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EDITORIALS

A disgraceful act
US airline must mend its ways
Although Continental Airlines has apologised to former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for frisking him at Delhi airport on April 21, the belated apology won’t wash. The US-based airline has shown utter disregard for Indian sensibilities and the aviation bureau guidelines which exempt specified VVIPs from security checks.

Mother and child
SC upholds rape victim’s right to have baby
I
T was a difficult question, but the Supreme Court judgement allowing a mentally-challenged orphan and rape victim to give birth to her child is bold and progressive inasmuch as it upholds a mother’s right to have the baby, notwithstanding the adverse condition for child birth.

Song of life
Gangubai represented a golden era
Y
ET another doyen has passed unto eternity. Gangubai Hangal, one of the foremost exponents of Kirana gharana, breathed her last at Hubli and with her a musical era has come to an end.



EARLIER STORIES

Better than expected
July 22, 2009
Two years for killing six!
July 21, 2009
Sharif’s triumph
July 20, 2009
Bringing out the best
July 19, 2009
No to wheat exports
July 18, 2009
Dealing with terror
July 17, 2009
Letting Hafiz Saeed free
July 16, 2009
Murder and acquittal
July 15, 2009
Mishap shakes Delhi Metro
July 14, 2009
Focus on food security
July 13, 2009


ARTICLE

Why ‘business as usual’ with Pak?
Terrorists’ infrastructure intact
by G. Parthasarathy
O
N July 12, Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir captured two well- armed Pakistani terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Mohammed Adnan and Mohammed Shafkat, hailing from Sahiwal district of Pakistani Punjab, who had been infiltrated across the Line of Control.

MIDDLE

Suitable Memories
by Amreeta Sen
S
O, Vikram Seth is all set to write “A Suitable Girl”. This announcement by various publications awakened mixed memories. When he wrote “A Suitable Boy” I was expecting my first child. Now my daughter is grown up and quite ready to be “A Suitable Girl” herself when the book comes out. She will be all of nineteen.

OPED

A new beginning
Balochistan reference may embarrass Pakistan
by Maharajakrishna Rasgotra
T
HERE is some quite unwarranted criticism in our media and among our intellectual elite of the India-Pakistan joint statement issued after the meeting of the Prime Ministers of Indian and Pakistan at Sharm el-Sheikh.

Dedicated scholar of Sikhism
by Roopinder Singh
W.H. McLeod came to Punjab, studied and taught here, went back to New Zealand and remained in touch with the land, its people and much more so, with their faith. With his death on July 20, we lost one of the foremost scholars of Sikhism. McLeod was born in New Zealand 1935.

Recovery to bring problems too
by Hamish McRae
I
T is a horror story in slow motion, as every month the Government’s borrowing rises yet higher. It is a measure of the scale of the disaster that in June it had to borrow “only” £13bn, against an expected £15bn.





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A disgraceful act
US airline must mend its ways

Although Continental Airlines has apologised to former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for frisking him at Delhi airport on April 21, the belated apology won’t wash. The US-based airline has shown utter disregard for Indian sensibilities and the aviation bureau guidelines which exempt specified VVIPs from security checks. How will Americans react if Mr Bill Clinton or Mr George W. Bush are searched here? Dr Kalam is one of India’s most loved Presidents known as much for his simplicity as for scholarship. The apology has come after strong protests by members of Parliament and the registration of a police case. Earlier, when the airline’s explanation was sought through a notice by July 9, it chose not to respond. Rather an airline official had the temerity to justify the provocative act of asking the Indian dignitary to take off his shoes and pass through a metal detector before boarding the flight. Citing the security rules, he had said such an exercise was mandatory for all carriers flying to the US.

It is true after 9/11 the US administration has become extremely cautious in matters of security and it has often been accused of bias against non-whites in general and Muslims in particular, such insensitivity towards eminent personalities, particularly one of Dr Abdul Kalam’s stature, is nothing but outrageous. The airline officials concerned were informed well in advance about the VVIP’s proposed travel to New York and yet they chose to follow the rules blindly. The unfortunate incident is bound to remind agitated Indians of the mistreatment meted out to former Defence Minister George Fernandes, who was strip-searched at Washington’s Dulles airport.

Such incidents stand out as irritants in the otherwise improving Indo-US relations. The government response to the latest outrage should be as dignified as Dr Kalam’s behaviour during the frisking. While punishing the erring airline, it should also ensure that other foreign airlines do not behave in the manner Continental Airlines has.

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Mother and child
SC upholds rape victim’s right to have baby

IT was a difficult question, but the Supreme Court judgement allowing a mentally-challenged orphan and rape victim to give birth to her child is bold and progressive inasmuch as it upholds a mother’s right to have the baby, notwithstanding the adverse condition for child birth. Significantly, a three-judge Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice B.S. Chauhan has brushed aside every argument in favour of aborting the foetus including the one that the 19-year-old girl had limited mental capacity to bear the child or ensure its proper growth. The girl became pregnant after two security guards raped her at Chandigarh’s Nari Niketan in May last. The matter reached the apex court because the girl wanted to have the baby but the Chandigarh Administration was against it and the Punjab and High Court directed “immediate” termination of the pregnancy, now in its 19th week. Under Indian law, medical termination of pregnancy is prohibited after the 20th week, though an appeal for a review of the 1971 Act is pending before the Supreme Court.

Justice Balakrishnan has observed that “if somebody is ready to look after the child”, the court would not come in the way of the mother’s desire to have the baby. Apparently, the Bench took into consideration the counsel’s reassurance that the Union Government’s National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities and many NGOs have come forward to provide the girl the social and financial support and take care of the child after delivery.

While the Supreme Court judgement has given a new lease of life to the rape victim and the unborn baby, doubts remain to what extent these organisations would be able to keep their promise. Moreover, state-run institutions themselves don’t inspire much confidence. For, it was in an institution run by the Chandigarh Administration that security guards raped the girl and brought trouble for her. Despite an uncertain future, the court verdict has clearly, on humane consideration, gone in favour of the mother and the future of the unborn baby.

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Song of life
Gangubai represented a golden era

YET another doyen has passed unto eternity. Gangubai Hangal, one of the foremost exponents of Kirana gharana, breathed her last at Hubli and with her a musical era has come to an end. The classical vocalist with a rich powerful voice was a perfectionist and a purist who did not compromise with the inimitable style of her gharana and stuck steadfastly to khayal gayaki. Yet she maintained that any music which has swara is good and worth listening to. Her way of singing manifested in and embellished many a recital, the last one being in March 2006, marking the 75th year of her singing odyssey.

Born in an age when women taking to music was socially frowned upon, she overcame societal and caste prejudices to emerge as a pioneer who paved the way for other women musicians. Her illustrious musical career was dotted by innumerable honours — some 50 awards, including the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honour. Guru behn of Bharat Ratna recipient Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, though her early training began under her mother Ambabai, a Carnatic singer, she went on to master the finer nuances of Hindustani classical music from none other than legendary Sawai Gandharva, a tough taskmaster. To arrive at uncompromising music she had to battle many odds. At one point throat surgery changed her delicate voice and she acquired a masculine timbre, only to score greater heights, “closer to my guru’s voice.”

Her dream of living up to 100 years may not have been fulfilled but she lived a full life, made complete in death, too, as she had pledged her eyes to an eye bank.

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Thought for the Day

You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.

— Frederick Douglass

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Why ‘business as usual’ with Pak?
Terrorists’ infrastructure intact
by G. Parthasarathy

ON July 12, Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir captured two well- armed Pakistani terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Mohammed Adnan and Mohammed Shafkat, hailing from Sahiwal district of Pakistani Punjab, who had been infiltrated across the Line of Control. The captured terrorists revealed that they belonged to a group of 15 militants who had been trained in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir to attack the Baglihar Dam in Jammu and Kashmir. They also revealed that a secret tunnel was being built near the border town of Sialkot for infiltration into India, across the international border. Three days later, Mr Richard Barrett, Coordinator of the UN Security Council’s Al- Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee, warned that there was a “real risk” that the Lashkar- e-Toiba would target India again.

In these circumstances, it has not only been necessary, but essential, to make it clear to Pakistan and the international community, more so after the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist outrage, that there cannot be “business as usual” with Pakistan unless Islamabad provides a categorical assurance that it will not allow any territory under its control to be used for terrorism against India and that the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan will be dismantled.

Barely a month ago when Dr Manmohan Singh met President Zardari in Yekaterinburg, the normally soft-spoken Prime Minister bluntly told President Zardari: “My mandate is limited to telling you that the territory of Pakistan must not be allowed to be used for terrorism against India”. But recent developments show that the Prime Minister’s warning went unheeded, as the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan remains alive and kicking.

The Vajpayee-Musharraf Declaration of January 6, 2004, makes it clear that India agreed to resume the composite dialogue process with Pakistan only after a categorical assurance from General Musharraf that “territory under Pakistan’s control” would not be used for terrorism against India. There has thus been a clear link between Pakistan dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism on the one hand and India agreeing to continue the composite dialogue, on the other. Despite this, the joint declaration after Dr Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Gilani met in Sharm-el-Sheikh astonishingly notes: “Both Prime Ministers recognised that dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed”.

Any number of statements or sophistry claiming that this does not constitute an assurance that we will continue dialogue irrespective of whether or not the infrastructure of terrorism is dismantled will be laughed at by anyone who understands the nuances of diplomacy, or has even a rudimentary understanding of the English language.

This provision will haunt us when the next major terrorist attack hits us. Pakistan wild deny that its citizens were involved and insist that we continue with dialogue. Let us not forget that there were two main reasons why some progress was made after the Mumbai outrage. The first was the capture of Kasab. Even though Pakistan denied for over a month that Kasab was a Pakistan national, it was compelled ultimately to climb down in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Moreover, as American, British and Israeli nationals were killed in Mumbai, unprecedented international assistance was forthcoming for the investigations and for pressure on Pakistan.

It would, however, be naive to believe that the accused now under arrest will be genuinely punished. Pakistan is yet to complete the trial process of Omar Syed Sheikh, convicted of brutally murdering American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2001. People like Omar Sheikh, A.Q. Khan, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, or Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi cannot be punished, because they will spill the beans on the involvement of Pakistan’s military establishment in terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s comments suggest that he recognises this reality.

Pakistan has been trying unsuccessfully to counter international support for India’s accusations that the ISI has been sponsoring terrorism, by alleging that India is sponsoring terrorism in Balochistan and even aiding pro-Taliban forces in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. Balochistan’s tribal leaders have sought refuge and challenged the Pakistan Army from bases in Afghanistan. Given the presence of nearly 100,000 American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, any action by India that complicates the NATO mission would have invited American wrath and even retribution.

The Americans have, by implication, rejected Pakistan’s baseless claims of Indian interference. But the statement issued in Sharm-el-Sheikh asserts: “Prime Minister Mr Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and elsewhere” — a clear signal to the whole world that Mr Gilani told his Indian counterpart that India was meddling in Balochistan and the NWFP. Pakistan will use the fact that India did not even deny Mr Gilani’s assertion in the joint statement as Indian acceptance of Pakistani allegations. This has been the most disastrous feature of the fiasco at Sharm-el-Sheikh.

Sentimentalism has no place in international relations. Assertions by Dr Manmohan Singh that India and Pakistan are both equally “victims” of terrorism, that they share a “common destiny,” or that a rising India cannot assert its rightful place in the comity of nations without good relations with Pakistan, are factually incorrect and undermine Indian diplomacy. A democratic, secular India cannot share a “common destiny” with a theocratic, feudal and military- dominated Pakistan.

Pakistan is today challenged by terrorists the ISI has backed to “bleed” India and seek “strategic depth” in Afghanistan over the past three decades. India, on the other hand, has been a victim of the terrorism sponsored by Pakistan for the past three decades. Equating the two countries, as we have done in Sharm-el-Sheikh, is ill advised. India’s economic growth has accelerated and its international profile expanded by its partnership with the international community in forums like the G 8 and G 20, despite Pakistan -sponsored terrorism and diplomatic hostility.

We can “rise” in the world with or without Pakistan’s cooperation. The more we suggest that we need Pakistan’s “meharbani” to accelerate economic growth and new stature in world affairs, the more those who cannot countenance India’s new stature in the world within Pakistan’s establishment will seek to “bleed” us.

It is no secret that there are serious differences between President Zardari, who has genuinely sought accommodation and cooperation with India, and Prime Minister Gilani, who rose in politics with the support of General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. Mr Gilani even today basically echoes the hardline approach of Pakistan’s military establishment. How then are India’s national interests served by embarrassing Mr Zardari in Yekatineberg and appeasing Mr Gilani in Sharm-el-Sheikh?

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Suitable Memories
by Amreeta Sen

SO, Vikram Seth is all set to write “A Suitable Girl”. This announcement by various publications awakened mixed memories. When he wrote “A Suitable Boy” I was expecting my first child. Now my daughter is grown up and quite ready to be “A Suitable Girl” herself when the book comes out. She will be all of nineteen.

Time does not only fly, it whooshes by.

I had placenta previa during my first pregnancy and so was confined to bed by strict doctors and family members as this condition could easily result in a miscarriage. Barred from office and almost tied down to the bed, I was bored out of my wits. Interesting and beloved visitors were a rarity. I may sound totally ungrateful but yes, boring visitors aplenty kept dropping in to “keep an eye” on me.

I did not need an eye kept on me - I needed books and more books to read. Unfortunately, I am a fast reader, so everyone was running out of books for me.

Then my mother dropped in with “A Suitable Boy”.

I hailed the book with cries of delight while my husband shied away in nervous horror at the sheer size of the volume. It was gargantuan! This mammoth would never, surely never, finish in a day!

My mother was triumphant. Out of sheer desperation she had managed to give me an occupation and safeguard her grandchildren at the same time.

Yes, but she had overlooked one problem. A major problem.

“The Suitable Boy” could not be read comfortably in bed. Nor would it nestle in the crook of your arm. It was definitely not a snuggling book. You had to be up to tackle it and up was what I could not be!

So, after one whole day of wrestling with book, bed and uncomfortable positions, I laid my plans. I would demurely send off my husband to office in the morning, cautiously sneak out of bed and gently pull the rocking chair to the terrace where I would rock and read. I would also leap into bed the minute I heard the doorbell ring.

My dog disapproved of the whole affair. He knew that I was not supposed to dive in and out of bed. Grumbling to himself, he would settle on the terrace keeping a watchful eye on me. Pink bougainvillea nodded to white jasmine in approval as I remained engrossed in the book. I think they liked the company.

Came the day when I dropped the book while carrying it out. My body gave a warning twinge as I started to bend. I could not. My golden guardian came up and picked up the book. Clucking crossly, he handed me “The Suitable Boy”, as I settled on the rocking chair. The book now had tooth marks on it. Canine tooth marks!

Alas! I finished the book in four days but it was quite an exciting time.

I liked Lata Mehta, the heroine. And I was enchanted by the Chatterjees. Maybe that is the reason why Maya is sometimes as whimsical as them. I didn’t like Kabir or the man she married in the end; I was a jealous partisan of was-his-name-Amit? The book was fun but Mr Seth is more of a poet…even his travelogues are sheer poetry…. I wish he would again settle to a book of poems or…what about a detective story, Mr Seth?

The twins were born at the close of winter, on a chilly January day. Maya survived, her sister vanished into the land where never ending stories go…. Simba stayed around for another year before bidding farewell…but the tooth marks on “The Suitable Boy” remains.

And in 2013 when Maya is 19 “A Suitable Girl” will come calling and another set of memories will be born.

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A new beginning
Balochistan reference may embarrass Pakistan
by Maharajakrishna Rasgotra

THERE is some quite unwarranted criticism in our media and among our intellectual elite of the India-Pakistan joint statement issued after the meeting of the Prime Ministers of Indian and Pakistan at Sharm el-Sheikh. The brunt of this criticism is on two accounts: first, why did we agree to the mention of Balochistan in this joint statement, and two, why did India agree that “action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process, and these should not be bracketed”?

It is insinuated by the Prime Minister’s critics that the inclusion of these two matters in the joint statement is either due to a weakness of heart and mind on the part of our negotiators, or that they had simply fallen to Prime Minister Gilani’s guile; or worse, the ill-advised deed was done to propitiate Washington DC on the eve of Secretary of State Clinton’s long awaited visit. In other words, our government has, once again, succumbed to US pressure to make concessions to Pakistan ! The Opposition even chose to stage a walkout when the joint statement came up for discussion in Parliament.

There is a belief in some circles in Delhi that international relations and diplomacy are all a matter of pressures, that the US in particular, is constantly pressuring India on every imaginable issue and that we Indians, or, at least, the Congress government headed by Dr Manmohan Singh is bereft of the heroic quality with which we once used to stand up, rock like, in defiance of the United States.

Indeed, there was such a time when, in the early years of Independence, we had defied American pressures and British machinations on Kashmir, and on other issues on which our interests clashed.

But times have changed; issues have changed; Washington’s view of India has changed, and even Pakistan is changing. Therefore, our thinking must also change. But few seem to share Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s farsightedness and statesmanship in dealing with Americans and the Pakistanis in a vastly changed world.

The Pakistanis had been preparing for this meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh for weeks; obviously they were keen on taking home something from the two Prime Ministers’ meeting; and in his wisdom our Prime Minister decided —rightly I believe — to go along with them and agree to what they asked without incurring any detriment to any vital Indian interest.

On the other hand Mr. Gilani’s proclaimed triumph in securing a mention of Balochistan in the list of outstanding India-Pakistan problems may well turn out to be a hollow victory and an embarrassment for Pakistan.

The joint statement speaks of Prime Minister Gilani mentioning that “Pakistan has some information on threats in Baluchistan and other areas”. These threats, their sources, their nature and the causes leading to them need to be discussed.

Therefore, Balochistan should now be firmly on the agenda of the composite dialogue. The past and future of Balochistan, the Pakistan Army’s atrocities to suppress a freedom movement in that hapless region are now on the table of the composite dialogue.

There is much sympathy for the long-suffering Baloch people in India, but out of good neighbourly decency our government and even our media had refrained from giving voice to it. The instrument of accession signed by the Khan of Kalat did not have the backing of the Baloch people, and they have ever since been in revolt against it.

The ruler’s arbitrary action was not endorsed by the people through a plebiscite or referendum or a free and fair election, and understandably the region has been in a ferment ever since. Islamabad’s colonialist exploitation of Balochistan’s resources and the Pakistan Army’s periodic depredations have deepened the Baloch sense of alienation.

Not only India but also Afghanistan and Iran, which have historic ties with Balochistan, have reason to be concerned over the sad plight of a people denied their legitimate rights in this age of democracy’s surge in South Asia. In their struggle, at the very least they deserve our sympathy and moral support.

The truth is that India, at least, can do no more. For any capability that we might have had earlier to meddle in Balochistan was effectively disbanded in a fit of moral rectitude years ago. Surely, the ISI could not be so incompetent as not to have noticed that much.

The other part of the Sharm el-Sheikh statement under attack has the two Prime Ministers as recognising that dialogue is the only way forward–a simple truth–and that action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and the two should not be bracketed.

Pakistan needs to do more, but we must recognise the fact that it has initiated action against some of the 26/11 accused. Judicial processes in Pakistan are as dilatory as they are in India and bringing the culprits to justice will take time. We need to look at our own record. How many terrorist killers captured in India have been hanged so far? We should be patient and watch what Pakistan’s government and courts do in this matter.

For the first time, Pakistan has admitted, at the highest level, having nurtured terrorist groups for short-time political objectives. And now Kasab, one of the 26/11 killers in Indian custody, has spilled the beans about the planning, the planners involved and the preparation that went on for months under the ISI’s sharp eyes for the heinous crime in Mumbai.

If all this has any meaning, the Zardari government is bound to pursue action against the perpetrators of 26/11. If it falters, we should use the composite dialogue to prod it to meaningful action. Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India should be on the agenda of the composite dialogue, which should now be, resumed in response to President Zardari’s penitent confession of Pakistan’s guilt.

The writer is a veteran diplomat and former Foreign Secretary

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Dedicated scholar of Sikhism
by Roopinder Singh

W.H. McLeodW.H. McLeod came to Punjab, studied and taught here, went back to New Zealand and remained in touch with the land, its people and much more so, with their faith. With his death on July 20, we lost one of the foremost scholars of Sikhism. McLeod was born in New Zealand 1935. He grew up on a farm and his father was active in local politics in Feilding, where he made his home, with his wife Margaret in the last decades of his life.

Hew, as he liked to be called, started his academic journey via evangelism. He had earned his MA from the University of New Zealand in 1955, and as he says in his autobiography, Discovering the Sikhs: Autobiography of a Historian: “When I first arrived in India in 1958, I proceeded to the Punjab to take up a teaching appointment. Living in the Punjab I followed my interests from university days which meant that I would take up the history of the area. But what variety of history appealed to me? .... I devoted my nine years in the Punjab, first to learning the elements of Sikh history and then to pursuing research in the subject. Since then the interest has persisted unabated and doubtless will continue until the day I die.”

He learnt Punjabi, delved into manuscripts, interacted with scholars like Professor Ganda Singh and Prof Harbans Singh, and wrote a thesis for which he was given a PhD by the University of London in 1965.

It was published as, Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion in 1968. His other prominent books include Early Sikh Tradition: A Study of the Janamsakhis (1980) and Who is a Sikh? The Problem of Sikh Identity (1989), both published by the Clarendon Press, Oxford, The Chaupa Singh Rahinama (1987), University of Otago Press, Dunedin, and of course his autobiography which came out in 2004. He faced much controversy when his views clashed with traditions, but he kept at his tasks and produced a formidable body of work.

McLeod re-joined to the History Department of the University of Otago in Duned, New Zealand, where he remained until his retirement in 1998, after which he was appointed emeritus professor. He played a prominent role in establishing Sikh studies as an academic discipline outside India, especially in the USA and Canada, and in his own university. Many of the prominent scholars of Sikhism in the West are either his students, or he played a role in their selection for the positions they hold.

Before his death, New Zealand TV broadcast a documentary, Hew McLeod: A Kiwi Sikh Historian, directed by Jasmine Pujji, a Punjabi immigrant and journalist who lives in New Zealand.

Hew was an unfailing kind person, soft-spoken and generous with the encouragement he gave to those who sought his advice. He was indeed scholar extraordinary whose research and scholarship will be useful to scholars and lay people as they seek to understand the Sikh religion and culture.

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Recovery to bring problems too
by Hamish McRae

IT is a horror story in slow motion, as every month the Government’s borrowing rises yet higher. It is a measure of the scale of the disaster that in June it had to borrow “only” £13bn, against an expected £15bn.

So the Government is borrowing double as much this year as it did last. And last year it borrowed double as much as it did the year before. It is now spending £13.50 for every £10 it raises in tax. Spending will reach at least 48 per cent of GDP, roughly the same level as the mid-1970s peak.

It is only during the Second World War, when spending reached 60 per cent of GDP, that the government has spent significantly more that it is set to do now. Total public debt, already higher than it has been at any time since 1979, will double, reaching the highest level as a proportion of GDP since the middle 1960s.

You can see this in the charts. During wartime of course spending surges; and during recessions it rises too. But what has happened in this recession is worse than during the 1980s and 1990s recessions and in some ways worse than during the 1970s, when the Callaghan government had to call in the IMF for an emergency loan.

This cannot go on. The annual deficit is larger as a proportion of GDP than that of any other large developed country. The only questions are how quickly the deficit can be brought under control and how this should be done.

Not only has the deficit to come down but more money has to be allocated to paying the additional interest on the debt. So the whole of the next economic recovery will be spent paying off debt. The aim must be to get public finances under reasonable control before the next downward swing of the economic cycle, in – who knows? – some time around 2018.

How should it be done? There has to be some kind of balance between higher taxes and lower public spending but most of it will have to come on the spending side for two reasons. One is that no government will want to put up taxes by much until growth returns: pushing them up too soon might abort the recovery. The other is that it is very hard to get more money in.

At the moment tax revenues are more than 8 per cent down year-on-year. The recovery in revenues will be very slow. We know now that we relied too much on the financial sector, both the banks and other institutions and their high-earning staff, to pay the bills. Those earnings will recover a bit but they won’t be back to where they were for several years, and while some might welcome that, if people in the financial service industries pay less tax everyone else will have to pay more.

The success in cranking up growth will determine the scale of the cuts in spending. But savage cuts, particularly in capital spending, are already projected by the present Government in its last Budget and these are expected to be tightened further in the pre-Budget report. Tory plans are uncertain, as is perhaps inevitable at this stage of the electoral cycle, with some major areas such as health supposedly being protected. But the more areas that are protected, the greater the cuts elsewhere.

The truth is that whatever the political make-up of the next government and whatever its aims and objectives, economic realities will make the decisions for it. Because it inherited a strong economy and a rapidly-improving fiscal position, the Labour government in 1997 had an unusually large amount of freedom to take big fiscal decisions.

If it wanted to spend a lot more money – which it did – it could do so. The next government will not have any such freedom. Indeed it is even possible that the forthcoming change in policy will come earlier. This Government may be forced to announce a fiscal consolidation plan this autumn, long before the Government’s favoured date for an election next May.

There is one reason on past experience to be fearful. It is the mood of the markets. If you have to borrow the thick end of £200bn from them this year and next you need the lenders to be on your side. The mood of the world’s financial markets has been to cut some slack for governments as they have fought recession. That is sensible.

But as recovery takes hold, as it will through the winter and spring, the pressure for policy changes will grow. Paradoxically the stronger the recovery the stronger the pressure on governments to make a start on putting public finances on a sustainable basis.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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