Saturday, 23 June 2018

Why Germany Cannot and Should Not Pay to Save the Eurozone

Yanis Varoufakis at the Leibnitz Institute

What is patriotic? Who gets to decide that?

Pervez Hoodbhoy in The Dawn

LAST week an unsigned email from Netra­ landed in my inbox. It accused me of stirring “hate against the state and the institutions in the garb of being sane and intellectual” while claiming “we know what cooks in your mind when u address the masses and who u work for”. And so, to deal with me, it says “we can enlist them”. What “them” means is unstated.

Hidden somewhere in cyber space some prankster bearing some personal grudge — possibly a student who couldn’t pass my physics course — might well have authored this email. If so the only action called for has already been taken — hitting the delete button followed by a trash flush. I lost no sleep over this.

But instead, what if today there is actually some organised and systematic effort afoot to frighten and silence those Pakistani voices judged unpatriotic? Could this be why — now for many months — meaningful political analysis and discussion have disappeared from local print and electronic media? Bloggers have disappeared, only to reappear with horrendous tales to tell, and many journalists have been stilled forever.

The evidence is all over: cable operators have been forced to block certain TV news channels, and street hawkers have been warned against selling certain newspapers that don’t toe the line. The line — that mysterious line — can only be inferred because specifying it might reveal too much of who actually draws the line. With some exceptions, owners, editors, anchors, journalists, and opinion writers have fallen quickly into place.

But even if some voices are successfully gagged, I contend such tactics by anonymous actors cannot ever create a more stable or stronger Pakistan. In fact the efforts of and his ilk are arguably counter-patriotic. Here’s why.

First, freedom of expression acts as a safety valve against authoritarian rule, tyranny and secret government. Secret government is bad because it is uninhibited by the checks and balances needed for good governance. Accountability is not just about iqamas and politicians. It’s equally needed for generals, judges, lawyers, professors, policemen and milkmen. If certain voices are amplified while others are suppressed, genuine accountability becomes difficult.

Second, true patriotism comes from caring. In fact, real caring is often the reason why some dare raise voices to criticise what they perceive wrong around them. While Mr was probably told in his school that criticising state institutions is unpatriotic, this view is without logic.

Should citizens of Pakistan be stopped from sharing and airing their thoughts on PIA’s performance, the national cricket team, or the country’s professors, politicians, or generals? None of these are holy, faultless, and above reproach. No patriotic Pakistani can have beef with the state or any of its institutions provided these function within their respective mandates.

This begs the key question: who is a patriotic Pakistani and acts to benefit it? Equivalently, what is Pakistan’s national interest and who may rightfully define it? Surely this is not for some hidden force to specify. The only proper way is to determine its parameters through open and honest public debate.

Here’s my take, hopefully shared by many millions. A true patriot wants to make Pakistan poverty-free; to help it achieve high standards of justice and financial integrity; to convince its different peoples and provinces about mutual sharing and caring; to help make real universities instead of the ones we have; to explore space and become a world leader in science; to develop literature and the arts; and much more.

The other conception of Pakistani patriotism and national interest — the mainstream one — is different. Taught in schools and propagated via the media, it focuses upon our relations with India. This involves freeing Kashmir from India; deterring India with nuclear weapons; creating strategic depth against India through controlling Afghanistan; neutralising Indian power by nurturing the Pakistan-China relationship; punishing Iran for its friendship with India; etc. This India-centric view has been strengthened by Indian obduracy on Kashmir, its unconscionable repression of Kashmiri protesters, and the emergence of a hard-line anti-Muslim Hindu right.

But now matters other than India are casting dark shadows. Short of nuclear war or a miracle, nothing can now prevent Pakistan from reaching 400 million people in 35-40 years. Water is running short, and environmental destruction is everywhere. Then there are fanatical mullahs that the state appeases, fights, and then appeases again.

Add these all up and you can understand why Mr’s mind is being unconsciously governed by the fears of Robert Hobbes (1588-1679). Hobbes famously articulated the dread of a state sliding deep into dystopia. During the English Civil War, he became obsessed with demonstrating the necessity of a strong central authority to avoid the evil of discord and civil war.

In one of the best known passages of English literature, Hobbes writes: “In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” His only solution is an absolute authority in the form of an absolute monarch. Else, says Hobbes, there would be a “war of all against all”.

Hobbes was wrong and his negative vision proved false. England grew to be Europe’s most powerful country and a fountain of civilisation. Democracy was central to this; without developing a system resting on freedom of speech and thought England could never have become the cradle of the Scientific Revolution and then the Industrial Revolution. Rejection of military rule, hereditary privilege, and absolute monarchy eventually won universal acceptance.

I wonder if Mr and others with a negative vision will get to read this article. Will they realise that trying to shut people up is actually unpatriotic? For all who care for the well-being of Pakistan and its people, it is a patriotic duty to speak against abuses of power. Equating patriotism with passivity and unquestioning obedience is nonsense. Pakistan Zindabad!

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

A BJP MP's Analysis of his government

Shivam Shankar Singh in Asia Times

Political discourse is at it’s lowest point in the country, at least in my lifetime. The partisanship bias is unbelievable and people continue to support their side no matter what the evidence, there is no remorse even when they’re proved to have been spreading fake news. This is something that everyone – the parties and the voters or supporters are to be blamed for.

BJP has done a great job at spreading some specific messages with incredibly effective propaganda, and these messages are the primary reason that I can’t support the party anymore. But before we get into any of that, I’d like everyone to understand that no party is totally bad, and no party is totally good. All governments have done some good and messed up on some fronts. This government is no different.

The Good:

1. Road construction is faster than it was earlier. There has been a change in methodology of counting road length, but even factoring that in it seems to be faster.

2. Electricity connection increased – all villages electrified and people getting electricity for more hours. (Congress did electrify over 500,000 villages and Modi finished the job by connecting the last 18,000 or so, you can weigh the achievement as you like. Similarly, the number of hours people get electricity has increased ever since independence, but it might be a larger increase during BJP).

3. Upper-level corruption is reduced (Also read Electoral Bonds below) – no huge cases at the ministerial level as of now (but the same was true of UPA, the alliance formed after the 2004 poll). Lower level seems to be about the same with increased amounts, no one seems to be able to control the thanedar, patwari (village policeman, headman) et al.

4. The Swachh Bharat Mission (clean-up campaign) is a success – more toilets built than before and Swachhta is something embedded in people’s minds now.

5. Ujjwala Yojana (LPG connection scheme) is a great initiative. How many people buy the second cylinder remains to be seen. The first one and a stove was free, but now people need to pay for it. The cost of cylinders has almost doubled since the government took over and now one costs more than 800 rupees.

6. Connectivity for the Northeast has undoubtedly increased. More trains, roads, flights and most importantly – the region is now discussed in the mainstream news channels.

7. Law and order is reportedly better than it was under regional parties.

Feel free to add achievements you can think of in the comments below, also achievements necessarily have caveats, failures are absolute!

The Bad:

It takes decades and centuries to build systems and nations, the biggest failure I see in BJP is that it has destroyed some great things on very flimsy grounds.

1. Electoral Bonds – these basically legalize corruption and allow corporates and foreign powers to just buy our political parties. The bonds are anonymous, so if a corporate says ‘I’ll give you an electoral bond of 1,000 crore [10 billion rupees] if you pass this specific policy’, there will be no prosecution. There just is no way to establish quid pro quo with an anonymous instrument. This also explains how corruption is reduced at the ministerial level – it isn’t per file or order, it is now like the US, at the policy level.

2. Planning Commission Reports – this used to be a major source for data. They audited government schemes and stated how things are going. With that gone, there just is no choice but to believe whatever data the government gives you (Comptroller and Auditor General audits come out after a long time!). NITI Aayog (the National Institute for Transforming India) doesn’t have this mandate and is basically a think tank and PR agency. Plan or non-plan distinction could be removed without removing this!

3. Misuse of CBI and ED (the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate) – it is being used for political purposes as far as I can see, but even if it isn’t the fear that these institutions will be unleashed on them if they speak up against anything Modi or Shah-related is real. This is enough to kill dissent, an integral component of democracy.

4. Failure to investigate Kalikho Pul’s suicide note, Judge Loya’s death, the Sohrabuddin murder, the defense of an MLA accused of rape who’s relative is accused of killing the girl’s father and a First Information Report (to police) wasn’t registered for over a year!

5. Demonetization – it failed, but worse is BJP’s inability to accept that it failed. All propaganda of it cutting terror funding, reducing cash, eliminating corruption is just absurd. It also killed off businesses.

6. GST Implementation – Implemented in a hurry and harmed business. Complicated structure, multiple rates on different items, complex filing… Hopefully, it’ll stabilize in time, but it did cause harm. Failure to acknowledge that from BJP is extremely arrogant.

7. The messed-up foreign policy with pure grandstanding – China has a port in Sri Lanka, huge interests in Bangladesh and Pakistan – we’re surrounded, the failure in the Maldives (Indian workers not getting visas anymore because of India’s foreign policy debacle) while Modi-ji goes out to foreign countries and keeps saying Indians had no respect in the world before 2014 and now they’re supremely respected. (This is nonsense. Indian respect in foreign countries was a direct result of our growing economy and IT sector; it hasn’t improved an ounce because of Modi. Might even have declined due to beef-based lynchings, threats to journalists, etc.)

8. Failure of schemes and failure to acknowledge and correct the course – Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (rural development), Make In India, Skill Development, Fasal Bima (crop insurance: look at reimbursements – the government is lining the pockets of insurance companies). Failure to acknowledge unemployment and farmers crisis, calling every real issue an opposition stunt.

9. The high prices of petrol and diesel – Modi-ji and all BJP ministers and supporters criticized Congress for it heavily and now all of them justify the high prices even though crude is cheaper than it was then! Just unacceptable.

10. Failure to engage with the most important basic issues – education and healthcare. There is just nothing on education, which is the nation’s biggest failure. The quality of government schools has deteriorated over the decades (ASER reports) and no action. They did nothing on healthcare for four years, then Ayushman Bharat (National Health Protection scheme) was announced. That scheme scares me more than nothing being done. Insurance schemes have a terrible track record and this is going the US route, which is a terrible destination for healthcare (watch ‘Sicko’ by Michael Moore)!

You can add some and subtract some based on personal understanding of the issue, but this is my assessment. The Electoral Bonds thing is huge and hopefully the Supreme Court will strike it down! Every government has some failures and some bad decisions though, the bigger issue I have is more on morals than anything else.

The Ugly:

The real negative of this government is how it has affected the national discourse with a well-considered strategy. This isn’t a failure, it’s the plan.

1. It has discredited the media, so now every criticism is brushed off as a journalist who didn’t get paid by BJP or is on the payrolls of Congress. I know several journalists for whom the allegation can’t be true, but more importantly, no one ever addresses the accusation or complaint – they just attack the person raising the issue and ignore the issue itself.

2. It has peddled a narrative that nothing happened in India in 70 years. This is patently false and the mentality is harmful to the nation. This government spent over Rs. 4,000 crore (40 billion rupees) of our taxpayers’ money on advertisements and now that will become the trend. Do small works and huge branding. He isn’t the first one to build roads – some of the best roads I’ve traveled on were pet projects of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. India became an IT powerhouse from the 90s. It is easy to measure past performance and berate past leaders based on the circumstances of today, just one example of that:

“Why did Congress not build toilets in 70 years? They couldn’t even do something so basic. This argument sounds logical and I believed it too, until I started reading India’s history. When we gained independence in 1947 we were an extremely poor country, we didn’t have the resources for even basic infrastructure and no capital. To counteract this PM Nehru went down the socialist path and created the concept of Public Sector Undertakings. We had no capacity to build steel, so with the help of Russians the Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC), Ranchi was set up that made machines to make steel in India – without this we would have no steel, and consequently no infrastructure. That was the agenda – basic industries and infra. We had frequent droughts (aakaal), every 2-3 years and a large number of people starved to death. The priority was to feed the people, toilets were a luxury no one cared for. The Green Revolution happened and the food shortages disappeared by the 1990s – now we have a surplus problem. The toilet situation is exactly like people asking 25 years from now why Modi couldn’t make all houses in India air-conditioned. That seems like a luxury today, toilets were also a luxury at some point of time. Maybe things could have happened sooner, maybe 10-15 years ago, but nothing happened in 70 years is a horrible lie to peddle.”

3. The spread and reliance on Fake News. There is some anti-BJP fake news too, but the pro-BJP and anti-opposition fake news outstrips that by miles in number and in reach. Some of it is supporters, but a lot of it comes from the party. It is often hateful and polarizing, which makes it even worse. The online news portals backed by this government are damaging society more than we know.

4. Hindu khatre mein hai – they’ve ingrained it into the minds of people that Hindus and Hinduism are in danger, and that Modi is the only option to save ourselves.r In reality Hindus have been living the same lives much before this government and nothing has changed except people’s mindset. Were we Hindus in danger in 2007? At least I didn’t hear about it everyday and I see no improvement in the condition of Hindus, just more fear mongering and hatred.

5. Speak against the government and you’re anti-national and more recently, anti-Hindu. Legitimate criticism of the government is shut up with this labeling. Prove your nationalism, sing Vande Mataram everywhere (even though BJP leaders don’t know the words themselves, they’ll force you to sing it!). I’m a proud nationalist and my nationalism won’t allow me to let anyone force me to showcase it! I will sing the national anthem and national song with pride when the occasion calls for it, or when I feel like it, but I won’t let anyone force me to sing it based on their whims!

6. Running news channels that are owned by BJP leaders who’s sole job is to debate Hindu-Muslim, National-Anti-national, India-Pakistan and derail the public discourse from issues and logic into polarizing emotions. You all know exactly which ones, and you all even know the debaters who’re being rewarded for spewing the vilest propaganda.

7. The polarization – all the message of development is gone. BJP’s strategy for the next election is polarization and inciting pseudo-nationalism. Modi-ji has basically said it himself in speeches – Jinnah; Nehru; Congress leaders didn’t meet Bhagat Singh in jail (fake news from the PM himself!); INC leaders met leaders in Pakistan to defeat Modi in Gujarat; Yogi-ji’s speech on how Maharana Pratap was greater than Akbar; Jawaharlal Univerity students are anti-national they’ll #TukdeTukdeChurChur India – this is all propaganda constructed for a very specific purpose: polarize and win elections. It isn’t the stuff I want to be hearing from my leaders and I refuse to follow anyone who is willing to let the nation burn in riots for political gain.

These are just some of the instances of how BJP is pushing the national discourse in a dark corner. This isn’t something I signed up for and it totally isn’t something I can support. That is why I am resigning from BJP.

PS: I supported BJP since 2013 because Narendra Modi-ji seemed like a ray of hope for India and I believed in his message of development – that message and the hope are now both gone. The negatives of this Narendra Modi and Amit Shah government now outweigh the positives for me, but that is a decision that every voter needs to make individually. Just know that history and reality are complicated. Buying into simplistic propaganda and espousing cult-like unquestioning faith are the worst thing you can do – it is against the interests of democracy and of this nation.

You all have your own decisions to make as the elections approach. Best of luck with that. My only hope is that we can all live and work harmoniously together, and contribute towards making a better, stronger, poverty-free and developed India, no matter what party or ideology we support. Always remember that there are good people on both sides, the voter needs to support them and they need to support each other even when they are in different parties.

Logical Fallacies - How to win every argument

From Purdue Online Writing Lab

Image result for logical fallacies

Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim. Avoid these common fallacies in your own arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others.

Slippery Slope: This is a conclusion based on the premise that if A happens, then eventually through a series of small steps, through B, C,..., X, Y, Z will happen, too, basically equating A and Z. So, if we don't want Z to occur, A must not be allowed to occur either. Example:
If we ban Hummers because they are bad for the environment eventually the government will ban all cars, so we should not ban Hummers.
In this example, the author is equating banning Hummers with banning all cars, which is not the same thing.

Hasty Generalization: This is a conclusion based on insufficient or biased evidence. In other words, you are rushing to a conclusion before you have all the relevant facts. Example:
Even though it's only the first day, I can tell this is going to be a boring course.
In this example, the author is basing his evaluation of the entire course on only the first day, which is notoriously boring and full of housekeeping tasks for most courses. To make a fair and reasonable evaluation the author must attend not one but several classes, and possibly even examine the textbook, talk to the professor, or talk to others who have previously finished the course in order to have sufficient evidence to base a conclusion on.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc: This is a conclusion that assumes that if 'A' occurred after 'B' then 'B' must have caused 'A.' Example:
I drank bottled water and now I am sick, so the water must have made me sick.
In this example, the author assumes that if one event chronologically follows another the first event must have caused the second. But the illness could have been caused by the burrito the night before, a flu bug that had been working on the body for days, or a chemical spill across campus. There is no reason, without more evidence, to assume the water caused the person to be sick.

Genetic Fallacy: This conclusion is based on an argument that the origins of a person, idea, institute, or theory determine its character, nature, or worth. Example:
The Volkswagen Beetle is an evil car because it was originally designed by Hitler's army.
In this example the author is equating the character of a car with the character of the people who built the car. However, the two are not inherently related.

Begging the Claim: The conclusion that the writer should prove is validated within the claim. Example:
Filthy and polluting coal should be banned.
Arguing that coal pollutes the earth and thus should be banned would be logical. But the very conclusion that should be proved, that coal causes enough pollution to warrant banning its use, is already assumed in the claim by referring to it as "filthy and polluting."

Circular Argument: This restates the argument rather than actually proving it. Example:
George Bush is a good communicator because he speaks effectively.
In this example, the conclusion that Bush is a "good communicator" and the evidence used to prove it "he speaks effectively" are basically the same idea. Specific evidence such as using everyday language, breaking down complex problems, or illustrating his points with humorous stories would be needed to prove either half of the sentence.

Either/or: This is a conclusion that oversimplifies the argument by reducing it to only two sides or choices. Example:
We can either stop using cars or destroy the earth.
In this example, the two choices are presented as the only options, yet the author ignores a range of choices in between such as developing cleaner technology, car-sharing systems for necessities and emergencies, or better community planning to discourage daily driving.

Ad hominem: This is an attack on the character of a person rather than his or her opinions or arguments. Example:
Green Peace's strategies aren't effective because they are all dirty, lazy hippies.
In this example, the author doesn't even name particular strategies Green Peace has suggested, much less evaluate those strategies on their merits. Instead, the author attacks the characters of the individuals in the group.

Ad populum/Bandwagon Appeal: This is an appeal that presents what most people, or a group of people think, in order to persuade one to think the same way. Getting on the bandwagon is one such instance of an ad populum appeal.  
If you were a true American you would support the rights of people to choose whatever vehicle they want.
In this example, the author equates being a "true American," a concept that people want to be associated with, particularly in a time of war, with allowing people to buy any vehicle they want even though there is no inherent connection between the two.

Red Herring: This is a diversionary tactic that avoids the key issues, often by avoiding opposing arguments rather than addressing them. Example:
The level of mercury in seafood may be unsafe, but what will fishers do to support their families?
In this example, the author switches the discussion away from the safety of the food and talks instead about an economic issue, the livelihood of those catching fish. While one issue may effect the other it does not mean we should ignore possible safety issues because of possible economic consequences to a few individuals.

Straw Man: This move oversimplifies an opponent's viewpoint and then attacks that hollow argument.
People who don't support the proposed state minimum wage increase hate the poor.
In this example, the author attributes the worst possible motive to an opponent's position. In reality, however, the opposition probably has more complex and sympathetic arguments to support their point. By not addressing those arguments, the author is not treating the opposition with respect or refuting their position.

Moral Equivalence: This fallacy compares minor misdeeds with major atrocities, suggesting that both are equally immoral.
That parking attendant who gave me a ticket is as bad as Hitler.
In this example, the author is comparing the relatively harmless actions of a person doing their job with the horrific actions of Hitler. This comparison is unfair and inaccurate.

Subramanian Swamy - BJP manipulating economic data

Democratising the knowledge of Economics - What happens when ordinary people learn economics?

Aditya Chakrabortty in The Guardian

In a makeshift classroom, nine lay people are battling some of the greatest economists of all time – and they appear to be winning. Just watch what happens to David Ricardo, the 18th-century father of our free-trade system. In best BBC voice, one of the group reads out Ricardo’s words: “Economics studies how the produce of the Earth is distributed.”

Not good enough, says another, Brigitte Lechner. Shouldn’t economists study how to meet basic needs? “We all need a roof over our heads, we all need to survive.” Nor does the Earth belong solely to humans. Her judgment is brisk. “Ricardo was talking tosh.”

So much laughter rings out of this room that the folk outside must wonder what’s going on. They’ve been told this is an economics course – and participants on those don’t normally dissolve into giggles.

Inside, Pat Bhatt chimes in: “Everything you see around you comes from nature. That’s the basis of everything. Economics is the wrong word. It should be … ecolo-mics.”

Ooohs and aaahs. “Very clever!” beams the facilitator Nicola Headlam and scribbles it down on the flipboard.

“I invented it,” says Bhatt.

“My work here is done,” replies Headlam. “I’ll get my coat.”

Some days, democracy looks like a bashed-up ballot box. Some days, it looks like a furious demo. But on this sun-splashed weekday morning, democracy looks like this low-ceilinged meeting room in a converted church, slap bang in the middle of the road that runs from Manchester to Stockport.

None of the “students” have ever picked up an economics textbook. At a guess, most would be either stumped or sedated by the Financial Times. Yet here they are, starting a crash course in something that to them is a mystery. The majority are retired, having worked their entire lives. But when asked how many of them feel some control over the economy, not one raises a hand. So who is in charge?

“Journalists – who are paid by rich people.”

Amid all the humour pokes a truth. For this group, economics is something that’s done to them, by people sitting far away in Westminster or the City. They bear the brunt of spending cuts; they struggle with the rottenness of Northern Rail and they see neighbours sinking into debt – and they have no decent account as to why. They have been bashed over the head again and again, and not even been shown the offending shovel.

Over in the corner sits Sue O’Connor, who today comes “sponsored by Visa!” Another gentle joke that masks the debtor’s panic of having her disability benefit hacked back. Cancer meant she lost all her income and wound up in sheltered housing. Now 64, she suffers severe arthritis, yet her Motability caris about to be taken away.

While at a secondary modern, her class was judged too thick to learn any maths. Partly because the teenager wasn’t taught to count, the grey-haired woman still feels she doesn’t count. “Information is power,” she tells the group. “If I can learn in this class, maybe others will listen to me.”

More confident is 70-year-old “raging feminist” Lechner. “The economy is a system, right?” she says. “I understand systems like patriarchy and how it’s set so certain people get hurt … and I want to know how the rules of the economy are set.”

Headlam nods: “Somehow, someone, somewhere made these rules up. They aren’t laws of nature.” And they determine “who’s got what and where and why”.

‘Short of paying nine grand a year for a degree, how else are laypeople meant to find out about the most potent social science of all?’ A flyer for the course. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

That tearing sound you can hear is the veil that normally partitions economics from society and politics.

Up till 2008, someone like O’Connor would have been told over and over that if she’d failed to get ahead it was her fault, not the system’s. She’d just not followed the rules. Then came the financial crisis, which turned into a crisis of economics.

When the Queen famously asked why no economist saw the crash coming, she cut to the heart of the matter: perhaps those who wrote the economy’s laws and policed their observance weren’t so qualified after all. And while some practitioners claim that theirs is a semi-science, all prescriptions to revive the economy – from George Osborne’s historic austerity to the hundreds of billions doled out to asset-owners by the Bank of England – underline how it’s fundamentally political. By the time Michael Gove remarked in the Brexit campaign that “people in this country have had enough of experts”, he was picking a squelchy-soft target.

One of the biggest battles over economics kicked off just up the road from this community centre. At the University of Manchester in 2013, economics undergraduates – tired of memorising abstract models while the eurozone burned – linked up with students from around the world to demand their economics curriculum be changed. Nothing beyond the orthodoxy of free-market economics was being taught; no conflicting global developments, nothing of its critics such as Keynes or Marx, despite their contemporary relevance. Thus began an epic, and epically imbalanced, fight of a bunch of teenagers taking on the very professors marking their exam papers.

Student passions usually fizzle out faster than you can say “snakebite and black”, yet a half decade on, the struggle to prise open economics has got broader. Those ardent undergraduates propping up the union bar are now civil servants pushing for change in government economics; or they’re directing charities such as Economy, which is putting on this crash course in Levenshulme. The aim is to nail the format, then do 15 courses next year, partnering with housing associations, local authorities and others across the UK.

As you might expect from the first session of the first course, this morning’s proceedings betray some nerves. In an ordinary jacket and denim skirt, Headlam tells the class: “We had no idea if you would come.” Unlike the brogue-wearing professoriat, she and her co-facilitator Anne Hines give no sense that they come from a distant planet. Tomorrow morning, former pharmacist Hines sits her own economics exam for an Open University degree course while Headlam, even with her doctorate, describes her academic career as making “target practice for the elite institutions”.

‘Levenshulme is supposed to be gentrifying.’ Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The pair are giving their time for free, and attendees don’t pay a penny. Economy’s Clare Birkett put together the course and organised the pilots on a part-time wage. All five courses, each lasting up to two months and educating anywhere between 50 and 80 people, will together cost little more than the tuition fees for one solitary economics degree.

A few academic economists will ask what authority a bunch of amateurs have, but Birkett has prepared her fighting talk: “If they say, ‘How dare you talk about this?’, I’ll say, ‘Why shouldn’t I? I’ve put in the work, I’ve studied these things. This stuff belongs to all of us.’”

Short of paying nine grand a year for a degree, how else are lay people meant to find out about the most potent social science of all? The internet is full of blind alleys, while even public lectures within universities typically assume some prior knowledge. Given how some economists rage that they’re not listened to enough on issues such as Brexit, it’s notable how little they actually engage with the public (one excellent exception is the annual Bristol Festival of Economics).

Not so long ago, a Levenshulme resident could learn economics – or any number of other subjects – through the adult evening classes offered by the University of Manchester. The extramural programme stretched as far afield as Wigan and Burnley, and by the 1970s employed more than 30 academic staff. Then followed decades of cuts, until the entire department was shut down in 2006.

Which makes economics the humpty-dumpty subject: trust in it is thoroughly broken, yet the public lack the basic tools to put the discipline back together again in a form that reflects their needs. A YouGov survey in 2015 found that more than 60% of respondents did not even know the definition of GDP (gross domestic product) – that staple of BBC bulletins and Westminster debates.

To make the economy more democratic, as everyone from Theresa May to Jeremy Corbyn proposes, we need to democratise knowledge of economics. That’s a truth now cottoned on to by organisations as disparate as the Bank of England and Momentum.

‘Everyone here brings their own lived experience of economics.’ Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Those doing the Levenshulme crash course don’t look like your typical seminar room attendees. Not only are they decades older; all but one is a women. The average undergraduate economics course, according to the Royal Economic Society, is about 67% male and 25% privately educated(compared with 7% of the population). After the class, a charity van pulls up outside, offering three bags of short-dated food for £6. Several “students” collect their groceries for the week.

Everyone here brings their own lived experience of economics. In her motorised wheelchair, Joanne Wilcock notes how “everything is much more expensive when you’re disabled”. Bang on, yet you hardly ever read that in an article on the latest inflation figures. Bhatt knows that Levenshulme is supposed to be gentrifying – “fancy cars, flash weddings” – but notices his neighbours can’t afford to do up their own houses. “All fur coat and no knickers!” he concludes, and the room cracks up.

And if you’re expecting them to trot out the usual left-itudes about fixing the economy, you’re wrong. A discussion about Northern Rail does produce calls for nationalisation – but also arguments as to how it should be turned into a co-op, or run by an arms-length organisation of technocrats.Q&A
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Lechner starts on about “citizen scientists” – amateurs who conduct their own experiments – and casts an eye around the room. “Why can’t we be citizen economists?”

That may be the most radical suggestion of the day, because it cuts directly against how both right and left usually do their business. In 1894, the year before cofounding the London School of Economics, Fabian Beatrice Webb confided to her diary: “We have little faith in the ‘average sensual man’. We do not believe that he can do more than describe his grievances, we do not think he can prescribe his remedies … we wish to introduce into politics the professional expert.”

That impulse may now be dressed up in polite euphemism – but it lives on. “So many thinktanks and MPs come up with good ideas to change our economy, but they’re all stuck in their political bubble,” says the head of Economy, Joe Earle. “Ordinary people barely get a say in the thing that rules their lives.”

Contrast that with this class and its polite horizontalism, where no one is presumed to be a total expert and everyone is treated as if they have something valuable to say. It is the seeds of that ferment described by Hilary Wainwright in her recent book, A New Politics from the Left.

‘Aklima Akhter only came to this country in 2013.’ Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Drawing on her experience of feminist and workers’ self-organisation, she writes: “Rebel movements shared and developed their own kinds of knowledge, via practice and through debate and deliberation, and on to producing new ideas and the basis of new institutions. Authority, once it has been confidently questioned by those on whose obedience it depends, crumbles in ways that make it difficult to put back together again.”

At the end of the class, each participant tells the rest the best thing they have learned. There’s a pause when it gets to Aklima Akhter, who only came to this country in 2013 and has been sitting so benignly quiet in her white headscarf. She starts haltingly: “It is difficult for me, you know … the subject, the language.”

All around her are faces pursed in little moues of encouragement, but then Akhter speeds up with fluency. “But my favourite word was ‘nationalisation’. Because when things are privatised it is the rich who get all the benefit.” And for once in this room, no one is laughing.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

‘Hindus have to come out and say: not in our religion’s name’

Why Malayalam novelist KP Ramanunni undertook a penance for the Kathua gangrape in a Kerala temple. According to him, it was his response as a Hindu and a believer. He said he was following the Gandhian tradition of personal atonement for a public evil.

Amrith Lal in The Indian Express


Sahitya Akademi winner and Malayalam novelist KP Ramanunni.

Some weeks ago, this year’s Sahitya Akademi winner and Malayalam novelist KP Ramanunni said he intended to atone for the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in a temple in Kathua, Jammu. This, he said, was his response as a Hindu and a believer. He said he was following the Gandhian tradition of personal atonement for a public evil. He said he would do a shayana pradakshinam (circumambulation of the sanctum sanctorum by rolling on the ground) along with others at the Sreekrishna Temple in Kadalayi, Kannur. In an appeal, he stated the reasons for his penance. “The Hindus have a responsibility to show an example of resistance from their own platform of faith against the forces of evil. Because, the fundamental dharma of Hinduism is to pray for the well-being of all the world and stand with truth,” he wrote. He found support from the Kerala Samskrita Sanghom, an organisation of Left-leaning Sanskrit lovers, and a section of intellectuals, including poet and scholar K Satchidanandan.

But when Ramanunni and two others, including a Hindu monk, declared that they would undertake the penance on June 7, many Hindutva bodies opposed the decision. On the designated day, the writer, accompanied by a large posse of police, activists and believers against and in support of the act, undertook the penance by following all the rituals and traditions of the temple.

Ramanunni’s act of atonement has raised a slew of questions. The Hindu right saw it as an anti-BJP political protest. Some felt it was a vacuous spectacle. A few felt secular politics ought not to enter temple spaces or engage with rituals, since that would lead to a validation of Hindu right-wing politics. Even the claim of the circumambulation being a Gandhian act of atonement has been questioned: Can such a singular, individualistic act revive the Gandhian political tradition in a state where the tradition has been marginalised? How different is it from the instrumentalist use of religion by politicians? There are no easy or simple answers to these questions.

For the 63-year-old Kozhikode based writer, this was one way to engage with other Hindus and believers. It was very much in line with the religious syncretism that underlines his fiction, from the much-celebrated Sufi Paranja Katha (A Tale Told By a Sufi, 1995) to his last work, Deivathinte Pustakam (The Book of God, 2017). A recent paper by the Left thinker, B Rajeevan, Sarva Dharma Samabhavana, which called for reclaiming religion from bigots by combining the thoughts of Gandhi, Ambedkar, Sree Narayana Guru and Marx and positing its subaltern self against communalism, inspired him. In this interview, Ramanunni speaks about his attempt to wrest back religious thought from hate. Excerpts:

What made you undertake the act of penance at the Kannur temple?

Every religion, I believe, is getting more and more radicalised and places of worship are increasingly turning into centres of crime. How does one address this issue? I don’t think a purely rationalist approach that excludes religious thought can provide any solution. There are democratic spaces and revolutionary strands within the religious sphere that could help resist communalism. I see Mahatma Gandhi as a practitioner of this sort of a politics. He called himself a sanatani Hindu and revolutionised Hinduism. The fraternal feelings he espoused for Muslims were part of his revolutionary understanding of religion. It was also a carefully thought-out moral and political strategy. The idea was to repair the communal divide the British had created in India. But this strand of political activism ended with him, there was no continuity. It also allowed Hinduism to become reactionary and communal. We need to revive the Hinduism of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Sree Narayana Guru, Gandhiji and so on.

Many Muslim groups openly declare that what organisations like the Islamic State preach and do is not Islam. Hindus, too, have to come out and say what is being done today in the name of Hinduism is not Hinduism. The Kathua rape and murder was a heinous crime carried out and defended in the name of Hinduism. There has always been a strand of self-purification and self-criticism within the Hindu religion; doing penance is a part of that tradition. When a Junaid is killed only because he is a Muslim, all Hindus have to bear the burden of that sin, I believe. The rape and murder in Kathua was not just of a Muslim child but also of Hinduism. It is to build such a conscience that I undertook the shayana pradakshinam at the Kadalayi temple.

But why such a protest at a temple?

We hold a lot of town-hall meetings against communalism. We speak to secular people, and all of us are mostly in agreement. I find this funny. This is almost like putting up resistance on the Pakistan border when there is an attack on the Chinese frontier. The communal forces are spreading hate through believers, using places of worship. These spaces have been abandoned by secular intellectuals, whereas communal organisations are mobilising around them. This wasn’t so in the past. Temple festivals and functions were more social than religious events. Now, the attempt is to turn ordinary Hindus into bigots. This is done by inviting bigoted people, including sanyasis, to give lectures. But these talks are aimed at creating prejudice against other religions. This sort of brainwashing of people, especially ordinary believing women, has been going on for a while. There is a need to engage with believers, and in their spaces. As a believer, a practising Hindu I have to do it, I will do it.

When did you start thinking about this need to engage with believers?

Some months ago, I planned to tour religious places to spread a message of communal harmony. There was some criticism and people backed out. Around this time, Marxist thinker B Rajeevan and poet K Satchidanandan had spoken about mobilising around the idea of sarva dharma samabhavana, which spoke about equal respect to all religions. Rajeevan’s concept inspired me. I have always held that ours is a secularism inclusive of faiths, not one that rejects faiths.

Political parties, including the CPM and the Congress, have been fully supportive of my initiative. They, of course, didn’t want it to be a party programme. That’s when Kerala Samskrita Sanghom came in support. This is an organisation of people who love Sanskrit. Many of its member are also believers, and some of them had worked in organisations like the RSS in the past. We chose the temple in Kannur because it is known as the Guruvayur of Malabar. Swami Athmatheertha had initially expressed interest in joining me, but he opted out. Organisations like the Hindu Aikya Vedi, a Sangh Parivar outfit, viciously opposed us. If we talk about repentance and penance in a temple, they knew it would hurt their interests.

Is this a one-off thing?

We have discussed the need to work among the believers. Or else, Kerala will soon become a different place. We have a history of communal harmony and shared spaces among different faiths. That is now under threat. Even fraternal relations with people of other faith are now looked upon with suspicion. Communal hatred is increasingly becoming a part of everyday life. Muslims, made insecure by the communalisation of Hindus, are withdrawing into the shell of religious spaces. Communalism is mutually reinforcing. A secularism that keeps out religion is not capable of fighting this regressive trend.

Your initiative has been described as a Left-backed anti-BJP political activity or dismissed as a publicity gimmick.

Malayalis have become very cynical. Social media is most vicious, it is full of bigots and cynics. They will try to discourage or make fun of you. Unfortunately, those who support you are not vocal in public. We live in an age where forces of virtue are weak and the powers of vice are efficient.

What about the criticism that political parties have an instrumentalist approach towards religion? That their interventions in matters of faith have only a political motive?

That’s when you reduce your engagement with believers and matters of faith to tactics. A large majority of people who vote CPM in Kerala would be believers. In fact, there are Leftist traditions that engage with religious faith in a positive way. It is important to have a democratic mindset that respects someone’s right to believe in god. According to me, if he exists, god is the greatest discovery of mankind; if he doesn’t, he is mankind’s greatest invention for the support and betterment of humans.