors in the NFZ, since taken into custody, anonymous Lankan and Western journalists and Mr Rajiva Wijesinha of the Human Rights Secretariat. He said mortars, an infantry weapon, were used against the LTTE’s heavy weapons, including tanks. He conceded that 3,000 to 5,000 civilians could have been killed.

The Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, Mr Sarath N Silva, is reported to have warned of another uprising, though not an armed struggle. He said IDPs (internally displaced persons) sheltered at transit centres in Cheddikulam cannot expect justice under Sri Lankan law. He then added: “I cannot explain their suffering and grief in words. It is an utter lie if we continue to say that there is only one race and no majority-minority in the country.” President Mahinda Rajapakse told an Indian TV channel that there was no humanitarian crisis and that at the most, 100 civilians had been killed.

For the world’s biggest rescue mission, the “delete LTTE” button was pressed after the Indian election results on May 16. What really happened in the following 48 hours, only history will tell as the speed to finish the Tigers clouded other considerations. The government blocked all access to the NFZ, prompting Director of Policy Alternatives Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu to say: “Surely, they must have something to hide.” He has since received threats to close CPA from a group calling itself the “Sri Lankans Affectionate to Motherland”.

The calls for an independent enquiry were rejected though a Lankan Tamil Minister, Mr Douglas Devananda, said he would request the President for an internal enquiry to clear the air over alleged human rights violations in the last phase of the war. A former minister, Mr Mangala Samaraweera, has reminded the Lankans about the “white van culture” absence of transparency and lack of accountability.

India has a relatively impeccable record in the use of force and upholding human rights against militancy in its conflict zones. It did not permit the use of heavy weapons by the IPKF against the LTTE nor has it ever allowed the use of tanks, air and artillery in the North-East and J&K even if this meant several-fold more military casualties. Protection of civilian lives and avoiding collateral damage is the top priority even at the cost of letting terrorists escape from the encounter site.

The Indian Army scrupulously follows the Ten Commandments and the do’s and don’ts of counter-insurgency. Given this historical ethos of minimum force and good faith, why did India not caution Colombo instead of supporting it outright during the offensive and in the two resolutions at the United Nations Human Rights Council at Geneva last month? The name of the game is realpolitik.

The most asked question today is having won the war, can Mr Mahinda Rajapakse win the peace and does India have a role in securing a power-sharing agreement? For years India has repeated its abiding commitment towards upholding Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in lieu of a just settlement for the Tamils. “It is Sri Lanka’s internal affair” that became the new diplomatic refrain signalling India’s reduced leverage and reluctance to restrain Colombo over the conduct of war.

Not once since the start of the Northern offensive did New Delhi ask for ending the military campaign even after the war had been won. All it would say was that a political, not a military, solution would work. Ironically, it is the military solution that succeeded for which Colombo had India’s full backing though it would have been more ethical to have asked the Lankans to stop operations once the distinction between the Tigers and civilian non-combatants in the NFZ blurred fatally.

The new UPA government demonstrated its fresh fire power on the plight of the Tamils and devolution in the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address in the Rajya Sabha earlier this month. Mrs Jayanthi Natarajan of the Congress and also its spokesperson said: “We demand that Mr Rajapakse ensure proper devolution of authority to Tamils and discrimination must end. Nothing short of this will satisfy us”, she added. She further said that “20,000 Tamils were killed in the war….” This is the first time such strong language has been employed to project the Tamil question, including the killing of 20,000 civilians.

The Rajapakse government has held national victory parades, and at least three speeches by the President to celebrate the achievement. For most Sri Lankans it is the victory of the Sinhalese over the Tamils. Mr Rajapakse issued a statement about being magnanimous in victory and announced friendship for all. Yet, two clear strands of opinion are emerging: the first and the dominant is that with the LTTE eliminated and its leadership blanked out, the problem of terrorism is finished. The corollary? There is no ethnic conflict either.

The second and more liberal view advocates settling the national question and the root causes that led to the birth of the LTTE. Its votaries recommend some measure of power-sharing without diluting the unitary character of the state. On several occasions Mr Rajapakse has promised the implementation of the 13th Amendment plus — that is more than what was envisaged in the Indo-Sri Lanka accord. Sinhala chauvinism and military triumphalism are bound to constrain Mr Rajapakse from meeting this commitment.

Tamil political parties already allied with the ruling SLFP could merge with it as has former LTTE leader Karuna’s TMVP. The LTTE proxy, the TNA, which won 23 of the 24 seats in the North-East in 2004, has said it will not accept the 13th Amendment and will make its own proposal. It wants the demerged North and East to be remerged as per the ISLA and sought India’s intervention. The internal affair excuse has been used to reject this request.

Mr Rajapakse has not only eradicated the LTTE menace but also divided all the political parties — the CWC, the SLMC, the UNP, the JVP and now even the TNA. His party will soon have won all the Provincial Council elections. Parliamentary elections, likely in November this year, would also be won with an overwhelming majority. He is bound to be re-elected President for another six years in 2011. The Rajapakse wave is unstoppable.

The All-Party Representative Committee, formed by Mr Rajapakse to address the national question, consists of only the ruling party as other parties have boycotted it though the UNP has said it will support the 13th Amendment. In all probability, what the Tamils will get is 13th Amendment minus — a cross between what was given to the Varadaraj Perumal, first and only elected government in the North-East in 1988 and what has been given to Chief Minister Pillaiyan’s TVMP in the East -— nothing. Mr Karuna has said the Tamils don’t need devolution — they require development. He is now the Vice-President of the SLFP.

For India after 30 years of involvement in the Tamil question, sacrifice of 1200 IPKF men and helping eliminate the LTTE, obtaining a just and fair devolution package for the Tamils is not an internal affair of Sri Lanka.

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Animal instincts
by Chetana Vaishnavi

MODERN man is supposed to be a social animal. However, with all the antisocial activities going on in this world by the so-called civilised homosapiens, I wonder if the epithet “social” should be attached to our species, who really doesn’t deserve it.

The word “animal” similarly appears blasphemous! In fact, we are really embarrassing the dumb creatures, who if they were able to speak, would put all of us to shame!

News of humane animal activities is rarely in the newspapers. But if one monitors carefully, they may be more rampant than one can even imagine! My own observation some two and a half decades ago is imprinted on my memory’s screen as fresh as ever!

A monkey was playfully holding a white laboratory mouse in its forepaw. The animals had escaped from the animal house, which was lodged in the second floor of a premier institute. I got really worried as I thought that the monkey would eat up the mouse. Both looked obviously famished. But to my utter surprise both the animals were playing together! For many days then I watched them playing thus. The mouse would fetch tidbits for the monkey who probably did not move around for fear of being caught and caged again!

One day, however, both of them disappeared, making me very sad. I could not believe my eyes for several years later till I read some other episodes of these so-called “animal behaviour”.

In 1998, a two-year-old female monkey took care of a one and a half month old cat as her own baby at a private zoo on the outskirts of Bangkok. The two animals remained together for a fortnight after their mothers abandoned both of them.

Nearer home, again in the same year, the story of the hare and the tortoise was retold with a different moral. In this case the tortoises came to the hares’ rescue and saved them from the surging waters of the river Tapti, which was in spate at the zoological gardens at Surat. The cage in which the hares were kept was not spared as the water level rose to two feet. On seeing the plight of their fellow creatures, a bunch of tortoises swam towards them and carried them to safety on their solid shellbacks!

Relating yet another episode, in 2003 Gujarati villagers were amazed to see a spotted leopard rubbing itself against a cow in a rare display of friendship!

As human being becomes more and more brutal trying to destroy the very existence of his co-humans, we have lessons to learn from the lower strata of life — the very animals that we look down upon! As Dr Theodore Isaac Rubin says in his book “One to One”, kindness is more important than wisdom and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom. It is high time we developed our own “animal instincts!”

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Show of strength
Dalits assert their identity in Punjab
by Gobind Thukral

Fortunately Punjab is back to normal. Its week-long nightmare — gory scenes of rioting, firing, burning and looting of public and private property and consequent loss of trade that cost nearly Rs 7,000 crore — is over.

The families of three young men who lost their lives sit back and mourn. Those who lost their property, cars and buses etc take rounds of offices to file claims. Some cool their heels in jails, facing charges of rioting and violence.

It required huge effort and mass management practices at the command of the Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, and his trusted officers to first establish control and then ensure there was no repeat of gruesome hostility and rioting.

In the process Mr Badal, who organised not only a path (recitation of Guru Granth Sahib) at the Golden Temple in memory of the slain Sant Ram Dass, but also sent a special plane to Vienna with officers to bring his body back for the last rites and held a state funeral at Dera Sachkhand Ballan, near Jalandhar. An appeal for peace from Akal Takht, a result of government efforts, was also helpful.

Obviously Mr Badal was acutely aware of the mishandling of the Sikh- Nirankari clash of Baisakhi 1978 that sowed the seeds of a prolonged conflict; rise of violent extremism, Operation Bluestar, murder of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi and massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere. It is etched in the collective memory of the people of Punjab.

So this time, though late, Badal acted with hindsight. Not a big price to establish normalcy and the writ of the state. It, however, did set a wrong precedence — a special plane to bring the body of Sant Ram Dass back and the state funeral, besides the promise to withdraw criminal cases against rioters.

Why has Punjab a fragile social and political fabric that gets torn asunder so often? Why did a section of the Sikhs murder one holy man and injure another belonging to Ramdasia sect of the Sikhs in far away Vienna? The same way, why did the Sikh-Nirankari clash in April 1978 that claimed 13 lives and later a few thousand more, happen?

The context of the present case will reveal many layers of the caste conflict in Punjab, considered otherwise a progressive state.

The attack on Sant Niranjan Dass and Sant Ram Dass was the handiwork of hardliners. This provoked followers of this Dera, who are dalits and worship Bhagat Ravi Dass whose verses find a place of honour in Guru Granth Sahib.

Essentially this is an assertion for equality by the dalits who despite Sikhism’s egalitarian nature and emphasis on a casteless society, find the present state of affairs too stifling and unjust.

Guru Nanak had preached and struggled hard to establish a casteless society. He was acutely aware of the scourge of the caste system. The creation of institutions—Sangat (the holy congregation) and Pangat (all sitting together to partake langar) — were meant to give a body blow to the oppressive caste system. The Gurbani is full of hymns that seek equality among all people.

The great reformer did succeed to a large degree. The impact, as we observe the state of Sikhism and the Punjabi society, is on the wane. Sikhism today is more into Brahmanical rituals and the reforms agenda of Sikhism that marked itself from the run-of-the-mill religions is on the decline.

The management of Sikh shrines under the SGPC is mainly controlled by a particular caste. At the political plane, the same representation prevails. This denial of equal rights, particularly when we have a constitution and rule of law that obliterate any caste distinctions, is too stifling for those who are at the lower rung of the social ladder.

Protests look genuine in such circumstances, particularly when a good section of the lower class and in this case Ramdassias are well off. A large number of them are in business and services and many have migrated to Europe, America and Canada and are doing well.

They are assertive and no longer accept the suzerainty of one dominant caste or class as one may call it. Electoral politics over the period has given impetus to caste divisions and assertions.

A gurdwara normally is a place of worship and congregation and social get-together. It is much more than these now. It is a place where identities are asserted. It is a place where cool politics takes roots and, of course, for some there is big money. In the Western world, there is a no-holds-barred struggle to control these places of God.

Dalits also call their temples gurdwaras. Ramdassia, now a sect, is independent of the Sikh religion. They have their own holy book that contains the verses of Bhagat Ravi Dass, mostly from Guru Granth Sahib. Despite this common link some of these shrines have their own holy book and a picture of Guru Ravi Dass along with Guru Granth Sahib. Sections of the Sikhs assert this as sacrilegious.

In the West, most Sikh gurdwaras over the past two decades have come to be dominated by upper caste leaders, many of them aligned with the “Khalistan” ideology. Massive donations are an other reason for the battles to control these places of worship.

Dalits, some of them fairly affluent and feeling marginalised, have started building their own gurdwaras with their own Granth. This is also not liked by the upper castes. There are many Ravidassia and Ramgarhia gurdwaras, besides scores of deras in Punjab. Many play cool politics.

There is greater tension involved in the West because of heavy donations. There have been armed clashes. There are 75 such gurdwaras outside India — 12 in the UK, eight each in the US and Italy, six in Canada and two each in France and Australia.

The dalit search for a different cultural space to overcome humiliation is reflected in their large-scale movement towards deras and sects such as Radhasoami, Sacha Sauda, Dera Wadbhag Singh and Piara Singh Bhaniarawala. They are turning to dargahs of Muslim Pirs. This is resented by the SGPC and Sikh organisations.

There are several layers at which the oppressive caste system operates. It is true that not all Jat Sikhs have a hard caste mentality and hate their dalit villagers. But dominant sections discourage social relationship. Inter-caste marriages are rare and whenever these happen, tension and violence destroy families.

The Green Revolution added to the economic and political clout of the land-owning class in general, while further widening social inequality. The Jat control of the leadership of the Shiromani Akali Dal since 1962 has added to apprehensions in the lower caste Sikhs. Whereas much change under the impact of dalit political assertion, social welfare measures and spread of education is visible, it has also led to tensions and conflicts.

There are probably as many hierarchies as there are castes in India. Yet, while no caste is willing to concede that its own members are defiling, they readily allege that there are other castes that are indeed polluting. Contemporary India is a witness to caste wars, dalit uprisings and demands for preferential politics.

An understanding of the distinctive pattern of caste hierarchy in Sikhism which points to a new pattern of competing hierarchies, parallel to that of the Hindus, calls for deeper insight into the dynamics of political power and economic relations both at the local and regional levels. There is certainly a complex mix of socio-religious tensions at the root. Religion is a strong element in this build-up, yet caste, money matters and social assertion by a community that has been kept on the fringes is at the root.

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Israeli PM feels the heat
by Harold Meyerson

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has at last acknowledged, with caveats, the need to establish a Palestinian state. Actually, Netanyahu’s Palestine is primarily caveats, with a dash of state thrown in for appearances’ sake.

In his speech on June 14, the Prime Minister failed to address the continual growth of Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank, where close to 300,000 Israeli settlers live. The Palestine that Netanyahu envisions must steadily shrink to accommodate the growing number of Israeli settlers in its midst. It would be a collection of barely contiguous cantons.

By refusing to address the growth of the settlements, Netanyahu has avoided a fight with the hard-right forces in his governing coalition. Yet he has asked the leaders of the Palestinian Authority to accept a state whose contours no Palestinian could willingly accept.

He demands a Palestine with no army, yet also demands that the Palestinian Authority suppress Hamas as a precondition for negotiations with Israel — something, as my American Prospect colleague Gershom Gorenberg has pointed out, that the very well-armed Israeli army has been unable to do.

By refusing to take on the settlers, however, Netanyahu may be cruising for a clash not just with Israel’s longtime critics but with its longtime supporters as well. The Obama administration, Democrats on the Hill who have long championed Israel’s interests and a clear majority of American Jews all view the growth of the settlements as a major impediment to a two-state solution, and, therefore, a threat to Israel’s long-term survival.

The Israeli government speaks of the “natural growth” of the settlements, but, says Queens Democrat Gary Ackerman, “having children can’t be an excuse to expand a settlement. Neither side should be expanding beyond its perimeters or attacking the other side. No expansions, no how, no way, no shticks, no tricks.”

What underpins the resolve of both the administration and Congress to push the Israelis, no less than the Palestinians, toward a settlement is the clear approval this approach commands among American Jews.

A poll taken in March for J Street, an organization of American Jews that favors a territorial accord, showed 72 percent support among Jewish Americans for U.S. pressure on Israel and its Arab neighbors to reach an accord, and, remarkably, 57 percent support for U.S. pressure just on Israel. The poll also found 60 percent opposition to the expansion of settlements.

These numbers reflect changes in American Jewish life and thought that have been building for decades. At a broad level, the intense identification of American Jews with Israel has been waning for many years.

More narrowly, the past couple of decades have brought the rise of American Jewish groups that try to pressure the U.S. government to push for a two-state solution — a clear counterweight to more established organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that generally try to pressure the U.S. government to do whatever the Israeli government would like it to do.

The J Street PAC, an organization that’s just three years old, raises funds for members of Congress who back policies leading to a two-state solution, much as AIPAC encourages its backers to donate to candidates who toe a more hawkish line.

But why the waning of American Jewish identification with Israel over the past few decades? At its birth, and for several decades thereafter, Israel commanded virtually consensual support among American Jews. But for the past 42 of its 61 years, Israel has ruled over Palestinians who are citizens neither of Israel nor of a Palestinian state.

They are — a condition that should be familiar to Jews — stateless. The blame for their statelessness is surely their own as well as the Israelis’, but in time, the Israeli role in the Palestinian disaster has eroded American Jewish identification with Israel.

By every measure, American Jews remain intensely committed to liberalism and to universal and minority rights. As a democratic state rising on the ashes of the Holocaust, Israel once embodied those values to its supporters, but 42 years of occupation have rendered Israel a state that tests those values more than it affirms them.

The writer is the editor-at-large of American Prospect and the L.A. Weekly

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Chatterati
Bihari politicians show their colours
by Devi Cherian

Bihari politicians in Delhi are not a very happy lot. Mulayam has come to Ram Vilas Paswan’s rescue by giving him his son’s sure-shot winning seat in U.P. Paswan, who had been a member of the Council of Ministers for almost 15 years in different alliance governments, has been missing in action since his defeat.

Notwithstanding his remarkably lacklustre showing as a minister, Paswan outshines most other politicians. On TV Paswan is famously known to have changed his attire at least ten times to suit the frame. After every election, even the ones he has lost, the former minister is the first to give sound bytes. His house has his huge pictures all over.

His most memorable trait is that he addresses himself in the third person. He will say “Ram Vials Paswan has won in Hajipur” and not “I have won in Hajipur.” Shahnawaz Hussain is the new neta on the block from Bihar who has taken to addressing himself in the third person as Paswan is fading.

The other Bihari Babu, Shatrughan Sinha, has come out with flying colours. When asked at a BJP meet in the capital how many times had he contested and won, in his deep voice he said: “Akhri Bar” and the gathering burst into laughter.

Another notable Bihari, Nitish Kumar, is known for his polite, understated style of political diplomacy. Just after the UPA government took charge for the second term, he ordered his officers in New Delhi to dispatch a bouquet to each of the ministers in the Union Council. People close to Kumar interpreted this as his “Gandhigiri”, a reminder that the JD (U) has 20 MPs and so Bihar should not be ignored. He is a man of few words and lets his deeds speak for him.

Air Force One

AT last the government has found an aircraft fit for a Prime Minister to fly. In June he will fly in a new VVIP Boeing, an Indian version of the Air Force One, the aircraft used by the American President.

A VVIP fleet of three specially designed aircraft fleet was brought to New Delhi last year. The aircraft are being remodelled and will be used by the President, the Vice-President, the P.M, the Defence Minister and the three services chiefs during their official visits within the country.

This fleet has everything in it: a Press room, a dining room with reclining chairs, a drawing room and bedrooms with all high security fittings. As the Prime Minister is a simple man with simple tastes, his home-made dal sabzi will also be served in his cabin.

No pictures, please

No public money for self-promotion”. This order comes from minister Jairam Ramesh to commemorate the World Environment Day. In a two-page note to the environment secretary, Ramesh has classified that only the PM’s photo should be printed in the advertisement.

In fact, Ramesh has indirectly sent a message to the DMK ministers, who have a penchant for publishing Karunanidhi’s picture in advertisements. Remember, Ram Vilas Paswan and Lalu Prasad released huge cut-outs and the public sector paid for the full-page advertisements.

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