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A T H O U G H T F O R TO DAY
THE TIMES OF INDIA, NEW DELHI TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2011
I urge all parties to allow smooth functioning of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
RASHID ALVI, Congress spokesperson
Keeping Eastern Promises
America is ‘here to stay’ in the Asia-Pacific, but what’s in it for India?
Anita Inder Singh
Get To Work
Both UPA and opposition must utilise winter session for productive parliamentary business
arliament’s brief winter session beginning today is set to be a critical test for both the ruling UPA and the opposition parties. The elected representatives are meeting in bleak economic and political circumstances, with increasing forebodings about governance drift. There is growing anxiety about continued economic slide, reduced growth, stagnant industrial production, and above all skyrocketing food prices. Additionally both the ruling party and the BJP are battling , serious corruption charges at the Centre and in states. Compounding all of this has been the UPA government’s crippling inability to break the present policy stalemate. The UPA will do well to leverage the winter session productively to reassure the people about the government’s resolve to bring down prices as well as implement a range of critical governance and economic policy reforms. But it’s not just the UPA, opposition parties too cannot shrug off their responsibilities for a productive session. Political parties across the line can ill afford to repeat the Lokpal-triggered debacle of the last monsoon session. Importantly the debacle was not an , aberration. Parliament’s failure to conduct worthwhile business, unfortunately has become a routine affair. , Opposition tactics of paralysing parliamentary proceedings at the drop of a hat have grown stale. The electorate is watching, and they are not stupid. On the other hand, the UPA’s chronic inability to get business done, its floor managers’ failure to secure a consensus on important issues, have greatly impaired the government’s reputation. The NDA has declared its intention to hold the government to account on price rise and corruption. It’s welcome to grill the government on these issues, putting it on the mat through informed and incisive debates. But it must abandon stalling tactics. The ruling party too, should create a climate , of cooperation in order to execute pending legislative tasks. As many as 31 Bills are ready to be passed and 23 more are to be introduced. At the heart of this session’s agenda is the widely debated Lokpal Bill, which the government has promised to bring in. But besides the prickly Lokpal issue, there are several key governance and economic reforms Bills awaiting Parliament’s nod. The pension Bill just cleared by the cabinet, the judicial standards and accountability Bill, the whistleblowers’ protection Bill and the money laundering (amendment) Bill are among some of the crucial legislations that require urgent consideration. By passing some of these Bills in the winter session, both the government and the opposition can restore popular faith in the political system.
hina’s invocation of “history” to claim sovereignty over the South China Sea found no takers at the East Asia Summit in Bali on November 18 and 19. And as the first American president to attend the summit, of which India was one of the founding members in 2005, Barack Obama ignored a Chinese warning that ‘external’ powers should not interfere in territorial disputes in the sea. Obama’s reassertion of America’s strategic role as an Asia-Pacific power stressed freedom of navigation of the seas based on international law, and was backed by decisions a few days earlier to deploy 2,500 marines on the Australian coast and two warships in Singapore. In his address to the Australian parliament, Obama also expressed the hope that India would play ‘a larger role’ in the Asia-Pacific region. ‘Looking East’ since the end of the Cold War in 1991, India seeks to broaden and deepen its economic and political engagement with East Asian countries. The policy marks, in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s words, “a strategic shift in India’s vision of the world and India’s place in the evolving global economy” by reaching out to its eastern neighbours. That shift has been welcomed by Asean countries (especially Singapore, where Singh travelled after the summit) that perceive India as helping them to counter China’s growing military might.
At Bali, Singh voiced India’s concern about freedom and security of international sea lanes and underlined India’s commercial interest in the South China Sea. As recently as last September, India defied China by signing an agreement with Vietnam to explore oil resources in Vietnamese waters. However, Singh’s emphasis on India’s commercial interests cannot disguise the fact that strategic interests do count. Neither India nor China will accept each other’s primacy in the AsiaPacific. The US wants India’s Look East policy to become an ‘Act East’ policy. India, Japan and the US will have a trilateral
Manmohan Singh, Wen Jiabao and Obama in Bali: It takes three to tango
More equitable economic development is necessary to strengthen India’s military sinews, and to polish its credentials as a key driver of the global economy – and a central contributor to Asian and international security
security dialogue by the end of the year. India and Japan will start naval exercises in 2012. Vietnam has given India the right to use its southern port of Nha Trang; this will not please Beijing. And India has entered into several agreements with Asean to enhance maritime security and to counter terrorism. But an anti-China alliance is not on the cards, if only because China
is one of the largest trading partners of the US, India and Asean member-states. At Bali, Singh outlined India’s interest in expanding trade with Asean countries, investing freely there and increasing people-topeople contacts. In 2010, total trade between Asean and India was $55.4 billion, a growth of 41.8% from $39.1 billion in 2009. This accounted for 2.7% of total Asean trade in 2010. India hopes to achieve a bilateral trade target of $70 billion by 2012. But those figures pale beside the fact that China-Asean trade was $350 billion this year, and is expected to grow to $500 billion by 2015. India needs to do some catching up with Asean. Ancient cultural ties are symbolised by the spread, centuries ago, of Buddhism from India to East Asia. And there have since long been Indian communities in many
Asean countries. But India has never had much economic and political influence in East Asia. Its economic weakness explains to some extent why . In the 1950s, India was on par with many East Asian countries but it was surpassed in the 1960s by Japan and South Korea. India’s rank – 134 – in the latest Human Development Index is lower than that of Japan (12), South Korea (15), Singapore (26), Malaysia (61), China (101), the Philippines (112) and Indonesia (124). As during the Cold War, democratic India is seen by the US as the main counterpoise to authoritarian communist China, but that promise has yet to be fulfilled. Although America is “here to stay”, as Obama said, as an Asia-Pacific power, India The writer is an international cannot take the US for granted. security analyst and visiting professor Obama wants to cut America’s at the Centre for Peace and Conflict defence budget while claiming Resolution, New Delhi.
that its military and economic commitments to the Asia-Pacific region will remain unaffected. But American troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, whose stability is vital to India, are on Washington’s agenda. If the pullout foments insecurity in Pakistan and Afghanistan, India could be preoccupied with its South Asian neighbours. Could that slow down the growth of India’s economic and strategic ties with East Asia? More generally the station, ing of 2,500 marines in Australia will not change the strategic equation in Asia. America’s Asian friends need to see and feel its presence, as a bulwark against Chinese aggressiveness, in the form of more sea patrols and exercises that promote security on the high seas. That raises the question of how the Obama administration will finance its Asia-Pacific strategy . In the long run the expansion of India’s economic and political ties with East Asia will not hinge on America’s presence in the Asia-Pacific. The 21st century is expected to be “the Asian century”. Increased investments in education and infrastructure, and more equitable economic development, are necessary to strengthen India’s military sinews, and to polish its credentials as a key driver of the global economy – and an increasingly central contributor to Asian and international security.
Richard Branson and Kate Winslet to visit wreckage of the Titanic
They’re entitled to do so
here is nothing sacrilegious if could have been easily converted into a Richard Branson and Kate Winslet legacy of tragedy after the 26/11 terror take part in a diving expedition to attack in Mumbai. However, commendably, the wreckage of the Titanic. If anything, the proprietors chose to look to the future the fact that Winslet was a lead actor in and rebuilt the heritage hotel as a symbol the blockbuster movie about the ill-fated of resurgent India. Similarly, the construcship makes Branson’s invitation to her all tion of the One World the more justifiable. Such guided tours to Trade Centre at the disaster/tragedy sites are hardly novel. site of the 9/11 terror Whether it is Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar attack in New York as or the Auschwitz memorial in Poland, these places have long I T I M E S V I E W I been veritable tourist destinations. And why not? In fact, throwing them a fully functional meopen to the public expedites the process of morial building is a reconciliation and healing. conscious effort to reFor, there is a need to resist the propen- pudiate the tendency sity to turn symbols of tragedy into sacro- to live in the past. sanct emblems. The emphasis needs to It is in this spirit that Branson’s decibe on moving on rather than dwelling on sion to undertake the tourist expedition in the past. There is no denying that such the company of Winslet to the Titanic sites serve an educational purpose. The needs to be seen. The argument that the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a valid duo’s interest is motivated by publicity is reminder of the monstrosity of war. But patently unfair. Being famous should not it could also have turned into a symbol be a curse. Nor should other low-profile of hurt, injustice and grievance, which paying customers be deterred from taking luckily it hasn’t. The Taj Palace hotel part in the expedition.
It’s publicity-seeking voyeurism
ichard Branson’s deciding to be a part of the submarine trip to the Titanic wreck isn’t particularly surprising. The billionaire businessman has always had a penchant for the spectacular and the headline-grabbing. Neither is his inviting Kate Winslet unexpected. Having her with him would quivering masses of jelly. But behind the Hollywood glitz is the very real tragedy of the 1,517 people who lost their lives in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912. By dragging the star of the movie version of that tragedy to the Titanic wreck – and on the disaster’s centenary next year, no less – Branson is mixing reality and its Hollywood version in crass fashion. He isn’t the only offender, of course. When Hurricane Katrina I COUNTERVIEW I hit New Orleans in 2005, Hollywood stars like Anil Thakkar certainly make his Sean Penn were criticised for trying to trip more visible, use the disaster as a PR exercise. Closer and he has never to home, the 2004 tsunami recovery been averse to that efforts saw a controversy over actor kind of publicity But Vivek Oberoi’s intervention. The lesson . being understandable doesn’t make this to be drawn from all this is that when entire stunt any less in poor taste. people suffer such devastating losses, it It is, to put it bluntly, disaster tourism, must be treated with respect. If celebrisomething to which politicians and ties truly wish to help, they should celebrities are particularly prone. Yes, look to the likes of Angelina Jolie whose James Cameron made a schmaltzy block- sincerity is beyond doubt, and whose buster a decade-and-a-half ago that efforts in ongoing conflict areas are earned obscene amounts of money and often deliberately low-profile. Flashreduced teenage girls everywhere to lights and cameras are not welcome.
Break Those Walls
Storms over religious conversion are outmoded
he arrest in Srinagar of All India Saints Church pastor C M Khanna, accused of converting a few Muslim youth to Christianity, is ironic, located in a region supposedly struggling against an authoritarian majority Those who claim to represent an embattled minority should . offer another empathy – not threats of punishment. Interestingly, while the pastor’s arrest has excited the administration, assorted muftis and students, human rights groups in the Valley stand strangely silent. As they ostensibly support every group’s right to freedom and equality it’s , important they declare their position on this. Contradictions over conversion extend beyond Kashmir. Laws restricting this in some states like Orissa, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh adopt archaic thought and vocabularies powered by suspicion. Some view conversion as motivated by ‘allurement’, ‘force’ or ‘inducement’, thus resorting to an anxious 19th century discourse based on numbers making up religious communities, counted thereby as coherent entities by a colonial state bestowing favours on each of them by turn. Worries about conversion pass over the individual’s right to religious freedom, guaranteed by the Constitution. Instead, they hark back to an antique era of religions living curtained-off from each other, where citizens are treated as minors rather than capable adults. Repeating such language in modern, secular India is absurd. Instead of making sanctimonious noises about ‘disturbing the peace’, it’s more important to ensure social stability is not so fragile as to get shaken each time someone takes a religious plunge. Ensuring freedom and dignity to all – to eat, pray and love as they like – is more important than making noises that are holier (should we say hollower) than thou.
Misplaced Aggression Protect Rights Activists Old Spice At Tihar
ihar’s now quite a haunt for ex-telecom mantris. Sentenced to five-year imprisonment in a 1996 bribery case, Sukh Ram’s entered the very jail 2G-stung A Raja is lodged. Already convicted in two graft-related cases, Sukh Ram’s plea of being old didn’t move the trial court. Well, the octogenarian can use jailtime to recall those happy days when, though scam-hit, he led a “vikas”oriented party in Himachal. Its aim? To fight corruption.
Through the glass darkly
Vanity’s a vice not even the best of us can resist
he myth of Narcissus is alive and well amidst us. I see it fully borne out every day There is no pond at the threshold of my home in . which to gaze admiringly at one’s reflection a la the handsome Greek hunk. But each time the doorbell rings, the myth is re-enacted in a slightly modified form at our doorstep. What i do have is a round mirror with a wrought iron frame on the wall at the entrance to our house. It is there simply because of its inability to find a niche inside the flat. Unwittingly it has proved to be an amazing tool in giving me an insight into human psychology . I see these acts of self-adoration through our wire-mesh front door. A gaggle of delivery folks, my daily domestic help and other sundry visitors form the subjects of my study All seem to have a fatal attraction for the . mercury-coated piece of glass on the wall. The Narcissist’s Gallery has some interesting portraits indeed. Arjun, the teenage ‘chhokra’ from the neighbourhood grocery store, presses the bell and is in no hurry to see me appear at the door. He stares fixedly at his image, oblivious of my arrival, occasionally humming a catchy film song. It is his way of introducing some fantasy in his otherwise drab routine of delivering stuff. Shashi, the sweepress, always dressed to kill, may forget to wield the broom on the staircase but never fails to steal a glance at the mirror. ‘Vanity thy name is woman’, as the Bard said, so why blame her? Mahesh, , the ‘presswallah’, while waiting to collect his bundle of clothes for ironing, beguiles himself by assessing his image in the mirror from every angle. Manjula, our maid, who generally completes her chores with lightning speed, has always a moment to spare as she checks out the visage she presents to the world. The gas deliveryman, who announces his arrival with a thunderous roll of the cylinder from a mile off, also falls an easy prey to the seductive charm of the siren on the wall. The tally of victims continues to swell each day The other day i caught . Munne Lal, our staid-looking postman, in the act of mopping his brow in front of the mirror. He had a sheepish look as if to say that such vanity was avoidable. At last count, i had the ‘raddiwallah’ also on the muster roll of the self-absorbed. Irfaan, the pint-sized boy from the meat shop, not even 10 as yet, finds it difficult to peek into the mirror because of his lack of height. This doesn’t deter him from pushing a flowerpot against the wall and using it as a stepping stone to reach the magic mirror in order to admire his visage unabashedly One curious vignette that intrigues me still was the courier . delivery boy greeting his reflection in the mirror Maori style, nose to nose! Now each time the doorbell rings, i hang back deliberately to see if the magic mirror will cast its spell or not. Not all mortals are given to vainglorious use of a mirror. Shah Jahan, not an ordinary mortal by any yardstick, used the mirror to assuage a sentimental ache. Imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb at Agra fort, he was able to lessen the blow of bitter captivity by gazing upon the reflection of Taj Mahal in a mirror. However, the mirror on my wall has served its own humble purpose. It has certainly proved the worthy poet wrong who said, “What is this life if, full of care/ We have no time to stand and stare’!
rked by a Youth Congress protest rally, Mamata Banerjee dares its ally to sever ties. But, as Bengal CM, she must surely probe allegations about Trinamool cadres’ attacking Congress workers and discipline them if found culpable. Plus, her main focus should be Bengal’s post-Left reconstruction. There, she needs the UPA. It won’t help if her ally did walk out to strengthen the state opposition by aligning with the Left.
uman rights activists have decided to set up an emergency response system to help those targeted for taking up rights issues. The mechanism would involve reaching out to various structures of governance and human rights commissions, both national and international. While the selfhelp system is a welcome initiative by civil society groups, it’s also a scathing indictment of state failure to protect rights activists.
SACRED S PAC E
Who Am I?
Know When To Be Silent
those who take sadistic pleasure in tarnishing the one who is truthful. he Pandavas went to the Gurukul of A bride was led to confide in her spouse Dronacharya for education. All the about her past mistakes and then, instead disciples were hard-working and used of promised love and forgiveness, a highly to remember their lessons well. Yudhisthir revengeful attitude was adopted thereby also was a good student but he somehow could making her life a living hell. The right thing not proceed further for several days from one is to keep silent about incidents of the past particular lesson. When questioned by the whose revelation is likely to create problems, guru, he explained, “I am stuck in the first misery and confusion. sentence itself – Satyamvad (speak the truth). Truthfulness is considered a sign of Until i inculcate this lesson in my character, in nobility A match between word and deed is . my life, it won’t be true learning and i won’t be indeed a virtue and such qualities should be able to proceed to the next lesson.” routinely practised in daily activities. HowTruthfulness is the ninth of the 10 attri- ever, it is not falsehood to keep quiet about butes of dharma. Normally, speaking matters of the past the uncovering of the truth is linked with the faculty of which is likely to raise a storm. Very speech, to strictly say what one has often silence amounts to truthfulseen, heard or understood. However, ness in such circumstances. if the objective is noble then circumHonesty and truthfulness are instances may warrant deliberate deviadeed the basic moral and ethical values tion from the liberal definition. For to be practised in our lives. We must example, if a person is struggling not indulge in adulteration or profiTHE against an apparently incurable teering or hoarding, must use corailment, words of encouragement SPEAKING rect weights and measures and have and hope strengthening his willclean bookkeeping. But by the same TREE power and thereby increasing his token, it is not at all necessary to play chances of survival would better serve the Harishchandra before a thief or a thug, reveal spirit of truth than heartlessly repeating the to him details of one’s money or valuables and medical verdict. Similarly, if there is alien- thus facilitate and encourage theft or robbery. ation between two closely related parties or Needless publicity of facts that lead to persons, each feeling uncompromisingly righ- harmful consequences should be avoided. teous, the ends of truth will be better served by There are many occasions in life when silence acting as a bridge through highlighting even in is golden; it saves one from mental pollution an exaggerated way the brighter side of both and tension. sides and work towards healing rather than It is wise to speak less, speak sweet and widening the gap through plain speaking. speak for the good. This is the essence of pracThere was a time when open confession of tical truthfulness. Needless revealing of facts one’s faults and demerits was not looked down to all and sundry invariably harms the interupon; rather one’s innocence and simplicity ests of many who tend to become foes. It is invited indulgence and forgiveness. But now noble to adhere to truth, but it should be comthings are different. Revelation of private patible with upholding of social harmony and secrets has become a matter of ridicule by order, and personal dignity and peace of mind.
L R Sabharwal
E D I T PAG EI MAILBOX
Hard work pays
With reference to the Times View/Counterview (November 19), there is absolutely no substitute for hard work in any sphere of life. Time and again it has been proved beyond doubt that hard work, and hard work alone, pays handsomely. This powerful claim continues to gain wider acceptance in society, with each of humanity’s outstanding accomplishments demonstrating its truth with unerring regularity. Mere ‘smartness’ alone would not suffice to ensure desired results in any chosen field. It has to be ably backed by concrete plans and goals, passionate zeal and unrelenting perseverance to go out and achieve success. Luck, on its part, is nothing but the ability to seize available opportunities. But, here again, the essence of hard work assumes greater importance, given that luck is open to subjective interpretation.
M V Krishna, VIA EMAIL
He who sees the Self, sees only the Self in the world also. To the jnani, it is immaterial whether the world appears or not. Whether it appears or not, his attention is always on the Self. It is like the letters and the paper on which the letters are printed. You are wholly engrossed with the letters and have no attention left for the paper. But the jnani thinks only of the paper as the real substratum, whether the letters appear on it or not. Ramana Maharshi Let me think: was i the same when i got up this morning? I almost think i can remember feeling a little different. But if i’m not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am i? Ah, that’s the great puzzle! Lewis Carroll And remember, no matter where you go, there you are. Confucius
Movement that unites
With reference to the Second Opinion ‘Democracy reinvented’ (November 16) by Jug Suraiya, what social activist Anna Hazare has done is to ensure that every Indian is up in arms against rampant corruption in the country. The common man is fed up, given that the country’s governance seems to be going nowhere in the absence of strong leadership. The rising middle class just needed a spark to ignite the fire inside it. Its pent-up anger finally found that outlet, with people coming out in mass support for Anna’s agitation for the Jan Lokpal Bill. Political parties may divide us by providing reservations or forming more states, but movements like the one for the Jan Lokpal unite us into a single nation.
Rushil Batra, VIA EMAIL
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