Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Turbulence Ahead


By Joseph E. Stiglitz

No recovery can be called real without bringing down unemployment. As in the euro zone, the haunting number in the U.S. hovers around 10 percent. (In Spain, it's twice that.) And there is a wide consensus among economists that something like the pre-crisis unemployment level of 5 percent remains years away, at least.

Link:
Turbulence Ahead

Sunday, January 23, 2011

In India, a Right-to-Know Law Comes With Risks - NYTimes.com

India may be the world’s largest democracy, but it remains dogged by the twin legacies of feudalism and colonialism, which have often meant that citizens are treated like subjects. Officials who are meant to serve them often act more like feudal lords than representatives of the people.

The law was intended to be a much-needed leveler between the governors and the governed. In many ways it has worked, giving citizens the power to demand a measure of accountability from bureaucrats and politicians.
When the law was passed, Mr. Jethwa, a longtime activist who nursed a lifelong grudge against those who abused official power, immediately seized upon it as a powerful new tool.

His objective was to stop illegal quarries near the Gir National Park, 550 square miles of scrubland and deciduous forest near his hometown, along the southern coast of Gujarat, India’s most prosperous state. The preserve is the only remaining habitat of the rare Asiatic lion. The animal is featured on the national emblem of India, and is considered by Hindus to be a sacred incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

Full text:
In India, a Right-to-Know Law Comes With Risks - NYTimes.com

Friday, January 21, 2011

Manifest Haiti: Monsanto's Destiny

Monsanto is also responsible for other life-changing inventions, such as the crowd-pleasing Agent Orange. The Vietnamese government claims that it killed or disabled 400,000 Vietnamese people, and 500,000 children were born with birth defects due to exposure to this deadly chemical.[vi] Up until 2000, Monsanto was also the main manufacturer of aspartame, which researchers in Europe concluded, "could have carcinogenic effects." In a rare demonstration of social justice, in 2005, Monsanto was found guilty by the US government of bribing high-level Indonesian officials to legalize genetically-modified cotton. A year earlier in Brazil, Monsanto sold a farm to a senator for one-third of its value in exchange for his work to legalize glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide.[vii] In Colombia, Monsanto has received $25 million from the US government for providing its trademark herbicide, Roundup Ultra, in the anti-drug fumigation efforts of Plan Colombia. Roundup Ultra is a highly concentrated version of Monsanto's glyphosate herbicide, with additional ingredients to increase its lethality. Colombian communities and human rights organizations have charged that the herbicide has destroyed food crops, water sources and protected areas and has led to increased incidents of birth defects and cancer.

...

The genetically-modified seeds such as those donated and later immolated, cannot be saved from year to year. Some so-called terminator seeds - the DNA of which is altered so as to not drop seed after harvest - require the farmer to buy new seeds from Monsanto the following year in a legally binding contract, instead of collecting the seeds that would have naturally developed on the plant before its DNA was modified. Other GMO seed which do drop fertile seed may not be replanted by contract. Diminished yields, health problems and weakened prospects to buy the next season's seeds in consequence of and combined with that binding contract with Monsanto have driven many rural farmers to poverty, and subsequently led to a rash of farmer suicides in rural India. Since 1997, more than 182,936 Indian farmers have committed suicide, according to a recent study by the National Crime Records Bureau.[x] "As seed saving is prevented by patents as well as by the engineering of seeds with non-renewable traits, seed has to be bought for every planting season by poor peasants. A free resource available on farms became a commodity which farmers were forced to buy every year. This increases poverty and leads to indebtedness. As debts increase and become unpayable, farmers are compelled to sell kidneys or even commit suicide," Indian author Vandana Shiva noted in her 2004 article "The Suicide Economy Of Corporate Globalisation."[xi]

Manifest Haiti: Monsanto's Destiny

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Beyond the Swindle of the Corporate University: Higher Education in the Service of Democracy

Memories of the university as a citadel of democratic learning have been replaced by a university eager to define itself largely in economic terms. As the center of gravity shifts away from the humanities and the notion of the university as a public good, university presidents ignore public values while refusing to address major social issues and problems.(3) Instead, such administrators now display corporate affiliations like a badge of honor, sit on corporate boards and pull in huge salaries. A survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that "19 out of 40 presidents from the top 40 research universities sat on at least one company board."(4) Rather than treated as a social investment in the future, students are now viewed by university administrators as a major source of revenue for banks and other financial institutions that provide funds for them to meet escalating tuition payments. For older generations, higher education opened up opportunities for self-definition as well as pursuing a career in the field of one's choosing. It was relatively cheap, rigorous and accessible, even to many working-class youth. But as recent events in both the United States and Britain make clear, this is no longer the case. Instead of embodying the hope of a better life and future, higher education has become prohibitively expensive and exclusionary, now offering primarily a credential and, for most students, a lifetime of debt payments. Preparing the best and the brightest has given way to preparing what might be called Generation Debt.(5)

Link to complete text:
Beyond the Swindle of the Corporate University: Higher Education in the Service of Democracy

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Rediscovery of Punjab (from Tehelka)

Alarmed by a report on the decline of Punjab, one man walked 45 days, over 1,200 kilometres across 21 districts, to learn the truth

Source: Tehelka

BY VIJAY SIMHA

UNTIL OCTOBER 2010, much of Punjab didn’t know what was happening with Punjab. It still doesn’t. But a story was told then (TEHELKA Cover, Punjab: Rich and Ruined, 2 October 2010), that has begun to alter the way the people of Punjab look at themselves. The heat and noise of impropriety in the country, what the Prime Minister calls the air of despondency and cynicism, has obscured the decay of Punjab, once India’s proudest and most dynamic state. We put it on the table. That Punjab is a generation away from possible extinction because of drugs, alcohol, pesticides in farms, and a culture of denial.

The responses varied. The government, led by the Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine, opted to look the other way. The intelligentsia was most perturbed. Some people were upset, they thought only one side of Punjab was talked about. But most ordinary folk were happy that at last the truth of Punjab was told. One man went into deep thought.

Ravneet Singh is a young Congress hope, grandson of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, who was assassinated in office in 1995. Ravneet is also the first Congressman in recent times to have won an open inner-party election, in the Punjab Youth Congress (PYC). As President of the PYC, it is Singh’s job to make a difference to the youth of his state. Ravneet says he was alarmed by the scale of the destruction in Punjab, as the TEHELKA story demonstrated. “We were looking for ways to connect with the youth. The story showed us how to,” says Ravneet.

In Punjab the Congress tends to be wary of going to the people, because of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in parts of north India. In the past 15 years, not many Congress politicians have reached out though the party has headed governments in the state. Ravneet decided it was time to. By the time he was through, his feet, legs and body were sore and his toes needed to be separated by a doctor.

This is his story, in his words.

-

'It will take 15 years of social revolution for Punjab to recover’

BY RAVNEET SINGH, CONGRESS MP, ANANDPUR SAHIB

FOR A while now, we have been aware that there is a problem in Punjab. But, we were not sure what precisely we, in the Punjab Youth Congress, should do about it. We held a meeting the day after the TEHELKA story on the deterioration of Punjab appeared. On one hand was the TEHELKA story that triggered much thought in us. On the other hand was Rahul Gandhi’s repeated caution that we must not earn discredit by doing anything half-hearted. So we pondered long and hard. We decided we needed to go to the people first and understand why the situation in Punjab has turned so grave. We didn’t want to talk of religion or votes, which seem to put people off, especially the youngsters. We needed a new revolution. So we called it the New Revolution Padayatra. I, as president of the Punjab Youth Congress, would walk 1,200 km in 45 days across Punjab. The padayatra began on 1 November and concluded on 15 December at Ludhiana. We chose two main themes: drug addiction and female foeticide.

My frist shock was in a village called Channo in Fatehgarh district. We were there on Diwali night. Channo is not a very rich village. In fact, I learned many things about Punjab. The general perception is that Punjab is among the richest states in India, but I found deep-rooted widespread poverty in the state, especially its interiors. In Channo, we found a group of farmers were sitting idle in the mandi. There was too much moisture in their produce this year because of the heavy rains and no one was buying. In any case they had a poor harvest. We offered candles and a few firecrackers, which we had brought with us to distribute. The women were all at home. Not celebrating, just sitting and talking. The men were lying around in a group, mostly drunk. The youngsters were in another group, playing cards and high on smack. This was Fatehgarh, not Amritsar, and they were still heavily addicted.

When we reached Bhatinda, we found 50 to 60 cancer patients in almost every village. Everyone wither had cancer or hepatitis. My aunt had hepatitis so I know how bad it can get. At least two chief minister’s families have cancer patients but the administration is still not sensitised enough. The people in the villages here had accepted illness as their fate. Most of it comes from the polluted water and air. During my yatra I found that you can’t drink natural water in Punjab now. Everything comes from RO filters. All villages have an RO plant to escape the brackish water. The RO plants need frequent maintenance so the villagers suffer anyway. I also found women picking cotton for as little as Rs. 60 a day when even MGNREGA wages are about Rs. 100. This is Punjab.

In the beginning, people seemed wary of us. They probably thought we had come to seek votes. But slowly, by the time we neared Amritsar, they began to join us. Women came out in large numbers and said they would join us in the fight against drugs. The main issue in Punjab is drugs. It has got tricky because the traditional drugs like opium and smack are not so heavily abused now. They are still there but it is the pharmaceutical drugs that are causing havoc. Synthetic drugs have taken over. Everywhere in Punjab we saw medical shops. In every village, even where there are only 1,000 people, they had four medical shops mostly operating without licence.
Ground reality Ravneet’s fact-finding mission focussed on two main themes: female foeticide and drug addiction that has ravaged the state
Ground reality Ravneet’s fact-finding mission focussed on two main themes: female foeticide and drug addiction that has ravaged the state

Ground reality Ravneet’s fact-finding mission focussed on two main themes: female foeticide and drug addiction that has ravaged the state

We would start early every day for the yatra. And we saw the same sight each morning. The markets across the state open at 10 am. But two things start early in Punjab: medical shops and liquor vends. I saw them open even at 6 am with the staff sprinkling water, cleaning the place and getting it ready like one would do for a flower shop. I checked at nearly 30 places. There is a queue of people every morning at medical stores. If they can’t get their supply of drugs at that point, they buy alcohol at a nearby vend and drink for a couple of hours until their supply arrives. When we would walk past schools and colleges, we saw the same thing done a little differently. At some places, policemen in vehicles would be keeping an eye on the medical shops. So, the staff would stock their stuff in a car and settle down at eateries near schools and colleges. Small kiosks that are called canteens. No one bothers them there and the trade flourishes.

Punjab has been a bright star for India, which is now in a state of ruin. This is not apparent until you go to the interiors. I see no ray of hope for Punjab as things stand and this is should be a big worry for Punjab and India. Even a single example will show how bad things are. Sometime in early December, the army held a camp near Ludhiana to enlist soldiers.

Traditionally, Punjab used to have the maximum number of soldiers in the Indian Army. In this exercise, the army was hiring for 18,000 vacancies. Only 1,924 were selected from Punjab. Youngsters were rejected because some didn’t have the necessary height, others didn’t have the chest, and still others didn’t have the stamina. Today, Punjab is so unfit. Seventy percent of the youth is on drugs and 40 percent couples are unable to conceive because of drugs.

In my yatra, I realised that a big change is needed to save Punjab. It must start with us politicians, though it cannot be limited only to the government and political parties. We found at many places people were reluctant to come out and join the yatra openly. They said they were with us but didn’t dare to say so or show it openly. They were afraid of the police, who were keeping an eye on the yatra, zooming in and out, hovering around us all the time. This is a symptom of the political culture in Punjab. When governments are formed, political parties tend to target opponents rather than focus on development. This breeds a desire for revenge and when the other side comes to power, they do the same thing. Some activists said there were 60 FIRs against them.

THIS MUST change. The time for petty power politics is over in Punjab. All parties must come together to run a mass movement to rescue Punjab. Even then, it would take 15 years of social revolution for Punjab to recover. Our New Revolution will not stop with the padayatra. In a couple of months, we would host a big seminar where we hope to come out with a Punjab Revival Policy. But that alone is not enough. We must all decide, whichever party we are from, not to give drug dealers tickets in the next election. The Election Commission must keep a strict watch so that drugs are not given for votes.

Only two things open early in Punjab: liquor vends and pharmacies. You can see queues of addicts from dawn

I saw that people have awakened a little because of the yatra. Some may have begun to think as well. There was a youngster who came rushing to me as I was leaving Patiala. He had read our pamphlet and asked if we were helping people get off drugs. He said he was a smack addict and was fed up. He wanted to give up but didn’t know what to do. He was ostracised as an addict in his village. I told him we couldn’t get people off drugs. We were only telling them drugs were bad.

This brings me to another problem in Punjab. There are no decent deaddiction centres in the state. There are a few local ones, where they beat up patients. Families get fed up and leave the addicts in these places. They get no proper treatment. There is no dignity and they don’t know what to do once they are off drugs. I know NRIs who spend up to Rs. 5 lakh on kabaddi tournaments in their villages. It would be so much better if they helped set up good rehab centres for addicts. I tell the NRIs I know but I hope others reading this would come forward to help.

The time for petty politics is over. All parties must unite to run a mass movement to save Punjab

My focus is not on the ones already addicted. I want to intervene and stop the next generation from becoming addicted. Every third house has an addict. Punjab has nothing to give the next generation. Its land has gone to the colonisers. Most people have sold their land. Now, even migration to the West has slowed. This would cause a great problem over the next 15 years. People in other states are happy with basic things like good roads. In Punjab, they compare themselves with Canada. They want big lives. They won’t do small work. The big work isn’t there because industry is moving out to other states. So, I see more people getting into drugs in the coming years. Big decisions have to be taken. 2011 will be a bad year for Punjab. The Akali government will not be interested in the state because elections are due in 14 months. They will look at an exit strategy.

The Congress has to carefully scrutinise its people and pick only those of integrity. The padayatra has definitely sensitised me and the members of the Punjab Youth Congress about the expectations of the people from the political leadership. What is worrying me is that we found a majority of the people fed up with the present system. They are silent. Their silence is bothering me now.

Shiv Viswanatahan's Open Letter to PM Manmohan Singh

This open letter (extract reproduced below)  by Shiv Viswanatahan, eminent social scientist, has been circulated by Communalism Combat

Source: Shahidulnews


 . . .

Think of it, Mr.Prime Minister that ours is a society that spends more on defending the Raja, Radia and Kalmadi than Binayak Sen. The law works for the first three who corrupt the core of our system but fails for Binayak Sen who upholds some of its finest values. Tell me Mr.Singh how long can a society remain sane without confronting such ironies?


Let me frame it in a different way. Today’s sedition might be tomorrow’s axiomatics. We often define as sedition what we can’t understand or can’t stand. It challenges our sense of security, the security of categories. It might be easier to understand Sen’s work within a framework, a spectrum of thought.
Begin with the Arjun Sengupta report on the informal Economy. It shows how we have sinned against the life world of hawkers, traders, scavengers, trades which constitute 70% of our economy. Then think of Jairam Ramesh claiming forests are not as renewable as we think and that tribes and forests have a connectivity that we must understand. That shakes up the naïve theory of growth. Then think of Mahasweta showing how tribes have been converted to bonded labour, how mining has corroded our country. Then place Binayak Sen in that spectrum as a doctor and a human rights activist. It is the Chattisgarh bureaucracy that sounds tyrannical and unreasonable. One realizes sedition has become a stick to beat down dissent or to even erase concern for the downtrodden.

To impose a life sentence on Sen is to freeze our own lives of possibility. It is time not just to release Binayak Sen but to honour him and the ideals he worked for. Our democracy for all its bumbling can still rise to the occasion.
. . .

Monday, January 10, 2011

My father and what he could not say


- Son’s tribute to Taseer

Aatish Taseer, the Delhi-based son of slain Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, mourns his father’s death

I have recently flown home from North America. In airport after international airport, the world’s papers carried front-page images of my father’s assassin.
A 26-year-old boy, with a beard, a forehead calloused from prayer, and the serene expression of a man assured of some higher reward. Last Tuesday, this boy, hardly older than my youngest brother whose 25th birthday it was that day, shot to death my father, the governor of Punjab, in a market in Islamabad.
My father had always taken pleasure in eluding his security, sometimes appearing without any at all in open-air restaurants with his family, but in this last instance it would not have mattered, for the boy who killed him was a member of his security detail.
It appears now that the plan to kill my father had been in his assassin’s mind, even revealed to a few confidants, for many days before he carried the act to its fruition. And it is a great source of pain to me, among other things, that my father, always brazen and confident, had spent those last few hours in the company of men who kept a plan to kill him in their breasts.
But perhaps it could have been no other way, for my father would not only have not recognised his assassins, he would not have recognised the country that produced a boy like that.
Pakistan was part of his faith, and one of the reasons for the differences that arose between us in the last years of his life — and there were many — was that this faith never allowed him to accept what had become of the country his forefathers had fought for.
And it would have been no less an act of faith for him to defend his country from the men who would see it become a medieval theocracy than it was for his assassin to take his life.
The last time I met or spoke to my father was — it seems hard to believe now — the night three years ago that Benazir Bhutto was killed. We had been estranged for most of my life, and just before he died we were estranged for a second time.
I was the son of my Indian mother, with whom my father had a year-long relationship in 1980. In my childhood and adolescence, when he was fighting General Zia’s dictatorship alongside Bhutto, and was in and out of jail, I had not known him.
I met him for the first time in my adult life at the age of 21, when I went to Lahore to seek him out. For some time, a promising but awkward relationship, which included many trips to Lahore and family holidays with his young wife and six other children, developed between us.
The cause for that first estrangement, my father had always explained, was that it would have been impossible for him to be in politics in Pakistan with an Indian wife and a half-Indian son.
And, in the end, as much as Pakistan had been the cause of our first estrangement, it was also the cause of our second, which began soon after the London bombings, when my father wrote me an angry letter about a story I had written for Prospect magazine in which I described the British second-generation Pakistani as the genus of Islamic terrorism in Britain.
My father was angry as a Muslim, though he was not a practising man of faith, and as a Pakistani; he accused me of blackening the Taseer name by bringing disrepute to a family of patriots. The letter and the new silence that arose between us prompted a book, Stranger to History, in which I discussed openly many things about my father’s religion, Pakistan and my parents’ relationship.
Its publication freakishly coincided — though he might well have been offended even as a private citizen by what I wrote — with my father’s return to politics, after a hiatus of nearly 15 years.
The book made final the distance between us; and a great part of the oblique pain I now feel has to do with mourning a man who was present for most of my life as an absence.
And yet I do mourn him, for whatever the trouble between us, there were things I never doubted about him: his courage, which, truly, was like an incapacity for fear, and his love of Pakistan. I said earlier that Pakistan was part of his faith, but that he himself was not a man of faith.
His Islam, though it could inform his political ideas, now giving him a special feeling for the cause of the Palestinians and the Kashmiris, now a pride in the history of Muslims from Andalusia to Mughal India, was not total; it was not a complete vision of a society founded in faith.
He was a man in whom various and competing ideas of sanctity could function. His wish for his country was not that of the totality of Islam, but of a society built on the achievements of men, on science, on rationality, on modernity.
But, to look hard at the face of my father’s assassin is to see that in those last moments of his life my father faced the gun of a man whose vision of the world, nihilistic as it is, could admit no other.
And where my father and I would have parted ways in the past was that I believe Pakistan and its founding in faith, that first throb of a nation made for religion by people who thought naively that they would restrict its role exclusively to the country’s founding, was responsible for producing my father’s killer.
For if it is science and rationality whose fruit you wish to see appear in your country, then it is those things that you must enshrine at its heart; otherwise, for as long as it is faith, the men who say that Pakistan was made for Islam, and that more Islam is the solution, will always have the force of an ugly logic on their side.
And better men, men like my father, will be reduced to picking their way around the bearded men, the men with one vision that can admit no other, the men who look to the sanctities of only one Book.
In the days before his death, these same men had issued religious edicts against my father, burned him in effigy and threatened his life. Why? Because he defended the cause of a poor Christian woman who had been accused — and sentenced to die — for blasphemy.
My father, because his country was founded in faith, and blood — a million people had died so that it could be made — could not say that the sentence was wrong; the sentence stood; all he sought for Aasia Bibi was clemency on humanitarian grounds. But it was enough to demand his head.
What my father could never say was what I suspect he really felt: “The very idea of a blasphemy law is primitive; no woman, in any humane society, should die for what she says and thinks.”
And when finally my father sought the repeal of the laws that had condemned her, the laws that had become an instrument of oppression in the hands of a majority against its minority, he could not say that the source of the laws, the faith, had no place in a modern society; he had to find a way to make people believe that the religion had been distorted, even though the religion — in the way that only these Books can be — was clear as day about what was meant.
Even before his body was cold, those same men of faith in Pakistan had banned good Muslims from mourning for my father; clerics refused to perform his last rites; and the armoured vehicle conveying his assassin to the courthouse was mobbed with cheering crowds and showered with rose petals.
I should say too that on Friday every mosque in the country condoned the killer’s actions; 2,500 lawyers came forward to take on his defence for free; and the chief minister of Punjab, who did not attend the funeral, is yet to offer his condolences in person to my family who sit besieged in their house in Lahore.
And so, though I believe, as deeply as I have ever believed anything, that my father joins that sad procession of martyrs — every day a thinner line — standing between him and his country’s descent into fear and nihilism, I also know that unless Pakistan finds a way to turn its back on Islam in the public sphere, the memory of the late governor of Punjab will fade.
And where one day there might have been a street named after him, there will be one named after Malik Mumtaz Qadir, my father’s boy-assassin.

(from THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH, LONDON)

Link

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Public Discourse in the Media: Ideological Avatars

By Rajesh Kumar Sharma

Like porn, public discourse in the media is seductive, addictive, repetitive, and banal. But I suspect that its ideological function -in our society at least- is far more baneful than that of porn (if at all porn has any baneful function - I have yet to arrive at any conclusions!). The compulsions of 24X7 reporting and the collateral lust to be breaking some news all the time leave the media no moments of leisure to examine (to recall the dead Socrates) its life and the way it makes a living (or killing). It is only in the retreat of the academy (or whatever is left of it) that it is at all possible to remain stuck on a newspaper clipping a month or two old. This remaining stuck, or dwelling upon (as Heidegger would perhaps prefer), is necessary if we are to kick ourselves out of the media samsar's interminable cycle of deaths and rebirths. Media has somehow come to preside over the public sphere as a kind of bastard father - a figure of questionable, monstrous authority - whose function is to provoke desire and endlessly postpone consummation. A kind of guarantor of a perpetual state of unconsummated 'resolutions'. Or a god who repeatedly incarnates himself to restore dharma, the incarnations ironically affirming -at the same time- the law of the eternal return of adharma. In the process, it dispels every crisis by de-radicalising its potential. Media thus becomes a screen for dissent: a screen on which dissent is played out and a screen behind which dissent vanishes. These twin functions of the media are actually 'twins': conceived, carried and delivered together. Like a god who should incarnate himself as a deity and a demon together. A dual avatar.


*


A press release on January 2, 2010 from Chennai, issued by Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) General President stated: “The Prime Minister will present the Jawaharlal Nehru award to Ratan Tata for his contributions to Indian society and for developing the Nano car, making it more affordable to the common man”. Nobody needs to be reminded that only a few days ago Ratan Tata's name had appeared in the media in connection with a phone tapping story that had Niira Radia as the protagonist. Tata was interviewed by Shekhar Gupta on NDTV for the show Walk the Talk, and the story (as they call it in the journo's lingo) -a pretty long one- was published on the channel's website on November 27, 2010. Before we read the story, again and with care, let's briefly cut back to the press release from Chennai.

The award is “for his contributions to Indian society and for developing the Nano car, making it more affordable to the common man”. There are quite a few things of interest here. The award for Nano comes at a time when the company has launched a do-or die advertisement campaign for “the people's car” (as it was once described) in view of what some reports in the media suggest are its sinking fortunes. For one thing, an award with a Nehru tag is something that still commands respect and so it may have some advertisement value to prop up a product in a post-Nehruvian market. Secondly, even if it fails as a prop and the product finally sinks, the risk the Tatas took may yet go down in history as a patriotic sacrifice.

But these are just incidental speculations. A really serious thing is the way the press release from Chennai stitches together the Tatas' Nano and the UPA government's ubiquitous myth of “the common man”. In the gaps between the stitches one may view the whole wedding film of corporate capitalism and parliamentary democracy. The UPA's “common man” has all the properties of Barthesian myth and is so flexible -because evacuated of history- that he needs Nano along with free mid-day meals and 100-days employment under NREGA. More inauspicious than the flexibility ascribed to “the common man”, however, is his reinvention as a “Nano man”. For if “common man” is the one who has a Nano, in which category do you put those who have no food or those who have to borrow a few thousand and are then driven to kill themselves. By this logic, they are neither “common” nor “human” even. They are, to put it simply, the disposable population of India. The myth of “the common man” is not static. Good news!

*

The stated backdrop of the Ratan Tata interview is the second anniversary of 26/11 terrorist attack on the Taj Wellington in Mumbai (with “a candle lit right behind [Tata]”, as Shekhar Gupta records). The material apparatus of patriotic fervour thus frames the site of 'truth-telling' and provides a visual complement to the Tata-Gupta discourse. There is a second backdrop, not visual but temporal: President's Obama's admiration for India as a “force” that has already “emerged”. The admiration is invoked by Tata before he rues the fall which has very much begun and which may finally leave India a wretched, rotting “banana republic”. Tata's imagery has all the primeval force of an apocalyptic Hollywood disaster movie: he uses words like “morass”, “slipped”, “flooding” - to register his protest against what he terms as “character assassination”. What an anti-climax! But then, for you and me, what a peep-hole into the dance of ideology!

Dictionaries explain that banana republics are small states whose economy is dominated by a single export controlled by foreign capital. Tata's banana republic, however, is peculiarly conceived (he actually says he does not use the word “lightly”) as a state in which the media has too much freedom of expression and acts as a virtual trial court, whereas ideally a person ought “to be considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law”. Judicial processes that swallow several decades and the extremely poor record of investigation and prosecution in cases of corruption do not upset his faith in the functioning of our justice delivery system. The threat to the Indian state comes in his view not from the uncontrollable corporate greed and the scams it spawns but from what the media does “under the guise of freedom of speech or the guise of many other numbers of so-called rights of democracy abused, the luxury of a democracy” [italics mine]. This is the what he says:


Banana republics are run on cronyism. People of great power wield great power, but people of lesser power or people who have fallen out of power go to jail without adequate evidence or their bodies are found in the trunks of cars. The danger is that you could degenerate into that kind of atmosphere unless the necessary parts of government play their role in upholding the law and fine, let no one be above the law. I would happily have that happen, various other people would not like to see that happen but I would feel very happy to see that, I would feel very proud. So I think it can happen, I mean a Banana Republic kind of an environment could emerge, if we don't put an end to this kind of thing and under the guise of freedom of speech or the guise of many other numbers of so-called rights of democracy abused, the luxury of a democracy.

There is an obvious slipping and sliding in this discourse: the enemy of a democratic state is cronyism, yet the threat comes from the “so-called rights of democracy”, from “the luxury of a democracy”. Is he suggesting that the media in India is only a stooge of crony capitalists and that it abuses the democratic freedoms for anti-democratic ends? In that case, he should be arguing for freeing the media from corporate capitalism. Why blame democracy's “so-called rights” and “luxury”? The best explanation lies in his own admission that his group hired the services of Niira Radia's company in order to manipulate the media: “to protect ourselves and get our point of view across to the media”. In other words, the media is a weapon in corporate warfare in which the ultimate adversary is not another corporate house but democracy itself. So when you suffer casualties in this warfare, you can use the opportunity to aim your friendly fire on the “so-called rights of democracy”. Such collateral damage should not be a problem in a country that is set to become a superpower and in which the Tata group's turnover has increased (going by Tata's own endorsement of the figures mentioned by Gupta) forty times in ten years. The irony is that the fear that India faces the threat of being reduced to a banana republic is being expressed by someone from a class which itself is the author of such banana-isation. And that class of “good corporate citizens” (to use Ratan Tata's humble self-description) - what a fabulous de-personalisation of citizenship, but understandable in a period of disposable populations - honestly fears that democracy is being used to “bring down” and “destroy” “this nation”. Tata's own credentials, in own modest words, are: “I think as an Indian and a caring Indian who is proud of my country ….” And it is not that being “a corporate citizen” he is not committed to freedom. He is. But it is to the freedom to invest. In fact, there is a sustained binary opposition suggested in the interview between the “free world” and India. To cite an instance:

I think the FDI limits in a whole series of areas - some of them promised by the government - have not been done, insurance for example. Retail has been promised, and that is another area. The banks are the third. These are things that the free world has come to accept as areas of participation. India is a nation that everyone is looking at today. People want to invest and it's not unusual now for a foreign investor to ask when do you think the FDI limits on this will change?

In Tata's opinion then, India is yet to join the “free world”- and it must, as a matter of moral obligation. And in so far as the democratic freedom of expression conflicts with the corporate freedom to invest, it is a menace to the nation. After all, the nation is the exclusive property of its “corporate citizens”, with a largely co-opted middle class and a lower middle class in the process of co-optation through “nano-isation” (Nano being the new denominator of “the common man”). The rest of the people are a disposable population, the antithesis of the most valued of all natural resources today - land, along with mines. It is significant that Tata reacts to widespread corruption in mining leases (which Gupta describes as “the biggest ATMs in our politics”) with a winsome innocent astonishment. He exclaims that “natural resources globally have gone through the roof”, and in so doing he avoids the next logical step - pinpointing the very obvious reason of this “go[ing] through the roof”: the antithesis between a majority of the population and the corporate takeover of the nation's natural resources. It is as if something entirely providential, utterly inexplicable were taking place.

Such recourse to things outside mere reason appears also in his pronounced evocation of what he calls “a value system that has been a part of our [the Tata group's] tradition”, and again - and most clearly - in his “belief” in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's personal goodness notwithstanding the fact that most of Tata's most serious complaints and accusations pertain specifically to Singh's tenures as a PM. He says he does not “believe the PM is contributing to” India's downhill slide towards a banana republic. And this high-minded belief stands in the face of his own bitter experience that “through ten years” the government's policies - telecommunications included - have been “modified several times to suit individuals” and to serve “vested interests”. During the last six years particularly (that is precisely during Mr Singh's Prime Ministership), “the interpretation of policy has become very vague … so bully and vague”. The juxtaposition of “bully” and “vague” could be seen as symptomatic of Tata's real perception of the political economic climate in the country at the highest levels. It is intriguing, therefore, to hear him - a man of few words that he is - repeatedly and excessively praise the Prime Minister:

he's a tremendously good man. We are lucky to have him as a PM. I want to say that it has hurt me to see what he has gone through in the past weeks... in Parliament... the pressure... the innuendoes and the pressures he's been going through to resign and so on. He is one person who is truly above any of the allegations thrown at him... the person whom we are lucky to have to because it's his face that has been the face of transforming India. And it is this person who has commanded the respect of the leaders in major countries. He doesn't deserve to face this kind of humiliation.

A few minutes later, he again counsels everyone: “[W]e have got to be proud of our Prime Minister”.

One wonders how to reconcile, if one must, his praise of the Prime Minister and his severe criticism of the way the government is functioning. Does the praise dilute the criticism, or does the criticism cancel out the praise? Or should we let the contradiction stand as it is and treat it as an instance of the ideological eclipse of reason? Does it stand to reason that we let the personal goodness and integrity of the head of a government over-ride all considerations of fair and democratic governance? If it does stand to reason, we must then remind ourselves that in the global marketplace fascism is available in many flavours and skins. Actually, the Nazis never got a copyright on it. It circulates for free in the liberal political public domain. And who knows if it is not already sitting in your system as a (viral) trojan horse.

Overdone devotion to personal traits, merits and appearances might well conceal a disavowal of some critical pathology secretly at work in the system, a disavowal of some monstrous transformation of the system.

(To be concluded)
***
Link to the Ratan Tata Interview by Shekhar Gupta on NDTV:

http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/full-text-ratan-tata-speaks-to-ndtv-on-2g-scam-69007

Monday, January 3, 2011

Binayak Sen Sentenced to Life Term

By Badri Raina

(From Badri Raina's ZSpace Page)


I

A Sessions court judge in Raipur, capital of the BJP-ruled state of Chattisgarh, has pronounced Binayak Sen guilty of sedition and conspiracy against the State, and sentenced the good doctor to a life term in prison.

So who is Binayak Sen?

An alumni of the prestigious Christian Medical College in Vellore, who had the foolhardiness to turn his back on career both there and in the equally prestigious Jawahar Lal Nehru university in Delhi, follow the lead of the late and legendary Shankar Guha Niyogi—who was murdered some years ago by paid assassins of industrial interests for his dogged and path-breaking, hence  dangerous, labours among the unorganized adivasis, dalits, women, and other  voiceless denizens of the backwaters of Chattisgarh against some of the most gruesome exploitation that free Indians have known—and devote the last three or so decades of his still young life to serving among the poorest of the poor.

For decades now, this selfless and saintly man has run a weekly clinic deep in the Sal forests of the region that has drawn tribals from as far away as 30 kilometers for healing.  Their only other option a two-day walk through the jungles.  Sen trained hundreds of tribals to become healthcare workers,  an effort whose sterling success found it acceptance as state policy, christened  Mitanin  Swasthya Yojna (volunteer health programme).

Inspired by Niyogi, Sen also helped set up the Shaheed (martyr) hospital, one that still operates with donations from coal miners.

Indeed much of his work parallels the sort of immersion in ministering to the  wretched of the earth  that the world associates with  the Nobel prize winner, Mother Teresa.

With one all-important difference. Binayak, unlike the good Mother, did not think there was any great purchase in being meek.  Thus it is that he made the grievous mistake of standing up and speaking for the “human rights” of  god-fatherless forest dwellers in the face of the cruelties and denials vented upon them by the State, by its vigilante agency of goons named  “Salwa Judum,” and, if only the  judge who sentenced him had listened, by the  insurgent Maoists as well.

In particular, Sen’s opposition to the displacement of a hundred thousand tribals from their homes and hearths by vigilante goons of the State  made the latter saw red.  Ostensibly done to facilitate police operations against the Moaist insurgents and for their own safety (sic) such displacement and any resistance to it by innocent tribals  has  caused  unconscionable brutalities to be  inflicted upon them, often on the charge that they were informants to the insurgents, and guilty of sheltering them.

As to Sen himself,   does it matter that in  repeatedly asking for “equity and peace”  whenever querried by the media, he rarely balked from condemning the atrocities perpetrated by the armed Naxalites on innocent men, women, and children.

But in an era of McCarthyism that now seems to accompany the murderous impatience of India’s State and Corporate combine to enhance private wealth, Binayak’s  infuriating doggedness of purpose in staying his course in the hinterland among the victims on the ground  (had he been, like so many of us, content to combine a lucrative  metropolitan career with urbanite activism, things may not have been so dire, either for him or for the State), finally broke the camel’s back, as it were.

The official finger went up, declaring the doctor public enemy number one.

II

His crimes:

ministering to the sullen  malcontents among the dregs of the dispossessed, when the State and its vigilantes  had ab initio and without requirement of  proof designated them Maoist sympathizers;

visiting a sick 74-year old  Naxalite  ideologue in jail in the capacity both of a human rights worker (indeed, as vice-president of the well-known People’s Union for Civil Liberties), and as a doctor—all with due knowledge and permission of the relevant authorities both within the  jail and outside;  never mind that the said Maoist ideologue has curiously himself never yet been charged for being such, or for belonging to a banned organization.  He is in jail on a plain murder charge!

and, ostensibly,  (ostensibly because  a slew of facts on record point to the fake nature of  the evidence here), couriering three letters from the Naxal  ideologue  to a sympathizer outside; a charge that falls flat in the face of the testimony given by no less than jail authorities to the effect that whenever he met Sanyal, the Naxal  ideologue,  Sen did so in the presence of the police, and that there is no way in which he could have carried any materials unbeknown to such authorities; further investigations reveal that said letters  may  indeed have been  “plants,” and that the testimony of the lone witness who claims to have heard someone else say that the said letters were couriered remained uncorroborated hearsay.  It is germane here to recall that Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was let off in the Gandhi murder case on the ground that the approver’s testimony could not be independently corroborated!

III

The Charge

The provision of the charge of “Sedition”  was, as anyone would know, incorporated into Indian jurisprudence by the British colonial rulers, like most other punitive  provisions as well.  And it was under that provision that both Lokmanya Tilak (“freedom is my birthright”) and Gandhi were to come to be tried then.

Not many know that during the deliberations of the Indian Constitution-makers, the overwhelming  vote was for dropping the provision of “Sedition” (that Gandhi had called the “Prince” of all black laws)  post-Independence.  During those formative debates, Nehru had spoken as follows of Sectiion 124-A (Sedition)  of the Penal Code as it was bequeathed to the new  nation-state:

          “Take again Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code. Now
          so far as I am concerned that particular section is highly
          objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place
          both for practical and historical reasons, if you like, in any body
          of laws that we might pass.  The sooner we get rid of it the
          better.”

 Retained as it was, shamefully, the Supreme Court of India  subsequently added an all-important  caveat (in the Kedarnath judgement) to it to the effect  that  NO  act of free expression would tantamount to “Sedition” unless there was clear and  irrefutable evidence  of “incitement to violence” against the duly constituted State.

In the instant case, even if the three fatal letters were indeed couriered by Binayak Sen, none carries within their texts the least hint of any such violent intent.

Which would make sense in the light of the fact that Binayak, as stated above, has throughout his human rights career pleaded privately and publicly for   non-violent  resistance  to the havoc wrought among tribals’  lives and rights by marauding  mining and other corporates in violation of a litany of statutory laws, such as Schedule V of the Forest Rights Act. 

Binayak’s great mistake here has been to condemn State-sponsored vigilante violence in the same breath as all other forms of violence.

A fact that goes hand-in-hand with some other facts, namely the sly collaboration of many Corporates on the ground in Chattisgarh with the insurgents, to whom they regulary have paid protection-money, and, if reports are to be credited, passing on explosive materials from factory premises as well.  All done with careful deniability.

None of which tantamounts to Sedition against the State!  And for the simple enough reason that during the neo-liberal phase of India’s famed “development” over the last quarter century, the Corporates have come to BE the State.  As incontrovertibly simple as that.

IV

Here is what seems to be happening in contemporary India.

Should you have a full-blown fascist under your chassis, you are ok. The fascist after all, as always, is only the political front of the  marauding Corporate.  That this is no piece of leftward polemics has been recently confirmed by the  leak of the Radia tapes wherein all the fine meshings of connectivity between industrial houses, their lobbyists, their political benefactors, and other segments of the brokering  power-elite among the media and bureaucracy have come to  inglorious light.

But if you have under your bed someone suspected to be red (one of such suspicious circumstances in the Binayak case, would you believe it, is reference to the fact that he and people around him sometimes were heard to accost each other as “comrade”) you are best dead. And, beginning with the water-shed official murder of Shankar Guha Niyogi, the long line of perfectly innocent workers thus liquidated in those regions of India is indeed a long one; not to speak of hundreds upon hundreds who rot in the jails, often without trial.

Another way of saying the same is this: no greater enemy of the republic than the one who insists that the  establishment is after all obliged by oath to the Constitution to implement its  promises of equity in asset ownership and distribution, redolently enshrined in article 39 (“Directive Principles of State Policy”).

Here is how that pernicious article reads:

--The State shall, in particular, direct  its policy towards securing—

(a)            that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood;
(b)            that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good;
(c)             that the operation of the economic system does not result
        in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the
       common detriment.

Cannily,  those that framed  the Constitution had the  great good sense to stipulate  that the  “Directive Principles” would not be enforceable by law!  Imagine what might have happened to class rule had they indeed been thus enforceable.  The pity is that some mavericks like Binayak Sen insist that these pledges to “we the people of India”  who  chose, don’t you know, “to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic,” promising  “Justice, social, economic and political,”  ought to be implemented if Indian Democracy is to have substance and true legitimacy.

More fool they.

Especially now when India is set on a  path of humongous “growth” and world-mastery.  What could be more seditious than to puncture that ruling-class aspiration with reminders of equity and justice, or to conflate “we the people of India” with the Republic and its future.

Thus if it takes our own McCarthyism to hold back  an avalanche of menace from below, so be it.  Reason that explains the current onslaught on human rights protagonists of any hue.  Indeed, the  next internationally recognized  (and Padma Shree Awardee here at home)  human rights worker facing the prospect of arrest even as I write is no less than Teesta Setalvad of the Citizens For Justice and Peace.  Currently, the Pioneer newspaper, owned by a Rajya Sabha member of  the Bhartiya Janata Party (the right-wing Hindu BJP) has unleashed a full campaign of calumny against her for the trouble she has taken since 2002 to stand up for the victims of the Gujarat massacres, and to pursue the legal processes of redressal on their side.  A campaign of lies aided and abetted by an erstwhile co-worker of her organization, Rais Khan, who has thought it fit for reasons not far to seek to  gang up on Teesta on the side of the very Hindutva brigades who remain the accused parties in that massacre.

Indeed,  before long, the State might think it fit to go so far in its collaboration with its “strategic partner” as  to  set up our own Abu Graib and Gauntanamo Bay.

Time will tell.
---

badri.raina@gmail.com
...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Critics on Criticism - NYTimes.com

Here is a feast from NYT for literary critics. Best wishes for 2011.

December 31, 2010, 2:00 pm

Critics on Criticism

Why Criticism Matters
Six critics examine the place of criticism in the age of instant, ubiquitous opinion­.
In the Book Review this weekend, we asked six essayists to consider the question: What is the role of the critic today? In an accompanying feature, “Masters of the Form,” we briefly surveyed, through a series of quotations, the pantheon of critics who have puzzled over this same question — Alfred Kazin in 1960, T.S. Eliot in 1923, Matthew Arnold in 1864, as well as several in between.


Critics on Criticism - NYTimes.com