Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The United Monsters of America

Many a friend of mine or otherwise have questioned my hatred of the US administration or its policies. Many a media magnate and their minions in India are beholden to the US and its policies. Just one bit of news is enough to make these unabashed aficianados of American imperialism atleast think again (if they have the ability): 

This . 

Draft resolution XX on the right to food, approved on 24 November by a recorded vote of 180 in favour to 1 against (United States), with no abstentions, would have the Assembly reaffirm that hunger constitutes an outrage and a violation of human dignity, requiring the adoption of urgent measures at the national, regional and international level, for its elimination.

Vote on Right to Food

The draft resolution on the right to food (document A/63/430/Add.2) was adopted by a recorded vote of 184 in favour to 1 against, with no abstentions, as follows:

In favour:  Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia (Federated States of), Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Against:  United States.

Abstain:  None.

Absent:  Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Seychelles, Uganda. 

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cash for Votes Sham

The cash for votes scam has turned into a cash for votes sham of an investigation.

The display of wads of cash by opposition members of Parliament (MPs) during the trust vote on 22 July was a shameful moment for India’s parliamentary democracy. The findings of an in-house committee, chaired by Congress MP Kishore Chandra Deo, set up to investigate the allegations of payment of bribes are so poorly constructed and the conclusions so perfunctorily drawn that the dishonour of Parliament remains intact.

The allegation of the MPs from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who produced the cash notes in the Lok Sabha, was that they were paid by emissaries of wheeler-dealers from the ruling coalition. Much of the bribe-giving business was caught on tape in a sting operation, televised, albeit belatedly (which is another issue for exploration), by the news channel CNN-IBN. The MPS alleged that the bribes were given by Rajya Sabha member Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party through intermediaries and that Ahmad Patel of the Congress was also involved. The parliamentary committee gave a clean chit to Amar Singh, and Ahmad Patel was also exonerated for want of evidence. The committee recommended investigation by “appropriate investigating agencies” of three (non-MP) individuals associated with the sting. The Lok Sabha Speaker, in turn, has referred the report to the Ministry of Home Affairs for action.

The prima facie conclusion that one can draw from the “sting video” carried out by a news channel on the allegations is that legislators and associated fellow-travellers belonging to the BJP were trying to set a trap for those willing to pay bribes – one of whom, a Sanjeev Saxena, is caught red-handed in the act. The committee saw it fit to recommend further investigation on the role of operators of the sting while showing little inclination to pursue those who were alleged to have used Saxena as the go-between – on the ground that the allegations on bribe payments could not be established.

That a technicality – a member of the Rajya Sabha cannot be summoned for questioning by a Lok Sabha committee – can excuse one of the prime accused, Amar Singh, from being interrogated by the panel points to the casual arguments used to build a case for eventual exoneration. Due diligence in examining the allegations through a study of phone records, investigation of the cash trail and perusal of other evidence has not been carried out. Surely a case can be made that the allegations of bribe-giving could have been better investigated through the aegis of an independent investigating agency, say, the Central Bureau of Investigation, rather than with the process followed and by the reasoning eventually offered by the parliamentary committee.

Two dissent notes were appended to the findings. Mohammad Salim representing the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Vijay Kumar Malhotra of the BJP pointed out the flaws in the proceedings and the partial nature of the process adopted by the committee. The reasoning that a committee of this nature was not empowered to launch a full investigation into the scandal then calls into question the very purpose of the constitution of this parliamentary committee.

The “cash for votes” scam is one of the many scandals that have shown Parliament in a very poor light. The working of this particular committee will only add to the growing cynicism over the parliamentary system. Graft, corruption, and abuse of public office are serious offences. That the parliamentary committee was so casual in its investigations and showed no serious interest in getting to the nub of the allegations and finding the real culprits brings out the level of nonchalance among those in positions of power towards issues such as corruption.

Only a truly independent investigation that covers all those allegedly involved in the scam/sting will assure a cynical public that Parliament will not brook such dishonour.

Editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly

Maoists attack Himal media

The Maoists in Nepal came to power by winning an outright (constituent assembly) election, defeating discredited parliamentary opponents and helping in the overthrow of the hated monarchy. They did this by graduating from a guerilla struggle and by debating their every move to enter into a multi-party democratic system. They opened up to the media, built international bridges with civil society and solidarity organisations in south Asia, who were equally enthralled about the removal of a feudal autocratic institution - the monarchy as much as the ordinary Nepali citizen.

There has indeed been a lot of goodwill for the Maoists and for the democratic community to build a fresh, egalitarian constitution. No one expected that process to be smooth as the contradictions between the polity was bound to be laid out to the fore and each of the parties were to undergo a certain transformation in the new political game. If the UML had to adjust to the presence of a larger left party which was slowly but surely hegemonising their constituency, the Nepali Congress had to accommodate sections of the erstwhile monarchist right among its already hotch-potch coalition of liberal, social democrats and feudal sections. The Maoists, on the other hand had some catching up to do in a new liberal polity, where it had to subordinate itself to the rules of the "competitive game". They had "suffered birth pangs", as was seen in the way there was a disconnect between an accommodative leadership which was keen on fostering a broad coalition of democracy, and an assertive and confrontational mass organisation such as the YCL which was intent on building and retaining the hegemonic space, not to mention the more difficult transformation from a guerilla outfit involved in a people's war to a democratic political party.

At times, this disconnect created a rift between the Maoists and other political parties - in particular, the UML. But for the sake of a longer vision of a constitutional republic, these were in a way sorted out. Even then, time and again, the illiberal character of the mass organisations of the Maoists (admittedly in a chaotic socio-political system) has raised heads. One such incident is the simply unacceptable attack of the Himal media premises in Kathmandu where journalists affiliated to the weekly Nepalitimes, the Himal Khabarpatrika and others in Himalmedia were attacked by people who were identified as Maoist members of their restaurant workers union and others related to YCL (again).

As a report by Prashant Jha who writes a weekly column with Nepalitimes and is a consulting editor with Himal Magazine points out, it is not the case that the magazines have covered the Maoists favourably or indeed they have been objective about reporting on issues that are dear to the Maoists. But that is not a "grievance" to be addressed in this manner - violent targetting of the media offices and their journalists. Or is any other greivance enough to justify or legitimise a violent attack. After all, the modus operandi reminds this Indian journalist about the fascist attack by Hindu right wing groups in India - the Shiv Sena attack on Outlook magazine or the NCP goons' attack on Marathi journalists.

Clearly the "birth pangs" for the democratic Maoist party in a liberal polity, have continued. And this is untenable. Hegemonising public space by violence and intimidation will only backfire as the international community will obviously react with disgust and so too would other members of the media fraternity in the fledgling constitutional republic.

This writer, who has been sympathetic and supportive of the Nepali Maoist project in Nepal to achieve an egalitarian, developed and constitutional republic of Nepal, free from exploitation and international meddling, unequivocally condemns the violent attacks on the press, orchestrated by elements affilated to the Maoists.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

EPW Commentaries on the Mumbai terror incidents

At a time, when jingoism is the ruling the roost both in the Indian intelligentsia and also predominantly in the rather obtuse television media, EPW offers a set of rational and sane commentaries on the aftermath of the terror attacks in Mumbai.

A Call for Sanity

A catastrophe awaits if the government takes military action against Pakistan.

The Dead of VT

For the 56 working poor who were mowed down by two murderers at VT station in Mumbai.

Manufacturing Confusion

It is clearly time for television news channels to turn the judgmental gaze inward.

Moment of Truth for Pakistan’s Elected Government
Haris Gazdar

To the disadvantage of the elected government in Pakistan, Mumbai has brought forward the moment of truth for the country’s tentative transition to democracy. We may not have long to wait to see which way the matter settles. India too has a role to play. A diplomatic, legal and institutional approach can help pin down the culprits, and may even help the transition in Pakistan.

Terror, Force and Diplomacy
Srinath Raghavan

“Limited war” or “surgical strikes” in retaliation for the Mumbai terror will be a senseless course of action, not the least because they will take India on the path of escalation and rather than achieve any of the desired ends, could have disastrous consequences in a nuclear neighbourhood. The struggle against terrorism requires us not only to keep our nerves but also to keep our heads. A far more productive approach would be bilateral, multilateral and United Nations-sanctioned diplomatic pressures on Pakistan to act on domestic terror groups. How the US and UK followed up on the Lockerbie bombing of 1988 and forced Libya to abandon state-sponsored terrorism is a relevant example. The options offered by UN Resolution 1373 constitute a related approach.

Governance Failures and the Anti-Political Fallout
Kalpana Sharma

The terror attacks in Mumbai that began on 26 November revealed a failure in governance on many fronts. The city has been victim to a string of disasters and crises in recent years, yet the emergency response was once again abysmal. A multiplicity of agencies was handing out information which was often incorrect. The people of Mumbai are very angry, but unlike in the past this anger shows little sign of being channelled into serious debate that will lead to constructive action. Instead the anti-political rhetoric that is being drummed up by the media will have a negative fallout and threatens to open the door for fascist tendencies.

Mumbai, Militarism and the Media
Sukumar Muralidharan

The media has encouraged talk that the Mumbai terror events of 26 November are India’s equivalent of the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States. There are indeed vital lessons to be learnt by India from the US experience with “9/11”, though not of the kind widely imagined. By stoking the anger of handpicked guests and unsubtly suggesting where the direct responsibility for the Mumbai outrage lies, the electronic news media, in particular, have seemingly predetermined whatever strategic choices may be available to India.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The BJP Worsted

There may have been no clear overall victor in the recent elections to five state assemblies, but there was certainly one clear loser, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP having worsted the Congress in a series of state elections over the past two years was confident that it had the latter on the mat, and saw the elections as a dress rehearsal for its return to power in New Delhi in the Lok Sabha polls that are to be held in the first half of 2009. Inflation and the year-long terror attacks across the country that culminated in the Mumbai horrors appeared to the BJP as the Congress having handed victory on a platter. In the end, the BJP has had to perforce turn humble. It won in only two states while the Congress came on top in three. (The results for a sixth state, Jammu and Kashmir, will be known on 28 December.) More important, the electorate has wisely not fallen for the BJP’s campaign that whipped up the issue of terrorist violence.

The BJP had been in power in three of these six states and it had comfortable majorities in the previous elections, while the Congress was seeking a third term in Delhi. The Congress was able to retain power in Delhi, triumphed in Mizoram and snatched victory in Rajasthan by coming ahead of an unpopular Vasundhara Raje-led BJP. The saffron party retained power comfortably in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The Congress won in Mizoram by defeating the Mizo National Front (MNF), which had been in office for 10 years. The MNF’s unpopularity stemmed from its poor handling of the food and famine situation (related to the flowering of bamboo) and the Congress was able to win a two-thirds majority by stressing widespread corruption and mal-governance in the state.

Polling in Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh was held after the terror attacks between 26 and 28 November in Mumbai. The BJP had made terrorism and security a major plank in the polls and had expected to gain leverage in at least Delhi and Rajasthan (states which had suffered terrorist violence over the past year). Yet, the success of the Congress in both these states revealed the failure of the BJP strategy, with the electorate possibly seeing this as a collective problem rather than one that could be put at the doorstep of the Congress.

The perception of Sheila Dikshit’s government in mostly metropolitan Delhi as focusing on development and good governance helped the Congress trump the BJP. In Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje’s government was seen to have been a failure, hopping from one controversy to another (the handling of the peasant movement for water in northern Rajasthan, the Gujjar agitation, widespread corruption and communalisation of governance). The Congress benefited from this strong antipathy towards the BJP government, which faced criticism from within the BJP as well for Vasundhara Raje’s disastrous leadership.

In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP had to force three changes over the past five years in the chief ministership of the government, after a revolt by Hindutva leader Uma Bharati, who then left the party to start her own Hindutva organisation. Intelligently shifting emphasis from Hindutva to development and giving the appearance of (if not actual) better governance, the low profile Shivraj Chauhan has taken the BJP to victory. Chief Minister Chauhan’s projection of an everyday and down to earth image helped the BJP resist anti-incumbency, even as Uma Bharati’s party tasted heavy defeat with its leader herself biting the dust in the assembly elections. The Congress, divided as is its wont and unable to offer a steady alternative, was not able to narrow the huge gap in the electoral vote in the previous elections.

In Chhattisgarh a populist Raman Singh-led BJP won again on the back of such measures as the subsidised rice scheme for the poor. That the Congress offered no better alternative on the other prominent issue – Maoism in the state – and that both the Congress and the BJP have supported the unpopular Salwa Judum exercise ensured that the opposition party could not supplant the BJP.

In many ways, the results of these elections put paid to the “anti-incumbency” theory, which has been the chant of commentators who are unable to explain the voting out of governments that are unpopular everywhere other than in the TV studios and the editorial pages of newspapers. Development and grass roots work have helped ruling parties overcome the opposition, particularly when the other side is divided, does not offer a credible alternative, is plainly communal or is opportunistic. However, voting behaviour and outcomes are far too complex to be explained even in terms of “good governance”.As the result in Madhya Pradesh shows, even an intelligent packaging of a government that seems to care can swing voters away from the opposition, even if there is no true improvement in people’s welfare. A better understanding is needed of how local, regional and national factors affect election outcomes at all levels.

The Congress and the United Progressive Alliance need not now suddenly turn over-optimistic of their chances in their 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Exactly five years ago, in the same states, the Congress was routed everywhere other than in Delhi. That emboldened the National Democratic Alliance to launch its “India Shining” campaign and call elections a few months earlier than scheduled. The assembly election results of 2003 were no harbinger of the Lok Sabha elections of 2004.

Editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Attack on "Everyday India"

This is a draft I wrote for EPW on the terror attack at VT (CST), Mumbai.

Attack on "everyday India"

The tragic deaths of victims of the terror attack at Mumbai's busiest railway station gets scarce coverage by an elite-driven media.

The senseless and horrific carnage at the Chattrapati Sivaji Terminus (CST) on November 26th , which killed 56 people (and counting) and injured scores of others, preceded the 62 hour siege of the Taj, Oberoi and Nariman House in the terrorist attack saga in Mumbai. Even as visuals in the mass media were focussed at the dramatic siege and military action in the hotels, many attacked at the iconic CST were dying of bullet wounds in hospitals, joining the ranks of others who died instantly at the location.

CST is an iconic structure that serves as a major landmark and junction for the arterial local (central) railway system in the city. CST is also the station where most people entering or leaving Mumbai disembark/embark. The first blast of bullets from the terrorists' guns - AK-47s, were fired at hapless passengers waiting to embark onto many of the long distance trains leaving Mumbai such as the Mahanagari Express leaving at midnight, the Siddheshwar Express at 2220 and the Husainsagar Express at 2150. Following this was indiscriminate firing at waiting passengers, railway workers, poorly equipped security guards, ticket counters and shops in the station.Grenades were also lobbed at the structures in the station. A bomb was also set up, but which failed to go off and was defused by the police a week after it was kept in the station.

The time of attack, peak travel hours for the citizenry of Mumbai, was chosen to inflict maximum damage. The targets were picked to massacre the people of “everyday India”- office goers, workers, day-labourers, traders, migrants, shopkeepers and all of whom who have made Mumbai the cosmopolitan hub that it is today. Among the many victims were the Walliullah family from Nawada in Bihar, who lost six of their members and computer engineer Upendra Yadav who is survived by injured wife Sunita and infant daughter Sheetal, still being treated for greivous wounds. Shivshankar Gupta, a hawker, four members of taxi driver Zahur Ansari's family, the yet to be identified people who succumbed to wounds in St.George's hospital, Janardhan's (of Jharkhand) two children, Ajaz Dalal's uncle, home guard Mukesh Jadhav, were also victims of the horror. Utensils seller Bharat Naodiya who ensured that his children, Viraj and Anjali were safe, even after he was shot and was bleeding profusely and who lost his wife Poonam, and many others; all of them were gunned down by bullets which were fired at them randomly, but deliberately. They joined the scores of other randomly targetted victims of bomb blasts which blew up trains and buses in Mumbai in the past in 2003 and 2006, for the simple fault that they were going about their daily lives.

The investigators of the terror attacks, the security and ruling establishments have claimed with certainty that the attackers were Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) trained terrorists. The LeT claims itself to be a jihadi organisation that endeavours to establishing Islamic rule over south Asia and for whom therefore the secular Indian state is a professed enemy. That its intended targets included many who professed their beliefs in Islam (atleast 22 of the 56 people confirmed dead in CST were Muslims) points out to the farcical fanaticism of the radical jihadi groups claiming to act in the name of religion. The terrorists who attacked CST went on to inflict more horror and deaths at the Cama hospital and nearby the Metro cinema, killing more defenseless and innocent people in the process.

The world was outraged at the acts of terror, but seemingly the focus was kept on the more spectacular attacks in the luxury hotels and the siege on Nariman House, where a hapless Jewish family was murdered. The victims at the CST were more or less afterthoughts - surely this is because the media (particularly the hysterical television media) were more concerned for the elite than the everyday Indian. The prominent coverage of the attacks and the victims at CST was reduced to flashing the images of terrorists - later "revealed" to be Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab (the lone terrorist in custody) and Abu Dera Ismael Khan, captured by circuit television camera installed at the station. Indeed, the lack of adequate coverage of the travails of those affected by the attacks at CST, points out to the indifference to the ordinary Indian for the mass media today, a stigma that has been much commented upon already.

The incidents slowly coming to light from the CST saga are heart-rending - brave policemen battling with inadequate weaponry, the presence of mind of the railway announcer Vishnu Zende and constable Jullu Yadav who prevented the deaths of even more people by warning them to stay inside the trains and not to alight when the station was being attacked and people acting as shields to save their kin and dying in the process. There could have been even more deaths - precisely what the terrorists wanted, but lives were saved and who would go on to tell more about the tragic incidents at "everyday Mumbai's hub". They may have been ordinary people who never caught the eye of the flash-bulbs or subjected to thrust microphones, but they were witness to probably the worst terrorist attack in India's cultural melting pot - Mumbai.

The terrorist attacks at the CST, the Taj, the Oberoi-Trident, Nariman House were following up a sequence of such attacks and bombings that has maimed the citizenry of Mumbai for the past few years. All of them were aimed at tearing up the communal fabric in the country. That those who died themselves belonged to various communities and identities, points out to the tragedy and farce of identity and communal politics, which are the basis and wellspring of terror committed in the name of identity.

A much modified but more poignant version of this was published as an EPW editorial here .

Friday, December 05, 2008

Some sane and rational voices from Pakistan

even if I dont' fully endorse what is being said in these articles; there is a lot of sense being made in these voices from Pakistan:

The above is a video featuring Prof. Tariq Amin Khan in The Real News Network.

And here is an article by Haris Gazdar in The Hindu.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Obama and his "changed" imperialist team..

I am leaving it to Pepe Escobar to say it best:

"There is not a single certified anti-war personality in the Obama's natural security dream team"

"Exit the megalomaniac neocon dream and enter the hawkish pragmatists! Take your pick - Empire Classic or Empire Lite"