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.