Mayawati’s Iconoclasm and the statues

There is much self- righteous indignation in the media and others over the statues being installed by Mayawati all over the state of Uttar Pradesh. According to them, it is ‘clear’ to everyone with some common sense that spending Rs 1000 crores on the statues is a blatant misuse of public money.

What is missing in such ‘common sense’ perceptions is that Mayawati along with Kanshi Ram, like all innovators and path breakers, has been an iconoclast of the highest order. Between the two of them, they have created for the first time in Indian history a successful party representing some of the poorest and socially ostracized masses of the country. Like it or not, it is an unprecedented achievement. This has been done by technique and strategies that have made no sense to many because their politics is of a very different nature.

For instance, a party that claims to represent the socially oppressed, the BSP has never indicated any kind of social reform or advanced any social and economic programme for the Dalits. It’s party organization structure unique- it is neither cadre based nor does it have a hierarchy to accommodate aspiring next rung leaders. It has consciously abstained from agitation politics to focus only on creating a political machinery intent on winning elections.1 Indeed, were it not for its operation within a democratic setup, the single mindedness of its leaders is reminiscent of Lenin’s insistence on capturing state power.
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Dalits in Punjab: Silent no more

Little over a year ago, this blog had posed the question:

There is a deafening silence on part of dalits in Punjab. One wonders why, and for how long.

To which a naive comment from a reader was:

Presumably if Dalit oppression was blunted by Sikh philosophy, if not absolutely at least comparatively, Dalits might not have felt need for a movement.

Over the last two days, my question as well as the comment to the post have been answered loud and clear.

Dalit Assertion- Not always for the better

Caste studies have gained a lot of academic respectability over the last two decades. It is very rare to find, on the other hand, studies around class. This is quite a dramatic shift since the 1970s- 80s. I think it is not a particularly good omen if studies based on political economy and class are ignored. However, the thrust towards caste studies is definitely welcome.

In a fascinating paper on the change in the condition of Dalits in the Punjab (1947- 2008), Dr Harish Puri touches on a number of points .

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In Praise of Sonia Gandhi

Hindutva and the Upcoming Indian Elections

The Hindutva movement has effectively used the same tactics- that Gramsci called ‘war of position’ and the ‘war of movement’ to advance its political agenda. Mrs Gandhi, in her own manner, has returned to that strategy. She has extended the possibilities of Gandhism today in context of rabid communal discourse of the sangh parivar.

***
Twenty five years ago, for the first time since Indian independence, a political party came to power at the center by whipping up a mass communal hysteria. That party was the Congress and its leader was Rajiv Gandhi, who commented that the “earth shakes when a big tree falls”, as if the anti- Sikh pogrom was the most natural phenomenon. He was soon to backtrack from such a frontal communal posture towards balanced communalism. He let open the locks of the Babri Masjid and simultaneously supported the Muslim Law Bill. In both cases, he provided a shot in the arm to the regressive sections among the Hindus and the Muslims.

The BJP- a relatively minor political entity in the 1984 elections, had been long gestating in various garbs for over six decades. It was quick to learn the technique from the Congress’s 1984 performance and catapulted itself to seize power at the center by whipping up a frenzy of mass hysteria leading to the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Rajiv Gandhi was no longer on the scene by then, and it was left to PV Narasimha Rao to be remembered for the infamy of 6th December 1992. Nowadays, it is also often overlooked that the destruction of the Babri Masjid provided a larger fillip to Muslim fundamentalism in South Asia- in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Continue reading “In Praise of Sonia Gandhi”

Watch TV serial Tamas Online

Thanks to the indefatigable Arvind Gupta, the TV serial Tamas broadcast by Doordarshan in the late 1980s is now available online. (including some  commercial ads from those days!) Based on a novel by Bhisham Sahni on the partition of India, it hit the TV screens in the backdrop of Babri Masjid- Ramjanmabhoomi imbroglio and brings back memories of some very fine TV serials made at time- Shyam Benegal’s The Discovery of India, Gulzar’s Mirza Ghalib and Arvind N Das’s documentary India Invented based on DD Kosambi’s works. Happily all these are now available at youtube and/or google videos.

Even twenty years after it was broadcast, Tamas still touches a raw nerve and, sad to say, retains the relevance of its core message- the human cost of violence in general and of sectarian violence in particular. The last two decades seem to have been a re- enactment of the partition, this time in slow motion.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

View part 1 of 5 of the serial at google videos (or click on the image above)


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Mumbai Links

Tamil writer Gnani Sankaran on the Media’s lopsided priorities in reporting Mumbai attacks. (link via Kafila)

It is a matter of great shame that these channels simply did not bother about the other icon that faced the first attack from terrorists – the Chatrapathi Shivaji  Terminus (CST) railway station. CST is the true icon of Mumbai. It is through this railway station hundreds of Indians from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Tamilnadu have poured into Mumbai over the years, transforming themselves into Mumbaikars and built the Mumbai of today along with the Marathis and Kolis

Annie Zaidi’s nuanced observations on fear and skepticism in post- attack Mumbai:
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Free Markets: “Never Again!”

The BBC has an interview with Eric Hobsbawm, who is best described as the pitamah of Marxist historians. He draws parallels from the 1930s and concludes that the biggest collapse of the financial system may lead to a revival of the Right as it did in the aftermath of the great depression.

He does have a point- even though at that time there was a choice- socialism, the political climate lurched towards fascism In Rosa Luxemburg’s apt warning cry: it’s  a question of ‘Socialism or Barbarism’. In the absence of socialism, barbarism is a very real possibility (of course, it is also very much possible that we will see some kind of a revival of neo- Keynes- ism rather than barbarism or socialism).

Hobsbawm attributes the revival of Marx to businessmen in context of globalization and underlines that the level of collective consciousness  is not ripe to replace capitalism in the near future.
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What’s good for the goose?

Apparently, what’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander in the time of the free fall of the free market:

The IMF’s advice to Pakistan (and its no different for the rest of the third world) is to privatize the government’s assets and raise funds from the market. At the same time, the IMF chief wants the markets, in turn to raise money from the US federal government. Why not then give a handout from the US federal government directly to the rich world’s ‘burden’?

The IMF said it was encouraged that the (Pakistan) government was committed to measures to improve its financial position, including privatizing assets and raising funds from the international markets.

Four days ago, the IMF chief had the exactly the opposite take on the United States’s .7 trillion “bail out” plan to stop the free market’s free fall:

Continue reading “What’s good for the goose?”

A “win win” Deal- Private Treaties and the Media

This story in The Hoot points out that the newspaper The Times of India did not name the culprit company when a lift crashed killing two construction workers and severely injuring seven. The reason? Clifton D’Rozario’s investigations found that the company involved- Sobha Developers- has a “private treaty” with the Time of India and that is possibly the reason why the ToI did not name the company, unlike other newspapers. It turns out that ToI has entered into a number of such treaties with various mid- size companies where it invests in the equity of the company in return for guaranteed advertising spend in ToI.

In this report, Clifton D’ Rozario unmasks how this “win- win” deal operates, at the trivial expense of reporting the full truth:

On 12th May 2008, the Times of India reported that:

“Lift crash leaves 2 dead, 7 hurt

Two occupants in a lift died and seven others were injured on Saturday after the lift crashed to the lower basement at the construction site of a residential apartment on Bannerghatta Road.”

Then, again on 8th June the Times of India reported that:

“LIFT CRASH

SHRC chief takes officials to task

The State Human Rights Commission has asked a private construction company to ensure complete and fair compensation to families of two workers who dies and seven who were injured in a lift crash in an apartment building under construction on Bannerghatta Road. The accident took place on May 10.…

The accident occurred on May 10 at the construction site of a multi-storeyed super-luxury apartment on Bannerghatta Road.”

Note that the Times of India does not name the company, Sobha Developers in reports unlike all the other English and Kannada newspapers, which explicitly did so.

I began to wonder why. Is it because Sobha Developers contributes revenue to the Times of India in terms of advertising? Or is there something more? And then I stumbled upon www.timesprivatetreaties.com. It talks about Private Treaties and this being an “innovative venture from the Times of India group, India’s largest and most successful media conglomerate…” Apparently, Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd., the publishers of Times of India, has entered into a Private Treaty with Sobha Developers, whereby through this arrangement BCCL picks up law equity stakes in companies, in return receiving long-term advertising and other publicity deals.

Link via email from Girish Mishra

1857- A Dalit Narrative

Hindi writer Badri Narayan puts together a riveting narrative of the role of dalits during the 1857 revolt. As with any historical narrative, it is as much an attempt to re- write the past as it is to bring a historical perspective to contemporary struggles and claims to the nation.

Although we know that the colonial archive has been created guided by the needs of the colonizers, yet these narratives function as rays of light in the search for the role of dalits in the 1857 revolt. The narratives around dalit identity which the dalits are using to prove their role in the 1857 revolt are also based on the colonial archives that enlist the names of the people who were hanged for their role in the revolt, since the mainstream nationalist Indian history completely ignores the contribution of dalits in the revolt. For example Matadin Bhangi, a sweeper in the British army at Barrackpore, who is claimed by the dalits to have spearheaded the 1857 revolt since he was the first to make Mangal Pandey, the mainstream nationalist originator of the revolt, aware of the fact that the cartridges were greased with cow fat, has been overlooked by the official record of the revolt. However that he was not a figment of the imagination of the dalits can be proved by the colonial archives that show that he was hanged to death for participating in the revolt. In the same vein there is another myth about a dalit hero of the 1857 revolt which is popular in the oral memories of the region adjoining Kanpur and Bithoor. This is the myth of Gangu Mehtar who is also known as Gangu Baba. The people of that region say that Gangu Baba was a Bhangi who worked as a drum beater (nagarchi) in the army of Nana Saheb. He was built extremely powerfully and was also a wrestler. He himself owned a wrestling ring where many youths practiced wrestling under his tutelage. During the 1857 revolt Gangu Baba fought against the British along with his students at a place near Satichaura and killed many of them. After the revolt was quelled he was arrested by the British and hanged to death. The story of Gangu baba has transcended from the real world into the ethereal world and there is a popular story about him that is still circulated among the people in the region where he died which establish his supernatural qualities.

Link to Pratilipi via Publisher’s Post.

The March of Neo Liberalism in India

The current issue of Frontline has a series of articles on ‘The March of Neo liberalism‘, including one by economist Utsa Patnaik on the agrarian crisis.

The story starts from 1991 when Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister started hounding farmers by reducing the fertilizer subsidy, cutting development expenditures so sharply that per capita GDP actually fell in one year and the death rate rose in one State, virtually doubling the issue prices of foodgrains from the Public Distribution System over three years in order to cut the food subsidy (which predictably boomeranged since the poor were priced out and the first episode of build-up of 32 million tonnes of unsold food stocks took place by 1995).

During the NDA period, the complete submission of the government to U.S. pressure and rapid removal of protection to agriculture between 1996 and 2001 – before the deadline set by the World Trade Organisation, resulted in farmers being exposed to the fury of global price declines. Between 1996 and 2001, prices of all primary products (cotton, jute, food grains and sugar) fell by 40 to 60 per cent and farmers who had contracted private debts in particular, became insolvent. The syndrome of hopelessly-indebted farmers committing suicides in Andhra Pradesh and Punjab started in 1998 and rapidly spread to other areas where cultivation of cash and export crop was predominant. The crash in pepper, coffee and tea prices came a few years later after 1998 and farmer suicides in Kerala and insolvency of tea estates in West Bengal date from around 2002.

Most alarming is the situation of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, among whom extreme poverty has increased dramatically during the reform decade, with over three-fifths moving under the lowest level of intake, 1800 calories, by 2004-05 in urban India.

Meanwhile, at Foreign Policy, its editor Moises Naim asks whether the world can afford to feed the growing middle class in China and India.

If they don’t find the bread, perhaps they can eat cake, while the children of the poor will be fed via mid- day meals according to the Indian Finance Minister

“If we continue to grow at this rate, India would be among the most prosperous countries in the world” dominating in education, services and goods….

“Next year, thanks to growth, I will provide Rs 15,100 crore for this scheme. Similarly, in 2003-04 we had provided Rs 1,175 crore for the mid-day meal scheme.

The “growth” he is referring to is the 8-10 percent annual growth rate during the “reform” decades, of course. The amounts mentioned for his schemes are drops in the ocean of poverty that may engulf the small islets of “growth” in urban India, sooner than later. Of late, I have been wondering if I need to go back and re- read Mao’s thesis on the villages encircling the cities.

As to India soon dominating the world in education, it is a joke in a country with the world’s largest illiterate population and the UPA government’s continuing disinterest in it.

(you need to register at the outlook site to eat the cake… read the article in the link)

A Common Indian is a Poor Indian

In this article (pdf) in the latest issue of EPW (alternate location), economists Arjun Sengupta et al contest the official levels of poverty and indicate that 75% of Indian population is poor, which is twice the official figure. This means a staggering 836 million as of 2004–05.

The difference in the approach is their criteria for measurement of poverty that they insist needs to measure relative poverty as opposed to absolute poverty. Also interesting is the authors’ analysis by community (SC/ST, OBCs and Muslims- the overlap between poverty and these communities is evident.)

I do hope this stirs up debate around the jingle of ‘trickle down’ economics that one has heard over the last two decades and recognize the darkness in the noon of unprecedented growth rates.

Our estimate that a little more than three-fourths of the Indian people are poor and vulnerable in 2004-05, based on a value that is double the official poverty line, is consistent with other estimates. For example, the World Development Report 2006 of the World Bank reports 35 per cent of the Indian population as living below the extreme poverty line of one PPP $ per day.

The notion of an absolute minimum of a basket of goods yielding a calorie value plus some essential items loses most of its significance in a growing economy relative to per capita income. Poverty should be reckoned in relative terms to capture the inequalities in the system. There is nothing absolute about an absolute minimum for a poverty line when the economy is on a growth path of an unprecedented kind. That this point has not been factored, not just in India but even in some other countries with much faster rates of growth (e g, China), perhaps reflects an eagerness to show a declining trend in poverty or, for that matter, the magic of “trickle down” growth. There is no doubt that the case for revisiting the poverty line could become stronger as the economy continues to grow.

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Who was Akbar?

The central question that the Mughal emperor Akbar poses in Salman Rushdie’s recent short story The Shelter of the World is:

How could he become the man he wanted to be? The akbar, the great one? How?

At the start of the story the emperor is initially perceived as a terror in the bastis of Sikri, the city that he founded, only to be informed by his imaginary wife Jodha about the infamy that this brought him. He changes the rules and encourages people to speak up, announcing:

“Make as much racket as you like, people! Noise is life, and an excess of noise is a sign that life is good. There will be time for us all to be quiet when we are safely dead.” The city burst into joyful clamor.

That was the day on which it became clear that a new kind of king was on the throne, and that nothing in the world would remain the same.

The change, however, is not straight forward and soon the emperor is on one of his conquests, beheading an upstart, the Rana of Cooch Naheen. It is the remorse after killing the young Rana, that Akbar, like Ashoka after the Battle of Kalinga, faces the existentialist question on how to become great. It is certainly not by beheading small time threats to his growing empire.

The country was at peace at last, but the King’s spirit was never calm….

He, Akbar, had never referred to himself as “I”, not even in his private dreams.

Was this “we” a manifestation of his greatness as an emperor, as the man who conquered Hindustan, as a descendent of Genghis Khan and Babar, “the barbarian with a poet’s tongue?”

Evidently, jahanpanah, the shelter of the world, feels that it is not so. He feels that he is as lowly as any other human being who needs the love of the imaginary Jodha, who is not so much a person as an idea of Hindustan and tries to discover his greatness in ‘I’, instead of we. Only to discover that the ‘I’ does not exist, it is ‘we’, but this ‘we’ is the plural not of the brutal conquests that he has carried out to carve his empire, but the conquest of Jodha’s heart. It is the we of pluralism.

The story is certainly not without its faults. At places its is marred by an excessive wordplay and sometimes by unnecessary distractions and convolutions- typical Rushdie fare that is not unreadable, but certainly demands patience. A fascinating character in the story is that of Bhakti Ram Jain, Akbar’s stone deaf personal assistant. Also fascinating is the usage of the Akbar- Birbal anecdotes interwoven in the dense story less than 8000 words!

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A Bridge Connecting Heaven and Earth


rahiye ab aisi jagah chal kar jahan koi na ho
humsukahn koi na ho aur humzubaan koi na ho (Mirza Ghalib)

(Let us go to a place now, where no one lives
There is no one to talk to, and no one who understands my words.)

In life, one has to take a decision and choose one’s path at some point. One can take either the road or the rainbow bridge.

I took the dusty road, my friend RK took the bridge and wandered over the heaven on earth- in Ladakh and Kashmir. I do not know, as yet, where the road leads to, but where the bridge leads to is a wonderful place, as the amazing pictures show.

Take a photographic tour across the bridge.

“For Vincent Van Gogh”: a poem by Namdeo Dhasal

For Vincent Van Gogh

Sunflowers truly are
The self- expression of your
Experience
But, brother
You’ve forgotten to paint
One of the colours of the sun!

– Namdeo Dhasal from The Soul Doesn’t Find Peace in This Regime (1995)

Translated by Dilip Chitre in Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld published last year. A great book with some fine translations and an introduction to Dhasal and his works. The stunning pictures by Henning Stegmuller provide a visual introduction to Dhasal’s world. My only disconcert with the book is that Chitre entirely washes out Dhasal’s later shift to Hindutva politics. This poem can also be read as an expression of that disconcert.

Related Post: Namdeo Dhasal and the Fall of the Dalit Panther Movement

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Voices from the Nehruvian Left

The weekly Mainstream is a pale shadow of what it used to be at the time when its founding editor Nikhil Chakravarty was at the helm. Some of the finest minds in India used to write for it even though, I believe, it did not pay its contributors. Since then, both the quality of the magazine and its overall influence has declined which is partly also due to the change in the intellectual climate in the country, even though some of the veterans continue to write for it. In the age of internet, its reach was pretty much restricted till recently because of a rather clumsy website.

Thankfully, however, it has improved its website and it is easier to navigate and read it now. It has also added RSS feeds making it easier to subscribe. It is updated each week and has been quite regular in the last couple of months that I have been reading it.

Two articles in the latest issue of the magazine by the economists Girish Mishra and Arun Kumar go to show that the voice of what was called the Nehruvian Left can still pack a punch or two with meaningful analysis in an age where the media is susceptible to sound bites, and more often, just barks.

Girish Mishra places the “reforms” in the context of Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Doctrine and critiques the usage of the term ‘Hindu rate of growth’.

An analysis of the post-independence growth experience shows two statistically significant breaks in the rate of growth of the economy. The first break occurred in the early 1980s when the economy moved from what has been commonly described as “the Hindu growth rate” of around 3.5 to 5.5 per cent. This followed a policy shift away from excessive controls and restrictions on private enterprise towards gradual decontrol. The second break occurred in the mid-1990s with the ushering in of deeper and broad-based reforms at the beginning of the decade.

From it follows that the entire Nehru era and most of the Indira phase was full of darkness and stagnation. The author of the Survey forgets what Dani Rodrik of the Harvard University has written about the contributions of Nehru and Indira Gandhi towards laying a solid foundation for economic growth. They faced all sorts of machinations and destabilisation attempts to break and destroy India. People have not forgotten the American attempt to induce India to mortgage its sovereignty by offering a nuclear umbrella, the VOA-AIR tie-up, Indo-US Education Foundation, etc. Another attempt was made in 1974-75 when Uncle Miltie’s prescription was put forth by six respected economists, whom Indira Gandhi ignored, in spite of powerful support by C. Subramaniam and T.A. Pai of her Cabinet. In 1991, the attempt succeeded, thanks to the great shock of mortgaging national gold stock under the Chandra Shekhar-Yaswant Sinha dispensation.

There are two other vital recommendations. The first concerns the labour laws so that the weekly working hours are increased from 48 to 60. In other words, the eight-hour working day is to be consigned to the dustbin. One may recall that the working class achieved this after a prolonged struggle and a lot of sacrifice during the 19th-20th centuries. The second is about allowing capitalists to down the shutters of their factories whenever they wish, without any restraint, and shift their investments somewhere else in search of more profits without caring for the workers who may face unemployment and loss of their dues and terminal benefits. To quote the Survey,

Either introduce a separate section on Bankruptcy in the Company Law or introduce a new bankruptcy law that facilitates exit of old/failed management as expeditiously as possible.

Obviously, both these recommendations, if implemented, will increase the number of the unemployed, not to speak of the creation of new job opportunities to give the able-bodied to participate in the creation of national wealth and honourably earn their living. If these two recommendations are accepted, they will lead to great socio-political unrest and bring the doom of the UPA Government because there is no autocratic Pinochet or Suharto, but adult franchise in the country and the labouring masses are conscious of their interests. They cannot be misled by any propaganda blitzkrieg through the print and electronic media. The previous government learned this to its dismay when it miserably lost power in spite of its loud propaganda that “India was shining”.

In the end, it is too early to say that Uncle Miltie has finally displaced Uncle Nehru. If one looks at the recent history of Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and so on, Uncle Miltie is not going to succeed for long. Till now, there is no example to show that any country in the world has succeeded in building a prosperous and vibrant economy by following Uncle Miltie.

Dr Arun Kumar dissects the budget and the speech in more detail.

There are also constituencies that have got much without any fuss or mention. These are the favouri-tes of the government, like the rich and the corporate sector. The tax expenditures to the corporate sector have gone up by Rs 39,000 crores (p. 58, Revenue Budget), without even a mention in the speech. While not changing the structure of corporate taxation means not giving further concessions, it also implies not tampering with the massive subsidies given to this sector which now will amount to Rs 2,78,000 crores. In contrast, the direct subsidies to the poor, like on food, employment guarantee scheme and housing, will not amount to Rs 50,000 crores. The disparity is glaring considering that the subsidy to the corporate sector will benefit about one per cent of the population while the subsidy to the poor is shared by about 50 per cent of the population. Continuing with the SEZ policy and not announcing any changes in it is also continuing the massive concessions granted to the corporate sector.

Do subscribe to Mainstream’s feed.


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Dr. Ambedkar: “Our very own Buddha”

Janhavi Acharekar reviews the autobiography by Dalit writer, Baby Kamble, The Prisons We Broke: The Autobiography of a Community, “a feminist critique … and sordid memoir of a cursed community.” The book was first published in Marathi in 1986 and is recently translated into English.

The Prisons We Broke is a graphic revelation of the inner world of the Mahar community in Maharashtra. “We were just like animals, but without tails,” she says, describing in lurid detail a world of lice-infested rags for saris, feasts comprising maggot-ridden innards of diseased carcasses, the tearing hunger of starving new mothers, babies cleaned with saliva instead of soap, and intestine-damaging cactus pods consumed to quell hunger.

Born to an entrepreneurial father, the author’s “privileged background” barely keeps her above the abject poverty suffered by her people. Her English-speaking aajas or grandfathers were butlers to European sahibs, far removed from their poverty-stricken and superstition-ridden Maharwada that lay on the fringes of society. However, for the author, it is a world of buffalo fairs and sacrifice, of people possessed by spirits and boys offered to the mother goddess as potrajas. She recounts vividly the people of Maharwada, their houses and customs, their joys and sorrows. Women, especially, occupy pride of place in the narrative.

Baby Kamble’s autobiography is unique because in critiquing Brahminical domination, it also speaks out for the women of her community, presenting an unflinching portrait of its women, subjugated by both caste and patriarchy (later, the same women become the driving force towards education). The younger women suffer the worst fate. Usually married off at the age of eight or nine, they are often physically chained or have their noses chopped off for incurring the displeasure of their husbands or in-laws. And it is in these circumstances that she embraces the teachings of Dr. Ambedkar, their saviour and messiah, their “very own Buddha”.

The Prisons We Broke is significant because it traces the evolution of the Mahar community from pre-Ambedkar days to its rapid transformation through education and mass conversion. It presents the seeds of a revolution through images of impromptu speeches and bold entries into temples, of poems in praise of the man who rescued them from the mire of Hinduism, their “Baliraja, Ravan, Buddha and Bhim”. However, she also contributes to the deification of Ambedkar (“…he is our God. Nay, he is even better; he is the god of gods…He is certainly superior to God.”) and is sharply critical of the current generation of educated Dalits that rejects its roots and drives Babasaheb out of its life.

Related Post: Namdeo Dhasal and the Fall of the Dalit Panthers

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Budget Bonanza for the Indian Farmer!

The Rs. 60,000 crores loans waiver to the small and marginal farmer is little more than the corporate taxes foregone by the government in a year. Yet, we have IBNLive pose a rhetorical question in a most dramatic manner.

On the day when Finance Minister P Chidambaram unveiled his seventh budget – and his fifth for the UPA government – he left everybody stunned with a Rs 60,000 crores waiver of loans for small and marginal farmers.This has left open two huge questions – where is the money coming from, and if this year’s Budget is an attempt to get re-elected. (source)

No one, however, seems to be “stunned” at the thought of who bears the brunt of the taxes not paid by the corporates.

If you ask me, we should have elections every two years…

Update: See Madhukar’s excellent post on the topic

Nazi Literature in South America and India

Roberto Bolano in his recently translated novel Nazi Literature in the Americas weaves an entire literary universe filled with imaginary writers and their writings.Not all writers were,however, fans of Hitler or other Nazi leaders or even their ideology. Bolano’s biographies of these imaginary writers, inspired in a way by Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, are short- the longest runs into a few pages, the shortest about a page in length. Marked by sharply etched portraits of the writers and of their equally imaginary writings, the novel reads like a racy potboiler, except that there is no evident plot in the novel. Only the last story (which readers of Bolano’s novel Distant Star will be familiar with because it is a summary of the same novel) is somewhat longer and has Bolano himself speaking in the first person and somewhat gives the clues to the underlying impulses behind the novel.

In this he recounts the story of Ramirez Hoffman, a Chilean air plane pilot who seemingly heralded a ‘new era’ in Chilean arts after the coup against Salvador Allende’s socialist government and the establishment of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. Hoffman’s poetry is written in the sky using smokes from his air plane thus announcing the new blend of technology and arts as Chile was ‘recovering its manhood’ under a military dispensation.Some of Hoffman’s poems, all one liners written on the skies, read as follows:

“YOUTH…YOUTH”
“GOOD LUCK TO EVERYONE IN DEATH”
“LEARN FROM FIRE”
“Death is friendship”
“Death is Chile”
“Death is responsibility”
“Death is growth”
“Death is communion”
“Death is cleansing” and so on till “Death is resurrection” and the generals themselves realize that something is amiss. It is, however, something far more macabre that leads to his downfall.

Bolano’s prose is marked by the alacrity of flash fiction (which to me is one of the most important developments in literature in the internet age), but nevertheless carries forward the tradition of the serious novel. The absence of an explicit plot in the story does not mean that there is no plot- as a post- modern reading would suggest. Instead, the plot is hidden below the surface, like an underground river.

The point that he makes is that Nazi- like brutality has a long lineage, and it resides perceptibly and imperceptibly in literature as well. Literature is, therefore, a battlefield in the recovery of humanity and is not outside the realm of politics, and neither is politics outside the realm of poetry and literature.

Reading the novel, I could not but relate very much to India where, interestingly, it is rather normal to have politicians, in the tradition of rulers of the past like Bahadur Shah Zafar and Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, to double up as poets and writers. It is therefore not unusual that two major contemporary politicians- Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, former Prime Minister and a present Chief Minister of Gujarat respectively, belonging to what is easily the closest we have to a fascist political movement, the Bharatiya Janata Party, have some claim to being poets.

To look for Nazi literature in India, one does not need biographies of imaginary writers. In India, they live among us, in our times. The question of literature and politics being separate also does not arise. They are so intricately tied up that both are the same. The nightmare and the muse.

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NREGA- The Road Ahead

A group of researchers working with Samaj Pragati Sahayog in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh writing in the latest issue of EPW (alternate link) focus on how the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) marks a shift from any earlier rural development schemes and how it needs to progress. They assess the learning from the last two years of its implementation and forcefully reiterate why it must be implemented, and not scrapped.

Some of the key things that they highlight are:

  • it is a development programme and not a dole programme chipping in with crucial public investments for creation of durable public assets. Its emphasis on water conservation, drought and flood proofing is critical for rural transformation in the most backward areas of the country
  • it makes a complete break with past practices of hiring contractors, the worst oppressors of the rural worker
  • There is a meticulous process for social audit
  • An unprecedented emphasis on transparency and social audits

The key challenges in implementing the scheme in some of the districts that the researchers have surveyed are:

  • Lack of professionals and under- staffing in fulfilling the scheme. At many places staff has not been appointed at all or NREGS responsibilities have been added to existing staff like BDOs and JEs. They quote the recent CAG report that finds that 52% of the 513 gram panchayats it surveyed had not appointed EGAs (Employment Guarantee Assistant)
  • Bureaucratic delays
  • Lack of peoples’ planning and grassroots social activism
  • Inappropriate payment rates since the NREGA uses the old Schedule of rates meant for work through contractors and makes it difficult for gram panchayats to cost work
  • No real social audits taking place at the grassroots level

There are quite a few proposals that the paper makes for speeding up delivery as promised by the NREGA. These include staffing the scheme appropriately (the paper provides a detailed calculation for costing), creating personnel capacity by introducing 1 year diploma courses for implementing the NREGA and above all recommend the use of information technology to bypass bureaucratic delays and provide transparency.

They conclude:

Over the last 20 years, governments so committed to an agenda of reforms for the corporates, appear to have absolutely nothing to offer to their main constituency, the rural poor. On the contrary, with the pressure on the state to shrink, expansion in scale of programmes is increasingly attempted using under-paid, poorly qualified “worker-volunteers”.5 Corners must be cut when it comes to the rural poor. Anything for them, it appears, can be of the lowest quality. Of course, we must also recognise that even during the Nehru-era, rural development was never seen as a professional activity. The legacy of Gandhian anti-state anarchism, where people know best and can manage their affairs on their own, without any external help, only reinforced this tendency.The left, fighting for the very right of the public sector to survive, appears to have become so defensive as to completely overlook the need for reforms, long overdue in a sector marked by massive corruption and complete non-accountability towards the “public”.

The NREGA ranks among the most powerful initiatives ever undertaken for transformation of rural livelihoods in India. The unprecedented commitment of financial resources is matched only by its imaginative architecture that promises a radically fresh programme of rural development. However, for NREGA to realise its potential, it must focus on raising the productivity of agriculture in India’s most backward regions. This can then lead further to the creation of allied livelihoods on the foundation of water security. This is also the only way we can envision a decline in the size of the work guarantee over time, as public investment under NREGA leads to higher rural incomes, that in turn spurs private investment and greater incomes and employment

Read the full paper at EPW or here. 

Link to Govt of India’s site on NREGA

Related Post: A Chinese Road for Rural India

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