Dec 31, 2006

SMS For A Railway Platform Ticket

The South Western Railway (SWR) on Friday launched a novel scheme to sell platform tickets here through mobile phones using the short messaging service (SMS) facility.

Claimed to be the first of its kind service in Indian Railways, the electronic system enables subscribers of BSNL and Airtel to buy a platform ticket by keying in 'PFT' and code 3939 (for BSNL) and 64629 (for Airtel) even before reaching the Bangalore city station and collect it from a vending machine at the entrance.

"The system will send a five digit pin to the subscribers opting for this hassle-free service. By entering the pin in the SMS-linked vending machine, they can obtain the platform ticket without monetary transaction, as an amount of Rs 4, including Re1 towards service charge, will be collected from the mobile operators," SWR general manager TN Perti said.

[....]

For those driving into the station terminal in four-wheelers, the zonal railway has installed a computerised car parking-cum-platform ticket-issuing machine at the main city station. ....the hi-tech machine offers pre-paid and post-paid facility.[DNA]

Cartoon Speak: On a Weak Wicket




Courtesy: The Hindu


Dec 28, 2006

Forecast for Al Qaeda in 2007

Here is Stratfor's 2007 forecast for Al Qaeda and the jihadist movement in full.



By Fred Burton

The theme of Stratfor's 2006 forecast for al Qaeda and the jihadist movement centered on the evolution -- or the devolution, really -- from al Qaeda "the group" to a broader global jihadist movement. This essentially was a shift from an al Qaeda operational model based on an "all-star team" of operatives that was selected, trained and dispatched by the central leadership to the target, to an operational model that encourages independent "grassroots" jihadists to conduct attacks, or to a model in which al Qaeda provides operational commanders who organize grassroots cells. We refer to this shift as devolution because what we are seeing now is essentially a return to the pre-9/11 model.

This shift has provided al Qaeda "the movement" broader geographic and operational reach than al Qaeda "the group." This larger, dispersed group of actors, however, lacks the operational depth and expertise of the core group and its well-trained terrorist cadre.

The metamorphosis continued in 2006, with al Qaeda announcing the merger of existing jihadist groups such as Gamaah al-Islamiyah (GAI) in Egypt and Algeria's Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) and others in the Maghreb into their global jihadist umbrella organization. These groups have had long-standing links to al Qaeda, and the announcement of the mergers is really a formalization of the relationship, though these new nodes joined al Qaeda's formal network of affiliate groups in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Sinai Peninsula and Afghanistan.

Since the announcements, these new groups have not yet demonstrated that they possess the ability to boost al Qaeda's operational effectiveness. We have seen no attacks that can be attributed to GAI, and perhaps the only attacks that can be attributed to the GSPC are the Dec. 11 attack against a bus carrying foreign oil workers and the simultaneous Oct. 30 attacks against two police stations in Algeria. Given this lack of results, the announcements ring somewhat hollow, as the mergers have not given al Qaeda the surge of momentum it might have wanted.

The major attacks in 2006 in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia; Dahab, Egypt; Dubba and Marib, Yemen; and Damascus, Syria, were all conducted by existing regional nodes and not the main al Qaeda organization. These attacks did show a broad geographic reach stretching across the Middle East but, except for the Dahab attack, they were essentially all failures.

Overall, 2006 was not a good year for the al Qaeda nodes in Saudi Arabia and the Sinai. It also was a dismal year for the Iraq affiliate, whose charismatic leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in June. Twelve months have made a vast difference in the fortunes of the Iraq node. Last year at this time, al-Zarqawi made the headlines almost daily and his organization was conducting frequent and spectacular attacks. Now, following the death of al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda in Iraq has been largely marginalized and eclipsed by Iraqi Sunni and Shiite insurgent groups.

Going into 2007, we anticipate a continuation of this shift toward a movement -- though it will be important to watch for any signs of operational activity by al Qaeda the group, as opposed to its prodigious public relations efforts.

The Shift to Soft Targets

As we noted in January, the shift to the broader movement model allowed for an increase in the number of attacks, although the movement's lack of expertise was forcing it to focus its attacks against soft targets such as hotels, trains and subways. This shift resulted in a larger numbers of casualties than the more spectacular attacks against hardened targets. Indeed, the casualty count from jihadist attacks in the 52 months following 9/11 was more than double that of the 52 months prior -- and those numbers would be vastly increased if the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan were included.


However, not as many attacks occurred in 2006 as we anticipated. In fact, the number of attacks and the casualties they generated were down for 2006. In many cases, such as Damascus, Abqaiq and Yemen, the attacks resulted in the deaths of more attackers than victims, and the only attack to produce a sizable death toll was in Dahab, where 24 people died. This trend in which attacks against tourist targets in Egypt produce the deadliest jihadist attack of the year continued from 2005, when the attack in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, killed 88 people. (Incidentally, that not only represents far more victims than in the Dahab attack, but also more than all of the 2006 attacks combined.) When Sharm el-Sheikh is combined with the 2005 attacks in Bali, Amman and London, jihadist militants produced far more deaths in 2005 than in 2006. (These statistics do not include attacks conducted in war zones or areas of insurgency such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, Chechnya/Russia, Sri Lanka or Kashmir/India.)


The only jihadist strike against a hardened target in 2006 was the failed attack against the U.S. Embassy in Damascus in September. A car bombing was directed against an employee of the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, but that attack happened a block away from the hardened facility. It was, however, the only one of the two to produce an American death.


Target Sets


As we said in January, al Qaeda the group has long been interested in striking financial targets, aircraft and chemical/petroleum plants. Because of that, and al Qaeda's demonstrated history of revisiting targets after failed or foiled attacks, it was logical to project that it would continue to attempt strikes against such targets in 2006.


The petroleum sector indeed was targeted in 2006, as the strikes against petroleum facilities in Abqaiq and Yemen, and against oil contractors in Algiers, demonstrate. Although no attack occurred against financial targets as we anticipated, we still believe that target set remains at risk for the future, along with the others.


Although authorities thwarted the plot to simultaneously destroy several airliners en route from London to the United States, it once again demonstrated that al Qaeda and the jihadist movement maintain a significant interest in airline targets. Details released in February on the Library Tower bombing plot provide another example of this fixation.


Disruption Strategy Continues


Once again in 2006 there has been no successful attack on U.S. soil -- though the thwarted airliner plot was definitely aimed at the United States. Likewise, the anticipated attacks in European locations such as the United Kingdom, Denmark, France and Italy failed to materialize -- again, not for lack of trying on the part of the jihadists.


The U.S. government and its allies have been successful over the past year in disrupting terrorist plots and plans in many locations. The strategy of disruption these countries are following is really quite simple: It is better to pick up an al Qaeda suspect on immigration fraud or another lesser offense than to investigate a smoking hole in the ground. Although there has been significant skepticism over the terrorist credentials of those responsible for some of these plots, such as the one involving the Miami Seven, the plots serve as a reminder that there are people who remain committed to striking the United States. Over the years, Islamist militants have proven to be resilient and adaptable in the face of adversity, and they will certainly continue to adapt.


It is important to remember that more than eight years elapsed between the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 9/11 attacks -- during which time al Qaeda and its jihadist network faced nothing approaching the level of pressure they have endured since then. There were several thwarted terrorist spectaculars between 1993 and 2001, and yet the jihadists persisted and eventually succeeded in carrying out a massive strike on U.S. soil.


Therefore, the string of law enforcement and intelligence successes since 9/11 does not rule out the possibility of another strike on U.S. soil in time. We believe the likelihood of such an attack will increase as memories of 9/11 dim and the public grows weary of the inconvenience and financial burden of increased security measures.


The Jihadist 'War College'


The forecast, which noted that the active armed struggles in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Caucasus still serve as a kind of "jihadist war college," predicted that its graduates would continue to share their training and experience upon returning to their countries of origin.


We already have seen a transfer of terrorism tactics and technology to Afghanistan, and we anticipate that this will continue in the future. In addition, the interpersonal connections that the militants make in places such as Iraq and Chechnya also will link them to the global movement in the same way the jihad in Afghanistan did for the preceding generation.[Stratfor]

Dec 26, 2006

Cartoon Speak: Honoured Victim


Courtesy: The Hindu




Andrew Strauss has the honour of being Shane Warne's 700th test victim.

Irfan, Sreesanth, Cricket and World Cup

Sending back of Irfan Pathan midway through the South African tour is undoubtedly a strong message to non-performers that their place is not guaranteed by past performance. Irfan or his fans should not see this as a snub especially when there are some more players in the team who too need to given the same message. Irfan should play in the domestic matches and regain his form and swing at the earliest. His getting back to form – particularly when he is also a good bat - is very vital for our world cup plans. The same applies to Dhoni and Sehwag too.

Earlier Zaheer Khan was thrown out of the team for the same reason and after a stint in County cricket and domestic cricket he is back in form and has claimed back his place in the national team.

If we have to put up big scores particularly on the slow pitches of West Indies so our bowlers can have something to defend, Dhoni firing on all cylinders is very important. His 30-ball 50’s or 80-ball 100s are what we want from him in the world cup. The team management should not waste any more time and tell Dhoni to perform consistently or get demoted. In the meantime Karthik can keep as he is as good as Dhoni in wicket keeping and is also a good bat.

I have no idea why Sehwag is still in the team. Is he there because of some quota system? The only thing Sehwag lost for constantly under performing was his vice captaincy. He needs to be axed immediately and taken back only if he performs in the domestic matches. He is also another vital member of our team for the world cup. On his day Sehwag can take any attack apart and he being the opener we need this from him on a consistent basis and not in blue moon.

Sreesanth’s performance was excellent in the first test match. He should cut back on his song and dance acts - which I actually enjoyed watching - immediately if wants to save his match fee from being sliced off by the match referee again and again. Andrew Nel had provoked him quite a bit and it was natural that a young Sreesanth got a bit carried away after he smashed Nel for a six straight over his head. Remember there is nothing more humiliating for a bowler than being smashed over his head for a six. In Sreesanth’s own words this is what happened in the field between them:

As soon as I walked in to bat, he said, "I can smell blood, I can smell blood". Then, after beating me, he said, "You don't have the fire, man. You should have a big heart to play. You are like a bunny to me." He turned back and said it again, "You are a bunny man, and I'll get you next ball." He changed the field, moving the short leg fielder to deep square leg and telling Boucher he would bounce me. I am a fast bowler, and I was sure he would bowl a length ball. I just took my chance and stepped out to connect the ball.[Outlook]

After seeing India’s abject capitulation in the one-day series I honestly was of the view that we were going to get “rainbow washed” mercilessly in the tests and that too in three days flat per test. The South Africans’ tailor-made pitch was intended to be our waterloo but Sreesanth and Zaheer had other ideas and now the Proteas will surely be in a dilemma on what wicket to prepare for the Durban test. I saw Sreesanth in action for the first time in 2003 in a warm up match against New Zealand on TV and he instantly impressed me. In the Johannesburg test, his seam position was straight and delivery impeccable.

I was glad to see Dada and Laxman performing well in the first test. It is imperative for them to perform constantly from now on if they want to keep their place in the team. There should be no doubt that Ganguly got back his place in the team because of politics and not because of any performance in the domestic matches which was nothing to write home about. VVS should remember that he is playing tests and can take his own sweet time to get off the mark.

Earlier in the year when Ganguly was dropped - after constantly underperforming - from the team we saw the worst form of chauvinism. It was extremely disgusting to see a section of the fans making a case for Dada’s recall on the on the basis of his past performance. I can say with confidence that this is the most ridiculous justification for his recall. On the other hand the fans who opposed the call for his recall accused Dada’s supporters of regional chauvinism. It became more ugly when even the political class of West Bengal came out in Dada’s support.

Ganguly’s supporters forgot everything about national interest in their chauvinistic one-point agenda of getting Dada back in the team. Let us not forget that nothing is bigger than national interest. The playing eleven represents the nation on the field –whether war or sports - and when national honour is at stake, nothing but the best eleven of the nation at that moment should take the field.

Anyone remember Yalaka Venugopal Rao who made it to the national ODI team due to some terrific performance in the domestic matches? Unfortunately his performance for India was nothing to write home about and predictably was dropped after playing some 16 odd matches. Now did anyone in Andhra Pradesh create a hue and cry about it? At least his city folks could have done some whining. No, no one did that coz national interest mattered most. Here let me not forget to mention that Venugopal is not only from my city but also from my neighbourhood!

Let me also write about the recent ‘misbehavior’ of the Aussie team members with BCCI Chief Sharad Pawar during the prize distribution ceremony of ICC Championship. I didn’t see any wrong on Ricky Ponting’s part when he gestured to Pawar to hand him the trophy. I think that was made in jest. However it was rude of them to push him off the stage when Pawar himself would have left after posing for the photographs. Then to make matters complicated the media went to town with this and made it into a matter of national honour. Ultimately the Aussies apologised and a needless matter was put to rest.
We should remember that Aussies are not exactly the gentlemen who are supposed to play cricket. After all they are the descendants of exiled hardened convicts from the British Isles. Wasn’t it that ‘good’ old Ian Botham who once called the Aussies a bunch of convicts and I am told he caused a diplomatic uproar in the 1980s between Australia and United Kingdom when he talked about beating the Aussies in Australia in a stadium full of criminals.

Dec 23, 2006

Cartoon Speak: A Hypocrite


Courtesy: Indian Express

Dec 22, 2006

Stratfor on Latest Al Qaeda Tapes

Arab satellite news network Al Jazeera released excerpts of a video featuring al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, on Dec. 20.

His statement was unusual in that it was released by Al Jazeera rather than by al Qaeda's As-Sahab media production house -- although As-Sahab posted banner ads on jihadist Web sites and in jihadist chat rooms Dec. 18 announcing the impending release of the video. Prior to the Jan. 13 airstrike on an alleged al Qaeda safe-house in Damadola, Pakistan, al Qaeda delivered several statements to Al Jazeera by a system of couriers. This system could have been compromised and could have led to the airstrike, which killed several prominent al Qaeda leaders. Most of the statements and previews from al Qaeda's top leaders that came after the Damadola strike were released online via As-Sahab rather than by Al Jazeera.

It is possible that the Oct. 30 airstrike on a seminary believed to be harboring prominent al Qaeda members in the village of Chingai, in Pakistan's Bajaur agency, took out a critical element or elements of As-Sahab, necessitating a return to using Al Jazeera as al Qaeda's media outlet. It is also possible that As-Sahab's Internet distribution method has been compromised by some intelligence, or by technical means, rendering it too risky to use.

The Dec. 20 release shows al-Zawahiri in his black turban and white robe, with an assault rifle propped up against the backdrop behind his right shoulder, as he has appeared in most videos. The backdrop in the video is a plain brown, similar to that seen in videos released in April 2004, October 2005, January 2006 and September 2006.

In the video, Al-Zawahiri refers to the Oct. 30 strike on Chingai, the 89th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration on Nov. 2 and the Nov. 7 U.S. midterm congressional elections. Because al-Zawahiri mentions the Nov. 30 meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the tape was clearly made after that date; thus, it is obvious that al-Zawahiri was not at the seminary in Chingai when it was hit (or, if he was, he survived). The tape also puts to rest theories that al-Zawahiri was keeping a low profile prior to a major al Qaeda strike against the United States.

Assuming the video was made after Nov. 30, it took al-Zawahiri a very long time to address the strike at Chingai. (Within three weeks of the Damadola strike, As-Sahab released a video of al-Zawahiri condemning the attack.) This lapse led to speculation that he was killed in the strike. Of course, it is also possible that al Qaeda's media distribution network had been compromised to the point that intelligence gained from it led to the Chingai airstrike. If that were the case, the jihadist network would have needed more time to plug the leaks and develop an alternate distribution method.

Previously, the core of al Qaeda's leadership responded to events and released statements about them in as little as two weeks -- such as al-Zawahiri's Oct. 23 statement referring to the Oct. 8 earthquake in Pakistan. That it took al Qaeda so long to provide proof of life after the Chingai strike, and that al Qaeda released the latest video using uncharacteristic means, indicates that the group's media distribution network could have taken a serious hit at Chingai.[Stratfor]

Dec 20, 2006

Seeing Reason

In a recent post I wrote about the high prevalence of the polio virus among the Muslim community and how the Mullahs are playing a debilitating role in the vaccination drive of the government against polio by spreading canards. Now some Mullahs have come together to educate the Muslims on the importance of vaccination.


Several Islamic clerics in UP are coming together to educate Muslims on the necessity of vaccinating against polio, a crippling disease on the rise among children belonging to the community.

Lucknow’s maulanas (clerics) met on Monday under the aegis of the Rotary International and have volunteered to join the vaccination teams, which face Muslim resistance in several places.
The clerics said they would visit villages during the drive to inform people about the vaccine’s safety. A seven-member executive panel and 17-member working team of ulemas was constituted to review the polio vaccination drive in UP, which accounts for 438 polio cases — the highest in the country.

“We will go with the vaccination teams to those areas where Muslim families are unwilling to let their kids take polio drops,” the imam of Lucknow’s Eidgah, Khalid Rasheed, said. Rasheed, also the chairperson of the Ulema Council of India, said, “We are going to urge the government to take interest in ensuring health amenities in areas where they were carrying out the anti-polio drive.”

“We have come together to fight polio since a majority cases are among Muslim children,” he said.[DNA]

Dec 19, 2006

UPA's Dual Power Center Exposed

When the UPA government was sworn in with Congress President Mrs. Gandhi’s personal choice Manmohan Singh as the PM, it was speculated that there would be two power centers. But the spin-doctors – both in the govt and the press - of the UPA govt dismissed such speculation and even pointed out some decisions of Manmohan Singh as proof of non-interference from the Congress President in the working of the UPA government and thus not influencing the government policies.


Some of Sonia Gandhi’s pet projects like NREGA, RTI, etc have been zealously implemented by the UPA govt. Now using the RTI Act - with which the UPA govt wanted to empower the citizen - a journalist has unearthed how Sonia Gandhi interferes in the working of the UPA govt. In a series of three articles DK Singh ‘exposes’ the dual power center in the UPA govt. Whether these interference by Mrs. Gandhi has done good to the common man or not is still open to debate.



Midway through the tenure of the United Progressive Alliance regime, ministers and officials in the Manmohan Singh government have come around to accepting the concept of dual power.

[….]


…. The Congress president forwarded his [social activist Suvalal Chhaganmal Bafna] case for a Padma Shri to Home Minister Shivraj Patil in November 2005. A few weeks later, Bafna was nominated for the award.

In another letter to Health Minister Anbumani R.amadoss last May, Gandhi sought action against Diclofenac, a non-inflammatory drug for veterinary use, as it was a “killer agent”. Two days later, the ministry wrote to state drug controllers to withdraw the licences of all manufacturers of Diclofenac formulations and to phase out its marketing.

[Mrs.]Gandhi… has written at least 36 more letters to different ministers in the last two-and-a-half years.

At least 16 letters were written on her behalf by her staff to different government officials…

These letters offered advice and recommendations on a variety of subjects from a cautionary note on free trade agreements, proposing changes in draft legislation, seeking two reserve battalions for Assam as requested to her by the chief minister and forwarding suggestions of Narmada dam activists to even an inquiry about the alleged denial of promotion to an accountant in a public sector undertaking in Dhanbad.

Though her letters to ministers are unfailingly polite in tone. …those to whom they have been written have sometimes gone beyond the call of duty to satisfy her.

For instance, a simple query about progress on the proposal to set up a national petroleum training school in Rae Bareilly in April 2005 was enough for the then Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar to go to the proposed sites and then to Lucknow to hold consultations with the Uttar Pradesh chief minister.

In some cases, Gandhi wrote to the prime minister making some suggestions and informing him that she was sending a copy of the letter to a particular minister.

Last December, she wrote to the prime minister suggesting some changes in the draft Gram Nyayalaya Bill and informing him that she was sending a copy of the letter to Law Minister HR Bharadwaj.

On the same day, she forwarded her letter to the prime minister to Bharadwaj stating, “You may like to consider incorporating the suggested changes in the Bill before taking it to the Cabinet.”[Business Standard]



…. Congress President Sonia Gandhi has nevertheless evinced keen interest in the management of the country’s economy in the last two-and-a-half years.

[….]

On September 21 she wrote a letter each to Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, Small Scale Industries Minister Mahavir Prasad and Food Processing Minister Subodh Kant Sahay, exhorting them to lay more emphasis on the leather and footwear industry, small and medium industries, and the food and agro-processing industry, respectively.

The three got the same performance appraisal from her in identical letters: “I am aware that some progress has been made by your ministry in this sector. However, there is much more to be done if we have to show visible results….”

Last March Gandhi, then the National Advisory Council chairperson, wrote to Nath conveying the feeling that India was, perhaps, signing too many free trade agreements, “which made our own manufacturing sector more vulnerable”.

The need is to ensure that a labour-intensive manufacturing industry is not hampered by trade liberalisation and a spate of free trade and other agreements. “The government may like to consider taking special care before the Early Harvest Programme is included in any future agreement…to ensure that the sensitive list of items in the existing agreements is not diluted or reduced any further through future negotiations,” suggested Gandhi’s letter.

Her clout, as perceived by the ministers in the Manmohan Singh government, is reflected in a letter written to her by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in September. He sought her intervention to ensure that co-operative banks were provided 2 per cent interest subvention by the Centre on farm credit at 7 per cent interest rate, stating that the government was “hesitant” to do it. The UPA regime announced this decision shortly afterwards.

There are numerous other instances when Sonia Gandhi has sought to intervene in affairs that are the exclusive preserve of the executive. Following a letter from a Congress member of parliament about alleged irregularities in the Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd (Balco) deal with Sterlite last September, her staff at 10, Janpath wrote to the finance minister’s office seeking a status report.

Another letter from her staff at the NAC office to the finance minister this year related to the demand of Kashmiri migrants for a tax waiver. In a letter last August, Finance Minister P Chidambaram, however, wrote back to Gandhi politely explaining there was no provision under the Income Tax Act to waive tax dues of a class of persons.[Business Standard]

Until Congress President Sonia Gandhi quit the post of National Advisory Council chairperson in March, she would personally clear some of the draft Bills of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime before they went to Cabinet for approval.

Gandhi has been instrumental in the incorporation of a host of changes in the drafts of several Bills, including the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, the Scheduled Tribes and Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, the Gram Nyayalaya Bill, and the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Bill, among others.

Copies of around two dozen letters exchanged between her and the ministers concerned show how the latter took pains to incorporate her suggestions, in some cases after reminders from her.

Of all UPA ministers, only Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar could say “no” to her. On October 5, 2005, she wrote to him about “a growing perception” that the Seeds Bill, 2004, (which is yet to be passed), was anti-farmer and favoured the seed industry and large seed breeders, including multinational corporations.

She made several suggestions that “would go a long way in removing this perception” and advised that the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001, be enforced before the passage of the Seeds Bill.

[…]

Pawar stuck to his guns, though. A month after he received her letter, he wrote back asserting that the Seeds Bill and the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act were “two entirely different issues,” and postponing the enactment of the Seeds Bill, which proposed to regulate the sale, import and export of seeds and facilitate their production and supply, “will not serve the interest of farmers”.

[….]

On the Communal Violence Bill (yet to be passed), Gandhi and Home Minister Shivraj Patil exchanged about a dozen letters between May and September 2005. Finally, on September 26, Patil wrote to her, listing how her suggestions were incorporated in the Bill and thanked her for “guidance and encouragement”.

It is the same story with other Bills. On the Tribal Bill, Gandhi’s suggestions to include only tribals in the purview of the Bill (excluding Scheduled Castes) and fixing 1980 as the cut-off date were incorporated in the draft Bill.
The Cabinet had to change these two provisions last week following an outcry from Left leaders.[Business Standard]

Dec 15, 2006

Doha Asian Games, India.....

..... and related musings.

Seeing China’s insatiable gold hunt at the Doha Asiad, one can only say that India’s performance at the games is satisfactory. Although we have won more medals this time the gold medal tally – which actually decides the ranking - is nothing to write home about - - just ten gold medals. Even the tiny nation state of Singapore won eight gold medals.


China came to this Asiad with a
contingent of 600 plus athletes in which about 400 were rookies i.e. athletes with no international exposure prior to this Asiad. And these athletes just won a total of 300+ medals including 160+ gold medals. If this was the trailer then one can only imagine what the Chinese will be unleashing on the world stage in two years time at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.


It was disappointing to see our shooters ending up with silver and bronze medals instead of gold especially when we performed very well in the recent Commonwealth games earlier this year and have world champions shooting for us. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was
shooting off his mouth instead of letting his gun do the talking. It was left to ‘old hand’ Jaspal Rana to save us from embarrassment by winning three gold medals.


Tennis was one event where we could have made a clean sweep – at least in the men’s events. The team events were disappointing. First of all Mahesh Bhupathi who had other plans, went to the press when the tennis federation paired Sania Mirza with Leander Paes. This ensured bad blood between the “Indian Express” pair and Mahesh’s deliberate underperformance in the doubles team event against Taiwan cost us the gold. After this it was Leander’s
turn to go off but somehow good sense prevailed and them teaming up for the individual doubles event got us a gold medal. The final against the Thai twins was one of the most nail-biting ones I have watched in my life. It is not every day you get to see two legends - probably in their last hurrah together for the country in the Asian games - saving match point after match point in the second set and then going on to win the match in the third and deciding set against a lively young Thai duo. Unfortunately soon after the gold medal win Mahesh was at it again – whining.


Just how can there be so much bad blood between two of India’s greatest ever tennis players (for me they are legends and better than the Amritrajs and the Krishnans if we go by number of grand slam wins) who were once inseparable and called “Indian Express” is still a mystery. There were days when their exploits on the tennis courts worldwide made us proud and gave immense joy to a country that hardly produced homegrown world champions. Those chest bumps, fist punches and mid-air high fives simply energised the Indian Express duo and gave them that adrenaline rush they needed to make every Indian tennis fan go wild with joy. As all good things should end one day this one too ended but never thought this one would end so prematurely.


The track and field events were another huge disappointment. Compared to the last edition of Asian games when we won eight T&F gold medals, at Doha we won just one gold. Of all the silvers we won here, the men’s relay team silver was a real surprise, as I didn’t expect it. Anju Bobby George disappointed by ending up with just a silver medal.


Chess, which was introduced for the first time,
helped us add 2 gold medals. The three-member team that won the gold medals was from Andhra Pradesh.


For China its rich medal haul is a reflection of its prowess and supremacy as a sporting giant and not an embarrassment of riches. Totalitarian regimes have usually produced ‘better’ sportspersons than free regimes. During the cold war days the East European Communist countries led by the former USSR produced ‘better’ athletes than the West European Democratic countries. The two Germanys – Communist East and Democratic West - were the best examples to illustrate this point. The
1988 Olympics - where both the blocks participated - brought out the difference in the German athletes. East Germany with 37 gold was second in the medals tally and West Germany with just 11 gold was at fifth. It was only after the end of the Cold War did the world get to see the elaborate training regime the Communist countries had for their athletes. It was a regime where usage of banned performance enhancing drugs was the norm. This was something the free world always suspected and today it is suspected the same with China.


India’s 54 medals (10G 18S 26B) are certainly going to make the sports ministry and officials very happy. However the thirteen medals won by the athletes of a particular state has not only embarrassed the sports body of that state but also made them a worried lot. The
strapped for cash Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh has to cough up the promised cash prizes for the medal winners from the state. Former CM C. Naidu had promised Rs.10 Lakhs for a Gold, Rs.7.5 Lakhs for a Silver and Rs.5 Lakhs for a Bronze for medal winners in Olympics, Asian Games, etc!

Dec 11, 2006

Cartoon Speak: Flying Coffin Housing Society

Courtesy: The Times of India

Shameless!

PM Manmohan Singh’s speech at the National Development Commission meeting has been twisted out of context and given a politically volatile color by the media and sensing the electoral gains this controversy could give them the BJP has predictably and gleefully latched on to it. This is what the PM said:



"I believe our collective priorities are clear: agriculture, irrigation and water resources, health, education, critical investment in rural infrastructure, and the essential public investment needs of general infrastructure, along with programmes for the uplift of SCs/STs, other backward classes, minorities and women and children. The component plans for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will need to be revitalised.


"We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources. The Centre has a myriad other responsibilities whose demands will have to be fitted within the over-all resource availability."

And this is what the media twisted it into:

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh courted controversy in his address at the National Development Council on Saturday by saying that Muslims should have the first claim on the country's resources.


There's a split down the middle over the Sachar panel's report. Muslims are in such a miserable state that the Prime Minister wants top priority for minority development schemes. At the National Development Council meeting attended by most chief ministers, Manmohan Singh was emphatic.


“We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources,” Singh said.


Most of the headlines screamed like this:


Muslims must have first claim on resources: PM

As a consequence of this unnecessary controversy about Rs 1.23 crores of the taxpayers’ money have gone up in smoke because BJP decided to disrupt the Parliament today for political dividends and both houses had to be adjourned for the day.

The whole development is condemnable. In this first place the PM himself had no right to make such a statement. One of the fundamental rights of the citizens guaranteed by the Constitution is the right to equality. The PM’s statement completely violates this right of the citizen. Every citizen of this country has equal right on the resourses of this country and not just the underprivileged or the minorities.

It was very clear to anyone who heard the PM speak yesterday. Whichever journalist wrote that news report clearly wasn’t a logical person. Either he/she was unable to follow what the PM said due to his/her poor command over the language or the devil in him/her decided to twist the speech to give it a political colour.

This was all that the BJP was waiting for. The word “Muslim” simply rejuvenates them. With elections in politically important Uttar Pradesh and other states nearing, this twisted statement was something if stirred up could polarise the society on communal lines and consolidate the Hindu vote bank behind BJP. It is important for BJP to win the majority of the states that are going to poll next year if they want to mount any worthwhile challenge to the UPA in the next general elections. BJP already has a good chance of winning in Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Punjab and Gujarat.

It is Uttar Pradesh that is still a gamble. It is here the BJP vote bank has to be consolidated by communal issues, as anti-incumbency in this state will not benefit BJP because the Hindu vote in this state is already divided on caste lines. At present UP’s Muslim vote stands divided because the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are vying for their votes. If the Muslim vote splinters, then it is advantage BJP in many UP constituencies. If Mayawati and the Congress gang up, then the Muslim vote will consolidate behind this alliance. On the other hand if Mayawati and BJP gang up then the Muslim vote will split with major chunks coming to the Congress and SP. If status quo is maintained or Congress and BSP gang up, then BJP has no option but to polarise the UP vote bank if they want to win in UP. It is in this context the BJP is hoping to cash in on the distorted speech of the PM by the media by keeping the fire burning till it ultimately turns into an inferno.

As for the Congress it is better not to mention the word Muslim anywhere/anytime till the state elections are over. But I don't think it is possible for them to do so. After all some old habits die hard.

Dec 9, 2006

The Chinese Government of India

Earlier this year the Congress-led UPA government tried to ban 18 blogs and websites that it claimed was inimical to India. But on scrutiny it was revealed that the blogs and websites were actually inimical to the Congress Party! At that time as ISPs did not possess the technology needed block the sites, the ISPs implemented the ban at the domain level. This resulted in a public outcry and the govt was severely criticised as users were unable to access even other websites and blogs.

Now the govt has come up with a devious and hidden plan where it will be able to ban whatever it want on the internet and no one will know. In other words the Indian government - like their Chinese counterparts - will be censoring the World Wide Web and no more public outcry will it face.



Errant websites won’t be able to escape this net. The Centre is putting in place an advance screening system at the bandwidth landing stations to block individual websites and blogs perceived as threats to national security.

The technology to be put in place at the eight landing stations — which bring international bandwidth into the country — will be capable of blocking websites at a sub-domain level, thus saving internet service providers (ISPs) from a sweeping shutdown. “GoI has realised that the most effective way to keep out such sites is through URL-based blocking solutions installed at international gateways,” a highly placed source told ET.

After the system is in place, the department of telecommunications (DoT) can direct international long distance (ILD) players who own the landing stations to block a particular URL at the sub-domain level.

[….]

Sources also confirmed that DoT has circulated a draft report on Monday on ‘technical measurers for blocking of websites’ to key ministries, security agencies, leading ISPs and the three ILD players who own landing stations.

…ILD operators would be mandated to install equipment specified by DoT.
…The Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPA), the body representing all ISPs, has already welcomed the DoT move.[Economic Times]

The Unsung Hero of the Liberalisation Era

Devangshu Datta remembers the unsung hero of the liberalisation process kicked off in 1991 by the Congress govt led by PVN.


Whenever I look back at the early days of India's liberalisation, I cannot help but think of Sobieski. Napoleon, Talleyrand, Richelieu, Bismarck, Lenin are variously cited as the architects of modern Europe. But Sobieski and his Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian forces could well be described as the cornerstone. They played a crucial role in creating Europe's ethnic identity. If Sobieski had not won at Vienna, Turkey would have shared a border with Germany.


In the same fashion, Shibu Soren and his Jharkhand Mukti Morcha were the keystones of India's economic liberalisation. Manmohan Singh may have provided the intellectual impetus; Rao may have given the go-ahead. But if the JMM had refused to support Narasimha Rao's coalition in 1993, the liberalisation process would have stalled—perhaps, forever.

That show of support from a gang of four (one of whom was too inebriated to really function) offered three vital years for the concept of de-licensing to be internalised and become a “fact on the ground” for the Indian economy. After that, despite the lunacies that have occurred over the next 13 years, there hasn't been a rollback.

The other parallel between Sobieski and Soren is, of course, that neither cared two hoots for the pros and cons of the polities they respectively created and defended. They did it for monetary compensation. The motives hardly matter. If neither had put up his hands when he did, we would have lived in a very different world.


Unfortunately today the hero has fallen from grace because he became stingy when it came to sharing the booty he made for being the hero. But then look at the brighter side - he still remains in the History books!



Of course, the JMM and its “Guruji” have created history all over again. No Indian Cabinet Minister had ever been convicted of murder until the axe fell on Shibu-dada. Again, this makes Guruji an important footnote in history. Jha's murder occurred many years ago. The tangled tale of blackmail that arose out of the disposal of the slush funds JMM received in 1993 is murky even by the standards of Indian politics.

But the conviction of Guruji does send a message. It says that people in positions of power and privilege do not always get away with committing murder. They do quite often. But not always. And it warms the cockles of the heart to know that the Winter Session will be short of two (former) MPs serving jail sentences. It means democracy is still alive and well.[BS]

Dec 8, 2006

Dec 6, 2006

Empowering Tribal Women

Tribal women to run mini-hydel plants in Andhra Pradesh.

For the first time in the history of power sector in Andhra Pradesh, the tribal women today entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the state government to run four mini-hydel plants with a combined capacity of 6.6 Mw being set up at an investment of Rs 31.72 crore.


The newly formed Tribal Power Corporation (Tripco) by the state tribal welfare department has constituted project committees comprising representatives of women organisations from the village of the project site and also in the catchment areas for three projects of 1.2 Mw capacity each in the Rampachodavaram Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) area and one project of 3 Mw capacity under Bhadrachalam ITDA limits.


It may be recalled that the state government in the past had issued orders to not only make local tribals the stakeholders in these projects but also let the entire profit from these units go to the local tribals for developing their areas.


....the discoms will purchase the power while various agencies, including APTransco, APGenco and Non Conventional Energy Corporation of Andhra Pradesh (Nedcap) will assist the project committees in the smooth running of the mini-hydel projects.


....The state government agencies have concluded that there is a huge hydro power potential of up to 200 Mw capacity available in the tribal areas.


The state government has so far identified 79 potential locations with an estimated installed capacity of 142.8 Mw. Of this, detailed project reports for 21 locations with a combined capacity of 26.21 Mw at an outlay of Rs 139.23 crore have been sent to the ministry of non-conventional energy resources.[BS]

Stratfor's Analyses of Musharraf''s Kashmir Proposals

This is Stratfor's analyses of YAMM on Kashmir:

What is important about Musharraf's latest offer is its timing. The Pakistani president is facing considerable international pressure to prevent the Taliban and Kashmiri militants from using his country to stage attacks in Afghanistan and India, respectively. This issue has become particularly important in the wake of the NATO forces' inability to contain resurgent Taliban activity in Afghanistan. Coupled with the July 7 train bombings in Mumbai and increased Kashmiri militant activity in India overall, this places Musharraf in a difficult position. By making this offer, Musharraf hopes to counter accusations that Islamabad is backing militants while portraying India as the inflexible participant in the Indo-Pakistani talks.

Recently, we have seen a pattern emerge in Indo-Pakistani dealings over Kashmir: Pakistan urges India to begin serious negotiations to resolve the issue in hopes of gaining territorial adjustments. India reacts coldly and instead negotiates with the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), the main Kashmiri separatist alliance. The APHC is delighted to talk to New Delhi, but says it wants Islamabad in on the discussions. New Delhi responds by dragging its feet, which leads to renewed attacks by Kashmiri militants. India then blames Pakistan for the attacks and Islamabad responds by urging India to negotiate.

Musharraf knows his latest offer will not resonate with India. In reality, he has no concrete proposal -- he is just using backchannels and the media to float ideas. He is also exploiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent comment that New Delhi is against territorial adjustments but wants to make Kashmir's borders "irrelevant" -- offering his own formula for carrying out Singh's idea by taking it to the next level.

Musharraf does not actually believe India will take him up on this offer, but his long-term hope is that an autonomous Kashmir would tilt toward Pakistan, giving Islamabad influence in the region -- and bringing Pakistan close to its strategic goal of controlling Kashmir.

Throwing out such ideas also provides Pakistan with an opportunity to get ahead and shape the issue by creating a flurry of discourse while India refuses to accept any shifts in its policy or offer any counterproposals.

For now, however, the move allows Musharraf to throw the proverbial ball back in India's court. He hopes this will make India look bad, making it appear that India is rejecting Pakistan's bold overtures of peace. Such offers also allow Pakistan to continue to avoid taking any real steps to stem militant activity -- and even to continue backing militants -- without the fear of an Indian backlash.

This move not only benefits Musharraf on the foreign policy front, but also helps him at home with his attempts to seem in control of the situation despite mounting problems. Appearing to effectively manage Pakistan's relations with India allows Musharraf to sustain his support in both civil and military circles and keep the opposition divided, and thus at bay.


So this one was indeed a plant.

Dec 5, 2006

A Joke or A Plant?



....After losing more than 19,000 fighters, Kashmir’s armed terrorism has run into a series of problems, forcing them to drastically change their strategy.

Pakistan, from the accounts of officials and terrorists, has clamped down on armed training camps on its territory. Guides for terrorists, who lead them through mountains, are becoming hard to get.
Infiltration is down and local recruitment is a trickle, bringing the number of terrorists in Kashmir down to between 600 and 700, the police say. If true, that would be their lowest number ever in the insurgency.[HT]



Is this the work of an illinformed journalist or a carefully crafted plant when you consider this:



Musharraf's latest proposals for solving the Kashmir problem:
  • Kashmir will have the same borders but people will be allowed to move freely back and forth in the region
  • The region will have self-governance or autonomy, but not independence
  • Troops will be withdrawn from the region in a staggered manner
  • A joint supervision mechanism will be set up, with India, Pakistan and Kashmir represented



Dec 4, 2006

Cartoon Speak: God Doesn't Discriminate

Courtesy: The Hindu.

I really think that god loves both the political fronts of India - NDA and UPA - equally. Both have had their share of bad luck equally. Like Natwar's Oil Scam, the Mahajans Controversy, etc.

Here is a nice article on Navjot Singh Sidhu from IE.

India Set for Huge E-Commerce Growth

With 38–40 million Internet users in India today, which is expected to grow at a very fast pace to 100 million by 2007-08, e-commerce in India is expected to grow exponentially.


E-commerce in India has almost touched the Rs 5,000 crore mark and is expected to garner around Rs 9,500 crore by 2007.


This is despite the infrastructure constraints the country’s online community faces and the recent figures put out by the Internet and Mobile Association of India that estimate the Indian e-commerce market to touch Rs 2,300 crore (around 10 per cent of the organised Indian retail market) by 2006-2007, which itself is a 95 per cent rise over last year’s figure of Rs 1,180 crore and an over-300 per cent rise over the figure for 2004-05.


The discrepancy in figures arises from the fact that online travel alone, which accounted for $800 million (a little over Rs 3,600 crore) in 2006, has not been accounted for, says Deep Kalra, founder and CEO, MakeMyTrip.com.


This figure itself is poised to double next year. Do the maths for “all services that are being bought online” and you get a figure of around Rs 9,500 crore.


Further, the figures are credible if you consider the following facts: An estimated Rs 30 crore of air and rail tickets are sold online in India every day; a jewellery piece sells every 5 minutes, a mobile handset every 8 minutes and a car every 9 hours on eBay; over Rs 5,000 crore worth of business (domestic and international) materialised through leads generated by Indiamart.com during the last one year.


ICICI Bank alone conducted 17,000 online transactions a day, which is projected to rise to 70,000 transactions a day by 2007, says a source.


Net banking transactions with ICICI Bank account for a little less than Rs 100 crore per month and credit card transactions account for Rs 300 crore per month.


Last year, business-to-customer transactions with the bank accounted for Rs 2,400 crore. This figure is expected to double by March 2007.


[….]


Services like Net banking (32 per cent), bill payments (18 per cent), stock trading (15 per cent), job search (51 per cent), and matrimonial search (15 per cent) have seen tremendous rises.


[….]


On the downside, the country has only around 40 million Internet users (expected to rise to 150-200 million by 2008, depending on whose numbers one follows), around 15 million personal computers, and 12,000 cybercafes (other estimates, though, peg them at around 90,000 to 100,000).


Besides, the country does not have a very healthy broadband pipe (around 2 million subscribers, slated to rise to 20 million by 2010).


Currently, around 800,000 people transact on the Internet every month…. [Business Standard]






Related Links: Internet and Mobile Association of India
e-commerce report. Find out what the rural India is using the net for other than agriculture matters.

December 4 is India's Navy Day


The Navy War Memorial on the Beach Road, Visakhapatnam.

Today, the fourth of December is observed by the Indian Navy as Navy Day. This marks India's Naval victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.




PNS Ghazi's Remains

It was on the same day in 1971 that a Pakistan Naval Submarine PNS Ghazi was sunk off Visakhapatnam harbour. However, how the submarine sunk is still a controversy. India claimed it was sunk by its ship INS Rajput but Pakistan claimed that it was sunk when the mines it was laying at Vizag harbour exploded accidentally.

Here is an article on the Naval War Museum in Visakhaptnam.

Surya Kirans' take to the skies during the rehearsal for Navy Day in Visakhapatnam on Sunday. The team of nine Kiran Mark II class aircraft will be performing aerobatics on Navy Day on Monday.

A Military Coup India Should Support

The signs from the Pacific nation of Fiji indicate that Commander Voreqe Bainimarama’s promised military coup is underway. One of the four demands of the commander is the abandoning of the bills that favours the indigenous Fijians over the ethnic Indian minority on land rights. The previous coups had all undermined the interests of the ethnic Fijian Indians.

India has always supported democracy movements across the world except where India has its national interests. Fiji is in the faraway Pacific Ocean but it is in India’s interest to support this coup in Fiji because we have an obligation to make sure that no Indian – NRI’s or PIOs – live the life of second-class citizens anywhere in the world.

Dec 1, 2006

Paying to Wait

Here is one more reason why the government should get out of the aviation sector:


Domestic travelling is going to be dearer from tomorrow as airlines are contemplating a congestion surcharge of Rs 150 per ticket, in addition to existing fuel surcharge of Rs 750.
A majority of domestic airlines are likely to impose the surcharge from December 1, while the rest will follow suit in a week.
This means a passenger will have to shell out Rs 1,125 including PSF (passenger service fee), besides basic one-way fare.
The proposed congestion surcharge is aimed at retrieving huge fuel burn for airlines during delays ranging between 20 and 45 minutes owing to congestion at metro airports.
[....]
....“It is illogical to penalise travellers for poor infrastructure at Indian airports. Airlines have already increased fuel surcharge and basic fares. This will slowdown the domestic travel.”
Air Deccan Managing Director Gorur Ramaswami Gopinath said, “There is an average delay of 20-40 minutes per flight at metro airports. Just one-minute delay costs Rs 2,100 owing to additional fuel burn for a smallest Airbus aircraft A320.”
He said this also added environment pollution, besides dent in the pocket of airline operator.
“Airports of the country are not being able to keep pace with the growth of airlines. There are no parallel taxi ways at Indian airports to ease the congestion,” he added. [Business Standard]

Cartoon Speak: Mission Accomplished

Courtesy: DNA. Click on the image for a larger view.

Here is Arati R Jerath on the damage Arjun Singh has caused his party, Congress (I) with his idiotic decisions. This was something foretold some time ago.

Lying In Wait

The spiralling violence arising out of the protest against the brutal rape and killing of a Dalit family in Kherlanji Maharashtra could, according to Stratfor, be used by Islamist terrorists to incite Hindu-Muslim riots by staging an attack on Hindus in Maharashtra. They are urging companies in Maharashtra to shut down their business until the demonstration are brought under control. Now this warning to companies to shut down could be farfetched but the possibility of Islamist terrorists using the disturbances to provoke riots is very much possible. Also Uttar Pradesh, which has a sizeable Dalit population, should also be on watch as UP has become a terror sanctuary for Islamist terrorists.

These types of protests have been known to break out spontaneously in India, but Islamist militant groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), have been desperately trying to incite communal tensions in recent months by attacking both Hindus and Muslims, particularly in Maharashtra, where Hindu-Muslim strife runs deep. The July railway attacks in Mumbai and the September mosque bombings in Malegaon failed to produce the reaction that Kashmiri militant groups, such as LeT, Al Badr and Jaish-e-Mohammed, had anticipated. The objective of these groups is to provoke riots between Hindus and Muslims across India in order to enflame Muslim anger and revitalize the Kashmir cause.

There is a possibility these groups could take advantage of the current instability to stage an attack in order to further escalate the riots while security forces are preoccupied. Companies operating in Maharashtra should be aware of this threat and are urged to shut down their businesses until the demonstrations are brought under control.[Stratfor]