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EDITORIALS

Airlines’ U-turn
Simply, fly or leave the skies
T
HE people are happy that the private airlines’ attempt to arm-twist the government for concessions has backfired. Not only have the government, the public and the media reacted strongly to their blackmail tactics, the budget airlines deserted Jet Airways and Kingfisher in their bid to go on strike and inconvenience passengers on August 18.

Not being serious
Assemblies are neglecting their duty
I
T is a pity that the Haryana and Punjab Assemblies’ sessions are getting shorter year after year. Consequently, while the legislators are fast losing their representative character, the Assemblies are also losing their meaning and relevance as the powers-that-be do not seem to treat legislatures as forums for examining the people’s problems and thinking of solutions.



EARLIER STORIES

Why bailout?
August 3, 2009
Threat to personal liberty
August 2, 2009
Counterfeit currency
August 1, 2009
PM carries the day
July 31, 2009
Prices and tempers soar
July 30, 2009
Avoidable crisis in
J & K

July 29, 2009
Kargil to Arihant
July 28, 2009
Modi not above law
July 27, 2009
Redefining education
July 26, 2009
Who rules Haryana?
July 25, 2009


BCCI on the wrong foot
Indian cricketers are not above the law
T
HE refusal to comply with the “Whereabouts Clause” of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is irresponsible; and the claim that what is good for others, including cricketers from other countries, is not good enough for our cricketers is absurd.

ARTICLE

Indo-Pak diplomacy
Balochistan: an ethnic cauldron
by O.P. Sabherwal
H
AVING been immersed in election campaigns, our principal political parties are oblivious of the sweeping changes that have enveloped Pakistan in the year gone by. This, as the lacklustre debate in Parliament has shown, is true not only of the Opposition but, to a large extent, also of the ruling UPA.

MIDDLE

Football-crazy Punjabis
by Raj Mehta
L
OOKING out of the car window, en route to Jalandhar recently on the busy GT Road, my wife casually observed that Punjabis seemed to be lately obsessed with football. She was remarking on the strange phenomenon of huge, gaily painted football structures on some rooftops astride the highway.

OPED

TV channels are getting away with bad pronunciation
by S. Nihal Singh
T
HE English language has stood India in good stead before and after the success of the Independence movement. Mahatma Gandhi wrote his Experiments with Truth, which remains a classic. And India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, created a worldwide awareness of the country’s struggle for Independence through a series of books, including his landmark autobiography, and in his interactions with world leaders.

Myanmar’s secret nuclear reactor
by Roger Maynard
T
WO of Asia's most oppressive regimes may have joined forces to develop a nuclear arsenal, according to strategic experts who have analysed information supplied by a pair of Burmese defectors. The men, who played key roles in helping the isolated military junta before defecting to Thailand, have provided evidence which suggests Burma has enlisted North Korean help to build its own nuclear bomb within the next five years.

Delhi Durbar
Why is BJP leadership despondent?
A
S the date for the BJP's much-touted "Chintan Baithak" comes closer, the party appears to be in a pensive and reflective mood. This was evident in its leader, L.K. Advani's postures in Parliament. Advani was seen sitting in the House mostly quiet and pensive, rarely interacting with his party colleagues and fellow leaders or even reacting much to the barbs from the treasury benches on the other end.





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Airlines’ U-turn
Simply, fly or leave the skies

THE people are happy that the private airlines’ attempt to arm-twist the government for concessions has backfired. Not only have the government, the public and the media reacted strongly to their blackmail tactics, the budget airlines deserted Jet Airways and Kingfisher in their bid to go on strike and inconvenience passengers on August 18. Since IndiGo and SpiceJet, the no-frills carriers, had made profits in the first quarter of this fiscal despite a difficult business environment, they had little reason to side with the loss-making major carriers. With egg on their faces, Jet Airways and Kingfisher were left with no alternative but to withdraw the strike threat.

The Federation of Indian Airlines would not have dared to adopt a belligerant posture had Aviation Minister Praful Patel adopted a tough stand and made the no-bailout statement right at the start. The danger now is he might give in at the negotiating table what he has resisted in public. Some private airlines had earlier wrenched relief from the government by threatening staff retrenchment. They were also allowed to defer the payment of their dues to the oil marketing companies. The airlines’ main demand for cutting the tax on aviation turbine fuel is unjustified as the ATF price has already plunged to almost half of what it was a year ago. Besides, the ATF has always been costlier here than elsewhere and is not a new development that has wrecked their business.

Since air travel is a luxury enjoyed by a privileged few in India, finance ministers are often tempted to tax it as much as possible. It is the competitive lowering of fares and unplanned and wild expansion plans that have landed the airlines in losses. The airport and development charges cannot be faulted as these are levied to create better infrastructure for future convenience. The loss-making airlines have to revisit their business models and resort to cost-cutting. They have money for formula one racing and sponsoring cricket shows, but not for paying taxes. Those that cannot run efficiently are welcome to shut shop, get out of civil aviation business and leave the skies for others who can. None will force them to carry on if they don’t want to.

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Not being serious
Assemblies are neglecting their duty

IT is a pity that the Haryana and Punjab Assemblies’ sessions are getting shorter year after year. Consequently, while the legislators are fast losing their representative character, the Assemblies are also losing their meaning and relevance as the powers-that-be do not seem to treat legislatures as forums for examining the people’s problems and thinking of solutions. How can the MLAs do justice to those who have voted for them if the Assemblies meet just for a few days in a year? The Tribune report (August 3) highlights how the Haryana Assembly has abdicated its responsibility to the people under successive governments. Surprisingly, while the Assembly had barely 66 sittings during the Chautala regime, the present government boasts of only 70 sittings in the past five years. It has just completed its two-day monsoon session! This is particularly unfortunate for a state which is said to be on the fast track of development.

If the Haryana legislature is not following the All-India Speakers’ Conference recommendation (2007) for at least 60 sittings every year, Punjab is no exception. Its sittings have drastically come down over the years — 121 (Tenth House), 96 (Eleventh) and 83 (Twelfth). The number of sessions would have come down further but for the constitutional requirement that the state legislature must meet once in six months. In March 2009, it passed seven Bills in 15 minutes without debate. Even this brief session, extended by two days, was marred by disruptions and boycotts.

While a state government has the prerogative to decide about the Assembly’s sittings, the people expect it to meet more often and have longer sessions to examine their problems comprehensively and exercise effective financial control over government expenditure. Sadly, the malady starts from Parliament itself. In December 2008, it cleared nine Bills in 17 minutes! There is no serious debate on important bills and issues.

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BCCI on the wrong foot
Indian cricketers are not above the law

THE refusal to comply with the “Whereabouts Clause” of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is irresponsible; and the claim that what is good for others, including cricketers from other countries, is not good enough for our cricketers is absurd. BCCI president Shashank Manohar has also made the BCCI look silly by claiming that the clause is violative of the Indian Constitution, which, according to him, guarantees the “right to privacy” to its citizens. Mr Manohar is evidently not aware that India is a signatory to the UNESCO Convention under which WADA was set up in 1999 and that India too has a National Anti-Doping Agency ( NADA) which coordinates with the world body.

It is either arrogance or ignorance, which is behind the BCCI’s defiance. The “Whereabouts Clause” is a universal code which has been accepted by over 571 sporting organisations. The clause requires sportspersons in the test-pool to provide details of where they would be available for an hour on each day during a three-month period, when no match is being played, so that random testing can be carried out without any advance notice. Significantly, WADA allows sportspersons to inform of any change in schedule through SMS or e-mail. What is more, the agency requires the sportspersons to be available at the designated place for just one hour of the day, leaving them 23 remaining hours to do what they feel like doing. Indian cricketers’ misgivings are clearly misplaced.

The BCCI must realise that cricket is not above other sports. Rather than subverting the system by suggesting that the game of cricket should have a separate and independent anti-doping body, it would do well to fall in line. If international players like Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal, and indeed European football players who enjoy more popularity can accept the code, there is no reason why our pampered cricketers should get away.

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Thought for the Day

Power is so apt to be insolent and Liberty to be saucy, that they are very seldom upon good terms.

— Lord Halifax

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Indo-Pak diplomacy
Balochistan: an ethnic cauldron
by O.P. Sabherwal

HAVING been immersed in election campaigns, our principal political parties are oblivious of the sweeping changes that have enveloped Pakistan in the year gone by. This, as the lacklustre debate in Parliament has shown, is true not only of the Opposition but, to a large extent, also of the ruling UPA.

What stand out in Pakistan today are two facets. Pakistan is no longer a monolith — a divided nation in which bulk of civil society is ranged against Islamic extremists whose gun is poised at Islamabad no less than at India. The three A’s — Allah, America and Army — are no longer the arbiters of Pakistan’s fate. The Pakistan Army has been greatly weakened and is now dependent largely on American largesse.

The assertion of Pakistani civil society against Talibanism is a new feature of Pakistan worthy of being uplifted. This and the first real war between the Islamic extremists and the army — in the Swat valley the army has delivered — have connotations for Pakistan’s future relations with India.

Second, the deteriorating economy, which no amount of dole from the US can salvage, also has a deep linkage with Indo-Pak ties. More than dole from the US, it is ties with India — economic and cultural — that can transform this failed state into a viable entity. Another ingredient is Balochistan, where an ethnic implosion stares Pakistan in the face. There is also the gradually welling insurrectionary mood in parts of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir — the Northern Areas, Gilgit and Baltistan. No amount of allusions to the “Indian hand” can stave off the grim reality of a simmering ethnic revolt in these vast regions too.

This backdrop should be enough to impel a fresh overview of India-Pakistan ties, and the need to forge new parameters of Indian diplomacy vis-à-vis Pakistan. These parameters should shake off rigid concepts of the past. India’s security and fighting the jihadi terrorists poised against India — the Mumbai assault is the apex — of course remain the first priority. But it should find a linkage with Pakistani society’s own war against terrorism and Islamic extremism — Talibanism — and its strivings for economic salvation.

Such being the setting, it is amazing that the Sharm el-Sheikh statement of the two Prime Ministers that carries a conditional opening of dialogue, and possibility of serious Indo-Pak negotiations, has greatly upset the principal Opposition parties. It appears as if Opposition leaders — possibly some in the Congress also — are apprehensive of the very word “dialogue”. Why?

Is it because such dialogue and possibility of meaningful Indo-Pak negotiations will hamper the fight against Pakistan-based terrorism? This is unlikely because even if one accepts the Gilani version of the statement, it is clear — as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pointed out — that such negotiations cannot progress unless the Pakistan government acts on its promise against the anti-India jihadis. So, if the Pakistani side is really keen on negotiations with India, as it appears to be, they will not spoil the prospects by actually de-linking action against terrorism and what is called a “composite dialogue”.

It appears that the spurt against the Egypt statement is primarily goaded by the fear of the very word “negotiations”. What has India to fear from? Negotiations, it is apprehended, will enable Pakistan to escape the impending doom and run away with concessions.This, indeed, is a perverted view that could damage India’s own dynamic growth. There is also the apprehension that a fresh round of negotiations with the Pakistan establishment will open the window on US intervention because of America’s keen desire for an end to the Kashmir issue.

This is a thoroughly negative and defeatist stance. In reverse, one might say, negotiations are best conducted from a position of strength, which is the Indian reality today. India’s leverage in relation to Pakistan has never been stronger. The need of the hour is to forge new parameters of diplomacy and negotiations with Pakistan that match today’s situation — parameters that have an outreach to the good elements as against the bad elements in Pakistan. New Delhi can and should develop levers to reach out to Pakistani civil society and to its political components that stand for healthy Indo-Pak interaction and ties. In other words, moulding the conflict within Pakistan for the better, reinforcing the fight against Talibanism, and enhanced economic and cultural interaction are part of the perspective.

Where does Balochistan fit in? The outcry against the reference to the unrest in Balochistan being aided by India is flimsy. The fact is that mention of Balochistan has the potential of internationalising an ethnic revolt. Damaging for Pakistan, for the Balochi ethnic revolt is not an Indian creation but the result of Islamabad’s neo-colonialism — next only to the Bangladesh revolt in its intensity and potential damage for Pakistan.

The reference to Balochistan pressed into the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement could well have been a trick by Dr Manmohan Singh to beguile the Pakistan government into a slippery position. Except that we do not expect the genial Indian Prime Minister to be capable of beguiling Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani, who is so keen to register a win where Mr Asif Zardari had failed. But in effect this is what has come about — for the Pakistan side is unwittingly bringing its Balochistan ethnic revolt to world-view. By alluding to an “Indian hand” the ethnic revolt stemming from neo-colonialism imposed on the Balochis cannot be wished away. It can only come into the world’s glare. That brings grist to the Baloch ethnic revolt — the worst that Pakistan faces, having parallels with the emergence of Bangladesh. The outcry of the Opposition parties is, therefore, totally misplaced.

The Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament, “Trust but verify” and “Verify before action” — the importance of engagement and dialogue, while insisting on Pakistan keeping its promise of action against the anti-India terrorists — carries the stamp of statesmanship. It is ironic and tragic that as in his other great acts, Dr Manmohan Singh has not received the kind of recognition he deserved.

Against this backdrop, one might venture to explore the meaning of the Pakistani quest for “composite dialogue”, and what India should be looking for. If and when such a dialogue is launched, the points of accord reached in the earlier subverted negotiations should be resurrected and given a final push. The Pakistan side is keen on pushing trade and economic assistance from India but seeks an alibi — resolving the Kashmir issue and a few other vexed disputes such as Sir Creek, Siachen and water sharing. Weakened from within, it is banking on American help — though it is not overtly stating as much, for good reason.

Engagement and dialogue with Pakistan are essential from India’s point of view also. With a hefty economic leverage, India should take a lesson or two from the way China is using its vast economic strength to build economic vantage points. And as for Kashmir, the situation is favourable to India, for this country alone can offer full democracy, autonomy, economic and cultural largesse in meeting the Kashmiri aspirations. We need not worry about America’s role. Gone are the Cold War twenties. In the 21st century, US role can only be helpful to India — or to India-Pakistan bonhomie.

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Football-crazy Punjabis
by Raj Mehta

LOOKING out of the car window, en route to Jalandhar recently on the busy GT Road, my wife casually observed that Punjabis seemed to be lately obsessed with football. She was remarking on the strange phenomenon of huge, gaily painted football structures on some rooftops astride the highway. “Didn’t know our sporty, darling Kakas were sooo football crazy,” she noted with droll humour (she is herself sister to three Kakas and knows a thing or two about their idiosyncrasies) before returning to her well-thumbed style magazines.

Her sharp observation made me watch the rooftops flashing past with increasing interest. Indeed, she was right. I noted that the phenomenon was most evident on the unpretentious rooftops of small farm-houses; those of the hoi polloi living in mofussil towns, on the fringes of big cities, rather than on rooftops of the smart, opulent, landscaped (I feel like adding, choreographed) farm-houses, now increasingly on view.

These exclusive, white-washed Californian/Spanish sculpted houses belong to Punjab’s exploding brat pack of self-assured, vocal, well- dressed, fashionably modest, public school, Mercedes/Pajero-owning, name-dropping (“old-Clinton/Blair-is-Dad’s-pal”) farming dudes and their well-coiffured gals who adorn our lifestyle and glossy magazines.

For this lot, whose last weekend was spent ogling at the statuesque Salma Hayek, Jennifer Lopez or Lindsay Lohan at Cannes, football is valid only when played mesmerisingly by a Beckham, a Ronaldo in a World Cup match, that too on a gigantic LCD TV. It is an unpardonable social goof-up when surrogating for a water tank.

My discovery of footballs led me to make several other delightful architectural dalliances, each a living proof of the zest for life, enterprise, exuberance and innovation that has made Punjabis a global brand for a passionate, driven, self-deprecating and humorous community. I, for instance, have discovered a rooftop where a golfer farmer has indicated his preference for golf, by converting the football into a dimpled golf ball, the plumbing skilfully concealed in the tee on which his water tank-cum-golf ball rests.

Rooftops abound astride the Jalandhar-Chandigarh road, where there are fierce, tawny hawks, aircraft of the passenger variety, complete with propeller blades, a Patton tank with two main guns (one of them is actually a lightning conductor!), a battleship — no one really needs to ask whom the rooftop belongs to, since every other person is from the uniformed fraternity; people who wear their hearts on their sleeves and delight in letting the world know their preferences.

Variations are, of course, present. A cricket lover has put up a cherry-red water tank surrogating for a cricket ball, with the seam skilfully concealing the water piping. I have located a weighty elephant, too, with his trunk adroitly concealing the water pipes.

Corbusier may turn uneasily in his heavenly abode at the gross artistic licence that our unfazed and unrepentant Punjabis have taken with mortar, cement and water pipes. For them, paying homage to Kaka, the real, iconic, Brazilian Kaka, (who recently signed up for Real Madrid for a small consideration of 65 million Euros) by putting his football on ones rooftop, is quite justified!

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TV channels are getting away with bad pronunciation
by S. Nihal Singh

THE English language has stood India in good stead before and after the success of the Independence movement. Mahatma Gandhi wrote his Experiments with Truth, which remains a classic. And India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, created a worldwide awareness of the country’s struggle for Independence through a series of books, including his landmark autobiography, and in his interactions with world leaders.

After India became free, the country was punching much above its weight, thanks partly to the eloquence of Indian leaders in English in articulating their own and other developing countries’ urges for independence, development and dignity, the last in particular in apartheid South Africa.

More recently, the boom in India’s information technology is at least partly due to Indians’ fluency in English, in addition to their mathematically attuned mind. Yet the mushrooming of English language news television channels broadcasting 24 hours a day foreshadow the bleak prospect of India losing the language advantage within a generation.

The truth is that the young are more inclined to learn from television than the print medium, and the distortions and plain bad English that is the norm of major English-language channels today mean that the language they are learning and how it is pronounced and accented will render communication with the rest of the English-speaking world more and more difficult.

No one expects anchors and reporters of Indian news channels to speak in Oxbridge accents. What one has the right to expect in broadcast journalism is legibility, the ability to pronounce words intelligibly and correctly and to follow the basic rules of English grammar. And one does expect anchors to take some trouble to pronounce non-English words accurately.

Let me take some examples of India’s major English-language television channels. Take grammar first. How often is the basic rule of “accused of” and “charged with” abused and reversed? And patients are hardly ever admitted “to” hospital, as they should be, instead of “at”. Times without number running streamers at the bottom of the television screen spell “defence” and “licence” as “defense” and “license” in their American avatar, as is “practise” spelled with two “cs” as a verb. And our anchors delight in using split infinitives.

Hearing some of the anchors and reporters on English-language channels is often a revelation. One would expect of the major channels, particularly those with a prosperity bulge, to run in-house training courses to put their staff through the paces. Is it too much to expect of our broadcasters to pronounce and articulate words correctly?

Must “development” be invariably mispronounced or “industry” and “interesting” wrongly accented? One had not imagined that “mechanism” would be so difficult to pronounce correctly.

Little attempt is made to discover how foreign names are pronounced, that the former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who recently committed suicide, for instance, is pronounced Noh.

The piece de resistance was a news anchor’s conversion of the legendary French artist Gauguin into our very own Gagan! He must be turning in his grave.

And no one has apparently informed our TV channels that the surname in Chinese names, unless anglicised, is the first word. The veteran Singapore politician is Mr Lee, not Mr Kuan-yew.

Sometimes, it is difficult to discover the criteria for selecting anchors and reporters. Voice, presentation and ability to communicate are essential ingredients in broadcast journalism.

Yet some reporters are barely intelligible and some anchors have such a strong Hindi diction that it is difficult to find out if they are talking in Hindi or English. Here I am writing about English-language commercial television channels because Doordarshan often has other compulsions in appointing staff.

Indeed, the conclusion is inescapable that sloppiness is the rule, rather than the exception. There is no inclination to focus on quality and accuracy in running television channels.

It is sloppiness, not “Indian English”, that is responsible for not following the basic rules of grammar. Indianisms have a contribution to make in enriching the language of Shakespeare but there can be no excuse for speaking bad English and shelter behind the slogan of “Indian English”.

There are, of course, honourable exceptions as anchors who speak impeccable English and know the virtues of voice inflection, rather than relying on belligerence, in seeking information from those they interview.

Yet these anchors, even those who have managerial and decision-making functions, treat the distortion and abuse of English with placidity.

Our major English-language television channels do not seem to be starved of money. Either they do not bother about enforcing quality or they do not wish to devote resources to running classes for staff to train them in speaking English correctly.

Are we then, a generation hence, destined to see our language advantage frittered away in bad, unintelligible English? Will the breed of Indian writers in English – God bless them – remain the only Indians reminding us of a time when Indians spoke English well and fluently and were listened to around the world with admiration?

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Myanmar’s secret nuclear reactor
by Roger Maynard

Senior General Than Shwe has been Myanmar’s head of state since 1992
Senior General Than Shwe has been Myanmar’s head of state since 1992

TWO of Asia's most oppressive regimes may have joined forces to develop a nuclear arsenal, according to strategic experts who have analysed information supplied by a pair of Burmese defectors.

The men, who played key roles in helping the isolated military junta before defecting to Thailand, have provided evidence which suggests Burma has enlisted North Korean help to build its own nuclear bomb within the next five years.

Details supplied by the pair, who were extensively interviewed over the past two years by Professor Desmond Ball of the Australian National University and Thai-based Irish-Australian journalist Phil Thornton, points to Myanmar building a secret nuclear reactor and plutonium extraction facility with the assistance of North Korea.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, the head of Thailand's Institute of Security and International Studies, said: "The evidence is preliminary and needs to be verified, but this is something that would completely change the regional security status quo.

"It would move Myanmar [Burma] from not just being a pariah state but a rogue state – that is one that jeopardises the security and well-being of its immediate neighbours," he said.

The nuclear claims, revealed by The Sydney Morning Herald at the weekend, will ring alarm bells across Asia. The newspaper said the testimony of the two defectors brought into sharp focus the hints emerging recently from other sources, supported by sightings of North Korean delegations, that the Burmese junta, under growing pressure to democratise, was seeking a deterrent to any foreign moves to force regime change.

Their evidence also reinforces concerns expressed by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, in Thailand last week about growing military co-operation between North Korea and Myanmar. "We worry about the transfer of nuclear technology and other dangerous weapons," she said at a regional security conference.

The two defectors whose briefings have created such alarm are both regarded as credible sources. One was an officer with a secret nuclear battalion in the Burmese army who was sent to Moscow for two years' training. He was part of a nuclear programme which planned to train 1,000 Burmese. "You don't need 1,000 people in the fuel cycle or to run a nuclear reactor. It's obvious there is much more going on," he said.

The other is a former executive of the regime's leading business partner, Htoo Trading, who handled nuclear contracts with Russia and North Korea. The man, who died in 2008, provided a detailed report which insisted that Myanmar's rationale for a nuclear programme was nonsense.

"They [the generals] say it is to produce medical isotopes for health purposes in hospitals. How many hospitals in Myanmar have nuclear science? he asked. "Myanmar can barely get electricity up and running. It's a nonsense," he said.

Professor Ball and Mr Thornton reported that the army defector claimed that there were more than five North Koreans working at the Thabeik Kyin uranium processing plant in Myanmar and that the country was providing yellowcake – partially refined uranium – to both Iran and North Korea.

The authors concluded that the illicit nuclear co-operation was based on a trade of locally refined uranium from Myanmar to North Korea in return for technological expertise.

What is missing in the nuclear chain at the moment is a plutonium reprocessing plant, but according to the army defector, one was being planned at Naung Laing in northern Myanmar, parallel to a civilian reactor which is already under construction with Russian help.

The secret complex would be hidden in caves tunnelled into a nearby mountain. Once Myanmar had its own plutonium reprocessing plant, it could produce 8kg of weapons-grade plutonium-239 a year, enough to build one nuclear bomb every 12 months.

If the testimony of the two defectors proves to be correct, the secret reactor could be operational by 2014, The Herald reported. "These two guys never met each other, never knew of each other's existence, and yet they both tell the same story basically," said Professor Ball.

"If it was just the Russian reactor, under full International Energy supervision, then the likelihood of them being able to do something with it in terms of a bomb would be zero," Professor ball said. "It's the North Korean element which adds danger to it."

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Delhi Durbar
Why is BJP leadership despondent?

AS the date for the BJP's much-touted "Chintan Baithak" comes closer, the party appears to be in a pensive and reflective mood.

This was evident in its leader, L.K. Advani's postures in Parliament. Advani was seen sitting in the House mostly quiet and pensive, rarely interacting with his party colleagues and fellow leaders or even reacting much to the barbs from the treasury benches on the other end.

This is in sharp contrast to the earlier "avtar" of Advani, who would spring to his feet the moment he saw an opportunity to score a political point against the UPA government.

Advani alone is not afflicted by this melancholic mood. You have any number of leaders suffering from the same syndrome. The other day a party leader candidly admitted how the party was entrapped by the mother-son duo of Maneka and Varun Gandhi to defend and stand by Varun on his controversial anti-Muslim vituperative speech in Pilibhit.

BJP leaders felt that having damaged the party's political prospects, they have now happily settled taking it easy now that both mother and son have reached the Lok Sabha.

When Tharoor was embarrassed

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, a first-timer in Parliament, went to the Rajya Sabha the other day and occupied the seat reserved for the Prime Minister, who is also the Leader of the House.

Even as members were engaged in debating the working of the External Affairs Ministry, the ever-vigilant Congress member Rajiv Shukla walked up to Tharoor and whispered something in his ears. Tharoor immediately got up and went to occupy a seat in the front row of the treasury benches, which again is meant for Cabinet Ministers.

The minister preferred to just smile when several BJP members attacked him for his controversial statement that the India-Pakistan joint statement was not a legal document.

Meanwhile, an SMS being circulated by the alumni of the prestigious, St Stephen's College reads "halka, halka Tharoor hai, St Stephen’s ka kasoor hai." Tharoor happens to be a Stephenian.

Menon acts like a true diplomat

Surrounded by controversies over the India-Pakistan joint statement towards the end of his illustrious career, Shiv Shankar Menon was working tirelessly even on his last day in office as the country's top diplomat.

Seated in the official gallery of the Rajya Sabha alongside his successor Nirupama Rao, Menon was passing small notes to his boss, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, every time a member asked him an important question during the debate on the working of his ministry.

Knowing fully well that he was sitting in the official gallery, several Opposition members criticised Menon for his statement that the India-Pakistan statement could be a case of bad drafting. However, there were many who recounted his contribution to India's several major foreign policy achievements during his tenure. He gracefully accepted both bouquets and brickbats.

Contributed by Faraz Ahmad and Ashok Tuteja

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