Early in his presidency Obama realized that the Muslim world would constitute the most important foreign policy challenge for the administration. It will be up to Romney to come out with an alternative vision to his advantage
Within just a few weeks what was looking as a really troublesome aspect of foreign policy-the Iranian Nuclear Imbroglio-has at least for the moment settled down and it seems as if president Obama will carry the advantage in the foreign policy into the election. Generally it is the Republicans who have a foreign policy advantage-they are traditionally more hawkish which somehow seems to translate as foreign policy expertise while the Democrats are generally on the back-foot trying to explain their foreign policy. But the two wars that were started under the Republican administration of George Bush-the 'necessary' war in Afghanistan and the 'unnecessary' war in Iraq. Both of which have dragged on for many a year seem to have dulled the appetite of the American public for war and have taken a heavy economic toll, which combined with the Great Recession, has led to a greater appreciation of the "leading from behind" policy of president Obama.
Early in his presidency Obama realized that the Muslim world would constitute the most important foreign policy challenge for the administration. He also realized that the relationship with the Muslim world was broken and that a new deal was needed with the Muslim world to make for a safer America and a safer world. He addressed the Muslim world from a University in Cairo on 4 June 2009. He greeted them with a Salaam Alekum. He said that the cycle of suspicion and discord must end. He stated that a tiny minority of extremists had taken over the agenda. He said that he came to seek a new beginning between America and the Muslim world-one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect and that America and the Muslim World are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Obama sought to find common ground between the US and Islam. He addressed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and said that he would bring back the troops from Iraq and that he would bring back the troops from Afghanistan as soon as he came confident that no threat was posed by extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He addressed the two state solutions for Israel-Palestine. He offered a dialogue on Iran so that Iran and the US could move forward. He addressed the issue of democracy in the Muslim world. He addressed religious freedom of religion and women rights and many other issues.
The president has succeeded in winding down two wars that he had inherited-the war in Iraq which he had inherited and which he campaigned against and the war in Afghanistan which has gone on far more than a decade and though the resolution is less than perfect the situation is certainly better than what he inherited. Also the sustained assault on Al Qaeda has resulted in a considerable weakening of the extremist group. The most significant achievement in this regard is the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda who was holed up in Abbottabad, Pakistan. It was a particularly risky decision given that the agencies told him that the chances of it being Bin Laden were only 50%. Also the nuclear imbroglio with Iran has been tempered down with the latter returning to the negotiating table as the sanctions bite. This has considerably reduced the chances of a conflagration in the Middle East with a preventive strike on Iran by the Israel.
Further is the remarkable Arab Spring which has spread from Tunisia to Egypt liberating wide swathes of people from years of Autocracy America can justly claim a share of the credit because they have generally played a helping hand in promoting freedom though Dick Cheney claimed that the Iraq war was the catalyst for the Arab Spring. The spread of democracy has always been a goal of the US foreign policy and though this has also led to the citizens of these countries turning to Muslim parties; it seems that grassroots of democracy is taking root. Further the resolution in Libya which America supported has been satisfactory.
All in all, these events should give president Obama an edge in the foreign policy in the coming election. The usual Republican advantage in the foreign policy should be neutralized. But there are serious problems that remain. One of the major problems is the insensitivity that the Americans show to their Muslim allies. Then the recent instance of the way their Afghan allies were travelled after a staff sergeant went on a rampage in Afghanistan, as also the stalemate in Pakistan about the apology demanded for the killing of 24 soldiers on the Afghanistan- Pakistan border.
With the help of technology (read Drones) the Americans have been able to bypass their allies while carrying out missions from the sky to take out militants, though sometimes with tragic collateral damage. The results seem to be satisfying but the price that America might be paying in terms of resentment of the people for collateral damage as also the violation of sovereignty may be difficult to calculate. Its validity in international law is also troublesome at best. Meanwhile the two long-drawn wars have ensured that at least in the foreseeable future there will not be American boots on the ground in terms of troops. The new defence budget stresses the use of special forces rather than full blown military operations.
It will be up to Romney to come out with an alternative vision and Americans may not been on a mood for simple hawkishness. His stand against Iran as also China (regarding currency manipulation) may both turn out to be counter-productive and need to be more nuanced.
In this topsy-turvy election foreign policy may well be a democratic advantage.
(Harsh Desai has done his BA in Political Science from St Xavier's College & Elphinstone College, Bombay and has done his Master's in Law from Columbia University in the city of New York. He is a practicing advocate at the Bombay High Court.)
In the “Silicon Valley” of India, plumbers, carpenters and water supply are scarce while flat-owners bickering among themselves in illegal “associations” formed to run the buildings
There are essentially two types of residential buildings in Bangalore. The first type is those that are constructed by builders who use tracts of land from their land bank. The second is those where an independent home owner (often called a 'promoter') enters into an agreement with the builder to sell the plot to him. In return for the same, the builder demolishes the structure and constructs defined number of flats, of which, some of the flats are sold in the outside market. The balance flats are owned by the promoter. So, for instance, if the builder constructs 20 flats, depending on the type of contractual agreement, eight flats may be sold in the outside market while 12 flats may be retained by the promoter.
The flats built by top-notch builders like Prestige, Embassy, Mantri, Sobha Developers and Puravankara are sold at a premium depending on the location and the amenities available. These developers are particular about aesthetic appeal of the structures and also provide facilities like round-the-clock security, comprehensive elevator maintenance, swimming pool, gymnasium and a club-house. It is another matter that Bangalore faces a severe water shortage and so most of the swimming pools are defunct.
Water supply: There are essentially two types of water connections in flats in Bangalore. One is the borewell water that is used for cleaning and washing. The other is the supply from the municipality, popularly known as Cauvery water. The quality of the borewell water is such that it can corrode even your stainless steel vessels. The Cauvery water can't be used for drinking without filtering. Many areas in Bangalore do not have even the Cauvery water facility. So, it becomes a field day for drinking water suppliers. I have seen at least 15 different brands of mineral water supplies and people consume them simply because they are packed and sealed. They seldom worry about the nitty-gritties like whether the source of water is good or if the water is purified.
Incessant drilling for borewell water: Walk into any of the narrow by lanes of Bangalore and at any time of the day (or night) you can hear the huge noise of borewell machines drilling the ground. One of the residents near our area had drilled the ground and the noise stopped after 72 hours of incessant drilling. Even as we were wondering what happened, the penny dropped that the resident had become a supplier of tanker water. He proudly displays the board-"Manjunatha Water Supply".
Funny associations: Every building has a so-called association that has no legal standing. The so called municipal bye laws are rarely ever complied with. The association meets once a year to discuss the most absurd and silly issues that one can never imagine. However, they never discuss things like sinking fund, financial management of association funds, etc. Anyone who questions the association is bad but people who are silent spectators are good. I know of associations where bank balance of around Rs2 lakh lies idles in a SB account at 4% interest but the association members cringe to give Rs50 for menial work like tank cleaning, removing the weeds in the garden, etc. Despite the fact that water is in short supply, people wash their cars as if there is no tomorrow. Every household has a minimum of four vehicles-two cars and two scooters/bikes.
One can see independent home owners throwing garbage on the road and using water to wash their gates and the streets outside their homes. Even the IT crowd that stays in flats under a leave-and-licence agreement are quick to buy large vehicles (thanks to easy availability of vehicle loans), regardless whether there is adequate parking space or not. In case of independent home owners, they avail of free parking facility on the road. Many independent home owners block the roads to put up a shamiana to celebrate family functions.
Plumbing woes: There is a severe shortage of skilled and unskilled labour in Bangalore so if you are looking at repairing something, you are in for a rude shock. One has to cajole the carpenters and electricians to get your work done and they won't touch the debris generated.
Anyone with plumbing tools and tackles passes off as a plumber. On most occasions, these unskilled technicians aggravate the plumbing problem instead of solving it. Builders do the vanishing act once the flats are sold, so there is little recourse on that front. The second rung builders also do not worry about doing the plumbing in an aesthetic fashion. So, you will have drainage pipes bang above the parking lot on the front side of the building. Leaking water taps are never rectified.
Legal issues: In Bangalore each flat owner is given a 'khatha' certificate that indicates that he holds the share in the area on which the structure has been erected. To get this certificate, you have to grease the palms of people in the registration office. This system is something like the conveyance deed scheme in Mumbai (though there are differences). Other than this, one has very little control on what happens in the premises. Flats are bought and sold without anyone's knowledge. There are no transfer fees payable to the association. There is no need for a "No Objection" certificate at all, when flats are sold. Likewise, tenants walk in and out of the buildings, stay and vacate the flats as though it is a lodge. Neighbours rarely open the door to each other.
Despite being called as the "Silicon Valley" of India, the Garden City has not managed to keep pace with the changing times. Monstrous transformers stare at you from every nook and corner. Garbage is handled manually by scavengers who sort the garbage right on the road. Hooligans pass off as auto rickshaw drivers. Bus conductors do not issue tickets for short rides and even if you insist on a ticket, they brazenly ask you to return the ticket so that the same can be reissued. Street dogs swarm every street. The only advantage of living in this city is probably the anonymity it offers you.
Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel is conducting a drive across Gujarat to file RTI applications for procuring copies of answer sheets. Interestingly, it has invoked Section 7(1) of the RTI Act under which information has to be given within 48 hours as it concerns ‘life and liberty’
Taking the issue of recurring student suicides across the country every year after results of various public or class examinations are declared, a state-wide campaign is presently underway in Gujarat to make students aware of their right to get copies of their answer sheets under the RTI (Right to Information) Act.
Already 500 students have filed RTI applications and interestingly, the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) which is steering the campaign, has invoked Section 7(1) of the RTI Act. Under this section, the citizen can demand information within 48 hours as it concerns 'life and liberty'.
The campaign's initiative also leans upon the historic Supreme Court judgment of August 2011 wherein the apex court had ruled that evaluated answer-sheets are covered under the definition of 'information' under the RTI Act. This judgment applies to all examinations including the Public Service Commissions, Universities, CBSE and other boards, professional bodies like ICAI-in fact, every examination conducted by any agency in India. (Ultimate victory for students: Tuesday’s Supreme Court judgment orders access of copies of answer sheets of all examinations).
The Supreme Court order is important for MAGP as a case is pending in the Gujarat High Court against the Gujarat State Information Commission's order of 2007 which gave a similar order like that of the Supreme Court.
RTI expert and member of MAGP, Harinesh Pandya states, "an evaluated answer-sheet is of vital information to a student as his/her career depends on it. There have been many incidences in the past of students committing suicides because they have got lesser marks than what they had expected, particularly in school board examinations. This trend is seen across the country every year after Std X and Std XII results are declared. Therefore, this information falls under Section 7(1) (life & liberty) of the RTI Act. Students need not wait for 30 days for this information, but are eligible to get it within 48 hours. Once a copy of evaluated answer-sheet is given, the mystery of getting less marks will be resolved-which may save several lives."
The first such campaign was conducted three years ago, when 4,000 students across Gujarat had invoked the RTI Act at the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Board for procuring copies of their answer-sheets. Information was denied to them. The MAGP appealed to the state information commission. The Gujarat State Information Commission gave an order in favour of the students. However, at that time, the Board filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court. The case is still pending but on the backdrop of the Supreme Court order, there is hope again.
States Pankti Jog, founder member of MAGP who is leading the initiative, "In the light of the Supreme Court judgment and now that the time is nearing for the declaration of the results of various examinations, MAGP decided to launch this campaign. We have created a help desk and already 500 students from schools, colleges, competitive examinations and also examinees of UPSC and GPSC have been educated as to how to use the RTI after their results are declared. We are very keen to see if the Gujarat Board provides information on the backdrop of the Supreme Court judgment."
The helpline number of the "Help Desk" is 09924085000. From Monday to Saturday, students can visit the MAGP office for guidance on filing RTI applications to get copies of their evaluated answer-sheets. Every Saturday, between 4pm to 6pm, experts will guide students. MAGP's mobile RTI clinic will also move through various cities and towns to spread awareness and give guidance. "Legal help will also be given at the doorstep of people who request it," adds Ms Jog.
Ms Jog informs that, "during the last four years students from across the country used RTI to seek copies of evaluated answer-sheets. The Supreme Court also in its judgment gave a clear verdict that evaluated answer-sheets are not exempted from RTI. Several state boards, including the Rajasthan Secondary Board has now decided to provide photocopies of evaluated answer-sheets proactively. In the light of this we hope that Gujarat students, who pioneered this movement, will be able to access copies of answer-sheets from the board. We also appeal to the students and parent community to volunteer for the campaign."
What does Section 7(1) say:
The section states: "7. (1) Subject to the proviso to sub-section (2) of Section 5 or the proviso to subsection (3) of Section 6, the central public information officer or state public information officer, as the case may be, on receipt of a request under Section 6 shall, as expeditiously as possible, and in any case within thirty days of the receipt of the request, either provide the information on payment of such fee as may be prescribed or reject the request for any of the reasons specified in Sections 8 and 9: Provided that where the information sought for concerns the life or liberty of a person, the same shall be provided within 48 hours of the receipt of the request."
Contacts for MAGP's answer-sheet drive:
MAGP: Pankti Jog and Harinesh Pandya : 9824048842; 09909006791
Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel
B-3, Sahajanand Tower,
RTI Helpline: 09924085000
MAHITI ADHIKAR GUJARAT PAHEL's photostream
(Vinita Deshmukh is the editor of Life 365 (www.life365.in). She is also the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected])