Some Quotes

"I will not say I failed 1000 imes,I will say that I discovered there are 1000 ways that can cause failure.......... Thomas Edison" "Believing everybody is dangerous;Believing nobody is very dangerous.......Lincon" "If you start judging people you will be having no time to love them....MOTHER TERESA"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Closing The Doors on Students, Not Coaching Institutes

THE Union Minister for Human Resources Development did yet another flip-flop. He had announced that a student should secure 80 per cent marks in the Class 12 Board exams to qualify for IIT JEE. Under immense pressure, he immediately retracted on his statement. The minister representing a parliamentary constituency in Delhi, appears to be following in the footsteps of a famous medieval era Sultan of Delhi, known for his mavericks. Governance these days for the UPA II appears to be more shooting from the hip, checking the reaction and then backing out. Or is it following the Machiavellian dictum, “First demonstrate to the people the worst that you are capable of. Then proceed not to repeat it. The people will then heave a sigh of relief and come to look upon you as a benefactor”

Free from the 'shackles' of the Left, the second edition of the UPA seems to be too eager to implement the neo-liberal agenda. HRD minister appears to be desperate to 'win' this race with his colleagues. He had announced a 100-day agenda with many important promises largely unmet (to his credit we can concede that the Right to Education Act was passed, although with many flaws), taken up the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission and the Yashpal Commission in higher education for implementation. He allowed the IIMs to start branches abroad. That accomplished, he now wants to lay the red carpet for the foreign universities. And now has come the proposal to increase the qualification marks for entering the IITs and an appeal to the NITs to consider their relevance. Though made under the garbs of reforming the education system and cleansing it of its shortcomings, it is really a design for 'elitisation' of education.

The announcement on increasing the qualification marks for IITs, said to be made with an intention to protect students from falling prey to the coaching institutions that are minting money through their huge earnings and profits, had sparked a debate. Usually announcements precede debates, but in our country it has become the norm to first announce and then open it up for debates. It is not our contention that debates should stop once an announcement is made. But for a healthy democratic system and rational decision, making all the major decisions should be debated first and then announced.

The debate on this proposal of the minister had once again brought forward the question of merit and quality in our educational institutions, particularly the 'elite' higher education institutions like the IITs and AIIMS etc. As witnessed during the debates on reservations, once again it is being argued that merit and quality should be protected in these elite institutions at any cost and opening them for students from deprived backgrounds is nothing less than killing merit and quality. Thus, it is argued that increasing the qualification marks to 80 per cent would save these institutions from mediocrity and uphold their 'brand value' which is made synonymous with quality.

Unfortunately the proponents of these arguments are forgetting few realities that exist in our country. Our country is a federal State with education in the concurrent list, a fact that is increasingly under attack. This was always a matter of contention between the centre and the states- the centre using its powers and leverage of finances wanting to control the entire education system with many states resisting it. The present government too is eager to centralise the entire education system by usurping many of the powers of the state. It had proposed a common board for class 10th and 12th and backtracked after resistance. It is this reality that the present move once again conveniently forgets.

In our federal set-up, each state has its own board to conduct and manage school education. In some states classes 11th and 12th are with school board, in some with college board, while in some others they are independent of both. The evaluation and examining patterns are different both amongst states and between the centre and the states. Now, in this background if 80 per cent is decided as the minimum qualification, it is bound to lead to problems as the evaluation patterns are different. Already students have been complaining that it is easier to secure 60 per cent marks in CBSE while it is difficult to achieve the same in their respective state boards. It is also true that some students also complain of vice-versa. Similar is the complaint between students of two central boards-CBSE and ICSE.

Students naturally perceive common entrance test as a leveller against such differences among the various boards in the country. This had been vindicated by numerous examples across the country. There are instances where some coaching institutes in Bihar are run with intentions of charity and social justice, ensuring that students from the deprived sections get into these 'premier' institutions. The same is the case with an institute run from Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh that consciously admits students from rural and backward sections, coaches them and ensures that they get a seat in IIT. Now saying that it needs 80 per cent marks for these students to realise their dream of studying in IIT, is nothing but trying to bulldoze the differences pointed earlier and also deny them an opportunity to realise their dream.

Above all these, an important fact that always needs to be remembered in all our discussions about the Indian education system is that it is severely 'malnourished', starved of funds. For any reform of our education system, it should be holistic in nature. It should address all the concerns of equity, quality and quantity together and not one after the other. The condition of school education is so sub-standard that many schools are lacking minimum amenities necessary for students to pursue their studies. Thousands of schools do not have teachers, many of those that do, have insufficient teachers. Even amongst those, many are unqualified. This apart, there are problems galore like lack of sufficient classrooms, books, teaching aids, etc. It is in these conditions that majority of Indians are pursuing their education. It is not their fault that they are born poor or born among the deprived sections of our society. It should be the society's responsibility to ensure that they overcome this deprivation and achieve some sort of equality. For a country that takes pride in being the world's largest democracy this is all the more imperative. Part of being a democracy includes, democratising our education system, making the system accessible to all. Instead of addressing these concerns what the government is really up to is reinforce the existing divisions- confine the students from deprived backgrounds, in the name of mediocrity, to sub-standard institutions.

There are many studies carried out to show that many students who have in fact secured less than 80 per cent marks have cracked the IIT entrance and are indeed doing well in these institutions. The study carried out in JNU, long back had proved that students who seek admission with the help of deprivation points, given the necessary support system, had indeed performed well subsequently in their course work. And if, in fact, the students do not do well once in these 'premier' institutions, it means that there is 'something' in that institution that needs to be corrected. After all, teaching is not all about addressing the top students in the class, but is also about making the average and below average too comprehend.

It had been argued many times in the same columns that merit is intensely related to socio-economic factors. It does not exist in vacuum. Individuals might have varying intelligence levels but this is not something genetic. Many ‘mediocre’ individuals in their schools often turned out to be genius after coming into contact with the right ‘atmosphere’. Intelligence per se might appear to have got nothing to do with class or caste, but it has lots to do with this ‘atmosphere’. Class defines your economic position while caste does it for your social status. Both together play an important role in the access to education. You can wish both of them ‘off’ on the paper but not on the ground. They define where you live, what your living conditions are and thus naturally the school you attend and the education you get. But if one wants to quantify merit only in terms of marks, even they do get determined by these factors. Unless these are comprehensively addressed, we cannot deny the right of education to the students.

Arguing for IIT JEE should not be in any way misconstrued as defending coaching centres. Nobody denies the fact 'coaching' has become an industry in our country and an easy way to generate profits in the 'business of education'. Coaching centres are mushrooming around us in a big way. These in fact need to be controlled and regulated. This cannot be achieved by doing away with entrance examination or reducing the importance of an entrance examination. The experience in Andhra Pradesh shows that this strategy does not help. Coaching industry did not diminish there. In fact it had become more 'innovative', big and diversified that they have expanded their roots from school to college education. Some have even started 'deemed universities'.

The government has to think, why and how in the first place did these institutes gain their prominence. Instead of crying that Board exams are losing prominence over the entrance examination, the government should question itself how we had arrived at this situation. It should also ponder over the reasons why it is increasingly becoming necessary to take the help of 'coaching' instead of just teaching at the schools to secure a seat in the 'premier' institutes. The solution apparently lies in the fact that all the three concerns-quality, quantity and equity have to be simultaneously addressed. Start more quality institutions, make them affordable and accessible to all, you automatically close the doors of the coaching institutes. Does the government have the will to do this? The course undertaken by this government says, NO.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

9/15: Capitalism’s Attack On World’s Peoples

It has been a year since the legendary financial giant Lehman Brothers collapsed on September 15, 2008. This global giant had weathered the railroad bankruptcies that rocked the USA in the 19th century and also the Great Depression of the 1930s. On this occasion, it became the first victim as well as the trigger that shot down financial markets globally, causing probably the worst recession in capitalism's history.

The World Bank has explicitly stated that 2009 would be the first year on record since the World War II to register an absolute fall in world output. It has revised its earlier estimate of a minus 1.7 to a minus 3 per cent fall in global GDP. During these twelve months except, for China (7.5 per cent) and India (5.5 per cent), all other major economies have seen a decline in their GDP.

Despite having injected over 2.3 trillion dollars into the US financial system, its GDP fell by a minus 2.6 per cent. Similarly, all the G8 countries have registered negative growth rates, Germany minus 6.2, France minus 3.0, Italy minus 5.1, Japan minus 6.0, UK minus 4.2, Canada minus 2.3, Russia minus 6.5. Among the emerging economies, Brazil registered a minus 1.3 per cent, Mexico minus 7.3 and ASEAN countries minus 0.3 per cent.

According to the World Bank, nearly 100 million people will be trapped in absolute poverty in 2009 and 2.8 million more babies may die by 2015. The ILO has declared that more than 50 million are going to join the existing ranks of the unemployed this year. The real estimate is bound to be higher as the ILO relies on the data supplied by respective governments, many of whom are not counting the vast number of migrant labour losing their jobs and returning home. In USA alone the official unemployment rate has climbed close to 10 per cent while unofficial estimates record 16 per cent. In absolute numbers the unemployed have crossed the seven million mark in the USA.

Such is the gloom that according to a Washington Post-ABC news poll released on September 15 2009, President Obama's approval rating on the handling of the economy dropped from 62 per cent in February to 45 per cent now. It is becoming increasingly clear that all the bailout packages have mainly helped the financial corporates to beautify their balance sheets and not stimulate the real economy for generating jobs for the people. As we have repeatedly stated in these columns earlier, these bailout packages always put profits before people rather than putting people before profits. This is evidenced by the fact that Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase, the two financial giants that collapsed on the Wall Street have now emerged from the ruins, feasting on the monies they have received through such bailout packages. On the back of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, JP Morgan Chase has announced a record 2.7 billion dollars profit in the second quarter of 2009.

On the occasion of this anniversary of 9/15, many books have been published seeking to unravel the manner in which this crisis unfolded. One of these makes an analysis of the cyclical capitalist business cycle in the entire history of capitalism. It shows that in the aftermath of an average crisis asset prices fall sharply, real housing prices fall on an average by 36 per cent over six years, equity prices by 56 per cent over three and a half years. Unemployment tends to rise by seven percentage points during the down phase of the cycle, which on average lasts four years. Government debt increases by 86 per cent. GDP falls by over 9 per cent on the average, and typically takes ten years to return to what it was before the crisis. This is the history of an ‘average’ crisis. What we are witnessing is much worse than an average crisis. Under these circumstances, it would be naive to exude confidence of a visible turn-around in the global economy.

Such optimism being exuded by the prime minister and the Planning Commission could well be a case of gross overestimation of the Indian economy. During this year India's growth plummeted from over 8 per cent to 5.5 per cent. During the first quarter of 2009 industrial growth was 0.3 per cent compared to 6 per cent in the last quarter of 2008. India's exports fell from a 10.4 per cent growth in September 2008 to minus 33.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2009. Over 30 lakh jobs are estimated to be lost in the organised sector alone by the end of 2009. Nearly 12 lakh jobs have already been lost in the export oriented sectors. In the unorganised sector the job loss is bound to be much higher. In addition are those lakhs of people returning from abroad having lost their jobs there particularly in the Gulf.

Like elsewhere in the world, in India too the stimulus packages announced by the government have helped the corporates to emerge from the crisis but have not helped to stimulate the real economy into generating a larger number of jobs. We have in the past analysed that the relative resilience shown by the Indian economy in the wake of the global recession has been due to two specific factors: the prevention of greater financial liberalisation by the Left under the UPA-I government and the injection of huge liquidity into the economy due to the sixth pay commission and the fifteenth general elections. The latter is a one off expenditure which cannot sustain expanding domestic demand in the future to maintain higher levels of production. This can happen only if a quantum leap is made in the levels of public investment which would lead both to the building of the much needed economic and social infrastructure in the country as well as generate new employment.

Instead, as we have seen, the budget papers for this year inform us that as much as Rs 4.18 lakh crore were foregone as tax collection last year as a result of various tax concessions. While continuing these concessions the government has now abolished surcharge on corporate tax and increased the exemption limit for income tax giving an additional bonanza of Rs 10,000 crore. Thus Rs 4.28 lakh crore are the amount that is being foregone by the government's own admission. This is being done under the presumption that with greater availability of capital, the corporate world would expand its activities and thus stimulate the economy. There is a fundamental flaw in this reasoning. No amount of availability of capital can stimulate the economy unless there are people who have the purchasing power to consume what is produced. Instead, if this amount of money was put into direct public investment for building our infrastructure, the consequent job creation would have vastly increased the purchasing power of the people and thereby stimulated the economy. However, like everywhere else, as is the internal logic of capitalism, the governments have stepped in to shore up the corporates through various bailout and stimulus packages rather than bailing out the people through increased public investment. This is clearly reflected in the performance of the top Indian firms (BSE 200) during this year since the collapse of Lehman Brothers. In the last quarter of 2008 the income of these firms rose by 12.8 per cent while their net profits declined by minus 17.6 per cent. In the first quarter of 2009, while their income grew by a minuscule 0.2 per cent, their net profits jumped by 28.6 per cent. In the second quarter of 2008, their income declined by minus 7 per cent, yet the net profits rose by 20.7 per cent. Clearly, while the economic activity is contracting, leading to unemployment and misery for the people, they continue to reap super profits thanks to ‘bailout packages. Such is the logic of capitalism that puts profits before the people.

It is thus imperative that popular struggles must be strengthened to force our government to adopt policies that put people before profits by vastly expanding public investments.

Note:Article took from the People's Democracypeoples Democracy

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Has India Joined the PSI!

IN the first week of August, the Indian Navy interdicted a North Korean cargo ship off the Andaman coast. The Indian Navy has claimed that the cargo ship, M V San had entered Indian territorial waters without the requisite permission. The Indian Navy’s interdiction of the North Korean ship has earned plaudits from Washington. The US Navy had not dared to interdict a North Korean ship M V Kang Nam 1 which the Americans suspected of carrying “banned cargo” for Myanmar. The US Navy had trailed the ship for three weeks in the middle of the year but did not dare to board the ship. North Korea had warned that such a move by the US would be tantamount to a declaration of war. The job of interdiction of North Korean ships seems to have been subcontracted by Washington to willing third countries.

The incident in the Andaman Sea was the first time a North Korean ship was seized and detained under the terms of the sanctions adopted by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874 in June this year. The resolution banned all arms exports from North Korea and authorised member countries to inspect suspicious ships for banned items. The new sanctions were adopted after the North conducted another round of nuclear tests in May this year.

Russia and China, along with many other countries in the region, have been quite lukewarm in their support of the US initiated sanctions against the North, particularly on the question of interdicting North Korean ships on the high seas. China and Russia resisted a binding use of force resolution because they don’t want US ships prowling their neigbourhood on the pretext of interdicting ships carrying suspicious cargo to or from North Korea. Moscow and Beijing are against Washington acting unilaterally to interdict ships. They would prefer UN flagged ships to carry out the Security Council mandated interdictions/inspections on the high seas and that too after only getting actionable information collated by international experts.


The North Korean ship intercepted by the Indian Navy was carrying a cargo of 16,000 tons of sugar bound for West Asia. No evidence of any illegal cargo on board was found after a rigorous search. A couple of days before the ship was searched, sections of the Indian media had carried tendentious stories routed through the western media about North Korea helping Myanmar to build a nuclear reactor. Till the first week of September, the ship is still in the custody of the Indian Navy. Meanwhile the captain of the ship is desperately trying to offload the sugar on board.

The recently retired Naval Chief, Admiral Suresh Mehta, defending the interdiction, told the media that the ship had strayed into Indian waters. Adm. Mehta told the media that “the ship had no business being there”. The law of the sea however clearly states that all ships have the right of “innocent passage” through a country’s territorial waters. Effectively, forcibly boarding a North Korean ship is an infringement of the country’s sovereignty. Many legal experts say that it is almost tantamount to a declaration of war.

According to reports, the unarmed crew protested after the Indian Navy boarded and searched the ship for “nuclear materiel or fuel”. A senior police officer in Port Blair told the media that a preliminary investigation by a team of Indian nuclear scientists failed to detect any radioactive material on board of the ship carrying the huge consignment of sugar. The interdiction of the North Korean ship has been hailed in the western media as an illustration of the “international noose” tightening around North Korea.

It is well known that the top brass of the Indian Navy has been very keen to team up with the US Navy to jointly patrol busy sea lanes like the Malacca straits or the Straits of Hormuz. The top naval brass was particularly keen to sign up to the US sponsored Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Another former Indian Navy Chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, said in 2005 that “India’s status in world affairs warrants that we should be one of the core countries” to join the PSI. The origin of the PSI can be traced to the interception of another North Korean ship in 2002. US Intelligence had notified Spain, a close ally about the ship moving towards Yemen. The Spanish Navy boarded the ship which was carrying missile parts for the Republic of Yemen. After the Yemeni government protested, the ship was released along with the cargo.

The Indian Navy has been practicing maritime interdiction and counter terrorism maneuvers with the US Navy for many years. India and the US have also finalised a Maritime Cooperation Framework (MCF) to enhance maritime security. India has provided port facilities for US forces engaged in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Admiral Mike Mullen, now the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a visit to India in 2007 had broached the “thousand ship navy” (TSN) concept. The idea is for ships of like minded countries getting together to enhance security on the high seas. Admiral Mullen had said at the time that there was “a very positive response on the TSN from the Indian Navy”.

The TSN in essence is a slightly toned down version of the controversial PSI. The creation of PSI was announced at the 2003 G-8 summit in Krakow, Poland. The purported goal of the PSI is to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction through maritime routes. The Bush administration had chosen not to aggressively push membership of PSI. Other nations were asked to participate in PSI on a case-by-case basis, depending on their capability to make specific contributions to a particular interdiction effort. India is obviously helping out on a case-by-case basis.

The Indian Navy’s action against the North Korean ship came at a time when the Obama administration itself was shifting gears in its Korea policy. The former president, Bill Clinton had just returned from a high profile visit to Pyongyang. He had met with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il for three hours. Accompanying Clinton were old Korea hands with links with the US state department. In the last days of the Clinton administration, Washington was on the verge of establishing diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright had made an official visit to the country in late 1999.


India has had full diplomatic relations with North Korea since independence. North Korea may be currently in a dire economic situation and politically isolated. What it needs now is a helping hand to overcome its problems, much of it resulting from decades of American hostility. Countries like India should help in defusing the tense situation in the Korean peninsula instead of adding fuel to the fire. The Indian action also violates the spirit of NAM, which has called for a peaceful resolution of the Korean conflict. Last year, at the behest of Washington, India had denied over-flight facilities to a North Korean plane coming in from Iran. During the NDA regime, the Indian Navy had interdicted a North Korean ship off the Gujarat coast in 1999 allegedly carrying missile parts for Pakistan.

One of the important goals of the PSI was to make India the regional policeman working on behalf of the US. Bush administration officials had made it clear that the main thrust of the PSI was against North Korea and Iran which were part of president Bush’s “axis of evil”. The PSI, according to most experts, is in contravention to the Law of the Sea. The PSI gives the signatories the right to interdict ships, merely on the suspicion that it may be carrying suspicious materials on the high seas. Under the PSI, even ships carrying fertilisers can be intercepted on the grounds that the cargo can be used to make WMDs. Russia and China are among the states that have said the PSI is an attempt to substitute interdictions for established multilateral treaties and is tailored to isolate specific states like North Korea and Iran.

Domestic political pressure has so far kept New Delhi from formally joining the PSI. The Indian government has however admitted that Indian officials had attended a recent meeting of the PSI. The minister of state for External affairs, Preneet Kaur, told the Rajya Sabha in the third week of July that the US “had shared with us the details and rationale of the PSI”. The minister said that there was no decision taken by the government to join PSI.

Pranab Mukherjee, when he was holding the Defense portfolio in the last government, had stated in January, 2005 that proliferation through sea routes was one of the “biggest problems” and in this context, initiatives such as PSI would “need to be examined in greater detail”. The “New Framework for the US-India Defense Relationship” signed in June 2005 specifically mentions among other things that the two countries would collaborate “to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”.

The latest country to join the PSI is South Korea. Seoul only signed up this year after the North conducted another round of nuclear and missile tests. The right wing government in the South has abandoned the “sunshine policy” of engaging with the North. Relations between the two neighbours had thawed considerably in the last ten years. The previous South Korean government also shared the views of countries like China which believed that forcibly boarding a North Korean ship at sea could spark a military clash that could even escalate into a full-fledged war. After the latest UN Security Council resolution expanding and tightening the sanctions on the North was passed, many commentators in the region had warned that the move was fraught with danger. Good sense seems to be prevailing in Washington and Pyongyang after the Bill Clinton visit. There are indications that the six party talks to resolve the crisis in the Korean peninsula will be resuming soon.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

LEBANON Status Quo, Foreign Pressures, Spy Rings and a Mirage

THE June 7 national elections to the Lebanese republic and subsequent developments had all the mix of a modern Indian bollywood superhit. From Israeli spy rings, bribes, secret and not so secret deals, fundamentalists rubbing shoulders with capitalists, a few good politicos amidst a bevy of charlatans and rogues --- and of course rumours galore.


These were all part of the masala called National Elections 2009. Not only this; on paper two major groupings --- the first known as March 14 backed by the west and USA in particular and the second the opposition, known as the March 8 --- were caught in a cliff hanger. With the west throwing its weight behind Harari, Hezbollah got support from within the Gulf. The final result: March 14 was ahead but not the clear winner. As Robert Fisk aptly put it, “There will be no Islamic Republic of Lebanon. Nor will there be a pro-Western Lebanese republic.”

But the situation is indeed getting increasingly curious. From mid-June till now, not only are there reports of local community pressures but international pressures too to cobble a cabinet somehow. International pressures, especially from the US and Israel, are more than visible but there are also other pressures from France, European Union and some neighbours. Besides, there are some recent developments. On July 29, it became clear that cabinet formation would be further delayed, due to problematic issues regarding the distribution of ministerial portfolios. Meanwhile, according to a report, tensions ran high in south Lebanon after Israel moved four Merkava tanks from the Arqoub region and deployed them 100 metres from the Hassan Gate in the occupied Kfar Shuba Hills region. It stated, “The tanks’ redeployment was accompanied by Israeli warplanes hovering over the area, before flying above the southern region of Hasbaya and Marjayoun.”

But the question is: Will it be just that? Or, would there be something more through unprincipled compromises? This correspondent was for 21 days in Lebanon, crisscrossing between the north and the south, with stopovers in three cities --- the historic capital Beirut, the port of Tripoli and the ancient city of Byblos. Besides, he spent a day in a village in a valley. Thus he got some interesting insights into what is happening, in a small country ravaged by wars against Israel and internal strife, and often caught in a web of US machinations, French machinations and what not. Even today, all attempts are being made for what some called a government of national salvation, some called a national coalition, while others predicted that it would be a mishmash of vested interests dedicated to a total neo-liberal economy in a terrain where 40 percent are still below the poverty line despite the dazzle of the capital Beirut. In select areas, Palestinians are struggling to make two ends meet in abysmal conditions.


Lebanon --- once a dream of exiled poets and writers, of tourists, some of whom came in search of the Paris of the Middle East, one of the oldest cradles of civilisation, yet a modern country --- is pining for peace and amity after long periods of civil strife.

The election results show the Lebanese are face to face with what an editorial said could be ghosts of the past competing with the present, to bring about some sort of a government with the full backing of foreign powers. In the midst of all this, poverty is on the increase, with even the middle classes barely finding ways to survive and the super-rich hunting for greener pastures. A poignant reminder all over in camps and on the roads are Palestinians in ghettoes, called refugee camps and unidentified elsewhere, with a few rich caught in a web of the very poor. A Palestinian in Beirut was seen saying with anguish: “We are angry, and hungry too.”

It is so in a small country with a big heart, just 4000 square miles in size with 18 religious sects, with 60 percent of the population of Muslims in a total population of around four million. And believe it or not, it was an election with heavy turnout not only from Lebanon but outside. One can’t vote from outside Lebanon. So how did they vote? Indeed, some voters abroad got tickets booked by interested parties before the polls. If you are a Lebanese outside, go and vote in the country. Add to the picture a long list of key politicians, mainly from the US, coming turn by turn to guide the voters on how to vote. Some time ago, Noam Chomsky said in an article titled “Season of Travesties: Freedom and Democracy in mid-2009,” released by Z-net on July 10, 2009:

“June 2009 was marked by a number of significant events, including two elections in the Middle East: in Lebanon, then in Iran. The events are significant, and the reactions to them, highly instructive.”

Reactions were similar throughout the mainstream. There are, however, a few flies in the ointment. He added, “While our thoughts are turned to elections, we should not forget one recent authentically "free and fair" election in the Middle East region, in Palestine in January 2006, to which the US and its allies at once responded with harsh punishment for the population that voted "the wrong way." The pretexts offered were laughable, and the response caused scarcely a ripple on the flood of commentary on Washington's “noble efforts to spread democracy to the Muslim world," a feat that reveals impressive subordination to authority.”

In India, the Frontline alone could afford a few comments. It said Egypt and France seemed to have tilted the scales in favour of the March 14 alliance. The coalition derives its name from the day on which a massive demonstration was held in Beirut in 2005 against Syrian influence in Lebanon, a month after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The West had portrayed the elections as a proxy fight with Iran for influence over Lebanon. The US had unilaterally designated Hezbollah, which represents the downtrodden Shia populace, as a “terrorist” organisation.

The Obama administration gave a lot of importance to the election’s outcome. Washington sent Joe Biden, vice president, to Lebanon in the last week of May. It was for the first time in 25 years that a US vice president visited Lebanon. Biden tried to show himself to be neutral though he made it almost clear that future American assistance to the country would depend on the composition of the new government. Earlier, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton gave the same warning to the people of Lebanon.


Amid this international situation with all eyes on Lebanon from West to the Gulf, and totally in shreds, the country is caught in neo-liberal policies with the result that it has one of the largest debts in the world at 180 per cent of GDP and massive dependence on Gulf money in the middle of collapse of Lebanon’s productive sectors. As has been pointed out in the press in this regard, the re-election of key March 14 leaders to power represents, from a policy perspective, the likely resumption of nearly two decades of unchecked neo-liberal, free market ideology tailored to suit the big business and characterised by the blurring of public and private commercial interests. We can expect that the project of divesting Lebanon’s public assets and natural resources into private hands that began in the 1990s, but stalled during the last few years of political instability, will proceed with renewed vigour. The Opposition’s likely return as a junior partner in the upcoming cabinet does not change this equation much, as both Hezbollah and General Aoun accept neo-liberal logic.

In sum, as Karim Makdisi, a political scientist in Beirut, put it in a signed article, “while Lebanon’s June 2009 elections might have been internationally praised as ‘free and fair,’ it represented a step backwards in terms of long-term, socially progressive reform for the Lebanese themselves. On the one hand, it has re-entrenched sectarianism, deepened rifts and mistrust between Sunni and Shia communities, and brought out the chauvinist tendencies within the Christian elite.”

He added, “On the other hand, the elections returned to power politicians committed to crony capitalism and dependency on regional patrons. There are no socially progressive elements in either camp, and there is little hope that the newly elected parliament will address the inherent structural problems in Lebanon’s sectarian system that lead inexorably to conflict.”

Civil society, indeed, played an important role in the technical aspects of the elections. There was a lot of excitement and a lot of heat but there was always an attempt to whip up depoliticisation. In fact, there was a big charity bonanza visible connected with massive “NGO-isation,” and infatuation with western donors.

The situation today is that the US is wooing Lebanon as never before. As Marie Nassif-Debs, responsible for external relations in the Lebanese Communist Party, said in an interview to us, “Some perceive in these socio-economic and political indicators and declarations, precursory signs for a regrouping within a new political alliance which would include in addition to Saad Hariri and Walid Junblatt the centre right. The distinguishing feature for such an alliance would be “moderation” following the example of the alliance which was advocated for, and then reasoned, by the previous secretary of the state Condoleezza Rice between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.” She told us farther that Obama would be pursuing a more hidden but a cloak and dagger policy in the Middle East.

Quoting from a report of the Lebanese Communist Party, she added the following:

1) These elections witnessed the use of various methods for unlawful intimidation and corruption, both external and internal. More than 100,000 Lebanese immigrants were brought into the country, some of whom were even unable to speak Arabic. Votes were bought and positions of power were abused. In addition, the United States was highly engaged in trying to influence the result by sending various delegations headed by both the US vice president and the US secretary of state. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria also played a role in influencing the result of the elections. All the above actions were targeted at influencing the results in the 28 remaining electoral seats which had not yet been determined.

2) The first implications for these elections were manifested by the escalating security situation, particularly inside the capital Beirut. This election round, and what preceded it in electoral campaigning, slogans and practices, have increased the vertical, religious and sectarian divisions within society,

3) In addition to the escalation in the security situation, it should be recognised that there are ongoing attempts to reshuffle the political divisions with the aim of creating a third coalition backed by the president of the republic and including the head of parliament Nabih Berri (March 8) and Walid Junblatt (14th March). Another theory being circulated is about reinstating the concept of troika in power, which means that the president of the republic (Maronite), the head of parliament (Shia) and the prime minister (Sunni) should replace the executive and legislative powers. There is also increasing rumours about an imminent compromise, backed by the renewed entente between Syria and Saudi Arabia.

4) Regarding the status of the Lebanese Communist Party during those elections, the highly sectarian and religious tensions led to the party losing a large number of its voters. In addition, some of its members resorted to ‘tactical voting.’


Progressive circles see a new American strategic project, evolving which would be a continuum of the Bush era in a more masked manner and, after the spy rings were caught before the elections, Israel can be expected to unleash something more from its hidden armoury. The next few days could see more pressures for a government comprising all and sundry, with foreign powers giving an extra role to Lebanon through a variety of talks already on. Meanwhile, the cry for peace is on inside Lebanon. Rumours abound and there have been sporadic clashes too, called celebrity gunfire, in which people have lost their lives. The elections were enthusiastic; the people are by and large looking for a better deal. Lebanon, with its history of agony and ecstasy, boom time and crash times, foreign wars and civil wars, is now yearning for peace. The leadership unfortunately is composed of “orphans and ghosts of the martyrs past,” as the Lebanon magazine Executive put it. Interestingly, the same issue has a “Lebanese guide to buying an election.”

The electoral advertising rates by various media companies make interesting reading; electoral law violations by media have also been there. The common joke is that there is a big charity bonanza going on (bingo), and a bigger charity bonanza could come any time, for the country is flooded with NGOs --- with the good, the bad and the ugly operating in one name or another.

The attitude to the Palestinians seems to be of little concern, whether it be in the camps or in the roads. The desire to fight is still alive in their hearts, with the desire to exist. There is burning anger too, yet the ruling parties have shunned the issue in an election sworn off issues. The blank looks of some of the Palestinians with no ‘homes’ to call their own and no identity in Lebanon is a case in point. This reminds us of the lines of famous Palestinian poet Mohmoud Darwish:

Where should we go after the last frontiers,

Where should the birds fly after the sky?

note:This article took from the PeoplesDemocracy Written By S K Pande


Who is the Owner?

IN normal circumstances in the pre-reform or pre-globalisation era, such a question would not have arisen at all in India. By virtue of Article 297 of the Constitution of India, all petroleum reserves, including gas reserves in their natural state in the territorial waters or the continental shelf or the exclusive economic zone of India vest in the Union of India and are held for the purposes of the Union. The government is therefore the sovereign owner of KG basin gas for distribution of gas for public good viz fertilizer production, power generation, transport, industry, domestic use etc. That being the case, why does the government of India – after 59 years of the adoption of our Constitution – need to reassert its ownership of KG gas today in July 2009? Has its sovereign ownership been challenged by any foreign country? No. In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on July 18, 2009, the sovereign Bharat sarkar pleads that by a privately negotiated settlement vide an MoU dated June 18, 2005 between CMD, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) and CMD, Reliance Natural Resources Limited (RNRL), KG basin gas, whose ownership vests with Union of India, has been used as private property. Bharat sarkar now pleads the court to annul the MoU.

So, four years after the MoU, the government of India wakes up from its ‘kumbhakarna’ slumber to complain that its property worth thousands of crores of rupees has been usurped by the two brothers –– a property which is a major energy source for electricity and fertilizer to a gas-starved country. What was it doing all this time? The whole nation was agitated when Pakistani intruders sneaked into Kargil without the knowledge of the Vajpayee government ten years back. The intruders stealthily captured about 150 sq km of Indian land in the inhospitable hilly terrain and they were subsequently thrown out by the Indian armed forces. Here, in this case, in broad daylight in the name of a production sharing contract, an Indian industrial house openly treats 339 sq km in KG basin like its family property for four years and yet the sovereign government of India is helpless! Instead of asserting its rights years back, it is now moving from one court to another pleading for its right to intervene. And why is it playing the role of a mediator rather than an owner? To find out the reason for such abject surrender to the corporate might, one has to look at the background.


Before economic reforms were initiated in the early nineties, ONGC and Oil India Ltd were the only gas exploration and production companies, owned by the government of India. The distribution and marketing of gas was being carried out by the Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL), another PSU formed in 1984 with the specific task of forming a national gas grid for gas distribution in the country to ensure regional balance. As a part of reform process, the government decided to invite private investment for exploration and production of oil and gas. New Exploration and Licensing Policy (NELP) was notified in 1999 to award oil/gas blocks to private companies as contractors. In this process a Production Sharing Contract (PSC) was executed in April 2000 between the government of India and undivided RIL and its minor (10 per cent) partner NIKO Resources Limited for production of gas in an area of 339.41 square kilometer in KG basin (D6 field). After the dispute between the two siblings, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) was demerged into two companies viz RIL and Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL), which went to the younger sibling. The MoU of June 2005, which the government of India is now asking to be nullified, stipulated that the gas produced from KG basin as per PSC will be utilised as follows:

Quantity of 12 million metric standard cubic metres of gas per day (mmscmd) will be given to NTPC.The next 28 mmscmd would go to RNRL
The rest will be supplied in 60:40 ratio with 60 per cent to RIL and 40 per cent to RNRL.The pricing of the gas was stipulated at 2.34 dollar/mmbtu (million British thermal unit)

The above MoU inter alia ignored the sovereign ownership of the government over KG gas on two major parameters viz allocation of gas and the pricing of the same. The government now admits in its Special Leave Petition (SLP) before the Supreme Court in its affidavit in July 2009 that rights of Union of India have been infringed for the following reasons:

That RIL and RNRL cannot settle between themselves as to how the gas, which is a national asset and a natural resource that vests in the government of India and which is to be utilized for the wider and larger interest of the nation, is to be distributed. It is not the private property of RIL and RNRL and any understanding arrived at between them is not binding upon the government of India.

The gas has to be distributed in terms of the government-approved Gas Utilisation Policy and at a price approved by the government.

But then why, after four years?


The government now says that it became aware of the MoU only after the relevant portion of the MoU was placed before the Mumbai High Court in October 2008 in course of the litigation between the brothers.

It is absolutely untrue. On April 14, 2006 RIL approached the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas (MOPNG) seeking the approval of the sale of gas to RNRL at 2.34 dollar/mmbtu and RNRL sent a letter on the same subject to the government on May 09, 2006. In between, on May 04, 2006 the then CPI(M) MP, late Chittabrata Majumdar sought the intervention of the minister of petroleum and natural gas in the matter. The relevant extract of the letter is quoted here:

“I understand RIL has recently signed a Gas Sale Purchase Agreement (GSPA) with Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL) without any bidding or competitive arms length process, to supply gas at a contracted price of 2.34 dollar per mmbtu whereas currently India imports gas from Qatar at an estimated price of 6 dollar/mmbtu. RIL by this agreement with RNRL is going to supply gas cheaply, that too as large a quantity as 40 mmscmd (current total domestic gas availably for customers in the country is 72 mmscmd). RIL is, therefore, seeking to transfer the benefit of gas find to a related private company at a cheaper price…..This benefit should actually flow to the people by virtue of Article 297 of the Constitution of India as per which petroleum in its natural state is vested in the Union of India. The government grants the exploration license in overall interest of the country.”

“I, therefore, request you to kindly intervene so that natural gas from KG basin explored by RIL, is auctioned through competitive bidding and the government can utilise the gas-find through GAIL which can set up its own pipeline for transportation and consumption of gas in power and industrial sector as a part of overall energy security and regional balance.”

The letter was acknowledged on May 25, 2006.

The government was therefore never in dark when the KG basin gas became all of a sudden a family affair. In fact, the government has both overtly and covertly encouraged a settlement between the squabbling siblings at the cost of surrendering its ownership right on the natural gas. Otherwise, it would have intervened on behalf of NTPC, the government-owned power generation company whose 2700 MW gas based thermal projects (Kawas and Gandhar) are kept on hold because of RIL’s refusal to supply them the required gas. That is another part of the hide and seek game being indulged by the UPA government.


The government of India so far has been more concerned about the pricing of gas than about asserting its ownership rights on the same. Why? Because, gas pricing of 2.32 dollar/mmbtu in the June 2005 MoU, signed between the two siblings, was based on the gas price offered by RIL and accepted by NTPC in June 2004. In a written reply to a question dated February 20, 2009 in Lok Sabha the then minister of state for power, Jairam Ramesh stated:

“NTPC invited bids under international competitive bidding for procurement of natural gas amounting to 132 trillion British thermal units per annum for Kawas-II and Gandhar-II power projects for a period of 17 years. Reliance Industries was evaluated as the lowest techno commercially acceptable bidder and NTPC accepted its offer. Accordingly a Letter of Intent (LOI) was issued to RIL on June 16, 2004 which was duly acknowledged and confirmed by RIL.”

RIL’s bid was for supply of 12 mmscmd of gas from KG basin at 2.34 dollar/mmbtu to NTPC for 17 years. What happened thereafter? This is what Jairam Ramesh explained in the aforesaid reply in parliament:

“After the issuance of LOI, RIL did not come forward to sign the Gas Sale and Purchase Agreement (GSPA) and sought major changes in the agreed draft of GSPA. NTPC pursued with RIL at various levels and various meetings to sign the GSPA, as per the draft accepted by RIL during the bidding process. However inspite of all the efforts by NTPC, RIL did not sign the GSPA agreed during the bidding process.”

At various levels? Which level? Did the MOPNG, as a nodal ministry of the government that now asserts its ownership on KG basin, intervene and ask the contractor i.e. RIL to supply gas to the government-owned company as per the agreed terms so that 2700 MW of power is made available by NTPC to the people of this country? No. Instead, an aggrieved NTPC filed a suit in the Bombay High Court on December 20, 2005 against RIL’s refusal to sign the GSPA. The case is still sub judice and 2700 MW power – much cheaper than the much tom-tommed nuclear power – remains elusive.

In the litigation between RIL and RNRL, earlier in Bombay High Court and now in the Supreme Court, the government of India rushes to act as a mediator. This alacrity is glaringly absent on the part of the government in the litigation between its own company NTPC and RIL, which involves providing power to the aam admi. The UPA government was eloquently silent and did not support the NTPC even for once during the last four years. On the contrary, in one of the rarest case of deceit and deception, it weakened the case of NTPC by forming an Empowered Group of Ministers on September 12, 2007, which fixed the gas price at 4.2. dollar/mmbtu –- an arbitrarily determined high price that RIL had been bargaining for all along.

If this is the price of gas approved by the government, where does NTPC’s case stand? By indirectly sabotaging the NTPC’s case, the government has at one stroke hiked the price of power and fertiliser – both key inputs in the grim agrarian sector. The public sector company, ONGC, presently supplies gas to NTPC, another PSU, at 1.8 dollar/mmbtu. The neo-Congress leaders of UPA government, who relentlessly chant the mantra of “people’s ownership” to justify their disinvestment, want the same gas owned by the people of this country to be contracted to a private family by the government who would then extract 21/2 times more price at people’s expense!


Clearly, it is high time the government must come clean on this issue. Now it has belatedly but rightly asserted that KG basin gas is government’s property. Better late than never. Let them act on what they have asserted i.e. people’s ownership of KG basin gas which does not belong to a family – divided or undivided. The first follow up step to act on people’s ownership is to take over the distribution and marketing rights of gas at the delivery end from RIL which has violated the PSC by unilaterally assigning to itself the power of an owner. The next step is to entrust Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) with the responsibility of transportation, distribution and marketing of KG basin gas. This will be in line with para 2.4 of the union cabinet note for formation of GAIL in January 1984 which stated “In the course of time, it is visualised that national grid of gas pipeline will have to be developed, having regard to gas availability, utilisation pattern and the capital investment involved.” The idea was clear – ONGC, OIL and GAIL, owned by people of India, will produce and distribute natural gas, a major energy source to ensure regional balance and allocation to priority sectors. The UPA government has abandoned that path. “People’s ownership” does not mean selling of PSU shares in share market. It means assertion of State control of vital natural resources like gas, owned by the people of this country and not by one corporate or other, in the interest of aam admi.

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**Article took for the Markist Paper

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Iran Elections: After Shocks Persist

EVEN a month after the decisive victory of Mahmoud Ahmadenijad in the Iranian presidential polls, his opponents are refusing to concede defeat. The two defeated candidates, Mir Housein Mousavi and Mehdi Kharoubbi have refused to acknowledge the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadenijad in the June elections. Without producing any convincing evidence, they continue to insist that the elections were rigged. The third defeated candidate, Mohsen Rezaei, had accepted the results in the last week of June. Though both Mousavi and Kharroubi have been urging their supporters to keep on protesting, the response from the street, since late June, has been lukewarm. But they have not completely given up.

The two leading personalities who have come out openly in their support, the former presidents, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ahmad Khatami, have both been continuing with their criticism of the June elections. Khatami in the third week of July demanded that a referendum be held so that the Iranian people can give their opinion about the legitimacy of the newly elected government. Rafsanjani while addressing students at Teheran University called on the government to clear the “doubt” about the elections among the “great section of our erudite and knowledgeable people”.

Rafsanjani chairs the influential Assembly of Experts which theoretically has the right to remove the Veleyat-I Faqih, the Spiritual leader ---Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Interestingly, during the Friday prayers addressed by Rafsanjani, those supporting the government shouted “Death to America” slogans. This was countered by anti-Ahmadenijad supporters with “Death to Russia” and “Death to China” slogans. Russia and China were the first two countries to welcome the re-election of Ahmadenijad.



Most observers of the Iranian scene have concluded that after the dramatic events of June, the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since the 1979 revolution is not as united as it was. For the first time, some important religious and political leaders have obliquely questioned the authority of the spiritual guide of the nation, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Though the Guardian Council, which has the responsibility of monitoring the elections, had ruled the June elections as the “healthiest” held since the revolution, many prominent “reformist” politicians and even some ayatollahs have alleged that the spiritual leader was biased in favour of his “protégé” Ahmadenijad.

Rafsanjani had played a key role in the appointment of Ayatollah Khamenei as the supreme leader following the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei. Ahmadenijad had angered Rafsanjani during the run-up to the elections when he accused him of propping up his rivals in the presidential elections. Ahmadenijad also publicly accused Rafsanjani’s family of amassing unaccounted wealth. When Ahmadenijad won his first presidential elections five years ago, there were dark murmurs about vote rigging even then. At that time, Ahmadenijad was relatively unknown but had come from behind to win the presidency, defeating among others, the venerable Rafsanjani.

But as the prominent Egyptian commentator, Mohammed Heikal pointed out in a television interview, all the candidates in the election were “children of the revolution”. Heikal said that he had no doubts about the victory of president Ahmadenijad. He went on to say that the political system in Iran was mature enough to resolve the current impasse. Mousavi had repeatedly said that the demonstrations are within the constitutional rights of Iranians. Most Iran watchers agree that the battle that was waged in June was one between two factions within the establishment.



But the West, which has relentlessly caricaturised the Iranian president, had started fantasising about regime change in Iran. There was frenzied talk of a “green revolution” materialising overnight in Iran, similar to the colour revolutions in eastern and central Europe. The “twitter revolution” which almost overthrew the newly elected Left government in Moldova in March was sought to be replicated in Iran. Now that the storm has subsided, president Barack Obama is being urged by both conservatives and liberals in the US to freeze the putative diplomatic dealings with Iran. Obama is the first American president to admit his country’s role in the toppling of Iran’s first democratically elected government in 1953 and was seen to prefer a more conciliatory approach towards Teheran. This was evident in his Cairo speech. It was in Cairo that an American president for the first time had addressed the country by its official name---the Islamic Republic of Iran.

However, after Obama’s statement “condemning” the Iranian government’s handling of the post-election protests and his praise for Mousavi, relations which had thawed slightly have once again frozen over. President Ahmadenijad asked for an apology from the American president for his remarks over the conduct of the elections. The Iranians have other reasons to be angry with Washington. The Obama administration is continuing with the destabilisation blueprint of the previous administration. USAID, which is under the US State Department, has earmarked $20 million this year “to promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Iran”.

Iranians have noticed that president Obama has not bothered to condemn the recent killing of hundreds of native Indians in Peru by security forces or done anything meaningful to restore democracy in Honduras, after the president there was ousted in a military coup.

According to the investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, the previous Bush administration had sought $400 million dollars to destabilise the clerical establishment. George W Bush had escalated covert operations against Iran in the last year of his Presidency. Reports in the American media also suggested that Washington was assisting armed guerrilla groups active among minority ethnic groups in Iran. In a November, 2006 article, Hersh wrote that the Penatagon had established “covert relationships with Kurdish, Azeri and Baluchi tribesmen and had encouraged their efforts to undermine the regime’s authority in northern and south eastern Iran”.



From the outset, it was only the western media pundits who were predicting a victory for the “reformist” candidate, Mousavi. There was no doubt that he swept the polls in Northern Teheran and other affluent suburbs in various Iranian cities. But the majority of Iranians, who continue to be poor, obviously preferred to renew their trust in the incumbent president. His supporters credit him with reviving the basic values of the Islamic revolution, the most important of them being caring for the poor. The high price of oil during most of his first term in office helped his administration to plough funds into hitherto neglected areas of Iran.

Every week he visited remote rural outposts to have a first hand look into the problems faced by the poor peasantry. Ahmadenijad along with his ministers has visited each one of Iran’s 30 provinces twice during the last four years. He cut out the bureaucratic red tape to ensure that the development funds he sanctioned reached their destination. Another populist move was to distribute billions of dollars worth of “justice stocks” (stocks in state run companies) to the poor. This was part of the government’s plan to build a more egalitarian society

Most of the pre-election opinion polls conducted since March showed that Ahmadenijad was a clear frontrunner. The only poll conducted by a western agency, on behalf of the BBC and the NBC, predicted a 89 per cent turnout for the election. The poll conducted by the independent Center of Public Opinion (CPO), which is backed by the Rockefeller Foundation, a few weeks before the elections revealed that Ahmadenijad had a nationwide advantage of two to one against his closest rival, Mousavi.

In the actual elections, the turnout was 85 per cent, with Ahmadenijad getting 66.2 per cent of the votes and Mousavi — 33.8 per cent. The western media had mainly covered the big rallies addressed by Mousavi in Teheran and other cities. Ahmadenijad had criss-crossed the country addressing hundreds of equally well attended rallies. In the 2005 presidential elections too, Ahmadenijad had got almost the same percentage of votes. His rival, Rafsanjani, had got 35 per cent of the votes.

Though the election process is not open to registered parties and is rigorously vetted by the clerical establishment, the Islamic Republic has a proud record of holding elections on schedule. Despite being subjected to war, terrorism and economic blockade, Iran has held thirty elections since 1979. The voting is supervised by school teachers, government servants and retired professionals. It is similar in many ways to the electoral process in India. The “liberal” Khatami won his first election in 1995 as president with 70 per cent of the vote when the interior ministry was under the control of the so called “conservatives”.

The political chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Yadollah Javani, had in fact warned the “reformist” camp just before Iranians went to the polls, against staging a “velvet revolution”. He pointed out that for the first time some groups have used “a specific colour” in the elections.

The Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who has experienced the machinations of the West first hand, said that Ahmadenijad had won the elections fair and square and condemned those “trying to stain Ahmadenijad’s triumph and through that weaken the government and the Islamic revolution”.

Article took from the :Peoples Democracy

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Budget 2009-10: Whom Does It Serve?

THERE are few who seem to believe that their expectations have been met by the budget for 2009-10 presented by Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. This is partly because for most sections of the population it takes away with one hand what it seeks to give with the other. For example, a marginal increase in the exemption limit and the abolition of the surcharge on income tax for personal income tax payers is accompanied by increases in indirect taxation that are bound to impinge adversely on this section. The abolition of the Fringe Benefits tax and a further extension of the tax holiday for export-oriented units, which must please corporations, is accompanied by a hike in the Minimum Alternate tax that would hurt a significant number of them. And the promise of inclusiveness for the poor has not been accompanied by outlays that match that rhetoric.

This lack of coherence implies that first responses to the budget are bound to be mixed and muted. But this is not the only reason why this budget disappoints. Its principal failure is that though the Finance minister gifts himself significant resources from non-tax sources, such as about Rs 35,000 crore from the sale of 3G spectrum and massive borrowing reflected in a 6.8 per cent fiscal deficit to GDP ratio for 2009-10, he has not done much to either spur investment or deliver benefits for the poor and deprived.

Consider the claim made by the minister that he intends reversing the recent economic downturn and restoring the buoyancy the economy has displayed in recent years. Though the increase in total expenditure in 2009-10 relative to the revised figures for 2008-09 amounts to 2 per cent of GDP, much of this increase is the consequence of previously committed expenditures. Prominent among these are the increased salary bill resulting from the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission’s recommendations and the increase in interest payments resulting from the larger borrowing in recent years. Little of it is due to new initiatives of the current government and much of it is non-plan expenditure rather than plan expenditures with long run effects. Thus, the budgetary support for the central plan relative to 2008-09 is projected to increase by just around one half of one percent of GDP. That much for the Finance minister’s claim that his budget seeks to stimulate growth and induce buoyancy. In fact, his speech is disingenuous when it claims that the difference between the actual fiscal deficits of 2007-08 and 2008-09, amounting to 3.5 per cent of GDP, constituted the purposively delivered fiscal stimulus to combat the downturn. Much of this was due to a pre-committed set of expenditures which have since been justified by the need to deal with the recession.

This is not to imply that the Finance minister does not have a “vision” as to how growth will occur. Query him about the insubstantial increase in expenditure on rural development in its various forms and he would refer to his promise to increase the flow of credit to agriculture (from the banks and not the budget) from Rs 2,87,000 crore in 2008-09 to Rs 3,25,000 crore in 2009-10. Ask him about the adequacy of the support provided to crucial infrastructure sectors in terms of additional public investment and he would point to the fact that the India Infrastructure Financing Company Limited (IIFCL) would provide banks refinance to the tune of 60 per cent of their exposure to infrastructure projects in the private-public partnership (PPP) mode. In sum, expenditure to stimulate growth does not come fully from the government but substantially from an ostensibly independent banking sector offering credit to the private sector.



The problem of inadequate financing is not limited only to growth. It also affects the promise of being inclusive and benefiting the common man. Consider, for example the Finance minister’s claim that allocations for a flagship programme like the National Rural Employment Guarantee programme have been hiked by 144 per cent. That is true when you compare the budget estimates for 2009-10 with the budget estimates for 2008-09. But, the fact of the matter is that since the NREGA is a demand driven programme, the allocation for it in the 2008-09 budget was just notional, with the promise that more would be provided in response to demand. Even with the still limited implementation of the NREGA, actual allocations in 2008-09 were much higher than budgeted for and rose to Rs 36,750 crore. Compared to this the budgetary allocation for 2009-10 at Rs 39,100 crore is just Rs 2,350 crore or 6.4 per cent higher. Assuming that implementation improves and states get their act together, this figure would be far short of what is needed.

There are many other examples of such inadequacy. The Rural Health Mission has been allocated only Rs 1730 (or around 1.2 per cent) more than what was spent last year, although the evidence shows that India is a country where private expenditure dominates total health expenditures and leads to indebtedness in rural areas. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court had ordered a few years back that the Integrated Child Development Scheme should be universalised, the increase in allocation for this still sparsely delivered scheme is only Rs 361 crore or 1.1 per cent more than earlier. While the Right to Education has been recognised, the increase in budgetary allocation for elementary education is less than Rs 200 crore. Above all, while the UPA has made much of its proposed Food Security Act (which will reduce allocations of rice or wheat to the poorest from 35 kg to 25 kg per month), the subsidy on food is expected to increase by just Rs 8862 crore, even though the minimum support price and, therefore, the required subsidy per kg has gone up substantially.

Put all this together and it appears that this budget is not merely incoherent and self-contradictory, but also inadequate to meet its own objective of higher growth with a human face. This, however, is not to say that this budget lacks direction altogether. One thrust in the budget is to sustain concessions offered to private capital in the name of the recession. As has been noted by many, a significant part of the government’s stimulus aimed at combating the downturn triggered by the global financial crisis was the sanction of large excise duty reductions that were expected to sustain demand. These cuts were seen as temporary. But this budget, despite proclaiming that the worst of the downturn is over, has chosen to stick with these reductions.

More than this, the budget pushes ahead with or promises to undertake further economic reforms that would please financial capitalists. One direction such reform has taken is a range of tax concessions that have been provided to investments made by the New Pension Scheme (NPS) Trust in private equity. Besides dividend tax concessions, these investments have also been exempted from the Securities Transaction tax. This would only encourage the diversion of savings in pension funds to the stock market in the hope of higher returns. This would benefit stock market operators, but would also increase the vulnerability of the life savings of middle class citizens deposited in the NPS. This implicit sanction for speculation of the kind that triggered the ongoing financial crisis has been strengthened by the abolition of the Commodities Transaction tax, despite the evidence that transactions in commodities markets have grown at a pace where they point to speculative trends that clearly need reigning in.



Finally, an important direction of renewed reform is the new drive for privatisation, which had been advocated in the Economic Survey released a few days back. While promising to sustain public control over public sector assets the Finance minister has made the case in the budget for creeping privatisation. To quote him: “The public sector undertakings are the wealth of the nation, and part of this wealth should rest in the hands of the people. While retaining at least 51 per cent government equity in our enterprises, I propose to encourage people’s participation in our disinvestment programme.” The privatisation agenda is now being promoted in the name of “people’s participation”. The idea ostensibly is to obtain resources for the budget through sale of public equity to the public at large. In itself, this is not merely shortsighted but, given the growing profitability of the public sector, irrational.

Moreover, the Finance minister does know that the truly common man does not invest in equity. The “people” he speaks of here are members of the small elite who directly or indirectly participate in trading in the stock market. The idea is to sell public assets to them, so that they can sell it on to higher bidders, leading inevitably to influence if not control by big private capital. It is these interests that the budget serves. But judging by the first response of the stock market even they are not impressed. And that possibly is because the Finance ministry, by converting Economic Survey 2008-09 into a pamphlet advocating accelerated reform of a kind that sounds irrational given the lessons of the recent crisis, created expectations of “reform” and liberalisation that it could not itself meet. This time around this could not be blamed on an intransigent Left that was unwilling to accept the reality of modern India. It is because the advocates of irrational neoliberal “reforms”, which restructure policies in favour of private capital, seem to be out of tune with what is feasible in actually existing capitalist economies – especially those that are functioning political democracies.

Note:This article took from the

Friday, July 10, 2009

Orkuts Story

A guy lost his girlfriend in a train accident....

but the girls's name nowhere appeared in the dead list. This guy grew
up n became IT technical architect in his late 20?s, achievement in itself!!

He hired developers from the whole globe and plan to make a software where he could search for his girlfriend through the web..

Things went as planned... and he found her, after losing millions
of dollars and 3 long years.........................

It was time to shut down the search operation, when the CEO of
Google had a word with this guy and took over this application,

This Software made a whopping 1 billion dollars profit in its first year,

which we today know as ORKUT.

The guy's name is ORKUT BUYUKKOTEN Yes its named after him only. Today he is paid a hefty sum by Google for the things we do like scrapping. He is expected to b the richest person by 2009..

ORKUT BUYUKKOTEN today has 13 assistants to monitor his scrapbook & 8 to monitor his friends-list. He gets around 20,000 friend-requests a day & about 85,000 scraps!!!

Some other Cool Facts about this guy:

* He gets $12 from Google when every person registers to this website.

* He also gets $10 when you add somebody as a friend.

* He gets $8 when your friend's friend adds you as a friend & gets $6 if

anybody adds you as friend in the resulting chain.

* He gets $5 when you scrap somebody & $4 when somebody scraps you.

* He also gets $200 for each photograph you upload on Orkut.

* He gets $2.5 when you add your friend in the crush-list or in the hot-list.

* He gets $2 when you become somebody's fan.

* He gets $1.5 when somebody else becomes your fan.

* He even gets $1 every time you logout of Orkut.

* He gets $0.5 every time you just change your profile-photograph.

* He also gets $0.5 every time you read your friend's scrap-book & $0.5
every time you view your friend's friend-list.

The Couple Photo...........

"Moral of the story"?
LOSE U R GIRLFRIEND AND MAKE BILLIONS !!!! hahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaa...........

Friday, July 3, 2009

On Economic Survey 2008-09

The Economic Survey tabled by the Finance Minister in Parliament today suggests a policy direction, which is inimical to the national interest.

The survey brings out the adverse impact of the global economic crisis. It admits that the overall growth rate has fallen to 6.7 per cent in 2008-2009. In particular, the fall in agricultural growth rate by 3.3 per cent and that of manufacturing by 5.8 per cent is alarming. It also admits that the growth in per capita consumption has seen a sharp decline from 6.9 per cent in 2007-2008 to 1.4 percent in 2008-2009, reflecting a big squeeze in the purchasing power of the people.

But what are the prescriptions? At a time when the world is reverting back to various forms of regulation of the financial sector, the Economic Survey suggests opening up of crucial sectors of the economy to FDI and deregulation of the financial sector in the name of “revisiting economic reforms”. This includes FDI in insurance, banking, defence and even in the sensitive retail trade sector, which will directly hit the livelihood of crores of families. It also proposes to mobilize as much as Rs. 25,000 crores per year from sale of PSU shares. In contrast the Economic Survey fails to make any assessment, leave alone suggest measures to address, the human dimensions of the economic slowdown such as huge job losses, growing unemployment and declining incomes. Clearly the economic policy establishment has failed to draw any lessons form the global financial meltdown.

This becomes even more apparent when the Survey discusses such an important issue as rising prices of essential commodities and food security. It actually proposes a reduction in food subsidy for PDS outlets and introduce the failed system of food coupons. It also suggests further cuts in subsidies for gas cylinders suggesting it should be limited to only six to eight cylinders per family per year.

On the other hand the Survey is generous in its suggestions to give further tax concessions to corporates by doing away with several taxes such as FBT, STT, CTT etc. Thus it wants to shift the focus of revenue mobilization away from tax mobilization to selling off public sector assets. At a time when countries across the world are moving away from fiscal fundamentalism, a completely irrational proposal to introduce a new version of the FRBM Act with a zero fiscal deficit target is also contained in the survey.

Many of the proposals made in the survey, which are inimical to the interests of the people and the country were part of the UPA reform agenda for the last five years, which could be to a certain extent prevented by the interventions of the Left Parties. Any attempt by the UPA Government to revive the discredited neoliberal agenda of subsidy cuts, financial liberalization, disinvestments and privatization would be met with stiff resistance.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson: The Greatest of All Time

It still has not hit me. It feels so strange. Michael Jackson is dead. He was only 50 years old, a milestone age. He just celebrated the 25th anniversary of "Thriller," the best-selling album of all time, and re-released it in February.

He was scheduled to start his show run in London in a few weeks.

People often underestimate the power of music, and the effect that it has on us. We sometimes forget how a great song with a feel-good message lifts us up, and makes us smile and remember the place we had the most fun dancing to it and with whom.

Michael Jackson is one of the few artists in the history of the art form to be able to take one song, like "Billie Jean," and reach people of all age groups, races, and nationalities.

Michael has done this time and time again for decades, as both a solo artist and member of The Jackson 5.

This type of legacy cannot be erased by even the most horrible of charges and allegations. His music and performances are historic and forever engrained in our hearts.

Rick Sanchez, a floor manager at the popular Amoeba Music in Hollywood, says that his staff was "equally shocked" when they heard the news of Jackson's passing. "A lot of people are buying his music which usually happens in these situations," Sanchez says, referring to the breaking news of a musician's death.

Sanchez adds that all of Jackson's music always sells well at his location.

Rosemary Jean-Louis, a Michael Jackson fan and blogger from Atlanta, is nervous, hoping the news reports that Jackson has died are not true. "I don't want to believe it because it's Michael Jackson," Jean-Louis says. "He has been the guy considered invincible who always seems to come back. He is only 50. He was on the verge of such a big comeback with his concerts. No matter what he's gone through or what the crazy circumstances and dark period of his life with that poor trial-that taken aside-he is one of the musical geniuses of our times, truly the King of Pop."

His moonwalk dance move was a blow that no body makes it.

I was too shy of a kid to get one of the red-and-black stripped jackets like the one he wore in the "Thriller" video, but I thought it was cool.

I know he had been dealing with a lot these last few years. I hope that at the time of his passing he was in a happy place. Reportedly, he had been rehearsing in Los Angeles for the last two months, preparing for his London dates. His 50-year-old life may have been short, but it was impactful. His accomplishments are tremendous.

I offer my sincere condolences to his children, parents, siblings, and other family members, and to his friends and fans.

Watch Classic Michael Jackson videos.

His Fans expressions after Michael Jackson death

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The wrong map of India

Every Indian has a lovely picture of India’s map imprinted on mind. What do you feel if someone say that map is wrong?

Well, today’s most authentic public knowledge engines say it is wrong.

Following is a map of India from Google insights for a test query. See that Jammu & Kashmir.

india insight

Another one, the map of India returned from for query ‘India’

india wolfram alpha


The Wikipedia image shows some more decency. But we can’t tolerate this too.


Finally, one from Google maps. They show the correct map as we say it. Why? Because Google maps is the most viewed one? so that it won’t provoke a billion people?

india googlemaps

What we should believe? They are wrong or what our teachers taught in primary schools is wrong? Definitely it hurts a true Indian.