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EDITORIALS

Waiting for the monsoon
India still helpless before the rains
A
griculture Minister Sharad Pawar has done well to allay fears of a drought in the country. Weather experts have predicted rain in this region this week and Sunday’s showers in Delhi do strengthen the hope. This may discourage farmers who had started hoarding diesel to cope with a possible drought. However, the Agriculture Ministry need not take it easy and should prepare itself for the worst as our weathermen are not exactly known for making accurate predictions.

A drug haven
State governments are totally indifferent
India’s northern states are in the midst of a serious drug crisis, which, tragically, state governments are hardly giving it the serious attention it demands. At stake is the welfare of a generation of youth of the region. The fact that northern India is located adjacent to one of the world’s largest drug producing region — the Golden Crescent comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran — considerably complicates the situation.





EARLIER STORIES

Making judges accountable
June 29, 2009
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

Business of soul-searching
The last resort of comrades or karsewaks
It is usually the pain of failure that prompts a search for the soul. And this does appear to be soul-searching season. From the Indian cricket team to the general secretary of Communist Party of India ( CPI), A.B. Bardhan, there has been relentless soul-searching, much of it in the public domain on national television, as if to prove to the sceptics that even hardcore communists and politicians of other hues have souls.

ARTICLE

Mayawati and her ways
Self-glorification doesn’t pay in a democracy
by S. Nihal Singh
S
omewhere along the way Ms Mayawati has lost the plot. She had many things going for her: the Dalit ki Beti who had graduated from being an understudy of her mentor Kanshi Ram to becoming the Chief Minister of the most populous state under her own steam. She had cleverly expanded her “bahujan samaj” to “servasamaj” to win a majority for her Bahujan Samaj Party in a chemistry with echoes of the Congress formula for success.

MIDDLE

All the world’s a stage
by Robin Gupta
S
ome 34 years ago, a pleasant, weather-beaten Colonel called on me in the Sub Divisional Magistrate’s office at Raiganj in West Bengal. As he had been brought by a friend, I invited both officers to dinner.

OPED

Iranian women inspire hope with role in protests
by Sudarsan Raghavan
O
ver the past two weeks, Marcelle George has watched with amazement as legions of Iranian women, most wearing black, full-length Islamic garments, defiantly protested Iran's leadership.

Rebuilding Sri Lanka
by Bharti Chhibber
N
ow that the Sri Lankan army has claimed victory in the war against the LTTE, it’s time to rebuild the Sri Lankan economy and reconstruct infrastructure. And the most important and basic to a permanent solution to the Tamil issue is to address it by a political resolution.

Delhi Durbar
Ministers vying for space in media
A
race appears to be on amongst some ministers in the new UPA government for achieving maximum possible visibility in the print and electronic media.

  • A different voice

  • PM has a busy schedule


Top








EDITORIALS

Waiting for the monsoon
India still helpless before the rains

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has done well to allay fears of a drought in the country. Weather experts have predicted rain in this region this week and Sunday’s showers in Delhi do strengthen the hope. This may discourage farmers who had started hoarding diesel to cope with a possible drought. However, the Agriculture Ministry need not take it easy and should prepare itself for the worst as our weathermen are not exactly known for making accurate predictions. Their initial forecast of a normal monsoon has already proved wrong. A delayed monsoon will “significantly”, though not “catastrophically”, hurt India’s economic growth, according to an international rating agency, Moody’s.

The immediate impact of deficient rain will be on the prices of food items like cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables, which have already become painfully expensive despite inflation hovering in the negative. Since power supply is much less than demand and the north-western region is the worst hit, farmers have turned to diesel to save their crops. Though paddy cultivation has been delayed in Punjab, partly due to the government diktat and partly due to the shortage of migrant labour, those experts who used to question the wisdom of growing a water-guzzler like paddy in a state with a sinking water table have suddenly vanished. There is no longer any talk of promoting alternative crops and farmers will not turn away from paddy as long as the returns are decent — though the loss of ground water and soil nutrients do not figure in their calculations.

The delayed monsoon has also jolted India to the need for more power as the public outrage at power disruptions has got louder than ever before. Politicians cleverly blame the power crisis on the late arrival of the monsoon, escaping the responsibility for not doing enough to enhance India’s power capacity. Besides, the Centre and states will have to decide for how many years more India will have to depend so heavily on the monsoon. The neglect of irrigation, poor water management and deterioration and contamination of water resources are showing their impact. When will the governments at the Centre and in the states stir themselves and get their priorities right and free the country from the bondage of the monsoon?

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A drug haven
State governments are totally indifferent

India’s northern states are in the midst of a serious drug crisis, which, tragically, state governments are hardly giving it the serious attention it demands. At stake is the welfare of a generation of youth of the region. The fact that northern India is located adjacent to one of the world’s largest drug producing region — the Golden Crescent comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran — considerably complicates the situation.

Even stray facts emerging from what is essentially a market of the other kind are alarming, especially in Punjab where unemployment is high and the quality of education and health care is low and opium has become a habit in the villages. By its own admission before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the Punjab government has reportedly admitted that vibrancy of Punjab is now a myth and that the state is in the midst of a drug hurricane. This is not without a weakening effect on the morale, height and character of the youth. As many as one-third of Punjab’s school-going children are addicted to gutka and tobacco and every third female and every tenth male student has taken drugs while seven out of ten college-going students abuse drugs, according to the state government. This is disturbing for a state that is known for its saints and soldiers and for being the country’s primary granary. Several studies and surveys conducted by hospitals and drug de-addiction centres point to similar trends in the Union Territory of Chandigarh. There has been a steady deterioration in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) where studies reveal that some youth in rural areas are drug abusers. Such is the level of desperation that a section of youth in J&K and Himachal Pradesh are known to be even consuming boot polish, glue, fluid erasers, cough syrups and other solvents to get a drug effect.

In Himachal Pradesh, the Kullu-Manali region is a known haven for the production and consumption of drugs such as charas, opium, heroin, cocaine and ganja. Consumption of drugs is similarly on the rise in Haryana, particularly in Sirsa, Hisar and the districts bordering Rajasthan. Indeed drug addiction is steadily paralysing the region and state governments need to tackle this deadly menace on a war footing before it turns into an epidemic and results in a serious break down in law and order.

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Business of soul-searching
The last resort of comrades or karsewaks

It is usually the pain of failure that prompts a search for the soul. And this does appear to be soul-searching season. From the Indian cricket team to the general secretary of Communist Party of India ( CPI), A.B. Bardhan, there has been relentless soul-searching, much of it in the public domain on national television, as if to prove to the sceptics that even hardcore communists and politicians of other hues have souls. The Bharatiya Janata Party first called for ‘introspection’ and when letters and leaks made it a little too embarrassing for the party, the leaders hurriedly held a “chintan shivir’ or a camp to deliberate on why party astrologers and psephologists went wrong with wishes going as predictions. Arun Jaitley chose to deliberate in the more salubrious climate in London, with a game slightly better than politics, T-20 Cricket. The bravest face, however, was put up by Prakash Karat, the CPM general secretary, who shook off criticism like water from the duck’s back and instead found the ‘collective failure’ of the Left as the primary reason for the Left’s unprecedented rout in the elections.

However, Mr Bardhan, who appeared to be Karat’s soul-mate all through the long campaign and appeared equally aloof, if not arrogant, appears to have discovered afresh the virtues of candour and some soul-searching. He now says that CPM cadres, and to a lesser extent other Left party cadres, have become arrogant and drunk with power in states ruled by the Left Front; that they have been bossing around, interfering in the lives of the people; that the lifestyle of the cadres are no longer modest and that the tendency of the cadres to interfere “ even in a club or a school committee” etc led to the alienation of the Left parties from the people.

The common man in communist ruled states has long been familiar with the arrogance and interference that Bardhan now has come to know. It is not quite a state secret that CPM local committees in West Bengal continue to dictate who is going to let out his house and to whom. Appointments, transfers, purchase or sale of property, conducting business or even marital disputes — nothing has escaped the attention of the Big Brother’s over-enthusiastic cadres. We don’t know who is now to do the soul-searching — the rejected partymen doing Lal Salams for self-satisfaction or he is going to recruit a fresh cadre of soul-searchers. May be Comrade Bardhan can go in for the later-day habit of the capitalist enemy and outsource the business of soul-searching. Licking wounds would do meanwhile for both comrades and karsewaks of the Sangh Parivar.

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Thought for the Day

Life is a rainbow which also includes black. — Yevgeny Yevtushenko

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Corrections and clarifications

n In the report “UK diplomats meet Mehbooba” (Page 6, June 26) Mehbooba Mufti is quoted as saying that “the document had the potential of reconciling the positions of both India and Pakistan.…” It is unclear which document she was referring to.

n In “AI inflicted with terminal disease” (Page 21, June 28) “inflicted” should have been “afflicted”.

n In the report “SHOs, DSPs install ACs sans entitlement” (Page 3, June 29) the word “exchequer” has been mis-spelt as “ex-chequer”.

n In the report “Dhoni, RP rescue some pride” (Page 16, June 29) the appropriate word in place of “rescue” would have been “salvage”.

Despite our earnest endeavour to keep The Tribune error-free, some errors do creep in at times. We are always eager to correct them. We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error.

We will carry corrections and clarifications, wherever necessary, every Tuesday & Friday.

Readers in such cases can write to Mr Kamlendra Kanwar, Senior Associate Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections” on the envelope. His e-mail ID is kanwar@tribunemail.com.

H.K. Dua
Editor-in-Chief

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ARTICLE

Mayawati and her ways
Self-glorification doesn’t pay in a democracy
by S. Nihal Singh

Somewhere along the way Ms Mayawati has lost the plot. She had many things going for her: the Dalit ki Beti who had graduated from being an understudy of her mentor Kanshi Ram to becoming the Chief Minister of the most populous state under her own steam. She had cleverly expanded her “bahujan samaj” to “servasamaj” to win a majority for her Bahujan Samaj Party in a chemistry with echoes of the Congress formula for success.

Ms Mayawati is not the first — nor will she be the last — politician who favours autocratic ways. But her arbitrariness seems to have increased with each passing day, setting new records in transferring bureaucrats even in a state traditionally given to mass transfers with every change of regime. In her case, the approaching general election seemed to be a signal for the excesses not seen in the annals of Indian politics.

The Dalit leader seems to have convinced herself that her time to rule the country had arrived. She set up candidates throughout the country and criss-crossed the land in the manner of a leader of an established national party to sell brand Mayawati. So assured she was of her strength in Uttar Pradesh that she chose to ignore it for richer pastures. The results, when they came, were a great letdown not only in the state she rules but nationwide.

Ms Mayawati has always been one of a kind flashing diamonds and gold, acquiring properties ostensibly for her party and laying down the law for her party and the bureaucrats that serve her. So when the results of the general election started rolling in, she greeted them with disbelief taking recourse to conspiracy theories.

Nowhere has Ms Mayawati’s obsession with herself been revealed more starkly than in her acts of self-glorification. If the campaign for the general election was built around the importance of being Mayawati, her grandiose plans to build monuments of herself and of her mentor, in addition to those of the Buddha and Dr Ambedkar, capped by her party symbol, the elephant, crowning monumental pillars have scandalised the nation.

While the law, through a public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court, will take its course, public outrage over a politician glorifying herself at the expense of the public exchequer has shown the limits of the citizens’ tolerance. There have, indeed, been instances of chief ministers circulating their likenesses on free school bags and indulging in other self-publicity gimmicks through official channels, but never has an Indian politician dared build monuments to himself or herself with public money while still healthy and ruling his or her state.

Ms Mayawati’s answer to the avalanche of criticism has been one of injured pride, pointing to the money spent on the samadhis of national leaders in New Delhi. She obfuscated the differences - of men and women of substance honoured for their services after their deaths, including of course the stark samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi she had earlier derogatively referred to as a theatrical man.

In real terms, Ms Mayawati’s armour was to seek shelter behind her Dalit origin in the belief that it would be politically incorrect for others to criticise her for her extravagances because she belonged to the traditionally oppressed. It is one thing to flaunt diamonds and collect money on her birthdays, quite another for political India to accept a politician - whatever his or her stripe - to build statues to her own glory at tax-payers’ expense.

Ms Mayawati’s predicament has a larger significance. Many had hailed her political rise as a triumph of Indian democracy. It was, indeed, a second triumph, after the empowerment of the Other Backward Classes in the form of the Yadavs - many of whom turned into little tyrants in their bailiwicks. The second empowerment was weightier, given the traditional place of the Dalits.

It has been explained by some of her supporters that her Dalit constituency derives vicarious pleasure in seeing one of its own flaunting gold and diamonds and giving orders to the high born among her staff. She herself explains her conduct, particularly in statue building, as the empowerment of Dalits. The monuments are, in her view, symbols of their pride.

But Ms Mayawati failed to realise that she had crossed a red line by erecting and unveiling statues of herself at public expense. Her narcissistic trait is by no means unique but it has not been expressed before in such form unmindful of public sensibility. In political terms, it would be a great pity if her career were to be shortened by her self-glorification. Hers is an inspiring story of grit and cunning taking her from her humble origins to the pinnacle of power at the state level.

In the old days of reigning monarchs in India, little distinction was made between personal and state property. But we have moved away from those times and the concept of democracy that has given Ms Mayawati the opportunity to triumph, despite her origins, requires the observance of basic laws. Monarchs may have been immortalised in their lifetime by unveiling their own statues but leaders in a democratic state cannot claim that privilege.

Ms Mayawati must remember that despite her origins, she is not immune to criticism. She must protect herself in the cut and thrust of politics on the strength and merit of her case. She has no case as far as erecting her own statues are concerned. However she might clothe her actions, such self-glorification does not pay in democratic politics.

How the Mayawati story evolves will have a bearing on the future of Dalit politics. Given a measure of disappointment in her own ranks, she seems to be turning away somewhat from the “sarvasamaj” idea and while she had haughtily spurned any electoral alliance for the general election, she has now chosen one in Haryana. The pragmatic streak in her recognises that there are no absolute answers in politics, but she has still to surmount the shock of her poor showing in the general election.

The crucial question that remains to be answered is whether Ms Mayawati can reinvent herself as a less self-obsessed person or indeed whether she would want to. Therein lies her future and that of her Bahujan Samaj Party.

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MIDDLE

All the world’s a stage
by Robin Gupta

Some 34 years ago, a pleasant, weather-beaten Colonel called on me in the Sub Divisional Magistrate’s office at Raiganj in West Bengal. As he had been brought by a friend, I invited both officers to dinner.

Over a drink, I learnt that the Colonel was a free spirit, at the end of a remarkably unsuccessful career in the Army from which he was trying to escape. He told me of his straitened circumstances and requested for fire clearance to a petrol pump for which I referred him to the DIG.

As nothing materialised, the Colonel hit upon the idea of hosting dinner in honour of the DIG and invited me to his residence to work out details. I found the Colonel merrymaking surrounded by young Captains and Lieutenants, who had come with their girlfriends from Darjeeling and Nepal to spend their weekend in Siliguri.

The officers were drinking, the girls were singing and there was an air of allround disorderly, dissolute and decadent levity. I was taken back and recalling my magisterial mandate, I left the Colonel undisturbed.

When the Colonel petitioned me that he would make extravagant arrangements for the police officer, knowing the DIG, trapped in religion and morality, I advised the Colonel to invite his wife and children to substitute for his friends. “This will not be a problem” said the Colonel (a divorcee) and he went ahead and fixed the date. I, too, was invited.

On reaching the officer’s flat, I noticed a large terracotta Ganapati fixed above the door with vermillion markings. The living room was fragrant with incense. In one corner, there was a replica of the Taj Mahal, in another, a Japanese doll, and money plants trained along the walls. There were photographs of children, the Colonel and his bride, the Colonel being commissioned, and of a lady graduating in cloak and cap.

The DIG and his wife were entranced by the religious fervour and simplicity of the lady of the house who kept her head covered in the pallu of her sari throughout and talked only about the Divine Mother and the different forms of the Devi from Bhavni, Kali to Kamakhya.

The dinner had been tastefully selected. The Colonel restricted himself to a glass of juice while pouring huge pegs of premium scotch for the DIG and changed the glass with each drink. Fine sherry was brought out for the lady. The evening ended with the lady of the house rendering a classical bhajan in Raag Shyam Kalyan.

The DIG and his lady left, tearfully promising to return soon. The Colonel then decided to celebrate what was apparently a fait accompli. Youngsters reappeared and danced hip-hop into the early hours.

Around dawn, I was rudely awakened by an army Subedar who asked me to vacate a mattress on which I was resting. I then discovered a team of orderlies removing pictures, plants, furniture, crockery and the terracotta Ganapati to return them to the mess under the supervision of the intrepid Colonel whom I wished good fortune as I left.

Two days later, the Colonel informed me that he had put in his papers. He was now free from military regimen, and the proud owner of a petrol pump.

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OPED

Iranian women inspire hope with role in protests
by Sudarsan Raghavan

Over the past two weeks, Marcelle George has watched with amazement as legions of Iranian women, most wearing black, full-length Islamic garments, defiantly protested Iran's leadership.

Even in her native Egypt, where some opposition to the government is permitted, most women would never dare cross that line.

"To actually see Iranian women fight for their rights is inspiring," said George, a college student in Cairo wearing jeans and a long-sleeve blouse. "I never imagined that it could happen there."

As Iran's theocracy appears on the verge of silencing the biggest challenge to its authority since it was established in 1979, female activists in the region say they are inspired by the prominent role women are playing in the country's opposition movement. Many hope it will have a crossover effect on the struggle for women's rights in their own countries and help shatter Western perceptions of Middle Eastern women as subjugated in a male-dominated culture.

In a region that reveres men who die in battle, some of the major icons to emerge from the Iranian demonstrations have been women. Neda Agha Soltan, the music student whose bloody death on June 20 was videotaped and broadcast around the world, became an instant symbol of the opposition movement and sparked widespread outrage.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi 's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, has also taken on a prominent role as she accompanied her husband on the campaign trail and more recently spoke out against an election result that the opposition says was fraudulent.

"This is our time, women's time," said Khoulod Al Fahed, a Saudi businesswoman and blogger. "It is the time for women to speak up and demand the rights that have been stolen from us in the name of religion and culture."

Middle Eastern women have long played active roles in the struggle for democracy and human rights. In recent months, women have won small yet unprecedented victories. In Kuwait, four female lawmakers were elected to parliament last month, the first time women have won seats in the nation's legislature.

In Egypt, election law was recently changed to give women a quota of 64 parliamentary seats. Palestinian women have launched protests to free prisoners held by Israel, while Egyptian women have organized labor and pro-democracy strikes in recent years.

But few events in recent memory have drawn as much attention as the sight of thousands of Iranian women taking to the streets, defiantly challenging their leaders and the election results. Grainy cellphone video and photos of the female protesters have flooded the Internet and the blogosphere, especially the haunting images of Agha Soltan as she died.

"Everyone is so shocked to see that beautiful young girl dying and looking so modern and secular," said Azar Nafisi, author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and a professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

In Iran, such a prominent role is less surprising. Although women face discrimination in legal realms such as inheritance, custody and court testimony, they have a more visible, and more vocal, role in society and politics than in many countries in the region.

In fact, some women found themselves with more opportunities after the 1979 Islamic revolution, as more traditional families began educating their daughters when the schools became segregated and Islamicized. The result has been the best-educated generation of women in Iranian history.

More than 60 percent of university students are women, and female lawyers, doctors, athletes and politicians are not uncommon. There are female taxi drivers and even women in the Basij, a pro-government militia. A woman, Shirin Ebadi, won Iran's first Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

In Iraq, which fought an eight-year war with neighboring Iran, many women say they have long admired the strong roles Iranian women played during the revolution. Once among the Arab world's most liberated, Iraqi women today are frequently targets of extremists or harsh tribal codes, with few rights or freedoms.

"We want Iraqi women to imitate Iranian women in boldly and courageously expressing their views, especially since Iraqi women do not lack courage or daring," said Samira Musawi, a lawyer and member of parliament with Iraq's ruling Shiite alliance.

But in ultraconservative parts of the Arab world, the Iranian uprising has underscored the immense obstacles women face in the region.

In Saudi Arabia, women cannot vote. Nor are they allowed to drive. Although the government has enacted some changes, such as appointing the kingdom's first female deputy minister, clerics control the courts and apply an austere version of Sunni Islamic law.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Rebuilding Sri Lanka
by Bharti Chhibber

Now that the Sri Lankan army has claimed victory in the war against the LTTE, it’s time to rebuild the Sri Lankan economy and reconstruct infrastructure. And the most important and basic to a permanent solution to the Tamil issue is to address it by a political resolution.

It calls for concrete steps beginning with measures to resettle the vast number of internally displaced people, especially in the wake of the war to regain Tamils’ confidence.

Already the government has asked the Tamil refugees in India to come back. Here India can play a very important role, something similar to what it is doing in Afghanistan—rebuild Sri Lankan infrastructure. This will go a long way in cementing ties between the two neighbours, who already are cooperating economically in a number of areas.

India has always been on the forefront of humanitarian assistance whenever it is required by our neighbouring state. Even before the end of the bitter civil war in Lanka, India announced an assistance of $ 19.86 million and sent 40,000 ‘family packets’ each containing food and medicines needed by a family of five for three weeks.

India is also on the way to increasing its medical missions in Lanka from 62. The Tamil Nadu government also announced an aid package worth Rs 250 million for the welfare of the internally displaced people in Sri Lanka apart from despatching relief material to the war-torn state.

We were wary of direct intervention earlier in the ongoing conflict between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE. But now with the end of the war, India should do what it does the best—help Sri Lanka rebuild its economy. It’s going to take a lot to rebuild the economy in Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged northeast.

Displaced people require all the infrastructural and financial assistance they can get to return to their homes and get back their means of livelihood. Sri Lanka’s agriculture and fishing industries will also take time to recover.

India has always been keen to avert civilian deaths in the battle zone and a supply crisis in the Jaffna peninsula. The Sri Lankan government also reportedly made a request to New Delhi to ship relief to the population in Jaffna, which was denied supplies due to the closure of their lifeline A9 Highway. The package comprised rice, dal, sugar and milk powder to provide relief to the beleaguered population. India has already provided material for 5,000 shelters to house about 25,000 people, a team of doctors and relief worth Rs 100 crore in addition to other measures.

In the long drawn-out civil war thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed, and lakhs of people rendered homeless. As the UN points out, the cost in civilian suffering has been enormous with massive civilian casualties and 300,000 displacements.

The end of the civil strife should be seen as the beginning of a new era, in which Colombo’s emphasis should be on winning the trust of the beleaguered local Tamils who have suffered the most in the war.

The Rajapaksa government has been arguing that a political solution to the ethnic conflict is possible only after the military defeat of the LTTE. Now that it has been accomplished, it’s time that the Tamils get their due. The foremost task before the Rajapaksa government is to help thousands of Tamils living without food and medicines in makeshift camps. The Sri Lankan government has outlined a 180-day plan to resettle the refugees to their original places of habitation.

The next step in the economic rebuilding of the state after the settlement of displaced people will be to work on infrastructure development. Reconstructing tourism industry will be crucial to uplift the Sri Lankan economy.

In fact, India and Sri Lanka already have a broad spectrum of mechanisms and institutions for bilateral cooperation. They have a free trade arrangement already in place. Further, both the states undertook a feasibility study for a 20 billion undersea power transmission link between India and Sri Lanka.

The 200-km long submarine cable will enable India to export electricity to Sri Lanka and is likely to be set up with a capacity to wheel around 1,000 MW of electricity. The link is likely to connect Madurai in Tamil Nadu and Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka’s north central province.

In South Asia there is tremendous potential for developing regional and sub-regional energy resources in an integrated manner. However, usually domestic politics take its toll on such efforts. Perhaps, it is high time now that the two states to come together to offset the impact of global recession.n

The writer teaches political science in the University of Delhi.

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Delhi Durbar
Ministers vying for space in media

A race appears to be on amongst some ministers in the new UPA government for achieving maximum possible visibility in the print and electronic media.

HRD Minister Kapil Sibal is going neck and neck with Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh in the race. Closely following them is Law Minister Veerappa Moily.

The HRD Minister has managed to hog a good share of space in newspapers and the electronic media, thanks to his innovative and revolutionary ideas on education. Not to be left behind, Ramesh seems to be on some sort of a record-breaking spree as far as addressing press conferences is concerned. While the Environment Minister has already talked to the media more than four times in the capital alone ever since he took charge of the ministry, two more press interactions are slated this week.

Earlier a sleepy place, the Environment Ministry has suddenly become active with the minister selectively talking one-to-one with his favourite journalists and newspapers. As far as Moily is concerned, he appears to be carrying over the hangover from his stint as in-charge of the Congress media cell.

A different voice

The elevation of Meira Kumar as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha has had not only the parliamentarians wondering but also media persons who cover the Lower House.

When the Treasury and the Opposition Benches have a face-off over an issue, how will a woman with such a soft voice control the House, which even those with thundering voices have been unable to when things come to a head?

Incidentally, the same question was asked to the Speaker herself by a journalist and she apparently replied that the members of the Lok Sabha have been used to a style of voices in the past. Now, they will have to get used to a different voice.

PM has a busy schedule

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has some major international engagements on his agenda in July. He travels to Italy early next month for the G-8 Summit followed by trips to France and Egypt in mid-July.

The trip to France is in connection with the French National Day celebrations at which the PM will be the guest of honour and to Egypt for the NAM Summit.

Earlier, there were suggestions that it would be difficult to accommodate the visit to France in the PM's itinerary. However, Manmohan Singh told his officials that it would not be proper for him to say 'no' to a personal invite from French President Sarkozy with whom he has established a close rapport.

Once he returns from the NAM Summit, India will host US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Contributed by Vibha Sharma, Girja Kaura and Ashok Tuteja

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