Monthly Archives: February 2010

Agni-III test fired successfully

Agni-III Test Fired
Agni-III Test Fired

India on Sunday morning successfully test fired its nuclear-capable Agni-III ballistic missile. The test  took place from the Wheeler Island, off the coast of Orissa. The missile has a range of  range of more than 3,000 km.

This is the fourth  test for the Agni-III which is  17-metres long, 2 metres in diameter and 50 tonnes in weight. It is  powered by a two-stage solid propellant system.  It can carry a payyload of 1.5 tonnes which is protected by heat shield.

The trajectory of the missile  was monitored from a network of telemetry stations, electro-optic systems and  radars located along the East Coast, at Port Blair and by Naval ships anchored near the impact point in the down range area.

Sehwag needs some tact

By Ramu Sharma

Virendra Sehwag with his usual lack of tact and diplomacy   dismissed Bangladesh’s potential as a Test combination before the series against India recently. He and a few others in the Indian ranks need to be taught the finer points of how and what to say on such occasions. Fortunately he is not a permanent captain of India.   Yet for all that he has reasons to hide his face. Bangladesh may have lost the two-match series 0-2 but they made sure India did not have it all their way.   It was no cakewalk.

Where Bangladesh failed was to play as a team. Individually their medium pacers in first Test and a handful of batsmen all but upstaged the Indian team but unfortunately they have yet to jell as a combination. What Bangladesh proved is that they are a very improved country and with more experience at the Test level they will soon be able to prove to the world that they are no pushovers, irrespective of the Sehwags of the day.

In the immediate future Bangladesh may on more occasions show improvement in limited overs cricket with some very fine attacking players and bowlers who could disturb the best of batsmen in the world. Their showing in the tri-series with Sri Lanka as the third team was proof enough of the tremendous improvement the team has made in recent years.

From the Indian point of view the tour went off without much problems though it exposed once again the limitations in the bowling in particular. Zeeshan’s performance was of course a plus point and the fact that Ishant Sharma showed promise of a return to form should help the selectors in identifying the pace attack without much worry. Whether the two would be equally effective against South Africa in the coming month is a big question?

The main worry for India is  in batting. That the country depends on the old brigade was brought home in no uncertain manner. But is not a good sign that players in mid-thirties continue to dominate the batting. Agreed Sehwag and Gambhir did well, latter more so but one expects a little more consistency from Yuvraj Singh. He is no doubt a very talented player but needs to be more consistent. One cannot expect Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman to continue to   build and save for ever.

The series against South Africa is India’s first big Test after jumping to the top of the table and it should be used to try and plug the loopholes so obvious in the bowling and batting ranks

Marathi Manoos challenges India’s plurality

By Tushar Pandit

There is a curious fact about the countrywide outrage at the Shiv Sena family’s call for ‘Maharashtra for the Marathi Manoos’, the Manoos being defined as persons ‘born in Marathi families’. The Sainiks of Mumbai, led by the redoubtable Bal Thackeray and his nephew Raj, have a long list of prominent public figures dubbed by them as the enemies of the Marathi Manoos. But their actions do not invite any vigorous and unified response from the people or political parties.

The list of the ‘enemies’ of the Marathi Manoos, prepared by the Shiv Sena family, includes a trio of Bollywood stars, all with the names ending with ‘Khan’, and the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Rahul Gandhi, who is also said to be biding time to take over the reins of the country.  By inference, the name of the Bollywood ‘living legend’ Amitabh Bachhan, can also be added to this list since he belongs to a Hindi-speaking family from Allahabad, though he is said to enjoy good personal rapport with the Thackeray clan chief.  All these figures have considerable fan following, not to speak of their own army of loyal supporters.

Yet very little or nothing has been seen by way of large scale protests that will establish that the utter parochialism of the slogans raised by the Thackeray family of Mumbai, uncle Bal Thackeray and nephew Raj Thackeray, is deeply resented by, if not the majority, at least a very large section of people in the country and also in India’s commercial capital.

This silence would encourage two conclusions: a sense of fear among the potential protestors because the Shiv Sainiks are quite fond of taking law into their hands while the law enforcing agencies twiddle their thumbs; or a kind of indifference among the people of India and Mumbai because for them getting on with their lives comes first.

The Congress shocked the country by allowing the chief minister of Maharashtra to suggest that taxi drivers of Mumbai—70 percent of them from UP and Bihar–would not be allowed to ply their vehicles unless they learned to read, write and speak Marathi.  The other major political force in Maharashtra, the Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar has long been suspected of having many closet sympathisers of the Shiv Sena. Some of the top NCP leaders are former Shiv Sena members.

Surprisingly, of all the political parties it is the Sangh Parivar which has sounded the first loud bugle against the war cries of the Shiv Sainiks. The RSS followed by the BJP did take the lead in what may be called a less ambiguous denunciation of the Marathi Manoos slogans of the Thackeray family. It may be a little too early to applaud them for this. The Sangh Parivar in Maharashtra has not shown much enthusiasm for the words coming out of the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, the second capital of the state. Many commentators want to wait till the end of the polls in Bihar to decide whether the Sangh Parivar is really ready and willing to tame the ‘tigers’ of Shiv Sena.

In recent years Mumbai has seen a lot of tragedies, mostly terrorist attacks and one horrible deluge. The people of the city were very quick to recover from the shocks of each of these tragedies. It is said that the diatribe launched by the champion of the Marathi Manoos against the non-Marathi Manoos will not materially alter the life and character of the ‘maximum’ city.

That is perhaps the dominant view of the ordinary people living in the city. But it may no longer be correct to ignore the nature of threat posed by the Shiv Sena family. It is a family that has adopted a toxic divisive political agenda that shakes the foundation of Indian plurality, not just the cosmopolitan character of Mumbai.

The Khans of Bollywood have been asked to migrate to Pakistan because they have expressed their opinion on the exclusion of Pakistani cricket players from the recent Indian premier League ‘auction’ of cricket players. Sachin Tendulkar, who is an Indian—and Marathi–icon has been lambasted for speaking up for the people of India and its constitution. Rahul Gandhi has been asked where he was when Pakistani terrorists were attacking Mumbai, implying thereby the Shiv Sena would have preferred to see him battling the terrorists in Mumbai on 26/11 in 2008, instead of sitting in his drawing room watching television — as no doubt was the Thackeray family.

The divided Thackeray family is united in narrowing down their political agenda based on crass exploitation of the most form of chauvinism. The two Thackeray political stalwarts make no bones about the fact that nobody other than the Marathi-born Manoos has a right to work and live in Mumbai and the state of Maharashtra. Damn the Indian constitution if it guarantees freedom of movement for the citizens of the country. As the BJP, an ally of the Shiv Sena, has said, the Thackerays are looking for an Article 370 type special status for the state of Maharashtra. Never mind their opposition to this constitutional provision as applied to Jammu and Kashmir.

Of course, Mumbai is not likely to be given an exclusive status. But by continuously ignoring the spate of pernicious political slogans raised by one or the other branch of the Shiv Sena the fissiparous tendencies latent among many Indians may be getting encouragement.

That is why the spectacle of the Khans of Mumbai being left alone to fight the battle against the Thackerays and their Sainiks shows a dangerous trend. Indians are becoming indifferent to the pulls being created by various cries for dividing the country on narrow considerations.

It is no less worrisome if the fear of physical harm from the Sainiks withholds the majority from protesting against the Thackeray brand of politics. The Thackerays are striking at the unity and integrity of the country. Its preservation is the duty of all, regardless of the perils involved in doing so.

B’desh hangs Mujib’s killers

By Atul Cowshish

The execution of five men (of the total of 12 accused) assassins of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, widely regarded as the liberator of Bangladesh from the clutches of Pakistan in 1971, was the culmination of a very long and patient efforts to bring to justice those who had committed one of the most gruesome political murders in the subcontinent. They had gunned down the ‘Bangabandhu’, as Mujib was known, and most of his family members, including a 10-year-old son, Russell, on August 15, 1975. Only two of his daughters, one of them the present Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, had escaped the massacre because both of them were abroad at the time.

Reports from Dhaka said that a sizeable crowd had gathered outside the jail where the five former army officers were hanged. The crowd had raised slogans hailing the Bangabandhu and reportedly pelted stones at the vans carrying the bodies of the executed men, all former army officers. Officials of the ruling Awami League were quick to declare that they welcomed the death sentence given to the five men only because it was the culmination of their efforts to bring to justice the people who had shamed the new nation by assassinating the first president of the country.

The sense of fulfilment of a promise given by the Awami League before the elections that brought the party back to power would, however, not be complete till the six other men accused of the same crime are also brought to justice. These men are living abroad. They, like the other plotters of Mujib killing, were able to not only leave the country but also lead a good life as the regime that took over after the assassination of Mujib had given them immunity from arrest and then offered them diplomatic assignments. One of the countries where these fugitives from law sought refuge is Pakistan. Canada is another country that allowed the alleged assassins to stay on.

The Bangladesh government says that it is satisfied with the ‘cooperation’ extended by Canadian authorities who are ready to extradite the assassins to Bangladesh. Only some legal formalities have to be completed before Ottawa hands over the Bangabandhu’s assassin/assassins over to Dhaka. Hopefully, other countries where the fugitives have sought protection will also send them back to Bangladesh. But Pakistan can well drag its feet.

Pakistan has always been cultivating elements in Bangladesh who are anti-Awami League, a party seen as soft towards India, if not seen as outright pro-Indian. There are two ways in which Pakistan will, however, extricate itself from any controversy about extraditing the fugitives to Bangladesh.

One, Pakistan can replicate the methods it has employed to frustrate India’s bid to get back Don Dawood Ibrahim from his Karachi hideout by pretending to be ignorant about his whereabouts. It will deny that any of the Bangladeshi fugitives lives in any Pakistani city. Or, it will ‘transfer’ the fugitive/ fugitives to another ‘friendly’ country in the region, maybe by issuing him/them fake Pakistani passport to obliterate any traces of stay in that country. When Pakistan found that it could no longer plausibly deny that Dawood Ibrahim lived in the country he was just shunted off to the Gulf on (yet another) fake passport.

There was no known reaction from Pakistan on the execution of the five former army men in Bangladesh. But it must have caused some discomfort to Islamabad to find that on the whole the people of Bangladesh had accepted the executions without protest. The main opposition party in Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, an out and out pro-Pakistan outfit headed by Begum Zia, did not denounce the execution with street demonstrations, as Pakistan would have liked.

It is the BNP which had done its best to save the lives of the assassins of Mujib when it allowed their trials to drag on for years. The death sentence came after 13 years of court trials, most of that period coinciding with the rule of BNP.

Under the BNP rule, Bangladesh had almost renounced its secularism, the path it had chosen at the time of independence from Pakistan. It was also the time when Bangladesh had allowed the roots of terrorism to grow deep with the help of Pakistan’s ISI. The idea behind that move was to harm India.

To their discomfiture, BNP rulers received a big jolt when they discovered that the terrorists also intended to harm Bangladesh, as was evident after a series of bomb blasts across the country a few years ago. These terrorists’ attacks were also symptomatic of the violence and chaos that had crept into the fabric of Bangladesh. The country suffered a great deal because of the war between the two ladies who headed the two principal parties in the country. Strikes became endemic. Law and order had virtually broken down. The country’s parliament barely functioned.

It cannot be forgotten that the foundation of democracy had actually begun to look shaky even during the brief rule of Mujib. It has been said that by the time he came to be assassinated he had lost a lot of goodwill among his people because he was taking the country towards a one-party rule and had failed to run a clean and efficient administration. But that ‘crime’ appears lesser in degree compared to what followed him.

The frequency of military dictatorship in the country was not very different from Pakistan. The ‘civilian’ rule was often propped up by the military. All manner of people, including businessmen, bureaucrats and military men, who had scant regard for dissent or good governance, joined politics.

Hopefully, things have started to improve in Bangladesh. From India’s point of view, Dhaka has shown a welcome change by rejecting India-bashing as a corner stone of its official policy. The Bangabandhu is held in as much esteem in India as in his country. India has been an anxious witness to efforts in Bangladesh to bring to justice the killers of Bangabandhu.

India:Padma Awards Devalued

By Allabaksh

Sant Singh Chatwal is one name that will remain fresh in the memory of many long after the announcement of this year’s Padma awards. The ‘NRI hotelier’, as Chatwal is generally referred to in the media, is in the 2010 list of the recipients of Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award. He is, of course, not the only one to receive the ‘coveted’ award this year, but one can bet not many will be able to recall the names of others similarly honoured in the list issued in the name of President Pratibha Patil.

The controversy that has followed the selection of Chatwal for a Padma award has once again opened the debate whether these awards have been devalued. Many would like to see them scrapped altogether. A tacit acceptance that the Padma awards lead to controversy—and heart burning—comes from the fact that the nation’s highest award, the Bharat Ratna, is now bestowed with great reluctance. In the past, political circles had raised opposition to the selection of V. V. Giri, M.G. Ramachandran and Rajiv Gandhi for the Bharat Ratna.

Yet, it may not wrong to assume that the demand for abolishing the Padma awards does not enjoy sufficient political backing. The voice against the Padma awards will have an impact only when the political class unites—an unlikely task considering the politicians fondness for disbursing patronage in all forms.

The next best thing to not abolishing these awards will be to make the selection system more transparent and independent. The awards would be considered fairer if fewer fingers are raised at the recipients.

There is no denying that the flamboyant Chatwal, one time officer in the Indian Navy, is one of the most recognisable NRI names in the US. He is politically influential in the corridors of power in Washington. His proximity to some of the high and mighty in the US is his important asset. It makes him a key player when India needs a strong voice to represents it in the US. The question often asked is: can an impressive C.V. wash one’s ‘taint’?

Rightly or wrongly, back home Chatwal’s name is also associated with a case of bank fraud. Although he was not convicted of any charges and can claim that he was falsely implicated in criminal cases, many in the country continue to question the propriety of awarding him with a high civilian honour if only to show that it was not some sort of a quid pro quo.

The matter has obviously embarrassed the ruling party as it has been left with saying that it opposes the Padma awards being given to any ‘tainted’ person, though the party raised no specific opposition to the award given to Chatwal. The government, which actually decides the names of the Padma award recipients, has defended its decision. But that was only to be expected.

It is not the first time that a controversy has erupted over the Padma awards. Only last year, there were angry reactions when two bronze winners at the previous year’s Olympics, boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar, were left out, though gold medallist Abhinav Bindra was honoured with Padma Bhushan.

The Indian Olympic Association general secretary was quite vocal in his criticism and the union sports minister M. S. Gill was obliged to say that he had no say in the selection of the Padma awards or its denial to the two athletes. Abhinav Bindra, the first Indian gold medal winner after 108 years of Olympic Games, too had expressed his disappointment. It cannot be said that Bindra was honoured for a specific feat while the other two Olympic medal winners will be awarded for their ‘lifetime’ achievement at some future date.

On separate occasions, two eminent artists of the country had criticised the Padma awards and given vent to their feelings in different ways. The renowned Kathak exponent Sitara Devi had refused the Padma Bhushan, saying that awards, including Padma Vibhushan, a notch higher than Padma Bhushan, had been given to less deserving people.

Sitar maestro Vilayat Khan known for his unique ‘Gayaki’ (singing) style of playing the instrument had turned down the Padma Shree in 1964 and Padma Vibhushan in 1968. In 1964 it was an insult to award him a ‘mere’ Padma Shree because even by then he had established himself as a superlative Sitar virtuoso. In 1968 he was of the opinion that the committee that judged him for the award of the Padma Vibhushan was not competent to evaluate his work.

Did Vilayat Khan take things too far in 1968? After all an element of subjectivity can be suspected in the evaluation of the work of any performing artist. But a different element of controversy was injected when the Hindustani classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj alleged late in the 1990s that the great Sitar player Ravi Shankar had tried to lobby with Members of Parliament for a high Padma award. Whether the allegation was right or wrong cannot be said, but it suggests that preparing the list for high national awards cannot be an easy task.

In the history of the Padma awards there have been instances when the recipients had refused to accept the honour for what might be called altruistic reasons. Historian Romilla Thapar, chosen for Padma Bhushan in 1962 and again in 2005, had said she would accept honour only from academic institutions. K. Subramanyam, strategic thinker and analyst, had said no to Padma Bhushan as he maintained that his services to the nation were made in selfless spirit when he was a loyal civil servant.

Yes, these have been exceptional cases. Scan the list any year and one would find, especially among the Padma Shree awards, the names of a lot of ‘loyal’ civil servants and sundry other figures whose name do not ring a bell.

The Padma awards are not meant to be shown off. Yet, just a day after the announcement of Padma list one would find big newspaper advertisements, congratulating some of the recipients. Many people make it a point to add the name of the Padma award given to them in their visiting cards. The Padma awards are certainly not to be used for self-advertisement; to do so does amount to devaluing them.

Indian Marxists: No decontrol of petrol prices

The Central Committee of Indian Marxists has said a blunt no to decontrol of Petrol prices – a move under consideration of Manmohan Singh government. The recommendation has come the past week from an expert panel headed by noted economist Parekh, which suggested the Indian POL prices should be linked to global price trends..

Meeting in Kolkata, the Central Committee of Communist Party of India (Marxist) warned the Central Government not to use these recommendations as an excuse to hike prices of any of these items. Such a step will have a cascading impact on raising prices of essential commodities which are already at an all time high and will lead to a further burden on the people.

The CC condemned not only the utter failure of the Central Government to control prices but reiterates that it is precisely the wrong policies of the government which have led to this situation of high food inflation.  The redressals suggested are also misconceived. A major reason for price rise is the severe weakening of the public distribution system by a drastic cut in allocation for so-called above poverty line. Instead of at least partial restoration of the cuts, given the buffer stocks available, the government in the name of additional allocation is giving the states 10 kgs of foodgrains per family at double the price.

A press note from CPI (M) said, the party demands  restoration of the allocations at least at the APL prices. The sugar shortage and subsequent high prices are a direct result of the refusal of the government to maintain a buffer stock when there was high sugarcane production and instead incentivised exports. The sugar mills and sugar companies have made huge profits in this period while farmers and consumers have had to suffer. The Central Government has stubbornly refused to ban futures trading in essential commodities. In May 2009 it had lifted the earlier ban on wheat futures trade.
The CC demands that the government bring a food security legislation which ensures a universal right to food, with a 35 kg family allocation of foodgrains at Rs 2 a kilo. It also demands that more essential commodities at subsidised prices should be included in the PDS through central government subsidies.

The CC called upon its Party units to intensify the campaign against price rise.

Disinvestment in PSUs
The Central Committee reiterated its strong opposition to the decision of the Central Government to disinvest atleast 10 per cent of government equity in all profitable public sector units. Already shares of NHPC, Oil India and the NTPC have been sold. The government is planning to sell shares in sixty central public sector undertakings that would be short-listed in the stock market in the next two years. The deceptive concept of “people’s ownership” is being used to mislead public opinion and conceal the true nature of disinvestment.
This aggressive disinvestment drive is being undertaken to bridge the fiscal deficit which has reached nearly seven percent of the GDP. The government is forgoing future income from dividends. Worse, it is transferring State-owned assets to private hands. The NTPC shares are being sold cheaply, showing how public assets are being plundered.
Rather than mobilizing more taxes from the private corporate sector by doing away with tax exemptions, the Congress-led government is opting for the irrational course of disinvestment which is only meant to benefit the big financial players in the stock market.
The Central Committee decided to mobilize people against the disinvestment. It will extend all support to the struggle of the trade unions and the public sector employees against this step which is contrary to national interests.

Andhra Pradesh Situation

The Central Committee discussed the situation which has developed in Andhra Pradesh with the agitation for a separate Telengana state and the counter-agitation for a united state. It is unfortunate that the Central Government and the Congress leadership took the short-sighted step of announcing the process of the creation of a separate state on December 9.  It is now for the Central Government to ensure that the stalemate is ended and the solution found by taking into account the views of all political parties and sections of the people. This process is to begin with the setting up of the committee headed by retired Justice B N Sri Krishna.
The initial stand taken by the Central Government on Telengana gave a fillip to demands for separate states in various other states. The Central Committee reiterated its stand that the states which were linguistically reorganized as part of the democratic restructuring of the State structure should not be disturbed.
The Central Committee appealed to all sections of the people of Andhra Pradesh to maintain peace and harmony. There are forces trying to provoke further divisions among the people which is harmful to the overall interests of the people.
Ranganath Mishra Commission Report
The Central Committee considered the report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities headed by Justice Ranganath Mishra.  The Central Committee welcomes the recommendations for providing reservation for the minorities in government jobs. The CC urged the Central Government to take necessary steps to implement the recommendations.

West Bengal
The Central Committee heard a report on the situation in West Bengal. The TMC combine on the one hand and the Maoists on the other are continuing their campaign of violence against the CPI(M) and the Left.  Since the Lok Sabha elections, 167 members and supporters of the CPI(M) and the Left have been killed. Thousands have had to leave their homes due to the attacks. The Maoist gangs have killed over seventy of our comrades in West Medinipur district alone. There is a deliberate and planned effort to attack the CPI(M) and the Left to prevent them working among the people. The Central Committee condemned the dubious links between the TMC and the Maoists. The TMJC is in the Central Government whose declared policy is to counter the Maoist violence.
The Central Committee is confident that the CPI(M) state unit and the Left Front will successfully mobilize the people in defence of their rights and livelihood while countering the anti-democratic assaults and violence.

Maharashtra: No Pandering to Chauvinism
The Central Committee condemned the chauvinistic forces who are targeting non-Marathi speaking people in Mumbai and the state. The Shiv Sena and the MNS are indulging in this disruptive game after having failed to mobilize support for their platform in the recent assembly elections. The attempt to intimidate film actors like Shahrukh Khan and other personalities for speaking out their mind is highly condemnable.
The Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra is also pandering to chauvinistic sentiments. The recent order on taxi drivers in Mumbai having to speak and write Marathi with the 15 year domicile is one such step. The CPI(M) calls upon all citizens in Maharashtra and the country to rebuff the virulent chauvinistic politics which harms national unity.

Rectification Campaign

The Polit Bureau submitted its rectification report to the Central Committee. As per the decision of the rectification campaign document adopted in October 2009, the rectification process is to begin from the Polit Bureau and the Central Committee. The report of the rectification of the Central Committee will be taken up in the next meeting of the CC.

Party Congress
The Central Committee decided to hold the 20th Congress of the Party after the assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala due in May 2011. The schedule of the Party conferences will begin after this.
In the meantime, the Central Committee has decided to convene an extended meeting of the Central Committee in early August 2010 to decide on the political line to meet the current situation.

British Labour presides over increase in inequality

By Paul Bond

A report commissioned by the Labour government shows how its pro-business agenda during its 13 years in office has led to a dramatic increase in inequality.

An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK was the result of 16 months research by the National Equality Panel. (The report, and a summary, can be found here.)

Britain, the report concludes, “is an unequal country, more so than other industrialised countries and more so than it was a generation ago.” It ranks in the top quarter of industrialised countries for income inequality.

The report highlights a situation where the richest 10 percent of the population are over 100 times wealthier than the poorest 10 percent, and where income inequality has reached its highest point since the end of the Second World War. The report was based on 2007/2008 figures, and did not reflect the 2008 financial crisis. It is quite likely that the current position will be worse even than the report shows.

The report also points to the unbridled growth in wealth of a tiny layer of the super-rich, and clearly indicates that the fundamental division in society is that of class.

The report was commissioned in 2008 by Harriet Harman, minister for women and equality. In part, it was intended to demonstrate the Labour government’s commitment to social mobility, as an appeal to sections of middle class voters. Announcing the formation of the National Equality Panel in 2008, Harman told the TUC (Trades Union Congress), “Equality matters more than ever and it is necessary for individuals, a peaceful society and a strong economy.” The government’s stated aim was to “promote equality and opportunity for all.”

Harman, who is being presented as a possible replacement for Prime Minister Gordon Brown by some on what passes for the left of the party, outlines her party’s record on equality in a foreword to the report that should automatically exclude her from any such support. She claims that the report demonstrates the efficiency of the Labour government’s policies in overcoming inequality, or what she described in 2008 as “the good work that we have already done.” She writes now that public policy has “played a major role in halting the rise in inequality which was gaining ground in the 1980s.”

In fact, the report provides a clear indictment of the Labour government’s commitment to the same policies as their Conservative predecessors. Its overview notes specifically that “the large inequality growth between the late 1970s and early 1990s has not been reversed.”

The National Equality Panel was established under the chairmanship of Professor John Hills, director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics. In 16 months of work the panel assembled a substantial body of data up to and including 2007/2008. They aimed to document the relationship between economic outcome and people’s circumstances and study actual social mobility.

The main illustration they used for their data was the 90:10 ratio. They compared the richest 10 percent of the population (the 90th percentile) with the poorest 10 percent (the 10th percentile). This measure may soften some of the contrasts between the richest 1 percent and the rest of society, but even so the figures were staggering.

The panel looked at figures for total wealth, including personal possessions, net financial assets, housing and private pension rights. This showed the wealthiest 10 percent being some 100 times better off than the poorest 10 percent. The median figure is £204,500. Those in the 90th percentile have a total wealth above £853,000, while the poorest 10 percent have less than £8,800. The richest 1 percent of households has a total wealth of more than £2.6 million.

On weekly income, the gap is still dramatic. Using the Department of Work and Pensions “equivalent net income” figures for 2007/2008, the median net household income was just £393 per week. However, the poorest 10 percent of households had a weekly net income under £191. The official DWP poverty line is 60 percent of the median, £236 per week. Nearly a quarter of the population shows an equivalent net household income below this figure. The richest 10 percent had a weekly income of more than £806.

The 90:10 ratio of 4.2:1 is an increase on a generation earlier. The scale of the social crisis becomes more apparent when the 90th percentile is examined in closer detail. The top 5 percent had weekly incomes over £1,000, while for the top 1 percent the weekly equivalent net incomes topped £2,000.

The statistics are even more striking on the question of hourly wages. The median gross hourly wage for 2006-2008 was £9.90. The lowest paid 10 percent of the population are paid less than £5.50 per hour, while the highest paid 10 percent earn more than £21.30. The top one percent is paid more than £43 per hour.

The panel also calculated the weekly net individual income, the income for all adults including those not employed or above pension age. The median net individual income is £223 per week and the poorest 10 percent of adults have a weekly net income of just £56. The top 10 percent of earners have a weekly net income above £542. For the top 1 percent the weekly net income is in excess of £1,300.

The report points to the gap in equality growing during the 1980s.

The concerns of successive governments with the tiniest of parasitic elites can be seen from the figures for after-tax income share. In 1937 the wealthiest 1 percent accounted for 12.6 percent of all after tax income. This was down by almost two thirds to 4.7 percent by 1979, when the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher came to power. In 1990 it stood again at 8 percent, and had risen to 10 percent in 2000. For the wealthiest 0.5 percent of the population, their share of after tax income stood at 2.4 percent of the total in 1937, prior to the war and the post-war creation of the welfare state. It had fallen to under 0.5 percent by 1969. In 2000, the wealthiest 0.5 percent’s share of after tax income exceeded the pre-war figure for 1937, standing at 2.5 percent.

Internationally this placed Britain seventh among the 30 industrialised countries for income inequality in the first decade of the 20th century, with the highest rate of poverty in Western Europe. Wealth is a determining factor in life expectancy, the report notes.

The UK is also behind other countries in its proportion of working-age population with the equivalent of GCSE passes. The report called for more to be done to reduce child poverty, and emphasised the importance of policy to help prepare children from poorer backgrounds for school. Even excluding the top 7 percent who send their children to private schools, the report notes that wealthy parents are able to buy homes in the catchment areas of the better state schools.

This report follows recent research by the Save the Children charity, which discovered that 13 percent of children in Britain are now living in severe poverty. Save the Children concluded that government efforts to reduce child poverty had already hit the buffers before the 2008 financial crisis.

The Hills report highlighted regional differences across the UK. Only 55 percent of adults in the most deprived 10 percent of areas in England are employed, and median hourly wages in these areas are 40 percent lower than in the least deprived tenth of the country. The median total wealth in the poorest tenth of areas is only 16 percent of the national median. Inequality in earnings and incomes has risen faster in London over the last decade than anywhere else, and London now shows the widest local gaps in equality.

The report highlighted continued pay differences between men and women, and noted the lower incomes of ethnic minorities. Almost half of Bangladeshi and Pakistani households are in poverty, the report concluded. Yet for all this, the report shows quite clearly that the driving force of inequality is class. The differences that exist within social groups reflect those across the population as a whole, and they are “much greater than differences between groups.” These are class differences, and they are driven by the broader economic system, as can be seen by the report’s conclusion that “Even if all differences between such groups were removed, overall economic inequalities would remain wide.”

The Hills report offers a damning verdict on the Labour government, which has ruled on behalf of the parasitic super-rich, wholly committed to a social system based on class exploitation and dependent on class inequality.

Sovereign debt fears signal new stage of global crisis

By Barry Grey
Stock markets in Europe and Asia fell sharply Friday in the second day of a near-panic sell off fueled by fears that the debt crisis facing weaker European economies will throw the world economy into a “double-dip” recession.

Commodity prices—oil and gold, in particular—also fell sharply.

In the US, triple-digit losses on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were recouped in the final hour, resulting in small gains for the Dow and the other major indexes in volatile trading, following a sharp selloff on Thursday.

The Dow ended the day with a 10-point gain, following a 268-point plunge on Thursday. The index, which was below the 10,000 mark for most of the day, has lost 6.5 percent over the past two weeks.

All of the major European indexes closed down, with France’s CAC-40 falling the most—3.4 percent, its biggest one-day drop since November 26. The Pan-European Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index was off 2.2 percent, its lowest close since November 3.

Japan’s Nikkei fell 2.89 percent and the Shanghai Composite was off by 1.87 percent.

Stocks were down for the second day in Greece, Portugal and Spain, three heavily indebted eurozone countries whose ability to redeem bondholders—including major European and US banks—is increasingly in doubt. Prices of government bonds of all three countries continued to fall and interest rates rose further, as global investors increased pressure on the three governments to impose draconian austerity measures on their respective populations.

The cost of credit default swap (CDS) contracts on the debt of the three countries rose even more dramatically. Credit default swaps—now a multi-trillion-dollar market—are a form of unregulated derivatives in which CDS sellers guarantee the value of bonds held by CDS buyers. Rising CDS prices reflect eroding confidence in corporate or government bonds insured by the sellers of the CDS contracts.

The CDS market is a hotbed of speculation, since investors, including banks and hedge funds, can bet on the price of CDS contracts without holding the underlying bonds. The threat of sovereign default, most immediately by Greece, but also by Portugal and Spain, has provided an opportunity for speculators to drive up the price of insuring the countries’ bonds by speculating on the likelihood of a default, thereby further undermining confidence in the countries’ debt and increasing the prospects of such an outcome.

All three countries have pledged to impose sweeping cuts in public-sector jobs and wages and in social benefits, along with new consumption taxes, in line with demands from the European Union that they sharply reduce their budget deficits, currently 10 percent or more of their respective gross domestic products.

Greek President George Papandreou of the social-democratic PASOK party, who was elected last year on the basis of promises to reverse the right-wing policies of the preceding conservative government, this week announced plans for an across-the-board freeze on public sector wages along with a cut in allowances, which amounts to a wage cut of 4 percent. He also called for a pension “reform,” which entails raising the retirement age, as well as higher fuel taxes.

The social-democratic Portuguese and Spanish governments have pledged to impose similar austerity measures.

Signs of mounting resistance by the working class in these countries are playing an enormous role in the tremors rippling through the global financial markets. There is a growing sense in governments and board rooms around the world that a major confrontation with the working class is coming, with potentially revolutionary implications.

The banks and the media are demanding that heads of state and parliaments demonstrate the “political will” and “political consensus” necessary to impose historic attacks on the working class. These phrases are euphemisms for a degree of ruthlessness that implies a readiness to employ state repression. However, the financial markets are at once skeptical over the willingness of political leaders to employ the required measures and anxious over the outcome of such a confrontation.

On Thursday, Greek workers launched the first in a series of strikes to protest the government’s austerity package. Customs and tax officials began a 48-hour strike that shut ports and border crossings throughout the country. Strikes by other public and private-sector workers have been called for next week.

Greek farmers have been blockading highways in protest against government austerity proposals.

A major cause of the global stock selloff that began Thursday was the announcement by the Greek unions of a one-day general strike set for February 24. The unions had initially indicated their willingness to assist the PASOK government in carrying out its austerity plans, but have been forced by pressure from the working class to call the strike actions.

Union leaders hope to use the partial labor mobilizations to defuse popular anger and channel it behind nationalist slogans, while they maneuver to work out a deal with the government acceptable to the banks and the European Union. However, there are fears within ruling circles that the unions may not be able to contain the anger of workers and young people, who are already facing mass unemployment and declining living standards.

Portuguese and Spanish unions are also threatening to call strikes and protests.

Among other factors that precipitated the stock selloff was the failure of the Portuguese government to find buyers for the full amount of a government bond offering on Wednesday, and the defeat of its austerity package at the hands of opposition parties in parliament.

The debt crisis of the weaker countries in the 16-nation eurozone, including Ireland and Italy in addition to Greece, Portugal and Spain, is raising questions about the viability of the euro itself. There is increasing public speculation that the 11-year-old currency could collapse under the pressure of the economic and financial crisis.

In recent weeks, the euro has fallen precipitously against the US dollar and the yen. On Friday, it fell to $1.3620. It has declined 9 percent against the dollar since December.

This does not reflect any inherent strength of the US currency. On the contrary, looming above the debt crisis in Europe is the far greater crisis of the world’s biggest debtor—the United States. It is no accident that the European crisis has erupted in the aftermath of last week’s budget announcement by President Obama. The US budget plan revealed that the current deficit is $1.6 trillion, equivalent to 10.6 percent of the country’s’ gross domestic product, a record high since the end of World War II.

This approaches Greece’s deficit ratio of 12.7 percent of GDP, is higher than that of Spain and twice the eurozone average. The US budget, moreover, projects trillion-dollar deficits for years to come.

As in every other industrialized country, the American state responded to the financial crash of 2008 by taking on the debts of its banks and essentially bankrupting its treasury in order to preserve the wealth of its financial elite. The Obama administration, no less than the governments of Europe, is demanding that the cost be borne by the general population in the form of sweeping cuts in basic social programs and a reduction in consumption—i.e., a permanent and dramatic decline in working class living standards.

Unlike in previous international financial crises, such as the Asian debt crisis of the 1990s, the United States cannot play the role of lender of last resort. The United States has irretrievably lost its previous position as the dominant world economic power, and its decline is reflected in growing challenges to the role of the dollar as the world reserve and trading currency.

At last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos, French President Nicolas Sarkozy in his keynote speech said he would use his upcoming presidency of the Group of 20 nations to push for a new international monetary system in which the dollar would no longer be the primary reserve currency. And on Wednesday, Moody’s Investors Service warned that the United States faces the loss of its triple-A sovereign credit rating unless Obama moves to slash the federal deficit by carrying out more draconian spending cuts than he has thus far announced.

It is the erosion of US economic power and solvency that lends to the sovereign debt crises in Greece, Portugal and other European countries such an explosive and universal character.

The recent rise in the dollar is the result of a “flight to safety” by investors who fear a collapse in world asset bubbles and consider US Treasury bonds, along with German government debt, to be a temporary haven. In important respects, the short-term reversal in the dollar’s decline is an expression of a deepening of the crisis on world financial markets.

As a number of economists warned last year, the US policy of flooding financial markets with cheap credit on the basis of near-zero interest rates and the electronic equivalent of printing a trillion dollars—designed to prop up the major US banks and enable them to record bumper profits despite double-digit unemployment—fueled a huge wave of speculation on risky assets such as stocks, bonds, commodities and currencies. These economists predicted that a major rise in the value of the dollar would pull the rug out from under this speculation, which was based on the assumption of a continued decline in the dollar, and force a rapid and destabilizing selloff of inflated assets.

It now appears that this collapse in asset bubbles has begun.

US to launch Fallujah-style attack in Afghanistan

By Bill Van Auken

As US and British troops prepare to attack the town of Marjah in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, military commanders and the media are openly comparing the operation to the November 2004 siege of Fallujah, one of the bloodiest war crimes of the Iraq war.

The operation in central Helmand province, long an area of intense resistance to the US-led occupation, will constitute the largest military offensive since Washington invaded the country in October 2001. At least 15,000 troops are expected to lay siege to the Helmand river valley town, which has 80,000 inhabitants and is said by the US military to be a stronghold of the Taliban.

A total of 125,000 people live in the district around Marjah, which is an agricultural center 350 miles west of Kabul. The population has been swelled by Afghans fleeing villages occupied by US Marines last summer, following President Barack Obama’s order shortly after he took office to send 21,000 more troops into Afghanistan.

US Marines, frustrated and enraged over casualties suffered at the hands of an unseen enemy who is able to attack and then blend back into the local population, will be unleashed against the town in a violent military assault, with predictable results.

Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of the US Marines in southern Afghanistan, spelled out the character of the upcoming offensive. Those found in Marjah would have three options. “One is to stay and fight and probably die,” he said. “The second one is to make peace with his government and reintegrate.” The third would be to attempt to escape, “In which case we’ll probably have some people out there waiting on them as well.”

“We’re going to go in big,” said Nicholson, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. “I’m not looking for a fair fight,” he added.

In a highly unusual move, the US command has publicly announced plans for the offensive. “It’s a little unconventional to do it this way, but it gives everybody a chance to think through what they’re going to do before suddenly in the dark of night they’re hit with an offensive,” said General Stanley McChrystal, the senior US commander in Afghanistan.

The stated intention of revealing the target of the upcoming offensive is to allow civilians to flee before the Marines move in. It also provides a preemptive alibi for the US offensive by painting those who fail to heed the warning as die-hard Taliban who deserve to be killed.

Stratfor, a military-intelligence web site with close ties to the US state apparatus, reported Thursday that “the assault is likely to include the cordoning off of the area, so many of the fighters dedicated to its defense will probably be forced to fight to the death or surrender.”

The article continued: “With assaults on Fallujah and Ramadi in Iraq under their belts, the Marines are experienced with this sort of urban assault.”

What is the record of urban assaults of “this sort”?

The Marine assault on Fallujah in November 2004 reduced most of the city of 300,000 people to rubble, as warplanes dropped thousands of tons of explosives and helicopter gunships and battle tanks fired missiles into buildings and strafed the area with cannon fire.

The US military command claimed to have killed 2,000 “insurgents,” but the real death toll remains unknown. Civilians who remained in the town were subjected to the same bombardment. Some were shot to death during the door-to-door raids that followed, and others were killed while fleeing. Wounded fighters were summarily executed, and medical facilities were targeted for military attack. All those in the city were denied food, water and electricity for more than 10 days.

The operation was a vicious exercise in collective punishment against the population of Fallujah for the killing there of four Blackwater mercenaries and the city’s protracted resistance to foreign occupation. It embodied the criminality of the entire war and was characterized by multiple and gross violations of the laws of war.

If American military commanders are to be believed, a similar operation is being prepared in Afghanistan, and for similar reasons. The town of Marjah is to be turned into a killing field.

As in Fallujah, vengeance plays a role. US military forces have seen a steady escalation in casualties over the past year, while the CIA suffered a humiliating attack at the end of December that left seven of its operatives dead on the Afghan border.

In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, the US military command sees value in making an example of a population center known as a center of resistance to occupation, sending a message to the entire country that such resistance is futile and will be met with slaughter and destruction.

This bloodletting is officially justified in the name of a never-ending struggle against terrorism. Behind the propaganda, the driving force of the war in Afghanistan, like the war in Iraq, is the attempt by America’s ruling elite to counter the crisis of US capitalism through the use of force and the seizure of strategic positions in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, both centers of vast energy reserves.

A year ago, when Barack Obama entered the White House, there existed hope among broad layers of the American people that his inauguration would turn such words as Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, Blackwater, torture and rendition into the lexicon of a dark and shameful, but closed, chapter in US history.

The preparation of the Marjah offensive only underscores that, far from being ended, the crimes of the Bush administration are continuing and escalating under the Democratic president.

Shirdi aartis on Doordarshan, AIR likely

Union Minister Jagatrakshakan at Shirdi temple. Trustee Ashok Khambekar felicitated him
Union Minister Jagatrakshakan at Shirdi temple. Trustee Ashok Khambekar felicitated him

The Government is ready to consider telecast of daily aartis and other programmes at Shirdi Sai Baba temple on Doordarshan National Channel, said Union Minister of state for Information & Broadcasting  S Jagatrakshakan while on a visit to Shirdi.

But he said the initiative must come from the Shri Saibaba Sansthan. ‘ If we receive a proposal from the Sansthan , we will consider broadcasting the Aartis over All India Radio FM channels as well’, he told a questioner.

The Minister stated that 150 FM channels and 21 TV centers would be opened this year. He added that the government was planning to set up a Broadcasting Authority of India to control over the mushrooming TV  channels.

Shirdi development plans discussed

SHIRDI: Shirdi Saibaba Sansthan is discussing with the Maharashtra government and its arious agencies plans for development of the area with better road connectivity and other amenities. There is a proposal to set up an airport at a cost of Rs. 50 crore. The state government wants the Sansthan to foot the bill.

Maharashtra Chief Secretary J.P. Dange held discussions on this and related issued with Sansthan authorities. Parliament Member,  Bhausaheb Wakchoure, Executive officer of Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trsut Kishor More, regional revenue commissioner Jayant Gaikawad, co-operative commissioner Rajgopal Deora, Ahmednagar district collector Dr. P. Anbalagan, district police Chief Vijay Chavan took part in the discussions.

Sansthan sources said later that it was decided to construct Shirdi- Rahata by-pass road. The Sansthan would lend Rs. 40 crores on ‘return’ basis to lay the road link.

District police chief  Chavan spoke of the need for traffic regulation and creation of proper parking facility for increasing number of vehicles coming to Shirdi. He suggested that the Sansthan couild provide two big cranes to the police department to check unauthorized and irregular parkings. Each crane costs Rs. 80 lakhs.

The Sansthan agreed to help   development and ‘beautification’ of roads in and around the Shrine. This is going to be a Rs. 150 crore project. Initially, the work was entrusted to  the State Road Development Corporation of the government. That was four years ago. As it made no headway, the Sansthan has started the work on its own, according to Prof. Sahebrao Dawange, a local journalist.