Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Largesse to Private Explorers

An audit of production-sharing contracts reveals violations that have hurt the interests of the public.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG)’s draft performance audit report on petroleum/natural gas production-sharing contracts (PSCs) ­– the first of its kind by the audit officer on the petroleum sector – suggests favours by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to private players, especially Reliance Industries (RIL), and has expanded the ­already long list of “scams” associated with this government.

Well before the CAG’s audit, overpricing of natural gas produced by Reliance in the Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin had shown the UPA government in a poor light. In September 2007, an ­empowered group of ministers had recommended, against the advice of officials, that the sale price of natural gas from the KG basin be set at $4.2 per million British thermal unit (MBTU). This was despite estimates of Reliance’s production costs not ­exceeding $1.43 per MBTU. This very generous decision by the government allowed Reliance to garner super profits from the basin. Now, in 2011, the CAG has come up with more evidence which proves that large private players have violated the PSCs.

To Read More, Click Here.

Local poll results in Lanka - Another push for a political solution

Ahilan Kadirgamar, spokesperson of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum, suggests that the Tamil National Alliance's victory combined with international pressure after the Channel 4 Documentary and the UN Special Panel Report have brought upon added impetus for the Sri Lankan government to proceed with steps towards a "political solution" in that country. The peoples' mandate in the Northern Province in the local body elections held there in July this year, were clearly a rebuff to the Rajapaksa regime's efforts to limit the discourse to "development".

Friday, July 29, 2011

Media Diversity in India - Antidote to Murdochisation

Editor of The Hoot - a media watchdog website, Sevanti Ninan comments on the differences and similarities between Murdoch's media empire and what exists in India. She is interviewed in the context of the "phone hacking" scandal that has brought media moghul Murdoch in the dock in Britain.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Yingluck's win positive for Thailand

Chanida Bamford from the Focus on The Global South, speaks on the election results in Thailand. The decisive victory for Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai party is a positive development for Thailand which has suffered autocratic rule in the near past, she says.

Decolonising knowledge systems

A conference on “Decolonising Our Universities” held in June in Penang, Malaysia, offered interesting perspectives on the need for and ways to foster epistemologies and pedagogies that are devoid of Eurocentric and colonial bias and prejudice.

In a conference held in Penang, Malaysia from 27 to 29 June 2011 and titled “Decolonising Our Universities”, scholars and academicians from the erstwhile “colonised world” gathered to discuss ways of “decolonising our universities” from influences of Eurocentrism that pervaded academics. The presentations were not merely academic but very activist, with the clarion call for some form of Renaissance or resisting Eurocentric hegemony or both dominating proceedings. At the end of it all, the message was well taken. At least in the social sciences, which predominated the discourse on academics, there was a strong case for decolonisation: for theorisations that were not limited to the European cultural milieu, for breaking away from European thought, its categories, concepts and from the myth that they were originators of modern civilisation, and for the re-establishment of the non-Europeans as “knowing subjects” and not “passive objects” perceived through the agency of Europeans.

The basis for that discourse was laid out in a keynote by the Indian ambassador to Bhutan and popular writer, Pavan Varma who lamented the effects of colonisation on the Indian mind, which for him, still persisted today. The derision shown for Indian culture by the colonial masters had been “internalised by the ruled”, the colonisers created an education system that suited their interests, and importantly Indian languages lost their salience during colonial rule. Political scientist and social psychoanalyst Ashis Nandy as a discussant added that colonialism of the British variety was an upgrade over the “earlier form of colonialism” associated with the Spanish and the Portuguese. The British colonialists’ enterprise involved a “seepage of the values of the Enlightenment” but was equally and even more dangerous to the natives of the colonised lands, particularly India. The rampant nature of colonisation increased with the entry of the East India Company and was imbued with the values of utilitarianism represented by the likes of Mill and Bentham, justifying colonialism on the need for “progress”, enforcing natives to “climb the inclined plane of history to achieve what the Europeans had already achieved”. Another discussant, politician Mani Shankar Aiyar did not agree – colonialism, warts and all had also an element of interactivity – which was utilised by Indian nationalists and natives for their own progress. So much so that today in the age of globalisation, Indians have raised themselves to be developed. In Aiyar’s view, a “balanced” review of the advent of colonialism suggests that the consequences were not so much an entrenchment of the culture of the colonised to the detriment of that of the ruled, but the utilisation of the interactions with the colonisers to chart a “new synthesis” by the ruled themselves. Essentially, the process of decolonisation was concomitant with the process of exchange of ideas and values from the outside world.

Eurocentrist Sociology

The keynote session, albeit debating colonisation in its generics did set an important note that was explored in specifics in other sessions, especially by Malaysian sociologist Syed Farid Alatas who spoke on “Teaching Social Theory as an Alternative Discourse” to Eurocentrist sociology. Alatas argued that the countering of Eurocentrist sociology in the South was possible only through a thorough study of it using the specificities of the local. In other words, a correction of the European bias in social theory was impossible without critical engagement with western thinkers such as Marx, Weber and Durkheim in that canon. Alatas invoked the works of Filipino thinker and activist, Jose Rizal to make this point. He also argued as to how, while universalisation of sociology was an imperative, it could only be done by providing space to various civilisational voices apart from the usual European ones. In other words, recognition of social science work in the South in the form of local knowledge systems and publications in various languages were due in order to achieve a “universal sociology”.

And that certainly was lacking in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) World Social Science Report 2010. Darryl Macer, regional advisor for the Social and Human Sciences in Asia and Pacific unit of UNESCO, in his paper, “Decolonising Social Sciences across the World”, clearly found that the “perceived knowledge gap” between the global North and the South according to the report was a consequence of unaccounted factors (in the report) such as

lack of recognition for academic research not conducted in European languages; low recognition of non-European authors and institutions; differences in fundamental paradigms of thought and concepts of what is social science; and the need for greater South-South collaboration and exchange programmes.

Besides the above, there were other reasons for the “knowledge gap” – expressed among others in the wide gap in number of research publications between those in the North and the South. Some had to do, according to other presenters, with the lack of adequate funding for social science research and of enough autonomy for research institutions, for example in south Asia. But there was also the larger problem of a Eurocentric view of social sciences, something that needed correction. The conference decided to send a note to UNESCO asking for addressing this problem, besides suggesting remedies to the factors contributing to the “knowledge divide”.

Indictment of Eurocentrism

Ashis Nandy’s point about justifications of colonialism by the colonisers using the logic of Enlightenment values such as “progress” and “revolution” were alluded to and expanded upon in an interesting paper, titled, “History ‘Outside’ the West” by Vinay Lal. In his analytics of history and historiography as viewed by the British thinkers such as James Mill – whose works “exercised an incalculable influence” on the British civil servants – Lal argues as to how Europe’s own history was to serve as template for “all history”. The categories of “ancient, medieval and modern” that explained the European past were “assumed to be the ‘natural’ categories through which one might interpret any history”. Ashis Nandy’s expressed view on “progress” played itself out in the idea of “temporal linearity” being the informing principle of all contemporary history and “perforce condemn[ed] the people outside Europe to live someone else’s history, with consequences that have been seen across all domains of life”. Lal, echoing Alatas argued as to how in the discourse of “world history”, “the colonised and now underdeveloped subjects had no place, except, of course, as the objects of the wise discourse of knowing subjects”. World history, as much as social theory, was yet another form of colonising knowledge and the need therefore was for a history of many worlds – “our worlds”. Vinay Lal’s exposition was certainly an indictment of Eurocentric bias in historicising in the west, but it is to be stated that present-day study of history in countries such as India is not necessarily imbued with such biases.

Decolonising as a theme was extended to the field of psychotherapy, as presentations by African scholars, Augustine Nwoye and Akmalofe Adebayo, argued for an indigenous African psychotherapy challenging Eurocentric world views – both for pedagogy and practice, respectively. Nwoye in his paper, “An Outline and Rationale for the Inclusion of African Psychotherapy as an Undergraduate Course in an African University”, specifically outlined a course for African psychotherapy for undergraduate study. Adebayo propounded his idea of “Nchetaka” as a “radical and indigenous” African “academic praxis of psychology”, devoid of Eurocentric biases, in his paper titled, “A Recovering African Psychologist’s Narratives of Resistance and the Quest for Our Own Story”. The emphasis for Adebayo was to adopt a social constructivist approach that was biased towards indigenous methodologies such as “story telling” for psychotherapy. Adebayo’s paper was an interesting case of decolonising a field of humanities in praxis.

Mathematician C K Raju, in a presentation, titled “Decolonising Math and Science Education”, argued that colonisation as a process extended to the natural sciences as well. Raju, basing his presentation in favour of the traditional Indian notion of pramana – empirical proof in mathematics as opposed to the philosophy of “formalism”, argued that there existed a religious – Christian – bias in “formal” mathematics, and it was necessary to unlearn this form of mathematics that dominated curricula across the world. The validity of the argument was beyond the ken of this writer, but perhaps Raju could have tempered his views which included ad hominem attacks on scientists such as Albert Einstein. Raju’s presentation was also based on his copious works on the origins of calculus in India, the analysis of “infinite series in India” and others. His salient point was that mathematics and natural sciences had to be “de-theologised”, and that, an alternate history and philosophy of mathematics had to be worked out and taught in universities.

Emphasis on decolonisation was an imperative even in legal education in the South, as Malaysian law professor Shad Saleem Faruqi pointed out in his presentation titled, “Western Intellectual Imperialism in Malaysian Legal Education”. He argued that university curricula in the South were devoid of awareness of Asian and African contribution to knowledge on “evaluation of right and wrong, of justice and fairness, of poverty and development”, etc. Indigenisation of law syllabi was necessary, albeit not to the exclusion of western knowledge paradigms, but to resist the hegemony of western ideas, which had fallen short in elobarating human rights, public law, environmentalism and in the building of a just world. This point was illustrated in detail by South African professor, Shadrack Gutto, who argued how Eurocentrism was manifest in the postcolonial continuities in African legal systems, which militated against the interests of the African people even today.

Other presenters also built upon on the theme of Eurocentrism preventing the ability of people of the South from constructing their own systems of knowledge drawing from their rich histories. Molefi Asante argued for an Africocentric creation of knowledge and education systems, drawing upon the need to preserve the best of African ancestral traditions and working for a renaissance of the glorious African past of the Egyptian (Kemet), Nubian civilisations among others. He evocatively denounced the Eurocentric idea that the Enlightenment was an “age of reason” considering that Africa was most at risk during this period of colonisation. His paper was titled, “The Philosophical Bases for an African University – Designing Afrocentric Curricula for African Universities”. Discussants however cautioned that the need for yet another “centricism” – Afrocentrism – would defeat the purpose, as the idea was to counter the hegemony of Eurocentricism and work towards an inclusive “universalism”.

Islamisation of Social Sciences?

Presentations on the need for the Islamisation of social sciences were problematic. Directly applying theological beliefs to “social science” must surely be counterproductive, but that was not the theme of presentations from some west Asian scholars who strongly argued for the rootedness of social science within Islamic tenets.

The last session featured the attempts at creating repositories of knowledge and institutions that were stripped of Eurocentric influences, biases and epistemology. Environmentalist Claude Alvares presented a paper on “Alternatives to University Pedagogy”, which were refreshing and interesting to hear about. This paper argued for the “deprofessionalisation of the university system”, making learning more interesting and to combine experience settings and collegiality to go with learning. But would it require this to completely do away with the “university system” as it exists today, as Alvares – perhaps facetiously – argued?

A presentation on the “Swaraj University” by its founder Manish Jain exemplified one such model of alternate institution that Alvares had in mind. Innovative teaching methods, curricula and learning from experience marked the goals of this university, which is attempting to do away with the formalistic and “ritualistic” forms of established university teaching. In this reporter’s opinion, the effort is laudable, but the system surely cannot be “scaled up” for all forms of learning and teaching.

All in all, the conference on “decolonising our universities” offered insightful perspectives on the need and ways to foster epistemologies and pedagogies that are devoid of Eurocentric and colonial bias and prejudice. Having said that the dangers of this turning out to be a form of “nativism” and even perhaps intolerance of any form of western knowledge are inherent. There was in some of the papers and discussions an element of over-celebration of the native and recourse to the un-scientific.

Mani Shankar Aiyar’s invocation of Gandhi (Young India, 1 June 1921, p 170) is well worth mentioning here as the South endeavours to strip its universities of Eurocentrism –

I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Indignats - Harbinger of a New Politics in Spain?

Prominent Italian Journalist and Leftist political activist Marco Berlinguer is interviewed on Skype on the Indignats movement in Spain.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Special Interest driven UPA resembles a sinking ship

A rudder-less United Progressive Alliance has convinced no one that it is acquiring some kind of anchor by shuffling its crew on a burning deck.

That certainly seems to be the most common reaction to the "ministerial reshuffle" enacted mid-term by UPA captains- prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. UPA-sympathetic voices were happy that certain names that were no longer possible to be defended for their steering of various ministries have been finally asked to disembark.

Dayanidhi Maran - who was formally accused by the CBI for delaying licences for the Aircel group until it was bought off by a Malaysian firm which in turn allegedly repaid his favour in investing in the Sun Group's digital TV plans - has walked the plank and is out of the cabinet. Maran clearly worked for the interests of his family flagship Sun TV rather than that of the people who he was supposed to represent. Another person who was dropped was Murli Deora, whose petroleum ministry came under the CAG's scanner for the flawed manner in which its production sharing contract with Reliance for the exploration of gas in the KG basin was being implemented . Deora has however ensured that his son has taken a place in the list of ministers.

Siddharth Varadarajan in his normative piece about the UPA a couple of days ago, wrote that it needed the "mother of all reshuffles" to take it out of the morass that the government finds itself in. Even if many of his points were well taken, it was just "well-wishing" and many of the changes he had asked for (and to be fair, did not anticipate) never happened.

What is unsaid about how ministerial berths have been provided in the UPA is that they have got little to do with the merit of the person or his/her position on various policies. With the UPA in particular, the key to ministerial allocation generally is the ability to act for special interests. The stench of corruption and malfeasance that has pervaded the UPA has much to do with the fact that special interests - corporate mostly - have controlled policy making in the government. That is not going to change by the addition/subtraction of a few crew members in the UPA mother ship.

Consider the top four positions in the government - finance, defense, external affairs and home. Except for the defense ministry helmed by the "unimpeachably honest" AK Antony, the rest of the ministries cannot say that they had the best interests of their country's citizens in mind in the manner they implemented policy decisions. The finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has steadfastly refused to take on the most pressing problem in the country - inflation and has presented budget after corporate friendly budget. Mukherjee also has a finger in every policy pie, heading a slew of EGoMs, including the one that decided to hand over natural gas pricing on a platter to Reliance enabling them to garner a massive super profit. The home minister P.Chidambaram has been a disaster in handling issues that require high political awareness and sensitivity. His handling of the Maoist challenge, the Telangana issue, the Kashmir imbroglio last year suggest that his imperious ways of functioning have yielded little dividends in solving intractable problems of this nature.

The allies of the Congress are no better, in fact quite abject as in the case of the Trinamul Congress. Before the ascension of Dinesh Trivedi to the railways ministry of the cabinet, the senior-most minister at the helm was Mukul Roy of the same party. His predecessor, leader and current West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was pathetic in her handling of the ministry presiding over numerous railway accidents and mishaps. With her attentions fixated at Writers' Buildings, she had little concern about passenger safety, train punctuality, and in her term, the Railways regressed as an institution. If she had shown the nadir of sensitivity blaming passengers for their own deaths because of a stampede in the New Delhi Railway Station last year, her junior party member and minister of state Mukul Roy emulated her by refusing to visit the site of accident in Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh a couple of days ago. There is little confidence that Mamata Banerjee's successor, Dinesh Trivedi would be any better for the institution that still employs the largest number of workers in the country. If anything, one can expect a further movement towards greater privatisation and commercialisation of the institution to the detriment of the interests of the employees and passengers.

The DMK, of which much has been written and talked about, has always treated ministerial berths as avenues for crony capitalism, rent seeking and furthering ill gotten wealth for the first family of the party and their cohorts. The currently longest ruling political party at the centre - the DMK offers the worst example of caring little for concerns of malfeasance - notice the utter lack of compunction or remorse from the likes of DMK patriarch M.Karunanidhi, A.Raja, Dayanidhi Maran, Kanimozhi and the rest of the DMK "glitterati". The DMK still holds ministries where rent seeking is a lucrative exercise. And they have not been reshuffled in this latest cosmetic exercise enacted by the UPA.

The one minister who ruffled the feathers (relatively) of the widespread special interests with the UPA was former environment minister Jairam Ramesh. Exhibiting some spine in taking on vested interests who had always had it easy in circumventing and even formulating environmental norms and rules for their own benefits, Ramesh had earned the respect of grassroots organisers and people who had been affected by displacement and environmental degradation in various parts of the country. His "activist" presence - a derogatory reference to his methods of consulting stakeholders and environmental groups while deciding upon clearances - miffed no less than the "ace reformer" prime minister Manmohan Singh. And it is no wonder that he has been promptly removed from the post and shifted to rural development. One hopes (against hope) that his successor would show the same gumption to take on special interests - especially large real estate groups, mining companies and other assorted conglomerates willing to partake into the yields of primitive accumulation - but the peremptory shift does not yield confidence.

A few demotions and new sinecures for other ministers have not been received well by them. Mumbai based legislator Gurudas Kamat formally handed over his resignation unwilling to take on the important water resources and sanitation affairs ministry, apparently miffed at its "low profile". But that is no surprise. It is not the "low profile", but the low or practically little "rent seeking ability" in the ministry that miffs the likes of Kamat and company.

The continuation of a minister who has been expressly questioned for continuation in power by no less than the Supreme Court - Vilasrao Deshmukh also adds substance to the "special interests" theory vis-a-vis the UPA. Deshmukh, who was ludicrously in the helm of "rural development" despite having been indicted by the Supreme Court for having protected a private moneylender against accusations of torture and ill-treatment of villagers, has been shunted out to the science and technology ministry. He continues his naked quest for rent-seeking by this time trying to win the post for the presidency of the Mumbai Cricket Association with full support of the ace real estate businessman masquerading as a politician - Sharad Pawar. And that leads us to Sharad Pawar, who continues to wreak havoc on the agrarian sector in the country through sheer negligence as agriculture minister. Pawar has himself wanted to concentrate on the "very important" matters related to cricket in the role of the ICC president that he holds, but the prime minister continues to thrust the unwilling businessman onto the country.

No less than the cleaning of the Augean stables could have brought about a sea-change in the attitudes and functioning of the UPA government. But the essence of the actions by those at the helm has been to resist, deflect and parry widespread allegations of misgovernance, corruption, and malfeasance. That explains the continued presence of Kapil Sibal in the telecommunications ministry. Sibal in his role has done precisely what the corporate sector would have wanted him to do vis-a-vis the 2G scam - limit the damage to blaming a select set of individuals, deflect criticisms of widespread loss to the public exchequer by simply denying that there is a loss and parry attempts at forcing crony corporates which made the most out of the flawed 2G allocation process to pay the requisite costs of spectrum or cancel their licences. It is too bad that the Supreme Court has not bought into Sibal's methods and logic and have doggedly taken on the job of bringing the matter to justice. That Sibal's methods have alienated no less than the government's own solicitor general is testament to the extent of the role that special interests are playing themselves out in the matter.

All in all, there is no recognition by the government that it is policy that is skewed towards special interests that has generated the morass in the first place. And that is deliberate for the UPA is itself run by special interests.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Scope for Expansion

India is poised to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation with the SCO setting new criteria for expansion.

A mong the various groupings that have been jostling to act as a counterweight to the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in the global arena, the relatively young Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) hopes to emerge as a viable bloc. The SCO – which currently includes China, Russia and the four central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – is seen variously as an alliance to counter the expansion of NATO into Asia, as a grouping keen to coordinate national actions on terrorism, and as a forum to promote trade and economic ties in the region. Russia in particular sees SCO as a platform that could potentially build a security alliance to thwart attempts by NATO and the US to expand in eastern Europe and central Asia, respectively.

To read more of the EPW Editorial, click here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Indian Media - Politically Free, Prisoners of Profit" - P.Sainath

Eminent commentator and rural affairs editor of The Hindu newspaper, P.Sainath speaks to Newsclick on media discourse and other issues related to the "Fourth Estate".

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Modifying the Terms of Compensation

The Uttar Pradesh government makes compensation for land acquisition more generous, but is that enough?

Intense protests by farmers agitating in the Greater Noida region of Gautam Budh Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh (up) against acquisition of lush agricultural land for the “Yamuna Expressway” project finally compelled the Bahujan Samaj Party government last month to announce a new land acquisition policy. The ruling government’s hand was also forced by the support to the agitations from various opposition parties, whose representatives landed in droves to “lead” the protests. In an attempt to mollify anger about unfair compensation rates currently in place, the new policy sees the government playing a less prominent role and more generous terms of compensation for farmers whose lands are acquired, but the policy is not based on any holistic framework on land use and acquisition.

An EPW Editorial. Read more here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

'Japanese resilience tested by the triple disaster' - Brij Tankha

The triple disaster - the March 11th earthquake and tsunami followed by the nuclear accident in Fukushima has tested the famed resilience of the Japanese people. Professor at the department of East Asian studies at Delhi University, Brij Tankha comments on the reactions to the triple disaster by the Japanese government and society.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Duplicitous Godman and a double dealing Government

Just as one thought that “silly season” was never ending in India's capital, the Indian central government engaged in some acrobatics, shifting suddenly from being supine and stumbling to ballistic and bellicose within a few days. Nothing else could describe the way the Indian government handled the “baba” Ramdev threat of agitating over the “black money” issue.

Indeed the issue of repatriating “black money” stashed in offshore banks is an important one and something that has added to the government's already burgeoning embarrassment of corruption charges. Yet the agitation threatened by the televangelist yoga practitioner – one among many “parvenu godmen” as Prabhat Patnaik calls them – was never more than a half-serious attempt at re-enacting the Anna Hazare moment against corruption. Instead, the government, alarmed and conditioned by the response to the Anna Hazare led civil society movement thought it necessary to engage with Ramdev in the most flattering manner possible. No less than four cabinet ministers were dispatched to pay obeisance and persuade the “baba” to give up his call for a fast to force the government into repatriating the “black money”.

That a government which paid little heed or bother to a large rally of working class protesters – cutting across political boundaries and over a lakh– who had assembled some months ago in the capital to protest inflation and the lack of government response to it, took to literally prostrating in front of a “godman” showed up its muddle headed priorities. Perhaps understanding the ridicule that it was being subject to, the government decided to swing to the other extreme after it found that Ramdev was being recalcitrant and unwilling to honor a secret pact that could have brought an end to the proposed agitation. It decided to let loose its law and order machinery, attacking gathered protesters at the wee hours of the night and in the process, invited a suo moto scrutiny call by the Supreme Court.

If the UPA had already played up the televangelist's nuisance value by paying obeisance in the first place, it had suddenly transformed him into a crusader-martyr by taking violent recourse to clearing up his rally. Incompetence is now writ large on the UPA adding fuel to the fire of resentment against it caused by the plethora of scandals pervading its existence in government.

And the embers of anger that is now raging against the government is being fanned by all kinds of recidivist forces – the RSS is actively playing a “behind-the-scenes” role in guiding Ramdev's “movement”; even the vastly discreditedKhap panchayats' representatives are trying to make hay while this fire burns. “Black money” is now merely a staging point for dark forces to pitch in their own agendas in the garb of opposing the “corrupt” government. And who else but the government is to be blamed for all this?

The shoddy defense of the 2G licensing scam offered by the government's spokespersons, the belated actions in the Commonwealth Games organisation scam, the continued nexus with big business pervading its governance, and the ongoing inaction on issues confronting the people – inflation in particular have all resulted in where the UPA finds itself – between a rock and a hard place.

What of the “civil society” that sees in the idea of an all powerful Lok Pal, a panacea of all ills that constitute corruption? Leave alone the fact that this institution targets only malfeasance and does not even tread into addressing the roots of the phenomena of “corruption”, there remain severe lacunae in the proposals emanating from the civil society representatives. The institution envisaged is suggested to have extra-constitutional powers, going against the “separation of powers” logic inherent in the representative democracy that is the republic of India. Surely a lot of perspective is required – both in the ideation of the “Lok Pal” and also, in the understanding of how much the battle against corruption is linked to the larger war against neoliberalism and crony-capitalism.

That war and the battles to be fought in the interim cannot be won if it relies upon weapons of irrationality as embodied by the likes of the “parvenu” godmen like the Ramdevs or the “Sri Sri”s whose projects go against the larger grains of civic organisation and secularism. Irrational demands and pronouncements -such as those among others made by Ramdev in the course of his agitation– trivialise the issue of corruption and the matter of hoarding unpaid taxes in offshore accounts. They also paper over the very manner and means that sustain the lives of these “godmen” who wish to perpetuate their already dubiously earned “messiah” statuses by partaking into issues of politics that is constitutionally supposed to be the arena of the secular. It is indeed farcical to therefore see a yoga guru who has built an empire out of a televangelist business that claims that “cancer can be cured via yoga”, runs a quackish ayurveda “pharmacy” that produces medicines of dubious value and content, is accused of anti-labour acts, is someone who owns an entire island overseas, leading the moral ground(swell) against “corruption”.

The government though, by its high-handed actions going against the letter of the law, has ceded whatever moral ground it had vis-a-vis the dubious “babas”, in effect, making heroes out of them. Indeed, as a double dealing government tries to outdo a duplicitous (and cross-dressing) “godman”, the real issue of corruption has been given the go-by.

In a State of Denial

Triumphalism prevails as the Sri Lankan government remains in a state of denial regarding alleged war crimes.

That the Sri Lankan government and its armed forces committed a series of war crimes against the Tamil people in the course of the civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is a known fact to many. That after the civil war, in a state of triumphalism, and invoking chauvinism, the government refused to hold accountable those guilty of war crimes and did not make any effort to address the long-standing grievances of the Tamils is also well known. Following a UN “Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka” though, there is more international scrutiny of these matters.

To read more of the EPW Editorial, click here

Money and Power Binds Parties Post-Liberalisation

Shankar Raghuraman, Associate Editor of the Times of India comments on the humongous scams associated with parties like the DMK post liberalisation. A Newsclick interview.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

War Crimes in Sri Lanka - UN Panel demands accountability

Spokesperson of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum, Ahilan Kadirgamar talks to Newsclick over phone from New York. He argues that the "Report of the Secretary-General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka" brings about valid recommendations, which if heeded by the otherwise triumphalist and denialist Sri Lankan government could pave the way for true reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka following the brutal civil war in 2009.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Vanquishing of the DMK

Astute alliance building and public resentment over corruption turned the tide in favour of the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.

The outcome of the Tamil Nadu elections did not surprise many, but it was the sweep of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) that astonished everyone, including perhaps the victors. It was a wave but it was not one occasioned by a single factor; a combination of factors – resentment over corruption in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) “family”, alliance arithmetic and voter unhappiness about everyday issues – affected a landslide that all but obliterated the DMK-Congress alliance. If there is a message in the Tamil Nadu vote, it is that a small number of welfare measures, the promise of post-electoral handouts and attempts at bribing voters with cash do not by themselves make a recipe for electoral success.

To Read More from the EPW Editorial, Click Here.

Two interviews on Land Acquisition in India

'Active role of state, well defined "public purpose", consent - imperatives in land acquisition'

Dr Smita Gupta, senior economist with the Institute of Human Development and someone who is actively involved with farmers' organisations comments on the "land acquisition issue" in India. A Newsclick Presentation

'Must not see Land Acquisition in isolation from larger Agrarian Question'

S.P. Shukla, Former Member of Planning Commission, discusses the land acquisition policies and ways of various State governments in the country. He argues for a comprehensive Land Use Policy document to be prepared by the central authorities in India. A Newsclick Presentation

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Law of Intelligence Agencies

New allegations on the Purulia arms drop case underline the need for parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies.

Intelligence agencies claim that the nature of their work demands that they operate in secrecy; however, this licence they enjoy gives them a measure of autonomy and power that can be and is used to undermine democratic processes. Stories are legion of how India’s intelligence agencies – especially the Intelligence Bureau and even the body supposedly dealing with external matters, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) – have launched independent ventures in different parts of the country and wreaked havoc on the polity and society. Nothing has ever been proven for they enjoy de facto immunity, outside the pale of parliamentary accountability and at times even outside ministerial control.

To Read from the EPW Editorial, click Here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

US Lawlessness at Guantanamo

WikiLeaks again exposes the hypocrisy and brutality at the heart of US policies.

WikiLeaks’ expose of the starkly illegal and brutal nature of the extrajudicial detentions at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, through its access to detainee assessment briefs and documents that are guidelines for interrogators, tell a lot about US lawlessness and brutality in the course of its so-called “war on terror”. The accounts, numbering around 750, could possibly constitute the final tranche of documents reportedly leaked by the former US army private Bradley Manning.These documents are military “assessments” written between 2002 and 2009 and give an ample picture of the brutality at Guantanamo.

T0 Read More from the EPW Editorial, Click Here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Analysing the 2011 Assembly Election Results

I did a sequence of interviews with senior journalists/ political analysts, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Sukumar Muralidharan and Shankar Raghuraman to analyse the assembly election results in West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu respectively for Newsclick. The videos are embedded below -

"The Left has to introspect and rethink after this huge loss in West Bengal" - Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

This was not merely an electoral loss but a major defeat of a bastion, says Paranjoy Guha Thakurta about the Left Front's loss in West Bengal. He argues that there has to be a rethink in the Left's political outlook and organisation following this loss.

"Creditable performance by LDF in Assembly Elections" - Sukumar Muralidharan -

The LDF misses victory by a whisker in the 2011 Assembly elections in the state. The good image of the outgoing VS Achuthanandan led government was a factor responsible for the creditable performance. Sukumar Muralidharan comments in an interview with Newsclick

"Price Rise, Corruption and the Sri Lankan Issue responsible for the anti-DMK wave" - Shankar Raghuraman

Associate Editor of the Times of India, Shankar Raghuraman comments on the 2011 assembly election results in Tamil Nadu state. He identifies three major factors acting against the DMK, besides acknowledging the presence of a formidable alliance building tactic by the AIADMK led front.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Defending Mutual Interest

The Sanya declaration shows that BRICS is slowly getting its act together to defend mutual interests.

"BRICS” was a slogan invented by Goldman Sachs in the early years of the previous decade as part of its marketing drive to consolidate itself in the large “emerging” economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China. The grouping has travelled a long way from then. It has now given itself a separate identity, has organised three summits, expanded to include South Africa, and is slowly but surely beginning to defend mutual interests. That at least is the conclusion one can draw from the Sanya declaration issued at the conclusion of the BRICS summit on 14 April in the coastal city of China.

To Read More from the EPW Editorial, Click Here

Sunday, April 17, 2011

An Encouraging Move

The Dalai Lama’s formal proposal to give up his temporal powers should make possible a reconciliation with China.

The responses by the Tibetan exiles and the Chinese government to the Dalai Lama’s formal proposal to step down as the political head of the exiles have, ironically, been similar. This, in a way, is representative of the Tibetan conundrum though for more than two decades the Dalai Lama has continued to make conciliatory offers as part of “a middle way”. The Kashag, the cabinet of the Tibetan government in exile, reacted negatively to the Dalai Lama’s decision and urged him to continue. But elections for a new “prime minister” were held and a committee was appointed to transfer political power to the Dalai Lama’s elected successor. The Chinese government’s appointed governor of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) meanwhile rejected the offer to step down and suggested that the tradition of reincarnation should continue and that the separation of the political and spiritual roles of the Dalai Lama was not acceptable.

To Read More from the EPW Editorial, Click Here.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Can the events in West Asia be replicated in Central Asia?

Interview with Prof. Anuradha Chenoy on the Central Asian political economy, geopolitics etc -

Part 1 - Can the events in West Asia be replicated in Central Asia?

Professor Anuradha Chenoy, Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies, JNU, speaks to Newsclick about the possibility of recent West Asian events being replicated in Central Asia.

Part II -'Notwithstanding geopolitics, differences; Democracy- an Imperative in Central/West Asia"

Part II of Newclick's interview with Prof. Anuradha Chenoy of the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, SIS, JNU, on developments in Central Asia, as a pro-democracy uprising wave is in progress in West Asia.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Cash Transfers - In the Neoliberal mould of 'social assistance'" - Interview with R.Ramakumar

Associate Professor, R.Ramakumar of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences comments on the proposed Cash Transfers Programme in India.

Part I of interview by Newsclick India -

Part II of Interview - "Cash Transfers can have a complementary role"

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Vindication and Indignation - the Nuclear Deal Trust vote in retrospect

Two and a half years ago, I wrote this on the Nuclear Deal trust vote - "Nuclear Deal and Dealing Leaders" -

"In essence, everything about the manner the Manmohan Singh government went ahead with getting legislative approval for the deal, was dubious. An opera that begin with a slew of lies made by the representatives of the government to its erstwhile left allies, continued with the addition of new partners (Amar Singh, Mulayam Yadav and his cohorts) who had their own shady self serving agenda. It has now culminated with a dark flourish as nearly 11 members of parliament went “Aya Ram, Gaya Ram” and endorsed the government, while at the same time, ensuring that their wallets were sure to be bursting out of the seams with hard money. Others took the “higher road” to patronage by negotiating ministries (the JMM for example).

In the midst of it all, the sutradar and the opera conductor, the United States administration was laughing all the way to the bank. Here was the Indian government, which had now forsworn its commitment to a better, progressive and a multipolar world, to embark upon a notorious nuclear deal with the unilaterist Americans and heck, they had even gone one step ahead of the guru of graft and chicanery, George Bush, in getting the all powerful legislative approval for the deal."

Today, as I read this from a wikileaks cable, paraphrased and commented upon by the diligent Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu -

[Satish] Sharma's political aide Nachiketa Kapur mentioned to an Embassy staff member in an aside on July 16 that Ajit Singh's RLD had been paid Rupees 10 crore (about $2.5 million) for each of their four MPs to support the government. Kapur mentioned that money was not an issue at all, but the crucial thing was to ensure that those who took the money would vote for the government.


Independently, Mr. Sharma told the Political Counselor “that PM Singh and others were trying to work on the Akali Dal (8 votes) through financier Sant Chatwal and others, but unfortunately it did not work out.” He said “the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi were committed to the nuclear initiative and had conveyed this message clearly to the party.” Efforts were also on to try and get the Shiv Sena to abstain. Further, “Sharma mentioned that he was also exploring the possibility of trying to get former Prime Minister Vajpayee's son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya to speak to BJP representatives to try to divide the BJP ranks.

The cable makes it clear the Congress campaign to buy votes was not confined to the cash-filled war chests that Nachiketa Kapur and Satish Sharma had gathered.

“Another Congress Party insider told PolCouns that Minister of Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath is also helping to spread largesse. ‘Formerly he could only offer small planes as bribes,'” according to this interlocutor, ‘now he can pay for votes with jets.'”

Despite these efforts, the U.S. Embassy concluded that the UPA maintained only a “precarious lead” in the forthcoming confidence vote. “Our best guess at this time show the government maintaining its slim majority with the anticipated vote count at about 273 in favor, 251 opposed, and 19 abstentions.”

The prediction was impressively close to the mark. Prime Minister Singh got 275 votes in favour with 256 against and 10 abstentions.


The fact that Congress politicians could speak so freely to American diplomats about their bribing spree during the run up to the confidence vote — and that the latter could be so blasé about the subversion of democracy — underlines the all-encompassing but ultimately corrosive nature of the “strategic partnership” the two governments were trying to build.

As for Mr. Kapur, his candid display of crores of rupees to be used by the Congress as “pay offs” for the trust vote was not seen by the U.S. Embassy as compromising his democratic credentials in any way. In November 2008, he was sent to the U.S. under the State Department's I-Vote 2008 programme as an observer for that year's presidential election. “The move to invite international observers”, he wrote in a blog post, “reflects the open and democratic nature of the American society.

I feel vindicated and so would the rest of the Left and progressive minded sections of the country –from the intelligentsia, the sympathizers, and the polity. But of what avail? The very set of crooked politicians, which include the PM Manmohan Singh who should drop any more pretense of being a honest former academic after these leaks, are now continuing in power. The shady and murky dealing, the bribing, the American influence in all this and shameless resort to the most unethical of practices in getting through a dubious nuclear deal were only the precursor to an unprecedented show of malfeasance, corruption as seen in UPA-II. With the leak of the Radia tapes and this tranche of Wikileaks cables (thanks to The Hindu), the story is far, far more clear.

Manmohan Singh has no more moral right to continue as the country's prime minister and so do the rest of the pack of thieves masquerading as cabinet ministers and political leaders in the Congress and the UPA. Much more has to be said, but this blogger leaves this for now for the reader's digestion.