Category Archives: India

A Rendezvous with the Maoists, and other links

Arundhati Roy reports from her rendezvous with the Maoists:

It’s easier on the liberal conscience to believe that the war in the forests is a war between the Government of India and the Maoists, who call elections a sham, Parliament a pigsty and have openly declared their intention to overthrow the Indian State. It’s convenient to forget that tribal people in Central India have a history of resistance that predates Mao by centuries. (That’s a truism of course. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist.) The Ho, the Oraon, the Kols, the Santhals, the Mundas and the Gonds have all rebelled several times, against the British, against zamindars and moneylenders. The rebellions were cruelly crushed, many thousands killed, but the people were never conquered.

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When it was Bliss to be a Communist

Between 1936 and 1947, the Communist Party of India grew from a base of few hundred cadre to 80,000. During one of the most critical phases of its history, when it supported the British war effort in 1942, the Party actually expanded and brought into its fold people who later became major cultural figures. When the Royal Indian Mutiny took place in 1946, the flags of three political groups were flown on the mutinous ships- that of the Indian National Congress, the Muslim League and the CPI. The then leader of the CPI was also the first person to address Gandhi as the ‘father of the nation’. Given the aura that the party built up at that time, its leader at that time is relatively little known. If his comrades in arms in the party who took over immediately after him had their way, his name would have been completely written off. As it were, they almost succeeded.

There has been little or no remembrance on the part of the CPI and CPM for PC Joshi.

After all, the intellectual decline and current mediocrity of the CPM was achieved at the cost of dismantling the heritage of Joshi, particularly by Pramod Dasgupta.
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Links

Robert Fisk created quite a flutter last week with his article on the decline and possible demise of the dollar. Probably the rumours are untrue, but then there isn’t a smoke without a fire. Martin Wolf critiques Fisk’s views in FT (needs free registration).

The award of the Nobel for literature to Herta Muller confirms that East and Central Europe, along with Latin America, is the happening place for contemporary literature. An extract from one of her novels.

Why did Rama fight the war with Ravana? In his own words, it wasn’t for Sita. Read a superb piece by a card- carrying feminist and translator of the Valmiki Ramayana.

The award to Olstrom is path breaking both because she is the first woman to receive the Nobel for economics as well as because, strictly speaking, she isn’t an economist. A good introduction to her work on the collective use of common resources.

One may love or hate her, but the fact is that Arundhati Roy continues to give expression to the angst of our age.

This is the first part of an inspiring Hungarian travelogue by a group of Dalit students.

You can also follow these occasional links real time via twitter.

Caste, Racism and the UN Resolution

Hats off to the Maoists in Nepal for taking the caste question to the UN level. This is in sharp contrast to the stance taken by the Indian government all through. During the World Conference Against Racism in Durban (2001) India had opposed equating the caste system with racism and the then Attorney General Soli Sorabjee had gone on record stating that:

“There were misconceived attempts by some NGOs to equate racism with caste-based discrimination which is based on birth and occupation and has nothing to do with the race of a person.”

Earlier this year in April the Indian government had succeeded in having caste discrimination ignored in the resolution during the World Conference on Racism held in Geneva. Continue reading

IT: The Future is Here, Almost

This article was written 14 years ago when internet services officially started in India. I had expressed a number of fears in this some of which have been happily proved incorrect. However, I find it interesting that there are almost no fundamentally new technological breakthroughs that have come around since the article was written. Some of the concerns raised in the article still hold, particularly its conclusion.

Trivia: The original article was typed on a PC- XT machine using Word Star 7.

I had used email for just over a  month then using a corporate account and the browser I was then using were Mosaic and Gopher !

Anyone remember using these ??

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Information Revolution
The Future is Here, Almost
by Bhupinder Singh
(Op Ed, The Tribune, Chandigarh, 19 August 1995)

India formally joined Internet, the real information superhighway- on Wednesday. With a PC and a modem, Indians now have the wide, wild, world of information at their button tips. This article by a computer engineer talks about new vistas and, hidden traps.

While we were not looking, the future arrived.

It did not arrive the way popular science fiction had predicted- with personal trips to Mars on weekends, et al. Instead, it arrived as a social, cultural, informational and technological revolution more world- changing than the futurists could have dreamed. This change is so headlong and profound that it is more than difficult to comes to terms with or even grasp it, let alone understand it.

Within the lifetime of people who have barely got beyond middle age, human society and the relations of people within them have gone through a sort of economic and social earthquake. To a large extent, technological change since the Industrial Revolution, has not much been derived from it as it has driven this cataclysmic change.
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A Pilgrimage

The vihara at Nagarjunakonda island (click to enlarge images)

It required a visit to the ancient town reconstructed at Anupu on the banks of the Krishna river to drive home what a great setback the decline and destruction of Buddhism was to Indian civilization. A number of reasons have been ascribed to account for the atheistic religion’s demise in the land of its birth. This includes the one pointed out by DD Kosambi- that the Buddhist monasteries succumbed to their opulence. Another theory is that it was too closely aligned with centralized states and when those broke up, so did the religion. Whatever be the reasons for its ultimate decline, it is certain is that its successor- Brahmanical Hinduism, was worse. As I gazed over the monastery and the amphitheater a deep sense of reverence and awe came over me. It was soon broken, though, by the chants of shalokas from the Bhagavad Gita over the loudspeaker from a close by temple. The sound was metaphorically shattering. It was Shancaracharya, after all, who sounded the death knell of Buddhism and revived the Gita.
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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.

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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.
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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:

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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.