Thursday, December 31, 2009

Questioning Linguistic States

A half century after the reorganisation of India on linguistic lines, the order is being questioned.

An EPW editorial on the demands for state reorganisation.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Afghanistan: Beyond the ‘Surge’ Strategy

A regional diplomatic option could have promised more for Afghanistan than the military approach of the US.

Editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Tragedy Lingers

An insensitive state follows an insensitive multinational in denying justice and succours to the victims of Bhopal

Editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly

Monday, December 07, 2009

Honduras, Afghanistan and the Obama compromise


"Apparently, the US strategy from the beginning, was to play along with the coup plotters' strategy in a case of running with the "we are against the coup" hare and hunting with the "don't let Honduras turn left" hound."

Extract from a short article on the (Barack) Obama administration's role in Honduras and Afghanistan.

Monday, November 30, 2009

17 Years Since 6 December 1992

There never will be a closure to the black event that was the Babri Masjid demolition

It has taken 17 years for the Justice MS Liberhan commission set up to investigate the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992, to arrive at what has been known from the time the mosque was brought down.

The Liberhan Commission report searingly indicts the Sangh Parivar as the primary culprit for the demolition. It also names the "pseudo-moderate" (the Commission’s words) leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at that time as the secondary culprit and officials of the state machinery and administration as tertiary participants in the horrendous act that stripped altogether India’s claim to be a secular society.

The Liberhan Commission’s report focuses on the ideology, worldview, organising power of the forces of the Sangh Parivar, and the manner in which it single-mindedly attempted to create a frenzy among the masses for the demolition. It details as to how "the inner core of the Parivar" - the leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, the BJP and the Shiv Sena bear "primary responsibility" for the crime. It also points out how the BJP leadership, comprising Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K.Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, were privy to the decisions of the Sangh Parivar on the demolition, but protested innocence in order to project a "moderate" image because they had been tasked to shed the "best possible light" on the plan of the RSS. And last but not least the commission indicts officials of the Kalyan Singh government in Uttar Pradesh for the deliberate collusion with the Parivar elements in the razing of the Babri Masjid.

The one-man commission has done a painstakingly thorough examination of the events that led up to the demolition - the intrigue, the subterfuge, the sabotage of law and order and even the inter-mixing of religion and politics. But did it have to take close to two decades to present its findings? Justice Liberhan’s original brief was to conclude its investigations in three months, but he took 40 extensions to finalise his report. The commission certainly faced many obstacles in its work. The culprits did everything possible to delay and stretch out the proceedings by taking resort to adjournments and appeals to the court. But it has been a long time since 16 December 1992, when Justice Liberhan was appointed head of judicial commission to investigate the events that led up to the destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya.

Justice Liberhan points to the failure of many an institution of the Indian state - including the media and bureaucracy along with the polity - but he reserves his indictment for the Sangh Parivar and is silent on the Congress Party. Indeed, even as the Commission has detailed the conspiracy underlying the demolition, what is intriguing is the clean chit it has given to the then Narasimha Rao government in New Delhi and the silence it has maintained about the role of previous Congress governments in fuelling the "Ramjanmabhoomi" claim. If there is a contemporary marker in the events leading to the demolition it is surely the decision taken by the local administration in January 1986 to remove the “judicial” locks that had been placed on the mosque for nearly four decades. This too is common knowledge, that it was done at the instance of the then Rajiv Gandhi government, which was anxious to “win” Hindu support to compensate for its decision to placate the Muslim clergy after the Shah Bano judgement. The report is also silent about the poor mobilisation of central paramilitary forces at the Ayodhya site even after the demolition, where kar sevaks continued to run riot following the resignation of the Kalyan Singh government.

The aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition is well known. As much as this incident legitimised communal rhetoric in Indian politics, leading of course to the BJP becoming a major national force, it also hugely damaged public administration, the results of which were immediately evident in the handling of the Bombay riots of January 1993.

Despite indicting 68 individuals as being directly responsible for the demolition and pointing fingers explicitly at the Sangh Parivar and the BJP leadership, the Commission's recommendations are quiet about pressing charges against those individuals and organisations who have escaped arraignment. Nor does it talk about initiating criminal proceedings against the culprits. Instead the report waxes eloquently on the reforms needed in the functioning of the bureaucracy, on regulations for the media and on upholding secularism. The Action Taken Report of the central government also does not suggest the government is thinking of initiating proceedings against those identified as responsible for the demolition. Therefore, despite the painstaking effort in laying out the details of the conspiracy and the failure of the state government of Uttar Pradesh, the recommendations made by the Commission and the responses listed in the Action Taken Report render the entire exercise all the more futile.

Justice Liberhan has detailed how the Sangh Parivar corroded and shamed the secular image of the Indian state and how officials sworn to the Indian Constitution were brazenly complicit in this huge crime that changed Indian politics and public administration for the very worse. Given how every single institution of the Indian state and polity has pussy-footed around the Babri Masjid demolition, there will never be any closure to this shameful event. The BJP may have been electorally vanquished in two Lok Sabha elections but the virus it nurtured in the course of its campaign to destroy the Babri Masjid remains very much in India’s social and political fabric.

Draft of editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Dead of VT


This is the text of an editorial in the EPW last year (dated 6 December 2008). It is available (with subscription) here. I am putting this up in remembrance, one year after the gruesome terrorist attacks on Mumbai. My heart still aches for my (then) fellow Mumbaikars, nearly 185 of whom succumbed to the attacks. I still grieve deeply for the 56 in particular, who were mowed down at the Chattrapati Sivaji Terminus, a location to which I travelled to, everyday for nearly a year of my stay in the city (my father travelled to this station for 11 of his 36 years of service and my brother did travel a year and more as well). The tragedy is therefore very personal. The EPW edit captures the emotions of a VT station-goer very aptly.

They came on the evening of 26 November to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, still better known as Victoria Terminus (VT), India’s busiest suburban and long distance railway station. They were from India’s working poor – labourers, hawkers and small-time traders – too poor to afford to travel by air or travelling to the hinterlands where there are no airports. They came with their elderly parents, with their children, including a three-month-old infant.

They seem to have been a truly cosmopolitan group – from Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. Hindus and Muslims, for sure. They were a microcosm of people from across India who came to pursue the dreams Bombay/Mumbai offered.

They gathered in the central concourse waiting for their trains to pull into the platforms. They must have been going to attend weddings, to visit families, to look up sick friends or relatives or just taking a break they may not have been able to afford.

Fifty-six of them, fathers, mothers, children, single men and women, were cut down in a few minutes, just before 10 PM by bullets from AK-47s carried by two deranged, seduced, evil and, perhaps also poor, young men who almost certainly came from across the seas, from neighbouring Pakistan.

The Walliullahs from Nawada in Bihar lost six of their family. Four members of taxi driver Zahur Ansari’s family were mowed down. Janardhan from Jharkhand lost two children to bullets. Shivshankar Gupta, a hawker, died. Ajaz Dalal’s uncle died… And there are the yet to be identified 10 people who succumbed to wounds in St George’s hospital – no phones on them, no identity cards, no one to claim the bodies. Perhaps they were migrant workers whose families may still be waiting for them in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh or interior Maharashtra.

Upendra Yadav, a computer engineer, representative of the young, educated and skilled Indian, was waiting for a train with his wife Sunita and infant daughter Sheetal. Yadav died, Sunita is badly wounded and a week later is still separated from her daughter, whom she cannot breastfeed. Three-month-old Sheetal escaped but the crime that the terrorists perpetrated is embedded in her thighs as sharpnel.
Bharat Naodiya, a hawker of utensils, lost his wife Poonam, while he lies badly injured in hospital. His son, Viraj, and daughter Anjali, are safe but shocked. It is the photograph of three-year-old Viraj, with a bruised forehead and blood (his mother’s?) spattered over the smiling faces on his vest and in the arms of a policeman that was flashed across the world last week. His face is in trauma and would have shocked and made fearful the millions who saw the vulnerability that bullets and deranged human beings can produce.

Twenty-two of the murderers’ victims were Muslims, in whose name the terrorists presumably went about their mission on the evening of 26 November. Twenty-two among 56, 0r 40%, an unrepresentative number since Muslims constitute only 13% of India’s population. But then Muslims number disproportionately among India’s poor.

It is said that in death everybody finally becomes equal. Not so in the India of extreme disparities. The media reported of the families of the poor waiting eight to 10 hours for morgues to release the bodies of the killed, while the waiting saw the bodies of those killed in the luxury hotels released in no time. Such things would not matter to the grieving families.

There were no discussions on TV about the 56 at VT who died. There were no airheads who were called into the TV studios and analysed all that was wrong and gave their ready-made solutions, who shed even a fake tear for the dead of VT.

There are no candles for the dead of VT. No gatherings calling for “change”, no ranting against “those politicians”, no calls for “war” at VT. The dead of VT have been forgotten.

Within hours the floors of the main concourse of the 121-year-old Indo-Sarcenic structure – once the symbol of British economic power in colonial India – were scrubbed clean of blood and flesh. And they have been walked over already by tens of millions of people going to work, returning home or waiting to catch the 2115 Down Siddheshwar Express for Solapur at 10:20 in the night, or the 2141 Down Rajendranagar Express for Patna at 11:25 PM or the 1093 Down Mahanagari Express for Varanasi at 10 minutes past midnight…

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Bt Brinjal debate

Many questions crop up even as an expert committee gives clearance for cultivation of Bt Brinjal

The approval given to cultivation of genetically modified (GM) Bt Brinjal crop by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) would pave the way for entry of the first GM food crop to be grown in India. Considering that the Bt Cotton transgenic crop's introduction earlier yielded a mixed and worrying bag of results - high yield in many areas but offset by the high prices of both the seeds and the continued dependence on non-Bt specific pesticides, not to mention the adverse effects of pests developing resistance to the gene, the introduction of Bt Brinjal has received a lot of opposition.

Presence of pesticidal toxins, thereby increase in pest resistance and therefore increased yield is the much touted advantage of the Bt variety of Brinjal. While much of the claims of opposition to the introduction to Bt Brinjal crop has also involved a rejection of GM crops in general- GM crops are widely grown in many countries, while they are banned in others - there are indeed some valid concerns. The well known reservations with agro-biotechnology - the introduction of desired traits within plants through recombinant DNA technology, concerns about the "accuracy" of trangene introduction into parent genome - have come into play vis-a-vis Bt Brinjal as well. The expert committee set to evaluate the introduction of Bt Brinjal does not say much about the possible after-effects in the food chain, and considering that concerns remain about genetic instability and other biological problems in consumers, this is a major misgiving.

Another major concern with Bt Brinjal introduction remains the monopolisation of GM crop techniques by large private corporations. The seed production of Bt Brinjal is limited to Mahyco-Monsanto and the Bt Cotton precedent of seed companies' cartelisation should be cautionary. The cost of license fees for Bt Brinjal and its seed pricing have to be scrutinised before its introduction. Bt Cotton introduction, contrary to its promise, did not necessarily increase yield through pest resistance immediately; and the high cost of the seeds affected many cotton farmers. Mahyco-Monsanto was indicted and forced to lower prices of Bt Cotton seed under the Monopoly and Restrictive Trade Practices Act (MRTP) in 2006. The Bt variety of GM crop had been marketed by corporations for its "high yield" and "pest resistance". Taking recourse to the Bt Cotton precedent again, it is not clear whether pests could develop resistance to the Bt variety thereby defeating the very purpose of its use. Mahyco-Monsanto's recommendations for mitigating such a situation - growing non Bt and Bt crops by interspersing them and to prevent development of resistance in pests - are not conducive for small holding based farms in India.

It has to be said that enough has not been done to protect interests of farmers against the threat of monopolisation of seed sale. Very little has been done about breaking the monopoly held by select multinationals over Bt technology, either by developing alternative low cost Bt technologies through research or by invoking licensing provisions of the patents act. Generically, more important characteristics of crops that need to be targeted for Indian conditions of farming, include drought and salinity resistance, and cold/heat tolerance. These and other necessary characteristics can be achieved with transgenic crops or with genetic marker assisted breeding which are "non-invasive" compared to GM technology. The presence of a national biotechnology regulatory authority which would look into these and other aspects of the GM technology being introduced, its after-effects and relevance to the specific nature of Indian farming, is much needed. Also required is greater emphasis on public sector research in biotechnological solutions to crop use to lessen dependence on monopoly profit-focused vendors. The idea for a regulatory authority was mooted way back in 2004, but beyond publishing a draft of the enabling bill for the authority, very little has been done on this front as the initiative has been caught up in bureaucratic wrangle.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Shankar Raghuraman on the Koda and the mining lobby

Interview with Times of India senior journalist Shankar Raghuraman on the influence of the mining lobby in Karnataka and the Madhu Koda affair in Jharkhand.



Monday, November 09, 2009

The marriage of money and politics

Like never before, rentier capital dominates politics in Jharkhand and Karnataka

Money and politics has never been separate in India. Many political parties have relied upon and have included richer interests and sections to garner political power through patronage. But what is being seen of late, as evidenced by the marriage of money and politics in several states is the dominance of rich sectional interests of a very high order, so much so that traditional polity or the "political class" lacks a complete autonomy from and is very much subordinate to such interests. This is particularly the case in Karnataka -where a crisis is now underway in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party - and in Jharkhand, where former chief minister Madhu Koda is being investigated for fraud and ill-gotten wealth of a massive scale.

The state of Karnataka is, even at the time of writing, reeling under the impact of floods that have affected several districts in the state. But legislators of the ruling party, far from mobilising and organising relief work, are busy elsewhere, hiding in resorts in neighbouring states to avoid being "poached" by rival factions. The farcical situation was triggered by a revolt of a set of legislators led by the moneyed mining lobby section- the Bellary brothers as they are called - of the BJP. The rising prices and demand for iron ore, particularly from China has seen a major boom in the iron ore industry in Karnataka centered in and around Bellary and has made a few mining contractors and owners tremendously rich. A share of such incomes has been pooled back into garnering political support to be in power, as the assembly elections in 2008 in the state demonstrated.

The "Bellary brothers - Karunakara Reddy and Janardhana Reddy have made it big by partaking from the flourishing iron ore mining business in Bellary. They have been a tremendous "asset" for the BJP, helping the party garner support of independents and orchestrate the so called, "Operation Kamala" - a "scheme" to induce opposition legislators to resign and re-contest from the BJP ticket. Apparently, since the chief minister B.Yeddyurappa has "challenged their supremacy" in Bellary by making administrative transfers of officials in the area, the Bellary brothers have cried foul and have orchestrated this unsavoury mutiny.

Factionalism and "rebellions" are endemic to India's liberal democratic polity, where most parties are "big tents" of individualistic, opportunistic "leaders" and this has been much discussed upon. What is saliently contemporary is the tremendous dominance of money power and such interests. These interests such as the Bellary brothers' do no longer control politics and politicians outside its competitive realm, but operate from within and for good reason. Politics and staying in power - rather than being close to it - helps these moneyed interests attain administrative writ that help their businesses by garnering very high rentier incomes. Any perceived challenge to the writ, as the Bellary brothers construe from the administrative changes in the local institutions in the area brought about by the panchayat minister who is close to the chief minister, is therefore seen as a threat to the overweening power and interests. The BJP's response has been typical - loath to giving into such blatantly opportunistic claims, but resisting a loss of these moneyed "assets". The "Bellary brothers", after all have supported the BJP ever since the close and high profile electoral battle between Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi and BJP leader Sushma Swaraj in 1999 and the symbiotic relationship was the main reason for the successful formation of the BJP government last year despite the party not winning an absolute majority.

Such congruence between moneyed interests and politics is visible from the Madhu Koda affair in Jharkhand as well. An independent legislator, Koda was pitchforked to the seat of chief minister from a hung assembly due to a quirk of circumstances. Koda made the "best" of his tenures - as minister in charge of panchayati raj and later mining in the Babulal Marandi and Arjun Munda led governments and as chief minister himself between 2006 and 2008. He has from many definitive accounts, revealed during investigations by the Enforcement Directorate recently, played a major role in securing lucrative mining contracts for friends, associates and companies. He is also alleged to have involved in several illegal money transfer transactions, money laundering and diversion of state funds during his tenure. And the murky link between corporates interested in exploiting the natural resources in Jharkhand and politics is not limited to the Madhu Koda affair alone, as the nomination of senior corporate managers as Rajya Sabha members of parliament from the state, despite tenuous connections with the state, attest to.

There is many a similarity between the Karnataka and the Jharkhand affairs, a phenomenon which has transcended the mere nexus between crony capitalism and politics to the marriage of both. Incidentally, both the district of Bellary and the state of Jharkhand have abysmal human development indicators, pointing to the "resource curse" that these places suffer from. While their natural resource wealth engenders corrupt rentiers and speculators who make a killing of the profits that these resources generate, the owners of the wealth - the people themselves are left to fester in poverty and difficult livelihoods. Among all the distortions that persist in India's formalist democracy, the influence of money power, rentier capital and the "resource curse" are the most damning.

Draft of editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Winning by default

The Congress emerges strongest after assembly polls in three states

The Congress emerged the winner in the three elections held in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh in late October. In spite of doing everything wrong by delivering poor governance in Maharashtra, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance has retained power - yet again –and in the process has marginalised the right wing Shiv Sena- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine. The Congress Party has also done much better than its coalition partner, NCP. The Congress emerged the single largest in Haryana and won Arunachal Pradesh convincingly. Following the victories, all the chief ministers of the states were retained in power by the “High Command”, though the squabbling between the alliance over ministries and sharing of power in Maharashtra had not ended, at the time of writing, and even a week after the elections a new government had not been sworn in.

The Maharasthra Navnirman Sena (MNS) - an outfit that broke away from its parent Shiv Sena - hurt the BJP-Shiv Sena combine by garnering 5.6% of the votes and indirectly helping the Congress-NCP combine to win outright (144 of the 288 seats) because of the fragmented opposition in many seats. Yet, too much must not be made of the MNS factor, for the opposition suffered because of its poor performance in the Vidarbha region where the Raj Thackeray party was not present.The Congress-NCP combine itself registered a marginal decrease in overall vote-share, but managed to win despite what was uniformly perceived as lacklustre performance in the previous two terms. That the main opposition never managed to raise the relevant issues of the day - widespread agrarian distress, high levels of inequality, inadequate power and water, and livelihood stress -- helped the ruling combine. The lack of interest among the voting population was also visible, with just about half the electorate turning up to vote in an election dominated by money power, dynastic politics and rebellion by disgruntled "ticket" seekers. Voters continued to display a sense of fatigue with the hard right politics of the Shiv Sena, the BJP and even with the virulent MNS, which ended up with 11 seats. The newly formed Republican Left Democratic Front fared badly as well, with the Republican Party of India (Athavale) coming a cropper losing all its contested seats. The winning vote for the Congress-NCP combine most certainly can not be attributed to any positive wave for the ruling alliance. But the Congress in particular would be satisfied with the retention of one of India's largest and economically most important states. It can also be suggested that the ruling combine's strategy of regularly changing the chief minister at the helm helped it stem an anti-incumbency current.

In Haryana, the results were not fully on expected lines. The Congress far from sweeping the polls, as forecast, emerged the largest party but fell short of a majority. It could form a government only with the support of independents. The previous Bhupinder Singh Hooda government had called for elections much earlier than its stipulated completion of term, expecting to continue to ride the wave that helped the party garner a large chunk of Lok Sabha seats in the national elections in May 2009 in the state. The fate of the Congress would have been worse if the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), led by former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, had not broken its alliance with the BJP before the elections. The Bahujan Samaj Party, still trying to make a dent elsewhere in India beyond Uttar Pradesh failed yet again, winning only a single seat and its vote share fell to half of what it garnered in the Lok Sabha elections. Again in Haryana, the Congress' performance was nothing much to talk about, only seen as more favourable compared to the INLD rule in the past. The Congress' reliance on social engineering rather than performance to extend its rule did not generate the expected dividends. Its strategy of weaning away Jat voters from the INLD did not deliver as the latter was able toretain the community’s support and the latter in fact added a few seats to its previous tally and won an impressive 31 seats. The scrape through should serve as a wake up call for the complacent ruling party.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the Congress managed to retain its absolute majority, against the splintered opposition featuring some former legislators of the party representing the NCP and the Trinamul Congress. The Congress had earlier held a super-majority after legislators in the opposition deserted their parties to join the ruling party. Hampered by a lack of choice - the opposition was a cluster of former ruling party legislators and offered no specific alternative agenda to that of the Congress - the voters preferred the ruling party, which been at the helm in the state ever since its formation except for a single term.

The winning run for the Congress is a boost for the party and demonstrates a further weakening of the rudderless and feuding BJP, whose patron, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has even suggested “chemotherapy” to save the party! The RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, later denied making such a remark and in any case he may be unaware that such treatment is no guarantee for medical recovery.

Draft of an editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly

Monday, October 26, 2009

Conversation with Journalist Subodh Varma over the "Maoist challenge"

A short conversation with senior journalist Subodh Verma (of the Times of India) on the Maoist situation/challenge in India. The video was taken for the site, www.newsclick.in

Part I -



Part II -

Vital findings and lessons

Despite an abrupt termination, ISRO claims that the Chandrayaan mission was successful.

India's first deep space mission, Chandrayaan-I ended its operations prematurely, nearly 10 months before its scheduled termination. The loss of radio communication between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)'s base stations and the Chandrayaan spacecraft marked this abrupt termination. ISRO blamed un-anticipated solar radiation resulting in the "baking" of the many electronic devices on the spacecraft as being responsible for the failure of the communication devices.

Despite the premature death of the project, ISRO has claimed tremendous success in achieving what the mission set out to do - chief among which is the indication of the presence of water molecules on the lunar surface by an instrument placed on the spacecraft as a payload by the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) - the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3). Among other mission objectives, the terrain mapping camera on board the spacecraft was to help in the preparation of a three dimensional map of the lunar surface, while a spectrometry device was to prepare a detailed analysis of the mineralogical components of the lunar surface. ISRO claims that within the short time frame, all these major objectives and a model of international collaboration on space research has been successfully achieved. As regards the failures in simulating the exposure environment for the spacecraft that ultimately resulted in the abrupt ending of the mission, ISRO affirms that these will be valuable lessons to take into consideration during the planning of the next moon mission, Chandrayaan-II.

The indication of the presence of water on the moon by the M3 module on Chandrayaan-I has raised interesting possibilities. It has given a fillip to researchers who have argued that the presence of water on the moon makes it possible for moon to be used as a base for refueling for future spacecrafts. The M3 module provided the most unambiguous information ever found on presence of water molecules on the moon. Lunar samples from other moon probing missions sent by various countries were not able to justifiably prove the presence of water due to various reasons. ISRO is continuing to analyse data from other module on the spacecraft which was fitted to study the possible movement of water molecules into colder polar regions of the moon. This finding would be more relevant for a future "refueling from the moon" mission, as the water currently found by M3does not amount to more a few bucketfuls.

Notwithstanding this finding, it must be said that ISRO was non-transparent about Chandrayaan's functioning and fate. The star sensors on the spacecraft had already failed early into the mission and the spacecraft's orbit was raised significantly to 200 km from the original 100 km in order to prevent the spacecraft from spiralling down on to the moon. ISRO's official reasoning for this move was instead dubious, ostensibly because of the "prestige value" of the entire mission. One of the "spectacular" components of the mission included a nationalist thrust - the Moon Impacter Probe, an apparatus fitted with Indian insignia was dropped on the moon - an event which was received with much fanfare in the media. With such attention accrued to the mission, ISRO thought it better to hide the real reasons for the orbital shift, which ultimately resulted in the termination of the mission.

Chandrayaan-II, now envisaged by ISRO, is touted as a a project that is designed to ultimately help in landing astronauts onto the moon and to achieve purposes such as setting bases for India on the moon - in other words, "lunar land grab". While the engineering feats - the successful launch of a deep space mission, the establishment of complicated telemetry devices to track the same are remarkable and so were some of the scientific objectives of the Chandrayaan-I mission, the purported future objectives of Chandrayaan-II seem too fanciful, costly and therefore unnecessary beyond filling with abstract "nationalist pride" and must be well avoided. These are indeed important lessons to be learnt by ISRO from the startling successes and the abrupt failure both of which are part of the Chandrayaan mission. Transparency and sticking to positive scientific objectives should remain the focus of the space agency.

Draft of an editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A tale of failures and their persistence

The Indian Maoists have been described as the greatest security threat to the nation by the Indian government and although there is a great degree of exaggeration involved in the statement, it is also a fact that the Indian Maoists have reached a position of significance that they did not enjoy just a few years ago.Consequent to these descriptions, the Indian government has suggested through feelers that it contemplates a military solution to the "Maoist problem", one that involves special task paramilitary forces that would take on the Maoist Peoples' Liberation Army to frontal combat. This has also been flanked by statements on addressing the socio-economic situation that has given rise to the "Maoist problem" in the first place. The trouble with the government's view is that its emphasis on a military solution would entail a long drawn out "civil war" against a primarily guerilla outfit which has thus far managed hits and runs and and not graduated into a more stronger "liberation army" howmuchsoever the government wants to "escalate" its threat value. Having said that, there has been a definite spurt in Maoist violence across the country in the past few years, notwithstanding setbacks to the Maoist forces.

The strength of the Indian Maoists has increased especially since the merger of the two large insurrectionist Naxalite organisations, the Peoples' War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre in 2004. Since then, the Maoists first tried out a political compromise when they emerged for talks with the Andhra Pradesh government, which eventually fizzled out as the AP government used the interregnum for talks to consolidate their position and weaken the Maoists. They were then militarily defeated in Andhra Pradesh by the concerted actions of the police force- particularly the "elite" Greyhound commando forces[i], which was far better a security tool that approximated the guerilla strategies of the Maoists' People's Liberation Army than just the police and was eventually able to overcome the Maoists in the state, so much so, that the Maoists' leadership had to take refuge in the "Dandakaranya region" adjoining Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. As recently deceased human rights activist, K. Balagopal pointed out in a telling essay some years ago, the Maoists were defeated not just by the brute force of the state's machinery, but also by their own praxis. By shifting their praxis from grievance and alternative politics driven to military based mobilisation, the Maoists eventually lost much support - a must in a guerilla struggle and were forced to retreat from Andhra Pradesh.Lately, even the mass organisations of the Maoists have been marginalised; some Maoist sympathisers have tried to bandwagon with the new political outfit launched by actor Chiranjeevi[ii], which had promised a pro-poor agenda. But those ambitions have been frustrated with the Praja Rajyam Party's defeat as well as by the entry of opportunist "money bag elements" into the party.

The MCC component, which has been commented to be more anarchic in its activities[iii] than the more "organised" PWG component, meanwhile continued its unabated activities in the Jharkhand state, where they have also indulged in extortion activities used to fund their "war chest". The Maoists meanwhile have targetted newer areas where there is severe discontent to work out their political and military praxis. The Bastar region of Chhattisgarh was one such, where the mining contractor - bureaucrat – politician- industrial nexus was intact and which gave reasons for the Maoists to mobilise tribals against this nexus. In retaliation, the state polity brought about the dangerous Salwa Judum programme, which pits tribal against tribal and created a vigilante force against the Maoists and the tribals who support them. The result was severe displacement of tribals from their villages into relief camps and widespread anarchy with tribals caught in the crossfire between the Salwa Judum and the Maoists. The Bastar region remains volatile, as even social service organisations such as the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram have been caught in this crossfire. The state has targetted any social/ civil society outfit as being Maoist sympathisers using draconian laws such as the Public Security Act, while the Maoist actions such as abductions of local level state government officials or wanton disruption of elections has given fillips to a vengeful state to retaliate. The Maoists on the other hand, have also indulged in wanton murder of village headmen, sarpanches; have bent on militarising the tribals and thrown them in the deep well of the violence among themselves[iv].

For years, the Maoists have been steadily building a political movement in other tribal dominated areas severely hampered by under-development and social backwardness, such as in Gadchiroli in south eastern Maharashtra. The recent spurt in violence in the district is a direct consequence of the state trying to get back its "influence" in the area after systematic neglect for years. The Maoists have also been active for a few years in the Kalahandi region of Orissa, which is another zone of poverty, and commercial exploitation of natural resources. Over the past year or so, the Maoists have been trying to expand their influence into the communally sensitive areas of Orissa, such as in the Kandhamal district. By definite accounts, the Maoists were responsible in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Laxmananda Saraswati murder, which triggered a murderous reaction by the Hindu communalists of the Sangh Parivar against Christian tribals and institutions. Kandhamal is still not off the boil, as the Sangh Parivar has simply used the Maoist actions as a ruse to target Christian tribals.

The Maoists have been unsuccessful in trying to work out their praxis in other regions; Karnataka for example. Here, the entire state unit of Karnataka split from the Maoists detailing their dissidence on the basis of their opposition to the anarchic violence and the "incorrect" understanding of the Indian society and polity by the party[v]. The Karnataka wing has now become a "non-violent" political and left organisation.

The pattern of Maoist involvement in many areas in the country is revealing. The Maoists have tactically descended upon the idea of working their praxis not immediately on an all-India level, but in assorted areas where it is difficult for the organs of the state to defeat them militarily and to build their base areas in these locations[vi]. There is a great degree of social discontent and there is very little development in these areas or what transpires for "development" activity is merely a front for commercial exploitation of tribal/rural habitats. The Maoists then enmesh themselves in these areas through opposition and mobilisation against the state and try to work out their political praxis of working out a base area, consolidating their hold by targetting institutions of the state by violent means. These means include disruption of the formal activity of elections, damaging developmental work such as roads, schools and others set up by the state, killing people identified with political outfits that are seen to be antithetical to the Maoists[vii]. Invariably the state retaliates and the very people whom the Maoists show their concern for, are caught in the crossfire. The Maoists then explain these actions to reveal the "naked face of the state"; while the state invariably takes recourse to draconian laws and actions to justify their security based response against the Maoists.

Maoist actions in West Bengal

That now takes us to West Bengal. Contradictory to many an assertion by the political opposition in the state, the movement against land acquisition in Nandigram was triggered with more than substantive work by the Maoists. The Maoists have themselves acknowledged this in a number of interviews. One such interesting interview of Koteshwar Rao[viii] suggests that the Maoists were also involved in the Keshpur incidents in the early part of this decade, then pitting themselves against the Trinamul led elements. The Maoists have indulged in "hit and run" work from Jharkhand in west Midnapore for sometime now. Yet, importantly, the Maoist (Naxalite to be precise) presence and influence in West Bengal was significantly reduced[ix] - primarily because of the Left government's earlier successes in land reforms and focussed rural development and strengthening of local democracy.

Having said that, studies (EPW Special Issue, February 2009, “Local Government in Rural West Bengal”), have identified trends that explain the fraying away of the rural "gains" made by the left. While panchayati raj has instituted local democracy and shifted the loci of government to the local village panchayat making it the most powerful institution in the rural areas;long and entrenched rule of the left has developed tendencies of corruption or more protractedly clientalism at the local grassroots levels in parts of the state. Systems of patronage based on political allegiances have been effected in many rural areas that has fed in discontent at some levels[x]. The objective conditions in Lalgarh for example, mirror this story as some reports point out. Malini Bhattacharya's article on Lalgarh points out to an objective assessment that tries to understand the reasons for the discontent while putting into perspective, the Maoists' turf war against the CPI(M) in the area.

A key question remains- what is the end that the Maoists are trying to achieve in West Midnapore or even in West Bengal? Are they thinking that they would keep building a liberated base area in the region, knowing fully well that they would invite sovereign action by the state in the form of security measures to protect state institutions - here, Panchayat samitis, zilla parishads, gram sabhas in the area? Why would any state government remain a mute spectator to a virtual take over of its sovereign actions by extra-legal elements? The Maoists think they are justified in doing so, because it flows from their praxis of creating alternate power structures, but given their failure elsewhere to prevent the hold of electoral democracy or democratic instruments on the electorate and the poor, what makes them think that they would be successful in doing so in a state, where the formal instruments of democracy are even more vibrant and entrenched? That annihilation of anyone having different political allegiances is a way out of winning a so called "class war" is inherently a diabolic, anarchic, authoritarian and in every sense a Pol-Potist discourse. And the Maoists in this case are adopting the methods of annihilation and rampant killing to defeat the Left, tacitly supported by the opportunist right wing forces such as the Trinamul and the Congress, who are looking for a ruse to dismiss the Left Front government in the state.

Surely the Maoists are leading the tribals to a violent abyss by these anarchic actions and they do it realising this very well. The Maoists are trying to foment a revolution - there is no doubt about that. They consider that the bourgeois democracy in India is a facade that hides entrenched class interests and class control over levers of power. They consider that it is not just enough to force the state to bring in welfare measures as they are crumbs to the needy which doesn't hide the structural orientation of the comprador-bureaucratic-bourgeoisie ruled state. But in this endeavour, they consider that it is the "parliamentary Left" that is their primary enemy now as is evidenced by their strategy in West Bengal, which has prefaced their tacit understanding with political parties such as the Trinamul Congress.

Setback to the left movement in the entire country

Any simple reading of the electoral system and polity in India would reveal that there is a derived bipolarity between the Congress and the BJP in the electoral system and large consensus on economic policy among the ruling classes. This consensus is evaded only by the left parties at the national level, which has articulated a break from both neoliberalism and greater integration with “imperialism” at the world level, may it be in the form that the left opposed the implementation of neoliberal policy formulations or in the way the entire nuclear deal issue was played out. Even radical parties such as the CPI(ML)-Liberation acknowledge the loss of the left voice in Parliament as a setback despite their reservations about the praxis of the larger left parties[xi]. And even those who believe in social democracy and in upholding Constitutional values have lamented the loss of the left, may it be in articulating a social agenda for the nation as a whole or in articulating an independent voice in foreign policy. But the Maoists, here have considered the left front as their primary enemy and embark upon a similar praxis as is evident in their work in other states (incidentally none of them is Congress ruled).

The Lalgarh incidents and the rampant killings of CPI(M) party workers might put the CPI(M) led Left Front on the back foot in the state of West Bengal. The Left is now in a state of introspection over the defeat in the recent parliamentary elections. The deliberate mobilisations against the left from a varied coalition of forces from the ultra-right (the Sangh parivar's intrusion in Darjeeling) to the right (the Trinamul and Congress Alliance, which is now using violence to quell the left's hold after elections) to the ultra-left (the Maoists) has only pushed the left movement in the country as a whole further into the backfoot. That is because the actions by the Maoists seem to want to push the balance of support toward rightist forces in the state of West Bengal - in other words, the opportunist Trinamul Congress and the distinctly neoliberal Congress. Any leftist would bristle at this culmination despite reservations with the governance and policies of the long running left front government in the state of late.

Lessons to be drawn

The central government repeated harping on the "greatest internal security threat" that the Maoists provide, is certainly hyperbolic. But the insistence on such a rhetoric is primarily driven by the fact that the Maoists have increasingly concentrated in areas, which are rich in natural resources and are coveted by big companies for commercial purposes. Of late, however, the central government has started to make statements about socio-economic development of the regions currently under some influence of the Maoists. Consequently, the Maoists have responded in attacking the developmental agencies and structures of the state in a manner that has brought in greater repression. In many ways, even if the Maoist actions and the state counter-actions (or vice versa) are not the "greatest internal security" problem, the situation is indeed a great tragic livelihood problem in the tribal dominated areas where the Maoists have a significant presence.

The existing crossfire, be it in the form of battles between vigilante tribal forces and the Maoists in Chhattisgarh or the violent turf war launched by the Maoists against ruling party supporters in West Bengal or the tactic of individual "annihilation" of perceived enemies by the Maoists in Orissa has created a great cesspool of violence and counter-violence. The immanent "massive" paramilitary response, without a concomitant administrative impetus on livelihood issues would only widen this cesspool. The Indian state by embarking upon a wholly militant offensive, would further alienate an already traumatised population if it resorts to a full scale offensive against the guerilla army of the Maoists on the lines of what transpired in Sri Lanka against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Having said that, the anarchic use of violence, and the terroristic acts of "annihilation" have drawn such as response, for which the Maoists are completely to blame. In this respect they have much to learn from their Nepali counterparts who have successfully established great bases of support among the Nepali populace through varied tactics of democratic engagement going beyond mere military consolidation. And indeed from the failures of similar anarchic and military oriented Maoist organisations such as the Sendero Luminoso in Peru.

The inability of the Maoists to transform their spark in 1967 into a prairie fire as late as 2009 is indicative of the stupendous failure of the Maoist praxis. And the continuing presence of under-development, poor human development indicators, exploitation and oppression in areas where the Maoists are strong; point toward the failure of formal Indian democracy. There has to be a great substantive basis for Indian democratic institutions objectively and a more wholesome democratic agency that is people-centric to achieve the same. That is the challenge to be addressed by progressive and democratic sections of Indian polity today.

References

Bannerjee, Sumanta (2006), “Beyond Naxalbari”, Economic and Political Weekly, July 22-28

Bhattacharya, Dwaipayan (2009), “Of Control and Factions: The Changing “Party-society” in West Bengal, Economic and Political Weekly, Febraury 22

Kumar, Arun (2003), Violence and Political Culture - Politics of the Ultra Left in Bihar, Economic and Political Weekly, November 22

Sundar, Nandini (2006), Bastar, Maoism and Salwa Judum, Economic and Political Weekly, July 22-28


[i] This is explained in this article, “Government hits back” by N.Rahul in the Frontline magazine, dated October 8,2005

[ii] A news report that details the entry of ex-Naxalites and also the popular support to the PRP from Naxal ideologues during the course of the formation of the party is available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/3000-ex-Maoists-line-up-to-join-Chiranjeevis-party/articleshow/4168356.cms ;.

[iii] See Kumar (2003). Although this article generically focuses on “ultra left” violence, it specifically mentions the MCC component's tryst with criminalism.

[iv] A very telling study of the Maoists and the situation in Bastar, Chhattisgarh is presented in Sundar (2006).

[v] http://rcpkarnataka.blogspot.com/2008/02/study-document-1-25-years-experience.html explains the reasons for the breakaway of the Karnataka unit from the Maoists in great detail

[vi] See Bannerjee (2006). Bannerjee suggests that the Indian Maoists have adopted this from the understanding of the MCC component.

[vii] In this the Indian Maoists are very different from their Nepali counterparts (who have entered the democratic mainstream now), who even during the days of their “Peoples' War”, were insistent on ensuring that their praxis did not become “red terror”. This is evident in the call given by the Nepali Maoists' chairman, Prachanda to his comrades, that “a certain mininum legal method is adhered to” and that, “it should be strictly expressed in both our policy and practice that red terror does not mean anarchy” (Bannerjee 2006)

[viii] Check interview of Maoist leader Koteswar Rao here : http://www.livemint.com/2009/05/29001232/Mainstream-politics-not-for-us.html

[ix] This is acknowledged even by sympathetic commentators of the Naxalbari movement such as Sumanta Bannerjee (2006)

[x] Bhattacharya (2009) illustrates this with a study of two villages in West Bengal.

[xi] ML Update editorial titled, “Verdict 2009” – Lessons for the Left available at http://www.cpiml.org/pgs/ml_upd/VOL12/12_21.html#1

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The farce continues..

Another short comment on the ongoing happenings in Nepal.

Prolonging the farce that the current regime in Nepal is; prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal (who lost two Constituent Assembly constituencies, no less and was nominated to the CA) recently elevated foreign minister and Nepali Congress leader, Sujata Koirala to the post of deputy prime minister - the second person to occupy the post besides Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) leader Bijay Gacchadar. Koirala's only claim for her current status was the fact that she was being propped up to the post by senior NC leader and father Girija Prasad Koirala. Sujatha Koirala also managed to emulate and even worsen her superior Madhav Nepal's (of the Communist Party of Nepal - Unified Marxist Leninist - UML) performance in the CA elections by losing the elections in her own constituency (Koirala finished a poor third behind MJF and UML candidates in the CA constituency of Sunsari, while Madhav Nepal finished second in both Kathmandu-2 and Rautahat losing to UCPN(Maoist) candidates).

With this dubious elevation, Madhav Nepal has added further disgrace to an already sketchy arrangement - which clearly suggests a reactionary gang up against the legitimate winners of the CA elections - the Nepali Maoists. The elevation was done despite vehement disapproval from Koirala's own partymen - the NC leader senior leadership. Monarchy is said to have been abolished in Nepal, but non-representative dynastic politics is still quite a presence as Koirala's elevation points out. The elevation also means that the reactionary take-over of power in Nepal is now formally complete - Nepali President Ram Baran Yadav (who was never a republican and got his post due to his loyalty towards GP Koirala and also because of NC-MJF machinations), CA losers Madhav Nepal and Sujata Koirala, and a symbol of "corruption and opportunism"- deputy PM Bijay Gachchedar, in key posts of power.

The breaking down of the erstwhile "Constitutional Monarchy" system and the entry of the Maoists within the democratic fray (out of the peoples' war) meant a reorientation of the popular class based support to the various political parties in the country. The support to the monarchy and other anti-democratic sections has obviously accrued to the Nepali Congress (to the detriment of such parties as the Rashtriya Prajantra Party and its offshoots), while also shifting toward the Madhesi parties to some extent (owed to the deterrent value offered by the MJF toward the Maoist plan of structural economic changes in the Terai). This is reminiscent of the shift of royalist and princely sections gradually toward the Congress following independence in India (as well as toward the Jan Sangh and later the Bharatiya Janata Party). The reactionary actions by the Nepali Congress over the period of time following the CA elections pretty much conform to the patterns of change of support base.

Opportunistic moves such as Sujata Koirala's elevation, in the near parliamentary past had discredited the UML leadership of Madhav Nepal and that apparently resulted in his shock defeat (as well as his party's poor third position in the CA polls). Surely these maneuvers in Nepal with a reactionary bloc seizing power were not what the people intended when they voted in the CA polls for change. There has to be a greater mass mobilisation by progressive forces in Nepal to pressurise CA members to end this farce that has been set up in the name of government.

Cross posted at www.pragoti.org

Friday, October 09, 2009

An undeserved prize

Why the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama is a farcical decision.

In a farcical decision, the Nobel Committee (consisting of Norwegian legislators) awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 to US president Barack Obama. The reason offered was that Barack Obama's message of "change" and emphasis on various international issues - multilateralism, climate change, diplomacy and non-profileration were in conformity with the Nobel awarding committee's views. That only the message and the appeal of Obama have been considered for the Peace Prize and not the substantive actions (which have consistently belied and defied both Obama's message and his supporters' hope), is what fills one full of angst at the decision.

Consider this - Alfred Nobel, the institutioner of the prize said this in his bequeathing will, the Nobel Peace Prize shall "go the person who shall have done the most or the best work forfraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." Barack Obama has surely done nothing in that regard ever since he has got to power. Despite promising an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, he has only ordered a timed withdrawal stretching to 2010 and which includes the proposal of keeping a "reserve force" permanently stationed in the colonised country. He has also shifted and armed forces to Afghanistan dramatically escalating the conflict and inflicting more civilian casualties in his tenure in the country than even what the arch-imperialist George W. Bush allowed under his last year of rule.

His piecemeal gestures toward peace and fraternity have been exactly that - piecemeal. Despite a well regarded speech directed to the "Muslim world", the Obama administration's policies in west Asia are cut from the same imperialist mould of the previous administrations. Barack Obama was deafeningly silent as the President-nominee when Israel pounded Gaza brazenly killing thousands of Palestinians defying every rule in the international book. Apparently the Nobel committee made a nomination cut off date for February 1 (merely a fortnight after Obama assumed power as the president). Obama's silence during the Israeli carnage on Gaza should have been factored into the nomination calls atleast, but surely that was not to be.

Obama later called for halts to fresh settlements by the Israelis in the Gaza strip, only for the Israeli prime minister to ignore the call and proceed with the same, without a stout response by the US president beyond stated positions. He has made pithy remarks about loosening of the blockade by the Israelis on Gaza, but has stopped short of condemning Israeli action or make it responsive to international censure, especially after South African jurist Robert Goldstone submitted an incriminating report against Israel to the United National Human Rights Council, calling for further investigations and possible International Criminal Court proceedings against the country. In other words, Obama has stayed true to the calling card of his presidency - continue rhetoric of change/action, but do nothing palpably actionable about it.

Obama even went one step ahead of the Bush administration by establishing new military bases in Colombia to rake up a geopolitical conflict in the Latin American region which is seeing an unprecedented anti-imperialist democratic sweep in positions of power. He did articulate a different response to the expected Bush one, during the Honduran military coup, when he joined other Latin American leaders in condemning it and recognising ousted president Jose Manuel Zelaya as the genuine ruler of the country. But when it came to actionable work on putting pressure against the Honduran coup leaders to drop out of power, the Obama administration pursued his trademark dilly-dallying approach; it refused to term the Honduran coup a "military one" (what else could it be, when an incumbent president is frisked in his pajamas at gunpoint and taken out of the country?). The Obama administration did effect a piecemeal cut in aid to the Honduran government, but also tried to broker a settlement that provided amnesty and continuation in legislature for some of the coup's chief protagonists. Is this what the Nobel Peace Committee expected out of its winner when it awarded him the prize?

Obama's much touted first executive decision was to order a closure of the illegal detention centres perpetrating torture and human right violations in Guantanamo Bay (occupied by the US in Cuba on a dubious lease). But a few months later, it was known that vicious human rights violations and illegal detentions persisted in the centres and because Congress defied an early closure, the centres would remain till early 2010 (without specifying when they will be closed definitely). Yet another case of dilly-dallying by the president who promised decisive hope and was elected by a surge of people expecting the same after years of neoconservative rule that devastated the American economy, triggered a global financial crisis and recession and organised invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama's saving grace has been his genuine rhetoric on actions regarding climate change. Both domestically, where he has attempted to give a boost to renewable and environmental friendly technologies (coupling them with new "green" jobs) and internationally, where he has acknowledged the difficulties in an global response to climate change - Obama's actions have been sincere. But this saving grace does not take away from the many vices that have persisted in his administration's actions and that have threatened to keep the world in a permanent state of danger. And we are not even getting into some of the dubious domestic policy decisions made by the Obama adminstration.

The Nobel Peace Committee's other reasoning is that it wants to encourage Obama to actionise his rhetoric and that this award would help in the same. This writer's guess is that the reasoning is misplaced, for the award would only add to the Obama mystique that thrives high on rhetoric and less on actions. Obama would enthrall the world with another reverberating speech if he accepts the Prize and arrives in Oslo to receive the same in December and thats all there will be to it.

Crossposted from www.pragoti.org

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Deadlock in Nepal

A stasis has persisted in Nepal ever since the formation of the new government led by unelected-but-nominated (to the constituent assembly) prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal of Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). The rather ineffectual government, which hosts - apart from Madhav Nepal - other unworthies such as foreign minister Sujata Koirala (who has aspired to become the Deputy PM after demands by Nepali Congress patriarch (and father) G P Koirala) and discredited Madhesi leader Bijoy Gachchadar as vice premier has been so poor in its governance that there prevails virtual anarchy in various parts of the country. Ethnic clashes, demands, violent actions, strikes and disruption of economic activity has been the order of the day since the formation of the new coalition government whose very raison d'etre for existence has been its anti-Maoist position. The government has not even been to able to introduce the yearly budget - a sign of utter incompetence and inaction. Buttressed by staunch Indian support, the Madhav Nepal government has been unable to firm up a consensus with the Maoist opposition over the latter's demand to discuss the president's unconstitutional action in reinstating (former) army chief Rukmangad Katuwal after his dismissal by elected former Maoist prime minister Pushpa Kumar Dahal, in the Constituent Assembly.

The Maoists, who have privileged this issue as a case of establishing "civilian supremacy" have been unremitting in their efforts to discuss the issue in the CA and rightly so, for there remains no moral argument against such a discussion. The resultant disruption of parliamentary activity by the Maoists has taken quite a toll on the already ineffectual governance, not to mention the rather destabilised process of writing the Constitution - stipulated to be completed by next year. Apparently the government led by the UML and the NC is reluctant to discuss this issue or put it to vote in the CA fearing that the legislators belonging to the UML in particular would be loath to take a pro-President position when push comes to shove. And that would threaten the very legitimacy of the government in itself.

Apart from the political stasis, there has been also been attempts to shift the goalposts from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed by the Maoists and the other major parties, prominent of which are the NC and the UML. Madhav Nepal has already start to sound forked tonguish on the question of integration of the Nepali Army and the Maoists' PLA. In a recent interview with The Hindu, the PM tragi-comically suggested that he was yet "to go deeply" into the agreement (CPA) that he was a signatory of! Apparently it is the reactionary pressure that is telling on this slip-shod approach to a vital issue of the peace process.

All that seemed to be a matter of the near past, when some diplomatic parleys between the representatives of the three major parties - the Maoists, the UML and the NC got underway during the Dashain festive season. Encouraging remarks about a break in the deadlock through a joint resolution were being mooted by all representatives. But the central question - allowing a discussion on the president's move and a decisive resolution on civilian supremacy, that saw no acceptable answers. The NC and UML are still distrusting of the Maoists and consider that the question of civilian supremacy is settled.

All this is pushing the Maoists themselves in an insurrectionary direction. Already under pressure from a two-line struggle featuring what could be termed as a battle of ideas between a section of "dogmatists" represented by senior Maoist leaders Mohan Baidya and CP Gajurel and (for want of a better word), the pragmatists, represented by Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai, the Maoist leadership is keen on a different strategy to achieve a Constitution of their liking and which involves their return to power. Deadlock on the question of "civilian supremacy" is only taking the Maoists further to where the dogmatists in their ranks would want them to be - something that can turn nasty with the incumbent government even wanting to use repression. And that would be disastrous for the fledgling republic which is still faced with other social questions that were kept under wraps in an unitary and hierarchical state for long and that have being now raised in the form of various social upsurges - on ethnicity, on caste, on land ownership and what not.

In all this, the Indian role has also been negative. The current ambassador's fishing in troubled waters; nay mudding the waters even further by throwing in new interpretations of the CPA - Rakesh Sood suggested in a recent interview that integration of the PLA tantamounted only to an integration into Nepali society - an absolutely facetious remark considering that the UN recognised the combatants of the PLA at par with the Nepali Army when it brokered the ceasefire which preceded the CPA. Ostensibly, the more independent foreign policy of the erstwhile Maoist led government was not to the liking of the South Block, which saw any maneuver by the Maoist led government to be responsive to a Chinese regime (that was in turn using soft power to cozy up with the government due to its Tibet-related considerations) as being tantamount to a bandwagoning with the northern neighbour (and "competing" power). The Indian actions only gave further grist to the dogmatist mill among the Maoist sections; witness the actions of Maoist cadre and sympathisers against Indian priests in Nepal.

For three years since 2005 and the coming together of the mainstream political outfits and the Maoists against the erstwhile monarchy till the formation of the Nepali republic, things were progressing quite well for a nation with a blighted past. There were indeed more than a few hiccups as was expected between parties representing various class interests and the irreconcilability of those sections' interests playing itself out politically. But the Maoists made most of the important compromises - they gave up their "peoples' war" and agreed to work toward a "21st century system" of democracy; accepting a multi-party system that went against their given dogma. They agreed to work democratically to realise their aims - that of building a "new democratic" Nepal on the long march toward socialism. They even achieved a multi-class alliance of sorts in their efforts to do so, only for reactionaries to put a halt to all these in cahoots with sections of the Indian establishment.

The breaking of the deadlock would herald a return to the peace process inaugurated path, and a political settlement of sorts leading to the building of a visionary Constitution could be achieved. Will Madhav Nepal show the sagacity to achieve this? Will the UML in particular, be willing to act as a leftist party and defy its NGOised inner demons? Will the republican sections of the Nepali Congress realise the futility of giving leeway to the reactionary old guard and change course? And how long would a consensual approach toward achieving political aims be acceptable or indeed be made palatable by a pragmatic Maoist leadership to dogmatic sections of the party? Answers to these questions will determine the rate of change toward progress in Nepal. The leftist in India here is waiting for the right ones.

Cross-posted from www.pragoti.org