Friday, December 30, 2005

Aircraft Modernization-- Flaws in procedure used just published a report that hinted about irregularities in the entire bidding process for the modernization of the Delhi and Mumbai airports. It seems that private players were being given indiscriminate favor (a charge that these players predictably deny), which has resulted in the resignation of upright officers belonging to the Airport Authority of India, which oversees the functioning of airports in the country.

The right wing media (read the Indian Express) had gung ho talked about the inevitable necessity of privatization as the only means of bringing modern utilities to these airports (the logic can be contradicted empirically by taking the example of Changi Airport, which was developed with public and private participation simultaneously, IIRC..this author was astounded at the levels of facility available at Changi ..he stayed there once on a 19-hour transit...). IE had also suggested that the bids submitted by AAI was not enough qualitatively to be considered at all in the first place and almost excitedly cherished the process that had unfolded.

The Left parties, particularly the CPI(M) had come up with a statement that the entire modernization procedure used was probably flawed and there could be a hidden scam in it.. The E.Sreedharan (of the Delhi Metro fame) committee that was set up to look into the reevaluation process, almost confirms this aspect. They suggest that what was required was modernization, not ex ante privatization.

Modernization of the airports is a necessity, YES, no second questions about it. The problem is that in the name of improving efficiency and bringing facilities, what is being undertaken is providing private players with more muscle to proceed with profit accumulation at any cost. Yet another example of the increasing continuity of the monopolization of the Indian bourgeoisie.

Saturday, December 24, 2005 interesting analysis and the movements..

I have always wanted to enter a blog on an interpretation made out of the Lagaan movie, by one of my closest friends, whom I consider should become a prominent theorist very soon.

The angle summarily goes like this: Bhuvan, the role played by Aamir Khan, is likened to Gandhi. The entire team that Bhuvan assembles is similar to the Congress Party....and so on...

The angle can be described thus: Gandhi fights the British by playing their own game.. The villagers are taught to play cricket...the Analogy...Contest the elections that the British call for...(its a non-violent game, after all).. the inner contradictions are done away with.. (note the structure of the Champaran village, the Mukhia's increased land holding, some holding much more land than others)...even the Britishers are given the benefit of doubt.. Note the British Umpires shown as upholding fairplay....The Muslim is also part of the team and plays an important, though secondary role...The Dalit is included too...but wait..he is weak, deformed and is guided by Bhuvan....Note the Independence movement analogy...The Untouchables are brought into the freedom movement fold, Gandhi fights hard to remove Untouchability, terms the Untouchables as 'Harijans'....Even the Raja is accepted as an Indian, after all, despite the fact that he suffers none of the ordinary villagers' plight in having to partake their earning, their food and their rations.. The Raja is also co-opted into the fight against the British, after all there is no "formal" compliant against him taking part of the villagers' hard earned money...and the Raja also supports the villagers' in their game against the British, well, in an informal way....Notice the similarity with Gandhi's position on the princely states..and the fight to overthrow the princes..he always took a much more moderate stand compared to the fight against the British...the Malabar/ Travancore movements are case studies....

The Lagaan team is a all-encompassing conglomeration, overcoming class, caste and religious differences.....Gandhi's greatest achievement as India's leading Congress freedom fighter was the same...he was the only person who could unite Indians as Indians against the imperialist British!.

Well...there is also the British girl who falls in love with Bhuvan....So did a host of Britishers who fell head over heels to the Mahatma's grace and charm as a non-violent freedom fighter (in the platonic sense...Meerabhai, C.F.Andrews...etc..)...

I am not sure if Ashutosh Gowariker is this big an intellectual to make a movie this deep in its thinking..reminiscent of the Congress' model of the freedom struggle, but the fact remains.. Lagaan symbolises the Indian freedom struggle, led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi..the movie shows the Congress' role in the freedom struggle as a metaphor in the cricket game that is played between Bhuvan's team and the Englishmen....if Gowariker did this intentionally, then Lagaan would go down as one of the most astute symbolic movies of our times in India.

The interesting thing is that Sudhanva Deshpande in the Frontline also somewhat alluded to the same angle that my friend was talking about.

It would be remiss for me not to talk about Rajkumar Santoshi's "The Legend of Bhagat Singh" here...The movie surprises everyone for its remarkable candour and its depth. The best part of the movie when Bhagat Singh exhorts his comrades of Hindustan Republican Army (which he and his comrades rename Hindustan Socialist Republican Army) to fight not merely for independence but for economic independence...not to leave the country in the hands of "burre sahibs" after throwing the yoke of the "Gore Sahibs"....Surely this dialogue was confirmation that Bhagat Singh, the revolutionary was by heart the Communist...Its no fluke that most of Bhagat Singh's comrades, including Shiv Verma, Ajay Ghosh, and others named in the Lahore Conspiracy Case, later on turned out to be leading Communist Leaders in the country.

Interestingly, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the senior CPI(M) leader of today started his revolutionary career as a foot-soldier in the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, the organization started by Bhagat Singh.. Surjeet, who used to cycle from Amritsar to Lahore to attend organizational meetings and to carry couriers, was arrested by the British for his role in an anti-British-rule incident..He introduced himself as "London Tod Singh" in his speech in the court later.. Its a pity that the bourgeois media pays scant respect to this veteran freedom fighter just because he is a communist..

I would put it emphatically that if Bhagat Singh was alive today, he would have been a torchbearer of the Communist Movement in the country. Pity, because probably the great Gandhi signed the Irwin Pact and didn't bother to ask for Bhagat Singh's release from capital punishment as a quid pro quo when he could have surely done atleast this...This is a huge blot on the widely accepted leader of India's freedom movement...that has never sufficiently been answered by Gandhians/ other Congress freedom fighters.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Cash-on-camera scam

The Cash-on-camera-scam involving 10+7 MPs, was a disgrace. The funny part was that the majority of the MPs involved were from the BJP, the rightist party which claimed to be a "party with a difference".

For all those libertarians who excoriate the Left , including Shri Shekhar Gupta of the Indian Express, its time to remind them that in an event where MPs across political spectrum were seem involved, there was no MP named from the Left.

A peep into the assets of the MPs in Parliament would show how the average wealth of the MPs belonging to the rightist parties in our country (read the Congress and the BJP) towers over the average wealth of the Left parties.

Today, after the investigation by an independent committee of members from all sections of the political spectrum, which included the BJP Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Prof Vijay Malhotra, parliament discussed the issue and decided to expel all the 10 MPs from Lok Sabha. One Rajya Sabha MP, also from the BJP was expelled too.

The BJP did a volte face and voted against the motion to expel the members involved in the scam. They even boycotted the decision and called for yet another Privileges motion committee to look into the issue. The funny part is that no committee can be empowered to take any action, it can only recommend it to the House, this being the highest decision making forum. Only the House can decide upon executive action!. The BJP has yet again betrayed its chameleon like attitude. Filled as it is with unscrupulous semi-fascists, one need not be surprised by its volte face.

Even with regards to the issue of MPLADS being scrapped, except for the CPI(M) and a few other parties, none are willing to scrap the controversial scheme. It is high time that the public realized this folly on the part of the Rightist parties in India and give them yet another decisive blows in the forthcoming State Assembly elections throughout India.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Left rises in Bolivia

Evo Morales, a 46 year old Leftist, was elected to power in Bolivia recently. This marks an accentuation in the coming to power of multiple Leftist Governments in Latin America. Ravaged by policies of neo-liberalism into spiralling inequality, swathes of poverty and increased unemployment, depletion of resources, the people of Latin America have risen up against the Right in many countries. Morales was the leader of the "Movement toward Socialism" party and is the first indigeneous President of a country largely populated by indigeneous population.

Morales' victory reminds me of the dialogue between Alberto Gradando and Ernesto Guevara ('Che'), so eloquently shown in the movie, "The Motorcycle Diaries", where both discuss as to how and when shall the indigeneous people come to rule Latin American countries. Che later in the movie, talks about how Latin America as a whole is a concrete bloc, as he says, "Even though we are too insignificant to be spokesmen for such a noble cause, we believe, and this journey has only confirmed this belief, that the division of American into unstable and illusory nations is a complete fiction. We are one single mestizo race from Mexico to the Magellan Straits. And so, in an attempt to free ourselves from narrow minded provincialism, I propose a toast to Peru and to a united America."

If the trend was set by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, it was reset by Lula in Brazil, Tabare Vazquez in Uruguay, and Nestor Kirchner in Argentina. Mexico is going to elections soon, and we shall see further Left governments starting to form from there.

The increasing Left assertion in Latin America is a signal of the disenchantment with the policies of integrating with metropolitan capital, as demanded by the Bretton Woods institutions. The approach of the Left governments have been generally to take out and de-link the economies from the Washington Consensus and go for import substitution models, social welfare spending etc.

The most radical of all the governments is the Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuela. Chavez, who was a distinguished visitor to the JNU Campus about 7 months ago, and was greeted and cheered on by the students, has criticized the US government and its policies day in and day out. He has also taken revolutionary steps to help the traditionally poor in Venezuela gain a semblance of improvement in health and education. His policy of selling oil at subsidized rates to governments throughout the world in exchange for medical and technical help is a kind of international relations handling that can be likened to social constructivism. Unfortunately, he is termed "Maverick" by the bourgeois media all around.

Yet, all is not red and rosy about the rise of the Left. The Guardian reports how a bad precedent has been set by the Lula Government and the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil and how the Left in Latin America should learn from the Lula experience.

The rise of the Left in Latin America is a exemplar to the apologists for neo-liberal reforms about the problems that invariably go alongwith these policies.

Dependency Theorists such as A.G.Frank, who have worked eloquently on Latin America's political economy, would be thrilled by the overwhelming support for the revert to socialism in those countries. It is pertinent also to mention James Petras' work on the effects of Globalization in Latin America and how Globalization can be a form of imperialism.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Jyoti Basu's speech and Interview

Jyoti Basu, India's longest tenured Chief Minister spoke at the Indian Society of Labour Economics at JNU on the 15th of December, 2005. Basu stressed upon the right understanding of labour issues by academics as a must and pointed out earlier falsities in arguments propounded by intellectuals such as John Stuart Mill and Ricardo to highlight his point. He also indicated as to how such falsities are being in vogue in current economic theories, particularly those propounded in the arguments favoring "labour market flexibility" and how it was necessary to counter the ill effects on the working class by such policies.

Basu also gave an interview to the Frontline last fortnight. The interview throws light on his career, providing glimpses to the growth of the revolutionary movement in the country during the height of the independence movement. Basu also served long as a leader in the undivided CPI and later in the CPI(M). He still serves in the highest decision making body, the Politbureau, after being requested by his colleagues to continue his tenure, despite requests to step down due to old age.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Indian Express' editorial on JNU

Shekhar Gupta is back to Left bashing and this time, his target is JNU. The editorial is a fallout of what happened in JNU on 14th November, when a few students of Naxalite persuasion, protested using black flags and slogans, when the Prime Minister of India came over to address the students of JNU. This later on created a huge furor in the National Media, considering the fact that a person of the stature and position of the Prime Minister was subjected to such treatment, ostensibly because some students were upset with policies, architect of which, they regarded was Dr. Manmohan Singh, recently referred to as the leading neoliberal intellectual of this country by Prof. Prabhat Patnaik.

The Editorial however deemed it fit to turn its ire on the entire campus for the doings of a few. Shekhar Gupta's left phobia has taken such a toll on him, that he thought he needed to throw some of his ire on the student activists of JNU as well. As a left democratic student activist in my university, I thought it was necessary for me to rebut what Gupta says...and this blog includes my letter to Indian Express, which of course would not be published by Gupta...for sure.

The Editor-in-chief,
The Indian Express

Date: 16-11-05

Subject: Editorial on JNU titled, "Little Stalinists"
For all the satire and perverted logic that your editorial spews, the truth is that it is far away from the truth! First, it is essential to refute the factual errors that permeate your odious editorial. You make the mistake of brushing the entire student union and the entire left wing in the campus with the same colour, forgetting unfortunately that shades of opinion exist, resulting in different political outfits with different ideologies. To make things clear, on 14th November, the left groups which do not subscribe to the notion that the Indian state is semi-colonial in nature, did not protest or disrupt the PM's speech. It was only those groups, who subscribe to that ideological understanding, which had disrupted the PM's speech, even as they defended their action as coming under the purview of "right to protest".

Secondly, your comparison of the US Air Force and the entire student activists of JNU is nauseating. A few sample things for you to consider: a) the student elections in this campus are entirely conducted by students alone, with a nominated body of Election Commission members who do this job purely to satisfy their "democratic spirit" unlike the US Air Force who in their endeavor to spread democracy go about pummeling thousands of Iraqis and justify the same by using inhuman “pathetic fallacies” such as “collateral damage”. b) The protests, marches, mess campaigns, public talks that feature in this university night in and night out are done with an objective purpose in mind, to keep the culture of debate and discussion alive, unlike the US who treats the UN with contempt and debates in the Security Council as a waste of time. The campus is forever kicking with sound political understanding of various shades and "bourgeois" culture of aping Western clothing, money power, expensive hoardings, etc, characteristic of other universities is absent.

It is true that a majority of the Civil Service recruits are from this campus, yet you make the mistake of including political activists as being the large chunk of these, which is patently untrue. India's leading Left leaders, Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury were products of this campus. Your lead editor, C.Raja Mohan served both in the capacity of a student activist as well as an academic intellectual. It is also true that the faculty (excellent, by your own admission) is largely comprised of former students of this campus, who were the very same left democratic minded “agitpropists” of yesteryear that this current generation of left-bent activists wish to emulate.

Your deep-rooted left-phobia is already well known; you devote acres of column space just to prove one point: the Left is not right. This phobia is what that has driven you to go ballistic (pun-intended) on JNU's structure itself. Hence your convoluted logic about how JNU's low fee structure should be scrapped because a handful of protestors deemed it fit to wave black flags and shout slogans against the Prime Minister. Your idea of a civilized audience is perhaps a conformist, arm-chair intellectualist, isolationist conglomeration of individuals, least bothered about the effect of the PM's policies on the poor and marginalized of this country, information about which shall be available for your perusal in JNU's libraries and even in the term-papers and academic efforts of JNU's radical student community.

Finally, I don't consider the term, "Little Stalinists", pejorative at all. If we could be given the name of the leader of the Red Army, which defeated Hitler's Fascism and proved that an underdeveloped, worker-peasant nation can take on the might of imperialism and fascism, we are proud indeed. This campus has always maintained its anti-imperialist legacy, coupled with its pro-poor, pro-worker, pro-peasant notions intact. This is precisely why this campus has produced a P.Sainath, India's leading rural affairs journalist, a Gopal Guru, India's leading political theorist on Social Justice, and innumerable other academic, political leaders, who have taken the well known JNU adage, "What JNU thinks today, India thinks tomorrow" to the public sphere, outside the cushions of the red brick walls that dot our campus. It seems impossible for your paper, editored by a person, who seems almost an apologist for neo-liberal capitalism to understand the ethos of this campus, which "empowers" Indians from all backgrounds irrespective of the multiple crippling identities that characterize Indian society to take up lead roles in civil society, be it in the academia, the bureaucracy, the polity or even in radical opposition.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Iran Nuclear Issue: Draft

The Iran Nuclear Issue:

Chander tells me that he expected me to write a blog on this issue. Its a complex one indeed. Was India right in voting for the resolution to move to the Security Council, the issue of Iran enriching Uranium for power needs? First Glance, my opinion was No, certainly not. From all earlier reports, India always indicated that they were keen on taking a stance that they supported Iran's right to use Nuclear Energy for peaceful purposes, for it was a signatory to the NPT and as long as Iran adhered to the NPT norms, there was no problem at all and all issues were to be handled under the aegis of the IAEA. Yet, India voted in direct contravention to this pre-supposed position that she was supposed to take. Why did India take this position suddenly?

The Left, particularly CPM Gen Sec Prakash Karat was scathing on the government's decision. So was the Hindu's editorial. The basic funda was that India did this as a quid pro quo to the Indo-US Nuclear Deal that was yet to be ratified by the US Congress. Ergo, the statement by Manmohan Singh that it was difficult to go ahead with the Indo-Pak-Iran Gas Deal because it was difficult for financial backers to underwrite such a project. The Left feels that this position of India is tantamount to bending towards imperialism in a shameful manner and a betrayal of Non-Alignment, Third World Solidarity and inclining toward the diktats of the unipolar hegemon, the US.

Editorials of papers who do not regard the presence of imperialism any more tried to give their own spin to the entire issue. They called this a "maturing" of India's foreign policy in consonance with India trying to find a place among the comity of developed nations. The Indian Express, as has been its wont these days, was increasingly harsh on the Left's position. Different Editorials on Karat's essay in the People's Democracy, the Left position on Iran and Iran's internal polity, opinion pieces and reports of how Iran has noted the Left's displeasure and playing to this internal dynamics within India's political alignments, were all part of the Indian Express's take on the issue.

The Hindu on its part published a long Editorial criticizing the Indian Government's policy, followed up by a front page publication of a purported report that Iran was going to cut off the Gas deal with India, which later on was proved to be not the case. Even Sri Lanka, Pakistan and other Third World countries had abstained on this issue, and there was no reason why India couldnt' have abstained themselves. The only country that voted against this resolution was the exceedingly vocal and anti-imperialist regime of Venezuela (which unfortunately was termed "maverick" by bourgeois papers such as the Indian Express).

My take on this issue is a convoluted one. While I agree that the gameplan of the USA is right on the same track that was followed against Iraq not long ago, which resulted in the invasion of Iraq on the flimsiest of reasons, and I also agree that there indeed exists US imperialism in this unipolar hegemonic world, I also suspect the intentions of the Islamic government of Iran. This theocratic regime in its inception was a commeupance of a wide ranging progressive movement led by the Left in Iran, but later being scuttled and crushed by the theocrats, who later established an Islamic regime in this country in the early 1980s. Though this Islamic regime definitely had an anti-imperialist character, it never pursued a largely progressive agenda of governance in the country. The Left disagrees with the type of governance that is prevalent in Iran, but is sensitive to the cause of anti-imperialism and that explains its opinion on India's positioning on this issue.

As regards the other political actors in India, the BJP was not overly critical (it was expected, as largely, the BJP led NDA government was pro-American and pro-unipolar during the NDA rule), while the Congress still keeps on saying that there was no barter of interests between the US and India and what was done by India was probably good for Iran. The Congress logic however sounds very hollow though.

What concerns me more is not India's position on Iran's nuclear energy stance, but the proposed Gas deal. The Gas deal was supposed to make fuel available for travel, making it cheaper and more viable and was to link up Iran, India and Pakistan in a strategic partnership that could have stretched down to China. It however appears that India's adverse positioning has nearly jeopardised this deal. Indian Express however said that there were other alternatives for sourcing Natural Gas, yet, it didn't elaborate further.

Today, in JNU, we have a talk on this by Aijaz Ahmed, Political Scientist and Prabhat Patnaik, Economist on this issue. Both are Marxist theorists who liken the current phase of globalization to neo-liberalism and imperialism.

Prof Ahmad has written yet another incisive piece on the Iran issue in the latest issue of the Frontline. I intend to update the blog with further details from the Talk scheduled for today

Monday, October 10, 2005

Organizing an Industrial Strike:

Long time since I updated my blog. I have to blame the bloody internet vala who was supposed to get me connected but screwed up owing to a plethora of reasons. I still remain the only owner of a Toshiba Laptop which stays stand alone in the world, I guess.

Anyways, since Chander and Guru (the closest guys during my undergrad days) are insistent that they read out this insignificant blog with intent, it is my duty to honor their request.

Firstly, the first and only industrial strike that I sorta organized along with others on September 29th. So much has been said about the neo-liberal economic reforms and its impact on the working class by the Left in the country. Having been part of the "coupon-clipper" white-collar software sector for 4 years and seen the better side of globalization, I was eager to see the bad side of it for real. The Honda-Gurgaon incident was one example but again I hadn't seen the working class in throes again in the front of my eyes. Hence the expedition to Okhla Industrial Estate, New Delhi on September 29th.

I was woken up by a senior comrade of SFI, Rohit (former twice president of the Jawaharlal Nehru Students' Union), in the wee hours of the morning (at least for me) at 6:00 AM. Alongwith other comrade students and activists, we made it to Okhla on a makeshift vehicle. We crowded the "entrance" to one industrial sector of the area and started sloganeering (after being joined by flag-toting CITU activists). The slogans went "Mazhdoor Hiton ka hanan hua to khoon bahega sadko par", "Tekedaari Nahi Chalegi", "Tekedaariprathaa Bandh Karo", "Nijikaran nahi sahenge", "Vyaaparikaran Murdabaad" [translated in English: "If Workers' rights were not respected, blood would flow on the streets", "We would not accept Contract System", "Liberalization in the form of loans would not do", "Privatization wouldn't do"] and other such ones. The entourage of 10 odd activists (including me) were soon joined by curious onlookers. One senior comrade then went on the podium (a makeshift chair) and gave an impromptu speech beseeching the workers (on their way to work) to resist work for a day and join us in organizing the strike, which was called on a national scale by CITU and other left trade unions to protest pro-imperialist (read Globalization/ Pro-WTO diktat/ pro-Privatization and Liberalization/ Labour-Reform) policies followed by a neo-liberal friendly government headed by the Congress-I and Manmohan Singh, the architect of the economic reforms programme of 1991. In essence, the message was clear: Today was a day when even airport workers/ bank workers had joined the strike and it was hence necessary that ordinary industrial workers who were feeling the worst brunt of the neo-liberal economic reforms lend their muscle toward the nationwide strike.

The curious onlookers were growing in strength, directly in proportion to the amount of curiousity that was growing within me. As the sloganeering and beseeching gathered momentum, so did the impromptu repeating of the slogans being raised by the onlookers themselves. When the gathered crowd neared around 75-80, it was decided that "we" would take a procession around the industrial estate. Led by senior comrades carrying flags and raising rousing slogans the procession started off slowly and gradually gained momentum.

As we took a junket around the industrial estate (which, in my opinion had appalling standards of hygiene and high pollution levels), more people joined us in the march. In 3 hours or so, the number of people around us neared 250. The problem was that, as the numbers increased, so did a bit of indiscipline. The workers (many of them who came to work in cycles), started getting restless and pulled the air out of cycles parked outside their respective companies (obviously letting out pent-up frustration by means of this gesture as part of the strike). It took some wise counselling from my fellow students to force them to become more disciplined and objective in their procession building. Nearing 12:30 in the afternoon (after some withering away of a few workers due to the long march and the hot weather), we still had around 150 people as part of the procession, still in "worked up" state and still raising and richocheting slogans. That is when, this group joined yet another group in a larger procession, taking the total number to nearly 350 odd workers.

By this time, we were tired and decided to let the workers be by themselves. We had successfully "organized" the strike that day and I, for one, could see the spontaneous response of industrial workers, worked up by a plight of temporary jobs, inclement work conditions, insufficient payment, increasing "contract"ualization of work, letting out their anger through noisy slogans. This was yet another eye-opener for me.

The media's reaction: The Hindu observed that the the strike evoked very strong response in large parts of the country, especially in the Left dominated areas. It didn't polemicize the reasons for the strike and was objective in its reporting. The Indian Express, however was scathing on the Left. A slew of editorial opinions, followed by a Op-Ed piece by Inder Malhotra etc were very critical of the Left's call for a nationwide strike affecting travel and banking services. The industrial strike effected, was however not mentioned in any detail, nor was the fact that there indeed was a flip side to globalization policies and its effect on the industrial working class of the nation.

I was keen on writing to Shekhar Gupta, but somehow as usual, tardiness prevented me.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Motorcycle Diaries:

Che Guevara, is a romantic figure, whom I always saw as some kind of a guerilla fighter fighting imperialism. His description and short introduction in Encyclopaedia Britannica was all, that I knew of him, other than exquisite paintings/photos of him and quotes attributed to him.

How indeed was this guy transformed from a idealist youth in search of adventure and self-discovery to a communist who was responsible for the Cuban Revolution? A few answers were provided in the latest movie that I saw on DVD, "Motorcycle Diaries". A picturesque movie about two friends ('Che' and Alberto Gradando) on a motorcycle sojourn from Argentina to Venezuela, "Motor..." is a beautiful movie that provides glimpses of the early personality of Guevara. A honest person who is struck by sights of injustice, poverty, and disease, Guevara is a picture of idealist youth in this movie. His comical partner-in-tow Gradando however steals the movie as a happy-go-lucky adventurist in constant search for fun, but with an objective purpose about him.

I am now very much motivated to read more on Guevara and the Cuban Revolution. I even have a poster of Che saying "The basic clay our work is the youth, we place our hope in it and prepare it to take the banner from our hands" struck right on the wall next to my reading table now! If time and the situation permits, it wouldn't be too grand of me to say that I wish I could attempt a Guevara & Gradando in India on motorcycle next year, as soon as I finish my Masters. An one month trip would be worth trying!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Chappell vs Ganguly:

One issue that hogged the limelight throughout the Indian newspapers for a long time this past month was the Chappell-Ganguly imbroglio. Frankly speaking, I was too bored even to glance through this latest saga in the Indian cricket soap opera. For years, I have been pleading my case that Ganguly for all his so called aggression as a captain was a super-flawed cricketer who had increasingly become a bane to the Indian Test team rather than a boon. The Indian team under Ganguly has in the final analysis been just above-average and my thesis all along for this performance has been the introduction of young talent unencumbered by the weight of constant losing. Kaif, Yuvraj and Harbhajan were part of age group teams who were always winning competitions as youngsters and this eclectic mixture added tremendous value to the Indian team. Added to this, the metamorphosis of Dravid from a good to a great batsman was the reason for India's sporadic strong showing. All the credit that went to Ganguly for good performances, for me was rather out of place. To me, Ganguly was a supreme Machiavellian politician, using the rumblings in the Board and in the team to his benefit and performing when it least mattered (against teams of no intrinsic cricketing value), and maintaining his average in the early 40s by some means or the other.

Greg Chappell confirmed, what I had in mind all along, by calling a spade a spade. Unfortunately the muddle that the Indian media-the Board-the cricketing firmament is, Chappell's honesty and social constructivism has no role to play in a free-for-all realist power game that is Indian cricket. One needs to understand international politics to theorize Indian cricket, thats my honest opinion!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Utsa Patnaik’s Article ( The Death Knell to the pro-reformer in me):

I had attended Prof Utsa Patnaik’s lecture on the agrarian sector’s travails during the times of economic reforms from the early 90s to the present, almost 4 months ago. She had then eloquently talked about how, poverty measures, based on per capita calorie intake of the populace, had shown that, owing to less purchasing power in the rural areas, there was a severe drop in calorie intake. This had resulted in a situation which entailed wide spread hunger and hence the entire episode of widespread farmer suicides in various rural areas in the country. At that time, I wasn’t good enough to understand the linkages between economic reforms, structural macroeconomic policies and spending in the social sector by government. Thankfully, some kind of sporadic but dedicated reading the past few months have educated me to a decent extent and to confirm my understanding, Prof Patnaik herself came up with a well written passionate essay, "Its time for Kumbakarna to wake up", elucidating the exact point mentioned above and exhorting the existing UPA dispensation to work toward ameliorating the fast deteriorating economic conditions of the rural poor.

Prof Zoya Hasan, who teaches Political Science and the erstwhile Chairperson of our department, was also cogent in her exposition of the repercussions of the economic reforms of 1991 in our country. While alluding to the fact that despite some economists saying that the economic reforms of 1991 were inevitable, there existed others who doubted whether we required such measures of opening up the floodgates of the erstwhile semi-closed economy; she also explained how concomitantly the economic reforms brought in dichotomous results: High Growth Rates ranging from 6 to 7% while at the same time exacerbating the disparities in our society.

She went on to quote the Prof Utsa Patnaik findings on the effects on the rural sector; asserted how economic problems faced by the rural poor were one particular reason apart from the Gujarat Riots for the fall of the NDA Government and also talked about in length about the political economy of the 1990s in India. Particular notice was mentioned on the astonishing finding that there was a stockpile of food grains in government godowns despite fall in food grain productivity (for the first time since 1962) during the NDA regime; yet millions of people were starving due to lack of purchasing power (because of the State’s withdrawal from managing the agrarian sector; this in turn being so due to the increased marketization of India’s economy).

She then hopped on to the current hot topic, National Rural Employee Guarantee Act, as to how this act is seen widely as a panacea to the problems of Rural India and how it could act as a much needed tonic to the unemployment problems of our country. Universal NREGA, as opposed to Targetted NREGA, with its side-by-side existence with the Right to Information Act and implementation by Panchayats constituted by the Panchayati Raj doctrine (Third Governance) was what was the need of the hour, several economists concurred, she said. She also mentioned about how certain newspapers took it their brief to scuttle this ambitious plan (the first of its kind in India to serve the interests of its own suffering citizens) by alluding that it was a fiscally imprudent exercise, despite assurance by several eminent economists about its overwhelming feasibility; its clone’s (in Maharashtra) successes, etc.

On the repercussions of Economic Reforms (personalized):

The bright side of Economic Reforms: Sep 2001: My dad got his wish fulfilled. He got his car, his son had bought for him (in a way), by sending him the first remittance at his NRI account from Japan. My mother gets a watch she never expected to be that miniature. She could wear it as a ring and she went about telling her friends proudly that her son got it for her while working in Japan. Those Japanese chocolates that melted in the mouth and those smiles on those swollen mouths filled with chocolate....what else would express satisfaction and pride better in a middle class family.

The dirty side of Economic Reforms: 25th July 2005. Its 12:00 Midnight. I am attending a meeting called by students giving a farewell to a former JNUSU (JNU Students' Union) President, Com. Vijoo Krishnan. I hear murmurs by my side. One friend says that he has heard about serious worker unrest in Gurgaon and severe police reprisal in retaliation. Another says that nearly 500 odd workers were brutally lathi charged and there were graphic pictures being shown on TV. The organizers of the meeting, call an end to the meeting and all of us symbolically troop on to Ganga Dhaba (another of JNU's aithihaasik sthals), where we all order chai and biscuit and call a toast to Com. Vijoo's future. As we are doing so, the murmurs have been raised to a din where all "comrade" students have been outraged by the serious assault on workers. The organizers of the meeting regroup and tell us that they have planned a march to Haryana Bhavan to protest against the police oppression. I join in, partly because I am appalled by what I hear and partly because I feel this is the right time for me to show solidarity to the cause of workers as a student-intellectual.

I retire back to my hostel room, in the way, going to the TV room to check out what is the hullabaloo all about. I find horror on screen. Workers being beaten up black and blue as if they were ordinary criminals by policemen wielding lathis as if they were wreaking havoc on dogs. One worker is beaten simultaneously by nearly 5 constables mercilessly without a regard for the fact that this worker is unarmed, is wafer thin in structure and he is protesting innocence while being in excruciating pain. I ponder again. Whatever happened to the State, the annadaatha, who is supposed to care for its workers?
The next day, I wake up early (for a change). I gulp up whatever every newspaper that comes to my hostel offers: The Hindu, TOI, HT, Indian Express, and The Asian Age. All of these papers express angst at the police action as if by rote. Photos on the papers are graphic. My classmate (who was with me the whole time the previous day) and me pick up the papers and prepare for the pamphlet of the day protesting against Police Atrocities in Gurgaon. We cut off the photos and hand them over to the artist-friend of ours to complete the pamphlet. We then take the bus to Haryana Bhavan.

In the road adjoining Haryana Bhavan, we find representatives from Trade Unions, Leftist workers already in "attire" (flags, et al). We bide our time. One "leader" says that other "comrades" were not allowed by the Police to join this congregation and therefore "we" would have to block traffic in the adjoining road so that the police co-operates and lets the other representatives come over. The congregation rushes to the road and blocks traffic for a full 5 minutes, before the police relents and assures that no vehicle carrying representatives shall be blocked. The funny thing is that even while the traffic was stopped for a while, the people inconvenienced do not bark on their horns and are rather amused but at the same time watching the whole episode earnestly. Once "we" receive the assurance, the congregation then starts marching toward Haryana Bhavan. It encounters a barricade and overcomes the same. Before it encounters the second barricade, yet another congregation of a "friendly" trade union joins hands and together we stand before the second barricade. Here we face trouble, the police have mobilized water cannons on the marching brigade and soon most of the brigade is drenched with water and 2 of these are injured. All these for making a symbolic gesture against the action taken by the police against those workers in neighboring Gurgaon.

Two days later: Articles galore in The Hindu. Harish Khare condemns the behavior of the Haryana Police and alleges that the State acted in Cahoots with the Honda Management. He points out his accusing finger at the apathy of the State owing to its disposition toward the capitalist class in the so called Investment Haven in Gurgaon. P.Sainath is more scathing. He explains the dichotomy between the Mall and the Chawl and how the structural economic policies of the Indian State have created such a malodorous environment for most in a majority and piquant pleasure for others in a minority.

Yet, the other Bourgeois Media papers change tack. The Indian Express' lead headline is a statement from a West Bengal Left Minister who says what happened in Gurgaon would not happen in Bengal. The TOI alludes to a militant section in the workers' procession starting the entire episode of violence and counter violence. Reports are then published about how a Japanese minister says that FDI to India could be affected due to such labour related issues. The TOI then asks its readers whether Gurgaon's reputation as a investment location will be tarnished by the incidents.

Crocodile tears for the sufferings of the workers for a few days and then reverting to the management's story about the entire incident and putting the blame on the accursed leftists...that’s the take of the bourgeois media on La Affaire Gurgaon.

No mention of the fact that if such a labour dispute happened in Honda Company in Japan, a) the State would have enforced penalties on the Management, b) the Workers of the company would never have allowed such a dispute to occur first place!.

Which face should I see and interpret? The face of my parents who were proud of their son's so called achievements in a foreign country (where all he did was write a few bytes of code for some bloody program that was part of a huge set of 10000 programs) or the face of those workers beaten up by the police ostensibly to keep intact the Investment friendly face of Gurgaon? I am still deeply troubled. A crisis engulfs me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"Colonialism: Janus Faced": Prof Gopal Guru's Ambedkarite argument on the Manmohan speech

Prof. Gopal Guru added the missing piece to the entire "Did British Colonialism have a beneficial side to it" argument today in the TOI. In a brilliantly articulated essay, Prof Guru talks about how " Liberalism forms the ideological continuity between an imperialist nation state and the colonies. ". He articulates how the language of rights, hitherto unknown in Indian society, the "earlier society based on the language of obligation" was wrought into the Indian governance setups due to the influence of liberalism.

He says, "The creation of the modern public sphere by the colonialist did promise conditions for the realisation of these rights. These enabling conditions prompted Dalit-Bahujan leaders to start the self-respect movement that primarily sought to contest caste in civil society. Mainstream nationalists of all political shades were either indifferent or completely opposed to self-respect movement. They were generally reluctant to take up the caste issue, as they, including Gandhi, wanted to avoid any fragmentary impact on the nationalist movement. The mainstream nationalist response was directed against the colonial configuration of power. The Dalit-Bahujan response was primarily directed against the local configuration of power — capitalism and Brahminism. The Dalit-Bahujan perspective, thus, offers a critique of both orientalism and apologists for colonialism. Within this framework, they argued as to how Hindutva and even mainstream nationalists can justify their fight against their inferior treatment at the hands of the orientalist while the latter themselves sought to inferiorise Dalits and shudra masses."

Yet, he argues the Dalit Bahujan leaders did not abandon the fight against British colonialism's rapacious character either. "However, Dalit-Bahujan leaders did not disempower Dalits and Bahujan masses by divesting power from them to the benevolence of the British colonialists. This was evident from their critique of the British Raj that they offered from time to time. They often severely criticised the British for their callousness and insincerity in responding to Dalit questions."

In my opinion, Prof Gopal Guru has a well articulated point. From the perspective of the teeming millions of India subjugated to the throes of crass and iniquitous casteism, the issue and notion of "self-respect" was greater in importance than "self-rule" (the main "muddha" of the mainstream nationalist movement), even if it didn't result in the leaders of the "self-respect" movement ending up buttressing the pro-British line. In contrast, they were equally anti-imperialist, but articulated their protest against colonialism not by straitjacketing every issue within the "self-rule is paramount" paradigm. If "Swaraj was their birth right", self-respect and dignity were rights of paramountcy themselves. The British encounter, in its own "unintended" ways, brought about tenets of liberalism (themselves a result of the Enlightenment) to the dark annals of Indian society. There is a lot of truth in this argument.

Yet, this doesn't absolve Manmohan Singh's speech "extolling" "good governance" by the British. I would still continue in Prof Patnaik's 'Dr Singh is a neoliberal intellectual" vein. If Dr Singh had the gumption to speak the language of Phule and Ambedkar in his speech at Oxford, it would have made sense, but what Dr Singh said in Oxford can still not be interpreted in the Ambedkarite context.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Top 10 continental footballers of the decade in Europe

A good article on the top 10 footballers of the last decade in Europe.

There is a predilection for attacking players in this list (and hence the omission of players such as Paolo Maldini), but there is little to carp about this article as such.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Manmohan-Oxford Issue, Arguments, Counter-Arguments, My Take

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statements while delivering a lecture in Oxford, acknowledging the beneficial consequences of the British Raj has created a controversy among the intellectual circles in India. But first the political overtones. The BJP came up with a criticism immediately, at the same time as the ultra-left coming up with its own critique of Dr. Singh's lecture.

The BJP criticism has to be pooh-poohed for these set of rightists were never even part of the Indian freedom movement. The ideological godfathers of the BJP in the RSS had always considered the national movement for freedom not worthy of their cause (which is to create a Hindu fascist state out of India). Scores of RSS ideologues before India's independence were actually pro-British and supported the extension of British rule in our country. As for the Hindu Mahasabha, it's greatest leader, V.D.Savarkar, after his incarceration in the Andamans, from where he left prison after writing pathetic mercy petitions, actually adhered to the diktats of the British to keep his freedom (from imprisonment) assured. V.D.Savarkar's volte-face from a nationalist to a Hindu fundamentalist has been well documented indeed. Hence the entire "nationalist" argument provided by the BJP in the end leads to mere politicking to make an issue. These set of rightists in their six years of government always tried to delink India's autonomy and link India's foreign policy to the global project of imperialism still followed by such countries like the US of A, allege anti-imperialists and leftists.

As for the ultra-left (the CPI(ML))'s criticism is concerned, their theoretical understanding of the current Indian state still suggests that it is "semi-colonial" (which is of course a nuanced and slightly variant position from that of the remaining Naxalites (Maoists) who consider the Indian state to be "imperial"). Taking this theoretical stand in perspective, the Ultra-left's criticism of the PM's speech needs to be put into context. As the CPI(ML) feels that the current bourgeois government's disposition is not merely favoring the elements of semi-feudalism and malignant monopoly capitalism, but also there is a comprador link between the Indian bourgeoisie and imperial capital, any statement by the Prime Minister eulogizing or even acknowledging a role for the Imperial Britishers in India' s progress confirms their theoretical understanding of both the Indian State and that of the Indian Bourgeoisie.

Surely, the contention that the Indian state is semi-colonial can be almost easily disputed (considering the relatively impressive success of parliamentary democracy, the strength of India's democratic structures, India's relatively independent Foreign Policies etc); thereby putting the entire wholehearted criticism of the Ultra-Left under a slight question mark of whether this criticism is overhyped and amounts to name-calling.

Now that I have put the political debate into perspective, its now time to understand the intellectual debate that has unfolded on this issue. The first salvo on Dr. Manmohan Singh's speech was provided by Prof Irfan Habib, renowned historian from Aligarh Muslim University. Prof Habib's criticism was taken into consideration by The Hindu's editors who contexualized it in their editorial on this issue. Contentious for Prof Habib were these lines from Dr. Singh's speech: "..Consider the fact that an important slogan of India's struggle for freedom was that 'Self government is more precious than Good Government'. That, of course, is the essence of democracy. But the slogan suggests that even at the height of our campaign for freedom from colonial rule, we did not entirely reject the British claim to good governance. We MERELY [emphasis mine-Srini] asserted our natural right to self-governance".

Prof Habib, in his letter to The Hindu, questions the notion of "good governance" alluded to by Dr Singh. He quotes, "The supreme truth that our IAS is a creature of the Anglo-Indian ICS is apparently a gift of such overwhelming value that we can forget the loss of lives of millions of Indians in famines like those of 1896-97, 1899-00, 1943; forget too the heavy taxation of the poor; the suppression of modern industry by all possible devices; the miserable level of expenditure on health and education; the exclusion of Indians from all high offices and positions of power; and the suppression of civil liberties (Dr Singh's attribution of a "free press" to Britain notwithstanding). Indian civilization did not "meet" the British empire; it was laid low by the latter by sword and shot."

Prof Habib is scathing and rightly so. Dr. Singh's eulogies of the British "good governance" cannot stand the scrutiny of truthful analysis of British rule. True, the unintended consequences of British systems of administration brought such implements such as the Railways, the Postal system etc., but the key word is "unintended"; the intentions seemingly remained on strengthening the colonial structure to squeeze India's economic wealth better in order to further British enterprise in the form of her markets and industries. Prof Habib has infact written a series of essays where he elucidates how India could have done better off without the colonial rule intervention from the 18th to the 20th century. Here is where Prof Habib departs from Karl Marx himself in his analysis of the effects of British rule in India.

The next great critique of Dr Singh comes from Prof Prabhat Patnaik. Prof Patnaik's argument has to be contexualized considering the left's view of Dr. Singh and his policies and ideas on economic "reform". The Left characterizes Dr. Singh as a person who though brought reforms in good intentions, has created an environment which is seriously jeopardizing India's autonomous economic path. By linking India's economic development with the maze of international markets, by linking India's fiscal exercises with the diktats of the WTO-IMF-WB combine, the Left feels that India is doing gross injustice to those who are directly being affected greatly by such policies and whose lives can be ameliorated by ensuring a socialist path of development. A look at Dr. Utsa Patnaik's articles to look at the problems faced by the agrarian sector due to the impact of the policies of neo-liberal economic reforms, the study of poverty in the late 1990s, a survey of problems of unemployment etc all point toward a semblance of truth in the Left's constant harpring and refrain against neo-liberal economic reforms.

Getting back to the issue though, Prof Patnaik feels that by referring to the British models of governance in India as "good" and "beneficial" (albeit in a nuanced way), Dr. Singh is continuing in his neo-liberal vein. The linking of governance to the issue of corporatization/marketization etc is a neo-liberal thesis, Dr Singh being one among those subscribe to this; allege the Left and so does Prof Patnaik.

Prof Patnaik's critique of Dr Singh's speech can be read in the upcoming People's Democracy issue. A peek into the article has been provided by the TOI correspondent, Akshaya Mukul, who doesn't unfortunately refrain from using terms such as "Don" to refer to the economics professor.

As an analogy to the entire critique of Dr. Singh's speech, one can take the case of the Internet. The Internet, all of us know, was spun off from the ARPANET funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Indeed, the DARPA's purpose for the development of such a network was to suit defense research, a major lot being spent on that during those days, inevitably because of the ensuing Cold War between the two big countries representing two different systems (the USA & the USSR). If a neo-conservative today, says that the Cold War was beneficial because it resulted in the Internet, he would have been criticised by the liberal, by the peacenik or anti-militarist and by the social-constructivist. If however, a technologist would have said matter-of-factly that defense research spun off research and scientific advances in communication technology, the statement would never have been made an issue.

Analogous to the above example, Dr. Singh's speech has welcomed criticism from the intellectual circles owing to the fact that Dr. Singh is seen ideologically as a neo-liberal, as also because the British rule is seen in its entirety as wholly unwholesome to India at all.

Yet another angle to the entire "Britishers were beneficial" point has not been covered at all in the media or even by the intellectuals. This was the point provided by Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, who during the course of his political career, despite conscious to and ferociously opposed to colonialism, acknowledged that the amelioration of India's Depressed Classes from the wretched entanglements of casteism and social oppression was slightly possible due to British rule. This angle was not mentioned by Dr. Singh himself though in course of his lecture. My Ambedkarite friends here are not surprised at all though. But again, that's material for yet another blog perhaps.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

All India Students' Workshop

This week was at last the week where I could pull up my socks and sit and do something worthwhile. I mean, it was a long while since my 2nd Semester completed and I didn't exactly get to do anything to keep myself engaged. And then later, Students' Federation of India organized an All India University Students' Workshop. Besides keeping myself a tad busy with some tidy spreadsheet work, I attended 2 thought-provoking talks.

The first was from Prof. Prabhat Patnaik on the necessity of education in our country to create a set of organic intellectuals committed to a path of development for the country, which was unique to the objective socio-economic conditions prevailing here. Issues such as student migration resulting in loss of talent, crass careerism, withdrawal of the State from ensuring that the mode of education followed an autonomous path consistent with the Preamble of Indian Constitution, were part of the iconic professor's lecture. Engels' notion of some individuals de'class'ifying themselves from their respective class (mostly the bourgeois) and understanding historical materialism and commiting themselves to correct the socio-economic travails of their time, was also invoked. My ears got really particularly keen when Prof Patnaik went about the "declassfying" part; because I felt that I was going through that very same process.

The danger of privatization of Indian education which could rob from a generation of students the ability to recognize the travails afflicting their own societies and to work toward the mitigation of the same and instead getting increasingly linked up with the market forces, was another aspect that was considered in Prof. Patnaik's lecture.

In the course of the lecture, I really understood what was meant by the SFI slogan, "Study and Struggle" at all. Adding more layers of understanding was former SFI leader and one of the current Politburo members of the CPM, Sitaram Yechury. Yechury talked about how during his days as a student leader of JNU Students' Union, he and his fellow students were able to run Messes, Libraries, etc successfully despite the Emergency, causing people to remark that the Students were making the university to function, while the VC was at strike! Yechury even went on to exhort students to take it to themselves to ensure that the myriad egregious practices of communalism and casteism didnt' create schisms in the broad student community, a point that was well received by the assembled students.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Hindu Op-Ed Page

Ever since The Hindu revamped its newspaper structure, the one great positive and prominent feature has been its new Opinion-Editorial Page. Besides the Lead editorials and lead opinion, alongwith the cartoon of the day, the Hindu has added extra features such as opinions from leading correspondents working in the Guardian and in the New York Times. Included are strategic affairs articles by Siddharth Varadarajan, regular articles by Thomas Friedman (of the World is Flat fame), George Monbiot (of the Anti-globalization fame) and Paul Krugman, Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer's judicial activist articles, and of course regular op-ed pieces by The Hindu's own correspondents such as P.Sainath (who is a JNU Alumnus, btw). If P.Sainath's recent series of articles on the impoverished situation of Vidharbha was heart-rending, Praveen Swami's well researched articles on Kashmir were thought-provoking and so were other features.

This blog owes a million thanks to the Hindu's editorial team for bulking up it's Op-Ed Pages by a significant extent. With the dearth of people-oriented (for want of a better word) Op-Ed Pieces in mainstream Indian newspapers, The Hindu shows why it is way ahead of all its contemporary Indian English Newspapers in this regard.

Three cheers to The Hindu's left-of-centre Editorial-Opinion Policy.

In contrast, you have the Indian Express, which clearly has forgotten to distinguish between reporting and opinionating. Reporters transcend their limits of "unbiased" coverage very easily and you can always find opinion masquerading as reports, particularly damning when it comes to publish reports on/related to the Left. The danger of such opinionated reporting was addressed by none other than The Hindu Editor-in-chief N.Ram himself, who wrote this piece on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of India's leading "nationalist" newspaper. Hindu Right wing radicals might disagree with the appellation of "nationalist" being provided to The Hindu, but there is a whole lot of truth in the "moniker". The Hindu, was anti-establishment virulently (apparently it was started by an avowed anti-Colonialist G.Subramania Iyer in the late 1880s) and continued its anti-British stance even after going through a process of ownership change. The Hindu had strong links with the Indian National Congress during the freedom struggle and this attitude of the paper was in sharp contrast to the colonialist attitudes of The Statesman and The Times of India. These days, in trying to keep intact the socialist and pro-people character of the Indian state, The Hindu is no less nationalist than its earlier pre-independence avatar, IMO.
My Leftist friends tell me that The Times of India has for long been a paper which was always pro-establishment (whoever that establishment was at that point of time). The Hindu with its strong independent liberal and left-of-centre orientation in this current phase has continued hence its anti-establishment policies. N.Ram's stewardship of the daily is bound to take the newspaper to new heights of qualitative reporting, pro-people approach and news analysis. Among the deteriorating Yellow Page loaded print media and the sensationalist and unprofessional mass media, The Hindu stands tall as a publication par excellence.
I guess, I shall have to devote a separate blog to provide proofs to the above argument.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Interesting Day Indeed!

Very interesting day indeed today.

First, the Venus-Davenport final. As I said yesterday, I was really keen on the final, for it featured a rejuvenated Venus versus a smooth in form Davenport, who both have similar technique and comparable power. I was rooting for Venus to win and she did, after a gruelling encounter dominated mostly by Lindsay. Venus though, to her credit, never gave up and always came out on top from innumerable dicey situations in the final set which included saving one matchpoint on serve. Venus had some luck going her way, because Lindsay hurt her back/knee in the last phase of the final set, but again, such situations always work both ways..because the fitter player assumes that by making the unfit player run, one can win points and Venus tried some risky passing shots which resulted in quite a few unforced errors. Later though, Venus realized her fault and played a percentage game forcing Davenport to give in, in the end, owing mostly due to injury.

The other interesting game for the day featured England vs Australia. England had the best of the first half, with Harmison and Flintoff really giving the Aussie lineup a very hard time with some accurate, fast and aggressive bowling. Michael Hussey, though did very well for yet another 50, scoring a polished 62, keeping the Aussies in the hunt. The second half started with McGrath and Lee showing their worth by emulating Harmison & Flintoff with some really accurate and quick stuff of their own. England down at 30 odd for 5 very quickly, and then came in Geraint Jones and Paul Collingwood with a very steady partnership. I expected them to stay on till the finish, but some shrewd bowling by Brad Hogg and Hussey (again) got the Aussies back on top. The finish was yet another nailbiter, but the Dazzler Goughie with his big heart helped England tie the game with the Aussies. This Natwest Trophy Final was the ideal curtain raiser to the forthcoming Ashes series, which promises to be one rollicking test series.

Late in the night, a delegation of students, intellectuals, workers, farmers, labourers, artisans led by renowned economist Jean Dreze paid a visit to JNU. They were part of the Rozgar Yatra, which visited several areas in Rural India to check out the feasibility of implementation of the Employee Guarantee Act. One of my pals, Aparajay was part of this motley grouping. I have been rather interested deeply by this EGA thingie, for The Hindu featured a series of Op-Ed pieces which included a sort of debate between eminent economists, Amit Bhaduri, T.N.Srinivasan, Prabhat Patnaik, each representing a certain section of discourse in economics academia. JNU also paid host to a seminar on the implementation issues of EGA which included Prof Bhaduri along with others such as Prof G.S.Bhalla and members of the Planning Commission. The Rozgar Yatra was recently in news during the Chattisgarh incident, where the participants were mistaken for Naxalites and were treated to lathicharge by the errant police over there.

My friend was part of a team surveying Purulia district studying aspects such as corruption, trickle down of intended benefits to the rural poor, other data and what he told was rather depressing to hear. Enormous leakage of government expenditure to the pockets of middlemen, mostly political party "henchmen", corruption in the ranks of the bureaucracy, very impoverished conditions of the rural areas, were the norm, he said rather ruefully. Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy, the main entities of the entire team, are part of the National Advisory Council, headed by UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi. They were instrumental in framing the recommendations for the Employee Guarantee Scheme and the Right to Information Act. The EGS has yet to be passed, as it is been referred to a parliamentary standing committee which is under the chairmanship of none other than Kalyan Singh, the CM who presided over the Babri Masjid demolition (allow me to digress!). The tentative EGS has been so much diluted and has some such drowned down provisions that Dreze and others have complained that the scheme has been reduced to a bureaucratic exercise, losing the very essence of Guarantee of Employment, which is seen as very essential and necessary to alleviate the deep and long suffering rural poor.

Estimates of expenditure vary from Rs 25000 crore to Rs 40000 crore and the pro-EGA supporters affirm that this is very much affordable provided only if the Government shows some real enthusiasm in getting the EGA passed. Besides, they say, EGA is the foremost item on the National Common Minimum Programme.

The question remains though, with the FRBM act in place, and the Finance Minister and Prime Minister, slowly but surely committed on reform of the Indian economy very much in tune with Neo-Liberal Policies, will acts such as EGA see fruition?

Prabhat Patnaik, in his lecture during a seminar which preceded the CPM's 18 Party Congress, talked about how implementation of EGA is a step toward socialism, defying the dictates of the WTO-IMF-World Bank led structural adjusments policies (SAP).

Surely, an issue which has really intrigued me. Pity, that I haven't ventured into direct detailing by participating in the Yatra or in the surveys!:-(.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Venus back in orbit

Venus Williams' victory over Maria Sharapova brought back some good memories of the tennis games, that I used to follow rather rabidly in my "younger days". I have been following sport more out of ennui these days rather than the spirit and enthusiasm early in my undergrad and work career.

Its been a while since I saw Venus Williams do this good in a major Grand Slam game. Venus Williams probably decided that this is going to be her time. After all, she has never beaten a Top 5 player in 2 years and no one expected to stretch Sharapova, the incumbent champion and the player in outstanding form. Consider this, Sharapova hadn't been broken in a single game the whole tournament and had hardly made more than 14 unforced errors in a match. Besides this, she was enjoying the brunt of media attention for her golden shoes, gold-laden attire and golden attitude. Venus on the other hand, was never in the picture in any pre-tournament favorite list. Whoever expected Venus to strangle Sharapova at her own game!.

Yesterday though, Venus was Venus-1999/2000 personified. Running from edge to edge while releasing passing shots of extreme power, top spin and angle, playing some searing backhand "drives", rushing to the net whenever possible and putting the volley away with elan, serving at more than 105mph consistently, Venus brought back her pre 2003 status alive in this match.

On the other hand Sharapova was dominating herself at evanescent moments and never gave up, except for a while in the second set, when she got into unforced-error territory.

The Davenport-Mauresmo game was equally fascinating with enthralling tennis all the way. Mauresmo is probably the only woman player with a serve and volley game these days and she is a throwback to the Jana Novotna days. What she lacks is a killer instinct though, wherein she had a chance to strangle Davenport in the second set, but could never do it. The third set was hanging in the balance with Davenport leading 5-3, while Mauresmo was serving and the rain intervened. By the looks of it, it's going to be a Davenport-Venus final, something that takes you back 3-4 years in the tennis circuit. It should be fun and I suspect Venus is going to win this Wimbledon. If she does, it would be akin to the Goran Ivanisevic victory over Pat Rafter.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Friedman's Globalization: Arguments and Counter-Arguments

The BBC Hard Talk interview with Thomas Friedman was very interesting indeed. An American preaching globalization using examples of Indian and Chinese economic growth brought about by new anti-protectionist policies was indeed very interesting to hear. The interviewer interjected Friedman by insinuating that his perspective was "American-centric", fuelled by the argument that Friedman considered economic growth only for those entities which were directly linked to the American knowledge economy, for which itself was necessitated large scale diversification of operational services across different geographical units in the World. Friedman's counter was provided by his empirical study which indicated growth of Indian entrepreneurship indigeneously, propelling companies owned by Indians into the leaders in the Global services industry. Friedman contrasted this to what he called India's near disastrous protectionist approach which resulted in very stagnant growth, balance of payments crisis, very little foreign exchange reserves and a poor man's image. Today, Friedman talks about India's reputation as a leader in knowledge economy and information services, high foreign exchange reserves, responsible corporate environment, which he calls conducive for removal of poverty from Indian society. Using the trickle-down metaphor originated by Ronald Reagan, Friedman says that high incentives to corporate sectors have resulted in wealth creation, which is slowly percolating into India's society, driving it forward from the social morass that predominates it.

As for the interviewer's query that whether Friedman was wholly sympathetic to a less government, more corporate approach to world governance, Friedman replies in the positive but his contention is subdued: he still supports a great role for governments to play, but wants government to loosen its tentacles on enterprise, which he regards as responsible for economic growth wholly. He has little time for Anti-Globalization critics, whom he accuses of talking about a protectionist era which was detrimental to developing countries' growth. He rhetorically puts forward the question: "Where are the Googles coming out from the socialist countries?". He is scathing on France and other EU countries which believe in socialist models, calling them increasingly dependent on African States' labour power (is he talking about a new form of social-colonialism here?).

Friedman talks about the success story of Walmart which has helped sell products at low prices across the length and breadth of the world, owing to its innovative supply chain networking practice, while he also mentions that such companies have been rather parsimonious with employee care although. He gives the flip and flop side of policies of globalization and the need to create a "Flat World", but in the end, ends up a votary of the "Flat World Theory" because he believes the flip side carries a lot of weight with it.

Friedman calls himself a "Democratic Hawk" and is supportive of the Iraq War, calling it America's responsibility to create a democratic atmosphere in Middle East countries which have been increasingly used merely to fill "gas" for American vehicles, while America has repeatedly ignored atrocities and elements of recidivism in such countries. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who practiced egregious methods to retain control in Iraq and it was imperative that he be removed from power. It is another matter that what has happened in Iraq ever since the American "intervention" has not gone according to the "bring liberty" plan, but such a course of "intervention" was right, Friedman argues.

Friedman is concerned about the hatred that America receives from different parts of the World, but is insouciant to the extent that he says that it is imperative upon such countries to look upto themselves and see whether they should hate what they are doing or not? He says that American policies do cause rancour but sometimes it is better than policies of those people who "wire themselves with dynamite".
My Response would be thus:

The Indian Context: A) Friedman's frame of reference is too much small; It is merely the last few years which he considers, ignoring the entire history of economic growth in all countries. He is scathing about India's protectionist past, but conveniently ignores the role played by Indian capitalists during independence, their refusal to take the burden of building India's industry (the Bombay Plan), and the massive dose of effort taken by the Indian government to build the infrastructure which has been conveniently used by India's monopoly capitalists to further their wealth.

B) Agreed, India's protectionist policies were lopsided and growth was stagnant. But wasn't it true that the mixed economy model promised much, but there was very little that happened on ground? Socialism was promised, but except for removal of privy purses, there was very little effort in correcting the lopsided socio-economic order in the country. No land reforms, selective growth of a few monopoly capitalists, representation of the ruling classes dominated by landed and gentry interests increasingly and no release of productive forces was what that characterized Indian socio-politico-economic situation for nearly 50 years.

C) The Economic Reforms that were brought about released the Middle Classes from the above mentioned system and created an environment for these classes (which were always pampered with subsidies, service sector facilities, high educational prospects) to come into their own, created a consumerist culture, and resulted in the furthering of their growth, but have the economic reforms made any dent in the socio-political problems that characterize India's semi-feudalistic orders that predominate Indian villages (which form nearly 3/4rth of India's populace)? The answer unfortunately is No. Rather such problems, according to some analysts, have exacerbated the existing morass. Protectionist policies had incubated India's agricultural sector into a rather progressive, high yield unit, with changes occuring gradually and providing small time poor farmers with a means of livelihood. The effects of Globalization have however exposed such farmers and peasants to a competitive world, forcing them to live off credit, in the end, unable to pay off credit, made them commit suicide, and thus exacerbated the poverty condition of such farmers. The selective lopsided protectionism with proverbial intent but no sure-fire implementation policies have created further dichotomies within the Agricultural sector itself, the policies of globalization and liberalization have on the other hand, deepened this near-crisis environment.

D) Friedman's view on globalization is very true with respect to the Indian context. Yes, there has been a great impetus provided by India's IT sector in enhancing India's prestige in the World Order. Yes, the Middle Class gets itself to flaunt its new found prosperity, it has a globe-hopping consumerist culture and a vibrant voice in the media. But what of the real India, the myriad social groups of the countryside, the tribals of the forests, the peasants working on lands owned by traditional "mukhias" and "banias", the slum dwelling village migrant forced into crime and grime. They are also Indians and if Friedman says that globalization has improved their plight, he is grossly wrong.

E) The answer to the myriad problems that India faces today is not flat out simple; calling for a Corporate responsibility, lesser Government and globalization. It is much more complex than that. Yes, globalization is inevitable in a world where communication barriers have gradually dissipated due to technological progress. But economic policies of governments elected by means of democracy has to be determined indigeneously. Successive governments pursuing Reform policies in India have been removed out of power. Myriad regional parties have come to power. Casteist groups representing backward elites who want their share of power have got into the limelight, despite their lack of progressive vision. What is the reason for such a situation? The people of India as a whole have not been satisfied with the Reform policies. Inclusive growth, has rather been a myth than reality. The manufacturing sector in the country suffers, while the service sector with its high labour intensive work force has enhanced itself because of the supply-demand situation of the global economy. Whether a wholly service-sector oriented growth is possible is highly problematic. The release of productive forces is an imperative. Every Western Economy went through this process of social reform working in cahoots with economic growth. Why are the developing countries being denied of their own models of growth? Why should they adhere to structural adjustment policies prescribed by World Bank and IMF economists who have starkly little knowledge of the myriad troubles of the Ordinary Indian?

F) The parallels between the Indian and Chinese contexts has to be taken into perspective. The Chinese model of FDI based growth today is sustainable because of the large scale manufacturing linkage industries created by the Chinese state. Buoyed on by social reform policies of the early Communist era, which involved large scale mobilization of peasantry, the drive to end bureaucratization etc, the Communist China has made great progress in releasing productive forces, which unfortunately hasn't happened greatly in India, despite the successes of the Indian software services sector.

G) Democracy in India is a must. It is the only way of correcting the social milieu of the Indian nation, which for ages has been characterized by social inequalities, disorders and malignant distribution of wealth and power to only a select few. Yet, Democracy in India is still flawed in quite a few ways. Further steps need to be taken to make the democratic structures and institutions in the country further representative. Democracy has to filter down to such an extent that local representation in power structures is also ensured. The system of Panchayati Raj is slowly evolving in this regard as a third organ of governance apart from the Central and the Federal structures. Jeopardizing this multi-insitutional democratic setup by vouching for lesser government, more corporate responsibility would hamper India's long standing social upheaval processes.

H) What is the bottomline? 8% Economic Growth, creating a Job-Less Growth environment, without creating adequate linkages with the dominant agro-based sector and perpetuating unemployment or Massive Social Spending to enhance education, health care, sanitation, creating oppurtunities for spurring Domestic Demand, Releasing forces of production even in the rural areas? I for one, believe in the latter. Yes, the fillips provided to the corporate sector would remain, but there will be lesser incentives and higher demands for social responsibilities from these sectors. A need for correcting the socio-economic-political order in which some groups enjoy higher mileage than others is paramount. Annihilation of Corporate Robbery and Corporate Credit to Government, Recovery of Non-performing assets, democratic work cultures, high investment in Science and Technology, Lesser Military Spending, Better International Relations based not merely on Strategic Concerns, but based on socio-constructivist outlooks, high involvement of all the three tiers of government in governance, Dignity of Marginalized groups in the country, etc, etc matter a lot too.

The processes of liberalization, globalization and privatization with their boons act sometimes in contravention to the above mentioned aims of Indian governance and socio-politico-economic necessities. Merely focussing on the creation of a "Flat World" without regarding the well entrenched Crusts, Troughs and quick sand that characterize developing societies is a reductionist approach.

Mr Friedman's empirical approach of finding a solution to the problems of the world by interviewing corporate honchos and a few successful entrepreneurs is seriously flawed. The Truth that he needs to explore is much more multi-dimensional and prismatic than he believes he has seen.

The Iraq Quagmire:

Mr Friedman glibly talks about America's responsibility for bringing "liberty" to the dark annals of autocratic setups of the Middle East. The essential fact remains that the perpetuation of such autocratic setups owes itself to America's policies of intervention in the Middle East, for "fuelling" it's own corporate growth! Every military dictator of the Middle East is a creature who earned some legitimacy or other because of Western Support. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia is a Americophile, so was Saddam during the heights of the Iran-Iraq War. Reams and reams of paperwork on how the current Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld had linkages with the Saddam setup during the eighties exist. Yet, I digress. Its only imperative to understand what America is doing to Iraq NOW. Iraq under Saddam was an autocratic setup ruled by a dictator and his cronies. Yes. But Iraq under U.S. Sponsorship has turned out to be a communal quagmire. Pitting ethnic group against ethnic group, exacerbating the social situation in Iraq is the newest malignant contribution of the so called U.S. war for liberty in Iraq. Saddam is no longer in power, but he has been replaced by a set of cronies of the U.S.A supplanted by communal minded ethnic leaders who in deed promise to take Iraq into a new crisis of national disintegration. Is this what Friedman wanted to happen in Iraq? Yes, the Baathist enterprise of pan-Arabian socialism was more a desert mirage that never happened and disintegrated into a cult of dictatorships. But what was responsible for such egregious holds by a few feudal minded warlords? The lack of a Protestant Ethic, which would be claimed by the Christian Right in the US of A or is it a tacit support for strong dictatorships creating oligarchies helping super-profit-creation for corporates abroad? The Answer obviously is the Latter. Western Intervention in the Middle East has been ruinous for any kind of enlightenment-like change happening in those areas. Never has any progressive force given any kind of legitimacy by the multiple governments of the liberal West, which has always viewed the Middle East as a vista for corporate benefit and profit.

After all, why the "deuce" would anyone want to be wired with dynamite at all? What is the reason for this overwhelming hatred and splenetic anger? Give it a thought, Mr . Friedman. I am no expert on the Middle East or World Politics to give you a very correct picture. You only have to read your own intellectuals who are so many and so worthy, such as Prof Noam Chomsky, etc.