Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Socialist in the American Senate?

Thus spake The Guardian:,,1937064,00.html

He is an unapologetic socialist and proud of it. Even his admirers admit that he lacks social skills, and he tends to speak in tirades. Yet that has not stopped him winning eight consecutive elections to the US House of Representatives.

"Twenty years ago when people here thought about socialism they were thinking about the Soviet Union, about Albania," Mr Sanders told the Guardian in a telephone interview from the campaign trail. "Now they think about Scandinavia. In Vermont people understand I'm talking about democratic socialism."

Democratic socialism, however, has hardly proved to be a vote-winning formula in a country where even the word "liberal" is generally treated as an insult. Until now the best showing in a Senate race by a socialist of any stripe was in 1930 by Emil Seidel, who won 6% of the vote.

John McLaughry, the head of a free-market Vermont thinktank, the Ethan Allen Institute, said Mr Sanders is a throwback to that era. "Bernie Sanders is an unreconstructed 1930s socialist and proud of it. He's a skilful demagogue who casts every issue in that framework, a master practitioner of class warfare."

When Mr Sanders, a penniless but eloquent import from New York, got himself elected mayor of Burlington in 1981, at the height of the cold war, it rang some alarm bells. "I had to persuade the air force base across the lake that Bernie's rise didn't mean there was a communist takeover of Burlington," recalled Garrison Nelson, a politics professor at the University of Vermont who has known him since the 1970s.

"He used to sleep on the couch of a friend of mine, walking about town with no work," Prof Nelson said. "Bernie really is a subject for political anthropology. He has no political party. He has never been called charming. He has no money, and none of the resources we normally associate with success. However, he learned how to speak to a significant part of the disaffected population of Vermont."

Mr Sanders turned out to be a success as mayor, rejuvenating the city government and rehabilitating Burlington's depressed waterfront on Lake Champlain while ensuring that it was not gentrified beyond the reach of ordinary local people. "He stood this town on its ear," said Peter Freyne, a local journalist.

"I tried to make the government work for working people, and not just for corporations, and on that basis I was elected to Congress," Mr Sanders said. He has served 16 years in the House of Representatives, a lonely voice since the Republican takeover in 1994. He has however struck some interesting cross-party deals, siding with libertarian Republicans to oppose a clause in the Patriot Act which allowed the FBI to find out what books Americans borrowed from libraries.

He says his consistent electoral success reflects the widespread discontent with rising inequality, deepening poverty and dwindling access to affordable healthcare in the US. "People realise there is a lot to be learned from the democratic socialist models in northern Europe," Mr Sanders said. "The untold story here is the degree to which the middle class is shrinking and the gap between rich and poor is widening. It is a disgrace that the US has the highest rate of childhood poverty of any industrialised country on earth. Iraq is important, but it's not the only issue."

In a state of just over 600,000 people he also has a significant advantage over his Republican opponent, Rich Tarrant, a businessman who has spent about $7m on his campaign. "Sanders is popular because even if you disagree with him you know where he stands," said Eric Davis, a political scientist at Vermont's Middlebury College. "He pays attention to his political base. He's independent and iconoclastic and Vermonters like that."

More links:

JNUSU Elections 2006, math, "pre-math" and aftermath

Yours truly was a keen participant in the "Dance of Democracy", the JNUSU Election Festival for the past two years in 2004 and 2005. While both the years saw victories at the President's Post by AISA's Mona Das, this year saw the SFI retaining the President's Post after a gap of 2 years, with Dhananjay Tripathi winning the coveted post defeating the AISA's candidate, Awadhesh Tripathi.

The 2005 Election was a victory of sorts for the SFI-AISF combine. Even though they had lost the President's post, data revealed that this happened primarily because nearly 142 votes from the extreme Right JPF were transferred to Mona Das, a consequence of the hatred of the JPF toward the SFI-AISF and its problems with its organization that it broke off from, the ABVP.

SFI-AISF, however instead of being complacent despite winning 3 CP seats and 16 councillors overall/29, realized that this defeat at the Presidential post was clearly more due to a lack of solid agitations for pressing issues, that were part of their erstwhile glorious legacy established in the campus.

What followed therefore was focus on several relevant issues and emphasis on student mobilization for the same. Be it mobilizing students to protest imperialist policies pursued by George Bush during his visit to India, opposing the entry of the ship Clemenceau into Indian waters, articulating the rights of farmers who were committing suicide in hundreds across the country, all these were also some of the main tasks well accomplished by the SFI.

Yet, its primary task was to identify the level of problems faced by common students studying in the university while undertaking higher post graduate education and research. Palpably, many realized that there were quite a few students dropping out, quite a few having been forced to take up jobs even while having to continue with research etc, all owing to financial pressure. What was needed was a clear scientific survey which could determine how many such people were there in the campus and what were their aspirations with regard to necessary support that they needed to pursue unhindered academic study and research in the campus.

What followed was a dedicated questionnaire campaign by the SFI-led JNUSU which ascertained clearly the necessities of a large chunk of students who were facing financial troubles in the campus. Subsequently efforts were made to pursue the administration to substantially increase the width as well as the scope of the existing financial scholarships that they are providing to students.

All was hunky-dory till now, upto April 2006. What came as a bombshell onto the campus was the announcement by the Government to implement 27% reservation for OBCs in higher education (as mandated constitutionally in the aftermath of the Mandal Commission recommendations' implementation in the early 1990s). The entire focus of the campus changed from issues such as financial assistance, anti-imperialism and solidarity with peasant/worker movements across the country toward this controversial announcement by the Government.

On the face of it, what the Govt had announced wasn't anything new. Ever since the Mandal Commission recommendations were accepted for jobs, it was inevitable that such a ruling was to be implemented in the sphere of education too. The Govt also willed itself to not disturb the existing number of seats available in the open category and promised only to increase the seats substantially (54%) to incorporate the reserved sections.

What followed was a major resentment among a section of students representing primarily upper casteist elements which protested this move; with ample media coverage. The spill over of this motley group of protests led by doctors primarily was the formation of number of groups within an overarching umbrella organization called "Youth for Equality". In JNU, too, YFE, mainly consisted of sections from Science Schools, took up the issue of protest and went ahead with several campaigns (ostensibly inspired by the movie Rang De Basanti), which ultimately culminated in a month long fast with vague demands. The Fast acted as a trigger to mobilize large chunks of apolitical sections of the campus, into one amorphous unit of anti-reservationists.

AISA, on its part, went on a counter fast (against the YFE's rendering the idea of fasts as fatuous) and tried to mobilize opinion among pro-reservationists in the campus. The SFI on its part, thankfully didn't take up the route of a fast to generate opinion on the necessity of reservation. It had already released the first response supporting the move for 27% reservation, while necessitating the caveat of a Creamy Layer and appropriate increase of facilities to accommodate the subsequent increase of seats to 54%.

The problem however was that by June 2006, the reservation plank had so much occupied the arena of political contestation, that all other important issues, particularly the financial assistance agitation in the offing were not on the radar of the students at large. Despite this predicament, the SFI-led JNUSU went ahead with the agitation starting from August and into September and valiantly achieved the demands it had strove to achieve. Clearly, if not for the reservation issue being such a campus-mood-clincher, the SFI-led JNUSU's achievement would have earned it enough brownie points to do better than their 2005 performance.

However, come election time, the entry of the so called apolitical YFE into the fray and further noise pitched in by organizations solely focussed on reservation such as the Bahujan Students Front, made the election almost a referendum for reservations.

In this heightened political environment featuring parties of all hues and shades and the presence of organizations solely focusing on reservation (one anti and another pro), predicting the result of the elections became a tough affair. The fact that nearly all political parties were for reservation, clearly established that this election was going to be a personality affair. In essence, for any person, whichever personality belonging to that political outfit corresponding to his/her position on reservation, based on his personality traits and popularity, turned out to be the criteria for election rather than issue based, performance based support that shaded voter opinion and behaviour in the past.

Dhananjay, the SFI candidate for President, owing to his popularity, incumbency and voter identifiability was therefore touted as a sure winner and he did become the winner, after all. The story however was the near consolidation of votes from Science Schools by the YFE candidates. Clearly, the existing composition of Science Schools tilted toward greater upper caste representation in contrast to the far more egalitarian (gender wise, caste wise, region wise) distribution of students in say, the School of Social Sciences was a factor in determining the support to the YFE. Hence the spectacular performance of the YFE in the Science Schools, where they were able to reap 6 councillor posts and managed leads of more than 230 votes against their nearest rivals in the voting for the Central Panel votes.

As regards, the victory of the AISA in 2 Central Panel posts, the reasons were very clear. The Gen Sec candidate for AISA was a person from the School of Social Sciences (and an erstwhile Hindi student from the School of Languages(SL)) who was known pretty well across the campus for his activism (a fame/notoreity that was nurtured with his role in the Prime Minister's visit to the campus in Nov 2005). The AISF candidate pitched against him was someone who was contesting this election after a year of non-activity in Student Union affairs and someone who belonged to the smaller School of International Studies. The factor of voter knowledge and identification therefore worked in the favor of the AISA candidate in this post.

Similar was the case with the Post of Vice President. Tyler Williams, the AISA candidate, an American, had the highest polled votes in the SL Councillor elections in 2005. His name being touted, because of his identity and nationality, in the media was an additional factor. Pitted against him was Murtaza, someone who was contesting elections for SFI after a gap of 2 years of relative inactivity in student politics in the campus. Added to this disadvantage was a malicious campaign on his personal life, which affected his prospects seriously. Again, a case of voter knowledge and identification played a role in the defeat of the SFI-AISF candidate.

In the post of Jt Secretary, Jyotsna, a two time councillor and sitting Convenor from School of Social Sciences, comfortably won against both the AISA and YFE candidates owing to the same factor again.

In essence, from my understanding, this election reaffirmed the Leftist, progressive credentials of the campus. The victory of two candidates from the Ultra-Left in the Central Panel, despite the good work by the SFI in achieving its primary targets for the year, were primarily because of the impact of the Reservations issue in the campus plus the subordination of all other issue based considerations to merely the factors of voter knowledge of the candidate and the voter's opinion on the reservations saga predominantly.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Unionization of BPO Workers, Letter to Indian Express

The Indian media has gone ballistic after hearing that the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has launched a forum which is some type of union of BPO workers.

The Indian Express has published an editorial and op-ed piece on the same. The Op-Ed Piece has quoted an article by Amandeep Sandhu about BPO unionization too. I have made some critical points on both these articles (the edit and the op-ed piece) in a letter to the Indian Express. If time permits, I shall write a longer piece on the issue itself.

Subject: Unionization of BPO Workers in Kolkata.
While your editorial waxes eloquent on the need to keep BPO workers from unionization because of loss of competitiveness, which in itself is a spurious logic, it doesn't talk about the appalling work conditions of the BPO workers themselves. The opinion piece by Saubhik Chakravarti quotes the article by Amandeep Sandhu in EPW, about how unionization has hitherto failed and the lackadaisical attitude of the BPO workers toward the same, but the important reasons for the same are conveniently omitted. BPO workers have been clearly fed the logic that unionization is an activity meant only for the blue collared, eventhough their unskilled work itself doesn't pertain to the white collared. Sandhu aptly quotes another important work done on unskilled workers in Barbados where a similar attitude prevails.
Clearly, there is more to the opposition toward unionization than just loss of competitiveness. Also, there is no sufficient logic provided by your editorial or opinion writer as to why indeed unionisation *will not* help BPO workers tide over unhealthy work conditions. In addition to this, the editorial doesn't deem it necessary to notice that unions and unionization in the form of pressure groups exist in all types of societies to secure wages, good working conditions for workers, of the blue collar or of the white collar type (lawyers, sportspersons, etc). Even the Indian cricket players have a pressure group and a players' union, whose formation your lead writers have lauded in the past in your own newspaper! Perhaps if your editorial and opinion writers had however talked about the unionization of BPO workers under the thrall of ideologically motivated organizations such as the CITU as the primary problematic, it could have carried more sense. Blind opposition to unionization however seems prejudiced and devoid of complete logical veracity.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

4 years later in Gujarat

A terrific reporter (who happens to be a great friend) working with Himal Mag has come up with a riveting expose of Gujarat 4-years-post-Gujarat-2002.

Himal have an exclusive cover story on Gujarat:

What un-nerves a secular Indian is the stark brutality exhibited by the Bajrang Dal leaders and the pride that they wear for it.

No wonder, Praveen Swami and Anupama Katakam have shown so forthrightly how Indian Muslims are lured towards fundamentalism because of the clear dichotomization of Indian society in Gujarat under the rule of Narendra Modi.

Friday, October 13, 2006

El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido!

The People United shall always be victorious!

Heartiest congratulations to the SFI-led JNUSU for achieving a landmark deal that seals scholarships that will benefit scores of students pursuing Graduate and Post Graduate Education. After a valiant hunger strike in the campus, which included a one day sit in at the UGC headquarters, the JNUSU along with other students were able to achieve this long standing demand.

I miss being there at both the hour of pain (the indefinite hunger strike) and the hour of pleasure (the victory).

Anand has got a valiant account to narrate.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

On Kanshi Ram

The Hindu's Political Editor, Harish Khare, who FYI is a PhD in Political Science from Yale University, came up with a very good article in The Hindu about Kanshi Ram, after the latter's death.
I had a few things to say about the article and wrote a letter to The Hindu.
The original unedited letter goes as follows:
Subject: Apropos the Article, "The Debt we owe Kanshi Ram" by Mr. Harish Khare.

Mr Khare succinctly points out Kanshi Ram's legacy in forging an independent political identity for the Dalits. In making this point, Mr Khare points out that two seminal developments, that of Market Reforms and the Mandir agitation were responsible for the sudden rise of the BSP, through the means of realignment of forces. Kudos to Mr Khare for this analysis. Mr Khare however, in my opinion, has missed the most important of developments that resulted in strengthening of the "Bahujan" forces, the Mandal Commission Implementation.
Together, the three Ms (Mandir, Mandal and Market) changed the political discourse in India forever. Its a pity however that the "Bahujan" consolidation, that was Kanshi Ram's dream frittered away, because of the nature of the parties that the Samajwadi Party and BSP eventually turned out to be, under the leadership of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati. Far from forging together a representative identity of the historically marginalized, thereby challenging the hold of the upper castes, the two parties went on to articulate the OBC and Dalit identities as requisites for power rather than for genuine redistribution and social change. BSP, under Mayawati therefore has disappointed those who hoped this party would realize the Ambedkarite vision of "Annihilation of Caste". Uttar Pradesh politics of late has only seen a shifting of caste alliances rather than a roadmap for caste-dissipation.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Movie Subjects on the Subjective...

Its been a while since I blogged.. well..things have changed a bit.. atleast the location has.. and there have been some fruits from the change of location..have been able to borrow some really good movies from my university library....Rashomon and "12 Angry Men".. movies, quite a vignette from the past.

"Rashomon Effect": This was a phrase I heard once in a talk given by a former distinguished correspondent for the Frontline, Sukumar Muralitharan..He was trying to use this phrase to describe the spin that was provided by academicians, politicians et al about the verdict of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Each vested interest was providing an account of or trying to analyse an event of the past from his/her own subjective perspective. An apt term, I believe, the one used by Muralitharan.. which brings us to try to understand why indeed is the term being used?
Rashomon is a brilliant movie directed by Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese film director supposed to have been among the best in the business of his time. The story is pretty simple. A murder is being investigated in court and the people involved, the witness all give a versinn of the murder in their own terms and spheres of understanding. The truth is never revealed. Who killed the man found to be killed? What exactly transpired before his death? No one can tell for sure even after watching the movie. But what is clear is this, the human subjective element has a vital role to play and therefore any "spoken truth" is got to be prejudiced with the perspective tilted in the speaker's memory to show his/her relative 'goodness' in the whole affair of the past.

Surely the flashes from the back is lashed with details that glorify the role of the "telling" subject and therefore any jury hearing the same *must* consider this subjective element to bear upon the testimony. Kurosawa brings out this element beautifully. Even if the movie is a tad slow and has some extravagant acting by some of its actors, particularly the Kurosawa favourite Toshiro Mifune, its enjoyable purely because its a cerebral delight.

Add to the above is the fact that all the flashbacks are themselves narrated in flashback, the present itself showing characters who reveal their undersides. In essence the contours of the whole affair of murder can be reasonably ascertained by considering the present and the past including the subjects.

Yet another movie which relies deeply on the subjective element is the 1950s classic, "Twelve Angry Men". I had been itching to see this film, but never got the chance to see it in New Delhi. I had seen the Hindi remake, "Ek Ruka Hua Faisla" during a cosy channel surfing session in those lazy old days of mine in Hyderabad. The movie featured quite a few of the recognized thespians of today who owe their filming talent to the honing at the FTII, Pune. Names such as Pankaj Kapur, Suresh Raina, Anu Kapoor, etc re-enacted the original, transposed into the Indian milieu, an exercise that was done fantastically, in my opinion.

Getting to the point, "Twelve Angry Men" is a very different movie. Its wholly based in a single room, involving twelve unnamed strangers who argue about whether a person is guilty or not. Facts are reasoned out irrationally by some using the notions of identity or personal opinion. It takes a sharp interrogation by an "unconvinced till its convincing" man, played by Henry Fonda to make all others around him see reason. Reason therefore is played out inch by inch, statement by statement. Deduction and Lateral thinking prevail eventually over primordial notions and prejudices. Its almost the victory of the Enlightenment over the Dark Ages. The movie is brilliant, because it establishes without doubt that no matter how convincing it seems, anything cannot be accepted until its beyond reasonable doubt.

I had a sobering effect after watching this classic. Never again would I jump to conclusions, I tell myself, but perhaps this is just a subjective delight for the present!

I dont want to write a review of the movies, for that would involve trying to explain the story, which I think must be seen by any viewer to make out on his own, for the concern of these movies, is indeed subjectivity.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Tol Mole ke Bol! (Weigh and Tell)

Jaswant Singh always had a funny way of saying things. While the pliant media always spun it to look elegant, yours truly thought that the verbal callisthenics provided by this ex-army man was nothing short of verbal jugglery in the manner of the typical circus clown (no disrespect to the clown intended).I have never been that much enamoured of this person who has served in some of the highest ranking posts for India, ranging from Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission,to the External Affairs and Foreign Minister. Harish Khare himself comes up with an article questioning whether indeed Mr. Singh deserves the kudos that has been invariably reserved to him through a potent mixture of aura-building and spinning yarn about the BJP's honchos that was the name of the game during the NDA's regime.

Getting to the point though, "Jest"want Singh's USP is being a sophisticated version of former US Vice President Dan Quayle. I have always found his verbal gymnastics rather funny and esoteric. Sidd Varadarajan had perhaps reached his end of patience after reading Singh's "A Call to Honour" where maybe Singh went about applying his verbal pyrotechnics to written language. AG Noorani had also pointed out that this "anmol" ratan had his way of explaining things that were more tongue behind molars rather than tongue in cheek. Sample this in this book review of Strobe Talbott's book:

"However, `we explained our diplomacy in public,' he [Jaswant] said, `people will demand of me, why are you even talking to the Americans about matters that are none of their business?'" Rightly. Why indeed? Vajpayee took the easy route, which he followed throughout his term - deceive the public and the press by using flowery and opaque language. In this Jaswant was a willing accomplice. The author does not find fault with his ridiculously stilted language but with the press.

"The journalists dutifully scribbled down the oracular utterances, never asking for clarification or amplification, and then reported them to their readers as though they provided insight into what was going on in the talks." Talbott sees nothing wrong in his phrases - "Calculus of human life involved," said this famous visitor to Kandahar in his defence; "the architecture of the dialogue that had been put in place earlier will be fully implemented". Pray, how do you implement "architecture"? The sayings of Jaswant Singh would make Irish Bulls seem prosaic. Sample one - all along the untrodden paths of the future lie the footprints of an unseen hand. Jaswant Singh is more than capable of uttering such profundities.

Oratory, for the BJP, always borders upon the maverick. They have a Goebbelsian hatemonger in Narendra Modi, a dialectician in dialect, Shri Vajpayee (he always provides thesis followed by antithesis in his speeches), a clown prince orator in Venkaiah Naidu and etc. The loss of foot-in-the-saffron-mouth Uma Bharati, ultrasonic Madan Lal Khurana and Machiavellian Mahajan has reduced their acoustics quite a bit though.

Shri Jaswant, when asked to name the "mole" in his book, said that he was not in the business of "indecent exposure". After being unable to expose the "mole"cular structure of the "mole" he had in mind, his agenda seems now exposed. The mole was merely to get more of his books sold in the Mall. Sanjaya Baru of the PMOle insinuated the very same when he said there were unfortunately no "moles or malls" in his recently released book, much to the disappointment to his publishers. A mellow Jaswant now suggests that what he said has been "molested" by the media. Sample this in "The media misinterpreted me. Perhaps I did not communicate this in the din,".The key phrase is "I did not communicate.."! Maybe, he *should not* communicate.

BJP deputy leader of Parliament, Shri Vijay Kumar "Mole"hotra in the meantime takes offense to the fact that the PM had disrespected Jaswant for not acceding to Singh's request of an one-on-one meeting. I think that the PM would disrespect his office if he wasted time trying to extract information about the mole from the black hole that currently occupies Shri Jaswant's brain right now.

Getting to the issue though, its a known fact that the US has always tried to poke its nose, molars and surveillence teeth into India's or for that matter any country's affairs. Considering the fact that its the sole superpower in the world and is worried about nuclear proliferation, it is clear that there must have been US surveillance in India during the days when India had plans of going nuclear. That India succeeded in exploding bombs despite such a close watch was a success of India's camouflage powers as much as a failure in US' HUMINT (human intelligence). Yet, the Rabindra Singh episode also showed the weakness of India's security apparatus vis-a-vis American pressure and lure. Now this was one real "mole" episode that is to be well researched.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Politics or Corporate War?

Politics of my home state, Tamil Nadu has reached an obnoxious state where ideologies no longer determine the contours of contestation. The two major parties and their organizational makeup reminds more of corporate bodies rather than political parties. The DMK is led by its patriarch Chief Minister M.Karunanidhi who flexes his political muscle increasingly through the propaganda machinery buttressed by a monopoly television network and media empire that virtually reins as the only news network in Tamil Nadu. Combine this clout with the fact that the Information and Broadcasting Minister of our country is part of Karunanidhi's extended family, you see business ruling politics clearly in the case of the DMK.

One promise by the DMK in the recent elections was the provision of a colour TV to every poor household. The economic rationality of this decision can be gauged easily...What other way of promoting your channel than this?

The AIADMK is not far behind in the corporate stakes. It has a propaganda channel of its own, an even more rabidly hagiographic Jaya TV named eponymously after its literal dictator, J.Jayalalithaa. If the DMK has an established patron-clientalistic setup that runs from top to bottom and had been built over the years through effective propaganda and the usage of identity politics, the AIADMK represents the apogee of the very same setup, extrapolated to the highest point of patron-clientalism.

Both these formations have steady votebanks among particular caste groups (which further are entrenched in hierarchical socio-economic positions in villages) and have consanguinous linkages with the regional bourgeosie, an ideal combination of semi-feudal and regional bourgeosie linkages in effect. The ability to forge alliances with other political units which are not part of the above setup makes the difference in elections.

Basically therefore nothing much separates these two formations in the issue of ideology. Both units were formed from the throes of the rationality movement that took a distinct caste identity basis as fundamental for political mobilization and social change. Identity politics in Tamil Nadu has indeed inflicted radical change in the composition and circulation of elites but the basic exploitative tendencies remain and abound even further to certain extent.

The space for parties subscribing to ideologies and clear class groups, and arguing for redistribution, has therefore been narrowed down because of the intermeshing of caste identity and class positions. Political Consciousness starts and ends with identification of patrons from respective identity groups and this explains the rather regressed political scenario in Tamil Nadu.

There is hope for change though. As inequalities have increased and the vagaries of the policies of appeasing the regional bourgeosie have created new contradictions, differentiations on class bases are being intensified. Even in the case of identity groups, the lowest order groups, the Dalits have faced even greater subjugation and exploitation under groups that were mobilized hitherto on the goal and basis of social transformation and rational reorganization of hierarchical society. Perhaps a class combination of the working population (who are getting immiserized by the regional bourgeoisie) and the Dalit people (who are increasingly being targetted and exploited by semifeudal/feudal elements of intermediate castes) could form the basis of the mobilization of the ideologically conscious political outfits in Tamil Nadu.

The latest elections saw the DMK form a minority government, an eventuality that has had no precedence in Tamil Nadu for a long time. This in itself represents a certain change in a new direction, albeit it can be red herring. Despite forming a minority government, the cohabition of the DMK as an alliance partner of great clout at the Centre has helped it retain the fervour that normally accompanies the ruling party in Tamil Nadu (which predominantly wins more than a majority of the seats in every scheduled election).

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Riposte to Surjit Bhalla's riposte

Surjit Bhalla had written a riposte to P.Sainath's article on The Outlook sometime ago. He had quoted data from Economic Survey to show that per capita food consumption had actually *increased* in the so called reform period rather than decreasing. His precise critique of Sainath's article rests on data from Economic Survey and here is the verbatim argument by Bhalla:

So Sainath’s point that foodgrain consumption declined in the 1990s would be consistent with the poor actually having higher incomes after the reforms! But his "fact" that per capita foodgrain consumption has actually declined to the average level prevailing in a famine year is a priori startling.

Actually not that startling, because Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen warned us that the Bengal famine was not due to a shortage of supply of foodgrains. Nevertheless, I do find Sainath’s claim as somewhat of a shocker.

Alas, none of Sainath’s two claims is anywhere near the truth. Per capita consumption (strictly speaking, availability) of foodgrains averaged 364 grams per capita per day in the 1950s, and 391, 398, 420, 441 and 419 in subsequent decades with the last number being for the period 2000 to 2003 (all data from the widely and easily available Government of India, 2004-05 Economic Survey, Table S-17).

Contrary to Sainath, per capita availability of foodgrains peaked in the decade of the reforms. What about the particular year Sainath mentions, 2002-03? It turns out that in that year the availability was a high 457 grams a day!

Utsa Patnaik has written a paper on the decrease in food consumption per capita and the link can be found at :

The quotable paragraph that shall effectively answer Bhalla's questions is as follows:

There is an estimated projection of commercial feed demand with respect to cereals in India made by three economists under the International Food Policy Research Institute, which we have used to obtain the net output figures in Table1. These figures are correspondingly lower than the net output figures in Table S-26 of the official annual Economic Survey which gives net output and availability every year. Per capita figures are obtained by dividing through by total population. We have used the 2001 Census total population estimate and, comparing it with the 1991 Census total, derived the annual compound growth rate of 1.85 per cent, from which the population of each inter-censal year is calculated.

The official figures of population in the Economic Survey are inaccurate; the same absolute figure of 16 million has been added every year up to 1998 starting with the 1991 Census figure; since the base was expanding but the same absolute number continued to be added, the implicit growth rate of population works out to 1.7 per cent, lower than the actual rate, and the actual effect on per capita output was to that extent understated. Since inconsistency arose, with the demographers predicting that India would cross the one billion mark in early 2000, presumably in order to adjust its figures we find that the Economic Survey suddenly added 23 million to the population in 1998 which was a peak agricultural output year, and then went back to adding 16 million the next year! It is surprising that these ad hoc and inaccurate methods have not attracted comment earlier.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Blasts from the present

I landed right in Mumbai after the exhaustive trip of "homeland". I wasn't around when a) the Shiv Sena lumpens went about their nonsensical rampage after their own maintained statue of Bal Thackeray's wife was supposedly desecrated.. and b) when yet another series of blasts rocked Mumbai and killed innocent citizens.

On b), first, I have nothing much to add to the reams of analysis that has already occupied and dissected the incident(s), yet, I can't resist adding some of my own thoughts to the issue in general.The blasts, most analysts said, exposed the soft underbelly of India's security and yet again showed the resilience of India's "Maximum City", Mumbai to recover quickly again from yet another disaster. Most of the analysts were right. The security situation in my country is weak indeed, not because of lack of effort/cogency among the agencies as such, but because of political reasons, I feel.

We have had religious riots happening before 1992, but nothing of this scale happened, to my knowledge like the Mumbai blasts, the bomb attacks at religious places etc. Much of this has had to do with the political legitimacy that has been gained by ultra-right, radical Islamist and other religious groups because of the vitiation of India's secular atmosphere. Many critics have questioned the stability of Nehruvian secularism and its contours, yet the redeeming factor about this form of secularism was that it kept the balance of peace intact rather much better than the current environment.

Eventhough mainstream India is still "secular" (the usage of the term is very particular to India in contrast to other democracies), the rise of Hindu nationalism (which is dialectically linked to the decline of patron-clientalistic Congress and centralization of power that preceded such a rise) has contributed to the breakage of that delicate balance. The Gujarat riots was a watershed..which precipitated the breakage.

Today, our citizens have been made vulnerable to terror, precisely because of what happened in Gujarat and in other places. Groups like the Lashkar, Jaish and other terrorist cults have drawn recruits within India among Indian citizens with ease since the pogrom. Secular India of the not so past, was able to politically counter this threat by providing the basic liberal tenet of minority protection and liberal rights to all; this fragile balance was wrecked by actions that had already reached an apogee on 6th December 1992.

Many analysts have alluded to the points mentioned above. Very few have added another important point, which I feel needs to be studied and mentioned.

Non-Aligned India was able to cache in on a sort of balance of power that reaped some dividends by keeping India in the green generally with the superpowers and also with other third world countries. (Contrary to perception, despite the OIC being overwhelmingly loaded with Pakistan friendly countries, on Kashmir and other issues, many countries in the OIC were with us). The drift in foreign policy of late (what is called "Crossing the Rubicon" by C. Raja Mohan in his seminal eponymous book), that has entailed a bandwagoning with the US (ostensibly to balance China, according to realists like Rajamohan), has drawn India into the battleground that has largely been a creation of the US. Dangerously, after West Asia, South Asia, with India in the fulcrum is emerging as the new geopolitical zone of American Influence. The policy of neoconservative America to project the American imperialism project in West Asia as a clash of civilizations between "Christian" developed America and "Islamist" non-modern countries and the growing tendency of India to bandwagon with this form of unilateral America is making India more vulnerable, I feel.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Hop, Skip, Travel and Ruminate

The past one month has entailed hectic travel for me. From Delhi to Mumbai to Chennai to in and around the Northern part of Tamil Nadu and the Southern part of Andhra Pradesh...the going has been swift and has been never ending.

My yearly/once-in-two-years jaunt to the state of my roots, Tamil Nadu always brings two aspects, nostalgic memories and beams of ideas about what to do in the future. The pull of my roots is an invariable force that goes along with my peripatetic life. The force reaches irrestible proportions when I reach my ancestral village(s).

This visit to my ancestral village(s) was different in a way, because now I was a social scientist with a 2 year gestation period of learning Political Science (apart from tinges of working economics, history and sociology). Hence this time, my eyes were keenly observing patterns ...such as the kind of political parties that were dominant in these areas..the structure of caste hierarchy that was so clearly visible...the decline of the rural economy and the obvious patterns of migration that seemed so apparent. Tamil Nadu's flourishing trading and service economy was also visible...

The decline of the rural economy was the most distressing aspect that could be discerned from this visit. Clearly farmers and agrarian workers were looking for opportunities beyond rural areas and were migrating in numbers to the flourishing urban areas and getting integrated with the service economy. Urban settlers (for a longer period of time) were in the meantime sending their children to the innumerable engineering and medical colleges and they are in turn joining the software sector in droves. Perhaps a longer stay could help me discern the status of the much vaunted manufacturing sector in Tamil Nadu.

The efficacy of the state as a service provider in the transport sector however has remained intact. Tamil Nadu still looks among the best in roads, essential bus services, a kudos that was always reserved for it for a long time. The education sector also seems vibrant. The explosion of technical and professional colleges seems continual despite reaching critical mass. Perhaps a study of the impact of private college education also needs to be done, the back-of-my-mind keeps reminding me.

Meanwhile the frequent train travel on second class berths across the breadth of the country toward and from Delhi/Mumbai/Chennai is teaching me several aspects too. My interactions with my co-passengers (mostly from the lower middle, middle and lower classes) have earned me rich insights. For example, a talk with a trader in Delhi told me how small traders (the typical constituency of the BJP) were facing trouble due to globalization! A 1 hour talkathon with a retailer put things about FDI in retail in perspective. Listening to woes of co-passenger textile workers in Mumbai gave me inputs about the lives of skilled artisans in the unorganized sector.

A few encomiums to the Indian Railways are also necessitated. Fares on the Indian Railways are very much affordable. The fact that the IR has attained surplus profits without any concomitant increase in fares is telling on how essential social services can be effected in tandem with sound business. An India Today survey on ministers ranks Laloo Yadav high. A IIM A Professor confesses to recommending privatization for the IR, which was heading toward doom in his opinion and is now whisking students to the Railway Bhawan to learn new lessons from the success story of this PSU. Concomitantly, an article appears in the Hindu on the PSU story and the role of the Ideological state apparatus in creating a negative aura about Public sector units.

A fifteen day hiatus in the constant travelling is used to help out with pamphleteering for the reservation campaign. This was perhaps my last contribution to student activism in the role of an insider. Personally, this past two months have been tough on my gray cells. Decisions on what to do in the future have occupied most of the time. From questions on my career goals (whether to remain an activist academician grad student in line to enter politics or become an academician grad student with options to pursue in the future), to the invariable pressures and pulls from friends and family on what to do next, mental stress has never been this tough. In the end, I have caved in to popular pressure and have taken the easier pursue graduate education in the country I that loathe for its international policies, the United States and land up in academics and pedagogy back in my country after completing grad education. The redeeming factor is that there are as much serious and intelligent dissenters about policy making in the United States whom I adore as much there are outside. Perhaps I can make the best out of this decision and keep my heart and mind equally happy.

Monday, June 05, 2006

On the Media by the Media..

Siddarth Varadarajan helps me out by writing on the media from an insider's perspective and thus relieves me of having to scratch my itch to write on the biased nature of the media's coverage of the Reservation saga.

Clearly, the Television Media in India, as Prabhash Joshi of the Jansatta has argued, lacks education in social science. By fielding tyros as reporters and analysts, the Television media is doing gross injustice to coverage of social issues in our country. With the exception of a few, the Television Media-people lack the basic social senses that are required of them. Sample these headlines, "Reserve vs Deserve" in CNN-IBN, "Democracy vs Quotacracy"!..

The CNN-IBN in an eyewash attempt, called upon Vinod Mehta, Naresh Trehan, Purushottam Agarwal and one of the YFE doctors to answer the question whether the media was biased, anchored by Sagarika Ghose. If they had an iota of a sense of fair play they should have called upon an OBC/ Dalit face to put up their case. They didn't.

Barkha Dutt, was no better. I attended one of her "We-the people" shows on the issue and glaringly, Dutt took the debate forward assuming that those who were for reservation were only those who had been benefitted out of the same!. Callousness in a so called star reporter. Dutt perhaps has never heard of John Rawls or the concept of social merit. When a person was placing his views using the conceptual perspective of John Rawls, Dutt interrupted him asking, tell are pro-reservation or not, without giving him space to argue out his position on a theoretical basis. Yet another proof that the mainsteam television media in this country today merely likes to scratch surfaces rather than plumb depths.

In 25 days of hectic reporting, analysing, regurgitating and news-byting, there was no serious effort to show tabulations of OBCs in the country, no serious effort to elucidate on the NSS' findings, no effort taken at all to highlight the positive effects of positive discrimination, as for eg in JNU, clearly tilting the debate in the favour of anti-reservationists. Sagarika Ghose was perhaps a situation where the political class was united in this issue, it was the media that tried to play the role of Opposition, good indeed, only perhaps it would have been substantial and real, if they had provided the voices of the other an equal amount of play.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Jogo Bonito...just a few more days to go..

I remember watching on TV, the 1990 World Cup in Calcutta, the '94 WC in Salem, '98 WC in Chennai and '02 WC in Hyderabad/Tokyo. This time, its destined to be in New Delhi. As the WC caravan moves on from continent to continent, so do I move on from one city to another, a permanent nomad..

Getting to the point though, Jogo Bonito or the beautiful game, football comes suddenly into primetime focus during the World Cup, when the whole world's attention is rivetted on it. Not surprising, for the entire world is represented by nationalities participating in this month long extravaganza. Yet, for me, the World Cup is extravagant indeed in terms of amount of attention it recieves, for I feel that (and I am sure I am in the minority), somehow the quality of the World Cup is lower than say Club Football fought out in say the UEFA Champions League. And I think that this is not a phenomenon that existed previously, but a relic of the present. Ever since the gaze on the players has been immense and their careers linked invariably to their performances in the World Cup, the pressure on the players/coaches has been immense. Teams on the whole have tried to play it safe rather than go full hog with their style of play except for a few traditionally attacking teams like Brazil. Even Brazil, last time around with their conservative coach, Phil Scolari had threatened to deviate from the Jogo Bonito path, but thankfully logic dawned upon Scolari, arguably due to the pressure put upon him by his players, who were loath to play anything else apart from free flowing football (the loss of captain Emerson to injury in the early stages of the WC was yet another factor).

Last WC was a case of bad refereeing and atleast two teams, Italy and Spain had valid grievances with the kind of refereeing their games were subjected to. A resilient and sharp, yet qualitatively lowish South Korean squad forced its way to the semifinals and it had lot to thank the referees apart from their clever coach Guus Hiddink, not to mention their beloved Red Fans, whose vociferous and steadfast support was heartening to see, for an Asian.

This World Cup however, does not really excite me not because of forthcoming referee goofs, but because of the sheer amount of teams that are playing. Every 4 years, there has been a increase in the number of teams playing and this time there are 32 teams, and in my humble opinion, some squads don't actually deserve to be in the Finals. Yet again, the fact that the game needs multiple representation; I agree to that and therefore I am not going to complain about the representation of lowly squads. The trouble however, for me, lies in the fact that increasingly squads have taken a defense-first approach over the years and this World Cup doesn't seem to be different. I hope to be proved wrong. The average goals per match has been on the decrease (1990 was the lowest and 2002 wasn't great enough either).

Coming to the question of support, although I love the way Brazilians play and have a sentimental affection for Argentina, I am a keen infracaninophile and I am hoping Spain comes good at last. Being an aficianado of La Liga football, it is only normal for us La Liga fans to see some of their qualitatively superior players, expert in the virtues of technical football (ball movement, quintessentially passing quickly, taking right positions, and quicksilver moves like dribbling, possession keeping etc) to go up the next level and blend as a team to win it. Spain boasts a very exciting midfield in Xabi Alonso (Liverpool), Xavi and Iniesta (Barcelona), Fabregas (Arsenal), Albelda (Valencia), Senna (Villareal), and Joaquin (Real Betis). All clever, nimble footballers (except for Albelda and Senna who do the dirty work), who promise a lot. The concern for Spain is the forwardline. Raul is in woeful form and was among the worst players in the La Liga this season. Fernando Torres is in my opinion, overrated and David Villa is untested on the national scene. The defense seems way better than last WC and the left wing, the traditional weakness of the Spanish squad over the recent years, has been bolstered by two promising left backs, Mariano Pernia and Antonio Lopez. Spain sound interesting and look good on paper.

As for soccer writers, the evergreen caustic football critic Brian Glanville will be at his crackling best on, I am sure as well as in the Sportstar. The fact that this WC is to be telecasted on ESPN/Star is also good news. These sport channels have a good bevy of perspicacious commentators well versed in technical stuff and they can add a lot of sense to the proceedings. World Cup football must be a treat to watch yet again, hopefully, so should there be a increase in the average goals per game and the reincarnation of the Beautiful Game.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Thoughts on the Reservation Issue..

Some preliminary thoughts on the Reservation Issue...(I need to restructure and solidify this article..something to be done later).

Ever since HRD Minister Arjun Singh announced the implementation of consitutionally mandated reservations for OBCs to the tune of 27% in Central Universities and Institutions, a virtual class war has been unleashed, partly fuelled by incessant media coverage, partly by agitated students increasingly getting jittery about their future prospects, partly by corporate and intellectual support (by members of the Knowledge Commission) and partly because India's neoliberal path suddenly hit yet another bumper. Eventually the sum of all the parts have taken a great toll and the Hulk, as you would call it, has raged two weeks now, seemingly not realizing that reservations are here to stay, no matter how long or how loud are these protests, and not realizing that reservations in Central Institutions are part of a process that had its antecedents not in Arjun Singh's train of thought but which has come after a century of social churning, resulting in what many like Yogendra Yadav calls, "The Second Democratic Upsurge" or what Ashutosh Varshney modifies as the "Fourth Democratic Upsurge".

The Media aren't persipient enough (and I am blaming the yellow press and the tele-media, not the sections of the media which care to analyse decisions in depth, like for e.g., The Hindu, but again I am termed prejudiced toward The Hindu, so I will let it pass), but thats another story for another blog. Lets first get to answer, as to whether the Reservations in Central Institutions as a means toward social justice is justified at all, and what else/more/at all should be done indeed for social justice, and whither social justice, social justice vs merit?, all these questions in this short blog piece.

First, Reservations on the basis of Caste. The favorite argument of those against reservations, is that if the end is to eradicate Caste, why do you need Caste based reservations at all? This is a rather innocent question, and the answer would have to start from the definition of Caste in India itself.
Caste is a phenomenon unique to India, which divides people on the basis of birth and cuts across religions..therefore there are caste Muslims and Dalit Christians as well in our country!. Caste as a phenomenon, as I said, exists in two different fashions in the country, accentuating the urban-rural divide. In urban, liberal India, where modern institutions are more active, more relevant to public life, where rationality of the market has permeated to a certain extent, Caste has in the words of Gopal Guru, "transmogrified" itself. You wouldnt' see different sets of people travelling in a train together complaining about "pollution", "distance" etc..thats the dialectical effect of modernity in the form of train travel. You wouldn't see people complaining about using common tumblers for drinking water/ milk at a public hotel, nor would you see people complaining about same sets of chairs and seats for all castes in theaters, in parks etc. You would of course notice a class divide, the sparkling multiplexes and malls vs the filthy chawls and stalls, the expensive shawls and stolles vs the ragged crawls and brawls. But again I am digressing.

In urban India, casteism has to be drawn from the proverbial well using Dronacharya's eye of the needle, caste exists hidden but loosely yet not fully subjugated..Peer into the Classified sections of the newspapers, and lo and behold, you find Caste there.. Marriage columns: caste is a factor, the inner home: Caste hangs over there in the "gotras", "the horoscopes" and in the yearning to create the ideal match for this or that son or daughter. Yes, Caste does exist and cannot be wished away. It exists in a transmogrified form, but it does exist. In some companies, caste acts a factor in recruitment; even in the formally rational Television shows, where fair wins over dark, you notice that those from the lower echelons of the caste system and of the darker, frailer skin, noticed and ignored..Casteism acts therefore in the subterfuge, but exists.

In Villages, the picture is clearer, Casteism is not transmogrified, free to function without the gaze of rationality heaped by modernity, and supported by the bulwark of traditionalism, caste is what that structures village life. The higher your caste, the greater your proximity to resources, the Brahmins hardly work on fields or toil on the lands, they are free to "teach", to "preach" and invariably "usure", and they are the most educated of the lot, they hardly have to move a muscle, the traders, charge and discharge, enjoy the privileges of being the determiners of the village economy and are the first to tide over any village crisis, the peasants are also organized on the basis of caste...the middle and lower peasantry, typically the OBCs, the landless, typically the Untouchables or the SC/STs all hanging on to one another in a pyramidical hierarchial structure, with the topmost having the greatest access to resources, and the bottommost the greatest necessity to toil and physical labour.

You can therefore imagine two pyramids...One pyramid showing the caste hierarchy and the other a reverse pyramid showing the resources..these two pyramids are directly linked..these village structures are almost uniform in North India, while in South India, due to a prolonged churning of society due to the rationality and the anti-Brahman movement in Tamil Nadu, the Communist movement in Kerala and Andhra to some extent, things are slightly changed..there has been a “restructuration” of caste…simultaneously a restructuration of the village structures and the access to resources…which leads to the question of how did this happen? Again..though this is relevant, I think, this question is to be answered in a separate and detailed blog or article, but if one has the patience to read Varshney’s article “Is India becoming more democratic” or Jaffrelot’s “India’s silent revolution” , he can get a picture.

In South India, the non-Brahmin movement and its articulation for social change, was harped on restructuring the iniquitous caste system. Reservations were mandated early in the 20th century, and modern institutions were forced to undergo affirmative action, including the bureaucracy. Eventually, there emerged political power for the lower castes and its political units, and social churning became an inevitable phenomenon, resulting ultimately in the radical transformation of the echelons of power and prestige as well as access to amenities such as education, health and to some extent ownership of land. It was not a direct straight line process, but a rather curved skewed one, but there can be no denying in the changes seen in South Indian society over the years.

If one from, say, the 17th or 18th century visited South India, he could have seen this change, not merely effects of modern institutions but the restructuration of the notions and hierarchies of caste. Deficiencies still remain, what has occurred is not a complete eradication of caste as a system, but a change in the structure and the hierarchy, yet hierarchy and structures still remain. That’s the story of South India.

In North India, however, the political and social movements from the vestiges of the lower castes were late to take off. Firstly, peasant proprietors , after independence acting as a class, tried to resolve their class interests, led by Charan Singh and his Lok Dal in what was a class movement, whilst Ram Manohar Lohia and his “socialists” worked upon to launch a caste based movement, articulating caste based benefits and political power..which has resulted in the strengthening of the OBC parties such as the Janata Dal and later its successors such as the RJD, SP, JD(U) in UP, Bihar and even in Gujarat. Even the pan-Hindu BJP has had to articulate the concerns of the OBCs and that has resulted in the rise of such leaders such as Uma Bharati and Kalyan Singh..the demands and rise of the OBCs therefore has a historical basis and an inevitability to it, owing to the universal adult franchise system that has been put in place and the rise in political power and concomitant social statuses.

There however has not occurred any substantial economic status change and the mixed capitalist system has endured a system of privileges that has stuck with a certain section of the populace, invariably upper caste and historically privileged. Here is where the articulation of reservations have come in. The lower castes and the SC/STs vote overwhelmingly in elections. They are what that determine the fortune of politicians and create leaders and political parties actually in real. If political power cannot help these people gain in their economic statuses, then it would be in jeopardy…no wonder there is a overwhelming consensus for reservations.

Now that one has constructed a historical, social, political and economic profile of the OBCs, even in a rather “blog” like manner and understood the raison d’etre for reservations and its relevance as a weapon for social change and its inevitability, one has to justify the same on certain universal principles of justice, otherwise it would become untenable.

Here is where one has to understand the kind of economic bases that constitute Indian society. India is predominantly a capitalist economy (even if not fully developed) in its urban centers, a semi-feudal set up in rural India predominantly. Social change in such a system, based on tuning of the system from within, is well possible using the tenets of welfare liberalism. Ideal Contractualists such as John Rawls have argued for principles of justice being realized in such societies. Rawls argues for equality of opportunity only to qualify it with the difference principle, wherein he argues for re-ordering of the offices of distribution to that extent that those who have historically been disadvantaged benefit from policies of re-ordering. To this to be possible, he argues for people to think from the original position, by throwing away their identities and arguing for principles of justice by thinking rationally, something that has not been witnessed in the Media, where a war of castes has been unleashed.

Offices, amenities are still invariably lopsided in terms of access and presence, despite changes made by Mandal reservations in the bureaucracy, public institutions etc. Any statistical look at occupation of seats in institutions across India shows a certain lopsidedness, reservations therefore from the Rawlsian axes are tenable. When there is a direct link between access to amenities and economic wealth and the caste system as in Rural India therefore, caste based reservations seem tenable again. Yet this is not the case about urban India. Here is where the creamy layer criterion has to be adopted and implemented.

Again the category of OBCs is a rather loose one. Several dominant castes exist within this OBC category such as the Jats of Punjab, Haryana ( who had been included in the NDA govt.’s tenure) and even the Yadavs etc. A reformulation hence has to be made to strictly match the economic and marginalization profile of OBCs, which is also a true fact, Lodhis, Telis, Vanniyars invariably are marginalized, economically and socially and are deserving of affirmative action.

Next, the notion of “merit”. In a lopsided system, merit is a construct that doesn’t include the social merit that which has been historically and sociologically privileged, creating a certain system, where there are a few who are always de’merited’ and hence incapable of competition. The logic of merit therefore is not sufficient enough.

Thus one can argue for reservations of this form: one which excludes the dominant castes of even the OBCs and creamy layers (deterimined by the simple criteria of yearly income of Rs 1,00,000 which entails someone as a income tax payer). Now the question that arises is whether reservations alone can change society and rid its ills? That’s the most pertinent question.

Despite access to higher education being provided and a share of the amenities pie, that is entailed therefore, no radical restructuring can be made without transformation of ownership of the means of production. Why? Because even if reservations to higher education is provided, people in rural India cannot be in a position to avail it, because they are not even in a position to reach such levels. What therefore is required is land reforms, which provides peasants and others lower in the hierarchy the ability and means to purchase economic power, and also dignity, because the question of land is related to dignity.

State action is invariably therefore required for such things to happen, to enact true forms of social justice, reservations merely qualify as palliatives and helping in the creation of new elites instead of changing the class and caste structure radically. True, a change of elites provides a basis of subjugation of caste as an identifier of prestige and honour, and hence a change in ideas, but mere change in ideas is not enough to answer questions of social justice and the building up of a harmonious society of equitable exchange.

Thus, to conclude, I would suggest that all those who are anti-reservation must realize that the historical processes that have resulted in a situation like today entail that one cannot wish away reservation, as much as one argues against it, there are sociological reasons that are relatively sound enough that buttress the argument for reservations. Then, again, one needs to articulate that even if reservation as a policy is implemented, careful analysis of how exactly it benefits those it intends to benefit, has to be done. At the same time, for those who argue for social justice, it must be understood that mere social change and transfer of elites would not change the societal structure and annihilate caste..a full and thorough blown change in rural India vis-à-vis land ownership and concerted state action are a must. One must therefore strengthen the nation state, at the same time decentralizing power to effect a change in structures in rural areas, and argue for substantial rationality in the functioning of urban modern institutions and not merely push for neo-liberal reforms that perpetuate inequality and exacerbate class and caste tendencies.

Blogger's Block

Its been an age since I last blogged..Circumstances...finishing my MA...entrance exams...decisions to take...laptop crashing...all prevented it...I had the following topics in mind:

a) The Parliament functioning in Nepal and some great changes coming off it
b) The whole ruckus created over the Reservations Issue (and this was primarily what that occupied my mind).
c) Nationalization of oil/gas reserves in Bolivia
d) The Left winning in Kerala, WB and Jaya's parajay in TN, and the BJP's bad show overall in this particular round of elections..and whether at all it meant a change in status quo in India at this particular moment
e) The Tele-Media and its sheer lack of analytical understanding of any particular issue, the sheer lack of professional interest in deep analysis and the reliance on superficial scrapping-the-surface
f) Barcelona winning the Champions League, the World Cup coming up.


I guess..I wont be able to write on all these in detail, some of them are "passe", but some are still relevant..especially the Reservations issue.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Revolution is coming..... Nepal!

Nepal is witnessing a democratic revolution. The autocratic feudal ruler, Gyanendra is finally waiting for the knock-out punch, the winning hit, the pin-down and the check-mate on him. The people are on the path of realizing their final efforts, coming to fruition.

Yesterday, the nervous looking Gyanendra announced the return of status quo to 2002, with parliamentary parties back in power (although power here is a relative term.. the army is still under the monarch's tutelage...)...

The parliamentary parties have achieved the first step..of making the feudal autocrat bend towards their now remains to be seen, if the people's will finally prevails...From the look of things, Nepal is headed towards becoming a republic again...and thanks to India this time...why?....

India, particularly the representatives of the Indian bourgeosie have done the right thing this time.. They didn't hold on to their rigid "two pillar" position and listened to the undercurrents underway in Nepal.. Once India took the position suggesting that the autocrat has to listen to the people's will and convene parliament yet again, that did it...The autocrat automatically fell in line.. and reconvened the parliament, passing over powers taken away in 2002.

The political parties have also taken a sane stance, knowing fully well that the position of the autocrat has been much more weakened than what it was in 2002. He doesn't command the moral authority that he then did ..and the people of Nepal want a republic, the minimum which is wanted even by the radical Maoists who control more than atleast 40% of Nepali territory.

The Maoists had also acknowledged that they were looking for a constituent assembly which would decide the future of the nature of the Nepali state, whether it would become a republic or stay a constitutional monarchy. Possibly, once the SPA (seven party alliance) reconvenes parliament, they would discuss the inclusion of the Maoists into the consituent assembly fold.

Many positives come out of this. The coming-into-the-mainstream of the Maoists would be a retreat from their hitherto radical path (which had tended toward adventurist positions earlier resulting in deaths of innocent lives). It would mean that issues that were never taken up earlier such as the problems of Nepali Dalits would be picked up with more rigor by the upcoming political firmament. It would also mean good news for India. The mainstreaming of the Nepali Maoists should make the Indian Naxalite Maoist re-visit their adventurist position vis-a-vis the Indian state in particular.

All the talk about the Red-corridor extending from Nepal would therefore become blunter. Such are the possibilities that seem to emerge. There are challenges as well. The Nepali Maoists had pursued a radical agenda with one purpose in mind, setting up of a communist state in Nepal, their transition to a more liberal democratic model would have to explained in length to their support base and cadre. The integration of the so far loyal royalist Nepali Army would be a difficult process.

Plus there is the question of American pressure and Indian geo-political interests. How would these pan out? Would the thus far slightly rectified position on India by the Maoists from a colonial state to a more acceptable regional power remain so? or would Indian geo-political interests wring in more suspicion among the Maoists? Besides, apart from the Left in India, no other political outfit is open to doing business with the Nepali Maoists despite their change in ideological positioning. After all, the greatest supporter of the Autocrat Royal in India is the VHP which still reveres him as the "Hindu Samrat" and which is part of the same Sangh Parivar that the BJP is part of.

Then there is the question of China, will it bothered at all by the developments in Nepal? How about Pakistan? After all not long ago, Kathmandu was an ISI hub, wasn't it..particularly during the peak of the Kandahar Indian Airlines crisis.

In the end though, what matters is the way the Nepali people have achieved their aims so far. Truly it is a moment to congratulate the various political outfits, the people of Nepal, even the middle class, the civil society groups who united against the common feudal enemy and made him to bend to their demands. The conversion of Nepal into a republic would be the culmination of the bourgeois revolution.

Inquilaab Zindabad and hats off to the people of Nepal!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Quite a few Eponymous bio"graphic"s of leading political figures have been made in India. Prominent and oft-watched among them is the October 2nd premiered "Gandhi", where the protagonist is well portrayed by a slightly portly Ben Kingsley (the "port" being the only critique in an otherwise rather flawless performance by the Kingsley who was originally named Krishna Bhanji).

In Hey Raam, Gandhi is portrayed by yet another leading Indian actor, Naseeruddin Shah whose gift of the gab accentuated that of the veteran political leader of India's national movement. In "Sardar", the role of Patel is offered on a plate to Paresh Rawal, who we rather know for his not-so-raw but refined comic instincts. Rawal plays a Wall Dravid and adapts well to a different wicket, batting for Vallabhbhai as Patel in the movie and does a great job of it.

Recently, I was lucky to see Mammooty embedded in the role of Ambedkar in the eponymous movie. An eye-opener for me ( I have resolved to read quite a few original volumes of Ambedkar's work from now on regularly), Mammooty's meaty performance as Ambedkar was equivalent to a 24-Karat one. His facial expressions, his demeanour, his constant frame and weight change during the course of the movie, makes him the perfect fit to constitute the role of framer of India's Constitution. Dr. Ambedkar would have been flattered by the resemblance of Mammooty to himself in this film and also to the near-exact reincarnation of the Mass Conversion scene to Buddhism which was re-enacted by Jabbar Patel for the film.

In "The Legend of Bhagat Singh", Ajay Devgan attains "Vijay" as the young revolutionary even while singing "Des Mere Desh Mere Meri Jaan Hai Tu" manly to Rahman's tunes. Devgan's expressive eyes, his "fire under the calm" constitution, fiery dialogue delivery and perfect blend with his co-stars in the film, makes him a "SantuSht" choice by Rajkumar Santoshi.

Paresh Rawal does not lag behind the above mentioned names in "Sardar" either. The Sultan of Slapstick swerves from his stereotypical comic roles and plays a serious Sardar Patel in yet another decent film on India's national leaders.

Nehru, on the other hand, has been played by an actor who has always been chosen to represent him. Roshan Seth's near resemblance to India's first Prime Minister has landed him in several enactions of Nehru, the most memorable would be in the tele-serial, "Discovery of India", where he is the narrator.

Jinnah was cynically depicted in "Gandhi" and played equally clinically by Alyque Padamsee, the ad guru. Attenborough has however been criticised for depicting Jinnah in a rather diabolical manner in the movie. I havent seen the Christopher Lee version of Jinnah yet to make a comment.

In my opinion, if asked to choose the best among this lot, I would go for Naseeruddin Shah's Gandhi in Hey Ram, purely because of the manner in which Gandhi is so accurately portrayed, as a dry yet powerful man. Sample the dialogue between Girish Karnad's character (Saket Ram's father), when Gandhi says, "Nethikku, we will meet". Karnad replies "Bapu, Nethikku means yesterday in Tamil, Naaliki means tomorrow". Gandhi replies, (one eye on Patel and Nehru in the far corner),"No wonder, they tell me that Gandhi is always mired in the past". :-)!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Udaipur -- Where "Bharat Uday" is a funny sarcastic trope

A visit away from the campus was always on the cards with friends. It never came about though, for a variety of reasons. An opportunity was found at last; a class trip ostensibly on a field survey, as part of a research methodology course to Udaipur, Rajasthan. (Aside: This was the 13th state in India that I was visiting, 15 more to go). My pal, Caesar, put it more eloquently: "Srini, here we are, wanting to go out sometime, forced at last to do so, by "State Intervention"". Well, of course, the entire trip was sponsored by the university, and so Caesar was very right indeed. What followed after 4 days of bonding, travelling, investigating, noting down and analysing was a thorough dose of reality-intake; and surely I returned from the trip further wizened and introspective.

Details of the Trip:

We reached Udaipur and camped at a NGO training centre in mofussil 'Bedla' and after a quick briefing, packed our bags to go on a junket to a tribal enclave nearby the tehsil 'Kotda'; our mission to research on the notion of Tribal Self Rule in these areas. Our stay in Kotda & interaction with the officials of administration, governance, legislature and the people themselves gave us a decent picture of the institutions at place at this area. What was sobering was the fact that all HDI indicators for this place were abysmal (Sample: Literacy: 20%) and we got it confirmed from the interaction we had with the tribals themselves. Their living conditions were probably among the worst in India.

People in these tribal villages were staying like animals, I say this with the utmost respect for them. Families averaging 7 per household, living on subsistence farming, forced to work as contract labour, uneducated though willing to be educated, least exposure to the changes in the world (not even electricity has touched their lives yet), the tribals paradoxically were living this life with a contented demeanour!

After a while, I found it increasingly futile to study the efficacy of institutions in a place where individuals were so poorly lacking in enough modern "conscience" of the necessity at all of such institutions. Ergo, I wanted to further go about yet another day of research and what followed, with the graceful consent of my accompanying professor, was a permitted visit to another tribal village with a different team of classmates who were studying Tribal Human Rights. I worked with them in the village, Morella, gleaning enough information to supplement the work of the previous day.

The second village was better off in its facilities and education levels. The issue in question here was Tribal Displacement, that was brought about due to an archaic custom of reparation in a dispute (called Moutana) followed in the tribal village. The displaced tribals were actually though driven away from their homes because of a land dispute and these people had stayed away from their village for nearly 9 years, before intervention by mainstream Naxalite groups in the form of registration of peaceful protest, help in registering voter cards, etc brought the deaf administration to bring these people back to their village.

I checked then upon the work done by the Naxal groups and what action they had in mind for the future, somehow, though I was discomfited by their reference to a more radical strategy, which I felt was going to bring further state oppression on the hapless displaced tribals.

I also had the first hand opportunity to interview an agricultural farmer while ploughing the field alongwith him. Surveys of households were also part of the job. The women were more forthcoming about problems and were more eloquent about the role of politics in their village surprisingly.

In the end, I got enough material to make a decent report of the political institutions, processes and dynamics of contestation, hierarchy in the tribal villages that I had visited. Plus these, we also got enough sobering memories of the depressing socio-economic profiles of the impoverished tribal villagers. All in all, I returned home in a rather sombre mood, mulling over the images that were etched about the conditions of my fellow countrymen in hinterlands, far removed from the brouhaha that is reported so sanguinely by the mainstream press in our country.

Next time, someone tells me that India is shining on my face, I plan to give him/ her a mouthful.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Ides of March

A trip to Udaipur on a research survey for a week and hectic activism has prevented me from updating my blog.

A short report on the trip, and others shall follow shortly.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Protest against Force and Farcical Protest

My dear friend, Atul, who is a thoughtful chap, and with whom I have had several interesting debates and differences of opinion, writes this piece on what he saw in the first week of March in New Delhi, in the name of Protest. He compares the protest against Bush and the "protest" against the denial of justice for Jessica Lal, a model who was brutally killed seven years back in a restaurant, and whose case occupies newspaper space like no case before. Atul's views are expressed in this write-up of his and I am privileged enough to host Atul's view here on "A New Praxis....". Here is the writeup:

Why does a society resort to agitation politics? Correction in that syntactical error, for agitation politics. A contract, social for those who bear it, political for those who enjoy it, fails. It fails when those, in whose name a democratic polity swears its existence, join the ranks of history’s eternally condemned. When does a society resort to agitation? Usually, when its faith in what it lazily understands as ‘system’, crumbles. It’s to dwell in a blind well to assume that the reaction emanates only when the system falls apart.

The country’s capital saw two protests on March 2 and March 4. The former was against that idiotic evil George W. Bush and his brutal American empire, against a supposedly realist Indian government’s foreign policies and, for many, against a simplistic sacrilege committed in a ‘liberal’, ‘civilised’ country of that cold, old Europe. The latter was against an audacious, shameful crime committed seven, repeat, seven years ago. The difference and similarity between the two protests end right here. But something else takes over.

Those who protest everyday, every minute, every step of the life. Whose lives are a living protest of governments and their anti-people policies, chose to go ahead with the business as usual. There was nothing extraordinary for that bright lady and her comrades from Bihar to march barefoot in the heat from Ramlila ground to Jantar Mantar with her little child in the lap. They perhaps walk more ground in the unsparing sun to fetch water or toil in the field everyday. For these people of the sweat, it was a lot of them at work, collectively. Is it not an embarrassment that ‘outsiders’ outnumbered the city folks in protest? I don’t know. Maybe city folks understand governments, and empires better than villagers and town folks. Aren’t we the repositories of the great, greater and brand-new (not borrowed from a dictator next-door)‘enlightened’ national interest? Woolsure.

Others, less numerous, who abhor agitation, happy and satisfied in sweet little velvet worlds of nocturnal variety also came out to protest against the ‘system’. And where? At that thoughtless symbol of colonial absurdity, India Gate. They assembled to protest all right. But ensured their comfort on a pleasant evening that allowed for the glamour of candles to emboss. No sweat please, it may dull the eau de whatever. They came in designer dresses to protest a model’s murder. Glamorous protest - of, for, by- glamorous people. There is not much to be surprised here. It’s a reflection of our own closed mindsets. We assume this democracy to be a continuous pleasantry. Once in action, it won’t stall. And if it does, we are not the ones suffering.

It’s sad that it takes a high profile travesty of justice for this apathetic lot – the social elite- to swing into action, if only for a couple of hours. Thousands and thousands of crimes, more heinous than this, take place in India every single day. Against women, children, dalits and adivasis. Justice is abused in village after village in the feudal India every single day. Why isn’t that a reason to protest? Everyday. Why ? What of the thousands of revolutions brimming in stifled pockets of rural India since ages? And pray why do we need a film to colour us into an awakening?

That justice is due to Jessica is not up for debate. The killer/s ought to be punished, justice must be done to the family that continues to wait for wrongs to be redeemed, and an example of a sensitive judiciary, police, and authority must be set. Of course this has been a travesty of justice. But there cannot be a selective understanding of travesty. Justice has no double standards. This was not meant to be a society where some are more equal than others. A million hits on a website devoted to ensure justice for Jessica? Virtual justice of the new age? This is not about justice. This is about our collective indifference, our ability to shut ourselves away from the street-struggles. The ‘system’ has acquired a reality of its own. It has become smooth, frictionless for the want of public-accountability. If we can’t affect something with a million voices across the land, are we serious about transforming it by encircling that dead monument of the dead?

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Left Winger

Question: Who is your favorite left winger?
Answer: Ronaldinho.

Ronaldinho or Ronaldo Gaucho, shows no "Gaucherie" on the football field, where his performances can be filed under the category "Impeccable". An astute reader of the happenings on the football field, a smart eye for goal, a feel for the pitch, a player whose heartbeat resounds to the beats and roars of the crowds which adore him, a player whose soul is in tune with the soul of a team, Ronaldinho is a success in Barcelona, because he is what Barcelona is all about. Teeming with class, representing the Renaissance Man, Art Barca is reflected in Art Ronaldinho, for whom football is "Art Artia Gratis" (Arts for Arts' sake). Ronaldinho typifies the Beautiful Game, which, for me, is the ultimate Socialist sport.

Question: Politically, why is Ronaldinho your favourite player?
Answer: Because he typifies football, which is at its sublime best, when it is passed around. Football, when played by Brazil typifies why socialism is a target worth working for. Ramachandra Guha once wrote a column on the sociology of sport, in his book "Anthropologists among Marxists", where says why Football is the ultimate socialist game, and I fully agree. The Prima Donna in football ideally is the one who runs the game, by involving his team-mates, and its the team that wins unlike other American sports, where it is the headline maker who wins the game for the team.

Getting to the point: As most of my closest pals know, I am a huge aficionado of football and I still follow whenever I can, the UEFA Champions League and Spanish Primera Liga. I developed interest in watching football from viewing the World Cup matches that were telecasted in Doordarshan, but I became a true fan ever since I started following Champions League football in 2000. I remember that I fell in love with the Real Madrid squad which passed the ball with gay abandon during the pivotal Quarterfinal game against Manchester United (aah that Redondo back heel which resulted in that heavenly Raul goal). Thats when I started following Spanish football, on the internet (I was a regular contributor to the now defunct forums in and still active forum in, and also via the late night live shows on Star Sports.

Spanish Football always intrigued me, because the game was always played in a artistic manner, reflecting the romantic aura that surrounds Spain. Think Spain and you think art, Pablo Picasso is the name that comes to mind. Then, I saw passion reflected in the games between Barcelona and Real Madrid. I saw Luis Figo being jeered and a pig's head thrown at him at the Nou Camp. I was puzzled at the fury that followed every goal, every move that lit up passions every derby game, be it between Barca and Real Madrid or Sevilla and Real Betis or even Deportivo La Coruna and Celta Vigo. Somehow this passion was not really quite there between Liverpool and Everton or even Inter and AC Milan. Whats so special about the Spanish Derbies? Why does Athletico Bilbao recruit only Basque players? All these and more were answered in a introductory manner at, but for a detailed account, you can go no further than to read "Morbo, the Story of Spanish Football", an excellent book by Phil Ball, a columnist in

Morbo, succinctly tells you how the politics of Spain is linked to the football in Spain. How Spain is a multi-dialect, multi-cultural nation, with its fierce autonomous nationalities within. How the Basques detest the Spaniards, owing mainly because of their distinct Euskadi language, their distinct Basque culture, quite different from Spanish. How the Catalans are protective of their distinctiveness too, how therefore Barcelona typifies Catalan nationalism in a way, how Valencia, the "Los Ches" recruit Argentininians, because they blend in the "Che" spirit too. Why do Sevilla and Betis hate each other? Is it because of the class based support, the gentry and upper classes supporting Sevilla, while the blue collar proletariat supports Betis? All and this and more in "Morbo", an exciting book, a journey in exploring Spain's polity and its integrated football.

Then I realize that politics is part and parcel of football as is football a parcel and part of politics. Silvio Berlusconi is nothing without AC Milan. Jose Luis Zapatero opposes Jose Maria Aznar just as Barcelona detests Real Madrid (you can guess which Jose supports which team now). But the compound mixture is nowhere as complicated and tight as it is in Spain. Every football supporter has a political agenda in supporting his team. If you are a Madridista and a Real fan, you are not merely a Castilian with local fealties, but you are a pro-Nationalist, a pro-Franco royalist. The moment I realized this was the case, my base shifted.

My goalposts were now in the Nou Camp, my affinities were with the then tormented Barca squad, suffering under the tutelage of Louis Van Gaal and under the thrall of the panjandrum Juan Gaspart. Even as the Real squad were accumulating Galacticos, and becoming further more capitalist, playing to the market, and when Florentino Perez's philosophy was reflecting cut-throat capitalist spirit, with the only rationality, being the formal rationality that Max Weber would have approved of, Barcelona did the obvious. It recruited Ronaldinho, suffering at individualist Paris St. Germain and dropped this exquisite fish in troubled Barca waters. Aided by Pit Bull and midfield clean up specialist, Edgar Davids, Ronaldinho did the unthinkable (at that time). He resuscitated Barca's fortunes, lighting up their stadium with not merely his goofy teethy smiles, but also his free flowing football matching his locks. He brought cheers back to the city that celebrates Johan Cryuff's era of total football as much as it symbolizes "total art". He ushered in the new era of Barca football, helped by Riijkaard's "five year planning" as a coach, helped by his upcoming Eisenstein in Lionel Messi, Barca's commissar, Xavi Hernandez and transformed the arty Barca squad into a winning machine.

Just last week, socialism triumphed over capitalism. Barcelona "arty team football" deservedly beat Chelsea "money bags". I was itching to sense the disappointment in Roman Abrahamovich's plastic face after the game. I did.

Viva Barca. I hope they clinch the Champions League this time, I hope Ronaldinho plays the samba at Stade de France, and make France proud of its socialists in town.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Great "Tick"tator-- Chaplin

Of the movies that I watched lately, "The Great dictator" left an indelible mark on my memory. Featuring the incomparable Charlie Chaplin, playing a double role, the movie is one of the fewest of Chaplin's which is not "silent".

The Great Dictator is "tightly" based on who else, but Adolf Hitler. Chaplin plays Hitler with a lot of verve, trying to get into the dictator's shoes and trying to own his misgivings, his fears, his megalomania and of course, the result is that, Chaplin succeeds! I wouldn't want to go on a review of this movie, you can find ample info from My endeavor would be to try to link up Chaplin's efforts in this movie with his political views.

I always thought that Joseph McCarthy was a loony who saw red everywhere, where he saw his hate. And thats why when I first read about Chaplin's boycott in the US, I thought he merely was one more of McCarthy's "red herrings" set for a "red" judicial hearing. But when I see Chaplin's movies, be it, "The Modern Times" or "The Great Dictator", I sense the reason why McCarthy saw red in Chaplin's motives.

Chaplin was after all making a statement. A statement against the Fordist mode of production in Capitalism in "The Modern Times". He makes a burlesque of fascism in the Great Dictator, and I am told (I am yet to see the movie), he waxes philosophic in "Monsieur Verdaux" too. Of course, how?

In most of the movies, Chaplin plays the Tramp, a happy go lucky bum who endears all with his antics, and who appears nameless throughout, even silent, full of gaucherie and clumsiness. He is after all, in my opinion, representing the proletariat, the working class of yesteryear, earning bread by the day and living the life of a unnamed, unpropertied individual.

Chaplin in "The Great Dictator" plays the same role as the Jewish Barber. He seems silly, yet he has a heart, he has no desires, except to enjoy the fruits of his work and the work of his dint, he in essence represents the common European man. Chaplin as Hynckel (Hitler) is the denouement of the vagaries of the capitalist establishment. His megalomania is fuelled by his un-stirred belief of his racial superiority. He is supported by the capitalists of his time, who see great scope for expanding profits through disciplined industry, expanded work force and zero liberties. Notice how Chaplin tries to transgress his racism by trying to get funds from a Jewish capitalist in this movie.

In Modern Times, Chaplin attacks the system of the Fordist Assembly Line mode of production and the alienation it begets onto the ordinary worker. He combines pathos and comedy in a nuantic mixture, which tastes comical but when chewed on longer, attracts the grey cell to think about the system.

In essence, Chaplin was not merely among the greatest movie stalwarts ever, but also one of the leading intellectuals of the movie world. In his movies, lay a criticism of capitalism, of course, deep within peals of laughter and mirth, but a steady critique indeed.

Hats off to the Tramp!