Monday, October 27, 2008

Into Deep Space

India’s moon probe has fascinating possibilities in scientific research, but will it stop there?

Image courtesy

With the launch of the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft from the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has taken a vertical leap into “deep space” exploration, after decades of a focus on launching communication, weather, remote sensing and observatory satellites.

The Chandrayaan-1 mission has been launched to probe the moon, photograph its surface in all its dimensions, and identify chemical and mineral compositions on its body. Sixty-seven lunar missions have been undertaken already by other nations (particularly the United States and the former Soviet Union), but the moon still contains enough mysteries for the Chandrayaan mission to unravel, and is fitted with 11 instruments (five from India and six from other nations) for this purpose.

After the launch from Sriharikota, Chandrayaan-1 is now subject to constant tracking by scientists to propel the mission into the moon’s orbit and seamlessly enable its probing devices, a formidable task considering the distances that the satellite is supposed to travel away from the earth. Guiding the satellite into “deep space” (nominally defined as the distance between the moon and the earth – around 400,000 kilometres) is the most challenging aspect of the mission. An indigenously built antenna device and communications system termed the Indian Deep Space Network and part of the ISRO Telemetry Tracking and Command has been set up for the purpose. If the tracking and guiding operations succeed, Chandrayaan-1 would then break fresh ground in ISRO’s history.

From an orbital distance of 100 km from the lunar surface, the payload equipment on Chandrayaan-1 will investigate the mineral and chemical composition of the moon and map its surface. The probes will also identify if there is water on the lunar surface and the study of the topography is expected to provide clues about the origin and evolution of the moon. Besides the instruments attached to the mission for probe purposes, an impactor device (the moon probe) that has been built into Chandrayaan-1 will detach itself from the satellite and land on the lunar surface.

Chandrayaan-1 is therefore primarily a “good science” venture that aims to comprehensively add to the already large number of lunar studies that have been done by earlier missions to the moon. It has also been effected at a price – Rs 386 crore – that compares very well with the ventures by other nations.

Additionally, it is claimed the moon probe will also investigate the presence of Helium-3, the chemical element that is speculated will be a fuel for future nuclear fusion reactors (nuclear fusion energy generation – as against nuclear fission – is today commercially unviable). That resources on the moon – which belong to global humanity – are to be mapped as a part of a potentially “lunar land-grab” project is a negative idea, if that indeed is one of the reasons for the mission.

The government has already cleared Chandrayaan-2, a joint lunar venture between India and Russia that would land a landrover on the moon, apart from launching an orbiting spacecraft as well. The enthusiasm about India achieving a deep space mission has encouraged some strategists and commentators to talk of using the learning experience to fuel intercontinental ballistic missile programmes. This is where the positive value of such research endeavours ends. Obsessions about using ISRO’s expertise for long range missile programmes will only lead to expenditure on ventures (such as sending manned missions to the moon that serve no purpose other than to “enhance national pride”) that do not fulfil any useful objectives.

Editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Second class Lehmann Brothers

This is an interesting incident that I felt compelled to recount.

My employer, EPW's deputy editor, Bernard D'Mello, takes the local train daily to commute back home after work from our office in Lower Parel. He is a long time "Mumbaikar" and an economist who editorialises regularly on issues related to economics, political economy and international affairs. He uses the second class compartment for his travel everyday, by the way.

Just a few days ago, Bernard was reading The Economist on his way back home, when a few young college students got into the compartment. It seems that they found it a bit odd that a man who looked so "gentlemanly" and someone who was reading "The Economist" was travelling in a "second class" compartment. One of them quipped to the others, that Bernard must be a Lehmann Brothers' employee who must have fallen into bad days thus having to travel "second class"!

When Bernard told us about it, I couldnt' resist a long laugh :)

Bernard's editorial on the financial crisis can be found here .

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Humanitarian Crisis in Sri Lanka’s “Final battle”

The Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers may be waging their final battle but the suffering of the civilians worsens.

The Sri Lankan government's two-year long strategy of a “military solution” has led it to a situation where it has more or less cornered the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Wanni region in the northern part of the country. But the tactics of an “all out” military operation and the LTTE’s own strategy of using the population of Wanni as cover has resulted in a terrible humanitarian situation for the Tamils in the region, a human crisis that the rest of the world, let along neighbouring India, cannot ignore.

The people of Wanni, caught in the vortex of this “final battle”, have been forced into moving from one war-affected zone to another, even as the Sri Lankan government has turned out aid agencies from the area. At the same time, the LTTE’s desperate tactics has resulted in numerous civilian deaths and the internal displacement of more than 200,000 people according to United Nations agencies. The Sri Lankan government's defence is that the situation is unavoidable and that the Tamil people have no option but to suffer until the LTTE is defeated. Yet, this “military” argument ignores the fact that the Sri Lankan government has been showing no great concern for the hundreds and thousands now on the verge of starvation. Earlier this week UN convoys of food had to turn back because neither side was willing to temporarily end the fighting to allow relief to reach civilians.

It is against this background that the near-entire polity of Tamil Nadu has pressed the government of India to take a strong stance against the government of Sri Lanka's military operations in the Wanni. The threat of the members of Tamil Nadu to resign from Parliament should not be interpreted as merely a chauvinist response to the fact that the LTTE is on the verge of a military defeat. The LTTE has been isolated internationally for its many acts of indiscriminate violence and its failure to be serious about a peaceful settlement, but the Sri Lankan government for its own part has shown its chauvinist face in the events following the end of a lame-duck ceasefire two years ago. For all its rhetoric of building an inclusive Sri Lanka after defeating the LTTE, the Lankan government today hardly pays even lip service to the idea of a multi-ethnic society. The ruling political class openly talks of a “Sinhala” country and the military, given a free hand by the government, has been making unacceptable political statements about the minorities having no right to an equal status. The government, in a mood of triumphalism, has shown an increasingly intolerant face: it has prevented media access to the war-affected areas, sent humanitarian agencies out of the Wanni and rejected all international criticism of military excesses.

Ever since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, with the repeated incidents of violence perpetrated by the LTTE and its rejection of a democratic solution to the ethnic crisis, support for this self-styled Tamil representative organisation has waned among political party actors in Tamil Nadu, but for some fringe elements. India's foreign policy toward Sri Lanka, after the disastrous Indian Peace Keeping Force effort, has also been one of non-intervention, something that has been gradually accepted by the mainstream sections of the Tamil Nadu polity as well. Yet it is not surprising that the Tamil Nadu polity has felt a need to express its strong anger against the Sri Lankan action in the Wanni. The current humanitarian crisis in the north of Sri Lanka could well worsen. That would mean a spurt of refugees to India and an even greater expression in Tamil Nadu about the need for the Indian government to intervene, a course of action that is fraught with great danger.

This suggests that the Indian government must, along with other international actors, compel the Sri Lankan government that steps have to be taken to address the humanitarian concerns of the people of Wanni. The silence of India and the rest of the world so far has been interpreted by the Sri Lankan government that it can implement its military solution without any fear of international reprimand and condemnation. There must be a commitment by the Lankan government to enter into a ceasefire with the LTTE which would allow humanitarian aid agencies to provide relief to the beleaguered. The greatest hitch to such a course of action would remain the LTTE's determination to keep the battlefront in the heart of the areas inhabited by civilians. But a besieged LTTE can be pressured by the international community and the global Tamil diaspora to think first of the survival of the hundreds of thousands of Tamils that it claims to represent.

The Sri Lankan government is wrong to assume that the defeat of the LTTE will end the “ethnic problem” as it sees it. The war weary people in the many Tamil speaking areas of the nation may passively accept a final confrontation between the government and the LTTE, but that does not translate into an acceptance of Sri Lanka as primarily a “Sinhala nation”, as the army commander recently claimed. It has been clear for longer than the 25-year-long civil war that a permanent solution can only be one that provides genuine devolution of federal power in an inclusive manner to the Tamils and other ethnic minorities. If this as not happened so far the blame lies as much on the Sri Lankan government and its Sinhala chauvinist supporters as on the intransigence of the LTTE.

Upcoming editorial for Economic and Political Weekly

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Violence in Bodoland

Unresolved ethnic tensions continue to plague the state of Assam.

Map of Bodoland

For a state that has been mired in recurring forms of violent ethnic conflict, the recent set of incidents in Udalguri and Darrang districts of Assam which resulted in widespread arson and the deaths of 40 people do not come as a surprise.These districts, apart from two other, are part of the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) administered by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). The BTAD consists of a majority of tribal people (most of whom belong to the ethnic Bodo community) and was created after protracted struggles and negotiations between Bodo groups and the Indian state.

The recent violent clashes in Udalguri and Darrang have pitted the Bodo-speaking scheduled tribe (ST) community against the Muslims, who have been perceived as “illegal migrants from Bangladesh”, even though many of them are settled migrants born in this region after 1947. Although the brutality was said to be triggered by a case of cattle theft, the root cause of the recurring violence in this region of Assam cannot be grasped unless the problems that the carving of an autonomous district for the Bodos created for the others residing in the BTAD are acknowledged.

The trouble lies in the fact that the ethnic mix of the people living in the area makes it impossible for the Bodo groups to declare the autonomous district an exclusive “Bodo zone”. The population of the Bodo STs in the district accounts for just more than half, but the non-tribal population is substantial. The tribal Bodo speakers have distanced themselves from the others, who have always been perceived as “outsiders”, a feeling accentuated by the allegation that Congress governments at the state and the union levels have “opportunistically allowed large-scale illegal migration of Bangladeshi Muslims into Assam” in order to build a “captive vote bank”. The situation has led to simmering communal tension, creating deeply adversarial relations, eventually resulting in incidents of violence. In the BTAD there has been a campaign by the Bodos to “save” their “exclusive” areas from the “illegal migrants”. Of course, the illegal migrants issue has not yet been tackled effectively by any of the political stakeholders in the state and it is no wonder that this issue afflicts the BTAD as well.

The granting of the BTC-administered BTAD was effected after amending the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to make such a concession for “plains-dwellers” as well. This move had gradually integrated the various Bodo groups into the political mainstream of the state. The lone dissenting voice, the militant National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) had also agreed to a ceasefire with the state government and has signalled that it is ready to work within the framework of the Indian Constitution. Yet, rivalry among the various Bodo groups for primacy has also been a factor in the incidents during the course of the violence. Reports emanate that the NDFB has a role to play in the acts of violence and one-upmanship involving their members and other Bodo legislators, even though the NDFB has denied a hand in the violence.

The failure of the political stakeholders in articulating an inclusive agenda, which stems from their utter insensitivity to the multicultural differences among various ethnic populations in the state is to be blamed for the recurring incidents of violence that have sprouted time and again. The formation of the BtC with exclusive autonomous rights for the Bodos along with provisions of sharing of political power with non-tribal groups was supposed to promote cultural assimilation. Yet, the lack of an agenda of inclusion, an exacerbation of ethnic divisions, the utter failure of the established political leadership, combined with the campaign to “save” the Bodos from the “illegal migrants” have continued to hamper normality in the BtaD and other parts of Assam as well.

Editorial written for Economic and Political Weekly

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Obama: President? Not yet.

Only about four weeks are left for the presidential elections in the United States and from all indications, it looks like Barack Obama, the African-American senator from Illinois state is going to win the battle. The financial crisis that has afflicted capital, credit and property markets in the United States (and consequently in the rest of the world) is what that has tilted the balance of public opinion toward Obama. The Republican nominee John McCain seems to have been identified (and rightly so) with the eight year disastrous rule of George W. Bush, and this has pushed him more than 5 points behind Obama in many an opinion poll on the presidential elections. But no way is the battle over and no where is victory assured for Obama. This article explores the issues that are contributing to an Obama surge and those that could still derail his candidature.
Cartoon courtesy John Deering's Editorial Cartoons

The operation of subterranean racial feelings among many Americans is feared to be one of the reasons that could work against Obama, despite the resonance of his message with most Americans, who are slowly feeling the brunt of the extended financial crisis that has afflicted their economy. What is termed, the "Bradley effect" (wherein potential voters suggest that they prefer the African-American candidate in question, but eventually end up voting against her/him due to the racial factor), could undercut the possibility of a strong win for Obama. Or as has happened recently in executive elections in the US, substantial populations belonging to the impoverished African American background could just be dis-enfranchised for one reason or the other, a factor that could hinder Obama again.

Yet, what is going for Obama now is the fact that his message has such a resonance that is in particular drawing immense support from the younger sections of America. These sections having been brought up on race transcending cultural influences of sport and music have rejected the argument of race in large numbers even as Obama has tapped their support by relying on a fantastic campaign built solidly on new technology (the internet and mobile telephony), catchy and youthful phrasing of political messages and a reliance on viral networking and volunteering). This surge in the role of the young in American politics could offset the traditional emphasis on race that runs subliminally in America still.

The bad tanking of the American economy, an offshoot of irresponsible de-regulation and the failure of the neoliberal model has helped shore up the Obama message of change. Obama has not offered any radical alternative to the current system ( in contrast to a more progressive and steady message emphasised by long shot independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader), but simply the call for oversight and regulation of the financial hubs of American capitalism, plus a departure from the overly market reliant policies of the Republican administration in various sectors such as health and education, has been enough for Obama to steal a march over his Republican opponent, McCain. More and more Americans, worried about their savings and investments (in the case of the middle classes and the small entrepreneurs), about their jobs (in the case of the working classes) are rallying behind Obama and his message.

The McCain campaign's early response was to draw a line between its candidate 's experience as an American war hero, a patriotic senator who has served in the senate for years particularly as an expert on national security and foreign affairs and Obama's inexperience. Trying to emphasise Obama's relative inexperience as a US senator and therefore calling into question his ability to show leadership on issues such as foreign policy, was the first tactic by the McCain in its discredit Obama campaign. But Obama has largely held intact while facing these criticisms and has even enhanced his standing among voters over the issue of foreign policy by two ways.

One, he has played pretty much to the gallery on the issue of foreign policy. He realises that unrestrained nationalism is still the paramount impulse on various international matters in mainstream opinion in the US and he has never tried to articulate a progressive alternative to it. Be it his position on the Russian-Georgian affair, or the so called, "war on terror" or even the American strategy in west Asia and Latin America, Obama has kept his positions well and truly within the permits of mainstream American nationalism, no matter how dangerous to the world these stances are, from a progressive viewpoint. This is exemplified by his choice of the liberal imperialist Joe Biden as vice presidential nominee. Yet, this positioning of Barack Obama still draws a contrast to the recklessness of neoconservatism, something that drove the presidency of George Bush and is retained by the ultimate war-monger John McCain,. That public opinion on the US invasion of Iraq is negative and that Obama from day one of his executive political career has opposed the war, has helped him.

Secondly, the Obama march has been helped by a reckless mistake made by McCain: the choice of his running mate, Sarah Palin. Palin, the governor of Alaska was clearly chosen to please the social conservative base of the Republican party. With some really regressive views on a host of social and political issues such as the separation of the church and state, the issue of abortion, and even global warming, Palin plays right into the huge gallery of social conservatism and communal religious sections that abound America's rural areas and small towns and are staunch Republican supporters. Even as the conservative base has been revved up by the Palin choice, the sheer stupidity exhibited by the governor in issues such as foreign policy and international issues has come to become a severe undoing of the McCain message of experience in the same areas. Sarah Palin, among several gaffes, touted her foreign policy experience owing to the fact that she governed a state that bordered Russia and thats that! Her views on international diplomacy are as good as non-existent and she prides on being a reckless warmonger - witness her responses to questions on the Russian-Georgian affair or about the volatile situation in west Asia involving Israel and Iran.

Hence, on domestic and international issues cumulatively, Obama has managed to convince voters that he is a better choice than his rival. This has helped him make a dent in states that are traditional Republican voting hubs, such as North Carolina, Indiana, Virginia and others. Despite such good tidings for the Democrats, the overall expectation of an Obama victory is cautious. Why is this so?

The McCain campaign in its attempt to deflect the attention of Americans from issues such as the state of the economy and the disastrous state of his ticket has now relied upon the tried and tested weapon, that is sure to yield some kind of dividend: slander. Trying to "turn a page" over the economic issues (as a McCain aide put it discussing campaign strategy with the media), the McCain campaign is now using Sarah Palin as a weapon to fire in bullet after bullet about Obama's links with "terrorists" and "America-haters". The reference is to a former radical William Ayers who was part of an organisation named the "Weathermen" which placed bombs targetting public institutions (a la Bhagat Singh) to bring notice to opposition to the ruthless Vietnam War 40 years ago. Since then, after incarceration, Ayers built up his recent reputation as an expert on child education and by engaging in community service in the city of Chicago. The prominence of Ayers as a Chicago progressive and his links with community organisers in the city got him acquainted with Obama and this "association" is what that has brought into question by the Republican ticket, which has gone on to denounce Obama's "domestic terrorist links" and consequently his judgment. Obama has pointedly denounced Ayers' past and his methods and to call him an associate of Ayers when Obama was 8 years old during Ayers' days as a radical is surely a ridiculous argument, which has still been sustained by the Republican attack machine.

While this denouncing and slander of Obama has yet to gain a lot of traction in terms of shift of support (opinion polls still point to a stable Obama lead), the Republican attack machine ( so termed for the precedents such as the "Swiftboat attack" on John Kerry, the previous Democratic presidential candidate) has now used this as their primary ammunition in their war against Barack Obama's nomination. This attack could well enmesh itself into the subliminal territory of racial fear of the "African American", who is still not an atypical American for some who still harbour feelings for the other on the basis of skin colour in the country. This could well turn out to be a substantial roadblock in Obama's road to the presidency, or atleast so hope the Republican ticket. This roadblock therefore prevents any dispassionate (or otherwise) follower of American politics from making a prediction that "President Barack Obama" would be inaugurated on January 20th, 2009, presiding over a new United States of America.

Article published in The Post, Lahore

Monday, October 06, 2008

Crisis in Bolivia

Eva Morales uses democratic and diplomatic means to tackle right-wing opposition.

The domestic and international reaction to the Left parties that are in office in a number of countries in South America – most notably in Bolivia and Venezuela – has tended to utilise violent, non-democratic and even means of sabotage to destabilise the regimes. The ongoing developments in Bolivia are the most notable examples of the tactics of the opposition.

Bolivia is home to one of the most concentrated landownership patterns, particularly in the east, where a handful of big estate owners control large tracts of land. It is also home to vast reserves of natural gas and oil. In response to moves by the government headed by the socialist Eva Morales for a more equitable distribution of resources, the recent months have seen multiple attempts by a variety of right-wing, conservative and propertied forces to destabilise the country, allegedly aided and abetted by the United States (which needless to state has always gone out of its way to undermine elected Left governments in South America).

Eva Morales, the leader of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), is the first person of indigenous origin to be elected president of the country. Since coming to power in 2005, his government has tried to address the various inequalities in the vastly poor and land-locked country through land reforms, redistribution of returns from oil and natural gas production, and by enacting a new egalitarian constitution. The draft constitution, prepared after Morales came to power, envisages redistribution of wealth garnered from the extraction of natural resources to poorer provinces in the west and for use in funding welfare programmes that will benefit the poor, most of whom belong to long suppressed indigenous communities living on poor wages and by subsistence farming.

Predictably, these moves have received stiff resistance from the conservative elites in the country, particularly those governing the energy-rich and mestizo (people of mixed, European and indigenous, ancestry) dominated provinces in the east, such as Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija. To pre-empt these moves, the governors of the eastern provinces organised referendums on autonomy, which were deemed separatist and illegal by the central authority. In response to these referendums, Morales announced a national recall referendum for himself and vice president Alvaro Garcia, a risky move but one that paid off for Morales as he won 67 per cent of the vote, much higher than the percentage garnered in the elections in 2005.

Morales, following his victory, has tried to back a new political constitution set to be put to vote next year through another national referendum. This draft constitution includes concessions on autonomy as demanded by the provincial governors, who have formed a right-wing umbrella organisation, the National Democratic Council (Conalde), in opposition to Morales’ MAS. Yet, the response by Conalde since the recall referendum has been to take absolute control of these provinces by the use of force in capturing central government-run institutions, particularly the land reform offices and gas companies.

The crisis in September was precipitated when Morales alleged that the US was playing the role of an agent provocateur and charged the US ambassador of conspiring with the rebel governors. Relations between the US and the Morales-led government have never been very cordial, with the former using its policy of “War against Drugs” to undercut its relations with the Bolivian government. Morales has steadfastly opposed any moves to ban coca farming, as this is used for medicinal and herbal treatment purposes in the country.

When the crisis grew and violent incidents in the provinces began taking place, the US ambassador to Bolivia was expelled, triggering a reciprocal response by Washington. The role of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in funding initiatives by these provincial governors in the near past has also been called into question. This is not surprising, as the US has a history of meddling and intervening in South American countries going back to the Salvador Allende era in Chile, a trend that has been infused with new vigour after the shift to the left in many countries in the continent.

The Morales government has reacted with restraint to the violent tactics of the conservative opposition. It has garnered support in many countries in South America, which have rallied to the side of the Bolivian government and have denounced any moves that would be detrimental to the unity of the country. Resisting pressure from many quarters to stop being “pacifist” in dealing with the violent opposition groups, the Morales government has held on to this path despite provocations such as the massacre of MAS supporters in the Pando province. Morales’ patient and steady response has yielded a few dividends as the army – whose leadership is dominated by conservatives – has now come out on the side of the central government placing the opposition on the defensive.

The Bolivian story shows once again that the right-wing opposition in the continent will use any tactic to defeat radical reform, even of the social democratic variety. In this case, the conservatives in the rich provinces of the east have exploited the issue of regional autonomy to undermine the programmes to address centuries of economic exploitation and inequity in Bolivia. The constant mobilisation of the people through democratic means and building solidarity with international players must continue for the reform process to succeed. In this regard, the Morales government is on the right track.

Editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Indian Maoists and their dangerous praxis

The Indian media has now reported what was common knowledge in Kandhamal: that the murder of Laxmanananda Saraswati, the VHP activist which resulted in further reprisals and attacks on Christian tribals by the VHP and its associated organisation, was committed by none other than the Maoists.

The Maoists are establishing a presence in Orissa, home to yet another of the poorest regions in the country, neglected by the state and where social institutions are monopolised by religious groups, competing against each in trying to instituting hegemony among the tribal poor. That explains the fact that the work by Christian groups who have set up schools and health institutions have been tried to be emulated by Hindu "evangelical" (if I can use the term) groups led by the VHP. It was a conscious effort by the Sangh Parivar to send in people like Lakshmanananda Saraswati in the late 1960s to this region to counter the hegemonic influence of the Christian missionary groups.

Years of competitive communalism have resulted in a dangerous polarisation in Kandhamal accentuated further by the dimension of a clash of castes between the predominantly Hindu kandhas and the predominantly Christians panas.

All this is brought about in an article in the EPW written by Prof. Pralay Kanungo, whose PhD dissertation was on the influence of the RSS and the Sangh Parivar in Orissa. I would only be belabouring the argument if I had to build upon this article. I would therefore want to focus on an aspect that Kanungo has not covered in the article: i.e. the role of the Maoists in the Laxmanananda affair.

As mentioned earlier, the Maoists are building a solid base in Orissa. Just before the murder of the VHP activist, there was the incident in Malkangiri where members of the commando squad, Greyhounds were targetted in a daring attack on the Malkangiri reservoir. A friend of mine, who was just a few months ago with the IPS told me how this was unprecedented involving as it had, Greyhound commandos who are noted for their "higher" professional rigour in policing, planning and anti-insurgency operations. There must have been a serious intelligence problem that resulted in this situation, he said.

Getting back to the point, the Maoists are also very active in the Koraput region adjoining Kandhamal (Phulbani) in the south. The killing of Laxmanananda and the intervention of the Maoists in the communally sensitive region (which was already under tremendous riot stress since last year) is only a means for the CPI(Maoist) to extend its influence in this region.

What is questionable is not whether the Maoists want to establish their presence. They have tried to work their praxis in regions where the Indian state has been a total failure in many senses and have tapped the dis-affection so rising in these regions. That has helped to retain an influence in such parts by mobilising the poor, mostly the tribals and the landless.

What is questionable is whether the praxis that the Maoists have engaged in, in order to establish/ retain their influence in those regions, is correct or reasonable. In the Kandhamal case, the reason offered by the Maoists for murdering Laxmanananda are omissions/ commissions and sins of terrorising the Christian populations in the course of the conversion-reconversion issue. But has murdering Laxmanananda enfeebled the communal atmosphere in the region or has it helped those poor Christian tribals under the brunt of the RSS/VHP communal offensives?

The answer is a simple no. What the Maoist act of violence has brought upon is merely more misery on the very same Christian tribal population for whose "cause", the Maoists had acted upon. Many a Christian institution has been razed to the ground, many a tribal has been affected due to the riots-a fallout of the murder while the State (the BJD-BJP government) has just played a silent spectator to the whole mess.

Far from bringing any change in riotous atmosphere or empowering the poor from getting out of the spiral processes of violence and hatred-generation, the murder has only heightened and accentuated such processes, making everyone, Christian, Hindu or anyone else an easy target for the "other".

Therein lies the problem with the Maoists' praxis in this country. Armed struggle and all that in an un-responsive and irresponsible state get easily justified by the Maoists who point out to the failure of the state. But their praxis only exacerbates the situation and forces the very same person whom the Maoists claim to represent, to be caught into a vortex of even great misery and violence.

Surely, the democratic route of mobilising the poor and making them get out of the rut that they are forced into because of the presence of the communal institutions cannot be ruled out altogether, as the Maoists have so recklessly done.

As for the state, it is even more imperative that some capture of the "welfare hegemony" by its secular apparatus is to be done in order to normalise the communally sensitive region where the civil society is itself hegemonised by the communal groups. Under the BJD-BJP alliance led government however, that seems to be an impossibility. As for the Congress, they are only too keen to play the same game as their counterparts in power in Orissa- this time serving the interests of the petty bourgeoisie and the elite of the Pana community in the region. There is no hope for Orissa if such a bipolar political system involving the BJP-BJD versus the Congress persists; not to mention the reckless violent praxis of the Maoists.

This is an "un-published" blog post.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

EPW on JStor

The Economic & Political Weekly is now on Jstor. For those who have access to the online repository of journals- Jstor, you now have access to 36 years of EPW from 1966 to 2002 stored here.


The dark Bailout

The funny thing about the American politicians, particularly the Republicans is the way they try to dumb down themselves to prove that they are good enough to be the highest representatives of their fellow countrymen ..i.e. by making themselves "familiar" with their constituents. How else could one explain the choice of this obvious moron, Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential candidate? eh? I mean.. ' I deserve to be VP, because I have foreign policy credentials...'.. Explain... "U see.. Alaska is close to Russia and I govern Alaska"... wow! Tina Fey gave a nice nice "no spin zone" to it. Or how the Yale/Ivy/Skulls & Bones/ Mgmt graduate George Bush could try to pose himself as the "guy whom most Americans would want to have beer with" and put on the dunce cap more often than not.

On second thoughts, I realise that this is pretty much true with other countries, including mine as well. After all, isn't my own president, Pratibha Patil the same lady who used to communicate with dead souls? Still, Palin beats everyone when it comes to nincompoopishness (as many pals of mine know..thats my favourite cuss word).

Still.. I hope there is some redemption or atleast a bailout of the Americans (and the world too!) from the disastrous presidency of the neocons and the socio-cons and the moron-cons. And who would bail them out? Barack-"senator mcCain is right"- Obama? Or is it this guy:

LOL :)