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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Making judges accountable
Bill on assets disclosure will check graft
THE UPA government’s decision to introduce a Bill to make it mandatory for judges to disclose their assets and liabilities is a step forward in making judges accountable for their actions. It will also give a boost to the concept of the rule of law and democracy. The legislation, a part of the 100-day agenda of the Union Law Ministry, is to be enacted in the ensuing Budget session of Parliament.

Tackling drug menace
India has to be on constant watch
T
HE latest World Drug Report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has painted a dismal picture of drug production and consumption the world over and serves as a chilling reminder of this serious menace. The $50 billion cocaine market is undergoing seismic shifts wherein purity levels and seizures are down, prices are up and consumption patterns in a state of flux.

EARLIER STORIES

Who cares for hockey?
June 28, 2009
De-stressing education
June 27, 2009
Boosting higher education
June 26, 2009
Containing Maoist menace
June 25, 2009
Banning Maoists
June 24, 2009
Varun said it all
June 23, 2009
BJP at sea
June 22, 2009
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



More money for Punjab
The state is heading for a debt trap
D
ESPITE a 39 per cent jump in the annual plan outlay, Punjab’s financial situation is set to worsen. The state debt has ballooned to an all-time high because of an extravagant political leadership and the politics of competitive appeasement followed by the two main parties in the state over the years. The government may have to now borrow more to repay old debts.

ARTICLE

Zardari’s obfuscation
Days of countries attached to armies are over

by K. Subrahmanyam
O
N June 22 President Asif Ali Zardari made a very persuasive appeal through The Washington Post to the international community to support Pakistan in its war against the Taliban. He pointed out that “If the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are allowed to triumph in our region their destabilising alliance will spread across the continents. In Pakistan today democracy must succeed. The force of extremism must be vanquished. Failure is not an option, not for us, not for the world.”

MIDDLE

Run, rush, race
by Geetanjali Gayatri
T
HERE’S very little I have that belonged to my mother. But nothing belonged to her more than the last lesson she penned from her hospital bed. It makes up for everything else that’s been “lost” since her death three years back. And, it’s a reply to a poem. It was also my mother’s only ever written lesson. This despite the fact she’d been a teacher all her life.

OPED

The enemy within
Corruption delays defence modernisation

by Premvir Das
I
N a recent column of a Beijing journal, the author contended, amongst other things and quite derisively, that India would never be able to equal China’s national power. This statement may rouse tempers and hurt sensitivities in this country but a little introspection will show that he was not wide off the mark. National power is, of course, not just military strength alone but without it, is clearly unachievable. And, it is here that India is not just well behind China.

The prescience of protest
by Natan Sharansky
O
NCE again, the world is amazed. As with the seemingly sudden appearance of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, or the gaudy, grand-scale collapse of the Soviet empire at the end of that decade, the massive revolt of Iranian citizens has elicited the unmitigated surprise of the free world’s army of experts, pundits and commentators. Who would have known? Who could have predicted this eruption of protest in a system so highly repressed, where a generally quiescent populace lives under such a deeply entrenched revolutionary regime?

Chatterati
Young wives cut teeth in politics
by Devi Cherian
F
OUR young women, leaving the comforts of their cosy homes, braved the scorching heat and bumpy roads of rural Rajasthan to be by the side of their husbands. The women are Chitra, wife of Manvendra Singh; Sarah, wife of Sachin Pilot; Ambika, wife of Bhanwar Jitendra Singh and Niharika, wife of Dushyant Singh.

All for charity
Badal’s mansion

 


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Making judges accountable
Bill on assets disclosure will check graft

THE UPA government’s decision to introduce a Bill to make it mandatory for judges to disclose their assets and liabilities is a step forward in making judges accountable for their actions. It will also give a boost to the concept of the rule of law and democracy. The legislation, a part of the 100-day agenda of the Union Law Ministry, is to be enacted in the ensuing Budget session of Parliament.

This positive move reflects the Centre’s resolve to ensure transparency in the judiciary and guarantee the people’s right to know. Transparency within the judiciary can serve two important purposes. One, it reduces the opportunities for corrupt practices among the judges. And two, it promotes public confidence in the institution. Moreover, increasing cases of corruption against judges of late underscore the imperative need for a legislation that would make judges, who hold constitutional posts, disclose their assets as an onerous duty.

Significantly, judges command the respect of people at large and have been championing their right to know. How can the same right not be invoked when people demand information or accountability of the judges? The need for legislation on the disclosure of assets is important because the constitutional procedure of impeachment of judges is too slow.

Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily may have said that he would hasten the impeachment of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court but the motion of impeachment can be passed by Parliament only by a two-thirds majority of members present and voting. In the past 60 years, the only motion of impeachment, of Justice V. Ramaswami of the Supreme Court, fell through in Parliament in 1993 because MPs from his home state of Tamil Nadu decided to vote against it and the ruling Congress abstained from voting.

Since Chief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan has said umpteen times that he will have no problem if Parliament enacted a legislation on the issue of the disclosure of assets by judges, there should be no confrontation between Parliament and the judiciary on this subject.

Though the contours of the draft Bill are not yet clear, Justice Balakrishnan would do well to ensure that all the judges declare their assets in tune with the proposed legislation. Indeed, such transparency will help enhance the image and credibility of the judiciary as an institution.

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Tackling drug menace
India has to be on constant watch

THE latest World Drug Report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has painted a dismal picture of drug production and consumption the world over and serves as a chilling reminder of this serious menace. The $50 billion cocaine market is undergoing seismic shifts wherein purity levels and seizures are down, prices are up and consumption patterns in a state of flux.

While 41 per cent of the world’s cocaine is being seized, only one fifth (19 per cent) of all opiates (opium, morphine and heroin) are being intercepted. On the other hand consumption of synthetic drugs is on the rise in the developing world including India. Since the skills needed to access and process the needed chemicals to make these types of drugs comprising amphetamines, methamphetamine and ecstasy are not widely spread, it indicates the presence of organised groups in these countries.

This should be of considerable concern for India flanked as it is with the world’s two most notorious drug producing regions: the Golden Crescent comprising Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan on the west and the Golden Triangle comprising Myanmar, Thailand and Laos on the east. Iran and Pakistan are worst affected by drug trafficking and account for seizure of the most amount of opiates.

Even though its cultivation fell by 19 per cent in 2008, Afghanistan still accounts for 93 per cent of the world’s opium production. In India, production and consumption of drugs remains a serious menace. The government sees a parallel in the rising acreage of illegal opium cultivation in several states and the mounting terror by the naxalites. In both Jammu and Kashmir and in Himachal Pradesh, illicit cultivation of opium poppy is on the rise while Punjab remains a transit route of about 40 per cent of the drug trade from the Golden Crescent with about 16 per cent of the state’s population reportedly seriously addicted to drugs.

Drugs and narcotics are a serious threat and affect, most of all, the youth. The nexus between drug dealers and criminals is well known. Law enforcement agencies must continue to make concerted efforts to rid society of this evil which needs to be fought at all levels — local, national and global.

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More money for Punjab
The state is heading for a debt trap

DESPITE a 39 per cent jump in the annual plan outlay, Punjab’s financial situation is set to worsen. The state debt has ballooned to an all-time high because of an extravagant political leadership and the politics of competitive appeasement followed by the two main parties in the state over the years. The government may have to now borrow more to repay old debts.

Besides, there is the staff pay hike burden. Pushed to a corner, the Chief Minister has sought a waiver of at least the Central loan given for fighting militancy. The plea is that militancy was a proxy war by Pakistan and the Centre should consequently foot the bill. Still, the loan for fighting militancy is only a small part of the state’s debt, which has grown to a staggering Rs 57,000 crore.

What will push the state deeper into financial morass is the proposed implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission report from August 1. The staff pay hike will impose an additional burden of Rs 3,000 crore a year on the exchequer, while the payment of arrears will require Rs 4,800 crore more. The Punjab government had made no provision for this in the last budget as Haryana and some other states had done.

Punjab’s financial troubles can be blamed on poor governance. Liberal tax concessions and free power and water are given for short-term electoral gains. The state has a bloated bureaucracy and a top-heavy police force. The state spends its revenue almost entirely on salaries, pensions and loan repayments, leaving little for development. Power infrastructure is in bad shape and there is no money for its replacement or for undertaking new power projects. The canal system is worn out. Fresh taxes are not levied and the existing ones are not collected properly. Instead of devoting its energies on improving governance, the state leadership has found an easy pastime: keep cajoling the Centre for a bailout.

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Thought for the Day

When the people contend for their liberty, they seldom get anything by their victory but new masters. — Lord Halifax

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Zardari’s obfuscation
Days of countries attached to armies are over
by K. Subrahmanyam

ON June 22 President Asif Ali Zardari made a very persuasive appeal through The Washington Post to the international community to support Pakistan in its war against the Taliban. He pointed out that “If the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are allowed to triumph in our region their destabilising alliance will spread across the continents. In Pakistan today democracy must succeed. The force of extremism must be vanquished. Failure is not an option, not for us, not for the world.”

Irrefutable logic indeed. If President Zardari believes in it how he would explain Pakistan not banning Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organisation seven years after it was declared to be so by the United Nations. That Al-Qaeda is not a terrorist organisation as per Pakistani laws has been disclosed by the Lahore High Court in its judgement in the Hafiz Saeed case on June 2. Even after that, till today no notification declaring Al-Qaeda a terrorist organisation and banning it has been issued in Pakistan.

Even as he talks of vanquishing the Taliban the Afghan Taliban leadership headed by Mullah Omar is reported to be functioning from Quetta and there are very recent reports in the Wall Street Journal of Mullah Omar assuming an active leadership of the Afghan Taliban now fighting the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Today the Pakistan Army is fighting only against the Pakistani Taliban and President Zardari portrays it as a war against all Taliban and Al-Qaeda which is clearly not the case.

President Zardari has reiterated in the article the widely disseminated myth, unfortunately even accepted by many Americans, that Pakistan was made use of as a blunt instrument in the Cold War against the Soviet Union and then abandoned by the US. He writes, “Once the Soviets were defeated, the Americans took the next bus out of town, leaving behind a political vacuum that ultimately led to the Talibanisation and radicalisation of Afghanistan, the birth of Al-Qaeda and the current jihadi insurrection in Pakistan.”

This is very convenient rewriting of history. While it is true Pakistan was used as an instrument against the Soviet Union in the Cold War, it is not true that the Americans took the next bus out of town. Surely, President Zardari could not have forgotten that they played a major role in installing his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, as Prime Minister in December, 1988.

The Americans were compelled to invoke the Pressler Amendment in 1990 when Pakistan defied the US and conducted a nuclear test at the Lop Nor test site in China on May 26, 1990, when his late wife was still the Prime Minister. The US did not abandon Pakistan. The latter with Chinese support decided to defy the US. The Taliban was installed in Kabul in the early nineties by General Nasrullah Babar, the Interior Minister in the Cabinet of Benazir Bhutto.

The Talibanisation, radicalisation and jihadisation of Pakistan were the results of deliberate policies pursued by the Pakistan Army and the ISI. While Mr Zardari is eloquent in denouncing the US support to military dictatorships, he has nothing to say about the Pakistani Army’s role in dominating the civilian elected governments and compelling the Prime Ministers to collaborate with the Army in nuclear proliferation as it happenned to Benazir Bhutto during her visit to North Korea in 1994 when Pakistan bartered its uranium enrichment technology for North Korean missiles. Mr Zardari portrays the present situation in Pakistan as one of normal healthy democracy in which the civilian government lays down the policy and the Army will carry it out.

In Pakistan the Army has continuously been in power since 1958 except for a short period of five years under Z.A. Bhutto. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif functioned within the limits of autonomy given to them by the Army. When Nawaz Sharif tried to assert his authority he was overthrown. The same officer corps are in charge of the Army. A former ISI chief is now the Army Chief and the same policies and strategy of the Army are being continued. Therefore, Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban have safe havens in Pakistan, and various jihadi groups are considered assets and instrumentalities by the Army. The civilian government today is functioning with the same degree of autonomy which Benazir and Nawaz Sharif had.

The Pakistan Army was over-confident and committed blunders in 1947-48, in 1965, in 1971 and 1999. Now it feels it has outsmarted the Americans for the last three decades and acquired the nuclear arsenal with which it is able to deter them and at the same time milk them of billions of dollars. But they have committed a grave blunder in assuming that they can control the jihadis they nurtured. The Pakistani Taliban are showing them that they cannot be controlled. As the Americans and NATO step up their operations in Afghanistan and as the Pakistan Army devastates the Pathan territory with their bombings and artillery fire, their ability to control the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda is going to be severely challenged.

As war devastation increases and internally displaced people multiply, their dependence on US and other aid will increase. It is difficult to predict what strategy the Pakistani jihadis will adopt. Some observers believe that the most serious threat to Pakistan may come from the Lashkar-e-Toiba spreading its influence in Punjab. Others have concerns about the ethnic divide between Punjabis and Pathans.

The international community would not allow Pakistan to fail but Pakistan must know it will not be allowed to fight some selected terrorists and patronise others to be used as convenient instrumentalities. Jihadism in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region has to be eliminated root and branch as it happened to Nazism and Japanese militarism. This cannot happen without a radical change of the mindset among the Pakistani officer corps and the ISI. Without that change democracy cannot have a future in Pakistan either.

Pakistan is known as a country attached to an army. The present predicament of Pakistan is not entirely due to US policies towards Islamabad as Mr Zardari would have us believe. Though the US has a lot to answer for the Pakistan Army, the latter is mostly responsible for the Talibanisation and jihadisation. Of the country, Mr Zardari has not admitted Pakistani obligations to de-Talibanise and de-jihadise.

It is perhaps beyond the capacity of the Pakistani civilian government alone to achieve it. It needs combined international pressure which should be exerted through a calibrated aid programme and making it clear to the Pakistan Army that its expansionist dreams towards Afghanistan and Central Asia will be contained by the international community. The days of armies with countries attached to them are over.

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Run, rush, race
by Geetanjali Gayatri

THERE’S very little I have that belonged to my mother. But nothing belonged to her more than the last lesson she penned from her hospital bed. It makes up for everything else that’s been “lost” since her death three years back. And, it’s a reply to a poem. It was also my mother’s only ever written lesson. This despite the fact she’d been a teacher all her life.

I wasn’t by her bedside when she passed away; I wasn’t available on phone either because I was taking an exam. She died with the desire to have one last word with me, to say her goodbyes, but it was destined to be otherwise. That’s why, I think, her “lesson” came to me. When tears don’t stop rolling down, when the mind becomes numb with her memory, when I visualise how her eyes would have searched for me in that last moment that took her breath away, I turn to this treasure trove of words.

From a dying mother to her daughter, every word brings me solace — giving company in loneliness, comfort in times of unrest, assuring me she’s watching from heaven above. She was admitted to hospital to be “fed” through the intravenous drip. Cancer had eaten into her intestines and the doctors gave her only a few months. During one such routine round to her room, Dr J.D. Wig, the specialist attending on her, handed over a poem to her. He said, “I have work for you. I want a reply to this poem.”

“Slow dance” was about enjoying every moment of life’s vivid colours and sounds — the laughter of children, the rain slapping on the ground, the fading sun, friendships et al. The bottom line was, “You’d better slow down. Don’t dance so fast…. Life is not a race, take it slower, hear the music, before the song is over.” Each morning, he would ask for her “homework” which was yet unfinished. Then, one night, past midnight, she suddenly seemed better. She spoke of how the “bright orbs of heaven” were beckoning her. It was unnerving, frightening, scary and upsetting.

Her only reaction was a calm reply. “Geeta, I am happy to be there. Don’t be upset for me,” she said. She, then, insisted on replying to the poem, a request I turned down out of the sheer fear of allowing her to complete “her last assignment” before her spirit took wings. But she was not one to pay heed. That night, despite the needle of the IV drip sticking into the back of her hand, she captured the essence of life. In her words, as she saw it, while death chiseled away the days of her life.

“Run, rush, race, Time is short, Life is shorter still. There is so much to see, feel and do. When the day is done, there are a hundred chores still undone” was her reply to the “Slow Dance”. After a few days she died. On her third death anniversary, as I go over her poem a thousandth time, I’ve learnt never to slow down or delay what my child desires, to take time to lend a helping hand, nurture a good friendship and pass through life touching as many lives as I possibly can. For, “the heavens are forever beckoning” and who knows when life’s game is over!

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The enemy within
Corruption delays defence modernisation
by Premvir Das

IN a recent column of a Beijing journal, the author contended, amongst other things and quite derisively, that India would never be able to equal China’s national power. This statement may rouse tempers and hurt sensitivities in this country but a little introspection will show that he was not wide off the mark. National power is, of course, not just military strength alone but without it, is clearly unachievable. And, it is here that India is not just well behind China.

The gap is widening every day, even as the latter moves speedily on its modernisation schemes, while we simply keep on shooting ourselves in the foot. Look at the dismal picture. In 1986, a contract to procure 155 mm guns for the Army was finalised after years of dithering. Everyone agreed that the Bofors gun was the best available in the global arms market at that time.

This contract provided for an outright purchase of some guns and transfer of technology to manufacture the rest in the country. There were audible sighs of relief in the Army that the induction of this weapon would restore the edge that it had lost over Pakistan. The elation was short lived; within two years the whole euphoria was shattered.

Bofors was blacklisted amid cries of bribery and corruption and indigenous production was grounded. Charges were levied against just about everybody, the Prime Minister included. The balance sheet, 20 years down the line, is that not one of the alleged bribe takers has seen jail even for a day. Three of them are dead and those who are not, are free as birds, hobnobbing with the highest in the land.

On the flip side and as a direct consequence of the blacklisting, neither have any more guns been procured nor have any been built indigenously. In this period of 20 years, the Indian Army has not received a single piece of heavy artillery. This is not all. In 1984, India signed a contract with a German company called HDW to acquire four submarines for its Navy, with more to follow. Of the first four, two were to be built in Germany and two in an Indian yard. The HDW-built boats were commissioned by 1989; the local production went slightly behind schedule but all four were operational by 1992.

In 1987, the Navy had proposed continuation of the indigenous production line, facilities for which were created at great cost, with four follow on submarines when thunderstorms struck the project, again, with familiar charges of bribery and corruption. HDW was blacklisted and everything came to a grinding halt. FIRs were filed listing some people. The balance sheet, 20 years later, is that not one of the people alleged to have taken bribes or done other wrongdoings has spent even a day in jail. No charge sheet could be filed for want of evidence and the case has been closed.

Again, on the flip side, and as a direct result of the blacklisting, not a single submarine has been built or acquired for the Navy in the 20 years that have elapsed. Some six or seven years ago, a contract was signed for the acquisition of six French submarines through a technology transfer building programme. Yet again, cries of bribery and corruption filled the air, repeated yet again, in the case of Russian aircraft carrier Gorshkov and the Israeli Barak missile systems, being acquired for the Navy.

Mercifully, the government was able to continue with the projects in contradiction of its ‘blacklisting’ profile. It seemed as if we had come of age. Just when it seemed that bad times were behind us, there is ‘déjà vu’ once again. When the French Rafaele was recently deleted, possibly for good reason, from the126 Multi Role Combat Aircraft race, lobbying and adequate hue and cry got it back into contention. And now comes the dreaded B word once again; as many as six firms cleared for supplying important weapons and sensors for the armed forces have been blacklisted, the guess is right, for bribery and corruption.

A former Director General of Ordnance Factories and his accomplices, alleged to have made some money, have ensured that modernisation schemes of the military have been stymied once again. Whether their cases will follow the Bofors and HDW route remains to be seen; what is abundantly clear is that India’s quest for acquiring desired capabilities for its armed forces has been halted once more. So if the Chinese are smirking and grinning from ear to ear at our inadequacies, they are not to blame because the enemy is within, not without.

Bribery in the arms market is neither new nor peculiar to India. In almost all military procurements, not only in India, commissions are the norm, not the exception. And, the beneficiaries are, mainly, politicians and political parties. So it is not surprising that we, ourselves, are quite accomplished at the game. No one doubts that commissions were paid for the Bofors and HDW contracts and everyone knows that these went to political parties just as they did for so many procurements earlier, the Jaguar and Mirage deals in the 1970s and 1980s, being only a few.

Unlike elsewhere, the political route remains untouched in India. The convenient and side-stepping response is to blacklist the firms when the fact is that they would not have given bribes if these had not been demanded. We only end up by degrading our military capabilities even further.

There is need to differentiate between bribery and punishing the guilty, and needs of military modernisation. When the aim should be to purposefully crush the first and progress on the second, we are doing exactly the opposite. The Defence Minister is known to be a person of great honesty and integrity. This does not, by implication, mean that transparency in procurements can eliminate the political connection; it can, at best, skim the insignificant icing on the cake.

While a few crores, swindled by officials are a bad thing and unacceptable, meriting appropriate punishment, that aspect should not be allowed to cripple the modernisation of the armed forces. The money made available for that purpose is already well short of what is needed; to further castrate its utilisation is not going to help any. There is need to move more pragmatically because India can never become a power of consequence if it is weak militarily. At least this once, we should heed the Chinese.

The writer is a former Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command

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The prescience of protest
by Natan Sharansky

ONCE again, the world is amazed. As with the seemingly sudden appearance of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, or the gaudy, grand-scale collapse of the Soviet empire at the end of that decade, the massive revolt of Iranian citizens has elicited the unmitigated surprise of the free world’s army of experts, pundits and commentators. Who would have known? Who could have predicted this eruption of protest in a system so highly repressed, where a generally quiescent populace lives under such a deeply entrenched revolutionary regime?

And yet, just as in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, there were people in Iran who did know all along, who foresaw and even foretold today’s events. These were Iran’s democratic dissidents, some at home, some in exile, some having served long sentences in Iranian prisons or on their way to those prisons right now.

At various Western conferences and forums in recent years, some of these dissidents even succeeded in gaining the ear of leaders of the free world. They were greeted with sincere expressions of sympathy and support — but also with silent skepticism. Surely their assessments of the Iranian situation were unreliable at best. Heroic they undoubtedly were, but objective? After all, they lacked access to classified information, to satellite photography and the other tools of modern intelligence-gathering. They could not see the whole picture.

Now it turns out that, like their predecessors in the Soviet Union, they were right. How is it that dissidents rotting in the gulag were able to predict, many years earlier, not only when but how the Soviet Union would collapse — something that escaped all the world’s scholars and intelligence agencies alike? Andrei Amalrik’s book, “Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?,” published underground in 1969, is only one of many examples of such predictions. How did the experts miss it? The reason is simple.

Every totalitarian society consists of three groups: true believers, double-thinkers and dissidents. In every totalitarian regime, no matter its cultural or geographical circumstances, the majority undergoes a conversion over time from true belief in the revolutionary message into double-thinking. They no longer believe in the regime but are too scared to say so. Then there are the dissidents — pioneers who dare to cross the line between double-thinking and everything that lies on the other side. In doing so, they first internalize, then articulate and finally act on the innermost feelings of the nation.

People in free societies watching massive military parades or vociferous displays of love for the leaders of totalitarian regimes often conclude, “Well, that’s their mentality; there’s nothing we can do about it.” Thus they and their leaders miss what is readily grasped by local dissidents attuned to what is happening on the ground: the spectacle of a nation of double-thinkers slowly or rapidly approaching a condition of open dissent.

To see the telltale signs, sometimes it helps to have experienced totalitarianism firsthand. More than once in recent years, former Soviet citizens returning from a visit to Iran have told me how much Iranian society reminded them of the final stages of Soviet communism. Their testimony was what persuaded me to write almost five years ago that Iran was extraordinary for the speed with which, in the span of a single generation, a citizenry had made the transition from true belief in the revolutionary promise into disaffection and double-thinking. Could dissent be far behind? This suggests another notable fact about present-day Iran.

In Moscow in the 1970s, demonstrations organized by dissidents in an effort to attract the world’s attention would often consist of no more than five to 10 individuals. Otherwise, the KGB would find out about the demonstrations in advance. They would last no more than five minutes. That was the longest we could last before the KGB would come, arrest us and ship the less fortunate to Siberia. Our main objective was to make certain that at least one foreign journalist was present so that, the next day, at least one Western news source would come out with a story that could in turn elicit a chain reaction of more and greater press attention and, we hoped, a vocal Western response.

Last week, there were hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Tehran, with the entire world following them in real time. My assistant, sitting in Jerusalem, received daily updates on Facebook from two dozen Iranian friends before they set out to demonstrate and again on their return. One can only hope that, in the White House and at 10 Downing Street, the leaders of the free world are as well connected as my assistant.

But will those leaders act? With all their sympathy for peoples striving for freedom, Western governments are fearful of imperiling actual or hoped-for relations with the world’s ayatollahs, generals, general secretaries and other types of dictators — partners, so it is thought, in maintaining political stability. But this is a fallacy.

Democracy’s allies in the struggle for peace and security are the demonstrators in the streets of Tehran who, with consummate bravery, have crossed the line between the world of double-think and the world of free men and women. Listen to them, and you will hear nothing more, and nothing less, than what you yourself know to be the true hope of every human being on Earth. Listen to them and you may be amazed, but you will never again be surprised.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Chatterati
Young wives cut teeth in politics
by Devi Cherian

FOUR young women, leaving the comforts of their cosy homes, braved the scorching heat and bumpy roads of rural Rajasthan to be by the side of their husbands. The women are Chitra, wife of Manvendra Singh; Sarah, wife of Sachin Pilot; Ambika, wife of Bhanwar Jitendra Singh and Niharika, wife of Dushyant Singh.

Of the four, only Niharika has had some grooming in politics under her mother-in-law, Vasundhara Raje. When Gurjjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla had come to the CM’s residence for negotiations on his demand for his community, the CM’s daughter-in-law personally served him. Touched by the gesture, Bainsla is reported to have blessed the CM’s daughter-in-law.

While Dushyant Singh proudly proclaimed himself as Gurjjars’ jawai (son-in-law) during his campaign, Niharika went from door-to-door to woo voters for her husband. She took part in her mother-in-law’s election campaign too. But Ambika, wife of Rahul’s right hand Jitendra Singh, is a post-graduate from St Stephen’s in Delhi and an ace shooter. For her it was a new experience travelling in villages. This “Maharani” had local women come to touch her cheeks, hug her, and then blurt out a litany of complaints like a dearth of drinking water and lack of employment.

In Barmer, Chitra went from door-to-door to campaign for her husband, who suddenly found himself alone with father Jaswant Singh contesting from Darjeeling. Wearing a saree and a veil, she campaigned in over a dozen villages. In Ajmer Sarah, the youngest daughter of Farooq Abdullah, draws enthusiastic reactions from women as she greets them with folded hands. With the BJP fielding Kiran Maheshwari in Ajmer, Sarah’s presence was a big strength to Sachin Pilot.

All for charity

The capital has seen a whole lot of glamour girls recently doing their two bits for social work. Preity Zinta has adopted 30 orphan girls and will look after them. Kareena and Karisma Kapoor are planning to open a school for the under-privileged children. Katrina and her mother are making a home for abandoned baby girls in Chennai.

Katrina herself has six younger sisters. Kajol is the brand ambassador of a U.K-based trust. But an NGO called “Siksha” is her main interest. Ameesha Patel is associated with the Angel Foundation. She has also been working with the U.N. campaign against human trafficking. Vidya Balan’s interest lies in girls’ education.

Badal’s mansion

In Badal village, Badal’s grand mansion has a tall, imposing red-brick wall that gives the Badal mansion a grand look. A large wooden door that seems straight out of the Mughal era only reinforces the impression. And a tall red brick wall around it carved within the main gate, a stern guard shoos away curios onlookers.

It’s been five years in the making spread over six acres, this fortress has all the luxuries of the world. After all the C.M of Punjab and his son, the Deputy C.M, are going to be living here. The house is bang opposite Sukhbir’s latest interest, a new stud farm, which is also concealed by a high boundary wall. Badals’ earlier haveli is almost 100 years old and its roof can cave in any time, so the new house for the Badals. Insiders say the new mansion has landscaped lawns and pathways lined with over 100 imported date palm trees.

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