Sunday, October 09, 2005

Our poor little rich

A republic where everything comes free, or dirt cheap, for the rich — power, water, gas, college education

By Shekhar Gupta
This column appeared in The Indian Express

If you were one among a quarter of a billion Indians living below the poverty line, or one among nearly half of rural Indians who have never had a light bulb in their homes, what would you have thought of the recent pictures of the tony rich of South Delhi holding candle-light marches against a 10 per cent increase in power tariffs? In that entire phase of protest, the one people that were missing were Delhi’s poor. But the well-to-do, even celebrities, were out in strength, painting the media radar screens as if farmers of Kalahandi had besieged the Capital. Yes, they had a genuine cause for complaint on the quality of power supplied to them, of the lack of tangible improvement since distribution had privatised. But a ten per cent increase after so many years?

Having tasted success, the Socialists of South Delhi are now asking for more. Several Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) are threatening to stop paying their water bills unless the Delhi government junks water reform. Now you could have one view or the other on what kind of reform is needed in Delhi’s water supply, but for the most privileged and prosperous section of Delhi’s elite to refuse to pay their water bills is sheer anarchy and can be put down in 24 hours; just one night spent under a rickety fan in the police lock-up would do. But will the government do it? It perhaps won’t, because of the fear that reform is still seen as “anti-poor”. So the rich might win again, and mind you, it is not just the World Bank-aided water scheme that they are protesting against. Their anger is also caused by another perfectly reasonable idea, of charging a tax on private bore-wells that all of us, or at least most of us, have dug in and around our houses in all of South Delhi, drawing unlimited underground water for free, unmindful of the drying aquifers. We do it because the Jal Board water is so little. Jal Board water is so little because we pay so little for it and because our water distribution has been awaiting reform for decades. But why should we care? We’ve got our free bore-wells for which we use electricity now subsidised to the tune of Rs 182 crore a year by our government. And for drinking water, we get our 20-litre bottles of Bisleri, Aquafina or Kinley home-delivered.

The rich exploiting subsidies in the name of the poor is not really new. That they would hit the streets in protest if these were to be taken away from them, or would refuse to pay their power and water bills, is a new development. The mindset has grown over decades of the pampering of the rich and the middle classes, where the state (or the political system) is persuaded to dole out subsidies in the name of the poor but which benefit only the well-to-do.

On Delhi’s power and water fronts, somebody should check the homes of those protesting: how many of them have their own private (and untaxed) gensets running on diesel (subsidised ostensibly for the poor farmer); how many of them own borewells, and you will know how the most privileged members of our society have successfully fattened themselves by hanging on to the mammaries of the socialist state, while the poor have been marginalised further.

The next example is LPG. If, after almost two decades, the expression “scarcity” has hit our front pages, it is because of the price and market distortion that has gone on in the name of the poor, but to the benefit of the rich. The government wants to subsidise LPG for the man on the street, but would hope to sell it at a much higher price to the dhaba around the street corner. The obvious result is a black market, and now the oil ministry threatens to unleash armies of inspectors to prevent “diversion”. A misplaced subsidy, market distortion, black market, inspector raj and corruption, these are all the most logical links in the same ridiculous chain of misplaced subsidies. Do the leaders of the Left who go apocalyptic at the very suggestion of an LPG price hike, ever wonder whether the poor they speak for can afford a gas connection to begin with? To have LPG, you need a home, a kitchen you can lock, a gas stove, a deposit for the connection. Do the real poor have any of these? And will a small increase really hit the middle, or even lower middle classes so badly? An LPG cylinder today costs less than the price of hiring a (even pirated) DVD, or a Coke and pop-corn at a multiplex. And yet the same people will hit the street over a 10-rupee increase in LPG prices.

Look at it another way. Most lower middle class families today have cable TV connections, and in most parts of India it costs nearly twice as much as an LPG cylinder. Do they ask for subsidies on it? Or do they protest when cable operators announce annual increases, or pass on the service tax burden to them? They are willing to pay for their entertainment. But their essential needs, energy, water, education, and so on, they have been brought up to believe, must be provided by the state free, or at a subsidy.

Talking of education, what happens to your household budget the year one of your children passes out of school and goes into college? Your expenses go down immediately. That is because private schools are still allowed to charge remunerative fees. Our college fees have not been raised for 50 years. Colleges have to live on UGC subsidies at the cost of the tax-payer. This is actually the finest illustration of Indian socialism, where the rich and the middle classes (or bourgeoisie, if you so prefer these days) get the state to allocate subsidies in the name of the poor and then grab them all themselves. The poor obviously do not have the money to send their children to good (private) schools, or to pay for private tutions so their children, unless exceptional, do not get the 90 per cent or so needed to get into a half-decent college. So the school-level subsidy becomes their curse, and the college-level subsidy is out of their reach. What is the answer? To put private schools also under a UGC-type monstrosity, or to let colleges charge realistic fees and use the surpluses to increase their seats as also to subsidise the poor and the deserving, rather than your child or mine?

The other current socialist obsession, Provident Fund interest rates, is a part of the same phenomenon. Eighty five per cent of the EPFO members have deposits below Rs 20,000. So how much benefit can they derive from a nearly 1.5 per cent per year subsidy on interest? At the most, Rs 300 per year, or Rs 25 a month. But the better paid salaried class has been gifted a privilege their counterparts in the most prosperous economies around the world will envy them for: a 9.5 per cent interest, completely tax-free, and with state guarantees. While 85 per cent or more of the genuine working classes only applaud a subsidy paid in their name, the real benefit goes to the haves once again. They are the ones who should be sending thank-you cards to Gurudas Dasgupta.

This is as good a time as any to question this very uniquely Indian version of socialism, which turns Robin Hood on his head by robbing the poor to pay the rich (all in the name of the poor, of course).

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A much larger house on fire

About the time 50 Dalit houses were set ablaze in Gohana, the country marked 50 years of a law giving effect to the Constitution's abolition of untouchability. As if to rub it in, 25 more Dalit homes were torched the same week in Akola, Maharashtra, writes P Sainath.

06 September 2005 - Burri nazar walle, theri ghar mein ladki paida ho (You evil-eyed people, may girls be born in your homes).
Scrawled on the back of a lorry in Gohana, those words capture the soul of casteism in Haryana. Even while taking a crack at Dalits whose houses they had reduced to rubble, their oppressors couldn't fail to proclaim women to be a curse. (A view many of them clearly act upon. You can see that from Haryana's appalling sex ratio of 861. That was the worst among major States in the 2001 census.)
About the time 50 Dalit houses were set ablaze in Gohana, the country marked 50 years of a law giving effect to the Constitution's abolition of untouchability. As if to rub in the irony, 25 more Dalit homes have been torched in the same week. This time in Akola, Maharashtra.
Of course the Constitution banned untouchability. It was to give effect to Article 17 that Parliament passed the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955. This was later made more stringent and renamed the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. Still the crimes went on. So, along the way, we brought in quite a few other vital laws. Like the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. Crimes under this Act invite harsher penalties than similar offences would under the Indian Penal Code. Half a century into the process, we grapple with the very crimes the first of these laws sought to end.
Was Gohana 2005 a one-off aberration? We could then say: awful, but these things happen. And get on with life. The catch of course is that they happen every so often. And to the same people. Even a show of mandatory anguish - "what an atrocity" - doesn't begin to meet the problem. Not when the crime is systemic, societal, and structured. Not when a state disables its own citizens.
The countless reports on the subject over the years do not show discrimination against Dalits to be dying away. The many volumes of the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes make grisly reading. Crimes against Dalits and Adivasis have risen by the decade. By as much as 25 to 28 per cent in some periods. Yet the number of such cases ending in conviction of the criminals is dismal. Less than one per cent in some courts.
The events in Gohana and Akola are just a part of an ongoing crime against humanity. For that's what caste-based discrimination is. (But I'm still sure you'll see editorials that tell us these things are wrong because 'they send bad signals to investors.')
In Gohana, the dominant castes, the police, the state, all did their bit in bringing terror and ruin to the Dalit basti. (The police say that after a Jat died in a clash with some Dalits, the Jats `retaliated.') Fearing an attack, over 1,000 Dalits fled the basti. The police steered clear of the village while a mob of some 1,500 people burned around 50 Dalit houses to the ground. A thousand people had fled knowing an attack was coming. Yet the police claim they were clueless about it.
The Dalits here are Balmikis. That group is possibly the worst off within the Scheduled Caste fold. More so in terms of the humiliation it bears. In caste society's eyes, the Balmikis embody the worst forms of "impurity." They are `manual scavengers.' They handle and dispose of "night soil." (That's polite society's term for human excreta.)
Gohana's Balmikis had tried to climb out of that caste-imposed rut. They had educated their children. Got jobs outside their traditional role. Some even landed low-level government posts. And over years the Balmikis fought off the efforts of the Jats to extract begar - or forced labour - from them. Their relative improvement was itself a major provocation. This is consistent with attacks on Dalits in other parts of the country too. Doing better is a crime.
The mob in Gohana did not kill any Dalits. Partly because they had already fled. The focus, though, was on looting and on destruction of property. Dalits owning decent houses? With fridges and television sets? They had to be shown their place. Houses having gas connections were destroyed using the absent owner's LPG cylinders. The relatively good houses of the Dalits were an eyesore to their enemies.
Gohana's Balmikis had, against daunting odds, emerged from the depths of deprivation. They had created these houses and assets over decades. With a kind of effort that much of society might never understand. In these, they invested not just their money but their emotions, passion, dreams, and the future of their children. The death of those dreams, the destruction of those assets, was achieved in hours. Petrol cans and police connivance were all it took.
The State now offers each home Rs. 1 lakh as compensation. A fraction of its losses. Forget tending to the trauma. Note the manner in which the Dalits were `punished.' In true feudal tradition, an individual offence became a collective crime. A Dalit is alleged to have killed someone. All Dalits in his basti must pay the price. The due course of law gets dumped. The caste panchayat reigns higher than the courts.
It was in the same State a few years ago that police battered little Usha, also a Balmiki, in Jind. The girl, not yet in her teens, was helping her mother clean a local school. The school headmistress accused her of stealing a gold chain. Not content with thrashing the frail child herself, she called in the Haryana police. Meanwhile, the chain was found. The headmistress had merely mislaid it. The family got the girl back, unconscious, badly bruised and with teeth broken.
We could, of course, say "that's Haryana." And there would even be an element of truth in it. Except that the same prejudices work in many ways across most of the country. Chunni Lal Jatav, a survivor of the Kumher massacre in Rajasthan, once put it famously. "All the judges of the Supreme Court do not have the power of a single police constable. That constable makes or breaks us. The judges can't re-write the laws and have to listen to learned lawyers of both sides. A constable here simply makes his own laws. He can do almost anything." With state and society winking at him, he pretty much can.
And those committing crimes against Dalits know they have a great chance of getting away with it. State Governments have dropped countless cases filed against upper caste offenders under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. Kalyan Singh's BJP Government in Uttar Pradesh dropped such cases in thousands. A move quickly emulated by the Shiv Sena regime in Maharashtra. Later governments did not reinstate these cases.
In Tamilnadu, Dalits have been forced out of elected office even in reserved panchayats. In Melavalavu, the Dalit panchayat president's head was severed and thrown into a well. Dalits in Dravidian Land, an excellent book by Frontline's S. Viswanathan, paints a powerful picture of Dalit life in that State.
Oddly, whether it's Gohana, or Jhajar before it, discussion on these issues seldom links up to those other, ongoing debates. For instance, that on reservation. No link is seen between any of this and the debates on social justice. On present SC / ST quotas. Or on the call for quotas in the private sector. Gohana actually has people who gained, if modestly, from reservation.
Against huge odds, Gohana's Balmikis snapped their chains. They educated their children. This is not easy. In schools, their boys and girls face the taunts of `upper' caste peers. (Across the country, large numbers of Dalit pupils drop out of school to escape such humiliation.) First, society places them under inhuman handicaps. Then we demand a "level playing field" against them in jobs and education.
The children of manual scavengers and other poor people return each evening to homes without electricity. And so cannot study in the way other kids can. They go back to homes without good books. They cannot afford "tuitions." They have no "connections" to land them jobs or seats. In the face of these odds, their achievements are admirable. A true level playing field could actually tilt the balance in their favour. For it would start by ending their handicaps. But look at the fury stoked by the mere idea of private colleges setting aside seats for such people. (Never mind that the Supreme Court judgment allows such colleges to create quotas for rich NRIs.)
Yet, Gohana's Dalits have achieved something more. Dalits in Haryana are now stepping into the public space in a way not seen too often. And Dalit women appear to be in the forefront of the protests. There is a lot of pressure on the government to act. The Congress' own Dalit MLAs are in the hot seat. All this is good. Yet there is a much larger house on fire. If only we could see it.

© P Sainath, The Hindu

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A qualified freedom

India Together Editorial

For hundreds of millions of citizens, the pursuit of dignity and happiness remains an unfinished journey. Political parties are still busy interpreting freedom for the people, rather than simply giving it to them. As a result, the appearance of independence is strong, whereas in practice there is much more to be done. The India Together editorial.

01 September 2005 - There are many good things about an Independence day. Like others before it, the 15 August that passed us a fortnight ago brought cheer and national fervour to our citizens, old and young alike, and reminded us of the debt we will always owe to the founding fathers of this large, diverse and complex nation. But for large numbers of less fortunate citizens, who we are sure respect the day equally, it may also include a stark reminder of their lack of independence; their own pursuit of dignity and happiness remains an unfinished journey.
How independent are the majority of our people, really? Looking at some recent developments gives us a sense of where the nation is.

Small victories
Ever since 1947, the poorest citizens have not had the benefit of either a social or employment security system, not even at our meagre minimum wage levels. And since the 90s, we've become perhaps the only independent developing nation that both impoverishes millions of farmers and workers by exposing them to market forces - even developed countries don't do this to their farmers - and yet does not provide a minimum and statutory assurance of income security to cover them when their already low paying jobs are taken away by the same market forces.
But with the Employment Guarantee bill close to becoming law, there is now the possibility that at least one member of every rural home can demand employment at the minimum wage levels for 100 days a year, or unemployment allowance at the same rate if the government cannot provide work. Despite the criticism against instituting any form of guarantee, the EG bill is a first hard-won step forward in reversing this massive imbalance of due entitlements.
Two, government secrecy and corruption are well known, and cries against these are often raised in the public sphere in India. Entire books on the culture of secrecy and corruption have been written, sold, filed and buried. But since the Right to Information movement gained ground in the 90s - incidentally, this has its roots in the rights of workers to be paid their due wages for work - a few states have passed sunshine laws. In some states, citizens pressed ahead in using these laws and even broke new ground. But Central government departments and most State governments simply kept their files inaccessible to the regular public.
This year, that is about to change. A national Right to Information law is now on the statute books, and this time (unlike the 2002 version), the law promises to arm citizens nationwide and somewhat more uniformly. The rule-making process for this law is now on, and already there have been worries of high fees, dodgy enforcement commission appointments, and confusion in some states. The early years will likely see stops and starts in open government becoming a reality, but nothing can take away the fact that come mid-October, the nation will turn a new corner, and a new opportunity for our citizens to independently exercise vigilance over and exorcise secrecy from government will be at hand.
While these two developments augur better for the independence of our people than otherwise, any analyst of a democratising society will tell us it is too early to cry victory. In the meantime, our governments continue to hold out in other matters.

Battles still to be won
It is well accepted now that while television, print and the Internet have become media of choice and outlets for the better off in the country, radio is by far the one media that because of its nature (serves less literate and more literate alike), low cost, and local reach, allows citizens organisations to become independent broadcasters of locally relevant programming. This, in ways that high powered, advertising-dependent commercial stations or centrally managed government broadcasters will never be able to. In a nation with over 15 languages, over 300 dialects, and abundant cultural diversity, independent non-commercial radio may be a key outlet for the millions who voices are never heard in the same proportion in the public sphere that the voices of their better off counterparts are.
And not surprisingly, several non-commercial people's organisations are currently airing community radio programs in limited and paid timeslots on AIR stations - in Gujarat, Jharkhand, and Karnataka, to cite three. But purchasing limited government airitime is very constraining and they could do far better and grow their programming with their own radio licenses, subject as they will be, to the same laws of the land as other media organisations are. Yet, successive central governments have continued to deny them permissions. How this has come to be is a different story, but the fact is many of the independent societies we admire allow their citizens' organisations to run independent radio stations, whereas in India, we have outlawed non-commercial organisations other than educational institutions from radio.
Many of the independent societies we admire allow their citizens' organisations to run independent radio stations, whereas in India, we have outlawed non-commercial organisations other than educational institutions from radio. • RTI : hundred days and counting
• EGA bill in Parliament
Another domain of limited progress is local government in urban areas. It is somewhat well known that citizens' representation in urban municipal governments is very incomplete, and even lower than rural areas. To address this imbalance and to decentralise decision making on local affairs further to districts within cities (called wards), ward committees have been provided for in our law. If ward committees were instituted in the spirit of the Constitution's decentralisation amendments -- deepen their membership to allow citizen participation -- citizens would have a legal space to independently provide input and govern their own affairs, as opposed to otherwise. But governments in many states have not established these committees at all, or where set up they are loaded with preferred political appointees, who are uninterested in public service. That said, in some states, there are new efforts underway to create people's sabhas in polling booth jurisdictions and make ward committees actually work.

Understanding independence differently
These are a few observations; still there is a uniform thread that runs through many of these areas: an increasingly assertive people may choose different expressions of independence, whereas centralised government programs and plans simply offer them one of many expressions they might choose. Our leaders are still interpreting independence for the people, rather than giving it to them. Whoever is 'ruling' in Delhi or the state capitals is assumed to be acting with the people's mandate on all issues, even if the people who elected them only liked some portion of their agendas. This is a well-understood problem with democracies everywhere, but its manifestation is acute in India. Individual government policies that should be up for public debate are instead presented for up-or-down votes in legislative houses or local councils where dissent within parties is already restricted by law.
The appearance of an independent people and democracy is strong in India, but the practice is still woefully incomplete. The struggle for independence rightly focused on making the nation free of external shackles, but once that freedom was obtained the emphasis should have begun shifting in more concrete terms to the citizens, so that they could fully exercise their choices on their own. Some change is taking place, but fifty eight years after 1947 this incomplete evolution remains at the heart of an important distinction between the robust independence witnessed in many other countries, and the party- and personality-led version of independence in our nation.

© India Together

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Mind of a Jehadi

By Amir Mir

(Appeared in Tehelka)

AL QAEDA chief Osama bin Laden has made jihad more central than ever before, sparking new global waves of inspiration to youth ready to give their all for the fight that he has come to symbolize. So blinded, often, is the commitment of the jihadi to the cause that those confronted with them are at a loss for counter-strategies.
He could be a dyed-in-the-wool product of a remote madarsa, bearded, aloof and intent on his purpose of establishing the Empire of the Faith. Or he could be a denim-clad graduate from a Western campus, modern to all intents and appearances, but equally single-minded in determination as his counterpart from the madarsa. He may have been part of the West and benefited from what it has to offer, but he also sees the "ills and injustices of its materialism, its determination to foist on the world an order and ethos it has created"; he is determined to fight it. As Giles Kepel, the leading French authority on Islamists, puts it in his important study, The War For Muslim Minds: "Al Qaeda was (and is) less a military base of operations than a database that connected jehadists around the world via the Internet... this organisation did not consist of buildings and tanks and borders but of websites, clandestine financial transfers and a proliferation of activists ranging from Jersey City to the paddies of Indonesia."
In the final analysis, the jehadi is the same person, whether he comes from an ill-equipped madarsa or an affluent university, whether he comes from the poverty of the Orient or from the plenty of the West. He celebrates death in the service of Islam and resolutely believes that death in the service of the only cause worth serving is a one-way ticket to heaven. His biggest disagreement with the modern concept of democracy is that he does not believe religion is the private affair of a person but rather a complete way of life that necessarily includes politics.
Islam is his religion and his nation; it transcends boundaries, ethnicities, colour, creed and race. He rejects secularism and any social order other than that defined by Islam. He believes that Allah alone ——" ' is the sovereign and His commandments are the supreme taw of man. Of course, the theoretical reason why Islam had asked its followers to wage jehad was to create an egalitarian social order where the poor and the vulnerable would be treated with respect and dignity.
Jehad (struggle) never exclusively meant a holy war; it could have been a social, political, economic campaign as well. It was a fight against inequality, social injustice and discrimination. But today jehad has but one dimension — Kital, or violent struggle. And it has but one icon: Osama bin Laden, embattled with the Great West to establish the domination of his own realm of faith.
The mind of an Islamic terrorist is difficult for a non-Muslim to comprehend. What could lead a person to cause his or her own violent death is a question that is frequently raised. It is contrary to every human emotion that we have. Yet, we know there are hundreds of Islamic fundamentalists who are wilting to kill and be killed for Allah. An important reason is the promise that the gates of Paradise are under the shadows of the swords.
According to most leading Muslim scholars here, personally, spirituality, politically, intellectually and emotionally, the questions that an Islamic fundamentalist faces are stark indeed. Personally, he asks himself if he loves Allah more than his own life? Spiritually, he asks whether or not he is willing to sacrifice himself in Allah's cause against the Shaytan's power and the infidel's military forces? Politically, he divides the nations of the world into two warring camps. The nations under Islamic rule are termed, the Land of Peace (Dar al-lslam) while the remaining nations are called the Land of War (Dar al-Harb). Intellectually, the answers to those questions are crystal clear to him. Emotionally, his only hurdle is the fear of death. Once this emotional fear is conquered, the person joyfully takes up the sword to kill and be killed in Allah's cause, anticipating his entrance into the gates of heavenly Paradise. Thus, martyrdom is the only assured path to Paradise.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Good practice, bad theory

By Ramachandra Guha
The central paradox of Indian communism is that its practice is vastly superior to its theory. Communist leaders and activists are probably more intelligent than their counterparts in other parties. This is why it is such a great pity that their often honourable practice is crippled with an archaic and outmoded theory.
In 1977, Left Fronts dominated by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) came to power in the states of West Bengal and Kerala. A year later, the CPI(M) leader, B.T. Ranadive, wrote a pungent critique of the parliamentary path to socialism. This took the shape of a review of a recent book by the Spanish communist, Santiago Carillo, entitled "Eurocommunism and the State". In a 30-page essay in the Marxist monthly, Social Scientist, Ranadive attacked Carillo as a renegade, the last in the shameful but, alas, long line of “revisionists” who had abandoned the path of revolution in favour of the softer option of reform.
The Indian communist charged his Spanish comrade with six heresies in particular:
First, Carillo thought that, at least in Western Europe, socialists and communists could now come to power via the ballot box rather than through armed revolution. In Ranadive’s paraphrase, “the central point of Carillo’s book is that there is absolutely no need for a revolution in the developed capitalist countries... According to him, socialism can be achieved peacefully, without violating any of the rules of bourgeois democracy...”
Second, Carillo claimed that communist parties did not necessarily possess a monopoly of the truth. According to him, the Spanish Communist Party “no longer regards itself as the only representative of the working class, of the working people and the forces of culture. It recognizes, in theory and practice, that other parties which are socialist in tendency can also be representative of particular sections of the working population...”
Third, Carillo held that private enterprise had a role to play in economic growth, albeit in alliance with the state. As the Spaniard put it, “the democratic road to socialism presupposes a process of economic transformation different from what we might regard as the classical model. That is to say, it presupposes the long-term co-existence of public and private forms of property.”
Fourth, Carillo argued that in the Cold War, the Europeans should keep their distance from the Americans and the Soviets alike. As he wrote, “our aim is a Europe independent of the USSR and the United States, a Europe of the peoples, orientated towards socialism, in which our country will preserve its own individuality.”
Fifth, Carillo believed that Marx, Engels and Lenin were not infallible, that their views were open to correction and even challenge with the passage of time and the evidence of history.
Sixth, Carillo believed that the Communist Party was not infallible either, that at least in non-political matters individuals should feel free to follow their own conscience. In the Spaniard’s formulation, “outside collective political tasks, each [party] member is master of his own fate, as regards everything affecting his preferences, intellectual or artistic inclinations, and his personal relations”. Then he significantly added: “In the field of research in the sciences of every kind, including the humanities, different schools may co-exist within [the party] and they should all have the possibility of untrammelled confrontation in its cultural bodies and publications.”
Reading Carillo through the quotes provided by Ranadive, one cannot help but admire his honesty and his vision, his overdue but nonetheless brave recognition that the bloody history of his country (and continent) mandated a radical revision of the communist idea. But Ranadive saw it very differently. He spoke with withering contempt of Carillo’s faith in those “miserable parliamentary elections”, and with even more disdain of his independence with regard to the Cold War. “Can any Communist,” he fumed, “put the enemy of mankind, the gendarme of world reaction, American imperialism, on the same footing as Soviet Russia?”
Carillo’s argument that other political parties can and should exist, indeed that these parties might even sometimes be right, was seen by Ranadive as tantamount to “giving a permanent charter of existence to non-Marxist, anti-Marxist and unscientific ideologies”. It amounted to nothing less than a “liquidation of the Leninist concept of party”. Further, the encouragement of a diversity of thought outside the sphere of politics was “the final denigration of the Marxist-Leninist Party in the name of freedom for all its members to profess any opinion they like on any subject”. In contrast to the heterodox Spaniard, Ranadive felt that “the Party’s outlook and the outlook of its members is determined by their firm allegiance to Marxism-Leninism and must be consistent with it”.
Ranadive’s own riposte to the renegade Carillo rested heavily on quotes from Marx, Engels and Lenin, the Holy Trinity whose works and words must never be questioned, emended, or — Heaven forbid — challenged. The Indian communist complained that “Carillo turns a blind eye to Lenin’s teachings”; worse, “a large part of his argument is lifted from bourgeois writers and baiters of Marxism”.
Reading Carillo as conveyed through Ranadive, one notices how akin his views are to those who wrote the Indian Constitution. Parliamentary democracy based on universal adult suffrage, the proliferation of political parties, a mixed economy with space for both public and private enterprise, a non-aligned and independent foreign policy, and freedom of creative expression — these were the ideals enshrined in the Constitution, and the ideals embraced by Santiago Carillo almost thirty years later.
Ideals, however, which were anathema to a prominent Indian communist. It is necessary to point out here that in March 1948, it was the self-same B.T. Ranadive who led the Communist Party of India in an insurrection against the infant Indian state, seeking to come to power the Chinese way, through an armed revolution. That line was later abandoned, with the communists coming overground to fight the general elections of 1952. In 1957, the undivided CPI came to power in Kerala; ten years later, the CPI(M) won again in that state. Also in 1967, the CPI(M) was part of the ruling coalition in West Bengal; 10 years later, it came to power in the state more or less on its own.
And yet, these successes could not reconcile some leading communists to “bourgeois” democracy. For Ranadive’s critique of Carillo was really a warning to those among his comrades who might likewise think of revising the classical postulates of Marxism-Leninism. It is quite extraordinary, yet also quite in character, that so soon after his party had come to power in three states via the ballot box, did Ranadive choose to let loose this fusillade against parliamentary democracy, the mixed economy, freedom of expression, and non-alignment in foreign policy.
I have resurrected Ranadive’s views here not simply out of a historian’s interest in the strangeness of the past. For the prejudices he held — and so vigorously articulated — are unfortunately still quite widespread in the CPI(M) today. In practice their ideologues seem somewhat reconciled to parliamentary democracy, but they retain an irrational hostility to private enterprise, are still hostile to intellectual debate and dialogue, and yet cling to a faith in their party’s infallibility.
I have long held that the central paradox of Indian communism is that its practice is vastly superior to its theory. Communist leaders and activists are probably more intelligent than their counterparts in other parties, and without question more honest. Where other kinds of politicians have eagerly embraced the Page 3 culture, many communists still do mix and mingle with the working people.
This is why it is such a great pity that their often honourable practice is crippled with an archaic and outmoded theory. For if the history of the 20th century teaches us anything, it is this — that parliamentary democracy is, despite all its faults, superior to totalitarianisms of left and right; and that the market is, despite all its faults, a more efficient and cheaper allocator of economic resources than the state. This history also teaches us a third lesson, one specific to this country — that, despite all their faults, Tagore, Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar are thinkers more relevant to the practice of politics in India than are Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.
It is, however, that latter quartet whose works are discussed in CPI(M) party workshops, whose portraits adorn the podium at party congresses. From the continuing presence of those hard, unsmiling faces, we may deduce that while in his understanding and appreciation of democracy, the renegade Santiago Carillo may have been 30 years behind the framers of the Indian Constitution, he was still 30 years ahead of his comrades in the Indian communist movement.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Booze - officially banned, unofficially flowing

Tourism tip for Gujarat: beer on the beach
The Telegraph June 29, 2005
A glass of whisky can help you appreciate the Mahatma’s legacy better.So thinks Crisil, which has advised the Gujarat government to relax prohibition — in place for 44 years — if it wants to attract tourists.Asked by the state government to prepare a blueprint on improving infrastructure, the credit rating and information services agency has handed in a 700-page report.“Lifting of prohibition would be an ideal scenario from tourism industry perspective,” says the report, titled Blueprint for Infrastructure in Gujarat 2020, prepared by 20-odd consultants and experts from various sectors.The chapter on “tourism and recreation” says in the next five years, the state could attract an investment of about Rs 3,000 crore in the sector, which could go towards developing the Kutch adventure trail, central Gujarat heritage circuit, Gandhi legacy circuit, the Harappan sites of Dholavira and Lothal, Saputara hill station, reservoir-based projects and amusement parks.Only, the government needs to ensure “easy availability of good food and drinks’’ for tourists. Last year, 76.12 lakh tourists visited Gujarat. Only 21,000 were foreigners, the rest being domestic and religious tourists.“We are getting less tourists than neighbouring Rajasthan,” laments Ashwin Gandhi, the head of the tourism panel of the Confederation of Indian Industry in Gujarat. He says he told the government that tourism will get a boost and the state will earn some Rs 1,700 crore from excise duties if it “eases its policy of liquor prohibition’’, as the hotel owners’ associations have been demanding for a long time.But state prohibition minister Amit Shah disagrees. Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal are not dry, he points out, but they do not get more tourists than Gujarat.“There is really no correlation,” Shah says. “We are discussing Crisil’s report. But it is unlikely that we will relax the prohibition law. It is an ideological and social commitment which we cannot give up just to earn revenue.”S.V. Som, the managing director of the government-run Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd, maintains prohibition is not a hindrance since “we already have a permit system. Anyone coming from outside the state can easily get a liquor permit’’.But hoteliers, industry and businessmen insist it’s not enough. They want the dry law abolished.“What use is the state’s 1,600-km coastline if a tourist doesn’t get a bottle of beer or his favourite liquor brand at the beaches?” asks Gandhi.He says most Gujarat-based corporate houses hold their annual conferences at Mount Abu (in Rajasthan), Daman or Diu, where liquor is available.Any move to relax prohibition is bound to face resistance from Gandhians and some NGOs, who feel that it will lead to a worsening of law and order.Gandhian activists like Mahdev Bidrohi and Chunni Vaidya say if tourism is to be promoted at the cost of prohibition, they are against it.“We do not intend to import social vices from other tourist destinations, some of them thriving on sex tourism. We do not want to promote such tourism here,” Bidrohi said.Gujarat has been a dry state ever since it came into being on May 1, 1961. It is the only state with prohibition in force.

And Not Even A Dog Barked

June 25 marks the 30th anniversary of the Emergency since its imposition by Indira Gandhi in 1975. And it's a tragedy that the BJP is the only political force left which is still interested in reminding the nation of the Emergency.They were a minor force then. Led by Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), the real forces of resistance were the socialists, followed by the Lok Dal, the CPM, Congress (O), and then, in that order, the Jana Sangh (now BJP). The Jana Sangh was not a political force at that time. All they could provide was infrastructure because the RSS had decided to back JP. But there was always a lurking sense of suspicion, a distance, a discreet lack of trust.The RSS and Jana Sangh were keen to participate and make their position acceptable in mainstream politics. JP told them, open your doors, let the Muslims enter. The RSS kept this in abeyance and ultimately did not accept it. The fact is that the BJP celebrates the Emergency because the Emergency opened the doors for them to enter the mainstream. And the truth is that Balasaheb Deoras, then RSS chief, wrote a letter to Indira Gandhi pledging to help implement the notorious 20-point programme of Sanjay Gandhi. This is the real character of the KSS. Whenever there is a ban on the RSS. it has always tried to save its skin instead of facing the government's wrath and go for a compromise. When the British in 1942 passed an order that no voluntary organisation will be allowed to do semi-military activities, the RSS happily accepted it. Guru Golwalkar, then sarsanghchalak (RSS chief), demolished the military department of the RSS and the status quo remains till this day. The RSS or the Sangh Panvar never participated in the freedom movement. They did not join the Quit India movement. After Mahatma Gandhis assassination. Sardar Paid banned it. Golwalkar immediately compromised: we will do 'constructive work', he said. In 1975 Mrs Gandhi banned the RSS, despite Deoras.You can decipher a line of action, a pattern. Even during the Emergency, many among the RSS and Jana Sangh who came out of the jails, gave mafinamas(apologies). They were the first to apologise. Only their leaders remained in jail: Atal Behari Vajpayee, LK Advani, even Arun Jaitley. But the Rss did not fight the Emergency. So why is the BJP trying to appropriate that memory?JP was disappointed that nothing was happening in terms of political movement or resistance when the Emergency was imposed. Do you remember his famous statement? "Ganga will be on fire and the people will not tolerate it!" But that did not happen. Fighting a real, anti-establishment struggle is not in the RSS character. They are not a fighting force and they are never keen to fight. They are basically a compromising lot. They are never genuinely against the government, and this happened during the Emergency as well. Their cadre did not revolt. The Emergency went unchallenged. That is why, Mrs Gandhi said, "When I imposed the Emergency, not even a dog barked."Despite this, JP understood the inner political dynamic. 1977 marked a watershed because this was the first time, in silence orotherwise, that there was a strong public opinion polarised against the Congress all over India. From 1947 to 1977, it was Congress domination in Indian politics. After 1977, the disintegration of the Congress began. It lost its sustainable strongholds and large sections of the Indian society went against it. This process was decisively unleashed after 1989: the Mandal-Kamandal politics.Who were the main actors during the Emergency? The socialists, young and old. They fought it, went to jail, faced torture. George Fernandes was a protagonist of rebellion: the dynamite case is a clear example. JP clearly said that this struggle is like revisiting the 1942 movement: when the freedom struggle's leaders were arrested, the people of India rose in revolt; in dozen places people even established their own government. The socialists fought the Emergency, the RSS did not.The saddest post-Emergency development is the decline of the socialist forces. George Fernandes is a pathetic figure today. These days when he gives interviews he never faces the camera. He talks as if he can't survive without the BJP. He is trapped in his own politics; he can't survive without the BJP. Since 1989, Mandal and caste politics have been crucial in the Hindi heartland, especially in Bihar. If George has to stay afloat he has to take the help of Laloo Yadav or Nitish Kumar. Laloo left him long ago. And Nitish knows that George can't be electedwithout his support-base, Kurmis, etc. That is why George wants to balance this dilemma by keeping a close liaison with the B.IP, which keeps him floating.Sharad Yadav used to be the socialist blue-eyed boy during the Emergency. He was the first Janata candidate elected from Jabalpur in 1974 from a non-caste, non-sectarian platform. Now, he too is a BJP ally.So how did the BJP grow? After the Janata disintegration post-Emergency, Indira Gandhi fought the 1980 elections on the slogan: Vote those who can rule. Garibi Hatao and socialism were dumped. We must realise that till now all elections were ideologically oriented. For the first time she fought with such a brazen stance: to get power, at any cost. Now, all kind of politics was only for political power. This was the end of ideology.In 1971, Mrs Gandhi fought on the garibi hatao plank. Earlier, Nehru always fought on ideological issues. There was always a socialist current in their political positions. In 1977, there was the alternate dream to the Congress dream. Ironically, both dreams were demolished.That is why 1977 marked a watershed in , post-Independence India. Ideology became extinct. Pursuit of power became the only goal. Mrs Gandhi used the Hindus in Jammu against the Muslims in the Valley to win the elections. She used the Akalis versus extremists clash to hold on to Punjab. Bhindranwale was her creation. She became a victim of her own politics.After her death in 1,984. Rajiv Gandhi won by a huge vote. The RSS helped him; or else the nation would break, they said. Rajiv followed his mothers politics. The Shah Bano case and the opening of the Babri Masjid locks totally exposed him.That is why, 1980 to 1990 was the decade of competitive communalism — one kind of communalism pitched against another. The BJP gained in this experiment because they were the original communal party. Hence, from two MPs in Parliament in 1984, they rose to 84 in 1989 and peaked to 182; but then, the Kamandal became outdated in 2004. The Emergency marked two things: the death of ideology and the gradual destruction of the basic parameters of Indian politics which was grounded by the values of the freedom movement when socialism was a dream. Swami Vivekananda said, "You should serve the daridranarayan" God was manifested in the poor. The South African experiment of Gandhi happened in 1906. Hind Swaraj was written in 1909. He said, "The last man should be the first man," adapting from Emerson. The Russian revolution occurred in 1917. but pro-poor ideas were founded in India much before the freedom movement. 1977 shattered all that.After that, reactionary forces took over, including Kamandal and Mandal. Narasimha Rao initiated the capitalist reforms. The socialist dream of the freedom struggle was thrown out. This changed the face of Indian politics. Idealism was finally killed in mainstream politics. That was the decisive contribution of the Emergency.As for RSS chief KS Sudarshan praising Indira Gandhi last week, it is predictable. Sudarshan praised her for 'winning' the 1971 war because Mrs Gandhi split Pakistan — for them that is more important than anything else she did. The RSS has always appreciated firm regimes, that is why they appreciated Emergency. They liked it that Mrs Gandhi had the will to go against popular sentiments and the RSS was never popular in India, it could never become a mass movement. She is their heroine (Durga etc,) because she broke Pakistan into two.Come to think of it, their Hindu nationalism is equivalent to Muslim nationalism, they feed on each other to increase their bargaining stakes: both helped the British when the Congress and others were fighting against imperialist forces. Savarkar pleaded to toe the British line. Jinnah in 1946" called for 'Direct Action'. Both were basically making deals with the British. Indeed, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was a ploy for 'deal-making' with the establishment, and finally becoming the establishment. That is why they call it the 'freedom movement of the Hindus'.They say this because demolishing the symbols of Mughals/Muslims was more important for them than to fight the British empire. The RSS is not against the Two-Nation theory, despite the Akhand Bharat slogan. For them, Muslims were always the Internal Enemy Number One, not the British. For them, we were under ghulumi (slavery) of Muslim/Mughal rule for a thousand years. I lence, they did not join the freedom movement or fight the British. They can never fight the ruling establishment. For them, survival/compromise is the principle of their existence.Hence the praise for Mrs Gandhi and the vehement criticism of Nehru, even Gandhi. This is because Nehru founded the Republic of India on liberal, democratic, secular, pluralistic, socialist principles. And the RSS abhors these values.For you and me, the fight against the Emergency is a fight for the people's right to freedom and fundamental rights. Not for them. For you and me, Emergency symbolises the struggle against an authoritarian regime, for civil rights of a democratic civil society. For them it does not matter. This is the basic difTerence. The truth is the RSS does not believe in democracy.

The writer is former editor, Jansatta and this article appeared in Tehelka

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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Layers of history

Ramachandra Guha

The histories of Indian cities are contained in the names of their streets and squares. These come in layers that have to be peeled off, one by one, to reveal the names that once lay below. A street might have been named after a colonial proconsul; later after a Congress nationalist; still later, after a local or regional hero. Or even a local international hero: as in the case of Calcutta's Harrington Street, which was renamed Ho Chi Minh Sarani at the height of the Vietnam War, simply because the American Consulate stood on it.
The names of streets and squares reveal a city's preferences, cultural and ideological, as they change over the decades and through successive political regimes. It was because communists found themselves in power for the first time that Harrington Street was renamed after a communist hero. Likewise, when the vigorously anti-Brahmin Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam first came to office in Madras, it removed caste names from the streets in Mylapore, these mostly honouring Brahmin patriarchs of the recent past. Thus "Kasturi Ranga Iyengar Road", became "K.R. Road". And "Iyer Street" became, simply, "Street". Again, where else but in Bangalore would you find a major junction named after a living (indeed, still playing) cricketer?
I was recently in Mumbai, a place that perhaps has had more reason to change street names than any other. For no other Indian city has had such a tumultuous modern history, no other such a multitude of castes, communities and special interests to be satisfied. Fortunately, the city's ecology here comes to the aid of politics and culture ? for no other Indian city has so many streets and intersections to play around with.
The names that Mumbai's margs and chowks carry are a curious mixture of chauvinism, courage and corruption. Thus the intersection opposite the grand old building of Bombay University is named "Dr G.S. Ghurye Chowk". A long-time professor of sociology at Bombay University, Ghurye was a formidable scholar, but also something of a Hindu parochialist. He wrote some solid works of Indology, but also some paranoid political screeds calling into question the loyalty of the Indian Muslim and the tribals of the North-east. As it happens, it was only in the last decade that this chowk opposite the university was dignified by a name. Since the Shiv Sena was in power, and since they needed a scholar who taught there, the name that naturally came to mind was that of G.S. Ghurye.
Instead of, for example. A.A.A. Fyzee. Fyzee was also a Bombay resident as well as a university man, an eminent professor of law and the author of classic works on Islamic jurisprudence. His academic reputation was arguably as high as Ghurye's. And he had other strings to his bow ? he was a top-class tennis player, and even served as secretary of the Bombay Cricket Association. Ghurye, on the other hand, never played a game in his life. As scholar and sportsman, Fyzee handsomely embodied the classical ideal of Mens sana in corpore sano ? a healthy mind in a healthy body. One would think that a university which respects scholarship, and whose graduates include Nandu Natekar and Sunil Gavaskar, might have chosen Fyzee ahead of Ghurye as a representative teacher to be honoured.
One does not know whether the university was at all consulted by the Shiv Sainiks in this matter. In any case, what Fyzee had going against him was his name. In truth, the jurist was a secular nationalist, whose modernist ideas were reviled by the mullahs. But the fact of his being born in a Muslim household would not have endeared him to the chauvinists on the other side. In fact, in the dozen (and more) visits I have made to Mumbai in recent years, I have noticed that there are very few Muslims after whom streets and squares are named. The chowk opposite the Prince of Wales (now Chattrapathi Shivaji) Museum was recently named after Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, although he had nothing to do with the city. It would have been more aptly named after Dr Salim Ali, the great ornithologist and Mumbai native, who spent his working life ? all seven decades of it ? in the museum nearby. (A friend tells me that a small side street somewhere has indeed been named after Salim Ali, but what he really deserves is a decent-size chowk, such as the one next to where he worked.)
There is chauvinism, and there is also corruption. On my most recent trip to Mumbai, I heard of a chowk being named after the son of a society singer who had died, while drunk and driving, at that very spot. The naming, I was told, had been paid for; making this a triple wrong, since the person was undistinguished in the first place, and was here being posthumously rewarded for breaking the law.
Fortunately, signs of an older and more honourable Mumbai survive. Bal Thackeray once expressed his preference for Nathuram Godse over Mahatma Gandhi, but even years of Shiv Sena rule have not been able to revert M.G. Road to its old name of Esplanade, or to take it further back to remember a reactionary ruler of the medieval past. And the charming circle opposite the Asiatic Society is still named after B.G. Horniman, the campaigning journalist who founded the Bombay Chronicle as a vehicle for Indian nationalist aspirations. Horniman was a traitor to his (British) nation, but in a higher cause ? namely, freedom for the subject people of the Empire. Exiled by the raj for his views, he later made a triumphant return to start a new newspaper (called Bombay Sentinel). Long after his death, the city he made his own chooses still to remember him.
Leaving Mumbai or flying into it, one takes a long, curving road that runs through the densely packed middle-class localities of the centre of the city. In Shivaji Park this road is named Veer Savarkar Marg, which fits, since this is mostly a Marathi-speaking area. But as it enters Worli, a suburb whose population is more multi-cultural, this acquires the name "Annie Besant (or A.B.) Road", in honour of a lady whose origins were Irish and whose love of Hinduism was expressed more romantically, that is to say less militantly, than was Savarkar's.
Like them or lump them, Annie Besant and V.D. Savarkar were both figures of considerable importance. (In Besant's case, the importance was nationalist and mostly in the past, whereas in Savarkar's case it is chauvinist and mostly in the present.) To divide up a major arterial road in Mumbai between them makes sense. Literally and figuratively, Besant and Savarkar collectively provide a path into the great city, and out of it. I have driven down "their" road many times. On my most recent drive, however, I took care to note the other, lesser names that were marked on chowks and side streets along the way. Most of these were Hindu as well as Maharashtrian, but one exception stood out.
This exception occurred at Worli Naka, not long before the lady Besant gives way to the machismo Savarkar. It was a sign that read "Peter Alvares Chowk", but in Hindi, a language that the man being remembered did not himself read. He would have been pleased anyway, as was I, seeing the sign all these years after his death. For Peter Alvarez was a man notable for his courage, and conspicuously free of both chauvinism and corruption. Originally from Mangalore, he made his mark as a trade unionist in Mumbai. Then, in the Fifties, he threw himself into the struggle to free Goa from Portuguese colonial rule. Alvarez led several satyagrahas into Goa, and also drew into the movement more celebrated socialist leaders such as Dr Ram Manohar Lohia. He was that unusual and still rare figure, a radical who was also a patriot.
To see the chowk named after Peter Alvarez positively thrilled me. For this was a good man in danger of being forgotten, here honoured for all the right reasons. Sadly, the signs of our cities mostly honour little men and for the wrong reasons.