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.