Friday, 22 June 2007

Fatherhood? No thanks!

Jug Suraiya


Sartre, that exemplary anti-Dad, had it right: To beget children, nothing better; to have them, what iniquity. To give birth to children was not just a good thing but a necessary process if the human species were to survive. However, to have children — in the possessive sense that one has a job, or a car, or a career — is both different and undesirable.

A distinction must be made between fatherhood and motherhood. Motherhood is entirely natural; fatherhood isn't. Gender isn't destiny. But it is design. Women are designed to bear children — if they should choose to. Elective motherhood — single moms, lesbian moms, even conventional married moms — is fine. Obligatory motherhood, literally thrust upon women by a patriarchal society, is not.

Men are barren, in that they aren't designed to bear children. In this sense, fatherhood is based on a claim of dubious possession: my son, my daughter. Only too often, the emphasis is on the 'my' rather than on the 'daughter' or the 'son'. This possessiveness, this insistence on trying to make their children into moulded replicas of themselves, is born out of something more primal than mere egotism or selfishness; it is born out of deep-seated genetic insecurity. As sociobiology says, only mothers are real mothers, in that they know for sure their children are really theirs; all fathers are only putative fathers, whose children may really belong to someone else, carry another's genes.

To compensate for this doubt, men try harder to be fathers, to bring into this world, by the circuitous route of another's womb, replicas of what they hope are themselves. The poor guys can never be sure. And the less sure they are, the more insecure, possessive and patriarchal they get: no daughter of mine will marry into a different community, go out late at night, wear tight jeans; no son of mine will be anything other than a doctor/ engineer/carrier-on of the family business. If the operative words of motherhood are 'we' and 'ours' (We will have a child, it'll be our child), the operative words of fatherhood are 'me' and 'mine', the vocabulary of the patriarchal tyrant.

And the ultimate Patriarchal Tyrant, of course, is God, who according to Judeo-Christian theology made man in His own image. Looking at His handiwork, that doesn't say much of Him or His image. According to a more elevated view, God is not the Father of man, but the other way round: man created God in his image, and so is not the son of God but His father. In whichever case, between the two of them, man and his God, they've made awful hash of things. Baap reh baap , what an ungodly mess? You said it.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

My 30 Days of Consumer Celibacy


By Wendee Holtcamp, OnEarth Magazine
 
A few days into a vow of shopping celibacy, I visit a Hallmark store with my kids. The 75-percent-off rack draws me in. I've forgotten that I'm supposed to be living according to the Compact, an agreement to avoid all new purchases in favor of used goods in an attempt to reduce my impact on the environment.
'Look at these cute penguins,' I say, showing them to my kids.
My 10-year-old son, Sam, picks one up. 'Cool. They poop candy.'
I pay and leave the store before realizing what I've done. I stop short. 'I am not supposed to buy anything new!' I yelp. My kids glare at me. 'Well,' I say, taking a deep breath, 'I will just have to start again tomorrow.'
The original Compacters, who formed their group in early 2006, did not intend to start a movement. It was just 10 San Francisco friends trying to reduce their consumption by not buying new stuff for a year. The group's manifesto was simple: to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture. Named after the Pilgrims' revolutionary Mayflower Compact, the small idea led to a Yahoo Web site that has attracted more than 8,000 adherents and spawned some 50 groups in spots as far-flung as Hong Kong and Iceland.
What they don't say on the Compact Web site: Kicking consumerism may require its own 12-step program. So after my Hallmark relapse, I started again from square one. According to the guidelines, I must buy used, or borrow. No new stuff, with the exception of food, necessary medicines and health care items, and -- no joke -- underwear.
'This all started over a dinner conversation about the limitations of recycling,' says Rachel Kesel, a professional dog walker and one of the original friends who established the Compact. What else could people do to tread more lightly on the earth? 'One of the solutions is not to buy so much crap.'
The average American generates about 4.5 pounds of trash a day -- a figure that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, includes paper, food, yard trimmings, furniture, and everything else you toss out at home and on the job. That makes the United States the trashiest country in the industrialized world, followed by Canada at 3.75 pounds a day and the Netherlands at 3 pounds a day. In part, we can thank the corporations that spend billions to convince us that the newest, shiniest widgets will make us happy and attract friends and lovers.
What's more, each new widget is designed to wear out or otherwise fade into obsolescence, so we'll have almost no choice but to buy more and more. In the words of Dr. Seuss's Once-ler in The Lorax, 'A Thneed's a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need!!' The old Thneed -- often in working condition -- goes out with the trash. And in the process of making thneeds, the Swomee-Swans get smog in their throats and the Super-Axe-Hacker whacks all the Truffala-Trees, and the gills of the Humming-Fish get gummed up with Gluppity-Glup.
I was already an eco-savvy consumer when I began my moratorium on new stuff. I bought organic produce, 'green' beauty products, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, and the like. 'A month won't be too bad,' I told my preteen daughter. Without thinking I added, 'I'll just buy everything I need beforehand.' She laughed. As if I were joking.
The Compact has, for the most part, attracted people who were already living frugally or eco-consciously and whose dismay over society's overzealous buying habits may have been brewing for some time. Such feelings are not universally shared. On a Seattle radio show that aired just after the group formed, the host ripped into John Perry, one of the original Compacting friends, saying, 'You people are bad for America and you're bad for the American economy.'
A Web forum mocking the Compact sprang up, one of the first posts proclaiming, 'Today I'm starting a Compact wherein no one can buy anything yellow. Except bananas. And lemons. ... Oh, wait. I need legal pads.' The Compact founders were called pretentious, since they live upper-middle-class lives, and hypocritical, since one of them works in marketing -- the art and science of selling goods.
After this criticism, the Compacters consulted several economists about the soundness of their premise. Alex Tabarrok, a professor of economics at George Mason University, theorizes that if throngs of citizens shopped secondhand, it would drive the market to produce higher-quality, more durable goods. Some sectors of the economy would expand, he says, as people spent more money on services or used goods, which are often sold by smaller, independent business owners. But if enough of us started buying less stuff, wouldn't corporate profits fall, leading to layoffs and a drop in the gross domestic product -- that classic index of the economy?
I ran this by Bob Costanza, a professor of ecological economics at the University of Vermont who has given some thought to the question. 'If 'growing GDP' is considered to be the goal, then yes, buying secondhand will hurt 'the economy' because less stuff will be produced per unit time,' he says. 'But this just shows how wrong this narrow conception of the economy is.' So maybe we need to rethink the way we define a strong economy to encompass not only the health of our financial markets, but also the health of our natural resources.
Still, not everyone immediately grasps why buying used products has less impact on the environment than buying new ones. When you buy a new widget -- a cell phone, for example -- the store orders a replacement, instigating a chain of events that eventually leads to more raw material being mined from the earth. In contrast, when you buy used, the seller -- at a garage sale, a thrift store, or on eBay -- does not put in a replacement order. The chain stops there. I nearly lost a friend once when I bought a used teak table after I had exhorted her never to buy anything that wasn't made from sustainably harvested wood. My purchase did not cause a living tree to be cut down, I told her. She didn't get it.
Giving up new stuff forced me to shop creatively. A visit to Goodwill yielded a travel mug for my Starbucks visits, clothes for my daughter, and a bongo drum to substitute for the practice pad my son needed for his drum lessons. Buying a basketball net proved more challenging. I found one through Freecycle, a Web site where users trade belongings, but it had so much rust it wouldn't have passed muster with my suburban homeowners' association. After much looking, I bought a like-new one for $30 on my local Craigslist Web site. Then it took two weeks and 55 e-mail, text, and voice messages before I got my basketball net.
When my laptop went on the fritz, I panicked. I needed a working computer, so I went shopping for a new one. This time, the widget-maker's plan to lure me into buying the newest, shiniest model backfired. Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system won't work with the perfectly good computer accessories I already own, so if I were to fork over a grand for a new laptop, I'd also have to buy new software, new drivers, and new Microsoft Office programs. Exasperated, I took a deep breath and went home. Sticking to my Compact vow, I hauled an old dinosaur of a computer out of the closet while I waited, impatiently, for laptop repairs.
I wondered: Am I really making a difference? Do I need to eliminate everything I would ordinarily buy new? The answer surprised me. In The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, Michael Brower and Warren Leon of the Union of Concerned Scientists calculated the impact of various consumer purchases on four environmental problem areas: air pollution, water pollution, global warming, and habitat alteration.
They analyzed the environmental footprints of everything from cheese to carpet to feminine products and then aggregated them into 50 categories of goods and services. In the end, they found that just 7 of the 50 categories were responsible for the lion's share of environmental degradation: cars and trucks; meat and poultry farming; crop production; home heating, hot water, and air conditioning; household appliances; home construction; and household water use and sewage treatment.
Interestingly, the personal items I worked so hard to forgo are not among the worst offenders. Clothing, books, magazines, and toys account for a relatively small fraction of the total environmental destruction wrought by our modern lifestyle. Brower and Leon suggest that we focus on choices that matter most: alternative energy utility providers, energy-saving appliances, organic food, and fuel-efficient or hybrid cars. Over time, buying smart may be more important than buying used.
I grew up in a log cabin with a hippie dad who chose simplicity. We had an outhouse, wood stoves, chickens, and a vegetable garden. Compacting should be second nature to me. Still, I found myself rebelling. I'm a self-employed single mom!
Call me an impatient American consumer, but the truth is, I both care passionately about the environment and live in a world where I often have zero extra time. And shopping for used stuff takes lots of time. I made a commitment some time ago to use my purchasing power to help the environment, and spending a month Compacting forced me to reexamine my priorities. It also helped me reconsider my needs versus my wants. We could have forgone the candy-pooping penguins, and I can find many perfectly good things used -- and at less cost. But eventually, I will need a brand new laptop.
'I don't think everyone has to stop shopping to change American consumption habits,' Rachel Kesel tells me. 'But a lot of people need to be put on detox for a while.'


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Monday, 18 June 2007

The Bunkum Olympic Legacy

The Olympic Games are supposed to encourage us to play sport; they are meant to produce resounding economic benefits and to help the poor and needy. It's all untrue.

GEORGE MONBIOT

Everything we have been told about the Olympic legacy turns out to be bunkum. The Games are supposed to encourage us to play sport; they are meant to produce resounding economic benefits and to help the poor and needy. It's all untrue. As the evictions in London begin, a new report shows that the only certain Olympic legacy is a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.

Both Lord Coe and the sports secretary Tessa Jowell, like the boosters for every city which has bid for the Olympics, have claimed that the Games will lever us off our sofas and turn us into a nation of athletes. But Jowell knows this is nonsense. In 2002, her department published a report which found that "hosting events is not an effective, value for money, method of achieving . . . a sustained increase in mass participation."(1) One study suggests that the Olympics might even reduce our physical activity: we stay indoors watching them on TV, rather than kicking a ball around outside(2). And this is before we consider the effects of draining the national lottery: Sport England will lose £100m.

The government's favourite thinktanks, Demos and the Institute of Public Policy Research, examined the claim that the Olympics produce a lasting economic boom. They found that "there is no guaranteed beneficial legacy from hosting an Olympic Games ... and there is little evidence that past Games have delivered benefits to those people and places most in need."(3) Tessa Jowell must be aware of this as well -- she wrote the forward to the report. A paper published by the London Assembly last month found that "longterm unemployed and workless communities were largely unaffected [by better job prospects] by the staging of the Games in each of the four previous host cities"(4).

But far more damning than any of this is the study released last week by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions. In every city it examined, the Olympic Games -- accidentally or deliberately -- have become a catalyst for mass evictions and impoverishment. Since 1988, over 2 million people have been driven from their homes to make way for the Olympics(5). The games have become a licence for land grabs.

The 1988 Olympics in Seoul are widely considered a great success. But they were used by the military dictatorship (which ceded power in 1987) as an opportunity to turn Seoul from a vernacular city owned by many people into a corporate city owned by the elite. 720,000 people were thrown out of their homes. People who tried to resist were beaten up by thugs and imprisoned. Tenants were evicted without notice and left to freeze: some survived by digging caves into a motorway embankment. Street vendors were banned; homeless people, alcoholics, beggars and the mentally ill were rounded up and housed in a prison camp. The world saw nothing of this: just a glossy new city full of glossy new people.

Barcelona's Olympics, in 1992, are cited as a model to which all succeeding Olympic cities should aspire. But, though much less destructive than Seoul's, they were also used to cleanse the city. Roma communities were evicted and dispersed. The council produced a plan to "clean the streets of beggars, prostitutes, street sellers and swindlers" and "annoying passers-by"(6). Some 400 poor and homeless people were subjected to "control and supervision". Between 1986 and 1992, house prices rose by 240% as the Olympic districts were gentrified, while public housing stock fell by 76%. There was no consultation before the building began -- the Games were too urgent and important for that. Around 59,000 people were driven out of the city by rising prices.

Even before the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta was one of the most segregated cities in the United States.But the Games gave the clique of white developers who ran them the excuse to engineer a new ethnic cleansing programme. Without any democratic process, they demolished large housing projects (whose inhabitants were mostly African-American) and replaced them with shiny middle-class homes. Around 30,000 families were evicted. They issued "Quality of Life Ordinances", which criminalised people who begged or slept rough. The police were given pre-printed arrest citations bearing the words "African-American, Male, Homeless": they just had to fill in the name, the charge and the date. In the year before the Games, they arrested 9,000 homeless people(7). Many of them were locked up without trial until the Games were over; others were harassed until they left the city. By the time the athletes arrived, downtown Atlanta had been cleared for the white middle classes.

In Sydney there was much less persecution of the poor. But the economic legacy was still regressive: house prices doubled between 1996 and 2003. No provision was made for social housing in the Olympic Village, and there were mass evictions from boarding houses and rented homes, which the authorities did nothing to stop. The old pattern resumed in Athens, where the Olympics were used as an excuse to evict 2700 Roma, even from places where no new developments were planned.

In Beijing, 1.25m people have already been displaced to make way for the Games, and another quarter of a million are due to be evicted. Like the people of Seoul, they have been threatened and beaten if they resist. Housing activists have been imprisoned. One man, Ye Guozhu, who is currently serving four years for "disturbing social order", has been suspended by his arms from the ceiling of his cell and tortured with electric batons. Beggars, vagrants and hawkers have been rounded up and sentenced to "Re-Education Through Labour". The authorities are planning to hospitalise the mentally ill so that visitors won't have to see them.

London is about to establish its credentials as a true Olympic city by evicting gypsies and travellers from their sites at Clays Lane and Waterden Crescent. 430 people will be thrown out of the Clay's Lane housing co-op and an allotment 100 years old will be destroyed to make way for a concrete path that will be used for four weeks(8). Nine thousand new homes will be built for the Games, but far more will be lost to the poor through booming prices: they are rising much faster around the Olympic site than elsewhere in London(9). The buy-to-let vultures have already landed.

The International Olympic Committee raises no objection to any of this. It lays down rigid criteria for cities hosting the Games, but none of them include housing rights(10). How could they? City authorities want to run the Games for two reasons: to enhance their prestige and to permit them to carry out schemes that would never otherwise be approved. Democratic processes can be truncated, compulsory purchase orders slapped down, homes and amenities cleared. The Olympic bulldozer clears all objections out of the way. There can be no debate, no exceptions, no modifications. Everything must go.

None of this is an argument against the Olympic Games. It is an argument against moving them every four years. Let them stay in a city where the damage has already been done. And let it be anywhere but here.

The Market Is A Donkey

The uncertainty of certainty is India's hallmark. It should apply to growth too.

MARK TULLY
When I wrote a book called No Full Stops in India nearly 17 years ago, my friend Karan Thapar accused me on television of wanting to drag India back into some mythical Golden Age which had never existed. I asked Karan, "Do you want an India true to itself or an imitation America?" Much has changed over those years. India then was on the verge of bankruptcy, the first faltering steps towards unravelling the red tape strangling the economy had not taken the country very far forward. The Hindu rate of growth had been overtaken, but no one was talking about India being one of the economic superpowers of the 21st century. Within the country, optimism was in short supply. Now India has been recognised for what it is, a country with the material and human resources to become one of the biggest players in the global market. It is argued that this change has come about because India has followed the example of the economically successful, Western countries and that it must follow them without questioning. But I still believe in what I wrote in No Full Stops-- "The Western world and the Indian elite who imitate it ignore the genius of the Indian mind. They want to write a full stop in the land where there are no full stops." I have now written a book called India's Unending Journey because I believe the remarkable growth of India's economy makes it even more important not to write a full stop and become an imitation America. (see review)

India traditionally does not write full stops because it understands the uncertainty of certainty, it prefers the middle road, and believes in the perpetual search for balance. So, the answer to any question can never be final, no theory should be closed to questioning, and no policy should be taken so far that it creates imbalance. The West, on the other hand, tends to see things in black and white, to look for certainties, and so to lurch from one extreme to another.

The most obvious evidence for this contrast lies in the different attitudes to religion. R.C. Zaehner, who held the chair at Oxford India's philosopher-president S. Radhakrishnan once held, wrote, "Hindus do not think of religious truth in dogmatic terms.... For the passion for dogmatic certainty that has wracked the religions of Semitic origin they feel nothing but shocked incomprehension." This suspicion of dogmatic certainty is a feature of all the other great religions born in India. Even the religions of Semitic origin in India have been touched by this pluralism. The two theologians who have done the most to persuade the Roman Catholic Church to soften its attitude to other churches and other faiths were deeply influenced by the many years they spent in India. I often tell people in countries that are having problems with religious pluralism that India has the second-largest Muslim population in the world, that they are entirely free to practise their religion, and that the suggestion that a Muslim woman should not dress as she pleases would never arise here.

I believe firmly in the secularism that insists no religion should be privileged and no one should be discriminated against because of their religion, or indeed the lack of it. But the problem is that secularism in the West often degenerates into a denial of religious freedom because of that habit of seeing issues in black and white. One morning in Delhi I woke up to hear a politician on BBC World service suggesting that no one should send Christmas cards because they were not secular. When I opened my daily paper I found a front-page picture of a Christmas party the Governor of West Bengal held for children. We hear a great deal about religious fundamentalism these days, but very little about secular fundamentalism.John Gray, who is a professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, has written, "Today religious believers, driven to the margins of a culture in which science claims authority over all human knowledge, have to cultivate a capacity for doubt. In contrast secular believers-- held fast by the conventional wisdom of the time-- are in the grip of unexamined dogmas." Secular fundamentalism is alive and kicking in India too. I know from experience that you only have to mention the word Hinduism to be accused by some secularists of being a supporter of Hindutva.

But unexamined dogma isn't just dangerous when it comes to religion. There are unexamined economic dogmas which are perhaps even more dangerous. When I was a young man, Britain was in the grip of socialism. Monetarists and market economists were comparatively lonely people. Socialism had great achievements to its credit in Britain but it was taken too far. Socialists didn't examine their certainties, see that the power of the state was unbalancing the economy and cramping entrepreneurial initiative, and that management and the trade unions had come to see each other in black-and-white terms, were engaged in a shouting match rather than holding a dialogue. India, imitating the West, took socialism even further and the imbalance that created led to the dreaded neta-babu and licence permit rajs. But it's important not to see Indian socialism in black-and-white terms, to acknowledge its very real achievements-- the basic heavy industries that India with its very limited manufacturing capacity needed, the establishment of a nuclear industry, the green revolution, and others. Is it not surprising that after taking socialism too far, Britain swung to the opposite extreme under Margaret Thatcher. That swing has taken the Labour party with it. Tony Blair has been described as the greatest tribute to Margaret Thatcher. In India, the swing has been less violent but there is no doubt that market economics is dominant today and that for all the questions being asked about the speed of economic reforms, it is accepted as inevitable that India will have to travel on that road.

Following the middle road would mean recognising the benefits of market capitalism but at the same time agreeing with Rajiv Kumar, the economist who heads the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. He once said to me, "The market is like a donkey. If you walk behind it and let it lead you, you will get kicked. If you ride on it, and direct it, it can take you where you want."

What should India want? Who could quarrel with Rajiv Kumar's shopping list-- good education, health services and cheap goods the poor need and can afford. The market is currently delivering the goods and services the elite and the middle class want. Yet, most of the press, and in particular the pink press in India, is in the grip of the unexamined dogma that if the GDP is rising, all is well. The balanced view would be to acknowledge how narrow a measure GDP growth is and to question where the growth is taking place and who is benefiting from it. Doubtless, market capitalists will accuse me of being anti-growth, but I would be the first to acknowledge that India's economy needs to grow. It's a question of examining the certainties of the present pattern of growth, trying to make it more balanced.

The fundamental wisdom of India can be applied in many other fields too. Any society needs a measure of competition to assess people's skills, but too much competition divides a society into successes and failures. On the other hand, egalitarianism taken too far fails to take account of the fact that we are all born different.The sexual revolution which was meant to liberate women and make them equal to men has, in the view of many, taken sexual liberty so far that women have become commodities, and their bodies tools in the hands of advertising agencies. Katherine Rake, who heads a society founded to fight for women's rights as far back as 1866, has said one of the problems facing the feminist movement now is "the hypersexualisation of our culture, a phenomenon that has developed and snowballed with hardly a murmur of dissent". There has been no dissent, no discussion, so no attempt to find a middle road between my childhood, when repressive Victorian sexuality still survived, and today when sex is described as a recreation.

Of course, I would be unbalanced if I suggested that India had always searched for the middle road and for balance, but I would contend that Amartya Sen was right when he wrote in his book The Argumentative Indian about 'India's long argumentative history' and the importance of 'discussions and arguments'. When I was discussing this with historian Ramachandra Guha, who has publicly disagreed with Amartya Sen, he maintained that The Argumentative Indian went too far, that the record showed the glass of India's open-mindedness could be described as either half-full or half-empty. I would certainly agree it is not full but I think India and the world will be a better place if we think of the glass as half-full and try to make it fuller. That is what I have tried to argue in India's Unending Journey.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

HOW TO STAY AWAKE IN MEETINGS?

  
 
HOW TO STAY AWAKE IN MEETINGS: (OFFERED AS A PUBLIC SERVICE)

Do you keep falling asleep in meetings and seminars? What about those long
and boring conference calls? Here's a way to change all of that.


1. Before (or during) your next meeting, seminar, or conference call,
prepare yourself by drawing a square. I find that 5' x 5' is a good
size. Divide the card into columns - five across and five down. That will
give you 25 one-inch blocks.


2. Write one of the following words/phrases in each block:

* synergy
* strategic fit
* core competences
* best practice
* bottom line
* revisit
* expeditious
* to tell you the truth (or 'the truth is')
* 24/7
* out of the loop
* benchmark
* value-added
* proactive
* win-win
* think outside the box
* fast track
* result-driven
* empower (or empowerment)
* knowledge base
* at the end of the day
* touch base
* mindset
* client focus(ed)
* paradigm
* game plan
* leverage




3. Check off the appropriate block when you hear one of those words/phrases.




4. When you get five blocks horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, stand
up and shout ' BULLSHIT !'


' ' '


Testimonials from satisfied players:

'I had been in the meeting for only five minutes when I won.' - Adam,Atlanta

'My attention span at meetings has improved dramatically.' - David , Florida

'What a gas! Meetings will never be the same for me after my first win.' -
Dan , New York City

'The atmosphere was tense in the last process meeting as 14 of us waited for
the fifth box.' - Ben, Denver

'The speaker was stunned as eight of us screamed 'BULLSHIT!' for the third
time in two hours.' - Paul, Cleveland


Email straight to your blog, upload jokes, photos and more. Windows Live Spaces, it's FREE!

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Iraq Occupation Coming To A Head Over Oil

By Kevin Zeese

08 June, 2007
Countercurrents.org

The situation in Iraq is coming to a head. Oil workers have been on strike for three days and are being threatened by the Iraqi government and surrounded by the Iraqi military. The Parliament passed a resolution urging an end to the U.S. occupation and has refused to act on the oil law the U.S. is demanding. Both the Democrats in Congress and the Bush Administration have united around the passage of the oil law as the top benchmark for the Iraqi government.

If these trends continue it will become evident to the world what this war was about all along--oil. Even the U.S. media will have to publish an honest analysis of the Iraq oil law and why Iraqis are resisting it.

Perhaps the greatest threat to the U.S. occupation came this week when the Iraq Parliament passed a law opposing the continuation of the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. The law requires the parliament's approval of any future extensions of the mandate, which have previously been made by Iraq's prime minister. Law makers say they plan on blocking the extension of the coalition's mandate when it comes up for renewal six months from now. The last time the UN mandate was extended Prime Minister Maliki acted without consultation with the parliament and they reacted angrily. Now, they are acting before the mandate can be extended to make their voices heard.

The parliament has not acted on the oil law submitted to them on February 26th despite aggressive U.S. pressure. The Democratic leadership in Congress joined with President Bush to make passage of the law the top benchmark to show success of the government. Both Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Gates have made recent trips to the region to urge passage of the law. But, the parliament is resisting--even threatening to take a vacation rather than pass the oil law.

In Congress, Dennis Kucinich has tried to raise the issue of the unfairness of the oil law in a Democratic caucus meeting. Rep. David Obey erupted in anger and name calling at Kucinich's suggestion that the benchmark requiring passage of the oil law was part of the theft of Iraq's primary resource. Kucinich did not respond to Obey's angry name calling but instead made an hour long speech describing the Iraq oil law and how it would result in U.S. oil companies controlling their market and reaping most of the profits from Iraqi oil.

Iraq oil workers seeing this U.S. pressure have taken their own action. Members of the union have been on strike since Monday 4th June. Among the union's demands is consultation on the proposed oil law, which the union opposes. On Tuesday, al-Maliki warned that he would meet threats to oil production "with an iron fist."

Maliki issued arrest warrants for leaders of the union on a charge of "sabotaging the economy." The warrant specifically names Hassan Juma'a Awad, the leader of the 26,000-strong Federation of Oil Unions, and three other leaders of the Federation.

If Maliki follows through on his "iron fist" promise and uses the military against the oil workers it will be evident to all Iraqi's that he puts the demands of U.S. occupation forces ahead of the needs of the oil workers. It will also become obvious that he is willing to turn over Iraq's oil to western oil companies rather than meet the needs of the Iraqi people. His already fragile government will lose support and may fall presenting the occupation forces with new political problems. The dividing line between the government and the people, with the government on the side of the occupation will also become evident and violence will likely escalate against the U.S. and Iraqi army and police. The oil law may unite the resistance and focus their energy on the occupation.

U.S. Labor Against the War has been hosting a tour for two Iraqi oil worker leaders. Their visit has been pretty much ignored by the U.S. media but has been reported by David Swanson on AfterDowningStreet.org. Swanson reports a visit to Capitol Hill where one congressman seemed unable to listen to her views. Rep. Dennis Moore (D-KS), said what many members of Congress believed--violence would escalate if the U.S. left Iraq and the civil war between Sunni and Shia'a has been going on since before the U.S. occupation. Iraqi Electrical Utility Workers Union President Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein tried to explain that the civil war began after the occupation and that violence would be reduced if the U.S. withdrew from Iraq. But Moore seemed unable to grasp this. There was very little media in attendance, Swanson reports that a reporter from Telesur (the only large camera in the room) asked why Hashmeya believes the U.S. is still in Iraq. She cited oil and other resources, and the creation of large military bases. "I don't mean that the American people want these things, I mean the administration. We consider the American people friends."

The recent comments by representatives of the Bush administration that the U.S. presence in Iraq will be much like the U.S. presence in South Korea--which has lasted 50 years--is relevant to the oil law because U.S. oil companies are seeking 30 year contracts in Iraq. Thus, having a strong U.S. military presence in Iraq will help to assure enforcement of those contracts.

The "coming out" of oil as the central goal of the invasion and occupation of Iraq is going to make the occupation more difficult. And, coming at a time when Bush is escalating the number of troops to approximately 200,000 it is going to assure more violence, and more death. The chant, mocked at the beginning of the invasion by many, "no war for oil" is now becoming to be seen for what it is--the truth. And it will be a truth seen by the entire world.

For more information:

U.S. Labor Against the War, includes more information on the Iraq oil workers tour from June 4 to June 29 in many U.S. cities.

Better than Calling Congress, (David Swanson's report on Iraq oil worker visit to Congress).

Iraqi Troops Face Off Against Striking Oil Workers, UPI.

As the U.S. Discusses Staying in Iraq for 50+ Years, the Bush Administration and Congressional Democrats Push for Iraq to Open its Oil Fields to Foreign Oil Companies, Interview with Antonia Juhasz,

It's All About the Oil, Kucinich on the Floor of Congress,

How much hypocrisy can Britain get away with on this sordid deal?

The government has defied anticorruption treaties and impeded the conduct of justice.

Simon Jenkins

The Saudi bribes scandal may yet prove a more devastating epilogue to the Blair era than cash for honours. The original deal, reached in 1985 by Margaret Thatcher, doubled the price of a Tornado jet to cover huge commissions to members of the Saudi royal family and their retainers.

It has led the British government to defy international anticorruption treaties and impede the conduct of justice by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). Last week it emerged that it had also impeded corruption investigators from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

All this was to appease an outlandishly corrupt, authoritarian and brutal dictatorship, embodying everything that Tony Blair claims to detest in his “war of values” and against which his soldiers are dying in Iraq. By his lights Riyadh should be bombed, not sold bombers.

The £43 billion contract for 120 planes and assorted extras was the biggest arms deal in history. Its purpose was obscure, other than to shift vast sums of oil wealth from relieving the condition of the Saudi poor into the pockets of its very rich. The array of costly aerial and naval weaponry mostly depends on foreigners to operate. Unsupported by a plausible land army, it would be of little use against any likely aggressor. It is a massive display of conspicuous consumption.

The contract was reached with the help of Prince Bandar, son of the Saudi defence minister, and the assistance of Wafic Said, a Syrian wheeler-dealer, and went ahead only after Bandar, Saudi ambassador to Washington, realised that the Israeli lobby would not entertain America supplying so big an Arab defence contract. Less crucial, according to a 2005 book by Mark Hollingsworth and Paul Halloran, was an estimated £12m paid to Mark Thatcher on the side.

After years of denial, all sides now acknowledge that commissions were (and still are) being paid and only their status is disputed. A special Bank of England account is used by BAE, the aerospace company, on a double-key basis with the defence ministry, usually through an offshore firm called Red Diamond.

In other words, the government is “complicit”. While SFO documents are said to reveal a morass of payments to Swiss accounts for private jets, villas, gaming clubs and prostitutes, the lion’s share goes to Bandar, roughly £100m a year. This became illegal after Britain’s 2001 counter-terrorism act.

Small “facilities payments” to strictly local agents are allowed under trade department rules, up to 1% of a contract; 5% is regarded as the corruption threshold. Al-Yamamah hovers around 30%. In 1992 the weak-kneed National Audit Office was told by the government to stop asking questions about al-Yamamah bribes and did so. When in 2004 the more independent SFO returned to the stinking trough it was pressured by Blair and BAE three times to desist. It appealed to Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, and from January to December last year he supported it in what became its biggest inquiry, costing £2m. In December, when the SFO was closing in on the secret accounts of Bandar and others in Switzerland, the Saudis and BAE went ballistic, despite professing their total innocence.

MI5 and MI6 were asked by Blair to declare the investigation damaging to British security. This they declined to do, leaking only that it might be if the Saudis refused security cooperation. There has been no evidence of such Saudi blackmail, which would be much against Riyadh’s interest. Yet such clear conditionality was omitted from Goldsmith’s statement on security to the House of Lords on December 14, as it has been from all subsequent statements by Blair. The blackmail is stated as a fact.

By December 14 the pressure on Robert Wardle, head of the SFO, was so intense that, although quoted as “wanting to continue”, he called a halt, forced implausibly to say it was his own decision.

Goldsmith’s stated reason was that the evidence of bribery was now so weak that the case would soon collapse. The truth was that the evidence was so strong. Had it been weak, any shrewd politician would have let it collapse rather than incur the odium of interfering with the judicial process. As Blair and his home secretaries always say when introducing more draconian antiterrorism laws, “The innocent have nothing to fear.” Why did he not apply that principle to Bandar and BAE? The answer is obvious.

The decision to halt the SFO inquiry in December devastated Britain’s reputation as a champion of global anticorruption. Article 5 of the OECD convention, ratified by Britain in 1998, states categorically that prosecuting corruption “shall not be influenced by considerations of national economic interest, the potential effect upon relations with another state or the identity of [those] involved”. Whitehall rules also require firms using intermediaries to name them and the commissions paid.

While a provision of the al-Yamamah contract was that its terms be kept secret, there is nothing in the OECD convention excusing past contracts, let alone the £20 billion extension for 72 more planes now pending.

Blair not only signed the OECD convention but also trumpeted Britain’s desire to fight corruption wherever it occurred. Yet he personally intervened in 2001 to save the notorious £28m Tanzanian military radar contract after being told in cabinet by his aid minister and the chancellor that it was a racket, wildly beyond that country’s needs. It turned out that £6m of the contract was a British bribe paid direct into the Swiss bank account of a certain Sailesh Vithlani, who has confirmed it. Despite their opposition, Clare Short and Hilary Benn, the aid ministers, did not resign and Benn was rewarded by Blair with the post of “cabinet anticorruption co-ordinator”. An SFO inquiry into the deal is said to be merely ongoing. In view of all this, Britain’s presence in Jordan last year at a United Nations convention against corruption was like Robert Mugabe turning up at a good governance seminar.

The macho line taken by defence secretaries and others sworn to the al-Yamamah oath of secrecy has been to plead national security and then soup it up with claims that thousands of jobs depend on it and that if Britain did not bribe, others would. That Britain’s security should depend on bribing the Bandars of this world, rather than calling their bluff, is humiliating. As for intelligence, Britain’s needs are concentrated notably in Iran and Pakistan, while Riyadh’s needs are internal. Britain, with a large expatriate Saudi population, has as much intelligence to offer as to lose.

The idea that the Saudis would conceal information on a London bomb because London had stopped bribing Bandar is either ludicrous or confirmation that Saudi Arabia should be no friend of Britain.

As for job losses, they have never been a legitimate reason either for breaching the OECD convention or for condoning crime. Britain’s cocaine business is worth thousands of jobs, but is not permitted on that basis. A 2001 York University study of our subsidised defence industries pointed out that in total they comprise just 2.6% of British exports and 0.4% of employment, while consuming large numbers of skilled workers desperately needed elsewhere. Even so, it is doubtful if the Saudis would switch the new £20 billion contract to France. They value their favoured-state relation with Britain, especially with America cooling towards Riyadh.

The best bet for both sides now would be to come clean, stop the corruption and slash the price of the planes. BAE, with large commercial interests in America, must be at risk from the ferocious Justice Department, or from rivals dragging it before Congress or private litigation. Under its 1977 anticorruption law, the federal government has embarked on 50 such prosecutions. Under the OECD convention, France has managed eight. Britain has prosecuted nobody. The reason is that the attorney-general and the SFO are agents of a political executive, not the judiciary.

If the legal position of the British government as complicit in the bribery is untenable, its moral position is laughable. It has inflated the price of an export to win a contract by corruption. It has been forced to use the dictator’s defence, that resulting embarrassment should be shrouded by “national security”. And it must tell African and Asian regimes that its much-trumpeted stance against corruption is meant to apply only to the poor and the weak. Such hypocrisy in Britain’s name is outrageous.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Close Encounters of the Police Kind

A recently released report by Transparency International shows that India's lower judiciary took Rs. 2630 crores in bribes last year. Add to that what the recent sting against RK Anand showed. Is that why the general public is willing to go along with the police's murderous ways?

MOHAN GURUSWAMY

Just as we were getting our fill about the "encounter" between the Gujarat Police and an alleged terrorist Sohrabuddin Sheikh who was allegedly gunned down in cold blood, the movie Shootout at Lokhandwala about the 1991 slaying of the gangster Maya Dolas by the Bombay Police brings into focus state-sanctioned extra-judicial killings by the police. Staged encounters have become fairly common all over the country and no state can claim to have a better record than another. In fact there is good reason to believe that there is now considerable support for them among the general public, which could be a main reason for their prevalence, and even portrayal in films. This does not make it right, but it is a telling commentary on the state of affairs prevailing in the country.

A recently released report by Transparency International documents that India’s lower judiciary took Rs. 2630 crores in bribes last year, which might offer us a good inkling as to why the general public is willing to go along with the police’s murderous ways. Lower judiciary generally refers to the trial courts, the kind that found Manu Sharma innocent of killing Jessica Lal despite having shot her in front of scores of people including an IPS officer. The trial courts are where evidence is recorded and justice is dispensed, and the rule of law is supposed to be upheld. Add to that the implications of the major drama that unfolded around us with the NDTV sting on RK Anand and IU Khan, both well known lawyers with a good track record of getting their clients off. RK Anand is the same lawyer who had defended PV Narasimha Rao on the JMM MP’s bribery case. Now we learn that RK Anand doesn’t entirely rely on his legal acumen but takes recourse to other means as well, which possibly accounts for his track record. In this case we see all the concerned parties -- the police, prosecutor and witnesses -- colluding with the accused to get him off. All this, and often with a little help from our judges, ensures that criminals usually get away with crimes, unless of course they cannot afford the high costs that "justice" entails.

Facts suggest that our trial courts are quite murderer-friendly. According to the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court, Justice JN Bhatt, only about 6.5% of murder trials result in a conviction. In 2005 there were 32,719 recorded murders all over India and 28,031 attempts to murder. This track record not only speaks volumes about incompetence of the police but also suggests a very low level of integrity. No wonder, the recently elected UP MLA, DP Yadav feels that his son Vikas Yadav, Manu Sharma’s co-accused in the Jessica Lal case and the main accused in the Nitish Katara murder case, feels victimized by the state’s extra diligent prosecution of his son. Given this state of affairs it is little wonder that the public applauds the Dirty Harry methods of the police.

But this leads to another more serious consequence. Many individuals in the police then take to contract killings, either to please their bosses or for money. In fact it is now not uncommon for gangland bosses to contract killings out to the uniformed "encounter specialists". In Mumbai the topmost killer policeman, Inspector Daya Nayak, who is now facing charges of corruption, has long been suspected of liquidating smalltime hoodlums at the behest of certain dons. Even ACP AA Khan, the main protagonist of Shootout at Lokhandwala has been suspected of killing Maya Dolas, incidentally brilliantly portrayed by Vivek Oberoi, on the instructions of Dawood Ibrahim from Dubai.This too has been depicted in the movie.

In Delhi the escapades of ACP Rajbir Singh of the Special Cell are well known. But most notorious of them was the Ansal Plaza shootings in which two purported Pakistani terrorists were killed in the basement parking lot of the capital's toniest mall. So brazen was the encounter that the NHRC was forced to take notice of it, but even three years later the wheels of justice have not even begun their slow grind forward. In the meantime, Rajbir Singh got the President's Medal for distinguished service and gallantry. But sometimes the police does act motivated by its sense of infantile justice, as we saw in the Barakhamba Road shooting incident where a Delhi Police team gunned down a perfectly respectable businessman and his nephew under the mistaken belief that they were the two notorious killers they were trailing. Nevertheless, it is still murder and the trial is supposedly progressing. Another ACP, in the meantime, has been sentenced to death for an "encounter" killing over a decade ago when he was still a SHO. The fellow recently retired as an ACP, no doubt earning his promotion for "distinguished service and gallantry".

Encounter killings have been an instrument of state policy right from the day of independence. The first ordered killings by the state took place in the Telangana region of the erstwhile Hyderabad state within months of independence when the Indian Army and the state police gunned down hundreds of persons on the pretext that they were insurgents intent on overthrowing the new government and installing the dictatorship of the proletariat. This indeed was the official line of the Communist Party of India then, championed by its General Secretary, BT Ranadive. Poor Ranadive, who had a reputation of being a bit of a Stalinist, had the plug pulled from underneath when Josef Stalin himself decided that the insurgency was not viable and was the worse kind of adventurism, and hence refused to support it. It is said that when Telangana was pointed out to Stalin on a map, he just said that it had no coast line and supplying it with arms and military material was impossible. We know that that was not true. The Australian aviator Sidney Cotton supplied the Razakars in Hyderabad with Pakistani arms by air. Cotton was a former officer of the British Secret Intelligence Service who got hold of a fleet of retired RAF Lancaster bombers for his gun running. This tells us a bit about British intentions also. Like the Communist rebels, many Razakars were terminated with extreme prejudice. The policy of the state being the judge and executioner emanated from the office of Sardar Patel, India’s first home minister and the role model for many a home minister after that.

The next major outbreak of state killings was in the Naga Hills in early 1956 when the Indian Army literally ran amuck killing, raping and pillaging in the remotest region of the erstwhile Assam state. It has been widely reported that the Indian Army even shot and then publicly displayed bodies to serve as an object lesson. The military action in the Naga Hills was ordered by the ministry of external affairs and the minister heading it was none other than Jawaharlal Nehru. The army has come a long way since 1956 and now has a more sophisticated and nuanced appreciation of human rights and values. So much so that generally people in insurgency hit areas prefer the deployment of the Indian Army to the para-military and state armed police forces.One does not hold a brief for the Indian Army, but clearly it is now deemed the lesser of the two evils.

During the 1960s, extra-judicial killings became the order of the day whenever the state was confronted by an uprising, popular or otherwise. The brutal Naxalite violence in pursuit of the class annihilation policy of its leader Charu Mazumdar was met by just as brutal methods by the police. Custodial killings were the norm and the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, a reputed barrister thus earned his spurs to high national office as a result. In 1966, the Gond people in Bastar revolted against the corrupt and exploitative ways of the Madhya Pradesh Congress government of DP Mishra. Pandit DP Mishra, a Sanskrit scholar of some repute, had few qualms in unleashing the police on the Adivasis who congregated in Jagdalpur to pay the customary Dussera homage to their Raja, Pravinchandra Bhanjdeo. Not only did the MP police kill scores of Adivasis, but they also shot down the Raja in cold blood. Soon after this incident, central forces were deployed in Bastar and one got a first hand look at the havoc they wrought.

During the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi’s handpicked Chief Minister of UP, VP Singh, resorted to extra-legal killings in the districts bordering MP apparently to rid the state of a reign of terror unleashed by dacoits. It’s a matter of conjecture as to whether VP Singh did this to avenge the shooting of his older brother, CPN Singh, a High Court judge who was out on a night-time poaching expedition in the badlands of Mainpuri in UP. The dacoit Chabiram, who had the reputation of being a bit of a Robin Hood, was killed in VP Singh’s retaliation. The seeds of Singh's continuing conflict with Mulayam Singh Yadav were sown here. But then this was during the Emergency and at a time when the then Attorney General, Niren De, informed the Supreme Court that people did not have a constitutional right to life and liberty and the four out of five learned Justices even concurred with this. So why blame poor VP Singh for thinking he was God?

The troubles in the Punjab, abetted by our Pakistani friends, saw state-sponsored terrorism rise to new levels. Under the redoubtable KPS Gill, who had honed his skills during the Assam crisis, the Punjab Police unleashed a reign of terror. The details of this are well documented and also well known. Millions were given away as rewards for killing wanted terrorists and many of the so-called dreaded terrorists have now been found to be alive and well. This means that many innocents were killed and the state exchequer defrauded. Incidentally, when the then Governor of Punjab, a former intelligence officer, died in an air-crash, suitcases filled with currency notes were recovered from the crash site.

I recall that when the then Prime Minister, Chandra Shekhar, sent me to Punjab to talk with some Sikh extremist groups who had got in touch with him, I asked for some protection. Chandra Shekhar told me to proceed without it as I faced a greater threat from the police as counter-insurgency had become a lucrative proposition for them. Nevertheless, KPS Gill emerged as a national hero for having rid the nation of a scourge. He seemed destined for higher office and greater honours till the controversy regarding his inebriated fondling the derriere of a lady IAS officer hit the headlines. He now runs the Indian Hockey Federation, pretty much the same way but with far less success.

In more recent times we have seen the state continuing to meet terror with terror in Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh. The killing of innocents continues unabated. The most recent one was the killing of Abdul Rahman Padder, a 35 year old carpenter from Kupwara who was lured to Srinagar by a policeman with the promise of a job.For a onetime payment of Rs.20000, paid in advance. Once in Srinagar on December 8, Padder disappeared only to reappear as a news item in the local newspapers on December 10 as a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist who was gunned down in an encounter with a Ganderbal police party headed by the SSP Hans Raj Parihar, a much decorated officer. Rewards and honors were generously bestowed by a grateful state. The matter would have ended here but for the zeal displayed by the police to publicize its valour. A photograph of the supposed slain terrorist was published in some local papers and this was shown to Ghulam Rasool Padder, Abdul Rahman’s father. Due to the effort of local human rights groups, Padder’s body was exhumed in February this year and the DNA test confirmed his identity. Parihar has since been arrested and investigations are still underway, which means the odds are still very much in his favor. The police can be quite inventive when it comes to fudging evidence. After a similar incident in Chiitisinghpora where five shepherds were picked up and cold-bloodedly killed, the blood samples of the parents were called for to help in DNA identification. The J&K Police sent the blood of some farm animals instead. Justice is still awaited.

So by all means go and see Shootout at Lokhandwala. It should make you think. It’s also a true story, even though the director claims otherwise. Abhishek Bachchan has done the best acting of his life. Mercifully, his role lasts about a minute half of which is taken up by his death throes.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Marks Of Insecurity

Why do top results-- in boards, JEE or UPSC-- matter to us so much?

KANTI BAJPAI
Judging by the hoopla surrounding the board examination results, Indian school education is in decline. What we are witnessing is a kind of decadence. The media is only helping construct this decadence. It has little or no understanding of education, focuses on the most sensational and trivial aspects of school life, and is fetishising learning. Unfortunately, it is not just the media. The government, the examining boards, school managements, teachers, and, yes, parents have combined to bring Indian education to this pass.

We think that Indian schools are world-class institutions in the making, that our science and mathematics are the envy of others, and that Indian students are smarter and harder working than anyone else. None of this is true. Indian schools are in a shambles; our science and mathematics teaching are appalling; and our students, while intelligent and diligent, are of the same genetic material as other human beings and, given the burden of our curriculum, are in danger of losing their creativity and energy by the time they "succeed" in school examinations.

Our annual board results, IIT results and civil service examination results are feeding the frenzy over the search for the smartest and the most likely to succeed. This year, the frenzy over who "topped" the exams, which school produced the best results, how many students got into engineering colleges or got the best SAT results (the US college entrance test which is a 10th standard exam, at best!), and who headed the IIT entrance lists has been worse than ever.

The question is: how can it possibly be interesting educationally that student X got 95.6 per cent and was at the top of an examination list when it is likely that the next person, who never features in the public adulation, got 95.5 per cent? Does anyone seriously think that there can be any difference intellectually and in terms of life chances and attainments based on these infinitesimal differences? Indeed, is there much difference between someone who scored 95 per cent and 89 per cent? Has anyone bothered to track all these "toppers"? Where do they end up on the scales of life�income, professional satisfaction, social status, personal happiness? What do they contribute to the good of society around them?

This is not to denigrate those who have topped. It is to ask what this frenzy of interest is about. It is not about education, whatever else it is about. It is a circus, without a circus master. Each of us helps make this spectacle, though some are more responsible than others. For instance, why does the CBSE, the most reported board, splash the name of the toppers around and feed media comparisons relating to this year's average as against last year's, how many passed and how many did not, and so on? Why do school principals like me and school managements tell the media who amongst our students topped the results and what our averages are? Why do school managements base their judgement of their school's success so massively on the board results? Why do parents, most of whom did not do particularly well themselves in the board examination in their own day, and who know that school examination results do not count for much in the game of life, become so drunken over the results, losing all sense of proportion?

One reason for this fetish relating to marks and averages is scarcity. In a country of scarcities, even a marginal difference, we conclude, can make an enormous difference to our children: that extra mark will mean extra consideration when colleges admit (somewhat true, at least in India) and when employers hire (largely not true).

Another reason for the fetish of results is our paranoia. We are convinced that people out there are conspiring to deny our meritorious children what they rightly deserve.What can stop them from doing so except a marksheet in front of them? After all, who can quarrel with the numbers? It is another matter that the numbers we fetishise are only one indication of the quality of a student's mind, and no one, with any sense, would go only by numbers, at least for the purpose of hiring.

Finally, we urban, "educated", middle-class Indians have made the board results into a fetish because we need a clear, simple and apparently unassailable index of success. So much in India seems second-rate and bleak (it is not, but we have persuaded ourselves that our country is a collective failure) that we must have some golden eggs. It does not matter that the eggs are in someone else's basket, that someone else's son or daughter has topped. We hunger for an affirmation that there are "successes" amongst us capable of transcending the "mediocrity" around. We are in search of supermen so that we can feel better.



(The author is the Headmaster of the Doon School.)

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

The Disappearing Act Of A Character Called Sukhi Lala

By Jawed Naqvi

04 June, 2007
The Dawn

Unlike India, where it is difficult to tell these days when a Congress-led coalition has paved the way for a BJP led alliance and vice versa, political groups in Pakistan seem to have a lacerating relationship. The army, the mullahs, the PPP and Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League are complemented in their hostile aloofness towards each other by a marked regional fervour of the Baloch, the Pashtuns, the Punjabis, and the Sindhis, with the MQM bringing up a vengeful tail. Also, unlike India, where the media has allowed itself to follow a consensus on most key issues, both foreign and domestic, the absence of a common perspective on most key issues in Pakistan makes it difficult, perhaps even impossible, for the media to pursue a consensus simply because it is just not there at the political level.

Journalists are creatures of their politics and it is a bit of a myth that they pursue 'objectivity', if such a creature truly exists, beyond a reasonable flexibility around their given ideals. To the Indian eye, therefore, the relatively unbending Pakistani media is more akin to the regional media in India, say like Tamil Nadu, where the political contradictions are actually played out more nakedly, and viciously. In Uttar Pradesh, Sahara TV, aligned with Mulayam Singh Yadav, is unlikely to present his successor, Ms Mayawati in fair light. Such antagonisms are a fact in practically every state.

But at the federal level all this changes quite magically. The Left Front's support for the Congress, despite their bitter feud in West Bengal, is a case in point.

Violent contradictions at the state level and a consensual political platform at the federal level define Indian politics and, in a sense, the media too. When a newspaper has switched sides, from supporting the BJP to brazenly idolising the Congress, or in rare cases when a newspaper or a TV channel has shifted from a left-liberal corner to the hard-line centre, or from the right to the centre and back again to its original posture, is difficult to tell. I asked a sagacious uncle how senior journalists who would swear by Atal Behari Vajpayee when he was prime minister had switched their loyalty to Manmohan Singh. A notable example, though not the only one, is Manmohan Singh's media adviser who once had described Vajpayee as a latter day Nehru.

The uncle's reply was in Urdu and it deserves to be recorded accurately. "Ye log badalte nahi hain beta, ye log hotey hi aise hain." (These people do not change, son. They just happen to be made this way.) This is not to say that politicians in Pakistan do not switch sides or that journalists do not change political corners. In fact, even sitting in far away Delhi one can make out that the present ruling party in Pakistan has generously poached people from different ideological corners. In this malleability there is hardly any difference between an Indian ruling coalition, be it led by the Congress or the BJP, and the current coalition of poached leaders that is ruling Pakistan. In fact, it seems easier for people to become a notable figure in a rival party before making a transition to the current one.

Take Shankar Singh Vaghela for example, who heads the Congress party's strategy in Gujarat. He is a former leader of the RSS/BJP stock. He switched sides to spite the current state chief minister Narendra Modi. Well-known ideologue of the intellectual right Sudheendra Kulkarni came to the BJP from a communist corner. Devi Prasad Tripathi was in the RSS stable before he became a senior member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist. He even went to jail as a comrade during Indira Gandhi's emergency rule. It is another matter that Tripathi later joined the same Congress that once threw him into prison. He is currently a leader of the breakaway National Congress Party. Likewise with the BJP. It has senior leaders, like Najma Heptullah, who once adorned the Congress.

So how has India, at least to the naked eye, evolved a seemingly consensual (some would say incestuous) politics as opposed to Pakistan, or Bangladesh or Sri Lanka — the list can be easily extended to virtually all the South Asian countries because political rivalries there are like a fight unto death?

The answer perhaps lies in India's case in the consensus of Sukhi Lala. Let me explain this idiom. In the early days of the Indian cinema, in the 1940s, 50s and to an extent up to the 1960s, the arch villain in a movie was the avaricious moneylender who wreaked havoc on innocent village folks with his greed. In the classic Do Bigha Zameen and the magnum opus Mother India, the forced alienation of the peasant from his land by the moneylender was widely appreciated theme that reflected a political and economic reality of the newly independent nation. Similar themes were also the burden of the literature of that period, Prem Chand being the best recognised of the campaigners who highlighted rural distress and exploitation.

In Mother India, the nasty moneylender was called Sukhi Lala, who stole the land from an illiterate peasant family by fudging records of a loan he had once advanced to the peasant family's head. Over a period of time the villain mutated from moneylender into a gambler who played 'satta', popular pejorative for the stock market. With time this moneylender-satta-player duo gave way to the gun-toting smuggler and the rise of the underworld don. More recently Indian cinema has created the ubiquitous 'terrorist' as the chief villain who sports a beard and speaks like a Pathan or a Kashmiri. At some point, with the rise of the non-resident Indians' profile in the affairs of the home country, the remaining vestiges of Sukhi Lala disappeared. In fact in a popular genre of current cinema the villain himself has vanished. In fact, in the Guru, released some months ago, which is supposed to be a story based on the life of a powerful Indian tycoon, you would notice that the villain Sukhi Lala has mutated into a hero.

It is this Sukhi Lala who supports Narendra Modi in Gujarat as the model chief minister, then strikes a deal for various industrial projects with the communists in West Bengal. He controls the politics of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana that surround Delhi. He has his liaison officers masquerading as party apparatchiks in the Congress, BJP and most regional parties. Therefore, even though Sukhi Lala of Mother India is still going about his business, plundering economically vulnerable village folk, in his new avatar he is no longer regarded as a villain but the harbinger of a world order of which India would be an integral part.

As I read the news report about the proposed censorship by the Cable Operators Association of Pakistan (CAP) of politically unsavoury news telecasts, it reminded me of the delicate balancing act that Sukhi Lala everywhere has to perform before he is in any position to swamp the society.

"We have decided that we'll not become part of any campaign which goes against the armed forces, judiciary and integrity of Pakistan and will virtually boycott the channels, which indulge in such acts," said CAP chairman Khalid Shaikh at the Karachi Press Club. Now we all know that it would require daunting political calisthenics for anyone at this point in time to defend the judiciary in Pakistan without offending the army and vice versa. But once this consensus is achieved, as Mr Shaikh is striving hard to put together, Pakistan may go India's way.

The once evocative slogan of Roti, Kapda Aur Makan would be muffled by its own former patrons. And Sukhi Lala, the quick change artist that he is, is waiting for precisely this moment.