Monday, October 31, 2005

Surrogacy: A legal minefield still

The Sunday Express carried a special report on the status of surrogacy in India. It discusses the legal complications of the process (parental rights) and the human aspects of the issue. The article dwells on how surrogate motherhood is a boon for couples who cannot otherwise conceive. It also discusses the stigma that some surrogate mothers experience for "making a veritable business tool of their wombs". Here.

Blasts dampen spirit, or do they: Media can't decide!

Conflicting reports on how yesterday’s blasts have affected business sentiment in the Capital. As reported on the Economic Times website, the blasts have “taken the fizz out of Diwali shopping”, while the Indian Express says that the blasts “have failed to dampen the festive spirit”. Hoping that the IE’s reporting right on this one. It is imperative that people go out and have a good time and destroy terrorists’ intentions. If we allowed them to hamper our enthusiasm, these barbarians would have won the battle against us and our way of life. We must send out a strong message that come what may, we won’t be cowed down into terror and submission. This is exactly how Mumbai and London reacted after Gateway and 7/7, respectively.

Iran, meanwhile, has found some time from its own troubles to condemn the blasts. Any such news comes as a breath of desperately needed fresh air after the controversy kickstarted by its President. I feel sorry for the Iranian foreign ministry, clearing the diplomatic muck raked by its flighty leaders.

Delhi Blasts Update

Latest reports say the toll in yesterday's serial bomb blasts stands at 59, with 6 people succumbing to injuries overnight, reports rediff. I have been trawling the web for news of the tragedy and can safely say that rediff has been doing some of the best reporting of the blasts. A hitherto unknown militant organization Inquilab, literally meaning revolution, has claimed responsibilty. One thing you gotta hand it to them terrorists. They couch their nefarious designs in the most stylish language attainable. Inquilab what??

The number of injured is currently 200.

More reports on rediff.

Arundhati ends the drought

At one point when the Tehelka expose happened, I thought, thank God the BJP is corrupt, thank God someone’s taken money, imagine if they had been incorruptible, only ideological, it would have been so much more frightening. To me, pristine ideological battles are really more frightening.

Sometimes — quite often — the same people who are capable of a radical questioning of, say, economic neo-liberalism or the role of the state, are deeply conservative socially — about women, marriage, sexuality, our so-called ‘family values’ — sometimes they’re so doctrinaire that you don’t know where the establishment stops and the resistance begins. For example, how many Gandhian/Maoist/ Marxist Brahmins or upper caste Hindus would be happy if their children married Dalits or Muslims, or declared themselves to be gay? Quite often, the people whose side you’re on, politically, have absolutely no place for a person like you in their social, cultural or religious imagination. That’s a knotty problem… politically radical people can come at you with the most breathtakingly conservative social views and make nonsense of the way in which you have ordered your world and your way of thinking about it… and you have to find a way of accommodating these contradictions within your worldview.

What does the World Social Forum mean today? They are big questions now. Ultimately, millions of people marched against the war in Iraq. But the war was prosecuted, the occupation is in full stride. I do not for a moment want to undermine the fact that unveiling the facts has meant a huge swing of public opinion against the occupation of Iraq, it has meant that America’s secret history is now street talk, but what next? To expose things is quite different from being able to effectively resist things.

It’s indiscriminate — it can be Miss Universe, or a writer, or the maker of a ridiculous TV soap, the minimum requirement is success. There’s a particular kind of person who comes up to me with this star-struck smile — it doesn’t matter who I am — they just know I’m famous; whether I’m the ‘BookerPrizeWinner’ or the star of the Zee Horror Show or whatever is immaterial. In this freak show, this celebrity parade, there’s no place for loss, or failure. Whereas to me as a writer, failure interests me. Success is so tinny and boring. Everyone is promoting themselves so hard.

People, ideologues who believe in a kind of redemption, a perfect and ultimate society, are terrifying. Hitler and Stalin believed that with a little social engineering, with the mass murder of a few million people, they could create a new and perfect world. The idea of perfection has often been a precursor to genocide. John Gray writes about it at some length. But then, on the other hand, we have the placid acceptance of Karma which certainly suits the privileged classes and castes very well.

Need one say more? Full interview here. Thanks, Tehelka.

Balaji take to the movies

Indiantelevision.com has a news item that maps the growing trend of TV content providers branching into filmmaking. Balaji Telefilms, literally the leader on TV with their slew of saas-bahu K-soaps, hit it big with the risque Kya Kool Hain Hum earlier this year. Though their more recent try, Koi Aap Sa, turned out a turkey, the production house is getting into film production big time. And don't worry, Ekta Kapoor does not intend to pour her soaps' mushy sentimentality into her films. Both these movies are hardly the Balaji type. Koi Aap Sa deals with a man taking charge when his best friend is raped. What Kapoor didn't figure in her calculation is the need for bigger stars to carry these so-called new-age themes. A Salaam Namaste works because it has Preity and Saif advocating a live-in relationship. Better luck next time, Ekta!

This is an Aamir pic from his forthcoming Rang De Basanti, a UTV project. UTV is also slated to release The Namesake, Mira Nair's adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's rather mediocre novel. The film promises to be good though, what with Nair's signature style (Monsoon Wedding) and Tabu in the lead role.

Delhi blasts: More clues emerge

The government is now almost certain that Lashkar was behind the serial blasts that rocked Delhi last evening. It is believed that the bombs were planted as a retaliation for the Red Fort attack case, judgement on which was due yesterday. The main accused Mohammad Arif, a Pak national, was almost certain to get the death sentence for waging war against the State. Additional Judge O.P. Sahni has since reserved his judgement till tomorrow.

A new angle that's emerging is the suspicion that Al Qaeda might have played a role too. If proved, this would be a dangerous portent, indicating that the struggle in Kashmir is acquiring an international dimension.

Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal has revealed that there was a tipoff that a terrorist strike was being planned but the IB had no credible information. He did not, however, mention if this and the other botched-up operations in the past deserve a serious consideration on why Indian Intelligence agencies oughtn't to be wrapped up.

22 people have been deatined for questioning.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Delhi blasts update

NDTV reports that the number of dead in the serial blasts that shook Delhi this evening has risen to 65, with scores injured. The injured are being treated at several hospitals, namely Lady Hardinge, Ram Manohar Lohia, AIIMS, and others. It is still not certain who is behind the attacks, though, as mentioned in my evening post, the needle of suspicion points towards Lashkar-e-Taiba. A high-level emergency meeting was convened by the HomeMinister to review the security scenario. Red alerts have been declared in Delhi and Mumbai, ahead of Diwali on Nov 1. The Prime Minister is not in Delhi at the moment and is reviewing the situaton from Kolkata. For his and Sonia Gandhi's statements, please visit the link.

Earthquake Diplomacy

India and Pakistan began talks today to chalk out the details of supplying relief across 5 points along the LoC. Amidst the devastation and continued misery of people in the earthquake affected areas, the two governments have finally sat down to discuss modalities of the proposal. Pamela Philipose’s scathing leader in today’s IE asks the two countries to bury the hatchet for once and take steps to mitigate the suffering.

Natwar Singh denies allegations

I have been wanting to write about the corruption charges in the Iraqi oil-for-food programme that have been hogging international media attention, but was putting it off because the Ahmedinejad news story packed more punch, but something came out today that makes it impossible to ignore this item any more. Natwar Singh has been named as a beneficiary of the kickbacks, yes, our very own Foreign Minister. First it was Mitrokhin and now this. I wonder what these people think in private when their leader advises them on austerity. Do they all have a good laugh and say “Could someone be any more ignorant?” Singh for his part has denied the allegations from Frankfurt.

Meanwhile, serial bomb blasts have rocked Delhi in Paharganj, Govindpuri and Sarojini Nagar. Aaj Tak places the number of dead at 25, but that figure is bound to rise, since many people were out Saturday evening for Diwali shopping. Lashkar-e-Taiba’s hand is suspected. Jihadi outfits have made it a ritual of striking Delhi just before Diwali, as happened a few years back as well. More information as details come in.

Iran aims at rapprochement, but Middle East still volatile

Iran distanced itself from its President’s rhetoric today by saying that it stood by its UN commitments, and would not use violence against another country. The clarifications, which were issued by the Foreign Ministry, had to be made following Ahmedinejad’s comments about wiping Israel off the map, and launching fresh tirades later. Even as Iran backed down, the ostensible impetus for the crisis, viz. the Israel-Palestine imbroglio seems set to land into troubled waters once again. Israel’s Defence Minister, Shaul Mofaz, launched a scathing attack yesterday on the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, saying he has no public support and is not a partner for peace talks. The worst outcome of this bickering is the demise of the peace process that had shown real signs of survival after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza strip. What happens from here is anybody’s guess.

'The Stone Diaries' by Carol Shields

As a protagonist, Daisy Goodwill is as ordinary as they come. There is no conventional grandness in her life. All her actions (her entire life, in fact) are governed not by some cosmic plan, but by the mechanisms of daily life that propel us from birth to death. But life itself, its fabric, the way it wraps around us and shows us its plan, is grand. It bestows on every one of us moments, emotions, feelings which take us that much closer to the realization that yes, I exist. This is the imprint of my personal history, the warp and weft of my reality.

As the blurb states, “this is the story of Daisy Goodwill, from her birth on a kitchen floor in Manitoba, Canada, to her death in a Florida nursing home nearly ninety years later.” The reader passes through each of Daisy’s life-phases, arranged in neatly divided sections, titled Birth, Childhood, Love etc.

At 72, Daisy lives in a three-bedroom condo in Florida and passes her days in recollection:

“If you were to ask Victoria’s Great-aunt Daisy the story of her life she would purse her lips for a moment – that ruby-red efflorescence – and stutter out an edited hybrid version, handing it to you somewhat shyly, but without apology, without equivocation that is: this is what happened, she would say from the unreachable recesses of her seventy-two years, and this is what happened next.

It’s hard to say whether she’s comfortable with her blend of distortion and omission, its willfulness, in fact; but she is accustomed to it. And it’s occurred to her that there are millions, billions, of other men and women in the world who wake up early in their separate beds, greedy for the substance of their own lives, but obliged every day to reinvent themselves.”

Shields sprinkles such gems on every other page and her deeply engaging writing style brings you to wish for a cord, a realizable link between all such people – alone, utterly alone, passing their days mimicking life. Something to make them say, “I am not all puff.” Her prose makes you wonder, is this what life is then? Is there something like a true life at all or are we destined to lead our own imitations of it?

Carol Shields was a very gifted writer. (She died of breast cancer in 2003.) There were moments during the book when I was wary of continuing without taking a break, because it had become the book’s habit to induce in me a deep and mildly painful contemplation. I found myself holding it and looking into the distance, having just read a passage, and wishing that the questions it evoked would ease a little and give me a breather.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Another blow for Communism, but Indian commies needn't worry

Two Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln have brought out a paper titled “Good bye Lenin (or not?): The effect of Communism on people’s preferences”, in which they present data on East Germany in the period 1945 to 1990 (the communist regime). The study has been receiving a lot of attention because of the conclusions it draws. East Germans, more than West Germans, were in favour of redistribution post-reunification in 1989. This was true more of older Germans who had lived through the heyday of communism. “Is it possible that living under a specific system leads to adaptation of preferences?” This in a nutshell is the basis of their research and the findings veer towards a “yes”. They say, “in fact, we find that the effects of communism are large and long-lasting.”

This provides two immediate inferences, both of which are mentioned in the research paper. One, that the likeness for State stems from the overdependence that people come to rely on in communist regimes. There are fewer tendencies for individual enterprise in a communist state. There is a propensity to blame society at large for one’s distress and so greater acceptance of public intervention. And two, communism comes across as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It creates conditions of deprivation in a society, which demands the very policies, viz. redistribution, state ownership, that further propel misery. In this way, it is a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself.

The study is contemporaneously relevant to us because the UPA government is continually cowed down in its policies by the Left. Whether it is introducing pension reforms or FDI in retail, the Left has mastered the art of giving the Congress top brass sleepless nights to further its ideological agenda. Well, the Left’s gotta do what the Left’s gotta do. What is befuddling is why the Congress is putting up with this intimidation. History will judge them more graciously if they stuck to their guns and relinquished power rather than dilute their agenda with the Left’s able guidance. Mr. Singh, take note. It’s your vision, after all, that is being so casually frittered.

Ahmedinejad refuses to bow to sanity

So, one thing is amply clear. Either Ahmedinejad does not read my blog, or if he does, he certainly doesn't think too much of me to take my advice. He has gone on to stand by his comments, adding mint-fresh impetus on the way. And as if that wasn’t enough, his remarks have launched a chain reaction with everyone from editors to clerics picking up the proverbial stick to hack Israel into an imagined pulp. Just goes to prove how irresponsible politicians can get and how eagerly (and maliciously?) people rise to the bait.

In the news report on Times Online cited above, what struck me was a statement which said that militants were openly recruiting for suicide missions at a rally against Israel. Now you see how politicians’ bunkum mounts regrettable scenarios. I would say there is a strong likelihood that some of those recruiters did find gullible young men to join their suicide missions- men who have nothing to do with Ahmedinejad or Israel, and who, for the most part, would be happy just leading their lives one day to the next.

Blair reprimands Ahmadinejad

EU got into the act on Iran today with Tony Blair’s warning that the world will not allow them to undermine international peace and security. I had said in my earlier post how Iran’s President Ahmadinejad’s comments about wiping Israel off the map will further aggravate instability. In fact, Blair used this episode to get his own agenda into action by publicly stating this:

"There has been a long time in which I have been answering questions on Iran with everyone saying to me 'Tell us you are not going to do anything about Iran'. If they carry on like this the question people are going to be asking us is 'When are you going to do something about this?'. Can you imagine a state like that with an attitude like that, having a nuclear weapon?"

It confounds one to think that a country’s President would make such provocative remarks. Iran must tender an unconditional apology to tide over this wholly unnecessary crisis.

Meanwhile, a note of sanity from the First Deputy President of Iran Parviz Davoodi. In a meeting with External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh on the sidelines of the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Moscow, Davoodi has assured India that the latter’s vote against Iran at the IAEA Summit in Vienna is a minor irritant between the two countries and will not affect long-term ties. This is a breath of fresh air from the Iranian leadership, some of who, as the Ahmadinejad episode demonstrates, have been speaking in public only to incite.

Saeed Naqvi, writing in today’s IE, says that India should not have voted against Iran because it doesn’t behoove a country of India’s strategic stature (he alludes to India’s candidature of the UNSC) to have “buckled under US pressure”. I disagree. Foreign Secretary Saran has made it amply clear in the course of the past few days what the compulsions vis-à-vis this deal were. It would be hypocritical of India to raise a hue and cry against Pakistan without taking at least a guarded view of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This is my only point of contention in an otherwise well-written article, in which Naqvi is justifying his recent spate of what one of his admirers says are “Muslim, Muslim” articles.


Government quits dragging feet on Nanavati

The government has asked the CBI to reopen the riot cases against Congress leaders Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and Dharam Dass Shastri. I picked up this news item for 2 reasons. One, it reminded me of the speech that Manmohan Singh made when the Nanavati Commission Report and the government’s ATR were tabled in Parliament. It was a very strongly worded speech, and I have no hesitation in saying that only someone of the stature and magnanimity of Manmohan Singh could have made it. His apology was heart-felt.

And two, because the government had the courage to take action against its own leaders. I wish the BJP would do something similar in Gujarat’s case.

As an aside, I hope Justice Nanavati would not be as vague as in his anti-Sikh riot report, when he comes out with the Gujarat pogrom one. That he would do better than say that there is “credible” evidence against some people and that they had “very likely” been involved in the riot. What sort of a report says that, and one which comes from a retired judge?

And the winner is...Ghulam Nabi

So, Ghulam Nabi Azad is all set to take over the reins of Kashmir come Nov 2. The drama ultimately played itself out in the best (or worst?) traditions of the Congress and the decision was taken only when the entire Congress brass in J&K threatened to quit. Politics is all about perception, and the goodwill that I had spoken of in my earlier post is all but lost in the wake of these sordid dealings. Why can the Congress not take a stand without making a mockery of the sagacity that people presume its actions stemmed from? Terrible PR. At least, Sonia Gandhi or Manmohan Singh should have forestalled this and taken a stand in the beginning without waffling for a good fortnight. Anyway, what’s done is done, and we can now expect Azad to continue the relief work in earnest. Azad is a good man; that is the only saving grace right now. He has been coordinating with the PDP in running Kashmir. He has hands-on experience and comes to the job with a long political career behind him. All the best to him. Knowing the task that lies ahead, he’ll need it.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Hurriyat, Naxalites, NSCN (IM) and now ULFA

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ruled out the possibility of the dialogue with ULFA going the NSCN-IM way, by categorically stating that any talks with ULFA will have to follow the Constitutional framework, and that there would be no talks on redefining India’s boundaries. ULFA has been demanding a dialogue on sovereignty with the government. The government has had to make these proclamations owing to its own ineptness. In early October, it allowed ULFA extremists in Assam to get away after they were encircled by the Army in the Tinsukia forests. A brigade-level Army operation against the extremists was called off under intense pressure from those who hoped to bring the ULFA to the negotiating table. These included Indira Goswami, who has been playing the ULFA emissary, Congress leader Veerappa Moily and Minister of State for Defence and Jorhat MP B K Handique.

The problem runs deeper. Assam CM Tarun Gogoi has been privately pushing for operations against the ULFA but is worried that a tough public stance could affect poll fortunes next year. There is also the apprehension that some ULFA leaders are enjoying state patronage in Bangladesh where the ruling BNP is sympathetic to their demands.

The government will need to do some deft handling of this volatile situation lest the north-east slide into chaos.

Tatas to make a million mini cars

After announcing that its mini car would be priced at Rs 100,000, Tata Motors today said there was potential to ramp up the much-talked-about car’s production to one million units in the next four-five years. This indicates that there will be no shortage of the car, dubbed as group Chairman Ratan Tata’s dream project. The mini car is expected to be launched in 2008. Tata Motors would set up a number of assembly units across the country with a centralised engine production facility to achieve the targeted capacity.

This car has been eagerly awaited for quite some time now. In a market where the cost of the two-wheeler is touching 60 grand, there is no limit to which it would be mass-accepted as a bread-and-butter model to do routine tasks around the corner. Sure, you wouldn't want to go cross-country in it, but look at the advantages. First and formeost, in this era of global warming and shortage of fossil fuels, this car will guzzle far less fuel than your average four-wheeler. Then it would provide the advantages of a 4-wheeler over a 2-wheeler at marginal extra costs. Imagine the number of people who, unable as they are to buy a car at current rates, would happily go for this one and bring about the second major revolution in the Indian automobile space. The first, as we know, was Maruti.

Ratan Tata had this to say about the project, in an interview with Mckinsey:

It is propelled by the opportunity, but there is also a social or dreamy side to it. Today in India, you often see four people on a scooter: a man driving, his little kid in front and his wife on the back holding a baby between them. It's a dangerous form of transportation, and it leads to accidents and hospitalizations and deaths. If we can make something available on four wheels--all-weather and safe--then I think we will have done something for that mass of young Indians.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Iran's President ups the ante

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeated a remark from Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's Islamic revolution, that Israel should be "wiped out from the map," insisting that a new series of attacks will destroy the Jewish state, and lashing out at Muslim countries and leaders that acknowledge Israel. Israel has diplomatic relations with major Muslim countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, and the Gaza disengagement has improved ties between Israel and some other Muslim nations and leaders. But Ahmadinejad took it further by describing Israel's disengagement from Gaza as a "trick" meant to make "Islamic states acknowledge the Zionist regime of Israel," according to a report on the CNN website. One wonders if Iran is trying to send a non-diplomatic missive to the U.S. in the wake of the increased pressure by the IAEA to open its nuclear facilities for inspection, and old allies deserting it at international fora (yes, us). It’s not adopting a very good strategy, is what I can say. The least it can do now is not exacerbate an already volatile situation.

France meanwhile got into its traditional balancing act. Ahmadinejad's comments prompted the French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy to summon the Iranian ambassador to Paris for an explanation. One thing you have to give these French. They actually see things from the other side’s perspective, sounding ridiculously obsequious along the way. Look what Douste-Blazy has to say to Ahmadinejad’s comments: "For France, the right for Israel to exist should not be contested. This state was created by a decision of the U.N. General Assembly. International law applies to all. The question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be used as a pretext to put into question the fundamental right for Israel to exist."

He is not only not rebuking Iran for its recklessness but trying to explain his position from a seemingly Iranian perspective. Hats off to these guys!

Saran clears the air

Foreign secretary Shyam Saran broke new ground Monday by boldly defending the nuclear deal that India signed with the U.S. on July 18 this year. In a clear indication that the vote against Iran at the IAEA summit in Vienna last month was an espousal of the changed framework of the Indian foreign policy and not a one-off case of bowing to U.S. pressure, he explained that it would be impossible for India to raise the A.Q. Khan issue without simultaneously discouraging the prospect of brinkmanship by any other nation. Iran's nuclear programme remains clandestine and there is no reason to believe that nuclear operations in that country are safe. India should do everything under its power to ensure that the issue is discussed diplomatically. India has rightly buried past shibboleths, namely the distorting farmework of the NPT. It must now stand and be counted as a responsible nuclear power, and that includes casting off of rose-tinted glasses of non-alignment and doing some much-needed plainspeak. Kudos to the present government for breaking the mould.

Iraq war gets them to see light, or does it?

In its annual report on global military might, the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies has revealed that western powers have been forced to reconsider their military might in the wake of stunning failures on the ground in Iraq. Strategists had hoped that technology enhancement would make modern warfare less messy by keeping out the blood and gore associated with a protracted ground battle (keeping out of sight, that is). But Iraq has belied all such hopes. In a week when American casualties in Iraq crossed the 2000 mark, it has become clear that the armies have been "sucked into messy conflicts, often in towns, where they face enemies invulnerable to the advanced gadgetry that was supposed to dissipate the fog of war and herald a new era in warfare."

And this is just the bit about Iraq. Afghanistan, of course, has long been consigned to irrelevance, with no reference whatsoever to capturing bin Laden. If Americans are having a tough fight in Iraq, God only knows how they intend to pigeonhole Osama in that inhospitable terrain. But power, as they say, corrupts. So we hear stories of bringing other evil nations (read Iran, Syria) to their knees. More on this megalomania later.

Babus to train at Harvard, Wharton

As reported in today's IE, the government is planning to send mid-career bureaucrats to top-notch management institutes around the globe to enable them to "re-tool". The contender list boasts names such as Harvard and Wharton. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is known to have personally approved the proposal, taking on from his initial proclamations of introducing wide-ranging reforms in the bureaucracy. We are yet to hear of his initiative to introduce changes in the IAS Entrance Exam framework, but for now, this bit of news suffices. What remains to be seen is whether the babus would actually learn something of interest or value at these institutes, or would they just consider these trips as another lap in their cosseted foreign junkets? India's toiling millions are waiting with bated breath.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Iraqis ratify new Constitution

Iraqis have ratified a new constitution with 78 percent voting for it. The approval paves the way for parliamentary elections on December 15. The biggest support for the constitution came from Shiites and Kurds, who form nearly 80 percent of the population. Sunni Arabs rejected the constitution, in what can be more than a hiccup in the evolving process to put Iraq on the path of democracy. Since Sunni Arabs see the constitution as being largely shaped by Shiite and Kurdish interests, American officials have had to broker an agreement with them, allowing for constitutional amendments within the first four months of the new government. This has led many Sunni Arab leaders to call for participation in December's elections. It is likely then that the Ba'athist wing of the insurgency will not interfere in this process out of the belief that it will help to further its ends. This does not, however, mean that a decrease in violence is likely to follow the referendum. September was one of the most violent months in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, and this was a month in which Sunni Arabs were registering to vote and participate in the formation of the new government.

The likely shift in Ba'athist strategy will probably not be seen in numbers but in targets, as reported in the Asian Tribune. The report states, “Sunni Arab politicians will remain threatened by the Islamic militant wing of the insurgency, but may see some respite from the Ba'athists as long as they avoid the appearance of cooperation with the U.S. embassy.”

Another factor is the division in the Shiite ranks. Secular Shias prefer a strong central government, while some religious leaders seem inclined to prepare for the fragmentation of Iraq. The drop in turnout in some southern provinces can be explained by the general lack of trust in the central government. Here, religious leaders provide the security and services that the central government cannot, something the new government will find difficult to reverse. Sunnis fear such a state of affairs since Shias and Kurds are largely located in oil-rich areas.

The differences between secular and religious Shias were papered over during the drafting of the constitution by intentionally avoiding inscribing much about the functioning of the future government. The Shia negotiators, like their Kurdish counterparts, focused instead on gaining the best positioning for their sectarian group to dominate the future Iraqi government. This will likely delay the formation and functioning of the new government since many serious issues -- from the role of the Federal Supreme Court to the right of the federal government to impose taxes on the population directly -- have yet to be worked out.

Let Mufti Stay

The Congress Party has been facing a dilemma of sorts as it ponders the question of switching over to its own CM in J&K on Nov 2. Everybody, and this includes Congress leaders in private, acknowledges that the Mufti’s rule has been defined by some definite changes in the ground situation- an improved security scenario, a genuine and growing public participation in elections, the changing psyche of the people who want peace and accountability from their leaders, the opening up of routes to PoK, an improving power situation, work expedited on the Udhampur-Baramulla railway line (italicized attributed to Neerja Chowdhary, IE). By breaking the jinx of the NC government, India has shown to the outside world that it can hold onto its promise of providing free and fair elections to J&K. Mufti has already indicated that he would not like to continue for just another 3-4 months so as to see the current relief operations through. Now or never. Congress had shown remarkable sagacity in withdrawing from the CM’s seat 3 years back to let a Kashmiri party call the shots. This was despite it being the larger partner in the coalition. It’s time now to extend that generosity and let Mufti continue in the chair. This will not only improve the fragile situation in J&K further but will also earn tremendous goodwill for the party not just in the region but everywhere else too. It would also help the Congress in cleansing its record of the shameless shenanigans in Goa and Jharkhand.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Celebrity Hounding: the New Media Culture?

In the past couple of days, I have come across several news items discussing the furore over the leaking of the pictures of Britney Spears's baby. Earlier, there was widespread speculation over the health of the Beckhams' marriage. In India too, we have observed unwarranted prurient interest in the lives of celebrities such as Karisma Kapoor. Is this news? The issue has 2 facets. Firstly, how newsworthy is the state of Ms. Kapoor's matrimony, regardless of her status as an actor? Secondly, what right does the media have to poke their collective noses into the affairs of someone when those affairs have no bearing whatsoever on public interest? Covering societal changes to indicate how cultures evolve is one thing, taking the camera into the bedroom and uncovering sordid personal details quite another. It's not just not news, it's disgraceful and unprofessional. What kind of yellow journalism is this? Some celebrities in India have spoken of the need to evolve privacy-infringement rights to deal with fake exposes such as the Salman-Aishwarya one. I think the judiciary, otherwise so active, must take suo motu interest in this case and rescue the health and prestige of the media.

Books the new snobbery

As reported on the Guardian website today, books have become the latest in-thing that people buy to show they are intelligent. Now this can be looked upon in two ways. It is good for us book-buying public because it indicates that books as a phenomenon are finding mass acceptance. But what is worrying is the impact that the alleged inspiration for buying books, as indicated in this report, would have on the intellectual rigour one expects from those who read. I mean what decent discussion can you have with someone who got The Name of the Rose solely to look fashionable? The prospects of the report, if you skim the surface, are unsettling.
(To be taken with the tongue firmly in cheek)

Excerpts from the report:

Driven partly by pressure from incessant literary prize shortlists, more than one in three consumers in London and the south-east admit having bought a book "solely to look intelligent", the YouGov survey says.

The biggest group, more than two in every five people, follows the traditional method of choosing their reading; relying on recommendations from close family and friends.

The sample's own top 10 titles, a mixture of classic and popular, is: the Bible, Lord of the Rings, one or other of the Harry Potter stories, Catch-22, Animal Farm, The Hobbit, Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Da Vinci Code, Wuthering Heights.

Monday, October 24, 2005

'The Master' by Colm Toibin

The Master fictionalizes the life of writer Henry James. It captures the loneliness of an artist who on the one hand, wrote deeply human stories, yet searched for an exquisite intimacy all his life. It brings out in vivid literary detail the pangs of creative inspiration and the desperate hunger for solitude. The most moving passages in the book belong to Toibin's description of Henry's clearing out of his novelist friend Constance Fenimore Woolson’s items after her death by suicide. Following Henry’s chain of thoughts, one infers that Constance had expected a romance from him, whose prospects he had declined. A heavy sadness lingers in these pages as he sorts out her items and consigns her memories to their appropriate destinations, drowning her garments in one final act of farewell.

The following is a passage taken from Henry’s visit to the Protestant Cemetery in Rome with sculptor Henrik Anderson. They are standing on poet Keats’s grave.

“He was not sure if Anderson was aware of the story of Keats’s last days in the city, or even if he knew that the gravestone, which was not inscribed with the poet’s name, marked his final resting place. Henry felt acutely the sculptor’s presence; he liked being beside him, the silence broken by birdsong, with only cats for company; and the sense of the dead, including the tragic young poet, deeply at rest, protected in warm, rich earth. And the air all around, the clear sky and the secluded spaces of the cemetery, proclaiming that with rest came the end of sorrow; and this rest seemed to him now, on a May morning in Rome, suffused with love or something close to it.”

A stunning book, The Master must be read for the long hours of suspended solitude one gets to savour as one delves into the soul of a truly remarkable man.

India to open 3 access points along LoC

In what is the first sign that the recent devastating earthquake along the Indo-Pak border could have political ramifications, India has agreed to provide 3 access points along the LoC. These are Kaman in Uri, Tithwal and Chakan da Bagh. Pakistan's President General Musharraf had made a proposal to open 5 such points to aid in relief and rehabilitaion in PoK, a region that has borne the wrst brunt of the natural calamity. MEA spokesman Navtej Sarna said relief centres would be operational by Oct 25.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

American sale to Pak

Amidst reports of good success in the discussions held between Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and US Under secretary of State Nicholas Burns come news reports that America is all set to finalize the sale of 80 F-16’s to Pakistan in the coming week. This is another instance of the narrow-sightedness of the American foreign policy. America cannot continue to play this double game in the subcontinent under the guise of de-hyphenation. The American relationship with India cannot ignore the former’s ties with Pakistan. While America might have genuine interest in suffering General Musharraf because of its involvement in the neighborhood, it won’t be long before this strategy backfires.

Meanwhile, President Bush has called on the UN Security Council to discuss Syrian involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In a statement, Condoleezza Rice demanded “some way to assure accountability” after a UN report indicting senior Syrian officials in the murder was released. Somehow, the entire prospect of accountability at UN has suffered a body-blow in the post-Iraq scenario and to see the Bush administration mention it is to stretch hypocrisy to the limit. Another farce is all set to begin as another country comes on the “Axis-of-evil” radar.

In a tiny news report on the Economic Times front page yesterday, India was deemed to be the future leader in the fast developing KPO space. KPO stands for Knowledge Process Outsourcing, and covers a gamut of services in law, medicine and education that can potentially be offshored. Heartening news for a patrakaar2b in a shrinking job market.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Indo-US Nuclear Pact

US undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns is holding talks today with Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran to work out the details of the nuclear pact that India and US signed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the US earlier this year. In a speech made to the Asia Society in New York this week, Burns had sounded upbeat about the prospects of the deal. But misgivings remain. America will face problems in introducing amendments to the law that will grant greater nuclear technological access to India while allowing this country to hold nuclear weapons. This can be done either through a one-time amendment or through an India-specific legislation. India on her part will have to allow separation of its civilian and military facilities and international inspection of the former to allow safeguards. Then the issue sorrounding the NSG also comes to the fore, which it is hoped, will sort itself out owing to US influence.
More on this exciting bit of a developing landmark in India's shifting foreign policy as reports trickle in.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Very First

Hi! This is my first post. I will soon be entering the world of media, and this blog would be my medium to post my twopence about issues that matter. Hope to keep you hooked.