Jyesth Krishna 11 Vik Samvat 2069. Yugabda 5114: May 16, 2012

1. FESTIVALS: Baisakhi: Joining Sikh New Year celebrations in Kuala Lumpur last week, Malaysian Prime Minister announced a special though unlisted holiday for the Sikhs in the country's Civil Service, thus making Malaysia the first country outside Bharat to show such a gesture towards the Sikhs.
Baisakhi celebrations have been continuing in most of the Western countries, including Canada, America, United Kingdom, Europe and Australia. While in England, Prime Minister David Cameron not only invited eminent members of the Sikh community to his official residence at 10 Downing Street but also called father-daughter duo of Bhangra king Channi Singh and Mona to perform. In Ottawa, MP Nina Grewal organised a special programme inside the House of Commons at Parliament Hill while the annual nagar kirtan in Toronto drew huge crowds. Similar nagar kirtan processions were organised in Vancouver, New York and other major cities in North America.
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal joined Vaisakhi celebrations in Muscat organized by the World Punjabi Organisation.
2. Massive Hindu wave at Kasaragod: The northenmost coastal town of Kerala, Kasaragod was flooded with saffron flags, as people arrived in thousands for the mamoth Hindu Samjotsav named ‘Hindu Shakti Sangama’ on May 6. The event was organised by Hindu Hita Rakshana Samithi, at Talipadpu Maidan. Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s International working president Dr Pravin Togadia called for a united Hindu society at any cost, stressing the need of Hindu unity, and pointing the threats before the Hindu Society. Vishweshwara Swamiji of Pejawar Mutt, Gurudevananda Swamiji of Odiyoor, Mohandas Swamiji Manila, Kuntar Ravish Thantri, MB Puranik, and several other socio-religious leaders were present on the dais.
3.   ‘NATION IS ULTIMATE’:  BHAGAIAH: A one-day conference of heads of various educational institutions on the role of educational Institutions in Nation building was held in Bengaluru on 29th April. In his keynote address, RSS Akhil Bharatiya Boudhik Pramukh Bhagaiah said, “Nation is the ultimate entity for all individuals.
All work is to ensure a national enthusiasm at all levels. RSS or any organisation is not ultimate; it may or may not exist in future. But the nation is eternal, it will be there always. Hence think, and work for the nation.” Dr NR Shetty, former Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University called for united efforts in building a strong nation. Prof K Narahari, National Chief of Madhyamika Shikshak Sangh, Sri Tippeswamy, RSS State Secretary (Pranth Karyavah) were present during the conference.
4. Vedic Mathematics in South Korea:   Sewa International karyakarta Ravi Kumar on his tour to south East Asia visited Seoul from 26 - 30April. Three Workshops on Vedic Mathematics and Vedic Sciences were held in Seoul National University main campus and Sung Kyun Kwan University Suwon. These were attended by Head of Mathematics Dept; Dean of Mathematics Faculty, Professors from different areas of study, Research Students and Post Graduate students.
In every workshop professors and students showed keen interest and unanimously requested the duration to be increased in order to learn more. Three of these students later conducted classes on Vedic Maths in two temples the next day to the great amazement of the devotees. Ravi Kumar also explained the Hindu Influence in South East Asia and around the world by means of Power Point Presentations at two Radha Krishna Mandirs in and around Seoul.
In all his speeches, Ravi Kumar highlighted the strong historical, cultural and linguistic connections between Koreans and Indians for the past 2000 years. He gave several examples of common words in Tamil and Korean languages to the great amazement of the audience, many of whom were made aware for the first time. He also showed the closeness of cultural traits between Bhatiyas and Koreans like using only right hand for giving and accepting money and valuables from others, respect for the teachers, respecting elders in families and society. Ravi Kumar narrated the story (that most Koreans believe true) that a Bharatiya Princess of divine birth (Mata Laxmi) sailed from Bharat in 48 AD to marry Korean King Kim Suro, also considered as of divine birth (Lord Vishnu). Several Presidents, Prime Ministers and ministers of Korea claim today that they are the descendents of the Divine Princess from Bharat. Narrating this episode Ravi Kumar urged the Bharatiyas in Korea to work for a meaningful interaction with Koreans so that the Koreans too start owning the Universal Vedic Values as their own.
All the programs were planned meticulously by Dr Abhijit Ghosh, Professor of Yoga in Dong Seoul University, South Korea and a team of wellwishers.
5.  Govt told to improve ties with Lanka:  “Sri Lanka will have more friends than Bharat if it turns hostile. It is Bharat’s job not to give it an opportunity to turn hostile,” said Subramaniam Swami speaking in a round table conference on ‘Bharat-Sri Lanka Relations — New Challenges’ conducted by India Foundation in the Capital on May 8. Swami urged the Government of Bharat to take a firm stand on the issue and not to succumb to the pressure tactics of the minority Bharatiya Tamils who are a part of the coalition Government.
Voicing similar opinion, BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Balbir Punj raised concerns over the consistent hostility between the Tamils and the Sinhalese as polity in the state was polarised. “People in Tamil dominated areas in Sri Lanka have no freedom. For every celebration, they have to inform the army. The schools and hospitals here are not functioning. The Bharatiya Government is running nearly 52 projects in these areas but the solution to these problems have to be found in Sri Lanka,” he said. The other panelist was CPI MP D.Raja while Prof, Nirmala Sitaraman conducted the program.
6. ‘Kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi...’: On Sunday 25th March 2012, 250 ladies/girls as well as 650 men/boys of all ages from all across the UK, put on their sports gear and gathered in Leicester and Derby respectively to compete in three very different games: Kabaddi, Kho-Kho and Ring.  Hindu Sevika Samiti participants were fortunate to be in the presence of the England Women’s Kabaddi team (formed from serving members of the Armed Forces), their coach Ashok Das (President of European Kabaddi Federation) and Mrs Kawal Das (General Secretary of England Kabaddi Association). Everyone present was inspired to see the England team playing the Bharatiya sport so passionately at an International level. A few were very fortunate to have an opportunity of playing Kabaddi with the England team, leaving the spectators stunned. Throughout the day the demonstration of all the sports was at its highest.
The winners were for Samiti Ashton being Champions of Kabaddi, Woolwich winning Kho-Kho and Birmingham becoming Lords (or Ladies) of the Ring!  For Sangh it was Birmingham winning Kabaddi and Finchley winning both Kho-Kho and Ring.
7. Tritiya Varsh Sangh Shiksha Varg: The thirty-day-long Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Tritiya Varsh Sangh Shiksha Varg (Third Year Training Camp) was inaugurated by Shri Anil Sole, Mayor Nagpur city on May 14th. RSS Saha Sarakaryawah Dattatreyaji Hosbale welcomed and introduced the guests.
In his inaugural address, Nagpur Mayor Anil Sole gave a brief account of the development activities that are being carried out in the region. Describing Nagpur as the ‘Gangotri of Sangh’, he said that being swayamsewak he takes the responsibility for development of city and will ensure that the image of RSS will not be maligned among the public.
Over 1000 swayamsevaks from all parts of the nation are participating in this camp. This camp will conclude on June 12. RSS Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh Dr. Manmohan Vaidya will be Palak Adhikari during the camp. Gujarat Prant Sanghchalkak Dr Jayantibhai Bhadesiya (Gujrat Prant Sangh chalak) will be Sarvadhikari and Jasvantji Khatri (Jodhpur Prant Karyawah) will be Karyawah of this camp.
8.  Narad Jayanti: RSS Media Centre, Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra, on Monday May 7th, 2012 celebrated the Narad Jayanti by felicitating journalists and honouring their commitment and contribution towards the betterment of the society.
Dr. Subramaniam Swamy who was the Chief Guest feliciatated Shripal Shaktawat, who also got featured in Aamir Khan's Satyameva Jayate for his famous sting on Female Foeticide in Rajasthan.
“A journalist should not be afraid of defamation suits. A politician merely uses it at as a deterrent tool to silence just criticism from investigative reporters.  In fact, all reporters should get a detailed and first-hand knowledge of the law governing defamation suits so that they can understand the scope of this law,” said Dr Swamy. He added that till date around 125 defamation suits were filed against him of which he did not loose any such suit.
Among Shaktawat’s various investigative stories the sting operation titled “Kokh Mein Qatl” deserves special mention as it exposed around 100 doctors involved in illegal sex determination and female foeticide. Indresh Kumar, Member, Rashtriya Karyakarini of the RSS was the chief speaker at the ceremony. Indresh ji stressed upon the need to declare Narad Jayanti as World Journalism Day. 
9. First Hindu Mandir Pandits-Priests Conference of America a Success: Over 32 Pandits and 40 adult and youth delegates representing more than 20 Mandirs (Temples) and Hindu organizations, from across the county, participated in the First annual Hindu Mandir Pandits' (Priest) Conference (HMPC), from April 27th through 28th, 2012 in Pittsburgh, PA. The Theme of the conference was 'Role of Pandits in Sustaining Dharma in America'.
The conference began with group chanting of Ganesh Atharvashirsha by all the Pandits. The praasaad (hall) of Hindu Jain Temple was filled with divine vibrations. In his keynote address on elevating the profile of Pandits', Pandit Roopnauth Sharma of Canada said, "The mandir belongs to the people (devotees) who come to the mandir." He stressed on the important role that the Pandit has as a performer of religious functions, as a teacher/counselor, as a mandir executive and as a community leader.
Sessions included a variety of topics relevant to the Mandirs, Pandits and Youth - tomorrow's torchbearers of Sanatana Dharma. Topics included 'Pandit Adjustment, Growth and Development', 'Serving the Youth and Young Couples', 'Compensation, Benefits, Housing, Long-Term Service Issues'.
In the concluding session of the conference, delegates agreed on two resolutions about forming a Hindu Mandir Pandit Sabha (a think tank) to enhance and facilitate communications and knowledge exchange and formulate an exchange program for Pandits to observe and learn from Operation and Spiritual activities of other Temples.
10. BIHAR LAUDED FOR CHILD HEALTHCARE MODEL: "Bihar, one of the poorest in the country, is at the forefront of the battle against vitamin A deficiency, which afflicts up to 62 per cent of pre-school age children in rural Bharat," says the 13th annual State of the World's Mothers report by the Save the Children foundation. In 2009, Bihar's vitamin A supplementation programme reached 13.4 million children under 5, protecting 95 per cent of children in this age group against the devastating consequences of vitamin A deficiency, says the report. This high coverage came at a time when the national coverage across Bharat was estimated at only 34 per cent, the report pointed.
11. HINDU HERITAGE CAMP IN CONNECTICUT: A Hindu Heritage Camp in conjunction with an Ekal Vidyalaya fund raising concert was conducted in Connecticut on May 6.  Bhaavika Patel who is currently a Vistarika in the area took the lead on the planning. The HHC started with registration, followed by a Maha Khel session for all of the children.  They then split into two ganas, 7 and below, and 8 and above, for Arts and Crafts.  This consisted of Mother's Day cards with Origami on the front followed by a Clay making project for the younger group and various Origamis for the older group.  After a snack break, the younger group had Katha based on stories from the Ramayan and the older group had a Clay modeling project.  In the last session, Shakha Khel in two separate ganas were there before the parents came to take their kids for dinner. The camp was successful because the organizers were able to engage everyone in a meaningful way and bring several families closer to Shakha in the area.
12.  CHINA SET TO GET FIRST YOGA COLLEGE: A Yoga College is being established in China by Yin Yan of the Yogi Yoga Institute of China. She has married Manmohan Singh Bhandari, a Yoga exponent from Rishikesh. The logo of the college, Shardha, Veerya Smruthi and Pragyana, the quintessential components of Hatha Yoga was inaugurated on May 4. “Yogi Yoga has trained over 10,000 teachers and instructors in its branches in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou since 2004 upto now," Yin Yan said.
The three-year course would focus on Hatha Yoga be conducted by a vastly experienced faculty from Bharat and abroad headed by Bhandari. The first batch of students, chosen from the one month course involving 200 hours of training, was being enrolled. The course would focus on shaping up a good teacher. The entire 36 month course was expected to cost around USD 4000. The degree would enable teachers to become fulltime instructors of yoga, which is practised in all most popular gyms and health centres in China.
At a seminar on yoga organised by her centre, Yin Yan described noted Bharatiya exponent of Yoga, B K Iyengar as Mao Zedong of Yoga. Her institute has translated vast works of Iyengar into Chinese. Iyengar was accorded big public receptions when he visited last year.
13.  When NRIs contribute to their motherland: Some of the best Bharatiya students go abroad and this has led to some heart burns against them. On the other side, some of those who have been educated abroad and worked there and made a place for themselves in that society, have quit everything to come back to Bharat. A man, who did well in real estate in Canada, came back to Punjab to open a hospital near his village. He succeeded and the hospital continues to attract talented doctors from abroad who visit it and provide their specialised skills and thus help patients. Another Canadian came back to his village and set up a modern sanitation system. Not content with that, he soon started expanding his endeavours and, in time, was successful in providing more villages with such facilities. Many NRIs have set up education institutions in remote areas. In some cases, they had the kutcha paths of various villages paved with bricks to improve the village environs. Another group set up an ambulance service that serves five states — Maharashtra, Bihar, Rajasthan, Kerala and Punjab. They also give first-aid training to school and college students.
However, many regret the fact that when they return, full of good intentions, their efforts are thwarted by the government inertia and the vested interests which prefer the status quo. It is a matter of regret that on the one hand there is the general lament about brain drain, while on the other precious little is done to harness the contribution of those who come back with noble intentions.
14. Bharat is world’s most optimistic market: Bharat, for the ninth consecutive quarter, has emerged as the most optimistic market in terms of consumer confidence with an increase of one point to 123, but there is still some amount of cautiousness when it comes to spending spare cash, said a Nielsen survey. “This optimism is reflected in Indian consumers’ increased confidence in job prospects, which is a good sign for the economy. However, job security is still a cause for concern and consumers are still cautious when it comes to spending spare cash,” said Justin Sargent, MD, Nielsen India.
15. RAMLILA 2012: 28 Balagokulam kids of Naperville Aurora shakha staged Ramlila, consisting 10 scenes followed by group dance, at Center Stage theatre in front of an audience comprising teachers, friends and families of kids on 29th April. The play taught the kids not only the story of Lord Rama, but many life lessons. They learnt how to be kind, loyal, and understanding towards each other which is the essence of the greatness of Lord Rama.           
16. 108 ambulance service COMPLETES 1 YEAR: 5 US-returned young Bharatiya professionals had set up an ambulance service a year ago to provide the facility in five states, including Punjab. Started from two, the company now has 860 ambulances, Rs 80 crore turnover and over 4,800 work force.
Data released by the company reveals that the ‘108’ service has helped save 1.53 lakh lives in Punjab, which now has 240 ‘108’ ambulances operating in 20 districts.         
The call centre of the ambulance service received 14.5 lakh calls in one year. Of the 1.53 lakh patients that these ambulances ferried to hospital, 49,277 were expectant mothers while 23,144 were accident/trauma cases. 245 successful deliveries also took place in these ambulances.        
17.    Dragon dance in garba land to boost Gujarat-China business: The land of garba will host Chinese opera. As lion bonds with dragon to boost business ties, a 72-member team will stage a Beijing opera, which dates back to the third century, at Motera stadium, Ahmedabad for three days during the upcoming Vibrant Gujarat summit in January next year.
A 300-member cultural troupe from China will stage more events during the investment summit - a clear indication that the dragonland will be part of the Gujarat story after countries like Japan and Canada have already partnered Vibrant Gujarat 2011.
The shows will be translated live in Gujarati and will be fused with episodes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
The opera is a traditional form of Chinese theatre developed in eastern China's Zhejiang province. Though banned during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), it was revived over the last two decades.
18.   BHARAT to grow at 7.5%: Bharat is projected to see a faster growth of 7.5 per cent this fiscal on the back of higher savings and investment rates, even as most of the Asia-Pacific economies are likely to expand at a slower pace, says a UN report. "The Bharatiya economy’s strong fundamentals, namely high saving and investment rates and rapidly expanding labour force and middle class will ensure a steady economic performance... We expect it to expand by about 7.5 per cent in 2012-13," UNESCAP chief economist Nagesh Kumar said. The report said there are indications the Bharatiya economy is turning around as core sectors, including manufacturing, show signs of recovery.
In 2011-12 fiscal, the economy faced a twin shock of global slowdown and impact of tight monetary policy, it said.
19.   Here vedic rites become part of women's rights: Every Sunday Kashi Mutt at Kasyapa Veda Research Foundation (KVRF) near West Hill, Kozhikode wakes up to the chanting of vedas. Around 300 women from faraway places come here on weekends to learn the scriptures. Once they arrive at the centre, they divide themselves into small batches each of 13-14 members.
The teacher Sujesh Arya, a disciple of KVRF founder Acharya M R Rajesh, imparts them practical lessons on Vedic Sandyavandanam and related rituals from 8am to 12pm.
The KVRF started teaching vedas to women irrespective of their caste or age nine years ago in a bid to break the age-old tradition of restricting the learning of scriptures to Brahmin males. The institute has so far taught vedas to more than 10,000 women from Kannur, Kozhikode, Malappuram, and Thrissur.
They are well-versed in the art of performing agnihotram, nitya yajna, and numerous other Smartha and Sroutha yajnas, Shodassakriya (the 16 Samskara Kriyas from birth to death), and Bali Vaishya Veda Yajnam.
20.   Saving lives round the clock, a step at a time: At 9.45 pm, a young woman walks into the Kibithoo health sub-centre, blood dripping from her face; yet another victim of a domestic squabble. Oni Ering and Pura Menu, auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs) at the sub-centre, clean the wound, stitch it, and send her back with tablets and a neat bandage. Ering and Menu's work isn't done, though. It's never exactly done when you have set up camp at a place near China border, offering 24x7 services to the people.
Run by the Karuna Trust, the Walong Primary Health Centre (PHC) is one of 11 such establishments being run by NGOs on a non-profit basis in Arunachal Pradesh under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) since 2006.
The sub-centre caters to 10 villages sprinkled over the mountains, where landslides and road blocks are common occurrences and walking long distances routine. "At times, we walk about 10-km stretches to reach our destination," says Milo Yanga at Walong PHC.
Equipped with a modern delivery room, the centre also conducts blood tests. "Earlier, we had to go to Tezu, about 200 km away, for a blood test," says Billangli Tamai, who runs a PCO at Walong.
21.   BHARAT now has its own missile defence shield: The shield, developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation, has been tested successfully. An incoming ballistic missile with the range of up to 2,000 km can be destroyed by it. The system is to be upgraded to the range of 5,000 km by 2016. "The Ballistic Missile Defence shield is now mature. We are ready to put phase one in place and it can be put in very short time," said DRDO chief V K Saraswat on May 6.
He said the shield, as part of phase one of the programme, can be put in place at two places in the country, where the infrastructure is available. But the two places have not yet been identified and the selection will be made at the political level.
22.  UK Polls: Record number of 8 NRIs elected: Prominent among them is Keith Vaz who has been re-elected from the Leicester East constituency for the sixth time, gaining a bigger vote than ever before. Other winners are Vaz's sister Valerie, a lawyer who won her seat of Walsall South in the West Midlands on a Labour ticket and Ms Priti Patel, a Conservative candidate from Witham. Keith Vaz and his sister will be the first brother and sister to sit in the House of Commons at the same time.
Other NRI winning candidates are Virendra Sharma from Ealing Southall, Marsha Singh (Labour) from Bradford West, Shailesh Vara (Conservative) from Cambridgeshire North West, Aok Sharma (Conservative) from Reading West, and Paul Uppal (Conservative) from Wolverhampton South West.
23.  Found! hidden road to China: 'Road To China', a 26-minute documentary by Mrinal Talukdar, highlights the road that starts from Tinsukia in upper Assam and traverses a distance of some 300 km through hilly terrain before reaching Kaho, the last village near the Line of Actual Control . Talukdar believes this road needs to be opened up to facilitate bilateral trade between Bharat and China, which stands at $74 billion. With Bharat planning to expand it to $100 bn by 2015, this road could become a vital link between both countries.
"I had first undertaken a journey to trace the Tsangpo river from the point it entered Bharat till it became the mighty Brahmaputra. It was then that I learnt about this road," Talukdar says. He believes it's a better alternative to the 1,740 km Stilwell Road which connects Ledo in Assam to Kunming in Yunnan province of China.
In the film, Talukdar undertakes the fascinating journey himself. He takes the Rajdhani Express from Guwahati to Tinsukia and then takes a 30-minute ride to reach Dirak Gate on the Assam-Arunachal border. Permits are needed for any onward journey. The NH52 then takes him to Namsai, Chowkham, Parashuram Kund, Hailyung, Walong and Kibithu, the brigade HQ of the Bharatiya Army. Civilian movement beyond Kibithu is restricted as the Chinese border is close by. The town is strongly defended. But during the 1962 war, Red Army soldiers conquered the loosely defended town of Walong. After the war, the road was closed.
When C S Jenow, the deputy commissioner of Anjaw district, Arunachal Pradesh, was asked if the road could be opened up someday for trade, he said, "Trade is all right but the government needs to factor in potentially dangerous aspects. The British empire's opium trade had its ripples in the region. Tirap and Lohit districts in Arunachal became part of it. That threat is still there as the area is close to the Golden Triangle. Once you throw open the border, it might become difficult to control it." Talukdar's dream could take a while to come true.
24. Visa relaxation to make Bharat a tourist hub: The ministry of external affairs has decided to extend the tourist visa on arrival policy to France, Germany and Russia. The idea is to attract international tourist traffic and turn Bharat into a major tourist destination.
"The criteria for providing the facility to any country include security implication - how much is the presence in that country of people inimical to India's interests - and tourist inflow from there. These three countries made the cut," an MEA source said. Bharat currently issues VOA to 11 countries like Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar, Finland, Luxembourg and New Zealand.
25.   DESI COMPANIES DOMINATE U.S. GENERIC SPACE: Bharatiya pharmaceutical companies filed 51 percent of the overall global applications called ‘drug master filings’ in the U.S. market during 2011. The DMFs are the approvals to supply complex raw materials to all generic manufacturers in the U.S. market beneficial of all global markets. These companies have put aside over half the certified profiles for active pharmaceutical ingredients (API).
Of the global DMF filings in U.S., Bharat estimated for 45 percent in 2009 which increased to 49 percent in 2010 and 51 percent in 2011, so for the last three years there has been a constant increase in the trend of such application from Bharat. 
26.  Bharat can build cheaper reactors EX-DAE chief: Now, Bharat can build cheaper nuclear reactors, than even South Korea. On the eve of his retirement, Dr Srikumar Banerjee, secretary in the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), said Bharat can now manufacture nuclear reactors at $1,700 per unit.
Banerjee said: "We are now the world's most economical manufacturer of nuclear reactors. Our cost per unit, of $1,700 (for a 700mw reactor) is substantially less than our nearest competitors. The average international cost is now between $2,500 and $3,000 (for a 1,000mw reactor). South Korea demonstrated its ability to build nuclear reactors for less when it wrested a massive reactor deal for the UAE from French giant, Areva.
27. SHRI VISHWA NIKETAN: Pravas: Visitors:
FOO   FOOD FOR THOUGHT: This is my prayer to Thee, my Lord – strike, strike at the root of penury in my heart, Give me the strength highly to bear my joys and sorrows, Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service. – Ravindrnath Tagore.

Scrap Haj subsidy
The Supreme Court’s directive to the Union Government to end the subsidy being extended to Haj pilgrims has come not a day soon. Given persistent calls from various sections of society, including many Muslim organisations, that the policy providing state subsidy to the annual pilgrimage should be discontinued for reasons ethical, religious and financial, it is a wonder that the Government had not acted on the sensible suggestion all these years. Now that the Supreme Court has issued its verdict, the Congress-led UPA regime must move fast to scrap the subsidy. Although the apex court has said that the subsidy can be phased out over a period of 10 years, there is really no logic for the dole to end in such an excruciatingly long manner. The more there is a delay in ending the subsidy, the more will the benefits continue to be cornered by people who do not deserve the dole. Primary among these are the members of the jumbo ‘goodwill delegation’ who are flown to Jeddah on an all-expenses paid trip at the tax-payers’ expense. The official delegation often consists of as many as 30 VIPs including even some Members of Parliament, all of whom can surely afford to pay for their own trip. Given the fact that the members of this group are chosen through an opaque selection process on unspecified grounds, one must then question where exactly all this ‘goodwill’ is actually accruing. Similar questions must also be asked of the special 11,000-strong quota of pilgrims that the Government keeps for itself. On its part, the Supreme Court has done well to clip the wings of this “large, unwieldy, amorphous and randomly selected” goodwill delegation. It has now ruled that the delegation will only consist of two members; if more people are required, they may be appointed from among the many Indian pilgrims who go on the Haj on their own money. This is a welcome decision that should significantly reduce the burden of the Haj subsidy on the Indian treasury.
Indeed, the huge financial cost of the Haj subsidy is one of the key reasons behind the apex court’s decision. In 2011 alone, the Government subsidised the pilgrimage for 1.7 lakh Muslims. That cost the Indian exchequer a whopping Rs 685 crore — most of which went towards paying for airfare. A regular round-trip to Jeddah costs about Rs 25,000, but since Saudi rules do no permit non-pilgrims on the same aircraft which then flies back empty to New Delhi, the cost of the trip shoots up to Rs 58,000 per person. However, the Government charges the pilgrims only Rs 16,000 each. This, the Supreme Court has rightly pointed out, is ludicrous. However, what is most absurd is the fact that a secular country should have such a religion-based subsidy in the first place. A secular republic cannot, must not and should not fund the rites and rituals of any faith. The Haj subsidy is an anomaly in present day India and there is no doubt that the only reason it has existed for all these years is because successive Governments have all been too worried about being perceived as anti-Muslim to do the right thing. Perhaps, a good idea would be to implement the suggestion by a number of Muslim organisations of establishing a corpus fund to meet the Haj expenses. But the issue is not just about subsidies to Haj pilgrims. Pampering one section of the society opens the doors for other groups to also cry for similar benefits. Once that happens, there is no end to such demands. –Editorial, The Pioneer, May 10, 2012.

Parliament at 60
Commemorating 60 years of its inception, the Parliament of the world's largest democracy stands today at an important juncture. Envisaged as the foremost lawmaking body of the land, it continues to be the custodian of Indian democracy. As a forum, it represents the diverse views and opinions of 1.2 billion people, cutting across religion, creed and community. It is both the guarantor of Indian sovereignty as well as a champion of the country's federal character. Helmed by great statesmen, it withstood the trials and tribulations of a fledgling democracy and gave birth to institutions that unleashed the forces of prosperity.
Yet the challenges that Parliament faces today could not be more crucial. Wracked by competing political interests, disruptions and logjams, parliamentary functioning has suffered, holding up key legislative work. The ensuing governance deficit has not only led to a sense of disillusionment but also bred widespread cynicism against the political class as a whole. Notwithstanding its problematic demands, the Anna Hazare-led Jan Lokpal Bill movement is a manifestation of this frustration.       
It is vital to recognise that the very democracy of which Parliament is a guardian is continuously eroding the paternalistic state, leading to a greater emphasis on dues and rights. It is crucial, therefore, that Parliament jettisons its inertia on reforms and rediscovers its bipartisan spirit. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and BJP veteran L K Advani have both rightly alluded to this necessity. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has done well to point out that while debate and dissension form the basis of any healthy democracy, orchestrating disruptions in Parliament for narrow political points serves no purpose. There is a serious need to raise the standards of parliamentary debates and rejuvenate the process of lawmaking. With charges of corruption and crime tainting several lawmakers, there's also a need to reform electoral laws to raise the quality of our MPs.     
In the interest of boosting efficacy of Parliament, two suggestions are pertinent. First, CPM's Sitaram Yechury has proposed a constitutional amendment that makes 100 sittings mandatory in a year. This could provide a significant catalyst for legislative work. Second, to guard against political opportunism - the main force behind governance paralysis - emulating the German parliamentary system that mandates legislators vote for an alternative government if they have no confidence in the incumbent regime is an excellent idea. In order to dust off the cobwebs and spearhead the kind of economic and political reform that India desperately needs in the new century, Parliament must rediscover its founding ideals of liberty, equality and sacrifice. – The Times of India, May 15, 2012.