Monday, March 27, 2017

Gandhi’s Last Message: ‘Raze the Sacred Sites of Others and You Too Will Be Obliterated’ - by Sudhir Chandra

For a man who made such a powerful intervention in the history of the 20th century, many of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas were misunderstood during his lifetime. Sudhir Chandra’s Gandhi: An Impossible Possibility, translated from Hindi by Chitra Padmanabhan draws our attention to Gandhi’s last years, particularly the marked change in his understanding of the acceptance of non-violence by Indians. It points to a startling discovery Gandhi made in the years preceding India’s Independence and Partition: the struggle for freedom which he had all along believed to be non-violent was in fact not so. Calling for a serious rethink on the very nature and foundation of modern India, this book throws new light on Gandhian philosophy and its far-reaching implications for the world today. Excerpted below is a section from the book in which Gandhi’s voice reaches out to our times with renewed urgency. 

Gandhi…had wanted to avoid the country’s partition. Failing in that he engaged himself in preventing the division of hearts, emphasising that even as the country had been divided, the hearts must not be divided. Also knowing that if the hearts had not been divided, the country could never have been divided and contending with this paradox, because he understood that neither India nor Pakistan stood to gain in the absence of mutual friendship. Should one become hell, the other can never be heaven.

Seventy years have since gone by. In the meantime, the division of hearts has perhaps deepened in both countries – across the border and within the border as well. People’s hearts have experienced new divisions. Gandhi’s warning has assumed greater relevance today compared to earlier periods.
But only if we are able to see, which is not easy. And when people cannot see, saying or doing something to reach out to them becomes that much more difficult. Why was Gandhi running in his old age from pillar to post? To be immortalised in history? To save the Hindus and the Sikhs from the Muslims? To save the Muslims from the Sikhs and the Hindus? Or to save humans from humans, by saving their humanity for them?…

Gandhi’s helplessness was such that he was reduced to admonishing everybody by turn because everybody was succumbing to the prevailing frenzy. He knew, and was repeatedly saying so, that between the Hindus and Muslims [both of whom had become animals] for one to refrain from becoming an animal is the only straight way to get out of this violence. But no one was ready to heed him, to refrain from becoming an animal. When he admonished the Hindus and the Sikhs, he was told to see what the Muslims in Pakistan were doing, and also that the Muslims staying on in India were traitors. Gandhi would listen attentively and respond publicly. But such had become people’s mentality in the midst of that collective hysteria that Gandhi’s slightest concern for the Muslims seemed like outright favouritism to the Hindus and Sikhs, and when he criticised the Muslims or gave them advice, he was disregarded….

…Along with humanity,Gandhi laid stress on civic responsibility in a democracy:

Had man not become so ruthless as to commit atrocities against his brother, these thousands of men, women and innocent children [in refugee camps] would not have been so helpless, and in many cases hungry. . . . Was all of this inescapable? A strong voice came from within me: ‘No’. Is this the first fruit of a month of independence?. . . Have the citizens of Delhi become mad? Do they not have even a shred of humanity left in them? Does the love for their country and its independence not appeal to them at all? I may be forgiven for putting the blame primarily on the Hindus and the Sikhs. Can they not be worthy as humans to halt this tide of hatred? I would strongly urge Delhi’s Muslims to let go of their fear, put their trust in God and surrender all their firearms to the government. Because the Hindus and the Sikhs are afraid that the Muslims possess firearms, it does not mean that they do not have weapons of their own. It is only a question of degree. Some may have less, some more. To obtain justice, the minorities will either have to depend on God or on the human created by Him, or they will have to depend on their guns, pistols and other weapons to protect themselves against those whom they do not trust.

My advice is firm and unchanging. Its truth is self-evident.

Have confidence in your government that it will protect every citizen from those who commit injustice, no matter how many more and superior weapons they may have. . . . By their actions the people of Delhi will only make the task of seeking justice from the Pakistan government difficult. Those who want justice will have to do justice. They should be guiltless and true. Let the Hindus and Sikhs take the rightful step and ask the Muslims who have been chased out of their homes to return.
If the Hindus and Sikhs have the courage in every way to take this rightful step, the refugee problem will become very easy to handle. Then not only Pakistan but the whole world will acknowledge their claims. They will save Delhi and India from disgrace and destruction.

‘Those who want justice will have to do justice.’ This was not mere idealism. Gandhi was providing a formula for a viable morality.

In any civilised society, said Gandhi, if avenging ill-will is considered proper, it can be done so only through the agency of the government, certainly not through individual interventions….
Gandhi believed that if the safety of the Muslims was assured in India, he would be able to go to Pakistan and do a great deal for the minorities there. [H]e said:

What shall we do about the Muslims who have left? I have stated that we will not bring them back right now. We will certainly not bring them back by means of the police and military. We will bring them back only when the Hindus and Sikhs tell them, you are our friends, please return to your homes, you don’t require the military or police, we are your military, we are your police, all of us will live as brothers. If we are able to accomplish this in Delhi I assure you that our way will become absolutely clear in Pakistan. And with that will commence a new life. When I go to Pakistan I will not let them off easily. I will die for the Hindus and Sikhs there. I would be happy to die there. I would be happy to die here, too. If what I say cannot be achieved here, then I must die.

That a new life should commence was Gandhi’s desire. He was desiring this amid the barbarity of 1947. It was either this or else a vow of self-annihilation... read more:

See also
Dennis Dalton - Gandhi During Partition: A case study in the nature of satyagraha

Paul Sagar - The last hollow laugh - Francis Fukuyama and 'The End of History’

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (1992)Rarely read but often denigrated, it might be the most maligned, unfairly dismissed and misunderstood book of the post-war era. Which is unfortunate for at least one reason: Fukuyama might have done a better job of predicting the political turmoil that engulfed Western democracies in 2016 – from Brexit, to Trump, to the Italian Referendum – than anybody else.

This should sound surprising. After all, Fukuyama’s name has for more than two decades been synonymous with a fin-de-siècle Western triumphalism. According to the conventional wisdom, he is supposed to have claimed that the collapse of the communist regimes in eastern Europe and the United States’ victory in the Cold War meant that liberal capitalist democracy was unambiguously the best form of human political organisation possible. To his popular critics – sometimes on the Right, but most especially on the Left – The End of History was thus a pseudo-intellectual justification for a hyper-liberal capitalist ideology, whose high-water mark was the disastrous administration of George W Bush. Fukuyama’s tagline – ‘the end of history’ – was seized upon by critics as proof that he was attempting to legitimate neoconservative hubris, cloaking a pernicious ideology with the façade of inevitability.

The surprising origins of ‘post-truth’ – and how it was spawned by the liberal left

But (the conventional wisdom continues) hubris was soon followed by nemesis: the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent disaster of the Iraq War showed how wrong any triumphalist vision of liberal-capitalist world order was. Fukuyama took particularly heavy flak in this regard. Francis Wheen, in How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World (2004), was typical when he accused Fukuyama of being a shill for neo-con interests. In reply to the question ‘How do you get ahead by boldly making one of the worst predictions in social science?’ Wheen sniped: ‘If you are going to be wrong, be wrong as ostentatiously and extravagantly as possible.’ He claimed that Fukuyama ‘understood what was required to titillate the jaded palate of the chattering classes’ – and played on this for personal gain.

Yet all of this is incorrect.

Larry Elliott - Populism is the result of global economic failure

The rise of populism has rattled the global political establishment. Brexit came as a shock, as did the victory of Donald Trump. Much head-scratching has resulted as leaders seek to work out why large chunks of their electorates are so cross.

The answer seems pretty simple. Populism is the result of economic failure. The 10 years since the financial crisis have shown that the system of economic governance which has held sway for the past four decades is broken. Some call this approach neoliberalism. Perhaps a better description would be unpopulism. Unpopulism meant tilting the balance of power in the workplace in favour of management and treating people like wage slaves. Unpopulism was rigged to ensure that the fruits of growth went to the few not to the many. Unpopulism decreed that those responsible for the global financial crisis got away with it while those who were innocent bore the brunt of austerity.

Anybody seeking to understand why Trump won the US presidential election should take a look at what has been happening to the division of the economic spoils. The share of national income that went to the bottom 90% of the population held steady at around 66% from 1950 to 1980. It then began a steep decline, falling to just over 50% when the financial crisis broke in 2007.

Similarly, it is no longer the case that everybody benefits when the US economy is doing well. During the business cycle upswing between 1961 and 1969, the bottom 90% of Americans took 67% of the income gains. During the Reagan expansion two decades later they took 20%. During the Greenspan housing bubble of 2001 to 2007, they got just two cents in every extra dollar of national income generated while the richest 10% took the rest.

The US economist Thomas Palley says that up until the late 1970s countries operated a virtuous circle growth model in which wages were the engine of demand growth. “Productivity growth drove wage growth which fueled demand growth. That promoted full employment, which provided the incentive to invest, which drove further productivity growth,” he says.

Unpopulism was touted as the antidote to the supposedly failed policies of the postwar era. It promised higher growth rates, higher investment rates, higher productivity rates and a trickle down of income from rich to poor. It has delivered none of these things.

James Montier and Philip Pilkington, of the global investment firm GMO, say that the system which arose in the 1970s was characterised by four significant economic policies: the abandonment of full employment and its replacement with inflation targeting; an increase in the globalisation of the flows of people, capital and trade; a focus on shareholder maximisation rather than reinvestment and growth; and the pursuit of flexible labour markets and the disruption of trade unions and workers’ organisations.

To take just the last of these four pillars, the idea was that trade unions and minimum wages were impediments to an efficient labour market. Collective bargaining and statutory pay floors would result in workers being paid more than the market rate, with the result that unemployment would inevitably rise… read more:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Exiled Former Russian Lawmaker Shot Dead In Kiev / Lawyer For Russian Whistleblower’s Family Falls From Building One Day Before Hearing

Ukraine accused Russia of “state terrorism” after a former Russian lawmaker and key witness in a treason case against former leader Viktor Yanukovich was shot dead in broad daylight outside a hotel in central Kiev on Thursday. Russia called the allegation “absurd.”

Former MP Denis Voronenkov was killed by an assailant who was armed with a pistol. The assailant was wounded by Voronenkov’s bodyguard and later died in hospital, police said. Voronenkov fled to Ukraine last year and was helping the Ukrainian authorities build a treason case against Yanukovich, Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin former president. Voronenkov had also spoken out against Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, although he voted for the move at the time.

President Petro Poroshenko said the killing “is an act of state terrorism on the part of Russia, which (Voronenkov) was forced to leave for political reasons.” “Voronenkov was one of the main witnesses of Russian aggression against Ukraine and, in particular, the role of Yanukovich regarding the deployment of Russian troops to Ukraine.”

Relations between Kiev and Moscow are at an all-time low after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March 2014 and the subsequent outbreak of separatist fighting in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region that has killed more than 10,000 people. Poroshenko said it was “no accident” that Voronenkov was shot on the same day as a warehouse storing tank ammunition was blown up at a Ukrainian military base. Moscow denied any involvement Voronenkov’s murder … read more:

see also

Andrew Calcutt: The surprising origins of ‘post-truth’ – and how it was spawned by the liberal left

the groundbreaking work on “post-truth” was performed by academics, with further contributions from an extensive roster of middle-class professionals. Left-leaning, self-confessed liberals, they sought freedom from state-sponsored truth; instead they built a new form of cognitive confinement – “post-truth”... More than 30 years ago, academics started to discredit “truth” as one of the “grand narratives” which clever people could no longer bring themselves to believe in. Instead of “the truth”, which was to be rejected as naïve and/or repressive, a new intellectual orthodoxy permitted only “truths” – always plural, frequently personalised, inevitably relativised.

Under the terms of this outlook, all claims on truth are relative to the particular person making them; there is no position outside our own particulars from which to establish universal truth. This was one of the key tenets of postmodernism, a concept which first caught on in the 1980s after publication of Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report On Knowledge in 1979. In this respect, for as long as we have been postmodern, we have been setting the scene for a “post-truth” era.

“Post-truth” has been announced as the Oxford Dictionaries’ international word of the year. It is widely associated with US president-elect Donald Trump’s extravagantly untruthful assertions and the working-class people who voted for him nonetheless. But responsibility for the “post-truth” era lies with the middle-class professionals who prepared the runway for its recent take-off. Those responsible include academics, journalists, “creatives” and financial traders; even the centre-left politicians who have now been hit hard by the rise of the anti-factual.

On November 16, 2016 Oxford Dictionaries announced that “post-truth” had been selected as the word which, more than any other, reflects “the passing year in language”. It defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

The word itself can be traced back as far as 1992, but documented usage increased by 2,000% in 2016 compared to 2015. As Oxford Dictionaries’ Casper Grathwohl explained:

We first saw the frequency really spike this year in June with buzz over the Brexit vote and again in July when Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination. Given that usage of the term hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time.

Punditry on the “post-truth era” is often accompanied by a picture either of Donald Trump (for example, BBC News Online or The Guardian) or of his supporters (The Spectator). Although The Spectator article was a rare exception, the connotations embedded in “post-truth” commentary are normally as follows: “post-truth” is the product of populism; it is the bastard child of common-touch charlatans and a rabble ripe for arousal; it is often in blatant disregard of the actualité.

The truth about post-truth
But this interpretation blatantly disregards the actual origins of “post-truth”. These lie neither with those deemed under-educated nor with their new-found champions. Instead, the groundbreaking work on “post-truth” was performed by academics, with further contributions from an extensive roster of middle-class professionals. Left-leaning, self-confessed liberals, they sought freedom from state-sponsored truth; instead they built a new form of cognitive confinement – “post-truth”.

More than 30 years ago, academics started to discredit “truth” as one of the “grand narratives” which clever people could no longer bring themselves to believe in. Instead of “the truth”, which was to be rejected as naïve and/or repressive, a new intellectual orthodoxy permitted only “truths” – always plural, frequently personalised, inevitably relativised.

Under the terms of this outlook, all claims on truth are relative to the particular person making them; there is no position outside our own particulars from which to establish universal truth. This was one of the key tenets of postmodernism, a concept which first caught on in the 1980s after publication of Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report On Knowledge in 1979. In this respect, for as long as we have been postmodern, we have been setting the scene for a “post-truth” era... read more:

see also

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Stephen C Angle - In defence of hierarchy

The modern West has placed a high premium on the value of equality. Equal rights are enshrined in law while old hierarchies of nobility and social class have been challenged, if not completely dismantled. Few would doubt that global society is all the better for these changes. But hierarchies have not disappeared. Society is still stratified according to wealth and status in myriad ways.
On the other hand, the idea of a purely egalitarian world in which there are no hierarchies at all would appear to be both unrealistic and unattractive. Nobody, on reflection, would want to eliminate all hierarchies, for we all benefit from the recognition that some people are more qualified than others to perform certain roles in society. We prefer to be treated by senior surgeons not medical students, get financial advice from professionals not interns. Good and permissible hierarchies are everywhere around us.

Yet hierarchy is an unfashionable thing to defend or to praise. British government ministers denounce experts as out of tune with popular feeling; both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders built platforms on attacking Washington elites; economists are blamed for not predicting the 2008 crash; and even the best established practice of medical experts, such as childhood vaccinations, are treated with resistance and disbelief. We live in a time when no distinction is drawn between justified and useful hierarchies on the one hand, and self-interested, exploitative elites on the other. 

As a group, we believe that clearer thinking about hierarchy and equality is important in business, politics and public life. We should lift the taboo on discussing what makes for a good hierarchy. To the extent that hierarchies are inevitable, it is important to create good ones and avoid those that are pernicious. It is also important to identify the ways in which useful and good hierarchies support and foster good forms of equality. When we talk about hierarchies here, we mean those distinctions and rankings that bring with them clear power differentials.  

We are a diverse group of scholars and thinkers who take substantively different views on many political and ethical issues. Recently, we engaged in an intensive discussion of these issues under the aegis of the Berggruen Philosophy and Culture Center in Los Angeles, and we found ourselves agreeing on this: much can be said in defence of some kinds of hierarchy. The ideas we present here are at the very least worthy of more widespread and serious attention. All of this takes on a new urgency given the turn in world politics towards a populism that often attacks establishment hierarchies while paradoxically giving authoritarian power to individuals claiming to speak for ‘the people’.

What then, should be said in praise of hierarchy? First, bureaucratic hierarchies can serve democracy. Bureaucracy is even less popular these days than hierarchy. Yet bureaucratic hierarchies can instantiate crucial democratic values, such as the rule of law and equal treatment. 

There are at least three ways in which usually hierarchical constitutional institutions can enhance democracy: by protecting minority rights, and thereby ensuring that the basic interests of minorities are not lightly discounted by self-interested or prejudiced majorities; by curbing the power of majority or minority factions to pass legislation favouring themselves at the expense of the public good; and by increasing the epistemic resources that are brought to bear on decision-making, making law and policy more reflective of high-quality deliberation. Hence democracies can embrace hierarchy because hierarchy can enhance democracy itself. 

Yet in recent decades, these civic hierarchies have been dismantled and often replaced with decentralised, competitive markets, all in the name of efficiency. This makes sense only if efficiency and effectiveness (usually assumed to be measured in economic terms) are considered the overriding priorities. But if we make that assumption, we find ourselves giving less weight to values such as the rule of law, democratic legitimacy or social equality. Hence, we might sometimes prefer the democratically accountable hierarchies that preserve those values even over optimal efficiency.

Read more:

Ajmer blast case: Two including a former RSS worker get life imprisonment

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) special court in Jaipur today sentenced Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel to life in jail in the Ajmer blast case. The two were convicted along with Sunil Joshi on March 6. Joshi died under mysterious circumstances soon after the bombing, in which three people were killed and 17 others were injured. The October 11, 2007 blast took place during the month of Ramazan and targeted the Khwaja Chishti shrine.

Both Devendra Patel and Sunil Joshi are former RSS pracharaks.

BHARAT BHUSHAN - Narendra Modi's Republic of fear ...

  1. On March 6, the court found three of the accused guilty in the 2007 blast case. Those convicted include Devendra Gupta, Bhavesh Patel and Sunil Joshi. Both Devendra Gupta and Sunil Joshi are former Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharaks.
  2. The NIA court found the three men guilty of conspiracy, planting bombs and inciting religious sentiments. While Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel have been in judicial custody, Sunil Joshi had died mysteriously in 2007, soon after the Ajmer bombing.
  3. The remaining accused, including Aseemanand, Chandrashekhar Leve, Mukesh Vasani, Bharat Mohan Rateshwar, Lokesh Sharma, Mehul Kumar and Harshad Solanki were acquitted in the case. Three accused - Suresh Nair, Sandeep Dange and Ramchandra - were declared absconders.
  4. The National Investigation Agency had accused Aseemanand of masterminding the blast. The Jaipur court, however, acquitted Asseemand and others for the lack of evidence. The court also did not find any involvement of senior RSS functionary Indresh Kumar in the blast.
  5. The case had witnessed a major twist when Bhavesh Patel, one of the three men convicted, accused several Congress leaders, including Digvijaya Singh and former Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde of pressurising him to name senior RSS leaders, including current RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat and senior RSS functionary Indresh Kumar as being complicit in the blast case. He demanded a judicial enquiry into his accusations and into the alleged role of Congress leaders and NIA officers.

see also
RSS leader announces Rs 1 crore reward for beheading Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
List of serious criminal charges against new UP CM Yogi Adityanath
Julio Ribeiro - Burying Karkare: I cannot let these forces go unchallenged
The Supreme Court, Gandhi and the RSS
The BJP and Justice, Chapter 2

Very short list of examples of rule of law in India
A letter to Jaitley: Why do students get jailed but RSS leaders who issue vile threats walk freely?

Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti Press Release NADIMARG MASSACRE of March 23 2003

On the ill-fated day of March 23, 2003, 24 Kashmiri Pandits were cold-bloodily murdered by the militants in Nadimarg, District Shopian  (then District Pulwama), and from the last fourteen years not a single person has been punished for the same. The role of Investigating Officer(s)/Agency (ies) is in question as they always give us cold shoulder whenever they are asked about their failure to identify and book the culprits who are responsible for this heinous crime.

When KPSS did ground zero investigation about this crime, we found that it was a well planned attempt by some armed insurgents and local youths from the adjoining villages to take revenge for the Gujarat Riots which took place after the Godhra Train Buring in the year 2002 and to celebrate Pakistan Resolution Day by killing Kashmiri Pandits.

Under a well planned and in organized way, the gunmen with youths from the adjoining village(s) visited Nadimarg on March 21 and 22, 2003 to see the location of the KP families who they planned kill so that they can execute their murderous plan. And finally on March 23, 2003 at 10:30 PM, the militants with the active support from the youths of the adjoining villages came in Indian Army Uniform and cordoned the KP houses, brought them out,  made them sit on their knees in a line and finally shot at their faces mercilessly killing 24 Kashmiri Pandits in the name of revenge that happened in Gujarat in the year 2002 and to celebrate the Pakistan Resolution Day by killing Kashmiri Pandits.

The Investigation Officer/Agency, did not investigate the matter with any intention to book the culprits, for reasons best known to him / them, which puts the credibility of the Investigation Officer / Agency in question.

KPSS reiterates its demand for a “Truth and Justice Commission” authorized to look into all these incidents which took place in the State of Jammu and Kashmir over the last 27 years and to book the culprits so that the justice is done to the people who were killed by the State / Non-State Actors.

Sanjay K. Tickoo
President, KPSS


More statements/press releases by Sanjay Tickoo
See also

Mukul Kesavan - The mourning after: Ways to tackle an electoral defeat

There is a ritualized quality to mourning in some social groups. In many parts of north India a death is followed by formal lamentation or 'siyapa'. Punjabi women will beat their breasts (pitto) and wail to help the bereaved widow weep, but also to dramatize the awful finality of the moment. In other communities the tragedy of a death might be differently conveyed. It could be marked sartorially by wearing black and mourners might contain their grief as a mark of respect to the dead person and the greater grief of that person's family.

In recent times, progressives have treated electoral setbacks as deaths in the family and they have chosen to pitto. This is true of public discourse - op-eds in newspapers, their equivalent on television - but it is especially marked in the semi-private online spaces that define modern life, social media communities like Facebook. The particular consolation of Facebook is that everyone gets to be chief mourner. The moment a person posts "I can't believe this is happening", "what sort of country do we live in", "I can't read the papers I'm so depressed", a group of ancillary mourners gathers and this faux community of people has a comfortable funeral. This is harmless and possibly therapeutic; but it isn't a form of 'engagement'.

Lamentation on social media is not a form of political engagement; it is a form of virtue signalling. It is a way of indicating that you are genuinely stricken. It is a preliminary to grading the politics of your 'friends' by the force of their lamentation. It is the opposite of political engagement. If that debased term means anything it must mean working with people on your side, persuading the undecided and pushing back against the arguments of the other side. Social media narcissism does none of this; it does, however, briefly make you the hero of every piece of political theatre in this obsessively political country.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's massive win in Uttar Pradesh provoked two sorts of responses amongst middle-class people who dislike the party. One was existential despair. Another was cold-eyed realism about the prospects of mounting a challenge to Narendra Modi's BJP in the foreseeable future, accompanied by an 'I told you so' claim to prescience.

The first sort of response is both self-indulgent and self-harming. Regardless of how bad a poll result is for progressive politics, it is dangerous in a democracy to treat the aftermath of an election like a death in the family. The other side doesn't think anyone died and since progressive prospects in the next election depend on persuading some of these people, liberals can't behave as if their side is doomed because the electorate might take them at their word. Public hand-wringing and breast-beating might be cathartic for the bereaved after a real death; it is merely demoralizing after a political defeat. There is a reason why parties formally concede defeat in stable democracies and put their game face on.

The second response is useful to the extent that it helps liberals size up the magnitude of the task. The political reportage during the election, particularly the bizarre phase when every political correspondent in the province seemed persuaded that a resurgent Akhilesh Yadav had cast off the millstone of incumbency and was set to sweep the polls under the sign of good governance, was marred by magical thinking. It is good to be reminded by those who resisted wishful thinking that the prime minister and his political machine together make up a formidable political juggernaut. What is less helpful is the suggestion that everyone should - take a moment to marvel at the BJP's new mandate. To acknowledge defeat is essential; to go the extra yard and admire Modi's victory does the progressive cause no favours. The lessons of defeat might be more useful than hand-wringing or resignation.

One lesson of the UP election is that Indian politics is provincial and successful parties tailor their message to the neighbourhood. This is not to wilfully ignore the force of Narendra Modi's political persona, but to note that in less helpful circumstances - Delhi, Bihar, Punjab - it didn't sweep everything before it. The sociology of UP as well as its political history made a grand alliance of the Bihar sort impossible. The Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance was a parody of the Mahagathbandhan and went the way of all bad jokes.

The strategy of creating a political coalition that unites Muslims and OBCs and denies majorities to coalitions dominated by savarna parties has seen some success and much failure. The problem with this strategy is that the residual category of savarna Hindus that it creates by default is not just economically but also numerically powerful and able to co-opt subaltern groups: tribals, Kurmis, non-Yadav OBCs. Even before Modi's inspired use of his OBC origins, the parivar successfully fielded Vinay Katiyar, Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti to consolidate its savarna-plus strategy.
The other lesson of this election is that secular coalitions should be inclusive, not excluding. They are not going to be built by rhetorically nominating savarna Hindus as the enemy. The Bahujan Samaj Party was most successful when it managed to co-opt Brahmins along with winning some support amongst Muslims and others, in what was a reprise of an old Congress strategy, but with the caste roles reversed.

But building a political combination has to combine social arithmetic with emancipatory ideas that resonate beyond this community or that. The BJP's big idea was progress and empowerment for a consolidated Hindu community that transcended caste and excluded Muslims. Mayavati's beleaguered response was a rainbow coalition with two primary colours, Muslims and Dalits. Given the vastness of UP and its myriad social fractures, she couldn't have won those communities entire and she didn't. The idea that a Samajwadi Party burdened by incumbency and split by dynastic politics would be rescued by Akhilesh Yadav's adult baptism in good governance was always unlikely. The notion that an alliance with the Congress would help the Samajwadi Party hoover up the Muslim vote was, given the state of the Congress in north India, wishful.

These fantastical political scenarios seemed plausible to their sponsors because they assumed that demonetization must have alienated some part of the BJP's base. It didn't, and they weren't. As Edward Thompson showed half a century ago, economic hardship creates resentment only when it's seen to be discriminatory; if its causes are deemed virtuous, people are willing to take it in their stride. But knowingness is easy with hindsight.

To declare desolation or to tough-mindedly announce that the BJP owns the foreseeable future are, despite their surface differences, very similar responses. They are the responses of spectators watching a game played by others. If there is one lesson that the supporters of the BJP have to teach the other side, it is this: till Anglophone progressives stop playing at being flâneurs, they are likely to remain at the receiving end of history.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

President Blowback: How the Invasion of Iraq Came Home By Tom Engelhardt

If you want to know where President Donald Trump came from, if you want to trace the long winding road (or escalator) that brought him to the Oval Office, don’t look to reality TV or Twitter or even the rise of the alt-right. Look someplace far more improbable: Iraq.

Donald Trump may have been born in New York City.  He may have grown to manhood amid his hometown’s real estate wars.  He may have gone no further than Atlantic City, New Jersey, to casino-ize the world and create those magical golden letters that would become the essence of his brand.  He may have made an even more magical leap to television without leaving home, turning “You’re fired!” into a household phrase.  Still, his presidency is another matter entirely.  It’s an immigrant.  It arrived, fully radicalized, with its bouffant over-comb and eternal tan, from Iraq.

Despite his denials that he was ever in favor of the 2003 invasion of that country, Donald Trump is a president made by war.  His elevation to the highest office in the land is inconceivable without that invasion, which began in glory and ended (if ended it ever did) in infamy.  He’s the president of a land remade by war in ways its people have yet to absorb.  Admittedly, he avoided war in his personal life entirely.  He was, after all, a Vietnam no-show.  And yet he’s the president that war brought home.  Think of him not as President Blowhard but as President Blowback… read more:

Child workers producing 'Bengali black' leather exposed to cocktail of toxic chemicals

Children as young as eight, working in the tanneries of Bangladesh producing leather that is in demand across Europe and the USA, are exposed to toxic chemical cocktails that are likely to shorten their lives, according to a new report. 

Approximately 90% of those who live and work in the overcrowded urban slums of Hazaribagh and Kamrangirchar, where hazardous chemicals are discharged into the air, streets and river, die before they reach 50, according to the World Health Organisation. Their plight spurred the volunteer doctors of Médicines Sans Frontières (MSF) to set up clinics in the area to diagnose and treat those who are the victims of their workplace. It is, says a paper published in BMJ Case Reports, “the first time they have intervened in an area for reasons other than natural disasters or war”.

MSF’s intervention was triggered by “the widespread industrial negligence and apathy of owners of tanneries and other hazardous material factories” towards the more than 600,000 largely migrant population who have no access to government-funded healthcare. MSF set up and ran four main clinics for 5,000 workers in 2015, located in the centre of communities involved in four different manufacturing processes at factories for tanning, plastics recycling, garment-making and metals.

The hazards of the 250 or so tanneries in Hazaribagh – which are 30 to 35 years old and discharge 6,000 cubic metres of toxic effluent and 10 tonnes of solid waste every day – are best known. In 2012, Human Rights Watch produced a report called “Toxic Tanneries” which revealed the flouting of Bangladesh’s own laws as well as international law in the employment of children under 18 in work that is harmful or hazardous.

The factories douse animal skins in cauldrons of chemicals as part of the processing of “Bengali black” leather, which is exported to European leather goods manufacturers in Italy, Spain and elsewhere. “Apart from heavy metals like chromium, cadmium, lead and mercury, a conglomerate of chemicals are discharged by the tanneries into the environment,” says the paper. “Workers aged eight and older are soaked to the skin, breathing the fumes for most of the day and eat and live in these surroundings throughout the year. Personal protective equipment [is] not provided.”

Child workers clad in no more than loin cloths and wellington boots are exposed to chemicals including formaldehyde, hydrogen sulphide and sulphuric acid, write Venkiteswaran Muralidhar, associate professor at the Sri Balaji Medical college in Chennai, and colleagues.

The other factories– for plastics recycling, garments and metals – are in Kamrangirchar, an urban slum which is not officially part of Dhaka city. “In these, there are complex risk hazards from cotton dust, heavy metals and chemicals like mercury, phthalates, acids and dioxins and ergonomic hazards,” says the paper. Chronic skin and lung diseases are common, say the authors. Within six months of the setting up of the clinics, 3,200 of the 5,000 eligible workers had come forward for at least one consultation. Among them, 468 (14.6%) were diagnosed with suspected work-related diseases, and 30 (0.9%) had work-related injuries.

The figures do not reflect the overall harm to the population, however, said Muralidhar. Those who are severely injured by chemicals or accidents would not go to one of the clinics. “They will probably be taken by rickshaw to a hospital in Dhaka,” he told the Guardian. And the clinics were only open four days a week, during the daytime, and workers needed the owner’s permission to go for a consultation. He feels strongly that a hospital should be set up in the slum to help its people. “They are the most horrible conditions you can imagine,” he told the Guardian. “I work in this area. I have never seen anything as bad as this.”