12 December 2013

On Cover : Opinions, Opinion Polls, and Democracy

The Election Commission’s move of seeking political parties’ opinions on banning pre-election opinion polls has sparked off a heated debate. On the one hand, the Congress has called for an outright ban on such polls, while the BJP, which in 2004 had favoured such a ban, has now decried the Congress’ call for a ban as an attack on press freedom and freedom of expression. Most media organisations too have dubbed any restrictions on opinion polls as an attack on freedom of expression. The positions of Congress and BJP at different times on opinion polls have been opportunist, coloured by whether the opinion polls tend to favour them or not in the forthcoming months. How can we go beyond the terms of the debate fixed by opportunistic ruling class parties and corporate-funded media, and arrive at a reasonable and democratic opinion on opinion polls? One argument being made in favour of unrestricted opinion polls is that opinions by laypersons, editorials and media commentators, pollsters and politicians float around in any case. If one calls for restrictions on opinion polls today, it might go to the extent of restricting the free expression of opinions tomorrow. A related argument is that scientific opinion polls are preferable to lay rumours and ‘expert comments’ that do not enjoy the backing of data or scientific analysis. What these arguments ignore is that opinion polls...

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On Cover : CPI(ML)’s Khabardar Rally Reasserts Bihar’s Fighting Resolve Defying Modi’s ‘Hunkaar’ and Conspiratorial Blasts

The last week of October was a week of rallies for Patna. On October 25, the CPI held a ‘Janakrosh’ (People’s Anger) rally, which witnessed arguably the biggest gathering by the party in last ten years or so. The rally clearly reflected the mood of the Left ranks and common people in Bihar – determination to resist the growing fascist threat and anger against the non-performing and anti-poor Nitish Kumar government of Bihar. Two days later, it was the BJP’s turn to stage its ‘Hunkaar’ (roar) show. The rally turned out to be the BJP’s biggest ever in Bihar, and certainly bigger than the kind of crowd that came to Modi’s recent rallies in Delhi, UP or MP. Even as the rally began, a series of blasts took place around the rally ground, and blasts were all the BJP would be talking about later. But quite surprisingly the rally went on like business as usual with Modi churning out a mythical history of Bihar, full of bloomers for anybody familiar with the rich history and heritage of the state. Nitish Kumar was quick to take on Modi on the issue of his ‘historical bloomers’ in the JD(U)’s ‘chintan shivir’ (brainstorming session) at Rajgir, but his government left Patna in a state of post-blast panic and uncertainty. The state government could not sanitise the Gandhi Maidan, the venue for all...

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TALK : Industrialisation : For Whom, By Whom?

(Based on talk given at Lattice 2013, the annual symposium of PGPEX students in IIM Kolkata on 25 December 2013) It is really encouraging to see students at IIM Kolkata hosting a symposium on the human cost of industrialisation. The acknowledgement that industrialisation involves a human cost and that this cost may often outweigh the presumed benefits, is a welcome departure from the dominant discourse in the country today which aggressively advocates industrialisation at any cost. Before proceeding on the subject, let us note that the term industrialisation is used too often very loosely. Any objection raised against any specific project, whether on behalf of the people who are liable to lose their land and/or livelihood or on environmental grounds is often generalised as a blind opposition to industrialisation to avoid a rigorous analysis of the impact of the project in question or avoid the democratic processes of transparency and accountability, and most crucially, consent of the people who stand to be affected most directly and immediately. To difference between the setting up of individual industries and the concept of industrialisation is important to note. One quick look at the composition of India’s GDP and engagement of our work force, and it becomes clear that even after more than six decades of Independence India can hardly be called an industrialised country. While talking about the human cost of industrialisation...

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OBITUARY II : The Lessing Legend

[Doris Lessing, a Nobel Literature laureate and one of the most important literary figures of our time, passed away at the age of 94. Born in Iran on October 22, 1919, she was brought up in southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) since the age of 3. Her first novel, The Grass is Singing, is an unsparing exploration of race and gender power in colonial Africa. She is best known for The Golden Notebook (1962), which, along with her other writings, reflected her complex relationship with communist and feminist movements. Below are excerpts from Paul Foot’s review of Lessing’s Walking In The Shade, Volume two of my autobiography 1949-1962, from Socialist Review, No.216, February 1998, pp.26-27. Copyright © 1998 Socialist Review. Downloaded with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.] When they are dead, heroes and heroines cannot let you down. When they are contemporary, still writing and thinking, they can cause the most frightful disillusionment. I still remember my indignation when, more than 20 years ago, I read the last chapter of E.P. Thompson’s book on the Black Acts of the 18th century, Whigs and Hunters. The chapter, which subscribed to the idea of an eternal and consistent rule of law independent of economic circumstances, seemed to me an appalling betrayal of the Marxist clarity of Thompson’s great history book, The Making of the English Working Class. I recall something very...

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Obituary – I

Comrade Dilip Mondol Veteran revolutionary leader Comrade Dilip Mondol (Probodh Bardhan) breathed his last at around 8 am today on 22 November 2013 at Sangamahal village (Shyampur-B colliary), Nirsa area of Dhanbad district. He was around 70. He was a member of the Jharkhand State Committee of the party. After passing his junior engineer training Comrade Probodh Bardhan had joined Chittaranjan Locomotive Works in West Bengal as a supervisor. He spent his early childhood and got his primary education in Comillah, now in Bangladesh. Thereafter his father shifted to Behala, Kolkata, where he continued with his education. It was in Chittaranjan that he came into contact with Naxalbari movement. A very popular leader among co-workers, he led workers’ militant movements within the CLW before he became underground and left his service in 1972 and started working as a whole timer among coal workers in Kumardhubi area of Dhanbad. To integrate with coalworkers he himself joined a coalmine as worker and soon assumed leadership of trade union activities. It was then he took the name of Dilip Mondol as a cover and started residing in Sangamahal village of Nirsa area. However, this cover was to become his real identity and the family he lived with became his real family for the rest of life. He undertook fractional work within Bihar Colliery Kamgar Union led by AK Roy and soon became...

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UPDATES

AIPWA Protests Inaction of Odisha Govt Against Sexual Harassment Battling for life for five days, Itishree Pradhan, a school teacher who was set ablaze for refusing to withdraw a complaint of sexual harassment case against a school inspector in Tikiri school of Rayagada district, Odisha, died on 1st November 2013. Itishree who hailed from Delang in Puri district and joined as Sikshya Sahayak at the Tikiri school, had lodged a complaint with the police in July 2013 but there was no response. Later, Itishree appealed to the state women’s commission, the DG, the collector and the SP of Rayagada, but nobody took any action. Though an investigation report was submitted to the Collector, no action was taken against school inspector Netrananda Dandasena. On October 27th a person entered her hostel and asked her to withdraw the complaint, and when she refused, he set her fire. The same night Itishree was shifted to Rayagada and due to 99% burns injury she was shifted to Vizag. On 1st November she died. BJD chief and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced an ex gratia payment of Rs 10 lakhs to Itishree’s family and ordered a crime branch probe into the incident, assuring that the case would be tried in a fast track court. AIPWA has demanded Rs 25 lakhs compensation, jobs for her family members, dismissal of the Collector, SP, and women’s commission...

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The day when Patna was occupied

Patna wore a different look on the day of Khabardar Rally. From early in the morning one could see streams of people walking down Station Road, in groups of varying sizes. Red flags held aloft, processions walked under the Mithapur overbridge, past the GPO Golambar, down Hardinge Road. The adjacent Hardinge Park was one of the sites where people who came from far-flung districts of Bihar had camped overnight in the open. With rows of trucks, buses, tractors, camps and vendors Hardinge Road wore the look of a carnival. Taking a sharp right-turn into Beer Chand Patel Path at the intersection, one could see a sea of red flags and people who had taken over the 1.5 Km long stretch from R block to the IT roundabout. Beer Chand Patel Path hasn’t seen a mass political rally in a long time. Lining this historical road are the offices of all the major political parties represented in the Bihar assembly. The road also had important government offices and the MLA club. All these offices remained effectively shut as 1 lakh of the poorest of Bihar occupied the road and all the adjacent lanes and neighbourhoods. A friend who had climbed atop the terrace of the 8-storeyed AG office said it was impossible to see the ends even from there. Many participants could hardly see the dais from where they were...

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‘Feudal, Communal Forces Beware’

“Only CPI(ML) could have had the guts and the ability to successfully hold such a massive Rally in spite of constant talk of bomb threats. Only CPI(ML)’s mass base is such that would defy the atmosphere of fear and turn up steadfastly in such numbers.” This was the unanimous opinion of journalists and other observers in Patna on 30 October. The real “hunkar” (roar) of people’s power was manifested in this Rally of 1 lakh of Bihar’s poorest people, who flocked to Patna on their own will power, determination, and commitment, without the massive backing of money power that Modi’s rally three days previously displayed. The Rally was held on the historic Bir Chand Patel Path – marked by R Block with Kunwar Singh’s statue at one end, and IT Golambar with a statue of JP in 1974 at the other end – the very spot where JP was lathi charged during a massive agitation in 1974. An observer commented on Facebook: “The word Khabardar means ‘beware’ in Urdu. The masses issued a warning to feudal-communal-fascist forces who doubled up as facilitators of corporate loot, by raising the slogan of ‘Samanti – sampradayik – fasivadi – looteri taakton khabardar! Bihar ki janata hai taiyar!’ The rally, earlier scheduled for the Gandhi Maidan, was disallowed at the last moment by Bihar police who were inept enough not to be able...

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December 16th Movement: Looking Back A Year Later

A year ago, a massive movement erupted on the streets of Delhi and the country – against the brutal gangrape of a young woman on a bus, leading to her death. Look back at that movement a year later, it is clear that the questions, concerns and above all the tensions and debates embedded in that movement are with us still – and are quite crucial to the political discourse around us. I stress ‘tensions and debates’ because of course, there’s a tendency to speak as though ‘the movement’ was one homogenous entity. That it spoke in one voice – ‘for the nation’. That the ‘nation’ wanted to ‘protect women’ and ‘hang the rapists’. The truth, of course, has more layers to it. If we could hear the voices seeking to protect women and avenge rape, there was an equally significant counterpoint striving to be heard, and made itself heard in spite of all the odds. These were the voices demanding ‘freedom without fear’, challenging the culture of victim-blaming, and seeking accountability from the State towards women’s freedom and autonomy. I’m not trying to suggest the two sets of voices were mutually exclusive or even hostile to each other. It’s more probable that both voices wrestled each other within the same persons. Nevertheless, these two sets of voices did represent two models of political vision; two kinds of political...

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Why the CBI Director’s Rape-Speak Can’t Be Excused

Running under the overwhelming outrage over the CBI Director’s analogy between ‘legalising betting’ and ‘enjoying rape’, one can sense an undercurrent of sympathy. ‘It’s just an analogy/proverb after all, what’s the big deal?’; ‘He used college lingo inappropriately; we’ve all done it.’ ‘He’s being quoted out of context, that’s not what he really meant, why the hysterical outrage against it?’; ‘He may not have an English-medium schooling, why this hair-splitting over his loose use of an English phrase?’’ ‘He’s expressed regret, what more do you want?’ – these are just some of the sentiments I’ve encountered on twitter. Meanwhile, fellow cops too have expressed the same sentiments: Kiran Bedi said his problem was just one of poor communication, and now that he’s expressed regret, everyone should move on; former CBI Chief Raghavan, while saying he won’t attempt to defend Sinha’s indefensible remark, also asked, “Should he be executed for it?” Let’s address some of these sentiments. To begin with, was Sinha misunderstood? Were his words taken out of context? Did he actually mean the opposite of what’s being attributed to him? Reading out his formal regret statement, Sinha claimed that in fact, he had been ridiculing rather than endorsing the idea that ‘if you can’t stop rape, enjoy it.’ Some might argue that even if that were the case, the use of an ‘enjoy rape’ analogy would be unacceptable....

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Shame on Rahul, Modi’s Competitive Communalism

Leading campaigners and PM aspirants of India’s main ruling class formations have shamefully sought to stigmatise Muzaffarnagar’s riot-affected in a highly callous and shameful game of competitive communalism. Addressing a rally recently, Congress’ leading campaigner Rahul Gandhi made the claim that Muzaffarnagar’s riot victims have been contacted by Pakistan’s ISI. It is difficult to imagine a more insensitive, factually unfounded, and insulting remark for the riot-affected, who are yet unable to leave the refugee camps, and are too terrorised to return to their villages. Rahul’s apologists say that his was not a communal remark – it was merely a clumsy but well-meant attempt to underline that the BJP, by engineering riots, creates a fertile ground for terrorism to breed. But this excuse does not hold water. Because painting riot victims as potential terrorists who are in touch with the ISI can be nothing but crude communal stereotyping. For one thing, neither the UP Government nor the Home Ministry have admitted any intelligence inputs to back Rahul Gandhi’s claim. For him to suggest that the refugee camps are targets for ISI recruitment is actually to reinforce the communal stereotype that will stigmatise the people who, destitute and homeless, are trying to rebuild their lives after the communal violence. Besides, the plight of the riot-refugees in the UP camps, vulnerable to hunger, homelessness and epidemics, is equally an indictment of the...

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Who pays when India’s billionaires don’t go bust?

(Reproduced with thanks from Live Mint, 22 November) Last month, the business empire of Eike Batista, once the world’s seventh-richest man and a mascot of economically resurgent Brazil, collapsed. The disaster ought to focus our minds on the perils of credit-fueled economic growth and highly leveraged corporations not just in Brazil but also in other BRICS countries. Batista secured extraordinary loans and investments from a government bank against the promise of high productivity from his oil fields; he used taxpayers’ money to fund a lavish lifestyle for himself, with such plutocratic accessories as fast cars, yachts and a wife who was a former Playboy model. His debt-fueled engine spluttered to a stop when his fields were exposed as dry and his flagship oil company, OGX Petroleo and Gas Participacoes SA, was left with no cash to service debts amounting to more than $5 billion. Last week, as I drove past the forlorn, deserted airport in Shimla, which India’s high-flying Kingfisher Airlines Ltd once connected to the world, I thought of India’s own version of Batista: the flamboyant owner of Kingfisher, Vijay Mallya, who was as much the poster boy for an apparently supercharged economy as the Brazilian businessman was. A liquor baron, Mallya worked hard to live up to his beer’s tagline, the King of the Good Times, by partying with Bollywood stars onboard his luxury yacht, the Indian...

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‘Saheb’ Snooping Tapes

What do the tape-recordings of illegal surveillance on a woman by the Home Minister and ATS for their ‘Saheb’, and the BJP’s line of defence, show about the state of democracy in BJP’s ‘model’ state Gujarat? The tapes show that the then Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah monitored the minute-by-minute intrusive surveillance of a young woman’s personal life, to relay information to their ‘Saheb’. The BJP’s defence actually authenticates the tapes and identifies ‘Saheb’, and exposed the woman’s identity which the media web sites that revealed the tapes had kept private. The BJP issued a letter supposedly written by the woman’s father, claiming that the surveillance was actually ‘protection’ which he had requested for his daughter from his ‘family friend’ Narendra Modi. So the BJP does not deny the tapes, and in fact tacitly admits that ‘Saheb’ is Modi. It is ironic that the Chief Minister who turned a deaf ear to Ehsan Jafri’s repeated calls for help, is today claiming that he provided round-the-clock ATS ‘protection’ to a woman (including cops following her in a flight) in response to a worried father’s request! Several questions arise. Why did ‘protection’ for a woman require surveillance by the ATS? Why wasn’t the surveillance legal? The Telegraph Act mandates that phone-tapping can be allowed only in a ‘public Emergency’ that endangers ‘public safety’, on receipt of a Home Secretary’s order. The...

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