Football in the time of Cholera

The BBC has a report on the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s World Cup victory over Holland, in the backdrop of the oppression let loose by the military junta at that time:

“When they played a game over the speakers, it was very contradictory – because the executioners, those who tortured us, and us the victims both cried ‘Goal Argentina!'” he said.

And we know that they took prisoners out when there were distractions caused by the World Cup and shot them,” he said.

Why BJP govt will succeed in Karnataka

34 000 Hindu temples told to perform worship for BJP govt in Karnataka

This means that all the 34,000 temples that come under the muzrai department will have to toe the government line. Defending his move, Chetty said that as the state was facing a crisis, divine blessings were necessary to maintain peace. He hinted that divine intervention was also being sought to help the young BJP government tide over the fertilizer crisis.

Once the media briefing was over the minister offered ‘prasada’ (laddu) to the reporters like he did on the day of his swearing in.

Each government-run temple in the state gets a minimum tasdik (annual grant) of Rs 6,000. Prior to JD(S)-BJP coalition government, tasdik amount varied from Re 1 to Rs 50,000. Taking special interest in temple issues, Yeddyurappa, who was a finance minister in the coalition set up, earmarked Rs 21.48 crore as tasdik amount in the 2007-08 budgets as against Rs 6.12 crore in 2006-07.

In Bangalore urban district alone there are 1,016 muzrai temples.

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A Politician called Manmohan Singh

One of the ‘selling points’ for the neo- liberal reforms initiated during Narasimha Rao’s years of prime minister- ship was that these reforms were worked out and led by a non- politician- Dr Manmohan Singh. Indeed, his continued projection as a non- politician- and specifically as a professional economist- has been seen to provide a legitimacy for the neo- liberal offensive, though sometimes it has been used by his political opponents to attack his credentials in holding a political post.

Both of these perspectives are flawed, and nothing could be farther from the truth. Manmohan Singh’s professional background as a technocrat cannot be reason enough to see him as a non- politician.
Continue reading “A Politician called Manmohan Singh”

The Age of the American Empire

Unlike European powers, US imperialism has sought to create and maintain its hegemony via puppet regimes or via local elites (see the post below with an extract from David Harvey’s interview), leading to an impression that it is not a colonial power like, say, England or France that ruled their colonies directly and more visibly.

Howard Zinn, well known as the author of the path breaking A People’s History of the United States, unfolds the imperial nature of the American Empire in extensive detail in his latest book, A People’s History of American Empire, in a graphic adaptation format published last month.

I was conscious, like everyone, of the British Empire and the other imperial powers of Europe, but the United States was not seen in the same way. When, after the war, I went to college under the G.I. Bill of Rights and took courses in U.S. history, I usually found a chapter in the history texts called “The Age of Imperialism.” It invariably referred to the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the conquest of the Philippines that followed. It seemed that American imperialism lasted only a relatively few years. There was no overarching view of U.S. expansion that might lead to the idea of a more far-ranging empire — or period — of “imperialism.”

– Howard Zinn in Empire or Humanity

Tomdispatch has an illustrated autobiography of Zinn that his fans may like to read (it too is wonderfully illustrated in the comic book format.)

A short video Empire and Humanity from the site.

Feminist Narratives of Indian Left

Unlike in Russia and China, the communists did not fully triumph in India. They were a small, even fringe, though in many ways radical part of the national struggle for liberation. After independence, especially after their embracing the path of parliamentary politics, they emerged as the biggest opposition to the ruling Congress party, creating a record by having the first elected communist state government in history when they formed the government in 1957 in Kerala and still later perhaps the longest elected state government in West Bengal. Thus, while they did not succeed to the same extent as in Russia or China, they did not fail either, unlike in the West.

This, however, gave a very specific dichotomous character to the Indian communists, whom the historian D.D. Kosambi called the “Official Marxists” or, literally and metaphorically, OM. Thus, they re- created the structures of ruling communists parties in the major citadels, at the same time they also internalized traditional Indian social structures. This part- success also led them to miss the emergence of the New Left and their ideas since they never had to go back and question their basic premises in their wishful thought to continue to pursue their “party- line” even as it swerved from supporting the Congress at one time (in 1975 as well as now) to indirectly supporting the BJP (the CPI and CPM both supported V.P. Singh’s National Front government which was also supported by the BJP.) In other words, they have become totally engrossed in parliamentary politics.With the rise of caste politics since the late 1980s, they have missed the boat completely as their class based analysis had no place for caste. Even today, they are yet to reconcile their theory with caste.

Similarly, the Indian communist Left has remained completely indifferent to the questions raised by feminists. In this very well written narrative from the Naxalite movement of the early 1970s, Krishna Bandhopadhyay recalls how, even a nascent communist outfit without an entrenched bureaucratic structure, patriarchal ideas and practices dominated. Needless to say, the CPI and the CPM are far worse off.

Naxalbari Politics: A Feminist Narrative (pdf!) (alternate source)

Anyway, she would give all the boys ‘chatu’ (barley) in one hand and ash in the other and say, “Go to the corner of the road and scatter the ash in the name of your enemies and the chatu in the name of your friends”. One of my cousins was of my age. Spotting the ash and barley in his hands I would start demanding, “Give it to me, I’ll scatter it for my friends and enemies”. In her east Bengali dialect, pishima would comment, “Where will friends and enemies suddenly appear from for girls? Do you think girls are human beings?”. Everyone would laugh at this, and I found that everybody agreed with her. I would feel very small compared to my brothers. Ashamed and insulted, my eyes would fill with tears and I would cry silently and secretly. Even later in life I would cringe at the discrimination in every aspect of life – be it eating habits, education, freedom of movement. In my own way I protested once in a while, but not a brick on the wall of “don’ts” was affected by it. I always thought that something needed to be done about this.

So many women joined the movement, but on the party’s part there was no actual directive as to what their role was expected to be. Many commented that even in the case of the men, there were no specific directives. For the sake of argument this is perfectly true, but the party leadership was male and can it be denied that their policies would automatically tend to be patriarchal?

The legendary heroine of the Naxalite movement, K. Ajitha, has also pointed out on this earlier.

The women were always in an inferior position in the movement. I was highly disturbed by the loss of opportunities on account of being a woman. The men either showed a protective approach towards women or treated them as a sexual commodity. They considered the support the revolutionaries got from their wives and mothers as their duty. They did not realise that these innocent women had to suffer a lot because of their actions. The police and the authorities constantly harassed them. They also failed to appreciate our intellectual capacities and human feelings. Marriage was prohibited for revolutionaries as the party felt it hinders freedom. Later, however, the party allowed marriages approved by it. If anybody fell in love with those who did not like the party, it acted like a feudal lord.

Incidentally, her auto- biography has been recently published.

Related Post: The Left, Caste and Dalits: A Troubled Relationship

Demandalizing Mandal

When the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report was announced during VP Singh led National Front regime, my first reaction was to oppose it. This natural, even if a knee jerk reaction, was because it did not reconcile with the notions of class and in my view it actually was detrimental to formation of class consciousness. It was not that I was not aware of the caste system or its vagaries, however, I shared the unstated Nehruvian belief that economic development and education would do away with the caste system. The first pillar of belief that fell in those days, therefore, was that education could be equated with egalitarianism and humanism.

My views changed quite dramatically within a few days as opposition to the announcement gathered force and “upper” caste-ism came to the fore. This aroused my first doubts – if this Report is something that is so rabidly hated by those, who I agreed were relatively privileged “upper” caste folks, then something is amiss. What clinched the issue was the intemperate and insulting language the protesters employed against whom they considered to be the beneficiaries- the backward castes but also the scheduled castes who were more easily identifiable because they were already availing the reserved quotas.

In the early days following the announcement, it was difficult to even get hold of the Report. I managed to get a xeroxed copy from a local NGO’s social scientist. What amazed me was the sheer force of the arguments in the report that transformed my views within a few days, if not overnight. So, it is a bit disconcerting that even after nearly two decades, I am not able to find an online version of the Report, because I remember it went much beyond just making the case for reservations. In the process of implementing one of its recommendations, it’s thrust has been diluted, and hence “demandalized.”

However, I have been able to find this 2003 article by SS Gill, who was the secretary to the Commission when it submitted its report and where he points to the bigger picture painted by the Report.

Diluting Mandal

On the face of it, the radical change in the political landscape of the country marks the setting right of ancient historical wrongs. Or does it? In fact, to some extent, the Mandal Commission report was `demandalised’ during the very process of its implementation. Of the dozen or so recommendations, only one pertaining to reservation was picked up, as it had the highest visibility and attracted immediate attention. More far-reaching recommendations regarding structural changes in the land-tenurial system, and institutional reforms for the educational and economic uplift of the OBCs were not even noticed. The attention thus got focussed on the fruits rather than the roots and branches of the tree of affirmative action.

Related Post: Dr Ambedkar on reservations for OBCs

Our Country and Advani’s Life

BG Verghese critically reviews L.K. Advani’s autobiography, “My Country, My Life”…. the life may be his, but the country is fortunately far more than any single individual’s. The title is reminiscent of the individualism propagated during Rajiv Gandhi’s time: “mera bharat mahan” (“my India is great”) which IMHO, would have been more slightly more generous had the “mera” (my) been replaced by “hamara” (our). That is, if at all the slogan was apt in the first place.

Mr Advani has also referred to Satyapal Dang, the CPI leader from Punjab as “the late Satyapal Dang”. The veteran leader has responded by proclaiming that he is still alive, and that though Advani may admire him, it would be most unfortunate if Advani became the Prime Minister.

A few excerpts from the review, followed by a statement issued by Comrade Satyapal Dang.

So where does this leave “cultural nationalism”? Mr Advani describes the 1992 Babri demolition as a “Hindu awakening” and is pleased to cite Girilal Jain’s certificate that “You have made history”. Having taken a bow, Mr Advani describes the day as the “saddest” in his life. Yet he laid the ground for that day with his 1990 Rath Yatra that sowed dragon seeds of hate. The event was followed by a trail of riots that took 600 lives. He lit the fire but blames the wind.

The same with the Gujarat riots, one of the worst blots in India’s record since Independence. Mr Advani commends Modi, but disowns any responsibility as a leading BJP stalwart, Gandhinagar MP and Union Home Minister. He cites the communal count of those killed in police firing to suggest even handedness and promptitude of action, setting aside contemporary evidence of official complicity which continues to this day. Police officers who stood firm were promptly “promoted” and transferred! Speaking over AIR, Mr Modi told terrified victims of the holocaust that if they desired peace they should not seek justice. Nothing more despicable could have been said. Alas, Mr Advani fiddled while Gujarat burned.

Here is the news item with Comrade Dang’s rejoinder as well as Bhai Ranjit Singh, the former Jathedar of the Akal Takht pointing to yet another discrepancy in the book.

In chapter 7 of the book “The trauma and triumph of Punjab” Advani has written “as the late Satya Pal Dang, an Amritsar-based Communist leader whom I admire for his courageous campaign against Khalistan”. Though Advani said that he admire Dang, the latter said it would be most unfortunate if a person like Advani became Prime Minister.

The facts on high profile Nirankari murder given in the book are also distorted, which earned flak from Bhai Ranjit Singh, former Jathedar, Akal Takht, who spent a long time in Tihar Jail in connection with the assassination of Baba Gurbachan Singh Nirankari. He said Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala was never among the list of 20 accused persons as mentioned in the book. He claimed that there were only four persons arrested by the CBI who were later released on personal bonds.

The former jathedar said it was shocking that Advani did not know the bare facts pertaining to the Nirankari murder case because Giani Zail Singh was not the union home minister when the four arrested by the CBI were released. The union home minister was P.C. Sethi, he claimed.

There are no Flying Carpets in Baghdad anymore

In the story The Thief of Baghdad, Prince Ahmad’s friend Abu steals a flying carpet to help his friend escape from the clutches of the evil vizier Jaffar. For most people of Iraq, however, there are no flying carpets to escape from the clutches of a mindless war that has unleashed too many evil jinns seemingly impossible to put back in the bottle. After five years of the invasion, the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussain seems preferable even to some of its critics.

Aljazeera reporter Rageh Omaar returns to Iraq after five years and reports the state of the country and its people. Just the scale of the humanitarian crisis unleashed by the war is revolting, just as its barbarism is. A very touching piece of reportage.

Watch Part 2 and Part 3 too. The last one covers the stories of the refugees from Iraq- that number 1.5 million into Syria alone.

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)

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:

“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.

Related Posts on Roberto Bolano

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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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Kosambi Festival of Ideas

Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi (1907- 1966) embodied the quintessential Indian Renaissance man that came into its own in the immediate years after independence.

He was a polyglot- an accomplished mathematician and a self- trained historian. He was well trained in Sanskrit and had a very good knowledge of Buddhism acquired from his father, a noted Buddhist scholar of his times. Educated in the United States, he returned to India not only to make contributions to mathematics but, above all, lay the basis of the current historiography of ancient India.

His orientation was firmly Marxist, and his works are a very good example of how the Marxist method can be used to give surprisingly innovative results. Many of his formulations have been proven incorrect by subsequent researches, but anyone reading his works even today cannot be but impressed not only by the wide scholarship and fascinating field work that he carried out, but also illuminating insights.

His deeply humanistic streak that still inspires many to read his works is best reflected in his own words.

“The subtle mystic philosophies, torturous religions, ornate literature, monuments teeming with intricate sculpture and delicate music of India all derive from the same historical process that produced the famished apathy of the villager, senseless opportunism and termite greed of the ‘cultured’ strata, sullen, uncoordinated discontent among the workers, general demoralization, misery, squalor and degrading superstition. The one is the result of the other, one is the expression of the other…it is necessary to understand that history is not a sequence of haphazard events but is made by human beings in the satisfaction of daily needs.”

The DD Kosambi Festivals of Ideas being celebrated in Goa right now was inaugurated by Vice President MH Ansari on 5th February. P Sainath delivered a lecture on the 6th and Romila Thapar, who can easily be considered his most deserving succesor (along possibly with RS Sharma), had a talk yesterday. The events are being covered at the DD Kosambi blog. A news video there covers the speeches of Vice President Ansari and Dr. Meera Kosambi, DD Kosambi’s sociologist daughter.
For anyone who at any time has bathed in that suffusing glow of enlightenment when reading any of Kosambi’s works, reading and watching (the video) of the tributes to him, would be both nostalgic and re- assuring.

(A short biographical note appears here, as well as some of his other writings.)

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Suharto- ‘Water will wear away the Stone’

Death, even of dreaded criminals like Suharto who died today, comes as a shock. It is also a reminder of events- in this case, the slaughter of at least a million Indonesians in the 1960s- mostly communists in a predominantly Muslim country. Outside the officially communist countries, Indonesia had the largest communist party in the world before Suharto brutally decimated it. (news report at npr)

Closer home, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr Modi- he brought ‘economic development’ and ‘stability’ to the country.

Here is a poem by the great Indonesian poet, WS Rendra written during the 1998 student demonstrations that brought down Suharto.

Because we have to eat roots
while grain piles up in your storeroom…
Because we live crowded together
and you have more space than you need…
Therefore we are not on the same side.Because we’re all creased and crumpled
and you’re immaculate…
Because we’re crowded and stifled
and you lock the door…
Therefore we are suspicious of you.

Because we’re abandoned in the street
and you own all the shelter…
Because we’re caught in floods
while you have parties on pleasure craft…
Therefore we do not like you.
Because we are silenced
and you never shut up…
Because we are threatened
and you impose your will by force…
therefore we say NO to you.

Because we are not allowed to choose
and you can do what you like…
Because we wear only sandals
and you use your rifles freely…
Because we have to be polite
and you have the prisons…
therefore NO and NO to you.

Because we are like a flowing river
and you are a stone without a heart
the water will wear away the stone.


As to the barbaric political repression under the former general, Tariq Ali quotes the Indonesian writer Pripit Rochijat:

Usually the corpses were no longer recognisable as human. Headless. Stomachs torn open. The smell was unimaginable. To make sure they didn’t sink, the carcasses were deliberately tied to, or impaled upon, bamboo stakes. And the departure of the corpses from the Kediri region down the Brantas achieved its golden age when bodies were stacked together on rafts over which the PKI [Indonesian Communist Party] banner grandly flew . . . Once the purge of Communist elements got under way, clients stopped coming for sexual satisfaction. The reason: most clients–and prostitutes–were too frightened, for, hanging up in front of the whorehouses, there were a lot of male Communist genitals–like bananas hung out for sale.’

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The Deafening Silence of Dalits in Punjab

One of the striking aspects of Punjab politics is the near absence of caste as a major factor during elections. It is not that the factor is wholly absent, but in contrast to even its neighboring states like Haryana and Rajasthan, it is much less in evidence, to say nothing about states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra or Tamil Nadu, where caste is most visibly present, politically and otherwise.It would seem that this apparent non- chalance about caste in the state is because of the influence of a ‘casteless’ Sikh religion. Sikhism was certainly a most strident attack on casteism in the medieval period. The Guru Granth Sahib, for example, contains the writings by many saints including Guru Ravidas, a chamar. Guru Nanak also initiated the practice of langar- collective feasts where people from various dined together and thus helped blunt caste antagonism.The last guru, Gobind Singh initiated baptism and gave the new adherents the common suffix of Singh/ Kaur, further dealing a blow to identification by caste name. Guru Nanak, like most Sufi/ Bhakti saints, makes no reference to the Gita, that many consider upholds the caste system. So different is the treatment of caste from mainstream Hinduism that Dr. BR Ambedkar seriously contemplated conversion to Sikhism much before he decided in favour of Buddhism. It is not certain why he changed his decision, but one of the conjectures is that the (upper caste) Sikh theologians were appalled at the thought of millions of converted Dalit Sikhs taking over their religious institutions and thus changing the power equations.Like any other conjecture, this may or may not be true. But the main idea certainly deserves a discussion. After Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s consolidation of the twelve warring misls in early 19th century, it is a fact that the jats more or less controlled both the political and in the last half century also the religious institutions (via the SGPC).

But the roots of the caste consolidation within Sikhism go further back- to the time of the gurus. This needs to be understood well so that one does not make the same mistake as three Sikh organisations recently did, when they termed the vision of the Sikh gurus as the creation of a casteless society:

Three organizations also want to make use services the sants and dera heads to ensure assimilation of Dalits in rural areas in the mainstream. At many places, Dalits are denied entry into gurdwaras and also denied access to Guru Granth Sahib for religious ceremonies, including marriage and antim ardas. This problem has been creating rift among rural Sikh masses and need to be stopped as the Sikh Gurus were for a caste less and classless society. (news report ) (Link via Surinder S. Jodhka’s article in Seminar January 2008: Of Babas and Deras)

The claim of Sikhism as a ‘caste less’ religion needs to be critically examined. Historian JS Grewal has pointed out, for example, that “Guru Nanak does not conceive of equality in social and economic terms.” (quoted in Scheduled Castes in the Sikh Community by Harish K. Puri). Guru Nanak’s rejection of caste was thus mainly in religious terms.

The Sikh gurus’ attack on caste ism, though admirable by medieval standards, did not go far enough, and was a far cry from modern sensitivities towards caste.

For example, till the SGPC was formed, the Sikh religious institutions were by and large controlled by the Khatri castes (the mahants). Much before that, the Sikh gurus, including Nanak had ensured that the guru- ship remained within the hands of the Khatris. No doubt it was a great achievement for the first four gurus to pass on the gaddi outside their family- something that is difficult to even conceive today with politicians and film actors passing on the baton to the next generation within their family. The trend changed significantly after the fifth guru who switched to the practice of retaining the guru- ship within the family.

However, even the first four gurus including the greatest of them all- Nanak, ensured that the guru ship remained within their own caste. All marriages in the guru families were within the Khatri sub- castes. A major, if not the determining aspect of the caste system- endogamy, therefore was retained in Sikh practice.

Even contemporary Sikhs have not taken any major reforms for eliminating the caste system. There have been probably more marriages between Hindus and Sikhs within the same caste than within Sikhs across the castes- this is likely to be true about the Khatris and the Dalit Sikhs/ Hindus, two castes that overlap between the two major religious communities in the state.

Caste distinctions are relatively stronger in rural Punjab. With the economic rise of some sections of Dalits, there has been a spate of separate Dalit gurudwaras in the state. In urban areas probably the distinction is less antagonistic, though not absent. In some places like Jalandhar, for example, the leather trade and production of leather related sports goods for a long time ensured that it was possible for at least some sections of Dalits to wade themselves out of extreme poverty and concentrate on economic development.

However, it is a different story in the rural areas where majority of the landless and agricultural workers are Dalits. The only Dalit leader in the state Communist Party of India in the past many decades was the one heading the agricultural workers front. Indeed, most Communist leaders in the state have and continue to come from among the Jats and Khatris with perhaps the sole exception of Mangat Ram Pasla who was shunted out of the CPI(M) few years ago (he is not a dalit, but a nai, a backward caste). Most of the key Akalis are Jat Sikhs. Relatively the Congress party has offerred slightly more space to backward caste and dalit Sikhs- like Giani Zail Singh (a tarkhan, a relatively backward caste) and Buta Singh, a Dalit Sikh. A majority of the SGPC members are Jats.

Given the continuing presence of caste antagonism, it is indeed quite spectacular that caste remains not only relatively subdued during election time, but is also not very powerfully expressed in other areas. For example, though there was a strong literary movement in Punjabi between the 1950s- 70s, there has been an absence of an identifiable Dalit literary stream in Punjabi. There have been, indeed, poets from a Dalit background- Lal Singh Dil and Sant Ram Udasi come immediately to mind, but both identified themselves with the jujharu or the naxalite influenced movement rather than as dalits (though they are contemporary with the Dalit Panthers movement in Marathi literature.)

The Bahujan Samaj Party, whose founder Kanshi Ram, incidentally was a Dalit Sikh, has made little headway in the state. One tactical mistake that the BSP made was to ally with the Jat dominated Akali party, the party of their immediate oppressor, during the late 1990s. Its electoral debacle and the subsequent disillusionment among its cadres has ensured that it remains a marginal political force in the state, though of late it has gained ground in terms of percentage of votes polled.

Many dalits from various parties including the communist and the Congress parties who joined the BSP have returned to their original ones or have at least left the BSP- disillusioned with its culture and factionalism though, happily, some have come back with renewed assertion as dalits.

The Dalit question has recently come into limelight in context of the controversy around the burgeoning deras and baba cults in the state. As Surinder Jodhka cautions in the article quoted above, though these deras are certainly manifestation of a pluralistic culture in the state and attract many dalits, it is too optimistic to see them as places of dalit assertion. One of the footnotes in his article highlighting the contradiction between the interest of the deras and the dalits is quite illuminating:

The following statement of my taxi driver who took me to visit some deras in the Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts of Punjab is instructive. ‘I am a Scheduled Caste fellow. I do not own any land. Most of our people own no land. Everyone should have some land. If not more, at least two acres for each family. It would give people a sense of security and dignity. Look at these deras. They own so much land; some even more than a thousand acres. There should be some law to limit the amount of land that a baba keeps and the rest should be distributed among people like us.’My driver Buta Singh did not mean any disrespect to the babas. He not only paid obeisance to all the deras we visited, but was upset that I did not show sufficient reverence for the babas we visited. He firmly believed in their supernatural powers and ability to do good.
Whether because of super natural reasons or otherwise, there is certainly no identifiable dalit assertion in the state, politically or otherwise. Most of the attention to their identity has been highlighted by academicians and journalists. There seems to be neither a political, literary or any other manifestation of their assertion in the state despite having the highest proportion of scheduled castes in the country (almost 30% of the state’s total population.)There is a deafening silence on part of dalits in Punjab. One wonders why, and for how long.


(1) It needs to be remembered that Brahmins in the state are not the dominant caste, a role usurped by the jats in rural areas and the khatris in urban areas. In this, the state does not adhere to the pattern in many other regions in the country.

(2) Sikhs in Punjab constitute aout 63% of the population. About 30% of the population is classified as Dalits (mainly scheduled castes, there are no scheduled tribes in Punjab.) About 80% of the Dalits live in rural areas. The share of Sikhs in rural areas is 73%, implying that Punjab villages are predominantly Sikh and Dalit. (All statistics from Harish Puri’s article linked in “Related Articles”.) The Dalits also have one of the lowest percentage of land holdings,a measly 2.34% (Quoted in Ronki Ram, article linked in “Related Articles”.)

Related Posts:
Dalits and the Left: A Troubled Relationship
Wadali Brothers: Sufism and Dalit Emancipation
Imagining Punjab in the Age of Globalization
Dr. Ambedkar and Sikhism
Significance of being Kanshi Ram: An Obituary

Related articles (.pdf files):

Scheduled Castes in Sikh Community by Harish K Puri
Punjab Census- Scheduled Caste Data by Surinder S. Jodhka
Of Deras and Babas b Surinder S. Jodhka

Myth of Casteless Sikh Society by Ronki Ram

Caste and Religion in Punjab by Meeta and Rajiv Lochan
Dera Sacha Sauda by Lionel Baxas
Split Dalit Votes- Punjab Elections 2004 by (unsigned in EPW)

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Meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: A Blogger from the Axis of Evil

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a blog where he explains the position of his government and also muses on developments in the middle east. It is interesting to note that regimes that are otherwise demonized by mainstream US media can use blogging as a medium to reach out directly to people across the world. From whatever I have read on the blog, it looks like a very open forum, the blog is available in Persian, English and French versions.

Perhaps blogging is some kind of a modern equivalent of the mythical ‘flying carpet’, a popular element in folk tales from the middle east!

One’s perspective regarding government and governance determines the way one should cooperate with the people.   If one recognizes government as a privilege and prey of the governors, then the period of governance can be counted as an opportunity to fulfill the expectations of certain individuals and groups or the ostentation and hedonism of the governors.

But if in our view, “government” would be a responsibility before God for establishing justice and a duty to ensure the rights of common people, serving the servants of God and helping the oppressed- then the most important issue will be the people’s concerns.  If this is the case, governors would not view themselves as better than other people and they wouldn’t put themselves in any other position except serving the people.  (link)

Here is an excerpt from an older post-  Message to the American people:

Then, the American people, who are God-fearing and followers of Divine religions, will overcome every difficulty.

What I stated represents some of my anxieties and concerns.

I am confident that you, the American people, will play an instrumental role in the establishment of justice and spirituality throughout the world. The promises of the Almighty and His prophets will certainly be realized; Justice and Truth will prevail and all nations will live a true life in a climate replete with love, compassion and fraternity.

The US governing establishment, the authorities and the powerful should not choose irreversible paths. As all prophets have taught us, injustice and transgression will eventually bring about decline and demise. Today, the path of return to faith and spirituality is open and unimpeded.

We should all heed the Divine Word of the Holy Qur’an:

“ But those who repent, have faith and do good may receive Salvation. Your Lord, alone, creates and chooses as He will, and others have no part in His choice; Glorified is God and Exalted above any partners they ascribe to Him. ” (28:67-68)

I pray to the Almighty to bless the Iranian and American nations and indeed all nations of the world with dignity and success.

Link via MSNBC

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Advani as PM Candidate

Advani is the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the next General Elections slated for 2009. The sense of timing is not lost on anyone- one day before Mr Modi, whose governance Mr Advani much admires, faces the elections in Gujarat. The country can now look forward to some more yatras perhaps.

Although party leaders denied that the issue had any connection with the Gujarat polls, privately it was said that it was meant to give a signal to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi that he should not see himself as a future BJP prime minister. Source

If the timing is not confounding, the reasons certainly are. One would have thought that this is to project a BJP MP from Gujarat as the future Prime Minister, and that too one who admires Mr Modi. But the quote above indicates something else- that Narendra Modi has ambitions to become the Prime Minister of India.

And not just that- it raises another question about the purpose of the elections. Is it that the Gujarat elections are going to determine who the next CM of Gujarat is going to be or is it to short list the prime ministerial candidates in the BJP?

What led to BJP’s announcement now?

Image Source: The Tribune

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What is wrong with Gujarat?

It is not merely Narendrabhai. Ashish Khetan, the man behind the Tehelka expose, now fears for his life and explains what really is wrong with Gujarat.

“There was this sense of gloating, boasting at their sense of achievement at what they had managed to accomplish.”

More shocking, he said, was the attitude of ordinary Gujaratis.

“There was no remorse, no shame – just the view that the Muslims had it coming. It shows how much the mind of an average Gujarati has been poisoned,” Khetan said.

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It is still 6 December 1992

Narendra Modi’s speech yesterday in Godhra is a reminder, if one was needed, that the great setback to Indian secularism that was unleashed by razing to ground the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, continues unabated. There is still celebration in Mr Modi’s stable regarding the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. A lesson that the Hindutva family learned soon after 06 December was that feeling apologetic about brazen attacks on minorities in general and Muslims in particular is uncalled for. There is enough support among the middle classes for this kind of politics for them to rejoice and take pride in such demolitions.

The Janus faced Vajpayee had proclaimed on the eve of the demolition that zameen ko samthal karna padega (literally- the ground has to be evened out, in other words, the Masjid has to be razed to the level of the ground). Narendra Modi yesterday called for meting out street smart justice a la Bal Thackeray, to anyone that he considers to be a guilty.

Here is the video from 5 December, 1992 instigating the kar sewaks.

and here is Modi speaking in Godhra yesterday, justifying the killing of Sohrabbudin.

‘The Centre talks of imposing Article 356 in Gujarat but the Gujaratis will give me AK-56 to fight it,” he said. (link)

During the days of terrorism in Punjab in the 1980s, year after year the people were denied elections in the name of disturbed conditions in the state. Ditto for Kashmir. But in Gujarat, the country not only has a ‘vibrant’ state but tolerates an unrepentant fascist regime to continue to make a mockery of law and constitution day in and day out. The only time now that the ruling elites make noises over democracy is when it becomes a ‘hindrance’ to neo- liberal ‘reforms’, like when Manmohan Singh expresses his frustrations while releasing a book by his commerce minister, Kamal Nath, and praises the Chinese:

I sincerely pray and hope that we remain a functional democracy. But democracy has certain disadvantages….Now consider this in our system. Time is not valued, whether dealing with government files or applications for doing business, doing this, doing that, our system doesn’t value time and that’s one weakness of the Indian system that worries me a great deal….

I think the best that we can do is to help transform the mindsets and this is where people like Kamal Nath, Sharad Pawar, Chidambaram, Montek have been a great help to me.

But no one even in his party, except the admirably courageous Mrs Sonia Gandhi, is worried about the BJP and its unrelenting assault since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992!

It is no wonder then, that it is Jawaharlal Nehru, the man who cautioned us against equating minority and majority communalism and stood for a secular and democratic India has been much attacked and reviled all these years by the left, right and center.

But the question is whether, in the midst of all this, he will outlive the current breed of Hindutva politicians? I would have liked to answer this with a resounding ‘yes’ but find myself shuddering. I remind myself of Antonio Gramsci’s statement that there may be a pessimism of the mind, but there is an optimism of the will.

But sometimes the will is only as good as the mind. Today, yet another 6 December, is one of those days.

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