07 July 2007

A Novelistic Hate Campaign

S L Bhyrappa is a renowned writer in the Kannada literary world and has written more than 20 novels over a period of 40 years. A writer of a conservative bent, he has a large following and is said to have written some of the best novels in Kannada literary history, such as Gruhabanga and Parva. Some of his novels have been translated into more than 17 languages including Hindi, English and Marathi. A serious public debate is raging amongst the progressive writers and the rightwing authors over his latest novel Avarana. (Avarana means the act of hiding the truth.) Lakshmi, daughter of a feudal landlord, goes to the Pune Film Institute and falls in love with an artist Amir. She marries him and gets converted to Islam, naming herself Razia. Her married life with Amir sees many twists and turns but they remain together to make films; documentaries on Indian history. After her son Nazir goes to Dubai on a job, Razia alias Lakshmi comes back to Hampi to make a documentary on Hampi. The ruins of Hampi disturb her mind and she starts questioning her progressive and socialist thinking about Indian history and the role of Muslim rulers. (The author always refers to them as invaders). Meantime she hears the news of her father’s death, who, despite being a Gandhian, had distanced himself from his daughter for...

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Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ and Cuba’s Health-care System

(Reproduced from Workers’ World, May 31, 2007) Much publicity for Michael Moore’s newest movie “Sicko,” which puts a spotlight on the negligence of the U.S. health-care system, has focused on a U.S. Treasury Department inquiry into Moore’s breaking of the U.S. travel ban to Cuba to film the movie. In “Sicko,” Moore takes a number of 9/11 relief workers to Cuba to receive health care. These workers have suffered from a number of severe respiratory and other problems without U.S. government support for their needs. The boats first traveled to Guantánamo Bay—where, despite a systematic pattern of detainee torture that has received worldwide condemnation, the U.S. claims its prisoners receive high-end health care. After being denied services there, the group ends up at Havana’s central hospital. In an article entitled “‘Sicko’ Stars Thank Moore for Cuba Trip,” the May 19 Associated Press reports: “There, the film shows the group getting thorough care from kind doctors. They don’t have to fill out any long forms; health care is free in the Communist nation, after all.” The group received medical tests and services to deal with conditions ranging from reflux problems to eye and nose infections and dental problems. Salon.com states, “The pathos of the story makes [Moore’s] point for him. A poor Caribbean island, whatever its ideology, can afford health care for everyone while we do not. The only possible...

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Corporate media outraged: Venezuela expands free speech

On May 27, the 20-year concession to broadcast over the state-owned Channel 2 airwave, which had been granted to multi-millionaire Marcel Granier’s RCTV, expired. The Chavez government made the decision, in accordance with laws established by a pre-Chavez government, not to renew RCTV’s concession, but instead to use the channel to establish a new public TV station, Venezuelan Social Television (TVes). The new channel, which began broadcasting just after midnight on May 27, has been set up via a loan from a state-run bank. However it will quickly be required to become self-funded. The government will have no say over the content of the new station, which will purchase programs made by independent producers. RCTV will be able to continue broadcasting via satellite or cable, and station heads have indicated they intend to do so. In case the station uses the non-renewal of its concession as an excuse to lay off workers, the Venezuelan government has guaranteed all of RCTV’s work force jobs at the newly created station. The government has explained that its decision is a direct result of RCTV’s repeated violations of the law. RCTV has been responsible for more than 600 violations of Venezuela’s broadcasting law, including regularly broadcasting pornography, and has refused to pay fines for such infractions. It has also been accused of non-payment of taxes. The station has been strongly criticised for rarely...

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Some Report

Peasants Protest Land Grab in Bihar Nitish Kumar says he won’t allow any SEZ in Bihar, but his government is acquiring lands on a large scale for projects of various corporate houses. Lands are also being acquired for private hospitals and private educational institutions. People are also facing forcible displacement in the name of many development schemes with the government turning a blind eye towards the rehabilitation and livelihood of the affected people. The process of land acquisition for nearly 85 industrial, commercial and other establishments is going on in Bihar while people are opposing these moves at many places through spontaneous as well as organized protests. One of such projects is for a sugar mill to be established in Marukia village in Andharthari block of Madhubani district for which nearly 305 acres are being acquired from small and marginal peasants for Rajshree Productions Ltd., which is primarily based in south India. This mill is expected to produce more liquor than sugar. More than a thousand families will be displaced. They bought these lands in recent years from the mahant of Marukia by money earned through selling milk or toiling in the far-off fields in states like Punjab and Haryana. More than 80 percent families are agrarian workers in possession of less than a bigha of land. Some of them own up to two-three acres. Now their lands as...

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Massive Rally at Shahid Minar Maidan in Kolkata

More than twenty five thousand people from different parts of the country observed the 40th anniversary of the Naxalbari movement with a Rally at Shahid Minar Maidan in Kolkata on 25 May 2007. Defying the scorching sun, thousands of Party activists and supporters marched to Shahid Minar with placards, banners and red flags in a colourful procession. The rally marked the culmination of the CPI(ML)’s countrywide “Our Country, Our History – Our Freedom, Our Rights” campaign which was called to observe the 150th Anniversary year of 1857, Birth centenary of Shahid-e-Azam Bhagat Singh and the 40th Anniversary of Naxalbari. The rally at Shahid Minar Maidan also marked the culmination of the ‘Krishak Jagran Yatra’, a cultural caravan which started on May Day from Naxalbari and reached Nandigram a day before the rally. Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary of the CPI(ML) declared at the Rally: “The Chief Minister accepted the moral responsibility for the police firing at Nandigram. But he should also take the political and administrative responsibility and tender his resignation”. He indicted the CPI(M) for its betrayal of the revolutionary movement and asserted that the future of left lies in the hands of a party like CPI(ML) which has kept the red flag aloft with its determined struggles of peasants and workers. He hailed the martyrs of Nandigram who were killed resisting land grab efforts. Almost all Central Committee...

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Blood stains on the hands of Buddhadev Bhattacharya

[Comrades Amalendu Bhusan Choudhury, Dibakar Bhattacharjya, Dr.Debashis Mukharjee, Dr.Shanta Sabuj Das, Dr. Samir DasGupta, Dr. Kamal Saha, Dr. Partha Hazari and Chaitali Sen went to Nandigram several times in the past few months to carry on political propaganda among the masses and mobilise them to the 25 May Shaheed Minar Rally. Here is a summary of what they saw and heard there. The narrator was a member of the CPI(ML) team that visited Nandigram on 4 January this year and was arrested and detained by the police on false charges for two weeks.] All of a sudden bullets started flying in from different directions. We just ran. On the way I met my father. “Have you seen your mother?” he asked me. But I didn’t see my mother. While running, I saw two guys falling on the ground with bullet injuries. After a while, I saw a few people carrying one injured person. When I came nearer, I saw she was my mother. Then I and my father carried my mother and ran all the way from Bhanga Bera to Sonachura. Mother was bleeding profusely. There was a cycle van, but no driver was present. I myself drove that van from Sonachura to Nandigram hospital. The bullet had pierced my mother’s head. The hospital authorities told us that my mother was no more.” We were talking to Souma Kanti...

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DD Kosambi Blazed a New Trail, Let’s Follow It

This 31 July we celebrate the birth centenary of an eminent mathematician who navigated a very uncommon and exciting route to become a versatile scientist, pioneer in Marxian Indology, political analyst and peace activist. The brief biographical sketch and excerpts from his autobiographical note given below shows us how he moved gracefully and confidently between different domains of theory and practice and combined them to develop a healthy, holistic, dynamic approach to life. But it is not simply because the Centenary is at hand that we remember Kosambi. Ten years ago when we decided to hold a series of seminars on contemporary questions of Marxist praxis under the auspices of the newly founded Indian Institute of Marxist Studies (IIMS), we needed a personality to symbolise or represent our spirit of research, and we could think of none other than this brilliant Marxist scholar. In an article “Introducing DD Kosambi Memorial Lectures” (Liberation, April 1996) IIMS director Arindam Sen observed: “He categorically declared that his was the Marxist method, but firmly opposed the pseudo-Marxist straitjacketing of history. On the strength of his own research he rejected or modified certain of Marx’s ill-informed observations on Indian history. One may or may not always agree with all his views. But there is no denying that without this scientific daring, it would have never been possible for him to break new grounds. “From...

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A Fraud on the Unorganised Workers!

[This piece is a sequel to the commentary appeared in April 2006 issue of Liberation. This is only a postscript of that article.] The Unorganised Sector Workers’ Social Security Bill, 2007 is expected to be tabled in the monsoon session of the Parliament that is due to begin on 01 July 2007. This is the most diluted version of the original draft prepared by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) that was established in September 2004 for the purpose of focusing on this sector. NCEUS was asked to prepare draft bills on unorganized labour in pursuance of observations and recommendations made by the Second National Commission on Labour (1999). The Labour Commission’s observations included aspects of low productivity, very meager wages and the near absence of social security among unorganized workers. NCEUS prepared two bills, one on regulation of employment, which has been put under cold-storage, and another one on social security. The bill on social security that went through revisions after revisions by Group of Ministers and various other arms of the state, has finally been accorded cabinet approval on 24 May 2007. According to Mr.Arjun Sengupta, the chairman of the NCEUS, which proposed the original draft, the revised bill has “whittled down the Commission’s recommendations beyond recognition”. The criticism on NCEUS drafts themselves have not yet died down and the government has come...

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No More Street Food in Delhi!

Most cities and towns in the so called Global South are marked today by an overwhelming presence of the informal economy. Hawkers and street vendors are one of the most visible segments of the informal sector. When Keith Harth, an economic anthropologist, on a mission to study urban labour markets in Africa, coined the term ‘informal economy’ he was, to a large extent, referring to scores of hawkers and street vendors selling a bewildering array of goods on the streets in cities and towns of Africa. Till 1960s the dominant discourse viewed the presence of the informal sector of the economy, including hawkers and vendors, as a temporary phenomenon, a by-product of the transition from the ‘traditional’ to the ‘modern’ economy. It was assumed that as the process of modern capitalist development advances this sector would cease to exist soon enough with the extension of the legal, regulatory and administrative frameworks of the State to all aspects of economic activity. However various studies subsequently conducted in many parts of the world proved beyond doubt that far from shrinking, the informal sector was in fact expanding. In almost all of Asia, Africa and Latin America, the majority of the workforce was found to be working in the informal or unorganised sector. Recent studies suggest that subsequent to the ascendance of neo-liberal economic policies in most parts of the world, its...

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JNNURM: The Neo-Liberal Mission for Indian Cities

Urban India is today going through a process of rapid transformation in terms of monumental changes occurring in investments patterns, spatial configurations, employment structure, and class relations. These changes are a direct consequence of ‘third generation reforms’ initiated in cities in the late 90s. Cities, especially the metros ones, are today increasingly sought to be modelled on the image of global cities such as New York, London or Tokyo to function as regional nodes in the circulation of high finance, information flows and hi-tech productive activities. This new-found desire to be a ‘world class’ city, worthy of being recommended by credit rating agencies to be put on the global investment map, partly entails changing the geography of the city on the lines of serially reproduced productive and consumptive landscape, noted in the context of inter-urban competition, in order to lure highly volatile capital flows. The realisation of this vision is seen to depend crucially on correcting distortions in the ‘efficient’ functioning of urban land and labour markets by freeing the geographical and occupational niches occupied by the toiling masses and employing it for purposes seen to be in consonant with the creation of a world-class city. It is no wonder then that in the past one decade large tracts of prime urban land have been ‘freed’ from ‘encroachment’ by evicting over 1.5 million slum dwellers in just Delhi and...

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Mining Policy – protecting environment and people or investment?

A New Mineral Policy is in the offing. If it is guided by the recommendations of the Anwarul Hoda Committee on the National Mineral Policy, it will pave the way for large-scale FDI in the mining sector, and increase the social and ecological devastation caused by mining The UPA government is currently deliberating changes to the National Mineral Policy, which was enacted in 1993. A Group of Ministers (GOM) has been constituted for this purpose. Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil is the chairman of this 12-member GOM, whose members include Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. The GOM is likely to follow the recommendations of the High Level committee set up by the Planning Commission, under Anwarul Hoda, a member of the Planning Commission. The idea that the National Mineral Policy needs to be revamped and that a high level committee was required to look into this matter was first brought up during the Planning Commission’s mid-term review of the 10th Five Year Plan. This is what the review had to say while discussing Private Investment and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) – “ …so far, the Central government has approved as many as 188 reconnaissance permits, involving an area of 2,54,307.303 sq. km ….. and the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) has granted 73 approvals for FDI in the mining sector involving an investment of Rs...

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Nandigram and the Response of CPI(M) Intellectuals

For intellectuals loyal to the CPI(M), Nandigram has been a serious source of discomfort. This is for more than one reason. One the one hand, the sheer fact of a massacre of rural poor has been too much to rationalize while being consistent with Left sensitivity. On the other, the CPI(M)’s own oft-repeated defence – that SEZs and land acquisition from a reluctant peasantry is unavoidable if the state is to pursue employment and development – is plainly inconsistent with the long-held positions of Left intellectuals as they challenged neo-liberal economics and politics. Many on the Left have hailed the Nandigram resistance as a model of peasant resistance against neo-liberal policies. For intellectuals loyal to CPI(M), to take this position (amounting to a decisive break with the CPI(M)) is impossible. However, there is a real problem of how to explain Nandigram in ways that are consistent with the Left critique of neo-liberalism. We consider three articles that appeared in Economic and Political Weekly (EPW): former CPI(M) MP Malini Bhattacharya’s ‘Nandigram and the Question of Development’, and economist Prabhat Patnaik’s ‘In the aftermath of Nandigram’, EPW May 26, 2007; and ‘Reflections in the aftermath of Nandigram’, by ‘A CPI(M) Supporter’, EPW May 5 2007. Malini Bhattacharya (henceforth MB) begins by arguing that violent displacement in the name of development is nothing new – it has been witnessed in states like...

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Atrocities Against UP Dalits in the Wake of Mayawati’s Victory: Disturbing Trends

While Mayawati is being hailed for her party’s unique metamorphosis from Bahujan to ‘Sarvajan’, Mayawati’s victory has no doubt sharpened the aspirations of dalits in UP for democracy and empowerment. However, the few weeks that have followed Mayawati’s ascension to power have witnessed a disturbing trend: a spate of assaults and atrocities against dalits. Take the example of Mohanlalganj, barely an hour’s journey away from the seat of power in Lucknow. Here, a poor and aged dalit peasant was shot dead, and his son as well as daughter-in-law seriously injured .Their only fault was that they resisted the forcible grabbing of their land in the name of road by a rich Brahmin who also happened to be a government officer. Despite being pre-warned about the possibility of such an assault, police and administration turned a blind eye. In Raebareilly, again in the vicinity of the state capital, an old dalit agrarian labour was brutally beaten to death. He had refused to work for a Rajput landlord, since the landlord had not paid his long-due wages and instead got him arrested on a false pretext of theft during the Mulayam regime. Possibly emboldened by the formation of Mayawati Government he asserted his minimum democratic right to accept or refuse an employer, and paid for it with his life. Significantly, the killers – upper caste feudal men, are also ’associated’ with...

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Yet Again: Raje Government in Rajasthan Answers Protests With Bullets

Police bullets are the Raje Government’s first response to any mass mobilisation and protest in Rajasthan. The police firing on Gujjar protestors which claimed a toll of 16 people is the latest in the long record of police terror that the Raje Government has unleashed in Rajasthan in its three-year tenure – major instances include police firing against dam oustees in Bisalpur, against school children at Kuhadwas (Jhunjhunu), against farmers at Gharsana (Sriganganagar) and custodial killing at Jhalawar. The Nandigram massacre, the police firing on Muslim people protesting the blasts in a mosque in Hyderabad and now the firing on Gujjar protestors are a reminder of the authoritarian and anti-people character of ruling formations of every hue. There is now an uneasy calm following the Raje Government’s decision to set up a commission to look into the Gujjars’ demand. But what caused the week-long eruption of Gujjar protests in eastern Rajasthan? OBCs in Rajasthan have 21% reservation, while Scheduled Tribes in the state have 12%. Why did the Gujjars seek to exchange a share in a larger pie (21%) for one in a far smaller pie of 12%? Gujjars in the state have a handful of MLA seats and one MP seat (Dausa). It appears that talk within the BJP of turning Dausa into a seat reserved for STs was one of the factors that caused a panic among...

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Presidential Election: Beyond the Politics of Pretension

The office of the President of India is the highest constitutional office in India’s parliamentary democracy. No wonder then if election to the office of the President generates some high political drama and public pretension. After weeks of speculation, the Congress has finally declared former Maharashtra Pradesh Congress chief and current Governor of Rajasthan Pratibha Patil as its presidential candidate. With the support of other UPA partners, the Left Front and the BSP, she should have the numbers to see her through the elections. In other words, within a few weeks India may well have her first woman President. Sections of the media have already begun discussing if the vernacular term for President – Rashtrapati – will foot the bill for a woman President or a new term needs to be coined to describe the first woman occupant of the highest constitutional office. The possible victory of a woman President is also being described simultaneously as the fall of one of India’s last unconquered male bastions – the armed forces! After all, does not the President of India also serve as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces? Indeed, the UPA-Left camp would like us to believe that a woman occupying the Rashtrapati Bhavan is the greatest symbol of women’s empowerment in the sixtieth year of the country’s Independence. Nothing could be more pretentious than this rhetoric of empowerment....

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