Tuesday, May 27, 2008

India needs an Iron Man

Why a ‘Jaipur’ will never happen in the USA

From The Statesman

ND Batra

Unlike their Indian counterparts, American law-enforcement authorities are absolutely convinced that terrorism can be prevented. Whenever an attack occurs anywhere in the world, the US Homeland Security authorities redouble their vigilance and refurbish their plans to meet any contingency. Grim determination is writ large on their hawk-eyed faces. That’s why “Jaipur” will never happen in the United States.

In October 2007, President George Bush issued an updated ‘National Strategy for Homeland Security’, which emphasised that “we cannot simply rely on defensive approaches and well-planned response and recovery measures. We recognize that our efforts also must involve offense at home and abroad” (italics added).

In contrast, Indian authorities are essentially reactive, not even defensive. They wait for a calamity to hit before they stir themselves with a few public statements of outrage, promising action but letting apathy and amnesia take over until another terrorist attacks occurs. India is in the grip of a vicious cycle.

In contrast, the US strategy “provides a common framework” through which not only the federal, state and local governments work but also “the private and non-profit sectors, communities, and individual citizens” are actively included in homeland security efforts. The strategy aims at developing a “Culture of Preparedness that permeates all levels of society ~ from individual citizens, businesses, and non-profit organizations to Federal, State, local, and Tribal government officials and authorities”.

I have not heard anyone in India talking about a cultural of anticipation and readiness.The Department of Homeland Security is always on the lookout for terrorists in order to pre-empt any kind of attack. Apart from the federal government, every state has a list of potential terrorist targets for which there are contingency plans. The federal and state governments work hand-in-glove to fight crime and terrorism. For example, in July 2006, authorities had discovered a plot to blow up the underground tunnel system that connects New Jersey with New York City. The discovery of the plot was not a serendipitous occurrence but the result of an early awareness system.In the US, as well as in Europe, there has been a grand shift in thinking.

The policy is not only to nip the evil in the bud but also to eliminate the evil at the pre-natal stage by establishing an early awareness system. The strategic thinking that what’s anticipated and imagined can be prevented especially applies to terrorism of which the Jaipur serial bombings were the latest manifestation in India. Pre-emption is preventing terrorists’ acts at the inspiration and pre-planning stage before they become a tragedy. Call it paranoia, but as Intel’s ex-CEO Andrew S Grove said in another context, only the paranoid survive.

Terrorists in India know that nothing serious will happen to them even if they were apprehended. Politically and financially they are well protected; otherwise they would not have been in business so long.Uncovering the terrorists’ domestic supporters ~ political, religious, financial ~ requires the kind of commitment one sees in the US. Unless India adopts and ruthlessly executes a policy of total elimination of terrorists and their local supporters, using all the available means to hunt them under the law, Indians will be wondering where the next “Jaipur” will erupt.

India needs to re-balance its priorities ~ civil liberties and domestic security ~ as has been done in the US. In 2006, the US Congress renewed the draconian anti-terrorism law ~ The US PATRIOT Act, albeit with some changes. Personal liberties have been somewhat affected, especially in big cities, though most of the US is as free as ever. Living in the US is safe ~ safer than anywhere else in the world.

The PATRIOT Act, which allows intelligence and law-enforcement authorities to go into places of worship, the working of charities, telecommunications of suspected militants and libraries, is not what an ideal free society should do. But it is a lesser evil than letting terrorists take advantage of constitutional freedoms to commit mass murder. Fighting terrorism is not for softies. Open societies need not be handcuffed by their enlightened doctrines when law-enforcement authorities try to locate and destroy terrorist cells functioning openly or clandestinely in their own backyards.

Superb intelligence gathering, pre-emptive and preventive measures and anticipatory disaster plans could go a long way in minimising the damages if India wants to take terrorism as seriously as the US does and if politicians are prepared to pay the price, instead of depending upon criminals and their vote-banks for survival.India has much to learn about how comprehensively and efficiently the US goes about managing its homeland security by keeping perpetual vigilance.

Following the pre-emptive policy of dealing with terrorists, US Attorney David E Nahmias said, “We no longer wait until a bomb is built and is ready to explode.” For example, the plot to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago was at a stage “more aspirational than operational”, according to the FBI, when the plotters were apprehended in June 2007.What can India do? Fighting terrorism must be giving the same priority as building national infrastructure. Just as economic growth has several metrics (GDP, for example), terrorism reduction must have its own metrics. Without measurement, there is no accountability. Without accountability, there is no freedom and democracy.

It is imperative for India to have an anti-terror federal agency, as recommended by the Indian Chief Justice. I wish Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was more forceful and determined when he said, “We should explore all possibilities for recognising crimes like terrorism, white-collar crimes and human trafficking as federal crimes and setting up a federal agency which is fully equipped to discharge the onerous function of dealing with it.”

Perhaps India needs much more than wishy-washy recommendations. India needs an Iron Man, someone like Sardar Patel. Have you forgotten him, ladies and gentlemen?

(ND Batra is professor ofcommunications at Norwich University)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Homophobia is global

Gay unions: Time to take a stand

From The Statesman
ND Batra

This is an election year and no politician who seeks public office can escape the question of gay marriage. President George W Bush has said unequivocally that marriage is between a man and a woman, but he is not running for office.

The Democrat presidential candidates, Ms Hillary Clinton and Mr Barack Obama, as well as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mr John McCain, are opposed to recognising gay marriage, though they favour civil unions. Nonetheless, they cannot ignore what the California Supreme Court ruled on 15 May.

Writing for a 4-3 majority, Chief Justice Ronald M George said: “In view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.”

The decision overturned California’s 1997 law (which was reaffirmed by the Californians’ 2000 statewide ballot initiative) banning same-sex marriage.California, of course, has bestowed the same rights and obligation on civil unions of same-sex couples as on traditional heterosexual married couples. The court majority, nonetheless, said that although couples bonded in a civil union or a traditional marriage have the same legal rights and obligations, the use of separate terminology for gay people and heterosexuals to establish a family was discriminatory and violated the constitutional right of equal protection.

Semantics can create psychological segregation.

The California Supreme Court drew inspiration from a 1948 inter-racial marriage case in which the court had ruled that the law banning inter-racial marriage was unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. “The right to marry represents the right of an individual to establish a legally recognized family with a person of one’s choice and, as such, is of fundamental significance both to society and to the individual,” Mr George wrote for the majority.

If the will of the people overwhelmingly expressed in popular ballot initiatives or legislative actions imposed a ban on same-sex marriage as it did on inter-racial marriages, it violated people’s fundamental right to form a family of choice.

Neither the will of the people nor tradition could supersede the Constitution. Democracy was much more than a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The will of the people can be become tyranny.

Homophobia is a global phenomenon.

In the face of scientific evidence, most Americans consider homosexuality to be a cultivated lifestyle and fondly hope that one can be weaned away or de-programmed out of it. Every year schools witness fierce battles between parents and teachers as to what kind of books children should read, which sometime instigates the banning of books related to homosexuality.

Homophobia has led to violence and the killing of innocents.

In 2006, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed its earlier decision that gay people had the legal right to marry, some people were jubilant, while others went crazy. It sounded like the beginning of a cultural war.

Nothing has divided the American people so painfully since the question of slavery as the issue of what to do with gay people and lesbians, who have been outing themselves in hordes and getting their faces in everywhere ~ in television sitcoms, school textbooks, magazines covers, dance floors and legislatures.

Soon after the court decision, stand-up comedian and talk-show hostess Ellen DeGeneres announced on her show that she was planning to get married to her long-time girlfriend, actress Portia de Rossi. The audience cheered her lustily.

Although Americans by and large oppose gay marriages, they are inclined to accept civil unions for same-sex couples that would grant them the same rights as heterosexuals have.

Vermont was the first state to recognise civil unions for same-sex couples but only after the state’s highest court ruled that gay people were being deprived of constitutionally guaranteed equal rights and enjoined the state legislature to eliminate this discrimination. The Vermont court did not rule on marriage, rather it ruled on equal rights for all citizens, which included healthcare benefits, inheritance and other rights that go with marriage.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court went to the extreme and challenged the very definition of marriage. If marriage is essentially a union of hearts, a commitment between two people ~ Evelyn and Madeleine, Ivan and Isaac ~ the concomitant rights and obligation of such a commitment must be respected.

But that’s not what the Bible or Koran says. That’s what the interpreters of the Constitution say.

It is only in Hollywood movies and mass media that you see the US as a homogeneous country. In reality, it has always been a house divided, which is its primary source of its dynamism and creativity.

Adding to the confusion, several states have passed laws that recognise only heterosexual marriages. So what would happen to a Californian gay married couple, let’s say with adopted children, when the family moves to a non-gay marriage state like Alabama?

The Californian Supreme Court seems to be saying that the state should choose a common nomenclature that captures the essence of both traditional marriage and civil union, so that gay people do not feel segregated or discriminated against. Maybe it is time to get rid of the ideologically and emotionally loaded words husband, wife and marriage and replace with them with spouse and domestic partnership.The final word on the meaning of marriage of course lies with the US Supreme Court, the ultimate arbiter.

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Nuclear Energy: Why should India be left behind?

India must broaden nuclear freedom

From The Statesman
ND Batra

Last week Russia and the US signed an unprecedented civilian nuclear power deal under which companies in both countries would have access to nuclear technology through joint ventures. The pact opens Russia’s massive uranium reserves to US companies and gives Russian firms access to the multi-billion dollar US nuclear energy industry.

The agreement happened in spite of US app-rehensions about Iran’s growing nuclear ambitions, about which Russia does not seem to be overly concerned. “The US and Russia were once nuclear rivals; we are today nuclear partners. What this agreement allows us to do is to implement some very creative ideas that both Russia and the US have put forward to deal with the growing challenge of proliferation of nuclear weapons,” says Mr William Burns, US ambassador to Russia. The head of Russia’s state nuclear corporation, Mr Sergei Kiriyenko, who signed the agreement, was equally rosy in his outlook. “The signing of this agreement opens a gigantic field of opportunities for economic cooperation in the large and growing businesses linked to the civilian use of nuclear energy,” he says.

The US has a similar deal with China. To meet its increasing energy needs, China plans to build 32 nuclear power plants by 2020 at a cost of about $50 billion, Ariana Eunjung Cha of the Washington Post wrote last year. It’s an undertaking that can be accomplished only by acc-essing nuclear technology and markets in the US, Europe, Japan and Russia. China has signed uranium deals with Australia and the Niger.

India too must complete the nuclear deal with the US agreed upon by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush in 2005. It would give the growing economy reliable and uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel, in spite of the fact that India is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nuclear freedom comes from collaboration, not isolation. The completion of the civilian nuclear deal will open to India the world of sophisticated technology developed by the glo-bal nuclear powers ~ the US, Japan, Europe and Russia, with whom India has growing commercial relations. Access to high-end technology is imperative to keep India globally competitive.

Indian diplomacy has succeeded in muting and overcoming strong anti-India prejudice and opposition in the US. By making India an exception to the rule it has created opportunities for the country. The agreement will let India grow and play its rightful role in global affairs ~ it is not about containing anyone, it is about having faith in India to develop rapidly without compromising fundamental freedoms.

Rapid economic growth of the Indian economy, 9-10 per cent a year for the next few decades, primarily through the efforts of its rising entrepreneurial class, will lift millions of Indians out of poverty. Without plentiful and reliable energy sources, however, poverty cannot be eliminated. Besides, an economically dynamic India on a perpetual growth curve will make Asia more economically dynamic.

Apart from removing hurdles in India’s search for an alternative energy source to fuel its growing economy, the deal will give India a strategic platform in the knowledge industry and en-courage research and development in clean-energy technology.

Becoming a great knowledge power is everyone’s dream in India. India must go beyond information technology outsourcing and capture other chances, as it has begun to do. After successful negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, India will be able to buy nuclear fuel for its nuclear power plants and shop for building scores of new ones.In the course of time when trust in the partnership increases and diplomatic relations deepen, a whole new world of sophisticated global technology will be opened to India, en-abling it to spur its economic growth further. In return, India has agreed to do what other nu-clear powers have been doing under the Non-proliferation Treaty ~ open some of its civilian nuclear power plants to inspection and continue to observe abstinence on nuclear testing. Its nuclear deterrent will remain off limits. India’s sovereignty can’t be compromised, if the country is economically and politically strong.

The Indian opposition to the nuclear deal, especially the Left, fears the deal will create subservient relations with the US. But it is im-portant to consider how China has benefited from strong economic relations with the US, without in any way compromising its sovereignty. Of course there is no such thing as ab-solute sovereignty in an interdependent world. China had greater sovereignty in the days of Mao Zedong when it fought the US in Korea than today when it has more than a trillion dollar in foreign exchange reserves. A country’s currency is a symbol of its sovereignty but China has tied up its currency to the dollar. Chi-na has no place to park its massive foreign exchange reserves except in US and European treasuries. Sovereignty is not isolation.Iran-Pakistan-India and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India oil pipelines will not be able to meet India’s gargantuan needs for energy. Clean-coal technology, nuclear energy and solar power are alternatives, for which the US has opened its doors to India. France, for example, gets 80 per cent of its energy from nuclear plants and is ready to collaborate with India in nuclear power development. Nuclear energy will cut excessive dependence on oil from West Asia, a most unstable region.

India needs hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment in building power plants and infrastructure to increase its manufacturing base and create employment opportunities for its growing young population.

Today the Left might have a stranglehold on Indian politics, but it certainly cannot be the end of the civilian nuclear deal. The next government will have to pick up the threads and consummate the deal. Why should India be left behind?

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The World Is Too Much For America

It’s gloomy in the USA

From The Statesman

ND Batra

I asked one of my graduating students if she had received an encouraging response from any prospective employer. Not yet, she said, though she had sent resumés to several and was still waiting. She is not the only one. There are thousands of others who have not even been able to hold on to their jobs due to the slowing economy. In April, another 20,000 Americans lost their jobs.The American political mood is getting gloomier and more unpredictable. There is a profound feeling of loss of control. Most Americans today ~ 73 per cent according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, think that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Democrats say it’s primarily due to President George Bush’s inability to do much about the economy sliding into recession and gasoline and food prices rising.

There is also the fact that in spite of spending billions of dollars, and losing over 4,000 US troops and hundreds of thousands of others, including civilians, there is no end in sight to the Iraqi or Afghan insurgency.Perhaps fixing all that is expecting too much from Mr Bush, who under the dark shadow of the 9/11 terrorist attacks succeeded in engineering a national consensus and ordered the Iraq war, but has had little control over its aftermath. Or over the dynamics of global financial structures, credit markets, the global food crisis and the relentless hunt for oil and other natural resources by growing economies.

This world is too complex, too much for a lone ranger.

In the first quarter of 2008, US’s GDP grew by 0.6 per cent, while the number of unemployed workers swelled, albeit a trifle less than what was expected. Since the price of a barrel of oil is tied to the dollar, its fall has been causing pain and anxiety. Consumer confidence is down. People shrink from spending on consumer durables. The housing market has become an auctioning block.Don’t worry, says Mr Bush. The check is in the mail. Under a multi-billion dollar stimulus plan 130 million households will start getting, beginning next week, $600 to $1,200 from the government. This will encourage consumer spending and hopefully lift the sagging economy. Of course, with gas prices going up, extra money in the pocket will be helpful.Sounding like a cheerleader, Mr Bush said last Thursday in a radio address: “No temporary setbacks can hold back the most powerful force in our economy ~ the ingenuity of the Ameri-can people. Because of your hard work and dedication, I am confident that we will weather this rough period and emerge stronger than ever.”

But let’s see how effective the levers of power in Washington are in reviving Wall Street and main street. Americans’ feelings of prosperity, the collective sense of well-being, is tied to the prices of their homes, which makes one think that economics is about psychology of fear and hope. Falling prices create depression, though experience shows that what goes down, comes up, hmm, most of the time.Due to poor home mortgage lending practices, banks began to give loans on low adjust-able interest rates to less creditworthy people, hoping that since home prices were going up borrowers would re-finance their loans on the basis of increased home equity. But lenders and borrowers began to lose mutual trust. What seemed to be a robust market turned into a bubble that burst.

The American dream begins with owning a home. There’s nothing more painful for a person, say, a single mom, than lo-sing her home to foreclosure; it’s heartbreaking.Falling housing prices create not only negative feelings but also negative equity, which means the mortgage relative to the value of the house is much greater. Some people who bought houses with small or no down payment have simply walked away, because their houses were worth much less than the original price. Foreclosures add to the market glut, so home prices keep sliding down; and Americans feel less wealthy, less worthy. They don’t feel like spending on non-essential goods ~ going to restaurants, buying a new sofa, for example; and they postpone buying a new car for another six months or even a year.

Bedsides, when home prices go down, the homeowners’ ability to borrow money against the equity value of their homes in order to buy expensive commodities or go on vacations also goes down. Banks shrink in fear lest consumers default, so they become too cautious in lending, which further adversely affects economic activity.Mr Bush says the economic stimulus package “will help American families increase their purchasing power and help offset the high prices that we’re seeing at the gas pump and the grocery store”. But it is not only that the market that ignores him. Congress too doesn’t respond to his repeated admonitions to lift the economy by making his first-term tax cuts permanent (they are due to expire in 2010).

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Thou Hast Made Me Endless
Part XIV

Tagore on ‘Death’ (3)

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941 AD) Nobel Laureate of 1913(Some translated pieces from his Bengali works)

Translator:RAJAT DAS GUPTA: Calcutta: e-mail: rajatdasgupta@yahoo.comrajarch@cal3.vsnl.net.in

In the second chapter under this caption published on 30 March 2008, it has been mentioned that Tagore’s concept of life and death is based on Upanishada (more than 4000 year old Indian scripture). Consistently, his conviction was that life and death are only integral parts of the continuous process of creation. The following two wonderful poems help us lesser beings to share this conviction of the Poet.

Poem No: 22 of the book Rogsajjay (In Sick Bed)

[Translator’s note: Tagore’s conviction was that human life is only a part of his endless journey which is consistent with the Hindu belief in re-incarnation. Maitrayee Devi’s depiction of the Poet’s séances in her book ‘Mangpute Rabindranath’ (Translated version – ‘Tagore By Fireside’) as she heard directly from the Poet, makes interesting reading. Amazingly, manners of the replies by the respondent souls (at least so believed) over the planchetté to the queries put to them matched with their wont as noticed in their lifetime, as the Poet exemplified. He is thus inclined to believe that there is a link between the pre and post-mortem stages of mortals and it might be that the latter is for a much wider fulfillment, though not evident in earthly life, as he holds in this wonderful poem. The poem was written only a month before his death in 1941]

At midday, while somnolent,
Maybe I just dreamt,
That the shell of my existence
Shed off as redundance
Into a river stream- I know not its name,
Along with all its celebrity and fame;
Whatever wealth of the miser
All ignominy’s memoir.
Records of all gratification,
Glory or humiliation,
Swept along the billows –
I couldn’t reverse its course.
Reasons my selfless self,
As into my losses I delve;
Which one struck me severest?
No, not in my past was my best –
With which my days and nights
Passed in euphoria and blights;
That is in my future
Which I could never capture –
In which is my desire latent
As the seed underground dreamt
Through the long night
For the arrival of the light.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Poem No: 8 of the book Janmadine (On my birthday) written on Poet’s 80th birthday at Mangpu, a hill station near Darjeeling.

[Translator’s note: On his 80th and last birthday in 1940 the Poet happened to be at Mangpu as a guest of Maitrayee Devi. I would give as follows the context of this poem which, hopefully, will help the readers better understand its message. It is only a quote from the book ‘Tagore By Fireside’ by Maitrayee Devi –
“The twenty-fifth Baisakh (this month on the Bengali calendar synchronizes with the mid-April to mid-May period of the Gregorian calendar) – the Poet’s birthday – was near. It was our good fortune that he would be at our home that day. Yet, this was a small village, consisting mostly of illiterate people. We rocked our brains about how to celebrate this day properly. Finally we decided that the labourers should be invited- all illiterate hill-folk and we would have same kind of festival that they have. Amiya-babu said, ‘I know he will like it. There have been enough functions with high-brow, there will be a charm in this festival with the simple people.’ The Poet was waiting eagerly for the function. He was never too old for any new experience……..The grand old man of the village, a Buddhist, squatted in front of him, burnt incense and sang a hymn to Buddha. The Poet answered him by reading from Upanishada (more than 4000 year old Indian scripture), which of course the Buddhist did not understand. That afternoon the Poet wrote three poems, all were titled ‘Janmadin’ (Birthday). He mentioned the old Buddhist in one of them. In the evening people streamed in – poor hill folks, our neighbours. Sanai (a type of flute) was played and everyone stood silent, as the Poet was wheeled in his chair among them; clad in yellow garments, garlanded and bedecked in sandal paste, he looked a heavenly figure. The chair was pushed slowly along the garden walk, the hill folk came one by one, bowed and offered him flowers. The Tibetans offered Kharda (a scarf meant for high Lamas) instead of garlands. In the end he was almost hidden behind the mass of flowers. Afterwards he was helped to sit under the chestnut tree and the Bhutanese people started a vigourous devil dance. Hundreds of people sat in rows - food was served to them on leaf plates. The Poet said to me- ‘You serve them yourselves’. After the function was over, he said –
‘How do you feel, tired?’
‘Why should I feel tired?’
‘Shouldn’t you? You started from before daylight- now go and have a good sleep.’
‘We could never imagine that you would be among us on this day.’
‘That is called lack of imagination.’
Next day we all sat around him. He was to read the poems that had been written the day before. But Sudhakanta-babu had come to tell him the unhappy news; the Poet would have to be told about the death of his dearest nephew. ‘Listen to the poems- here is a memoir of Mangpu – ‘………”
He then read out two of the poems he had written the previous day. A little after the reading was over, Sudhakanta-babu said – ‘here is a bad news’. ‘Bad news? What bad news? Is Suren’s (the Poet’s dearest nephew) condition worse?’ ‘He is no more. The news came yesterday, but I did not tell you among the crowd of people.’ ‘If you had done, I shouldn’t have been able to hold up my head’.
We left him to himself. He sat quietly- with his eyes closed. I watched him from behind, silently disciplining his emotion. The whole day he did not speak, though he went on doing his work as usual. In the evening he wrote a poem and called it ‘Death’. Giving it to me he said,- ‘Let this one also go with the ‘Birthday’ poems to Prabasi (a renowned monthly literary Bengali magazine of that time).’
He was sitting in the balcony in the darkness. I felt the acuteness of the pain he was bearing with patience. Once he said,-
‘No one will ever know what an extraordinary man he was. One so great, one so good, one the very best among men, was hidden from people’s eyes and went away unknown. Only those who knew him, know how rare it is to find a man like him.”

To-day, on my birthday,
Piercing through it ceremonial gay,
Has reached the death news,
Of my dear one , with grief profuse;
Its smouldering fire
My spirit does inspire;
As in the dusk the setting Sun
Anoints the forehead with its burn,
On the evening sky,
With crimson, it to glorify –
The face of the coming night
Turns golden bright;
So does its burning passion
To my life’s western horizon.

In its light
Perennial life came to my sight
That with death is integral
Its glory divulged in brilliant dazzle;
Eclipsed so long by my fate miser
Now to reveal its divinity for ever.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *