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October - November 2007


Political News

From Far & Near: Topics of Interest

by Bhupendra Gandhi


Deadwood policies from Redwood think-tank

It seems the Conservative party is lurching to the extreme right in order to cut the substantial lead the novice but effective and successful Prime Minister Gordon Brown has managed to give his party after an orderly transition of power and graceful retirement from British politics of the increasingly unpopular Prime Minister Tony Blair, the ardent supporter of the Iraq war.

It is a last throw of dice for David Cameron to bring in John Redwood, the darling of the Tory Right and the so-called economic guru to restore the fading Tory fortunes at a time when the Labour party is enjoying a healthy 10% lead in the opinion poll and a snap general election may be on the horizon that may give the government a 100 plus majority in the House of Commons.

The tax cut sweetener, their ultimate and perhaps the only weapon to woo voters is laced with ifs and buts, as the Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, a wise politician, is unwilling to give a blank cheque. He would only promise a tax cut as and when it becomes affordable.

One foolhardy proposal is to scrap pension annuities, allowing the recipient to draw out the whole lump sum in one go rather than receiving a monthly pension. What happens if the recipient blows it on a holiday home, gambling or on unwise, unsafe investment. He could become a burden on the tax payers, drawing pension credits, defeating the whole purpose of investing in old age security and make them financially independent on the State at a time when the public sector expenditure is at an all time high.

Building houses on a reclaimed land from the estuary is madness, at the time when floods are ravaging the country and the climate change may make it even worse. No insurance company would touch these houses with a barge-poll, making these homes a liability rather than an asset, not an Englishman’s castle but a dungeon, a white elephant. If any thing, flood plains and river estuaries should not only be left alone but widen and new low lands should be converted to marshland so as to create water reservoirs where overflowing rivers could find a safe haven for the flood water. It is not the ideal time to reclaim, drain river estuaries and deprive the rain water a natural habitat.

Converting footpaths or pavements into racing tracks for bicycle is a recipe for disaster for the young, disabled and the elderly. It would be the encroachment of roads on to the footpaths. It is already dangerous to walk on footpaths which are regularly but illegally used by the young bikers. Giving them licence to do so could be dangerous.

Yes, where the footpaths are wide, such a track could be constructed with inbuilt safety measures, railings on both the sides and footpath zebra crossings at regular intervals and at road junctions. But it will cost millions and may turn out to be a white elephant. No local council would spend on such a crazy scheme if rate payers are asked to bear the burden.

It seems people and politicians of this country are averse to change that keeps us in the slow lane or even dead end, whether it is joining EEC, Euro or reforming agriculture. It is no wonder that Tories would like to scrap ID cards that would give us some security and are widely used throughout the world.

Then, what could voters expect from a party that supported Iraq war, gave us poll tax and have no clue how to reduce rate burden on the old age pensioners some of whom pay as much as £150 a month, the greatest drain on their meagre resources. It seems old age is a crime in the eyes of most politicians, irrespective of party politics, allegiance and social beliefs.

We had ID cards and driving licence with a photo in Tanzania in early sixties. Are we so far behind developing countries? Even the introduction of passports, driving tests, driving licences with photos and establishing the DVLA were opposed when first introduced in this country.

These are just a few examples of the crazy ideas the Tories have unveiled in their long-awaited report on tax and economic competitiveness, chaired by Mr. John Redwood who has produced a deadwood of a report with outdated and failed policies tried before.

However one sensible proposal, perhaps borrowed from the successful tiger economies of the Far Eastern countries is to create tax-free lifetime saving accounts which would provide a decent living, to supplement the meagre state pension in our old age. It is too obvious that the private pension schemes operated by insurance companies have failed miserably and the company pension funds are so often raided, drained and exhausted by the directors in a fraudulent manner.

Such life long saving accounts should only be allowed to be dipped into for a deposit on house purchase, life threatening medical condition or exceptional educational advancement for the children, putting a careful limit on draining such an account. But it will only work if there is some sort of compulsion on savings, deductible from wages and backed by generous tax allowance.

It would be interesting to read the full report, especially for the new chancellor and demolish it brick by brick if there is a snap general election in the autumn.




CRE scuppers Sikh regiment

It seems CRE is meddling in matters that do not concern it in any way. The plan by Ministry of Defence (MoD) to create all Sikh regiment was given a vote of No Confidence by meddling CRE, although it was favoured by the army who are desperately seeking new recruits and would love to have the members of the ethnic minority to join our defence force.

Is this political correctness gone one step too far? Then again, CRE lacks sense and sensibility at any time, let alone when the army is in crisis when it is losing more officers than ever before, due to our involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and any part of the globe that this government may fancy. According to All Party Committee of MPs, the army is some six thousand short of personnel, especially at the upper end, well experienced soldiers that take time to train.

CRE spokesperson describes such a move as segregation, discrimination, although it was widely approved and applauded by the members of the Sikh community at large who are eager to serve the country they regard as their home. It would have enhanced the prestige of the Sikh community who, like Gurkhas, are a fierce fighters that any defence force would be proud to have. It is a pity that this may not happen.

The British Indian Army always had a Sikh platoon and had received more bravery awards, including VC than any other regiment. It was the Sikh Regiment that fought on the North West Frontier in 1897 facing overwhelming Afghan insurgents. Although vastly outnumbered, they fought to the last man, heroism beyond the call of duty.

Today, when the West faces a threat from Afghan Taliban, who better to standby, fight side by side with the British army, as an integral part of the defence force than Sikh and Gurkha regiment?

The MoD bowed to the pressure and abandoned the idea, although there are Scots, Welsh, Irish and Royal Gurkha Rifles recruited exclusively from the tiny Himalayan nation of Nepal, who are fierce fighters, especially in close combat and in jungle and mountain terrain, better than any other soldiers in the British Army.

It is a pity that the Government is allowing CRE, the organisation most regarded as mischief making busy body, to interfere in the army’s internal affairs, without consultation with the Sikh community.

The decision to scupper the plan even before it was discussed properly was criticised by the Army, politicians and the community members alike who fear that this may affect adversely the army’s recruitment drive, especially among the Sikh community.

It is understandable that not every ethnic minority can have their own regiment but Sikhs and Gurkhas are born fighters, perfectly suited for the army life. Even the Indian army have their own Sikh regiment. It would be interesting to hear the views of the readers of this prestigious magazine India Link, especially from Sikh readers.




A sister planet for Mother Earth

It seems after a long search, the scientists and astronomers have discovered, rather unearthed a planet that may be similar to earth, having water, air and other life sustaining elements that are, so far unique to earth.

This is the first and the only habitable planet similar in size, condition and composition discovered by the scientists, located in a distant solar system that is twenty light years away, beyond reach from earth for a foreseeable future. Even an unmanned space probe may take some thousand years to reach the planet, with today’s technology. But who can foretell how advanced our technology could be in fifty years’ time?

The unnamed planet, simply known as X is about one and a half times the size of the earth with five times the mass of the earth, according to the team of astronomers based in Garching, in Germany. Surely, it could solve our expanding population problem for a foreseeable future if we can invent a transport system that can transfer us from one planet to another with the press of a button, “Beam me up Scotty” technology.

According to the reports and statements by various European Astronomical Institutes, the temperature on this sister planet could be between zero and 40*c with water, even vast oceans with more water than on earth and rocky surface similar to earth where life could exist as we know it.

But the planet is too far away from earth for the scientists to learn, to gather much scientific information. It will need a satellite to orbit this planet in order to have accurate information about the type of life, whether plant or animal life that may have colonized this planet, although it would be too much to find human life on this planet.

The planet is orbiting a star known as Giles 581, also known as the Red Dwarf, as it is much smaller than our Sun, one of the 100 closest and smallest stars to the Sun. The planet X is much closer to the sun Red Dwarf that our earth to Sun, with a very short year but the closeness gives the planet warmth, atmosphere and conditions similar to earth.

Most of the 200 planets discovered outside our solar system are on most part, massive accumulation of densely packed gases, similar to planet Jupiter where life can never ever exist. But planet X is different.

The European scientists are excited with this discovery where the possibility of life existing is greater than ever before and will definitely be a target for further exploration, not now but in thirty to fifty years time, especially if scientists can establish a colony on the moon, as it would be much easier and cheaper to launch a rocket for inter planetary travel, exploration, with the gravity of the moon only one sixth that of earth.

USA has already announced their intention to go back to moon, to land astronauts and establish colonies with the aim of permanent settlement. (Can US colonise the Moon? India Link June-July 07).

With the rapid scientific development and advancement on earth during the last one hundred years, more than during the previous two thousand years, who can say where human beings may be living in another one hundred years, by the turn of the 21st century.




TIGERS NEXT DOOR

Imagine this ………….You are in the middle of wilderness, not an open Serengeti type grassland that East Africa is famous for but a dense sub-tropical forest, set perched not in a four wheel safari car but on an elephant, some-what uncomfortably, as the space in the palkhi, a small wooden cabin with cushions, hunting the most elusive cat in the wilderness, not with a gun but a Japanese camcorder. Where are you?

You are in our beloved Bharat, to be precise in Bandhavgarn National Park in Madhya Pradesh, one of the most important conservation zones in the world, created by the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi, with the help of United Nations World Wide Fund (WWF)

For the preservation of endangered species, the tigers, now being found in very small enclosures in Asia, are the most endangered large wild cat in the world.

At the turn of the century, there were more than two hundred thousand tigers found throughout South East Asia but today there are less than five thousand left in the wilderness, mainly in Bharat and the fast dwindling jungles of Sumatra and Borneo.

If unprotected, they would disappear from the face of the earth in a decade or two, as tiger bones are considered to have a special medicinal value, especially in the far Eastern countries of Japan, China and Taiwan, curing any illness from T.B to infertility and as a result, tiger bones are in great demand.

So, to see one in fur in her natural surrounding is one of life’s greatest thrill. The recent survival special, filmed in the Bandhavgarn National Park over two years, attracted a lot of attention amongst armchair tourist as well as naturalist and botanist alike. The programme was centred on the life of a female tiger called Rani and the struggle for survival of her two cubs born while the filming was going on.

The Western tourists are encouraged to tour the park on an elephant rather than in a four wheel Jeep which are also available for the less mobile and the elderly but elephants are more nature-friendly than cars and they can travel across the terrain car drivers would not even contemplate, blending among other wild life without disturbing nature in any way. Even tigers pass-by without giving a second glance.

The elephant in the film was called Laxmi and the mahout named Ram, the famous Hindu God. Climbing the 14 steps to palkhi was like boarding a Jumbo jet. The imaginative wooden structure, decorated, painted with flowers and trees and images of Hindu Gods, can take four passengers in comfort and the mahout in front.

As the dry season take roots, watering holes and puddles start disappearing fast until only the largest and the deepest water holes survive, so often water being supplemented by special tankers to give the nature a helping hand, making them a central point of the jungle life and a rich hunting ground. But unlike Africa, such a watering hole is not an easy ambush point, as it is surrounded by jungle with many escape routes.

Tigers have no natural enemies in the wild, except human beings. Tigers and elephants can live side by side as one is carnivorous and the other herbivorous. Tigers’ natural preys in the wild are Samber and Chantal deer, wild goats, pigs and boars. As there are less than fifty tigers in the park and no other carnivorous animals, food is plentiful but space is at a premium, as tiger is a territorial animal. Each male tiger needs a territory of his own before he can breed and raise a family of his own.

Curled up together en family by a jungle watering hole, a tiger family looks as cuddlesome as their domesticated cousins. But those who share a neighbourhood with them, such as people of Madhya Pradesh, tigers are an unwelcome intruders. They not only devour their livestock and occasionally their women and children, who normally guard their livestock, but tigers are now given a position of privilege. Villagers are barred from entering the forest to collect firewood.

Villagers require a constant supply of firewood to fuel their traditional clay oven. No wonder villagers resent these restrictions. Now the Park authority with the help of the Tourist and Forestry department, help the villagers to buy solar powered and bio gas stoves, making them less dependent on the dwindling supply of firewood.

The Bandhavgarh National Park, a jungle book like wildlife paradise is carved out of an area of farmland, natural forest and wasteland, merged together to create a beautiful tiger sanctuary. Local people, who are mostly vegetarian, are sympathetic to the need to preserve their unique heritage but are none the less miffed that they can not utilize the land within the tiger sanctuary.

Fortunately the park authority is winning the heart and mind of these villagers by educating them, sharing the profit tourism brings by planting new productive, fruit bearing trees and make them feel that they are the true protector of nature. Once these villagers were the willing tools of poachers operating from big cities like Mumbai and Delhi but no more. The wind of change is sweeping through countless Indian villages and will ultimately prove to be the salvation of Indian wild life.

After a long, hard, brutal and savage summer, the arrival of spring and then monsoon comes as a breath of fresh air. The merciless clear blue sky, breathing down fire, turns dark overnight, laden with water bearing clouds, pouring down water as if coming out of a bust water pipe. The parched land, a feature for a long time, turns into an eye pleasing, mind soothing green pasture land, covered with colourfully beautiful spring flowers.

This transformation takes place almost overnight. Every hole, every depression in the landscape, becomes a temporary water hole, attracting birds, insects and wild animals of all size and shape. Jungle truly comes to life, mawa trees in full blossom, the delicate flowers and the tender new growth providing a feast for languor monkeys, birds and humans alike.

The abounding pale blue lantana flowers stippled the grass; jasmine like blooms perfume the warm still air. In the distance, on the horizon, the foothills of the Saraswati ridge, a dream like vision, were sharply and clearly etched against the slightly pale ocean blue sky. The band of white cap monkeys, normally the resident of Corbett National Park, were the uninvited guests of Languor monkeys, who were watching them from a safe distance.

The soil, as hard as cement only a few days ago, turns like soft jelly. The villagers start planting saplings donated by the park authority. The termite towers now become a prey to the sharp claws of the black sloth bears who feast on the white, delicate flesh of termites.

Food abounds, making life easy and lazy for all creatures, big and small.

This is the time for romancing, mating and building nests for the arrival of the young. The sight of peacock dancing in all his glory and the majestic charm, sweet smell of scented wild flowers and sweet tunes flowing freely from love birds turns Bandhavgarh national Park into Lord Krishna’s legendary Vrindavan, albeit for a short span of time only.

Soon the spring time is over, along with water bearing clouds that would not be seen for some nine months. The sun again rules supreme, breathing fire and the temperature soars into the forties and above, even in shade. Tigers feel uncomfortable in heat and spend much of the day in shade, often in deep caves which are much cooler and safe. So the right time to catch a glimpse of a tiger is early in the morning, at dawn and just after sunset.

The visit to Bandhavgarth National Park is the ultimate thrill in the wild life safari experience and no other country can boast the existence of lions, tigers, elephants and rhinoceros within her border. The thrills of watching a tiger from the height of some twenty feet, not surrounded and protected by glass and metal, one has to put all his faith in the elephant and the unarmed mahout, keep staring intensely into the bush, muscles all tensed up, barely breathing, shivering in excitement, then suddenly the moment you have been waiting for becomes a reality, a tiger crossing a dirt track, an opening made in the forest by rangers for elephant, also called elephant track, the majestic walk of the tiger, without even glancing in your direction, is one in a life time experience. So the next time you visit Bharat, make an effort to visit Gir Forest of Gujarat, the only place in Asia where one can see lions in the wild and Bandhavgarth National Park. We all have experienced the beaches of Goa and Kerala but how many of us can boast to have seen lions and tigers in their natural habitat, in the wild and above all, in our beloved Bharat?



Our holier than thou attitude

In David Miliband, the Labour Government has a young, ambitious and capable politician who will, one day occupy the highest political post, and will serve the country well.

But he showed his inexperience and lack of political judgement when he tackled, offended and antagonized Russia, turning a friend into a foe, and at a time when this country needs every friend she can get, having turned most Asian and Middle East countries against us.

Russia is not Iraq, Afghanistan or any African country that this government can bully and subjugate at will. Our government’s unbelievable arrogance and holier than thou attitude is costing us friends, turning friends into foes and endangering the lives of our citizens, not only abroad but on the streets of our major cities. Terrorism has come home to roost, thanks to this government who dragged us into an unjust, morally bankrupt war in Iraq.

Russia has, so far made 21 unsuccessful requests to extradite their citizens; some wanted for embezzlement of billions of pounds, while others for terrorism, yet this government has failed to meet a single request, the so called government who would like us to believe that it is tough on terrorism.

The reality is rather different. It seems the hype, political posturing and spin doctors still rule and affect political judgement. If Russia had expelled our diplomats for every request that failed, our embassy in Russia would have been a ghost place, devoid of any staff. For once, this would have been a blessing in disguise. But it seems Russian politicians are more mature than ours.

Then Russia is not alone to suffer such a set back. India has, during the last two decades made some 20 requests for extradition of suspected murders and terrorists, some may even have been involved in the bombing of Air India flight from Toronto which was blown out of sky over the Irish sea with the loss of well over 400 lives. Then who is counting, certainly not this government.

Other countries that have failed in their quest to apprehend such perpetrators and bring then to justice where the alleged crimes have been committed, are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Algeria, a few among many. No wonder London is known as Costa del Refuge where criminals live in a lap of comfort if not luxury, paid for by the British tax payers.

The only country that routinely succeeds on extradition front is America, so often we have handed over our citizens for alleged financial mismanagement that may have taken place here, in this country rather than in America. It seems there is one rule for USA and another for the rest of the world. This country is almost afraid to say no to big brother where Irish terrorists fleeing Northern Ireland found a haven, collecting money and buying weapons for the conflict.

Now the government is seeking the support of EU members. Of course countries like France and Germany will give us their full support, a poisoned chalice, expecting the dispute to ruin our economic ties with Russia, an emerging economic super power with vast mineral wealth, especially oil and gas, so that they can pick up the pieces, lucrative contracts on offer. Are we so blind not to see the obvious?

Let us hope that Mr. Brown has learnt some harsh lessons from the blunders of his predecessor, one and only Mr. Tony Blair.


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