Friday, September 28, 2007

Simply loved this Editorial in The Tribune, Chandigarh

Inquilab Zindabad!
Bhagat Singh was a true hero

THIS is an age that worries that its longing for heroes is matched only by rampant trivialisation of both man and cause, where the quest for the people’s good, for just change and the fruits of progress, not to mention a higher purpose and a greater meaning to life, are reduced to a meaningless jumble of slogans and acts of cynical desperation. Bhagat Singh’s birth centenary, therefore, is an occasion to recall the life of a true hero. A revolutionary in the best sense of the term, he characterised inquilab as fundamentally a “longing for a change for the better.”
While he chose the path of violence in contrast to Mahatma Gandhi’s ideal of non-violent resistance, he was not a bloodthirsty militant. He believed there was no alternative if freedom were to be attained, and in his writings is the agony of a sensitive soul, roused to extremist acts by evil oppressors. Though he was involved in the killing of the policeman Saunders, there is enough evidence to suggest that the bomb he threw in the Assembly was designed with more sound than fury and was, in fact, tossed away from the area where it could have caused maximum damage. He and his friends did not run away, but waited to be arrested. In the end, the police could not prove the murder charge against him. He was sent to the gallows for the loftier “waging war against the British empire”.
There is no doubt that even as he willingly embraced death for a cause he believed in, he loved life and was full of it. This was no maniacal seeker of martyrdom. He enjoyed music and reading and was inspired by the ideals of socialism and an egalitarian society where the “exploitation of man by man is rendered impossible”. The mind, he believed, should be “harmonised not to achieve salvation hereafter, but to make the best use of it here below; and not to realise truth, beauty and good only in contemplation, but also in the actual experience of daily life.” That, after all, is the revolutionary quest that every human being should engage in. Long live the revolution!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ufff..... Rahul Gandhi hype again.....

The Congress party, according to media reports, is now in election mode. And the indicator to this is Rahul Gandhi’s appointment as one of the AICC general secretaries and by extension his membership to the Congress Working Committee (CWC). Now, if anyone thought that Rahul Gandhi was just an ordinary member of the party all these days, it was incorrect.

Rahul Gandhi, perhaps, was the most important member of the Congress party ever since he decided to dabble with its affairs. And that happened a few days before he filed his nomination papers from Amethi Lok Sabha constituency as the party’s candidate for the May 2004 general elections. The event was treated with such importance by the media at that time. And it did not concern to anyone when the results to the general elections were announced.

Well. The Congress party won as many as 10 Lok Sabha seats from Uttar Pradesh in May 2004. And that was an achievement. But then, it is also a fact that the party lost Sultanpur, Pratapgarh and all the three Lok Sabha constituencies around Allahabad. This is important because these are constituencies around Amethi and even while the party won Amethi (thanks to Rahul Gandhi being the candidate from there), it lost in constituencies around. In other words, Rahul Gandhi could win his own seat but could not influence the voters elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh.

The next instance when the Rahul-bubble burst was the elections to the Uttar Pradesh assembly. The prince led the campaign from the front and ensured that the party won one seat less than what it did in the 2002 elections. It may be argued that the Congress party would have won lesser number of seats without Rahul Gandhi campaigning. This, however, will not justify the hype being built around his appointment now as AICC general secretary.

The Congress party is in a course of decline and this course cannot be altered in any way. For, the causes for the decline are many and will have to be understood in their historical context. One of them is that the precarious balance of social groups that helped the Congress emerge as the natural choice of the people across the nation has now collapsed beyond repair. The Upper Caste-Scheduled-Caste-Muslim combination that was forged in the immediate wake of independence is now in a shambles.

The new social alliance behind the BSP in Uttar Pradesh marks the culmination of this process of the Congress party’s decline. The process began in the Sixties, concretized in the Eighties and matured into a new political alignment in the nineties. The Congress party’s decline was pronounced in the same period in West Bengal, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. And in the process, the party organization too withered away.

It is in this context that the celebration and the hype over Rahul Gandhi’s appointment as AICC general secretary will have to be seen. And the conclusion then cannot but be that it is hardly of any significance to the party’s prospects. In any case, we now have the benefit of hindsight: Rajiv Gandhi too was first made Congress MP and then a general secretary of the party. And as he led the Congress(I), the party lost power in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. That was in 1983. And the party did not meet with the same fate in the December 1984 elections only because the polls were held in the tragic aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

That the Congress(I) had lost its popular support was evident in 1989 when a non-Congress(I) coalition captured power at the centre. The downward slide has only persisted ever since that and that course cannot be stalled. It is a different matter that the party may return to power, heading another coalition. This, in any case, can be managed without a Rahul Gandhi.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Wrote this in a fit of rage.... impotent rage...

An instant reaction to the remarks by Union Minister Shankarsinh Vaghela and Maharashtra Chief Minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh that the despondency among the Vidharbha farmers leading them to commit suicide is because they are lazy and greedy will be to recall Mary Antoniette’s infamous observation that if the people did not have bread, they must eat cake.
And it is possible then to also proceed with a comment that the Congress(I) is certain to meet the same fate as the French rulers. Well. We now live in a ``mature’’ democracy and hence Vaghela and Deshmukh will just end up losing power in the next elections unlike the French aristocracy whose heads were placed on the guillotine. We do not live in that age where the struggle to establish democracy witnessed such systematic execution of those who belonged to the old order.
It is, however, possible to look at the issue a little dispassionately and even agree with the two Congress(I) luminaries on a limited point: That the farmers led themselves to this situation because they were keen on earning more than what they were earning and hence adopted capital intensive farming methods. This began in the mid-Sixties with the stress on fertilizer and such other ``advanced’’ farm practices.
While the explicit purpose behind that shift in policies – to promote use of fertilizers and other ``advanced’’ farming methods – was essentially a reaction to the famine and food-shortage that hit most parts of the country due to the monsoons failing for two years (1963-64). That was also the time when use of technology was seen as a means to liberation of the human race in all walks of life. And that was also the time when the developed nations were desperate to make money out of selling such technology to the developing countries.
``Science helps build a new India’’ screamed a Union carbide advertisement in National Geographic, in April 1962. That particular advertisement also had this sub-text: ``Oxen working in the fields… the eternal river Ganges… jeweled elephants on parade. Today these symbols of ancient India exist side by side with a new sight – modern industry. India has developed bold new plans to build its economy and bring the promise of a bright future to its more than 400,000,000 people. But India needs the technical knowledge of the western world…’’. The Bhopal plant of this MNC giant was a product of this celebration of technology masquerading as science.
And on December 3, 1984, this fertilizer plant was the cause for the death of several hundred people, the incapacitation of a few thousands and the killing of many in the mothers womb for a long time after the ``accident’’. This new culture of celebrating technology also brought such men as Ottavio Quattrocchi into India. Quattrocchi, we know, was the India representative of Snam Progethi, an Italian MNC engaged in erecting fertilizer plants. And it was this culture that looked at chemical fertilizers and pesticides as the liberators of the Indian people that is ultimately responsible for the incidence of suicides in large numbers in Andhra Pradesh, Vidharbha, Wayanad and many other parts of India in the past decade.
This celebration of technology as the liberating force guided our own policy makers to push this idea among the farmers. All that ended up in the ``green’’ revolution. Farm production increased several times and this included a rise in the production and availability of food grains too. There were voices of dissent against this indiscriminate use of fertilizers even at that time. These, however, were drowned in the euphoria of India having achieved food-security and that the tragedy of the Sixties were, for once, a thing of the past.
The most active voice in favour of this technology-driven-farming came from Sharad Joshi. With his un-qualified celebration of this culture in the farm sector, Joshi was able to mobilize the farmers to agitate and demand access to the more recent ``technology’’ in the farm sector. Joshi teamed up with the MNC giants, now engaged in Genetically Modified (GM) seeds and other such ``advanced’’ technology and succeeded in convincing the farmer in the Vidharbha region to ``progress’’. The easy access to loans, as long as they were intended to promote the synthetic fertilizer industry and the GM seeds gave the impetus to the farmer to give up his conventional wisdom.
The effect of all this is now for everyone to see. Yes. The farmers in the region were driven by ``greed’’ and Vaghela and Deshmukh were right in that limited sense. But then, they were pushed into that state by the policy makers of the Sixties, the Seventies and the Eighties. And this happened not only because the policy makers believed in what they formulated but also because they benefited immensely by way of letting these MNCs into India. Like the carpet-baggers, the political leadership, a large section in the bureaucracy, academia and others who help mould public opinion got together to manufacture a consent for a shift in the farm practices.
They all gained, in all senses of the term, by promoting the business interests of the MNCs as well as the domestic industrial conglomerates. And they did this to satiate their greed to become rich and remain powerful. The farmer too was driven by greed to get rich faster. And has landed himself into a situation where he is forced to take his own life.
There is another dimension to this crisis. And that is the fate of the hundreds of agricultural workers, with small patches of land or without even that, who are being evicted from the villages every day in Vidharbha, Andhra Pradesh and Wayanad, driven to the cities and eke out a living constructing roads for the IT corridors and the National Quadrilateral or driven to prostitution. Their parents and their children are left behind in the villages to starve and die.
Vaghela’s and Deshmukhs are spared of this fate despite being greedy and lazy. And when they lose an election, they are replaced by men with similar attributes; greedy and lazy and equally cynical about the poor and the hapless.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Parties sans Ideology and Democracy sans Parties…. A scary proposition indeed (This was published in The Economic Times, Saturday, Sept 1, 07)

The Indo-US civilian nuclear deal and the debate on its implication seemed to cover a lot of ground. It is a different matter that the parties and the experts engaged in the debate stuck to their partisan positions. And in this sense, the debate as such did not lead to any substantial changes by way of policy. It is unlikely that the ``mechanism’’ that will be evolved soon would alter the course of the deal in any significant way. Be that as it may.

The debate and the crisis of sorts it created during the past couple of weeks for the Manmohan Singh Government (it even looked like collapsing) also threw up a feature that has implication to the democratic polity in the long run. And that is the role of such parties as the RJD, BJD, JD(U), JD(S), DMK, PMK, MDMK, AIADMK, TDP, NCP, Trinamul Congress, SP and the BSP. The more appropriate way of putting it will be that these parties did not seem to be having a view on the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement or the 123 deal. And yet they all took positions.

Lalu Prasad Yadav, for instance, was concerned about whether the Government would last and refused, even when he sat before TV cameras, to defend the agreement. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s aide and advisor, Amar Singh, meanwhile, was only convinced that the agreement was bad for the country and refused to go into the reasons as to why he felt that way. And Mayawati chose to stay out of the focus during the two weeks when the most important subject for debate happened to be the agreement.

This will not be a serious problem if the parties that we are talking about were mere entries in the long list of registered-unrecognised-parties found on the records of the Election Commission of India. In May 2004, when these were counted the last time, 173 such political parties existed across the country.

The regional parties, however, are a different category. The Samajwadi Party and the BSP, together, now represent 55 out of the 80 Lok Sabha constituencies from Uttar Pradesh; the RJD and the Janata Dal (U) represent 32 out of the 40 Lok Sabha constituencies in Bihar; the DMK and the AIADMK determine the political mosaic of Tamil Nadu in that the various other parties, including the Congress, the BJP and the Left gather around one of them before every election. In other words, the various regional parties are no longer marginal forces in the national political scene. They, in fact, determine the course of government formation in New Delhi.

This being the case, it is striking that these parties were not concerned, in any significant way, to discuss the details of the Indo-US nuclear cooperation. The reason why these parties refrained from discussing the issue has got to do with the fact that a discussion on such an issue was possible only from an ideological frame. The objection from the Left parties, for instance, is based on an ideology that considers the US as an imperialist centre and that the deal would make India into a client state. The BJP, similarly, has a problem with the deal because it will force India to close the option of conducting nuclear rests to develop a weapons programme. The BJP, we all know, is the only party that has been committed to embark upon a nuclear weapons programme.

Manmohan Singh’s Congress, meanwhile, seems to find the deal as the best to ensure a leap forward in India’s energy security and is not worried about the fallout of this on the existing power generation facilities, the environmental costs and such other aspects that independent activists and groups are bothered about. All these, in short, are positions driven by a definite ideological framework and that is what makes the debate critical.

The regional parties, on the other hand, are not concerned with any of these issues. And the leaders of these parties are either innocent of these ideological issues or chosen to pretend that way. And the fallout of this is that their position, on the deal, is determined by the position of their own rivals in the immediate context. Mayawati, for instance, is not worried about the deal and its implications and conveyed that her party will support the Government simply because Mulayam Singh’s party had decided to oppose it.

This is the case with the AIADMK too. The fact that the deal was struck by a Government of which the DMK is an integral part is good enough reason for Jayalalitha to oppose it. It is worth recalling the fact that Murasoli Maran was a prominent speaker at a convention against the May 1998 Pokhran tests in Chennai at that time. He shared the platform with the CPI(M), Arundati Roy and such others to call the nuclear weapons agenda as a dangerous one. Maran did that because Jayalalitha was then a part of the BJP-led NDA. And in less than a year after that, Maran was an important member in the Atal Behari Vajpayee cabinet. He did not whisper against the nuclear agenda that the BJP continued to pursue.

The story is just the same with any other regional party. And this certainly is a cause for concern for this character – innocent of ideology – helps them to move across the spectrum between the Congress and the BJP in recent years. This also leads these parties to swing between launching agitations against industrialization when they are out of power in a State and following the same policies while in power.

All this, no doubt, is contributing immensely to a political culture that delegitimises the party system. A culture that begins to treat the political parties as an impediment to the nation’s progress and tends to celebrate technology and management practices as the driving force behind development. There is a serious problem with this trend. And that is, it creates an illusion that technology is independent of ideology. The fact is that this illusion can cause serious harm to the democratic foundation of the nation! In other words, the idea of democracy without political parties is a dangerous proposition and India seems to be closer to this sixty years after independence.