Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I love vande mataram, when it is sung in raag desh; and I don't consider that to be non-secular!!!

The Union Human Resources Development Minister, Arjun Singh is in news again. And this time, the reference is not to the Cabinet decision to move the Bill to set apart seats in higher education institutions for the Other Backward Classes. I am referring now to the debate on an order from the HRD Ministry that vande mataram will be sung in schools across the country on September 7, 2006.

Now, I love the song and enjoy listening to it every morning. I recall having enjoyed this since my childhood and that was a time when the radio was perhaps the only means of communication. I recall the days waking up from sleep to a rendition of this song rendered in raga ``desh’’ and the tune is set in my mind. So much so, when A.R.Rahman was commission by the Government to render the song in a different tune, I was among those who felt angry.

And my anger only increased when Rahman explained that he wanted to ``popularise’’ that song, once a battle cry for freedom from the British, among a new generation. I was sceptical that this was no way to popularise the song. Let me clarify here that I also love rock music and do listen to pop as well. The issue was that vande mataram represented an ethos and in an era where that ethos was being decimated, the song was also bound to vanish from popular memory.

In other words, in an era where the ethos of selfless sacrifice and the ideals of the freedom movement are giving way to concerns of self preservation and material accomplishments, there is no way in which a powerful slogan or a symbol of the freedom movement can be preserved as part of the popular culture. And vande mataram is no exception to this larger rule!

If this needed any proof, it is there for all of us to see. A.R.Rahman’s rendition of vande mataram turned popular among the college and school students during the couple of months after the 50th anniversary celebration of independence in 1997. It will not be an exaggeration to say that it is no longer heard of anywhere now.

Arjun Singh’s initiative or enthusiasm now to ensure that the spirit of the glorious days of the freedom struggle is recreated on September 7, 2006 by asking students in schools across the country sing that song is, in that sense, nothing but a manifestation of this ``teflon’’ patriotism. It is synthetic and hence not going to infuse any sense of love to the nation and its people!

While saying all this, let me make it clear that I continue to love that song and after reading history books and thus come to know what vande mataram meant to a generation of patriots, I now listen to that song with a sense of political responsibility and not just in the aesthetic sense. The tune in which the song is played, everyday, on the All India Radio is also appealing to me in the aesthetic sense.

Meanwhile, it is sad that every time vande mataram is discussed, we find the clergy among the Muslim community making it a point of dispute. It is time that the clergy is
told by the men and women from that community as well as those
committed to pluralist and democratic values that there is nothing wrong with singing a song that was once the battle cry of those who fought for our freedom.

And those who do not know the history of this song, let me recommend a book. An eminent economic historian, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, wrote a book which he called ``The Biography of a Song’’ tracing all the stages it went through; that it was popularised by the sadhus in the Anand Mutt, that it became the battle cry, the debate in 1930 over some of its stanzas and the evolution of this into the national song.

The writer had dedicated this book to his grandchild with hopes that it will be read after a few years. Well, it is important that the youth of today reads this book as well. And that may lead to a situation when a large number of people listen to vande mataram in raag ``desh’’ and also reinvent the ethos with which the song evolved into a battle cry and decide to participate in the war against poverty, inequality and oppression. This will make sense rather than a symbolic rendering of the song on November 7, 2006!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Pepsi and Coke can be asked to get out and they Must be asked now...

Among the various symbols of the Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation agenda, the two cola majors – Coke and Pepsi – have been the most prominent. There are, ofcourse, many others. The mobile phone instruments, the motor-cycles, the shampoos in sachets and the internet cafes have captured the imagination of a generation. There are the shopping malls in and around our metropolitan cities, the holiday resorts and the way in which the young boys and girls dress up.

We have also seen the arrival of a new brand of newspapers, pink in colour, that declare war on our own instruments of democracy including Parliament and try day in and day out to delegitimise the politician. They carry out this battle by presenting the politician, particularly those who still question some of the deals between our own leaders and the various multinational corporations and even muster documentary evidence to show that many such deals are inimical to the nation’s interest, as the detractors and anti-nationals.

Such struggles as the one carried out by Medha Pathkar in the Narmada valley, by Thomas Kochery through the long coastline and the battles against the setting up of a cola plant in Gangaikondan, against the Koodankulam atomic energy plant and against the sethusamudram project are described by them as a waste of energy and against the nation’s interest.

These mercenaries are indeed shaken, once again, by the bold efforts by a team of dedicated activists led by Sunita Narain. In her dogged pursuit for the truth and national interest, Narain and her associates went on to establish, once again, that the various brands of ``soft’’ drinks peddled by the two cola majors contain a heavy overdose of pesticide residues. And faced with the harsh reality, the cola majors are continuing to play tricks with our own media playing ball.

Their trick is to say that the samples have been tested in a lab in London and that they confirm to standards set by the European Union. And our own newspapers are carrying this advertisements, most of them spread over half a page, and earning huge revenue out of that. The point is that these bottled drinks, sold in India, contain pesticide residues that are above the standards set by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BSI) and hence it is the duty of our own State Governments to ban their sale because they are inimical to the health of our citizens.

The second and most spurious argument peddled in the news section of our media is that any adverse action against the cola majors can affect the ``confidence’’ of the foreign investor. It is sad that these custodians of our nation’s interest do not recall whatever happened to another such fraud on the nation a few years ago; the sage of Enron! This company was found to have been a fraud and involved in a whole lot of fraudulent deals and despite this, considered as a saviour of India when they came to set up a power plant in Maharashtra.

After destroying large tracts of our mangroves and siphoning out a lot of our own money, the company went off without generating one unit of electricity. The fact is that nothing happened to India and its economy even after this fraud left the country. Ofcourse, precious resources were lost and no one who saw the deal through – N.K.P.Salve who as Union Minister for Power negotiated the deal – were asked to explain why they let this fraud into the country and loot its resources.

But then, the point is that even if banning the sale and manufacture of the coloured water by these two cola majors would lead to a fall in foreign investments, the nation can afford it because the health of its people is far more important than the few hundred dollars these MNCs bring in every year. It is also a fact that these MNCs come with technology that reduces human labour substantially and hence their contribution to generating jobs in the country is insignificant.

It is also a fact that they take away large tracts of agricultural land at cheap prices (because our own political leaders facilitate that) and pose serious threats to our own food security. The fact is that when more and more agricultural land is taken over for industrial activities there is less and less of agricultural production and this in turn will lend us, as a nation, vulnerable to import of foodgrains. Similarly, when the farmer is enticed with a few lakhs as compensation to his holdings, he stops engaging in productive activities and the land is let fallow. This, in the long run, will reduce the nation to abject dependence on food imports.

And while the salariat and the blue collar worker (in the factories and the BPOs set up by the MNC) can afford to buy and consume food products imported from outside the country, the poor and the poorer sections of the society will be left to starve. The point is also whether everyone will reconcile themselves to their fate and starve? No. A number of them will not hesitate to loot the supermarkets and turn into bandits. This is happening today in South Africa and many other parts of the world where the LPG framework as taken as the mantra.

All these are reasons that we as a nation act firmly against Pepsi and Coke, the two symbols of the LPG era. And yes. Budhadeb Bhattacharya, should be taught that it is the duty of the State Government as much as the Centre to save its people. Bhattacharya was heard wondering, even after his own party’s Government in Kerala banned the sale of the two colas and their other products, as to whether it was his job or that of the Centre to take such a step.

Well Mr. Bhattacharya, if you have the right to negotiate and invite foreign investors, you also have the duty to tell them to behave properly. It is your duty to ensure that spurious stuff is not sold in the shops in your state.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Natwar (lal) Singh's exit from the Congress.....

Natwar Singh has dared the Congress supreme, Sonia Gandhi to throw him out of the party. He is not the first one to do this. Morarji Desai did this in 1969. But then, he was not alone then. He had such prominent leaders of the party as S.K.Patil, S.Nijalingappa, K.Kamaraj, Atulya Ghosh and N.Sanjiva Reddy with him at that time and they all went on to set up the Congress(O).

A few years later, Mohan Dharia, a senior minister in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet decided to take on Indira Gandhi and within months after his marginalization from the party, Chandrashekhar and Kishen Kant joined him. They all spent 19 months in jail (as MISA detenus) and played a key role in the formation of the Janata Party in 1977. Chandrashekhar became the president of the Janata party.

Jagjivan Ram and H.N.Bahuguna resented against the Congress high command, set up the Congress for Democracy and in alliance with the Janata Party defeated the Congress in the elections in March 1977. A decade after that, V.P.Singh spoke out against his party president, Rajiv Gandhi and when the party acted against him, he could take a substantial section of the party’s support base in Uttar Pradesh. Sharad Pawar, along with P.A.Sangma and Tariq Anwar raised their voice against Sonia Gandhi and the NCP did hurt the Congress in Maharashtra and Meghalaya.

Natwar Singh’s revolt, however, is unlikely to have the same impact. The reasons are: (1) Singh is not an organiser in any sense of the term and (2) There is hardly anyone else in the Congress party who would want to speak against Sonia Gandhi. In any case, even Natwar Singh would not have spoken against the party if Paul Volker had not revealed the deals that Natwar Singh was involved. In other words, Natwar Singh would have remained a 10 Janpath faithful if the Bush administration in the US had not decided to invade Iraq!

In many ways, Natwar Singh will not even be able to do an Arjun Singh. Recall the brief existence of a party called the Tiwari Congress and the limited damage it caused to the Congress in the 1996 elections. The fact is that the Tiwari Congress was conceived at 10 Janpath to irritate P.V.Narasimha Rao and it lost its relevance when Sitaram Kesri replaced Rao. And on their return to the party, Sonia Gandhi ensured that Arjun Singh, N.D.Tiwari and all others were rehabilitated with honour!

Natwar Singh cannot find company in his war against the party high command now because it is Sonia Gandhi who happens to be the high command now. And the only option he is left with now is to join an anti-Congress party. While the Left is sympathetic towards him and is actually willing to be seen as taking up his case against Manmohan Singh, there is no way that it can admit Natwar Singh into the party? The point is that it takes too long and a lot of procedural formalities to be completed before someone can become a member of the communist party.

This would mean that Natwar Singh could join Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party, become its face in the Jat dominated Western Uttar Pradesh. This will suit Mulayam Singh Yadav too; he is now having problems with Ajit Singh and will find Natwar Singh useful. The other option before Natwar Singh is to join the V.P.Singh-raj Babbar party (it is not clear whether it is a party or a platform or an association) and restrict himself to writing newspaper columns.

Natwar Singh does not seem inclined to retire from active politics and this would mean that he settles down in the Samajwadi Party and sing praises to Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh.

Be that as it may. The Justice Pathak Committee has revealed that Andaleeb Sehgal and Aditya Khanna had earned a lot of money in the Oil for Food deal with Iraq and all the money was not earned in the legitimate way. It is also a fact that these two un-enterprising businessmen managed to earn the money only because they had a relative called Natwar Singh who happened to be in a position to take them to Saddam Hussein. In other words, they got the oil coupons that they sold out to AG Masefield and make as much as 146,000 US Dollars without a letter from Natwar Singh introducing them to Saddam Hussein.

Natwar Singh now insists that he did not commit a crime by introducing these young men, who happen to be his relatives.

Well, one is reminded of an incident in the past when a 22 years old man managing to beat such leading automobile giants like Renault, Citreon, Toyota, Mazda and Morris and obtain a license to set up a car manufacturing unit. This happened in 1968. The young man happened to be Sanjay Gandhi. It is a familiar story that the Maruthi car was finally rolled out only after the enterprise was brought under the public sector.

When opposition leaders raised the issue in Parliament and wanted to know the basis on which Sanjay was given the license, Indira’s refrain was that Sanjay could not have been discouraged from such an enterprise simply because he was her son. The truth was that Sanjay could indulge in such adventure and loot resources only because he happened to be her son.

The point is let us not gloss over the abuse of power by Natwar Singh, his son Jagat Singh and his close associates and that they all became richer because of this. This cannot be condoned just because Natwar Singh is known to be anti-US or secular or holding any such virtues.
M.A.Baby, Minister for Education in Kerala claimed that the Kerala Professional Colleges Act was A Balancing Act for Justice To All....

Well, can there be justice to all in an unequal society???

I don't think it is possible. In any case, it is Un-Marxist to talk about justice to all in a society that rests on inequality...

And about the Act as such, I hold a different view

The Kerala unit of the Students Federation of India (SFI), an affiliate of the CPI(M), is used to organizing protests. The fact is that unlike in West Bengal, the CPI(M) has not been able to retain power continuously. The party ends up in the opposition too in regular intervals. And every time this happens, the party apparatchiks let loose the boys on the streets provoking the police to ``handle’’ them.

By doing this, the party has gained. At least a few hundred young men and women experience the brutal ways of the police and are made to realise the oppressive ways of the state machinery. This shared experience draws them closer to the party and ensures their lasting association with the party. Apart from being a practical lesson on the repressive nature of the ``bourgeois’’ state, these young men and women end up depending on the party to fight the criminal cases against this helps the party too to co-opt them into the fold. This way, the party has found fresh recruits.

All this did not happen when the SFI resorted to an agitation in the past couple of weeks. Unlike in the past, the agitation this time was not against the Government. It was against those who were in the business of education. With the CPI(M) in power, the police were under instruction to simply watch the show of strength on the streets. So much so, the young comrades were not ``dealt’’ with in the same way as they used to be when the Congress-led UDF was in power. And in this sense, the party lost an opportunity to recruit new members.

The Chief Minister, V.S.Achuthanandan even went to the extent of describing the SFI’s leaders as ill-mannered. He has also said that the agitation was ill-advised and ended up uniting those in the business of education against his Government. That the student leaders had to face all this for having organised an agitation in defence of the Kerala Professional Colleges Act, 2006, piloted by M.A.Baby, now the Education Minister and one of the founder members of the SFI may appear to be an irony. But then, this is merely a reflection of the faction feuds in the Kerala unit of the CPI(M).

The fact is that Achuthanandan was once again taking on his detractors within the party by speaking against the SFI’s agitation. M.A.Baby, for whom the SFI leaders were speaking for, is one of them. Achuthanandan himself is a battle-hardened man and has learnt a lot from the struggles he has had to wage and carry out within the party for his own survival. Recall the fact that he had to do that until days before the nominations closed for the May 2006 State Assembly polls; the party had initially decided against fielding him as a candidate and even if he managed to frustrate that evil design, he was forced to constitute a cabinet including a whole lot of his detractors.

It is a different matter that the SFI leaders in Kerala have shown their inability to learn lessons from the past. After having fought pitched battles with the police when they protested against the setting up of private polytechnic colleges (in 1986), the SFI ended up as passive supporters of the same move when it was resorted to by their own party’s Government in a couple of years. Similarly, hundreds of them face criminal cases and suffer from the wounds inflicted on them by the police (in 2003-04) when they agitated against the decision by the previous State Government to allow private players set up engineering and medical colleges.

And now, they were there on the streets in support of an Act that legitimises private players to set up engineering and medical colleges where the managements are allowed to sell a portion of the seats to the highest bidder! The Education Minister, Baby described this legislation as capable of ensuring justice to all and that it will ensure merit and social justice in the unaided professional colleges.

This is indeed strange. The Act provides sufficient scope for making money out of the enterprise by setting aside at least 30 % of the seats in engineering colleges to the managements to sell it among NRI parents and resident Indians who have the money to buy admissions to their children. And it defies logic if someone claims that this will ensure merit and social justice!

Well. The State Government cannot be blamed for enacting such an Act. It is bound by the Supreme Court’s verdict in the TMA Pai case. Once the party decided in favour of letting in private players in the education business, the CPI(M) could not have done anything different. The Supreme Court had, after all, decried that those who invested money in the education business cannot be denied the right to run it as any other business enterprise. But then, the party could have decided against letting in private players in this business and this indeed was the position that the party had taken until a few months ago.

It is appropriate to recall an event from the distant past involving the communist movement in Kerala in the sphere of education. Professor Joseph Mundaserri, as Education Minister in the EMS Namboodiripad ministry between 1957 and 1959 had moved a Bill in the State Assembly that aimed to stop managements of aided schools in the State minting money while appointing teachers. The Bill was aimed at securing state control over the appointment of teachers in the aided schools. This was found necessary because the managements were making a lot of money at the time of appointing teachers, whose salaries, in any case, was being paid out of the State’s coffers.

This provoked the Church and the moneybags in the education business to organize a violent agitation against the communist ministry that led to the dismissal of the EMS ministry. The first instance of abuse of Article 356 of the Constitution by Jawaharlal Nehru’s Government and done at the instance of the then Congress president, Indira Gandhi! And the Church also decried that Professor Mundaserri be buried among the rogues!

Well, M.A.Baby cannot be compared with Professor Mundaserri and Achuthanandan with EMS Namboodiripad. In the same way, the private players in the education sector are no longer looking for aids to pay the salaries of the teachers as did the schools. Everything is different now!