Saturday, 31 October 2009

The heart of India is under attack by Arundhati Roy

 
 To justify enforcing a corporate land grab, the state needs an enemy – and it has chosen the Maoists
 

 

The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria Kondh long before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa. The hills watched over the Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills and worshipped them as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for the bauxite they contain. For the Kondh it's as though god had been sold. They ask how much god would go for if the god were Ram or Allah or Jesus Christ.

 

Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their Niyamgiri hill, home to their Niyam Raja, God of Universal Law, has been sold to a company with a name like Vedanta (the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the Ultimate Nature of Knowledge). It's one of the biggest mining corporations in the world and is owned by Anil Agarwal, the Indian billionaire who lives in London in a mansion that once belonged to the Shah of Iran. Vedanta is only one of the many multinational corporations closing in on Orissa.
If the flat-topped hills are destroyed, the forests that clothe them will be destroyed, too. So will the rivers and streams that flow out of them and irrigate the plains below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds of thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart of India, and whose homeland is similarly under attack.
 
In our smoky, crowded cities, some people say, "So what? Someone has to pay the price of progress." Some even say, "Let's face it, these are people whose time has come. Look at any developed country – Europe, the US, Australia – they all have a 'past'." Indeed they do. So why shouldn't "we"?
 
In keeping with this line of thought, the government has announced Operation Green Hunt, a war purportedly against the "Maoist" rebels headquartered in the jungles of central India. Of course, the Maoists are by no means the only ones rebelling. There is a whole spectrum of struggles all over the country that people are engaged in–the landless, the Dalits, the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers. They're pitted against a juggernaut of injustices, including policies that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of people's land and resources. However, it is the Maoists that the government has singled out as being the biggest threat.
 
Two years ago, when things were nowhere near as bad as they are now, the prime minister described the Maoists as the "single largest internal security threat" to the country. This will probably go down as the most popular and often repeated thing he ever said. For some reason, the comment he made on 6 January, 2009, at a meeting of state chief ministers, when he described the Maoists as having only "modest capabilities", doesn't seem to have had the same raw appeal. He revealed his government's real concern on 18 June, 2009, when he told parliament: "If left-wing extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources of minerals, the climate for investment would certainly be affected."

 

Who are the Maoists? They are members of the banned Communist party of India (Maoist) – CPI (Maoist) – one of the several descendants of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), which led the 1969 Naxalite uprising and was subsequently liquidated by the Indian government. The Maoists believe that the innate, structural inequality of Indian society can only be redressed by the violent overthrow of the Indian state. In its earlier avatars as the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Jharkhand and Bihar, and the People's War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists had tremendous popular support. (When the ban on them was briefly lifted in 2004, 1.5 million people attended their rally in Warangal.)

 
But eventually their intercession in Andhra Pradesh ended badly. They left a violent legacy that turned some of their staunchest supporters into harsh critics. After a paroxysm of killing and counter-killing by the Andhra police as well as the Maoists, the PWG was decimated. Those who managed to survive fled Andhra Pradesh into neighbouring Chhattisgarh. There, deep in the heart of the forest, they joined colleagues who had already been working there for decades.
 
Not many "outsiders" have any first-hand experience of the real nature of the Maoist movement in the forest. A recent interview with one of its top leaders, Comrade Ganapathy, in Open magazine, didn't do much to change the minds of those who view the Maoists as a party with an unforgiving, totalitarian vision, which countenances no dissent whatsoever. Comrade Ganapathy said nothing that would persuade people that, were the Maoists ever to come to power, they would be equipped to properly address the almost insane diversity of India's caste-ridden society. His casual approval of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka was enough to send a shiver down even the most sympathetic of spines, not just because of the brutal ways in which the LTTE chose to wage its war, but also because of the cataclysmic tragedy that has befallen the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, who it claimed to represent, and for whom it surely must take some responsibility.
 
Right now in central India, the Maoists' guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan Africa. They are people who, even after 60 years of India's so-called independence, have not had access to education, healthcare or legal redress. They are people who have been mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked and fought by their side for decades.
 
If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have – their land. Clearly, they do not believe the government when it says it only wants to "develop" their region. Clearly, they do not believe that the roads as wide and flat as aircraft runways that are being built through their forests in Dantewada by the National Mineral Development Corporation are being built for them to walk their children to school on. They believe that if they do not fight for their land, they will be annihilated. That is why they have taken up arms.
Even if the ideologues of the Maoist movement are fighting to eventually overthrow the Indian state, right now even they know that their ragged, malnutritioned army, the bulk of whose soldiers have never seen a train or a bus or even a small town, are fighting only for survival.
 
In 2008, an expert group appointed by the Planning Commission submitted a report called "Development Challenges in Extremist-Affected Areas". It said, "the Naxalite (Maoist) movement has to be recognised as a political movement with a strong base among the landless and poor peasantry and adivasis. Its emergence and growth need to be contextualised in the social conditions and experience of people who form a part of it. The huge gap between state policy and performance is a feature of these conditions. Though its professed long-term ideology is capturing state power by force, in its day-to-day manifestation, it is to be looked upon as basically a fight for social justice, equality, protection, security and local development." A very far cry from the "single-largest internal security threat".
 
Since the Maoist rebellion is the flavour of the week, everybody, from the sleekest fat cat to the most cynical editor of the most sold-out newspaper in this country, seems to be suddenly ready to concede that it is decades of accumulated injustice that lies at the root of the problem. But instead of addressing that problem, which would mean putting the brakes on this 21st-century gold rush, they are trying to head the debate off in a completely different direction, with a noisy outburst of pious outrage about Maoist "terrorism". But they're only speaking to themselves.
 
The people who have taken to arms are not spending all their time watching (or performing for) TV, or reading the papers, or conducting SMS polls for the Moral Science question of the day: Is Violence Good or Bad? SMS your reply to ... They're out there. They're fighting. They believe they have the right to defend their homes and their land. They believe that they deserve justice.
In order to keep its better-off citizens absolutely safe from these dangerous people, the government has declared war on them. A war, which it tells us, may take between three and five years to win. Odd, isn't it, that even after the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, the government was prepared to talk with Pakistan? It's prepared to talk to China. But when it comes to waging war against the poor, it's playing hard.
 
It's not enough that special police with totemic names like Greyhounds, Cobras and Scorpions are scouring the forests with a licence to kill. It's not enough that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF) and the notorious Naga Battalion have already wreaked havoc and committed unconscionable atrocities in remote forest villages. It's not enough that the government supports and arms the Salwa Judum, the "people's militia" that has killed and raped and burned its way through the forests of Dantewada leaving 300,000 people homeless or on the run. Now the government is going to deploy the Indo-Tibetan border police and tens of thousands of paramilitary troops. It plans to set up a brigade headquarters in Bilaspur (which will displace nine villages) and an air base in Rajnandgaon (which will displace seven). Obviously, these decisions were taken a while ago. Surveys have been done, sites chosen. Interesting. War has been in the offing for a while. And now the helicopters of the Indian air force have been given the right to fire in "self-defence", the very right that the government denies its poorest citizens.
Fire at whom? How will the security forces be able to distinguish a Maoist from an ordinary person who is running terrified through the jungle? Will adivasis carrying the bows and arrows they have carried for centuries now count as Maoists too? Are non-combatant Maoist sympathisers valid targets? When I was in Dantewada, the superintendent of police showed me pictures of 19 "Maoists" that "his boys" had killed. I asked him how I was supposed to tell they were Maoists. He said, "See Ma'am, they have malaria medicines, Dettol bottles, all these things from outside."
 
What kind of war is Operation Green Hunt going to be? Will we ever know? Not much news comes out of the forests. Lalgarh in West Bengal has been cordoned off. Those who try to go in are being beaten and arrested. And called Maoists, of course. In Dantewada, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, a Gandhian ashram run by Himanshu Kumar, was bulldozed in a few hours. It was the last neutral outpost before the war zone begins, a place where journalists, activists, researchers and fact-finding teams could stay while they worked in the area.
 
Meanwhile, the Indian establishment has unleashed its most potent weapon. Almost overnight, our embedded media has substituted its steady supply of planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about "Islamist terrorism" with planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about "Red terrorism". In the midst of this racket, at ground zero, the cordon of silence is being inexorably tightened. The "Sri Lanka solution" could very well be on the cards. It's not for nothing that the Indian government blocked a European move in the UN asking for an international probe into war crimes committed by the government of Sri Lanka in its recent offensive against the Tamil Tigers.
 
The first move in that direction is the concerted campaign that has been orchestrated to shoehorn the myriad forms of resistance taking place in this country into a simple George Bush binary: If you are not with us, you are with the Maoists. The deliberate exaggeration of the Maoist "threat" helps the state justify militarisation. (And surely does no harm to the Maoists. Which political party would be unhappy to be singled out for such attention?) While all the oxygen is being used up by this new doppelganger of the "war on terror", the state will use the opportunity to mop up the hundreds of other resistance movements in the sweep of its military operation, calling them all Maoist sympathisers.
 
I use the future tense, but this process is well under way. The West Bengal government tried to do this in Nandigram and Singur but failed. Right now in Lalgarh, the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee or the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities – which is a people's movement that is separate from, though sympathetic to, the Maoists – is routinely referred to as an overground wing of the CPI (Maoist). Its leader, Chhatradhar Mahato, now arrested and being held without bail, is always called a "Maoist leader". We all know the story of Dr Binayak Sen, a medical doctor and a civil liberties activist, who spent two years in jail on the absolutely facile charge of being a courier for the Maoists. While the light shines brightly on Operation Green Hunt, in other parts of India, away from the theatre of war, the assault on the rights of the poor, of workers, of the landless, of those whose lands the government wishes to acquire for "public purpose", will pick up pace. Their suffering will deepen and it will be that much harder for them to get a hearing.
 
Once the war begins, like all wars, it will develop a momentum, a logic and an economics of its own. It will become a way of life, almost impossible to reverse. The police will be expected to behave like an army, a ruthless killing machine. The paramilitary will be expected to become like the police, a corrupt, bloated administrative force. We've seen it happen in Nagaland, Manipur and Kashmir. The only difference in the "heartland" will be that it'll become obvious very quickly to the security forces that they're only a little less wretched than the people they're fighting. In time, the divide between the people and the law enforcers will become porous. Guns and ammunition will be bought and sold. In fact, it's already happening. Whether it's the security forces or the Maoists or noncombatant civilians, the poorest people will die in this rich people's war. However, if anybody believes that this war will leave them unaffected, they should think again. The resources it'll consume will cripple the economy of this country.
 
Last week, civil liberties groups from all over the country organised a series of meetings in Delhi to discuss what could be done to turn the tide and stop the war. The absence of Dr Balagopal, one of the best-known civil rights activists of Andhra Pradesh, who died two weeks ago, closed around us like a physical pain. He was one of the bravest, wisest political thinkers of our time and left us just when we needed him most. Still, I'm sure he would have been reassured to hear speaker after speaker displaying the vision, the depth, the experience, the wisdom, the political acuity and, above all, the real humanity of the community of activists, academics, lawyers, judges and a range of other people who make up the civil liberties community in India. Their presence in the capital signalled that outside the arclights of our TV studios and beyond the drumbeat of media hysteria, even among India's middle classes, a humane heart still beats. Small wonder then that these are the people who the Union home minister recently accused of creating an "intellectual climate" that was conducive to "terrorism". If that charge was meant to frighten people, it had the opposite effect.
 
The speakers represented a range of opinion from the liberal to the radical left. Though none of those who spoke would describe themselves as Maoist, few were opposed in principle to the idea that people have a right to defend themselves against state violence. Many were uncomfortable about Maoist violence, about the "people's courts" that delivered summary justice, about the authoritarianism that was bound to permeate an armed struggle and marginalise those who did not have arms. But even as they expressed their discomfort, they knew that people's courts only existed because India's courts are out of the reach of ordinary people and that the armed struggle that has broken out in the heartland is not the first, but the very last option of a desperate people pushed to the very brink of existence. The speakers were aware of the dangers of trying to extract a simple morality out of individual incidents of heinous violence, in a situation that had already begun to look very much like war. Everybody had graduated long ago from equating the structural violence of the state with the violence of the armed resistance. In fact, retired Justice PB Sawant went so far as to thank the Maoists for forcing the establishment of this country to pay attention to the egregious injustice of the system. Hargopal from Andhra Pradesh spoke of his experience as a civil rights activist through the years of the Maoist interlude in his state. He mentioned in passing the fact that in a few days in Gujarat in 2002, Hindu mobs led by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP had killed more people than the Maoists ever had even in their bloodiest days in Andhra Pradesh.
 
People who had come from the war zones, from Lalgarh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, described the police repression, the arrests, the torture, the killing, the corruption, and the fact that they sometimes seemed to take orders directly from the officials who worked for the mining companies. People described the often dubious, malign role being played by certain NGOs funded by aid agencies wholly devoted to furthering corporate prospects. Again and again they spoke of how in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh activists as well as ordinary people – anyone who was seen to be a dissenter – were being branded Maoists and imprisoned. They said that this, more than anything else, was pushing people to take up arms and join the Maoists. They asked how a government that professed its inability to resettle even a fraction of the 50 million people who had been displaced by "development" projects was suddenly able to identify 1,40,000 hectares of prime land to give to industrialists for more than 300 Special Economic Zones, India's onshore tax havens for the rich. They asked what brand of justice the supreme court was practising when it refused to review the meaning of "public purpose" in the land acquisition act even when it knew that the government was forcibly acquiring land in the name of "public purpose" to give to private corporations. They asked why when the government says that "the writ of the state must run", it seems to only mean that police stations must be put in place. Not schools or clinics or housing, or clean water, or a fair price for forest produce, or even being left alone and free from the fear of the police – anything that would make people's lives a little easier. They asked why the "writ of the state" could never be taken to mean justice.
 
There was a time, perhaps 10 years ago, when in meetings like these, people were still debating the model of "development" that was being thrust on them by the New Economic Policy. Now the rejection of that model is complete. It is absolute. Everyone from the Gandhians to the Maoists agree on that. The only question now is, what is the most effective way to dismantle it?
An old college friend of a friend, a big noise in the corporate world, had come along for one of the meetings out of morbid curiosity about a world he knew very little about. Even though he had disguised himself in a Fabindia kurta, he couldn't help looking (and smelling) expensive. At one point, he leaned across to me and said, "Someone should tell them not to bother. They won't win this one. They have no idea what they're up against. With the kind of money that's involved here, these companies can buy ministers and media barons and policy wonks, they can run their own NGOs, their own militias, they can buy whole governments. They'll even buy the Maoists. These good people here should save their breath and find something better to do."
 
When people are being brutalised, what "better" thing is there for them to do than to fight back? It's not as though anyone's offering them a choice, unless it's to commit suicide, like some of the farmers caught in a spiral of debt have done. (Am I the only one who gets the feeling that the Indian establishment and its representatives in the media are far more comfortable with the idea of poor people killing themselves in despair than with the idea of them fighting back?)
 
For several years, people in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal – some of them Maoists, many not – have managed to hold off the big corporations. The question now is, how will Operation Green Hunt change the nature of their struggle? What exactly are the fighting people up against?
 
It's true that, historically, mining companies have often won their battles against local people. Of all corporations, leaving aside the ones that make weapons, they probably have the most merciless past. They are cynical, battle-hardened campaigners and when people say, "Jaan denge par jameen nahin denge" (We'll give away our lives, but never our land), it probably bounces off them like a light drizzle on a bomb shelter. They've heard it before, in a thousand different languages, in a hundred different countries.
Right now in India, many of them are still in the first class arrivals lounge, ordering cocktails, blinking slowly like lazy predators, waiting for the Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) they have signed – some as far back as 2005 – to materialise into real money. But four years in a first class lounge is enough to test the patience of even the truly tolerant: the elaborate, if increasingly empty, rituals of democratic practice: the (sometimes rigged) public hearings, the (sometimes fake) environmental impact assessments, the (often purchased) clearances from various ministries, the long drawn-out court cases. Even phony democracy is time-consuming. And time is money.
 
So what kind of money are we talking about? In their seminal, soon-to-be-published work, Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminum Cartel, Samarendra Das and Felix Padel say that the financial value of the bauxite deposits of Orissa alone is $2.27 trillion (more than twice India's GDP). That was at 2004 prices. At today's prices it would be about $4 trillion.
Of this, officially the government gets a royalty of less than 7%. Quite often, if the mining company is a known and recognised one, the chances are that, even though the ore is still in the mountain, it will have already been traded on the futures market. So, while for the adivasis the mountain is still a living deity, the fountainhead of life and faith, the keystone of the ecological health of the region, for the corporation, it's just a cheap storage facility. Goods in storage have to be accessible. From the corporation's point of view, the bauxite will have to come out of the mountain. Such are the pressures and the exigencies of the free market.
 
That's just the story of the bauxite in Orissa. Expand the $4 trillion to include the value of the millions of tonnes of high-quality iron ore in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and the 28 other precious mineral resources, including uranium, limestone, dolomite, coal, tin, granite, marble, copper, diamond, gold, quartzite, corundum, beryl, alexandrite, silica, fluorite and garnet. Add to that the power plants, the dams, the highways, the steel and cement factories, the aluminium smelters, and all the other infrastructure projects that are part of the hundreds of MoUs (more than 90 in Jharkhand alone) that have been signed. That gives us a rough outline of the scale of the operation and the desperation of the stakeholders.
 
The forest once known as the Dandakaranya, which stretches from West Bengal through Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, is home to millions of India's tribal people. The media has taken to calling it the Red corridor or the Maoist corridor. It could just as accurately be called the MoUist corridor. It doesn't seem to matter at all that the fifth schedule of the constitution provides protection to adivasi people and disallows the alienation of their land. It looks as though the clause is there only to make the constitution look good – a bit of window-dressing, a slash of make-up. Scores of corporations, from relatively unknown ones to the biggest mining companies and steel manufacturers in the world, are in the fray to appropriate adivasi homelands – the Mittals, Jindals, Tata, Essar, Posco, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and, of course, Vedanta.
 
There's an MoU on every mountain, river and forest glade. We're talking about social and environmental engineering on an unimaginable scale. And most of this is secret. It's not in the public domain. Somehow I don't think that the plans afoot that would destroy one of the world's most pristine forests and ecosystems, as well as the people who live in it, will be discussed at the climate change conference in Copenhagen. Our 24-hour news channels that are so busy hunting for macabre stories of Maoist violence – and making them up when they run out of the real thing – seem to have no interest at all in this side of the story. I wonder why?
 
Perhaps it's because the development lobby to which they are so much in thrall says the mining industry will ratchet up the rate of GDP growth dramatically and provide employment to the people it displaces. This does not take into account the catastrophic costs of environmental damage. But even on its own narrow terms, it is simply untrue. Most of the money goes into the bank accounts of the mining corporations. Less than 10% comes to the public exchequer. A very tiny percentage of the displaced people get jobs, and those who do, earn slave-wages to do humiliating, backbreaking work. By caving in to this paroxysm of greed, we are bolstering other countries' economies with our ecology.
 
When the scale of money involved is what it is, the stakeholders are not always easy to identify. Between the CEOs in their private jets and the wretched tribal special police officers in the "people's" militias – who for a couple of thousand rupees a month fight their own people, rape, kill and burn down whole villages in an effort to clear the ground for mining to begin – there is an entire universe of primary, secondary and tertiary stakeholders.
 
These people don't have to declare their interests, but they're allowed to use their positions and good offices to further them. How will we ever know which political party, which ministers, which MPs, which politicians, which judges, which NGOs, which expert consultants, which police officers, have a direct or indirect stake in the booty? How will we know which newspapers reporting the latest Maoist "atrocity", which TV channels "reporting directly from ground zero" – or, more accurately, making it a point not to report from ground zero, or even more accurately, lying blatantly from ground zero – are stakeholders?
 
What is the provenance of the billions of dollars (several times more than India's GDP) secretly stashed away by Indian citizens in Swiss bank accounts? Where did the $2bn spent on the last general elections come from? Where do the hundreds of millions of rupees that politicians and parties pay the media for the "high-end", "low-end" and "live" pre-election "coverage packages" that P Sainath recently wrote about come from? (The next time you see a TV anchor haranguing a numb studio guest, shouting, "Why don't the Maoists stand for elections? Why don't they come in to the mainstream?", do SMS the channel saying, "Because they can't afford your rates.")
 
Too many questions about conflicts of interest and cronyism remain unanswered. What are we to make of the fact that the Union home minister, P Chidambaram, the chief of Operation Green Hunt, has, in his career as a corporate lawyer, represented several mining corporations? What are we to make of the fact that he was a non-executive director of Vedanta – a position from which he resigned the day he became finance minister in 2004? What are we to make of the fact that, when he became finance minister, one of the first clearances he gave for FDI was to Twinstar Holdings, a Mauritius-based company, to buy shares in Sterlite, a part of the Vedanta group?
 
What are we to make of the fact that, when activists from Orissa filed a case against Vedanta in the supreme court, citing its violations of government guidelines and pointing out that the Norwegian Pension Fund had withdrawn its investment from the company alleging gross environmental damage and human rights violations committed by the company, Justice Kapadia suggested that Vedanta be substituted with Sterlite, a sister company of the same group? He then blithely announced in an open court that he, too, had shares in Sterlite. He gave forest clearance to Sterlite to go ahead with the mining, despite the fact that the supreme court's own expert committee had explicitly said that permission should be denied and that mining would ruin the forests, water sources, environment and the lives and livelihoods of the thousands of tribals living there. Justice Kapadia gave this clearance without rebutting the report of the supreme court's own committee.
 
What are we to make of the fact that the Salwa Judum, the brutal ground-clearing operation disguised as a "spontaneous" people's militia in Dantewada, was formally inaugurated in 2005, just days after the MoU with the Tatas was signed? And that the Jungle Warfare Training School in Bastar was set up just around then?
 
What are we to make of the fact that two weeks ago, on 12 October, the mandatory public hearing for Tata Steel's steel project in Lohandiguda, Dantewada, was held in a small hall inside the collectorate, cordoned off with massive security, with an audience of 50 tribal people brought in from two Bastar villages in a convoy of government jeeps? (The public hearing was declared a success and the district collector congratulated the people of Bastar for their co-operation.)
 
What are we to make of the fact that just around the time the prime minister began to call the Maoists the "single largest internal security threat" (which was a signal that the government was getting ready to go after them), the share prices of many of the mining companies in the region skyrocketed?
 
The mining companies desperately need this "war". They will be the beneficiaries if the impact of the violence drives out the people who have so far managed to resist the attempts that have been made to evict them. Whether this will indeed be the outcome, or whether it'll simply swell the ranks of the Maoists remains to be seen.
 
Reversing this argument, Dr Ashok Mitra, former finance minister of West Bengal, in an article called "The Phantom Enemy", argues that the "grisly serial murders" that the Maoists are committing are a classic tactic, learned from guerrilla warfare textbooks. He suggests that they have built and trained a guerrilla army that is now ready to take on the Indian state, and that the Maoist "rampage" is a deliberate attempt on their part to invite the wrath of a blundering, angry Indian state which the Maoists hope will commit acts of cruelty that will enrage the adivasis. That rage, Dr Mitra says, is what the Maoists hope can be harvested and transformed into an insurrection.
 
This, of course, is the charge of "adventurism" that several currents of the left have always levelled at the Maoists. It suggests that Maoist ideologues are not above inviting destruction on the very people they claim to represent in order to bring about a revolution that will bring them to power. Ashok Mitra is an old Communist who had a ringside seat during the Naxalite uprising of the 60s and 70s in West Bengal. His views cannot be summarily dismissed. But it's worth keeping in mind that the adivasi people have a long and courageous history of resistance that predates the birth of Maoism. To look upon them as brainless puppets being manipulated by a few middle-class Maoist ideologues is to do them a disservice.
 
Presumably Dr Mitra is talking about the situation in Lalgarh where, up to now, there has been no talk of mineral wealth. (Lest we forget – the current uprising in Lalgarh was sparked off over the chief minister's visit to inaugurate a Jindal Steel factory. And where there's a steel factory, can the iron ore be very far away?) The people's anger has to do with their desperate poverty, and the decades of suffering at the hands of the police and the Harmads, the armed militia of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that has ruled West Bengal for more than 30 years.
 
Even if, for argument's sake, we don't ask what tens of thousands of police and paramilitary troops are doing in Lalgarh, and we accept the theory of Maoist "adventurism", it would still be only a very small part of the picture.
 
The real problem is that the flagship of India's miraculous "growth" story has run aground. It came at a huge social and environmental cost. And now, as the rivers dry up and forests disappear, as the water table recedes and as people realise what is being done to them, the chickens are coming home to roost. All over the country, there's unrest, there are protests by people refusing to give up their land and their access to resources, refusing to believe false promises any more. Suddenly, it's beginning to look as though the 10% growth rate and democracy are mutually incompatible.
 
To get the bauxite out of the flat-topped hills, to get iron ore out from under the forest floor, to get 85% of India's people off their land and into the cities (which is what Chidambaram says he'd like to see), India has to become a police state. The government has to militarise. To justify that militarisation, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalists. (Is there a fraternity of fundamentalists? Is that why the RSS has expressed open admiration for Chidambaram?)
 
It would be a grave mistake to imagine that the paramilitary troops, the Rajnandgaon air base, the Bilaspur brigade headquarters, the unlawful activities act, the Chhattisgarh special public security act and Operation Green Hunt are all being put in place just to flush out a few thousand Maoists from the forests. In all the talk of Operation Green Hunt, whether or not Chidambaram goes ahead and "presses the button", I detect the kernel of a coming state of emergency. (Here's a maths question: If it takes 600,000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?)
Instead of narco-analysing Kobad Ghandy, the recently arrested Maoist leader, it might be a better idea to talk to him.
In the meanwhile, will someone who's going to the climate change conference in Copenhagen later this year please ask the only question worth asking: Can we leave the bauxite in the mountain?


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Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Love Jihad


 India lost in 'love jihad'
By Sudha Ramachandran

BANGALORE - As part of an organized campaign, young Muslim men are deliberately luring women from different faiths into marriage so they will convert to Islam, say radical Indian Hindu and Christian groups in south India.

The alleged plot has been dubbed "love jihad". It first surfaced in September, when two Muslim men from Pathanamthitta town in the southwestern state of Kerala reportedly enticed two women - a Hindu and a Christian - into marriage and forced them to convert to Islam.

The women first claimed to have became Muslims voluntarily, but after being allowed back to their parents' houses said they had been abducted and coerced to convert. The men were reportedly members of Campus Front, a student wing of radical Muslim group the Popular Front of India (PFI).

The Pathanamthitta incident was followed by an avalanche of media reports on "love jihad". Some described it as a movement, others claimed that forced conversions through marriage were actually being run by an organization called Love Jihad, or Romeo Jihad.

Hindu and Christian groups have weighed in with their own "facts" on the "love jihad".

The Sri Ram Sene, a fundamentalist Hindu group, now claims thousands of girls were forcibly converted to Islam in the past few years after marrying Muslim men. It says that after conversion the women were "trained in anti-national activities". India's main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has said "love jihadis" have receiving foreign aid - from the Middle East - for the campaign.

Senior Christian leaders are now campaigning against the alleged threat.

"Around 4,000 girls have been subjected to religious conversion since 2005 after they fell in love," Father Johny Kochuparambil, secretary of Kerala Catholic Bishops Council's Commission for Social Harmony and Vigilance, wrote in an article in the church council's newsletter.

The article lists 2,868 girls who fell into the "love jihad" net between 2006 to 2009. Kochuparambil has not clarified where the statistics came from, citing only "highly reliable sources".

The phenomenon has spread to Kerala's neighboring state, Karnataka. This month, the father of a woman who converted to Islam to marry a Muslim filed a habeas corpus petition in a Karnataka court, alleging his daughter was a victim of "love jihad". The woman told the court that her conversion was voluntary.

The court, however, said it has "serious suspicions" regarding the statement of the petitioner's daughter and that the case "has ramifications for national security". "It has raised questions of unlawful trafficking of girls and women in the state. So it has to be investigated by the police," the court said.

On the orders of the court, police in Kerala and Karnataka launched an investigation into whether an organization called Love Jihad or Romeo Jihad actually exists. They concluded that it doesn't.

Kerala's director general of police said no such organization had been identified in the state, but there were reasons to suspect there had been "concentrated attempts" by Muslim boys to persuade non-Muslim girls to convert to Islam after they fell in love.

The PFI, meanwhile, has denied it is waging a "love jihad".

"Religious conversion is not a crime; conversion takes place to Hinduism and Christianity also ... One cannot paint all love affairs as cases of forced conversions meant for extremist activity," said PFI spokesman Naseerudheen Elamaram.

In India, religious conversion is not a crime - article 25 of the constitution recognizes the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. However, the issue of conversion is extremely sensitive. In recent years, Hindu groups have opposed, sometimes violently, the conversion of Hindus to Islam and Christianity.

For centuries, Hindus converted to Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam and Christianity, some out of conviction, others to escape the tyranny of the Hindu caste system or to benefit from professing the religion of the ruling class. However, Hindu groups maintain that it was through the use of the sword that Islam spread in India. They also accuse Christians of using economic incentives to attract Hindus to the faith.

Ironically, "love jihad" is now the bringing the sworn enemies together. Christian and Hindu groups that had been at each other's throat over religious conversions have now vowed to join forces to combat the alleged campaign.

"Both Hindu and Christian girls are falling prey to this. So we are cooperating with the VHP [Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a fundamentalist Hindu group] on this," K S Samson, from the Kochi-based Christian Association for Social Action (CASA), told the Times of India.

When CASA got to know of a Hindu schoolgirl who had become a victim of "love jihad", it "immediately referred the case to the VHP", he said.

The "love jihad" phenomenon - which may just be linked to a few religious-minded Romeos - could have been comical had it not deepened domestic hostility towards India's Muslim minority. There are fears that the use of the word "jihad", often interpreted as meaning holy war, may give extremist Hindu and Christian groups an excuse to justify attacks on Muslims.

"Certain fundamentalist groups that have been carrying out vigilante attacks against inter-community couples for several years have now started using the 'love jihad' theory to justify their attacks," a police official told The Hindu newspaper. He did not name the groups, but was probably referring to the Sri Ram Sene and the Bajrang Dal, which target women and religious minorities.
Sri Ram Sene is now preparing for a nationwide campaign on the issue. Its leader, Pramod Mutalik, has said 150 party activists have been deployed in public places to keep an eye on "suspicious activities". When a "love jihad" activity is identified, "it will be stopped then and there", he said.

Meanwhile, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council has issued "love jihad" guidelines, calling on parents and schools to monitor children's activities and discourage them from using mobile phones or spend long hours on the Internet. "Bringing up children the spiritual way is the best means to fight the love jihad," said the Christian group.



Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.



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Making this ruthless liar EU president is a crazy plan. But I'll be backing Blair


If the man who waged an unprovoked war in Iraq gets this job, it could be the chance to hold him to account for his crimes

 

Tony Blair's bid to become president of the European Union has united the left in revulsion. His enemies argue that he divided Europe by launching an illegal war; he kept the UK out of the eurozone and the Schengen agreement; he is contemptuous of democracy (surely a qualification?); greases up to wealth and power and lets the poor go to hell; he is ruthless, mendacious, slippery and shameless. But never mind all that. I'm backing Blair.

 

It's not his undoubted powers of persuasion that have swayed me, nor the motorcade factor that clinched it for David Miliband – who claims that no one else could stop the traffic in Beijing or Washington or Moscow. I have a different interest. You could argue that I'm placing other considerations above the good of the EU. You'd be right, but this hardly distinguishes me from the rest of Blair's supporters. I contend that his presidency could do more for world peace than any appointment since the second world war.

Blair has the distinction, which is a source of national pride in some quarters, of being one of the two greatest living mass murderers on earth. That he commissioned a crime of aggression – waging an unprovoked war, described by the Nuremberg tribunal as "the supreme international crime" – looks incontestable. I will explain the case in a moment. This crime has caused the death – depending on whose estimate you believe – of between 100,000 and one million people. As there was no legal justification, these people were murdered. But no one has been brought to justice.

 
Within the UK, there is no means of prosecuting Blair. In 2006 the law lords decided that the international crime of aggression has not been incorporated into domestic law. But, elsewhere in the world, it has been. In 2006 the professor of international law Philippe Sands warned that "Margaret Thatcher avoids certain countries as a result of the sinking of the Belgrano, and Blair would be advised to do likewise".
 
Has he? I don't know. Blair's diary and most of his meetings are private. He has no need to travel to countries where he might encounter a little legal difficulty. So he goes about his business untroubled. He seldom faces protests, let alone investigating magistrates. His only punishment for the crime of aggression so far is a multimillion-pound book deal, massive speaking fees, posh directorships and an appointment as Middle East peace envoy, which must rank with Henry Kissinger's receipt of the Nobel peace prize as the supreme crime against satire.
 
I have spent the past three days trying to discover, from legal experts all over Europe, where the crime of aggression can be prosecuted. The only certain answer is that the situation is unclear. Everyone agrees that within the EU two states, Estonia and Latvia, have incorporated it into domestic law. In most of the others, the law remains to be tested. In 2005 the German federal administrative court ruled in favour of an army major who had refused to obey an order in case it implicated him in the Iraq war. The court's justification was that the war was a crime of aggression.
 
A study of the constitutions of western European nations in 1988 found that if there's a conflict, most of them would place customary international law above domestic law, suggesting that a prosecution is possible. President Blair would also be obliged to travel to countries outside the EU, including the other states of the former Soviet Union, many of which have now incorporated the crime of aggression. He would have little control over his appointments, and everyone would know when he was coming.

It's just possible that an investigating magistrate, like Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who issued a warrant for the arrest of General Pinochet, would set the police on him. But our best chance of putting pressure on reluctant authorities lies in a citizen's arrest. To stimulate this process, I will put up the first £100 of a bounty (to which, if he gets the job, I will ask readers to subscribe), payable to the first person to attempt a non-violent arrest of President Blair. It shouldn't be hard to raise several thousand pounds. I will help set up a network of national arrest committees, exchanging information and preparing for the great man's visits. President Blair would have no hiding place: we will be with him wherever he goes.

 
Here is the case against him. The Downing Street memo, a record of a meeting in July 2002, reveals that Sir Richard Dearlove, director of the UK's foreign intelligence service MI6, told Blair that in Washington: "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." The foreign secretary (Jack Straw) then told Blair that "the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran". He suggested that "we should work up a plan" to produce "legal justification for the use of force". The attorney general told the prime minister that there were only "three possible legal bases" for launching a war: "self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [security council] authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case." Bush and Blair later failed to obtain security council authorisation.
 
This short memo, which should be learned by heart by every citizen of the United Kingdom, reveals that Blair knew that the decision to attack Iraq had already been made; that it preceded the justification, which was being retrofitted to an act of aggression; that the only legal reasons for an attack didn't apply, and that the war couldn't be launched without UN authorisation.

The legal status of Bush's decision had already been explained to Blair. In March 2002, as another leaked memo shows, Jack Straw had reminded him of the conditions required to launch a legal war: "i) There must be an armed attack upon a State or such an attack must be imminent; ii) The use of force must be necessary and other means to reverse/avert the attack must be unavailable; iii) The acts in self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object of stopping the attack."
Straw explained that the development or possession of weapons of mass destruction "does not in itself amount to an armed attack; what would be needed would be clear evidence of an imminent attack." A third memo, from the Cabinet Office, explained that "there is no greater threat now than in recent years that Saddam will use WMD … A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to Law Officers' advice, none currently exists."
 
It's just a matter of getting him in front of a judge. The crazy plan to make this mass murderer president could be the chance that many of us have been waiting for.




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Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Royal Mail is to blame for our broken society (obviously)

21/10/09 in The Independent 

Mark Steel 

We can already see the 'modernisation' the Government wants from posties

"The Post office unions can't obstruct modernisation," insists Peter Mandelson. That must be why Mandelson has the thoroughly modern job title of Lord, because he's not afraid to modernise. And no one could accuse his place of work, the House of Lords, of resisting modernisation. Every member of staff is at the cutting edge of new technology, making use of the very latest developments in ermine gowns, and overmanning is unheard of as every single Lord is essential and oozes infectious youthful hereditary energy for the benefit of Britain.
 
If only the Post Office unions would agree to being that modern, then their sacks would be carried by equerries, and attendance would be around 5 per cent of the workforce, who would take it in turns to stand up with a parcel, shake it for a couple of minutes, then say "Am I delivering this or receiving it, I don't recall?" and sit down again.
 
Presumably, what is meant by "modernise" is privatised. Then, as they're delivering your mail postmen can say "Would you like a pastry with your bills this morning? No? In that case are you aware I could also supply you with gas?" And each postman could get sponsorship, and cycle along whistling 'You can't get quicker than a Kwik Fit fitter'. Eventually they'll be properly modern, like the water companies who were fined £12m for providing a dreadful service and lying to cover it up, or the hugely popular gas companies.
 
We can already see the types of modernisation the Government would like to apply. For example they got rid of that antiquated system in rural areas where the elderly would queue in a ramshackle old Post Office for their pension, by shutting the things down. And in a marvellous example of joined-up government, soon the elderly won't be any worse off because their pensions will be scrapped anyway, saving them a walk, and encouraging them to modernise because it's no good wandering about being 82 in a modern environment.
 
So the management at Royal Mail, and the Government, want to cut jobs, freeze pay and change the working conditions for the staff, which has led to the current strikes. And that means certain papers are already exploding with stories that start "Britain's 103-year-olds are to be targeted by callous striking union members. 'Christmas cards are all I have to live for', said Ethel Dibbet from her nursing home, 'But this year I suppose I'll have to go without, what with them blooming selfish postmen with their unrealistic demands and obstinate Luddite refusal to ruddy well modernise'."
 
The Times had a headline telling us the strike would "Lose £100m in revenues" for the Government, which seems a lot until they explain this is because they'll have to waive the £100 fine for late tax returns, that could have been imposed on a million people. But surely The Times, and David Cameron, should be delighted about this, praising the union for helping to stamp out the red tape that holds back business.
 
You can see why there's such enthusiasm for taking on the post unions, because these are the people whose excess has got us into such a financial mess. Ask anyone "Whose greed caused the economic crash"? and they'll say "Investment postmen, they're the bastards." And we've all heard tales of them gloating down the sorting office, about how they'd just finished Gresham Street when they heard about the run on the futures market in Hong Kong, nipped down the stock market on their bicycle, did three dings on their bell to signal "sell" to the traders, picked up £10m and nipped back just in time to finish Parsley Avenue.
 
There is one other possibility, which is the Royal Mail management and the Government are trying to break the union altogether, which would explain why they've drawn up plans to impose the changes without the union's agreement, leaving the management free to impose whatever sackings or pay cuts they fancied at any time. And to be fair, you can see why the head of Royal Mail, Adam Crozier, might consider a union unnecessary, as he managed to get himself a deal worth £9m over six years without one.
It might also explain their aggressive stance, which has gone as far as cancelling their annual anti-bullying week, although one-third of staff say they've witnessed bullying managers. Or maybe Mandelson has insisted the management modernises bullying, so instead of calling staff in to be told they're slow and useless, they'll now be told they're fat ugly pigs on Twitter.
 
And if Royal Mail get their way, we could find the local sorting office turned into modern themed apartments, and we'll have to collect all of our parcels from a centralised modern digital automated package centre in a retail park in Bangalore.



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Reform Or Revolution - the UK political system

 

By William Bowles

20 October, 2009
Countercurrents.org

 

It's really time I started writing more about the country I live in, the country of my birth, the UK, a country that has the oldest, the most cunning, the most duplicitous (not to mention the most mendacious) of all ruling classes. After all, they've been at it for five hundred years, finally being forced to come up with what they like to call parliamentary democracy over a century ago, but just how democratic is it? And can we really expect real change to come about through a system as corrupt and sclerotic as 'parliamentary democracy'?

 

Parliamentary democracy is a closed system, literally owned by the two main political parties who work in intimate cooperation with the state bureaucracy to maintain the status quo. For proof of this we need only look at the panic caused by the 'expenses' scandal and how the political class, fearful of any challenge to its hegemony has fought tool and nail, left and right to defend their privilege to spend our money as they please.

 

How they have managed to do this should be important to us and especially the confidence trick called Parliament. It is a system that has, for around a century, played the central role in the preservation of capitalism, in reality a private game with the political class being the players, the judges and the rule makers. In other words, a fix and a fix carried out, no less, with the complicity of organized labour.

 

We, the public, play our part by voting (or not) to maintain the 'game', getting bounced back and forth between two sides of same coin. But clearly the 'game' would seem to have run its course which, with all the talk of the state's 'lack of legitimacy', is reflected in the falling number of those who bother to vote or take part in any kind of political activity. Even the Labour Party's own membership has dwindled to a fraction of its size since 'New' Labour came to power (before coming to power in 1997 the Labour Party had over half a million members).

 

The worst thing about this scenario is that, aside from the Anarchists, the left has attempted to join in the 'game' for the past century and more, with predictable results. We only need to look at the 'left' in Parliament to see the truth, for no matter how left they are outside of Parliament, inside, they too have to play the 'game', effectively emasculating themselves in the process. If they don't, the results are predictable, for example, when George Galloway spoke out about the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, he was very quickly ejected from the 'game'. Just how seductive the 'game' is can be illustrated by Galloway's claim, via the Respect Party, that part of Respect's objective was to restore the Labour Party to its former, pre-Blairite reformist glory.

 

The exclusion of the real left from the political process by the Labour Party and its complicit trade unions goes back decades, illustrated by the endless disbanding and reforming of the Labour Party Young Socialists every time it moved to the real left. Also, the fact that under the Labour Party's 'bans and proscriptions', all attempts by the left within the Labour Party to seek common cause (and vice versa) with real progressives meant certain expulsion from the Party. True to its Cold War legacy Red-baiting was and remains Labour's methodology.

 

The trade unions are in the same fix, having handed over their power to the 'party of labour' long ago. Interestingly, William Morris's 'News From Nowhere' predicted this outcome in 1895 after the path of attempting to 'reform' capitalism won the day.

The end result is plain to see: a disenfranchised and alienated population, and with only a fraction of the workforce in trade unions (in the 1950s around 50% were unionized), most don't even get a look-see into the 'game' unless some scandal is exposed. Add to this a corrupt, incompetent and murderous political class, revealed in all its sordid details over the twelve years of Labour rule. Is it any wonder that the state 'lacks legitimacy'?

 

So what's the reason for this pathetic state of affairs? In a word: reformism, the idea that capitalism can be 'reformed' to more resemble socialism (capitalism with a human face?), a process that reached its zenith with the post-war Labour government and even then the nationalization of key sectors of the economy came about firstly because British capitalism was bankrupt. Secondly, it was under pressure from a working class who did not want to see a return to a reactionary and backward pre-war Britain. Things had to change but, how much? And, what kind of change?

 

The post-war Labour government was elected on a wave of progressive ideas following the defeat of Fascism: the National Health Service (the Tories realizing that a complicit population was essential to the survival of capitalism, had already created a new standardized national 'education' system), transport and energy were nationalized, a massive house building programme was initiated, Keynesian capitalism was born (even in the early 1960s many British homes had neither an indoor toilet or even a proper bathroom, let alone adequate heating).

 

So all the while the Labour Party (and successive Labour governments) were proclaiming socialism, in reality they were, not only, propping up domestic capitalism, worse still, their foreign policy was avowedly anti-communist and imperialist/colonialist! So those on the left who claim that 'New' Labour has somehow strayed from the path of righteousness need to brush up on their history. Britain's African, Asian, Latin American and Caribbean colonies got the same treatment from Labour as they did from the Tories; the same, racist and imperialist policies were enacted (if ever there was proof of just how the ideology of racism works when utilized by the state this is it) and nothing has changed eg, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, China, Russia, in fact any country that doesn't buy into Western 'democracy' gets the 'treatment'.

 

This is the terrible trajectory of reformism. It explains in part at least, why the left is so marginalized in British political life by what is, in effect, an unholy alliance between organized labour and its alleged voice, the Labour Party and their master, Capital.

But how to break this impasse? Over the past one hundred-plus years the British left has 'evolved' as an integral (if ineffectual) component of the reformist model with organized labour, led by a revolutionary party, viewed as the main vehicle for bringing about an end to capitalism through the ballot, a policy that obviously has not worked. Instead, the trade unions became an elitist battleground between left and right with corrupt practices on both sides. The 'rank and file' membership were relegated to mere onlookers whilst the labour elite slugged it out, with the left inevitably losing.

 

The end of the industrial working class

 

The end of the Keynesian model of capitalism in the 1970s with the birth of so-called neo-liberalism should surely have been a wake-up call for the left. Instead, it retreated in disarray, eventually fragmenting into small pieces, especially after the destruction of the largest and most powerful of unions, the miners by the Thatcher government (the opening shot in the deindustrialization of the UK). Instead we have witnessed the same entrenched left 'leadership' pushing the same failed reformist policies, the 'parliamentary road to socialism' as the British Communist Party called it.

 

The central question for the left is: what is to replace organized industrial labour, after all wasn't it organized labour that was to lead the revolution? In order to try and answer this question, we need to recognize that, whilst capitalism has transformed itself, largely by exporting manufacturing to our former colonies and, in the process, destroying the organized industrial working class, the left simply hasn't got it. Instead, it insists on fighting a battle long lost and with 'tools' that no longer exist.

What used to be the organized industrial working class is now a shadow of its former self, worse still the creation of a so-called service-based economy, composed largely of non-union labour, much of it part-time. It is fragmented and lacks voice. It's here that the trade union movement reveals its real nature: where are the campaigns to unionize the unorganized if only to strengthen the power of the central union bureaucracy, the TUC?.

 

The only potential rising force in society, the so-called middle class, is barely even recognized as being a part of the working class by the left (we really need to question the use of the term middle class). Yet the economy is now managed by the 'middle class', a situation the ruling elite are only too aware of. The state is the single biggest employer and not coincidentally. The biggest unions are all mostly public employee unions, but these unions are split along 'middle'- working class lines.

 

In the private sector, with ascendancy of the financial services sector, marketing and distribution, especially of 'virtual' products, the capitalist economy is now in the hands of the managers and technicians, the so-called middle class. Just look at the chaos unleashed by paying young university whizz kids to play with the numbers in the futures markets, it's all a big game to them.

Britain is once more a Merchant's economy with 'wealth' being generated, not by the production of real and useful products and services, but by manipulating numbers on a gigantic, global scale and doing all of it in real time. The amount of money in private hands dwarfs the amount that the state messes about with as the UK's £20 billion public debt. The US's now (officially) $1.3 trillion debt demonstrates, after all, the state borrows it from the private sector (after the banks et al have ripped off their profits they get by charging interest on the money printed by the state that they then lend out to customers). It's a marvellous system, ingenious even, but utterly irrational, designed to do only one thing, produce a profit for the shareholders in the shortest possible time.

 

This is the setting, so for example, truly revolutionary trade unions would be demanding that running financial services like this is irrational, immoral, unstable and destructive, in other words, against the public's interest. So here's an alternative way of managing the economy, if for no other reason than to protect the interests of its members. But, for as long as the trade unions are in bed with the political class, such outcomes are just fantasies.

 

Instead, we get the following collaboration between the union hierarchy and the government!

 

"BBC Newsnight on Thursday revealed a leaked confidential document spilling the beans on a Royal Mail plan to impose cuts, provoke a strike and smash the union. This blows a hole in their spin over the past couple of weeks about an uncooperative union!

 

"The embarrassing bit was when the Newsnight presenter repeatedly asked Billy [Hayes, postal workers' union] how he felt about the CWU giving £7 million since 2001 to Labour to have it plotting against it, and did he support the 98% of London postal workers who had voted to break from Labour? Labour-lovin' Billy ducked it several times before lamely saying the party wasn't the same as the government." — "Royal Mail secret plot with 'the Shareholder'"

 

How can a trade union represent the interests of its members when its leadership are funding the very government that's trying to destroy it? This is the insane end-product of reformism, where workers fund a government via their trade unions that is a wholly owned subsidiary of capital.


 



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Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Dragon spews fire at the Elephant


 
By M K Bhadrakumar

The surprise element was almost completely lacking. The expectation in Delhi for a while has been that sooner or later Beijing would hit out. Verbal affronts from India were becoming a daily occurrence and a nuisance for Being. Not a single day has passed for the past several months when either influential sections of the Indian strategic community or the English-language media, tied by the umbilical cord of financial patronage to the Indian establishment, failed to indulge in some vituperative attack on Chinese policies and conduct towards India.

Yet, when it finally came on Wednesday, the timing of the cumulative Chinese reaction was most curious. Beijing chose a very special day on its diplomatic calendar to make its point. The prime ministers of Russia and Pakistan, Vladimir Putin and Yousuf Raza Gilani,  Yousuf Raza Gilani, and the United States Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, were on official visits to Beijing. Indeed, Campbell had come on an important mission to prepare for the visit by US President Barack Obama to China next month.
 
Beijing made a big point that its current ruckus with Delhi was less bilateral and more geopolitical. Indeed, Wednesday's People's Daily commentary on India resorted to a colloquium that hasn't been heard in the dialogue across the Himalayas for very many years.

On the previous day, in two statements the Chinese Foreign Ministry provided the "curtain raiser" for the People's Daily commentary. The first statement focused attention on the recent Indian media campaign against China and asked Delhi to be "conducive toward promoting mutual understanding", rather than publishing false reports on border tensions.

The second statement was substantive and it conveyed that Beijing was "seriously dissatisfied" by the visit of the Indian prime minister 10 days ago to the state of Arunachal Pradesh (which China claims as its territory). The Chinese spokesman said, "China and India have not reached any formal agreement on the border issue. We demand that the Indian side pay attention to the serious and just concerns of the Chinese side and not to provoke incidents in the disputed region, in order to facilitate the healthy development of China-India relations."

The Indian reaction came within hours and was at the highest level of the foreign-policy establishment. Foreign Minister S M Krishna brushed off the Chinese statement, saying, "Well, regardless of what others say, it is the government of India's stated position that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India. We rest at that." He added that Delhi was "disappointed and concerned" over China's objection.

The diplomatic backdrop was evidently getting electrified when the People's Daily struck. It literally tore into Indian policies. Leaving aside specifics, it dealt with what Beijing assessed to be the core issue - India's obsession with superpower status born out of its rooted complexes of having "constantly been under foreign rule ... throughout history" and its "recklessness and arrogance" towards its neighbors. "The dream of superpower is mingled with the thought of hegemony, which places the South Asian giant in an awkward situation and results in its repeated failure," the commentary pointed out.

The striking thing about the Chinese commentary was that it echoed a widespread criticism that is quite often voiced by India's neighbors. The commentary sought to establish a commonality of concerns between China and India's neighbors over the rising tide of Indian nationalism in the past decade or so with its disagreeable manifestations for regional cooperation. "To everyone's disappointment, India pursues a foreign policy of 'befriend the far and attack the near' ... India, which vows to be a superpower, needs to have its eyes on relations with neighbors and abandon its recklessness and arrogance as the world is undergoing earthshaking changes," the commentary claimed.

Beijing surely factored in that almost without exception, India's neighbors voice similar concerns and are currently seeking friendly and close ties with China to balance India's perceived overbearing attitude towards them. In effect, the Chinese commentary tapped into the near-total isolation that India faces today in the South Asian region.

Interestingly, the People's Daily followed up by running a sequel on Thursday, this time harshly telling Delhi a couple of things. One, it underlined that Delhi was seriously mistaken if it estimated that China could be hustled into a border settlement with India through pressure tactics. It affirmed categorically that the border dispute could be settled or a substantial step forward approaching a final solution could be taken "only on the condition that both of them [China and India] are ready to shake off the traditional and deep-seated misunderstandings".

Two, the commentary alleged that Delhi was getting "disoriented when making decisions" because it harbored a notion that the US was viewing India as a counterweight to China. Delhi was also becoming susceptible to the US stratagem to "woo India away from Russia and China and, in the meantime, feeding India's ambition to match China force by force by its ever burgeoning arms sales to India".

Most important, the commentary concluded that although China and India "will never pose a mortal foe to each other", if the Indian establishment and a "handful of irresponsible media institutions" didn't restrain themselves, "an accidental slip or go-off at the border would erode into a war", which neither side wanted. It is very obvious that Beijing sees the Indian establishment's hand behind the vituperative media campaign against China in recent months.

How the tensions pan out is another matter. In immediate terms, a flashpoint arises as the Indian government has approved a visit by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in November to Arunachal Pradesh. No doubt, if the visit goes ahead, the Sino-Indian relationship will nosedive into a corridor of deep chill from which it may take a long time for the two countries to emerge.

The curious thing is this will be taking place at a time when the geopolitics of the region and world development as a whole will be passing through a transformative period of far-reaching significance. Given the fact that China's global power is an established reality, India may be painting itself into a corner by opting out of a mutual understanding with Beijing precisely at this juncture when the agenda of global issues and regional security is heavily laden.

On the contrary, if Delhi pays heed to Chinese sensitivities about the Dalai Lama's peregrinations in November, it will be accused by the Indian nationalist camp as buckling under Chinese pressure. An element of grandstanding, unfortunately, is entering into the Sino-Indian relationship, which runs against the grain of its maturing in the recent decade.

Equally, a question mark now envelops the rationale of India hosting the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers in the coming weeks within the framework of the trilateral format. To be sure, the equilibrium within the format has been disturbed. Russia and China have been developing an intense strategic partnership; India's traditional ties with Moscow have significantly weakened under the current pro-US leadership in Delhi; and, now, India's normalization process with China has suffered a severe setback.

At the same time, Russia has begun a serious attempt to choreograph a positive trajectory to its languishing relationship with Pakistan by taking it out of the trough of benign neglect and injecting some dynamism into it. China, of course, enjoys an "all-weather friendship" with Pakistan.

Indian policies are predicated on the assumption that a Sino-US clash of interests is inevitable as China's surge as a world power has become unstoppable, and Washington will have use of Delhi as a counterweight to Beijing sooner than most people would think. Surely, there is disquiet in Delhi about the Barack Obama administration's regional policies, which no longer accord India the status of a pre-eminent power and which place primacy on the US's alliance with India's arch rival, Pakistan.

But Delhi hopes that Obama will ultimately have to pay heed to US business interests and therefore India holds a trump card in the burgeoning market that it offers to the American corporate sector - unlike Pakistan, which is a basket case at best, a can of worms at worst.

Simply put, India is estimated to be the biggest arms buyer in the world and a market estimated to be worth US$100 billion is presenting itself to exploitation by American arms manufacturers - provided Obama has his wits about him and realizes on which side his South Asian bread is buttered. Delhi hopes to incrementally pose an existential choice to Obama through an idiom that the US political establishment understands perfectly well: the business interests of its military-industrial complex.

One thing is clear. Powerful Indian lobbyists have been at work in whipping up a war hysteria and xenophobia over China. The Washington Post recently featured a Delhi-datelined report on the shenanigans of these Indian fat cats who mainly comprise retired Indian defense officials and senior bureaucrats who act as commission agents for big American arms manufacturers. There was a time when the Sandhurst-trained Indian military personnel retired to the cool hill stations and spent the sunset of their lives playing bridge or going for long walks and regaling their visitors with their wartime stories while sipping whisky.

Nowadays, the smart ones among the retired generals and top bureaucrats take up residence in Delhi's suburbs and overnight transform themselves into "strategic thinkers" and begin networking with some American think-tank or the other, while probing a new lease on life as brokers or commission agents for arms manufacturers.

All in all, it is virtually certain that these lobbyists can expect a windfall out of Sino-Indian tensions. After all, a case has been neatly made about the imperatives of a close Indian tie-up with the US. The current Indian political elite doesn't really need any prompting in that direction, but all the same, a degree of public accountability may at times become necessary. Transparency International has bestowed on India the distinction of being one of the most corrupt countries on the planet and it is an open secret that India's arms procurement program provides a vast avenue to siphon off national wealth.

If the Indian market for military hardware is worth $100 billion, it is quite understandable that a gravy train is getting ready for the Indian elites. The People's Daily commentator may have unwittingly waved off the train from the platform. And that was exactly what the Indian elites and fat cats wanted.

Now, all eyes will turn toward the visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington in November. Obama has let it be known that Manmohan will be the first dignitary to be honored with a state banquet during his presidency.

The Americans are vastly experienced with the Indians' Himalayan ego and by now they know well enough where and how to tickle Indian vanities. How they pedal fresh dreams to the Indians and pick up the fruits of their endeavors will be keenly watched not only by the multitude of Indians back at home, but also by the Pakistanis, Chinese and the Russians.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.



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Friday, 16 October 2009

From North Carolina, a model of how to transform education


 

Johann Hari:

It's proven that schools will succeed if they are genuinely comprehensive

The chief executive of Tesco, Britain's largest private employer, has issued a warning: are kids dont no nuffink. Terry Leahy said this week that our educational standards are "woefully low", and that young recruits to Tesco often have to be taught basic literacy, numeracy and communication skills before they can be unleashed on the aisles or stockrooms.
 
He's not alone. This warning rumbles across the country. A friend of mine is an academic at a middle-ranking university, and she recently showed me some of her students' essays. "It's quite normal for them not to know how to use paragraphs, or commas, or to be able to spell," she said, shaking her head. Some are barely literate, despite a clutch of A-levels. She found the same at two other universities.
 
It's not enough to glibly announce that there's no problem, as the Government did this week. Yes, a Chicken Little cry that educational standards are plummeting echoes across every age: one of the oldest tablets ever discovered in an archaeological dig warns that the kids of today aren't what they use to be. Yes, there are still a lot of good schools. Yet there are more children getting into Oxbridge every year from the pool of 300 kids at Eton than from the 300,000 kids on free school meals. Either you believe those Etonians are born smarter - an absurd proposition - or our school system is failing poor children on a vast scale. How many great minds are we allowing to atrophy just because they weren't born to wealth?
 
It doesn't have to be like this. A far better system is possible; we just need to follow the evidence. And the road-map runs through - of all places - North Carolina. Something extraordinary has been happening in the state's schools over the past few decades, and the best guide to this experiment is an important new book by Professor Gerald Grant called Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh.
 
He looks at two very similar cities - Syracuse in New York State, and Raleigh in North Carolina. They are both 1950s boomtowns turned to 1980s ghost towns. It's the same-old, sad-old story: industry shrivelled and the white middle classes stampeded to the suburbs, leaving behind shell-cities scarred by poverty. Yet there is today an extraordinary gap between these cities. In Syracuse, only 25 per cent of 12-year-olds can read, write or do arithmetic to the appropriate basic level - while in Raleigh, it is 91 per cent. Almost all of the schools in Syracuse fail; none of the schools in Raleigh do. What are they doing differently?
 
Raleigh's governors decided to do something bold and unconventional: they looked to the scientific evidence. In 1966, Professor James Coleman was commissioned by the White House to conduct the largest study, to that time, of what makes good pupils succeed and bad pupils fail. After years of on-the-ground analysis, he came up with something nobody expected. He found that the single biggest factor determining whether you do well at school or not isn't your parents, your teachers, your school buildings or your genes. It was, overwhelmingly, the other kids sitting in the classroom with you. If a critical mass of them are demotivated, pissed off and disobedient, you won't learn much. But if a critical mass of them are hard-working, keen and stick to the rules, you will probably learn. Watch any 10-year-old: they are little machines for snuffling out the sensitivities of their peer group, and conforming to them.
 
Facing their schools' failure in the 1980s, the Raleigh school board returned to this evidence and tried to puzzle out: how should it change the way we run our schools? Touring the schools, they could see why the research was right. Children from poor families need more help than kids from rich families. They are more likely to have chaotic home lives, less likely to have the importance of education drilled into them from birth, and they have lower expectations for themselves.
 
In small numbers, in an ordered environment, these poor children can quickly be brought up to the level of the rest, and indeed exceed them in many cases. But when they form the majority of a school's pupils, the teachers can't cope, discipline breaks down, and learning stops. A school for poor children soon becomes a poor school.
 
So they formulated a bold - and strikingly simple - solution. They wouldn't allow any school, by law, to have more than 40 per cent of its children on free school meals, or more than 25 per cent of children who were a grade below their expected level in reading or maths. Suddenly, the children who needed the most help wouldn't be lumped together where their problems would become insurmountable; they would be broken up and fanned out across the educational system. Raleigh merged its school system with white suburban Wake County, so they became one entity, sharing pupils. In order to soothe suburban suspicion at this change, Raleigh turned a third of its inner-city schools into specialist academies, offering excellent music or drama or language specialisms. Soon, children were bussing in both directions every morning, in and out of the suburbs.
 
Many conservatives savaged the plan as "social engineering" and said it was doomed to fail. Some parents were angry, and a few decamped for the private school system - until the results came in. Within a decade, Raleigh went from one of the worst-performing districts in America to one of the best. The test scores of poor kids doubled, while those of wealthier children also saw a slight increase. Teenage pregnancies, crime and high school drop-out rates fell substantially.
 
It's not hard to see why. Each school had a core majority who respected the rules and valued education - and the other kids normalised to their standards. Those who found it tough could now be given special attention, because they weren't any longer surrounded by a mass of equally troubled kids. Today, 94 per cent of parents in Raleigh say they are happy with their child's education. School boards supporting this integration keep getting re-elected.
 
Raleigh succeeded because it built genuinely comprehensive schools: in which rich, middle-class and poor kids learned together. In Britain, we tell ourselves we have built "comprehensives" - but, except in a few enclaves, we have done nothing of the sort.
We allocate school places according to how close you live to a school. This immediately creates a social apartheid where middle-class children have successful schools in leafy suburbs, while poorer children are ring-fenced in sink schools and end up at Tesco at 16 with few useable skills. (Rich children are creamed off entirely into private schools.) Comprehensivisation didn't fail; it didn't happen.
 
There are only a few areas in Britain with genuinely mixed schools, like Grampian - and they get the best overall results. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Kent, where children from the middle and the rich are creamed off into grammar schools in which just one per cent of kids are on free school meals. They have the worst overall results in the country.
So we know how to make schools work: integrate them. Occasionally, our politicians take a tiny step that brings us closer to this.
 
The Labour council in Brighton allocates school places by lottery; the Tories say they will abandon catchment areas, letting a few poor kids slip through. But both only tinker at the extreme social segregation that crowbars apart the educational system.
Integration is a good policy for bleak recession times since it delivers dramatic improvements at little extra cost. Raleigh actually spends less than the US national average on its schools, and 25 per cent less per pupil than failing Syracuse. In the long term, integration actually saves us a fortune in welfare payments and prevented crime.
 
Yes, the right will scream at first that it is "an attack on the middle class". In fact, it is a great compliment to the middle class: it wants to use their children and their values as the sun around which every child's education revolves. Yes, some parents will scream that they don't want their kids being taught alongside "chavs" and "pikeys". This should be called out bluntly - it is bigotry.
A democracy is based on a bargain: every child gets a chance to succeed, whatever their background. Today, we are breaking our deal. We are leaving millions of children to fail, just because their parents didn't have money. Do we want to be a country where our children are sorted at five into different playgrounds according to Daddy's bank account? Do we want to be an place where rich children only glimpse poor children from the car window as they are driven to their better, plusher school, and their better, plusher lives? Or do we want something better for our kids?
 
Our politicians insist that "we're all in this together". This will only be true if - at last, and at least - our children go to school together.



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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

We're all in this together (except when times are good)


 

The idea of shared responsibility only seems to apply during a recession

Mark Steel - The Independent
 
From now on, anyone who wants to make you worse off has a new catchphrase. If a mugger demands your wallet and you refuse to give it to him, he'll say "Haven't you heard? We're all in this together." And as he takes it he'll say: "See, we've all got to make a sacrifice."
 
It's a shame how it works, because this shared responsibility only seems to apply during a recession. While the banks were making billions, very few politicians were screaming "For God's sake you idiots, share all those bonuses out. Can't you see we're all in this together," which goes to show how complicated economics can be.
 
Luckily for the richest layer of society, we weren't in it together back then, so from 1997 to 2007 the wealthiest 1 per cent of the country could double its share of the wealth, while the poorest 10 per cent had their share cut in half. Then came the banking crash, after which that top layer took a humble and radical decision to carry on exactly the same.
 
So in the last year, the average pay of directors of FTSE companies has risen by 10 per cent, to reach £791,000. The first question to these people must be what couldn't they get with only £721,000 that they need the extra for?
 
If a director was told his salary was staying the same, would he shout: "WHAT? How am I going to pay for the kids' space programme? I've already had a red reminder bill from Nasa, I'll have to do some mini-cabbing in the evening or I'll be having the bailiffs round."
 
Others have softened the blow of recession in other ways. For example the chief of P&O was awarded, along with his pay rise, £80,000 worth of tickets for top sporting events. Imagine if a union leader called a press conference and said: "While the management have conceded tickets for semi-final day at Wimbledon, there has sadly been no progress on the issue of the Third Test at Trent Bridge, and so the strike is due to begin at midnight tonight."
 
Or there's Martin Sorrell, Group chief of WPP advertising, who in the last year laid off 7,200 staff and collected a £20m salary. But because we're all in it together maybe he gave them a little jingle as he laid them off, singing "You won't be let back in with a Sorrell sacking, now you're on - the dole."
 
No one even attempts to justify these raises any more, although they ought to be told to try, so we could see them muttering: "Well, it's imperative I earn more than last year, to compensate for all the suffering of knowing we're all in it together. Yes, that's it." Instead, George Osborne and Peter Mandelson tell us these amounts would make little difference to the overall debt of the country. So they make do with an occasional call on the banking industry to "show restraint". In which case both parties will presumably change their stance towards the slightly smaller amounts claimed illegally by people on benefits, and commission adverts that go "Benefit cheats - we're closing in. And when we do, you'll be asked to show restraint and responsibility in the amount that you fiddle in the future. Thank you."
 
The cry that we're suddenly together has happened countless times, in every recession. There was probably a Roman emperor who announced "Citizens of Rome. Unfortunately it appears I have used up all the gold of the empire in having a temple built for me and my wives. It's not my fault because no one was regulating me, as I had the last regulator crucified. So the most important thing is for all slaves to work themselves to a wretched death as quickly as possible, as we're all very much in this together. Cheers."
And maybe worst of all, if Labour do try to oppose the absurdity of a pair of multi-millionaires insisting we're all in it together, they'll look even more ridiculous than the Tories themselves. Because when Brown complains about scurrilous bankers he has to explain why he's spent the last 14 years addressing bankers' galas with speeches that go "My lords, ladies and gentlemen. What do you want - less tax? De-regulation? Women? You just say it, I'll sort it."
 
And Mandelson will struggle to present himself as an opponent of the wealthy, despite claiming "Labour is in my blood". Maybe he'll say next "You know, whenever I'm on a trillionaire's yacht I always drink Brown Ale, because I am at heart a working man."
So the only coherent line they could put would be to say "The Tories are vicious. Whereas we are vicious but incompetent. So you can rest assured that when we try to cut your income in half, you have every chance of getting away with it because we'll leave all the paperwork on the bus. Vote Labour."


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