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The Indian EXPRESS


HROUGH Fridays order on general anti-avoidance rules (GAAR), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has indicated that he is keen to reverse the governments taxation policies from a collection-focused domain to an investor-friendly domain. By giving the committee headed by Parthasarathi Shome the mandate to rewrite tax laws relating to foreign investors in the Indian capital markets, Singh has made this clear. More notably, this is the second order on the controversial subject that Singh has issued within 15 days of taking over the additional responsibility of the finance ministry a keen acknowledgment of the fact that this is a piece of tax legislation introduced in Budget 2012-13 that can potentially undo the regime of predictable and stable tax policies India had begun to build over the past decade and more. The order issued on Friday allows the four-member committee to effectively junk the entire set of draft GAAR guidelines issued by the finance secretary with unusual gusto on July 1, write a fresh set and invite comments thereon. To be sure, there is a need for more consultation on the rules and for greater clarity on many fronts.

Now PM must tackle retrospective tax. Only then will he find space to revamp long-term fiscal policies
There are concerns about whether unilateral action by an arm of the government, in this case the revenue department, can override a treaty with another nation in this case, Mauritius approved by Parliament. This is exactly what the finance ministry had set out to do by introducing the provisions in the Finance Bill. The visits by the foreign minister of Mauritius and the prime minister of Singapore in the same fortnight must have helped Singh in drawing up his position. Both visitors, coming from the two capitals from where 51 per cent of the inflow of foreign capital into the Indian stock market takes place, raised these concerns with the Indian PM. GAAR has also caused collateral damage. India intended to use the Singapore PMs visit to press for more access for Indian skilled labour under the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. But while that issue was duly raised, the focus lay elsewhere, much to Indias disadvantage. The elephant in the room is, of course, the issue of retrospective tax. Singh must tackle that too. Only then will he find the space to move on to more long-term fiscal policies like introduction of GST.

GAAR riddance

In Gujarat, the Congress is imprisoned by its own lack of conviction. It is still not bracing for a fight
tionlessness are Congress afflictions in most states, they are especially debilitating in Gujarat. In principle, this should have been the state where the Congress, weighed down by a lacklustre stint in power at the Centre and unremarkable performance in the states it rules, readies for a bracing battle. Narendra Modis dominance in the state is arguably dented by incumbency he will be making his third electoral outing as chief minister this year. Yet, the Congress appears to have tied its own hands and is doing nothing to wriggle free. It has surmised that it cannot enter the fray flying the flag of secularism any communal polarisation ends up benefiting Modi, also because of the Congresss own crisis of credibility. But if the fight is not to be on secular grounds, what will it be on? At the very least, as Vaghela has pointed out, with barely six months left for polls, the Congress should have finished its homework with regard to its candidates. That the party appears not to have moved at all since the failed campaigns of 2002 and 2007 in an arena that could have hosted its showpiece bout, is confirmation of its standstill in Gujarat and elsewhere.

Standing still

N MANY ways, Shankersinh Vaghela exemplifies the Congress predicament in Gujarat. For long a BJP leader and then its flamboyant rebel who migrated to the Congress, he is officially in charge as chairman of the Gujarat Congress Campaign Committee, even as he holds a part time Delhi job as ITDC chairman. In other words, the Congresss chief strategist is a leader who was neither locally nurtured in the party, nor mandated to throw himself fulltime into the fight. In an interview to this paper, Vaghela has expressed his frustration with the Congresss inexplicable holding back in Gujarat. He came close to quitting the party to join the NCP last year, he has revealed, and earlier considered a return to the BJP. While Vaghelas political vaults reflect his own personal calculations as well, his confessions underscore a larger point: the Congress in Gujarat is a dispirited force, unable to claw its way back into the reckoning, because as Vaghela suggests, it continues to lack the stomach for a fight. While the absence of a confident local level leadership of its own, or factionalism and political direc-

HE late Edward S. Behr (Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English? besides much else), a delightfully versatile journalist-writer, used to tell us, fellow travellers in conflict zones, a story from his days as a captain in the Indian Armys Garhwal regiment. Apparently, a jawan of his battalion fired and killed two men leading a peaceful anti-Partition procession in Peshawar in 1947. The jawan had fired apparently without provocation, and he had fired to kill, rather than shoot at the legs as the instructions in those angry days were. At the court martial, the jawans defence was very simple. These two guys were leading the procession. The moment they saw us, they unbuttoned their shirts, turned their bare chests at us, and started shouting, chhaati mein goli maaro (shoot me in the chest), chhaati mein goli maaro. So, the earnest Garhwali shot them in the chest. We do not know what view the court martial took of this defence. But we do know for sure that the two protesters with bared chests died on the spot. Why, then, are we in the Indian media now walking around like those two unfortunate Pathans? For several months now, we are ourselves holding discussions, debates, seminars, even inviting politicians, high officials, eminent regulators and the sort, to discuss the idea of media regulation. At all these, we acknowledge that we have a problem. We also, naam ke vaaste, keep on repeating that a state-mandated or -controlled regulator is not what we want. Yet, we call politicians and retired judges to seek their views. They hold forth on how much they respect and value the freedom of the press, but how they also share our view that the time has come for some kind of regulation, some institutional mechanism to ensure accountability. Of course, at a time when everybody, from politicians to the judiciary, is being confronted with new instruments of accountability, how can the media, now so powerful, be left out? And the permanent footnote: but, of course, we (the politicalbureaucratic class) should do nothing about it. Irrespective of who is speaking, the Congress or the BJP, this is always spoken with that Gotcha! smirk. So why are we Indian journalists, among the most independent and powerful in the world, walking around with chests bared, asking the political class to shoot? HE argument is, baba, we must do this, we must engage the politicians, the state, the judiciary. If we dont do anything ourselves, they will move in and we will have nowhere to hide. Truth is, we flatter the establishment. This is undoubtedly the weakest fullterm government in our history ever. This is also our most nonfunctional parliament. It cannot pass the simplest of populist legislation. This establishment has made two attempts to challenge the media, and in each case the

Shoot me, the messenger

National Interest
Why is Indian media suddenly nervous of its own power? Why is it promoting the idea of its regulation?
retreat has been immediate. The group of ministers on the media, of which nobody has fully understood the purpose, was constituted with some enthusiasm, but has hardly ever met. Then we saw that meticulously drafted private members bill to regulate the media, from the Congress partys once-rising young star Meenakshi Natarajan, and it was dumped at once. In fact, the only damage it should end up causing is to her operative, as I was a member of one, and it was such a bloody mess. It still is. Then what is it that we want? And do we really need something to regulate ourselves, to hold us accountable? Why are we journalists having come out in the open, and discovered the unprecedented, unchallenged expanse of our freedoms behaving as if we are suddenly struck with stagefright? Or, could it just be that

EDITOR Letter of the

Letters to the

The argument is, baba, we must do this, we must engage the politicians, the state, the judiciary. If we dont do anything ourselves, they will move in and we will have nowhere to hide. Truth is, we flatter the establishment. This is undoubtedly the weakest full-term government in our history ever. This is also our most non-functional parliament. It cannot pass the simplest of populist legislation. This establishment has made two attempts to challenge the media, and in each case the retreat has been immediate.
own political career, unless, indeed, it was some kind of a command performance. In short, this is not an establishment that can challenge our freedoms, or even threaten to regulate the news media in any manner whatsoever. If their idea of striking terror in our hearts was the appointment of Justice Markandey Katju as the new chairman of the Press Council, it has only underlined the utter toothlessness of the Press Council of India, and just as well. We will never submit to a regulatory body mandated, financed and run by the government. Justice Katju mostly just talks, and we are carrying a bad conscience, which is making us talk of regulation of some sort, as if to seek anticipatory bail, if not a full plea bargain. HE fact is, we do have a problem. While there is a lot of praise for the great work the media has done in busting corruption, fighting social evils and improving transparency and accountability, our arrogance has grown into hubris. No medium can claim to be holier than the other. Paid news is the greatest crime in the history of the Indian media, it still goes on, is mostly monopo-

EARLY every Indian woman may have experienced sexual harassment on the street, but a recent incident in Guwahati has galvanised a rare collective anger. A young girl, who was celebrating a friends birthday at a local bar, protested lewd remarks made by a man. As she stepped out of the premises, he and a group of men encircled and sexually assaulted her, in full public view. More men passing by joined the attack. For an awful half hour, nobody intervened save a TV news reporter, who recorded the event. The video was broadcast on Guwahatis News Live, and went viral. Amid the outpouring of disgust and anger, many brought up that unresolved quandary should the cameraperson have recorded the crime, or tried to save her? The documentary evidence is bound to be crucial for the police to identify the assaulters, but should it be aired across the nation? Would the victim want it relived over and

A TV clip brought home the sexual violence in Guwahati. It will, hopefully, ensure accountability
over again? The channels editor has defended his reporters judgment call and rightly pointed out that the arrests were made only because of the incriminating visuals. It is a fact that televised images can stir public conscience in an effective way, and will now make sure that the police and administration in Guwahati do not slack off in bringing these assaulters to account their faces have been put on posters, as the police enlists citizens support in finding them. This video clip was a raw, irrefutable piece of information about sexual violence in Guwahati, and proof that these particular men committed it. Of course, TV cameras have been put to sleazier use local channels have run campaigns, filming couples in parks or women who choose to live more freely than their repressive society would appreciate. This time, though, the camera is responsible for bringing a shady street in Guwahati into relentless national focus.

Street-eye view

for heavens sake, he is not a bore, or a pinko revolutionary, or both. We have seen some like that at the head of the PCI as well, including and notably Justice P.B. Sawant whose main bugbear was not our indiscretions, but who owned our newspapers. He wasted most of his tenure promoting hare-brained ideas like newspapers run by journalist cooperatives. I did try to ask him at the odd seminar if he had seen us journalists run even a housing co-

The fact is, we do have a problem. While there is a lot of praise for the great work the media has done in busting corruption, fighting social evils and improving transparency and accountability, our arrogance has grown into hubris. No medium can claim to be holier than the other. Paid news is the greatest crime in the history of the Indian media, it still goes on, is mostly monopolised by print. Sponsored pages, advertorials, product placements are published by many without even a hint of disclosure.

lised by print. Sponsored pages, advertorials and product placements are published by many without even a hint of disclosure. People are not stupid. They notice and they are angry. There is no point then saying that, oh, this is a terrible thing, I know, but what can I do, at least I never do this. But people do not make such distinctions between good and bad guys. They think that we, by and large, have become dishonest and greedy.

People also know the growing new phenomenon in Indian media, where several owners have acquired interests in businesses much more lucrative than the media, but where their newspapers and channels can be forcemultipliers. Think of mining, property, power plants, all kinds of new money-printing areas where governments retain great discretionary powers. Fourth estate to real estate (and also vice versa) is the new ticket to riches in the media. You travel around the country, particularly the Hindi heartland, and ordinary people will let you know they are not missing any of this. On the electronic side, many TV anchors and reporters have now graduated from being mere inquisitors to judgeexecutioners. They wag their fingers at their powerful quarry, and the question is always some variation on the same theme: why arent you admitting on this channel, now, that you are corrupt? Corrupt they might be, but arent they entitled to some usual journalistic courtesies? Like the right to reply? God knows, Suresh Kalmadi may have given you and the CBI a hundred reasons to suspect that he is corrupt. But who has given us the right to call him congenitally corrupt? People watch this too and, while they are angry with the political classes, they are getting fed up with our arrogance too. In India, we do not have any specific laws guaranteeing media freedoms. Our freedoms, essentially, are drawn from a postEmergency social contract between us and the people of India who decided they will never let their press be gagged. These freedoms have been reinforced and expanded by the Supreme Court. Today both are irritated with us. The Supreme Court is examining guidelines for us to cover judicial proceedings. People, by and large, are taking note of our corruption mainly paid news and our arrogance. Our lifeline, that social contract with the people of India, is, therefore, under strain. Its not just a contract, its the foundation of our democracy, the guarantor of the peoples right to know. Regulation will have the chilling power of prior restraint, often considered the worst form of censorship, where you gag yourself, where you dont publish because you dont know how the regulator government, judicial, expert, call it whatever will react. Any regulator will, by its very existence, need to define who a journalist is for him or her to be regulated. In other words, not just the newsrooms freedoms but everyones freedom of expression will be put to test. The answers lie with us. We have to introspect, clean up our act, bring back the old-fashioned editorial intermediation to our newsrooms. Of course, we will only be held accountable to our own audiences, and we have to go back to them with some humility. At the same time, we have to keep the establishment out of this debate. They may never like our message but we cannot invite them to shoot us, the messenger.


Admit it

admission procedure, a preliminary test, along with cutoffs, would be better suited to assess the quality of students being admitted. It would give aspirants from state boards, where the marking is stricter, a fighting chance of admission in DU. It is time to take stock of the situation and introduce a better admission procedure one that will help DU attract the best talent and maintain its position as a premier university in India. Altamash Aiman New Delhi

In Delhi Universitys

Towering figure

Dara Singh, who passed away on July 12, will be mourned by many fans (Undefeated till the end, IE, July 13). From akharas to films to television, he tasted success in everything he did. As children, we grew up hearing the names of wrestlers like Dara Singh and King Kong. Singh was synonymous with wrestling in India, having fought as many as 500 matches. People thronged wrestling arenas just to get a glimpse of him. Cinema and TV added to his fan club. In popular culture, the figure of Hanuman was reinvented in Dara Singhs image after he played the mythological character in a televised version of the Ramayana. Ganapathi Bhat Akola

ACTOR and wrestler

Grim prospects


sworn in as Karnataka chief Minister (IE, July 13), the frequent change of leadership in the BJP government in Karnataka has thrown into question the partys ability to form a stable and durable Union government if it comes to power in the next general elections. This will be especially difficult if there is a coalition government. When it cannot stand up to its own regional leaders, how can it handle coalition partners? Satwant Kaur Mahilpur

Case of apathy

THE cases of athlete

Will Durant

The political machine triumphs because it is a united minority acting against a divided majority.

HEN South Sudan declared independence from Sudan one year ago, it was well understood that the struggle to build a functioning new state would be long and hard. What was not understood was how much both countries would do to sabotage each other and themselves in a destructive game of cross-border attacks and economic showdowns. With independence, South Sudan inherited most of the former countrys oil fields. But South Sudan is landlocked and Sudan controls the pipeline needed to get that oil - the lifeblood for both governments - to market. In January, South Sudan shut down oil production in a dispute with Sudan over how much it should pay to transport its crude oil through Sudans pipeline. In the months since, the two countries still have not agreed on a formula to share oil profits and each seems to be waiting for the other to blink a fools game if there ever was one. South Sudans economy was weak to begin with, and Sudans is now in free fall. Hunger is getting worse in both places, and so is political instability. Deprived of oil income, Sudan last month announced that it could no longer subsidise gas, sending prices for fuel and other goods soaring. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is having trouble paying his army. And over the past few weeks, thousands of protesters have demonstrated against the government, prompting a crackdown. In South Sudan, the government has begun to get tougher about collecting income taxes to finance basic services. People are understandably

Sudan and South Sudan are caught up in a destructive game

reluctant to pay when the government is known for rampant mismanagement and corruption. President Salva Kiir recently urged officials to return $4 billion in stolen government money. Officials also suggested that any budget shortfall would be filled by international donors. So far, that doesnt seem to be happening, and shouldnt. South Sudan, along with Sudan, created this crisis, and they have the means to fix it. The two sides fought a civil war that killed more than two million people before a peace deal in 2005. In the past year, they barely avoided a return to all-out conflict. Violence continues in Darfur and in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, a rebel-held area where the Khartoum government is trying to bomb and starve the people into submission. Thousands have been displaced. In April, South Sudans army occupied an oilproducing region claimed by Sudan and brought the countries close to a new war. South Sudan backed off after the United Nations threatened sanctions. The joy that accompanied South Sudans hard-won freedom has faded. The United States and other countries that advocated independence need to keep working with both sides to resolve disputes over oil, borders and protections for minorities. Theres no changing the reality that these two nations are mutually dependent, now and long into the future. From a leader in the New York Times

The folly of two nations

Pinki Pramanik and student Punita Mistry, of Visva-Bharatis Patha Bhavan school, highlight the insensitivity of our law-enforcement agencies. The West Bengal police were extremely inept in handling both cases. It is worrying that such apathy and insensitivity is prevalent in police forces in other cities as well. Bhagwan Thadani Mumbai

Team spirit



the country are delighted by the news that veteran cricketer Rahul Dravid has been nominated for the Khel Ratna Award (BCCI to nominate Dravid for Khel Ratna, Yuvi for Arjuna, IE, July 7). As recently observed by the commentator Greg Chappell, if Dravid had received more support when he was captain of the national cricket team, Indian cricket would have consolidated its position in the international stage much earlier. Nevertheless, Dravid always put the team before himself. The cricketer deserves much more credit than he has got. C.N.N. Nair Mumbai