Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Deciphering Deras...!

The Indian Express has an excellent FAQ on the history of deras (Sikh sects) in Punjab:

What are deras and why are they in the news?

A dera is technically the headquarters of a group of devotees who follow the teachings of a particular spiritual guru and generally have a living representative of the guru who is equally revered. The representatives of the gurus, who hold the gaddi, are normally anointed by their predecessors.

How many deras are there in Punjab?

Estimates vary but it is generally believed that there are about 300 major deras across the state and the neighbouring state of Haryana. Out of these, about a dozen have substantial following — over one lakh devotees each. There are hundreds of others which are restricted to a few villages each.

Are only Sikhs members of these deras?

No, membership of deras is not restricted to Sikhs. A number of Hindus are also members of these deras. In fact, some of the deras even have Muslim and Christian followers.

Who are the main followers of the deras?

Although these deras generally have members from various castes and creeds, the majority of the members belong to the so-called “lower castes”, that is, members of Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes.

To read the full story click here.

Why is Punjab burning?

It took only a few hours for fires to erupt across Punjab after the news from Vienna of “serious injuries” to Sant Niranjan Dass, head of Dera Guru Ravidass Sachkhand Balan, and the death of his deputy Sant Ramanand, both of whom were on a tour to Europe.

The rapidity with which protests spread is a pointer to the growing clout of deras that have mushroomed across the state and their potential to spark off conflict.

In fact, all major villages in Punjab today have two gurdwaras — one frequented by the so-called “upper castes” or Jat Sikhs, another by Dalits or “lower castes,” including members of SCs and OBCs. Ironically, Sikhism was founded five centuries ago to counter the caste system. Today, it’s members of under-privileged communities who constitute the growing ranks of deras, each one usually headed by a living guru — much against the tenets of Sikhism, writes Vipin Pubby in Indian Express.

To read the full story, click here

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Shrinking spaces, new places by P. Sainath.

P. Sainath in Chennai
P. Sainath is one of the few outstanding journalists of this great nation. Rarely we come across such a gem. I have met him a couple of times. Once when he was in Chennai, in Madras Christian College to be precise a few years ago. He delivered a beautiful speech on "Media and poverty". Then on another occasion he was in the famous Loyala College to deliver a speech on "Impact of Globalisation and youth". P. Sainath was at his best. It was full of mind boggling statistics, minute details which laymen like you and me fail to notice.
I have been reading him mostly in The Hindu and sometimes in this website. Media has always been his target and he has made scathing attacks on the impotence of media. I came across one such article today. In fact it was written a decade ago, when A B Vajpayee was calling the shots in Delhi and the nation was passing through very crucial, critical times. But the issues raised by P. Sainath is still worthy to be taken note of.
Excerpts from the article :

Shrinking spaces, new places

CALL it the 43 paise syndrome.

Editors of large dailies explain it this way: their newspapers cost around six rupees a copy to produce but are sold at a sixth of that sum. Of the one rupee each copy is sold for, 57 paise goes to hawkers, distributors et al. So the publication gets just 43 paise for each copy worth six rupees. The higher the circulation the greater the financial gap.

It is advertising revenue that covers the remaining five rupees fifty seven paise – and adds much more to make up the profits. So the ad department is at least six times more important than editorial. The lesson the editors have drawn: they, their staff, their news gathering talent, everything to do with editorial content is worth 43 paise. Their spaces have shrunk and they have to know their place. Which is so far below the advertising department in the pecking order that stepping out of line invites being stamped on and squished. You stick to the service entrance and consider yourself lucky not to be in the cellar.

That self-image defines small, stifling limits outside which editors won’t venture. There are obvious flaws in such an outlook. Still, the acceptance of this ‘law’ within the fraternity implies real shifts in power. The clout of the older editors, in this view, belonged to a past when newspapers drew the bulk of their money from circulation. Since profits were tied to how well the paper sold in this imagined Golden Age, owners treated their editors with great respect. If the editorial content was good, the paper sold well. Editors were respected. Everyone was happy. It was as close to newsprint nirvana as you could get.

This is a seductive though misleading view, since it does have serious elements of truth. However, ‘respect’ for editors, whatever that means, also derives from many other factors. It happens, for instance, when their newspapers stand for something. When publications are tied to values, however modest, that go beyond profit. When they take at least some positions that do not result in direct gain for their companies, their banks or other interests. Often, when they stand up to power.

Many editors of stature in this country and elsewhere do not necessarily edit large dailies. (Several have run or are running small, struggling journals.) They have also earned respect for another, simple reason. They sell their labour, not their souls. Nor was it the case that those who edited high circulation papers in the past always enjoyed a high standing. And if papers could be sold without news and editorial content, it would have happened by now, with half a dozen chains in this country leading the charge. Even the most hardline proprietors know – never mind what they say – that we haven’t quite got there yet.

Still, editors have largely accepted their worth as 43 paise and there is less debate over this today than ten years ago. There’s little debate over everything in the papers. The Times of India, for instance, has ordered its correspondents to cover the coming elections ‘bearing the entertainment and personality angles in mind.’ It isn’t just newsprint space that has vanished though. Many spaces are shrinking in public discourse, even as a few new ones open. Kargil shows us that brilliantly. Where’s the challenge to some very dangerous forms of jingoism even among those who ought to know better?

It was over ten days before anyone of standing condemned the Shiv Sena’s attack on Dilip Kumar. And even then the criticism was sotto voce. The actor himself said that what hurt most was the silence of his fellow stars. Most of them anyway were too busy working out how to cash in on Kargil. So how could they address what must rank as one of the most despicable of patriotism-tests in recent memory? Quite a few of them were dancing at Smita Thackeray’s fund-raising concert for Kargil even as the Shiv Sena baited Dilip Kumar. Publications that seem to live for the coverage of celebrities, especially those of the film world, reacted very warily.

As always, there were admirable exceptions to the Kargil cult. There were a few, fine, questioning reports in print, television and other forums. But the big picture was dismal.

It was some weeks before a newspaper found that charges of ‘unpatriotic’ behaviour against Abul Hassan Ali Nadwa had been concocted. He was said to have told ‘a huge gathering’ of his followers on 13 June that they should not pray for Indian soldiers in Kargil. ‘Ali Mian’, as he is known, was in fact bedridden after a paralytic stroke months ago. He can barely speak, let alone walk. And he has not made a public appearance since March.

It was after nearly two months of hostilities that the first notes of criticism surfaced in the media on the jingoism within it. In some journals, this contrasted strangely with the remaining pages that still blazed away along the very lines that dismayed the critics. As for the Net, that miracle liberating force of modern mythology, the less said about the visceral hate campaigns that captured its discourse, the better. Sure, it can do much better. It just didn’t!

Newspapers have also taken to carrying ‘certified’ critics; those who will make mild noises of protest but won’t go ‘too far’ outside a manufactured consensus. The media never discussed the fate of the widows and children of over 1100 IPKF soldiers who died in Sri Lanka. Or those scores of soldiers whose limbs were blown away by mines in the same conflict. But that wasn’t India’s first ‘televised war’. This one is. It was only in the last phases that reports on the veterans of 1971 began to find some space. On the IPKF there is still silence.

It was bizarre to watch Kargil widows asked to face the camera and mouth brave words about sending the babes in their wombs to the front. (They should be grown in time for the next conflict.) In all likelihood, several of these unfortunate women, a year from now, will be struggling with the local bureaucracy to get pension and other funds released. Many will be facing rejection from their in-laws. (The media will at best do the ‘where-are-they-now’ stories.) But when it mattered, you could get no more than the smallest whiff of this reality amidst all that chest-thumping jingoism.

Any such discussion would be unpatriotic. ‘How can you raise questions when the boys are dying at the front?’ No space for discussion on the colossal goof-up that landed us in the situation where those boys had to die. No space for questions on the first suicide missions in the early days. Missions undertaken because the bjp government was in a panic over the political fallout at home with elections just months away. So ill-shod, poorly-equipped, young men had to charge up those peaks to their death. Nearly everyone with any information and a forum to express it in knows that the early assaults were almost in the kamikaze class. Virtually no one – again with admirable exceptions – dwelt on this at all. Not from ignorance, but by choice. There’s a kind of self-shrinkage, a voluntary surrender of space.

On tv during the early days of the hostilities, the stories that got much play, after the conflict itself, were largely on how the markets were being affected. Then came the ‘you-have-to-be-there-to-understand-it’ school of journalism from Kargil. Breathless stuff, but a contradiction in terms. The job of journalists is to tell the story for those who aren’t there. Not to become the story themselves.

Even within the media, ‘self criticism’ – with a couple of bright exceptions – was limited. Some of it was despicable. There’s been a bit written about the ‘insensitivity’ of a correspondent that supposedly led to the death of four soldiers. Since this charge was never formally made by anyone, it can’t be replied to. Which makes it grossly unfair. A charge to which there is no right of reply but which crucifies the individual. And those who make it don’t question the insensitivity of this government. One whose bungling had a hand in the deaths of far more than four soldiers.

But apart from a personal attack on the correspondent, there could be another angle to it too. The story of the journalist’s ‘crime’ itself seems to have been fabricated. Yet, it gave the army another lever to use on an already compliant media. After that, anyone stepping mildly out of line would fear a similar smear.

Maybe this is also a way of evading large collective failures. Of both the elite and their user-friendly media. But it sends out danger signals. In this case, the unproven charge was criminal insensitivity. In others, it is a lack of patriotism. The chattering classes are storming the ‘letters to the editor’ columns. Their invective not only attacks those who question, but demands they be silenced.

At the same time, the call for a nuclear attack on Pakistan in the RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya has been played down. Here is one of the most frightening of developments – a call from the official organ of the ruling parivar. Very little discussion.

There is no questioning of the Mumbai film world’s cynical plans to turn the carnage into cash. Nor of newspapers with stories headlined: ‘Sensex peaks on Kargil, will it cross Everest?’ Corporates are no less deeply into the game. Aren’t they being ‘generous’ with funds for the soldiers? Never mind that the sums are not a speck on the multi-billion bonanza gifted by the BJP regime to a handful of private telecom operators.

Anyone wanting a television debate on this would likely have to find a sponsor. Perhaps Adidas or Nike. (‘Democratic debate, brought to you, courtesy…’) The commercial breaks would make an odd contrast with the shoes the soldiers were wearing during those first runs up the peaks. It would also be apt. Much of the coverage boils down to the elite celebrating, with befitting passion, the sacrifices of the poor. And doing so from positions of relative safety and security. Many jawans are essentially peasants in uniform. They reflect the poverty and insecurity that grip their villages. And joining the armed forces is one of their limited job options. But say this and you face a protest over patriotism all over again. Never mind that the genuine, and supremely sad, sacrifice of these soldiers will soon be on the back burner as they yield space to the Sensex Maniacs.

Public space is being overrun by the private. Spaces have shrunk as monopoly has grown; as religious chauvinism has struck deeper roots; with market fundamentalism ruling the globe; as every section of the elite gets co-opted into the ‘make money now’ game; as the disconnect between mass media and mass reality deepens; and with every human activity having to be justified on a commercial basis.

Since 1991, we’ve excelled at scotching debate on the economy, on the directions India began taking in a big way that year. Perhaps no other stream of discourse has seen its space shrink so swiftly. From ’91, the ‘debate’ was on whether the ‘reforms’ were going fast, far and deep enough. No questioning of the direction itself was allowed. Editorials hooted down critics of the exercise. They were ‘fossils’. ‘Unchain’ the top strata. Let there be ‘growth’ by any means. The benefits will trickle down to the hoi polloi. That the ‘trickle down’ theory stands discredited in every single society it has visited did not matter. If you shouted down the critics loudly enough, it worked. Not only this theory, but the supremacy of the ‘reforms’ was firmly established.

Speaking of fossils, remember Narasimha Rao? When he first took over, he was described as ‘a stopgap pm’. Or just as a ‘yawn’. A person warming the seat for someone more dynamic like Sharad Pawar. Only weeks later the media hailed him as ‘the greatest prime minister since Lal Bahadur Shastri.’ What had happened? Simple: he had put in place a set of policies that went way beyond the wildest dreams of the corporate media. After that he was unassailable. India’s greatest ever scam couldn’t undo that. Nor even the Babri Masjid demolition. The press described it as the ‘greatest crime in independent India.’ But it did not call for Rao to step down.

The government itself was shown to have survived in Parliament by purchasing the JMM votes. Sleaze was its signature tune. The urea scam involved Rao’s family directly. But that was okay. The tide had turned. Every corrupt third rater climbed the new reforms bandwagon knowing this gave him or her if not a Teflon coating, then a newsprint one. And since anyone belonging to the top ten per cent of Indian society was raking it in as never before, questions were out.

The years after ’91 saw hunger-related deaths resurface in parts of the country. That, on a scale unknown since Independence. A very large number of these were in places like Melghat in ‘rich’ states like Maharashtra. Hundreds have died of hunger-linked causes not far from the wealthy city of Mumbai. For all the debate there’s been on it at the elite level, you would think these were the most commonplace of occurrences.

The suicide deaths of nearly 400 cotton farmers in Andhra Pradesh failed to make the covers of most major magazines in this country. Tata’s small car, however, did that easily. And repeatedly. When the farmers’ deaths got covered in some depth, it was months after the disaster. (The Wall Street Journal gave the story more space than any major Indian daily.)

None of this stopped us from celebrating 50 years of freedom while ducking a real look at the failures of those years. Pepsi probably spent the most money in that period outside of government. Its Shah Rukh Khan ad milking azaadi cost crores. So did the ‘official’ celebrations. And many others. The event management industry had arrived. Most Indians themselves took the jubilee with admirable balance: with neither mindless gushing nor monotonous groaning. The gushing was reserved for the media and the elite. Newspapers spoke happily of the ‘feel good factor’. Once again, this was linked to the ‘maturity’ that came with the reforms.

Reforms once also meant land reform. Social reform. Here, it meant an orgy of accumulation at the top, misery at the bottom. A deepening of disparity. Even The World Bank said on record in June this year that rural poverty in South Asia had worsened. You can debate the reasons till you are blue in the face, but hear this. It’s direct from the supreme church of the Gospel of Growth: ‘…recent data on rural wages in India suggest a stagnation,’ says the Bank. ‘In India, by the late nineties (1997), an estimated 340 million people were living in poverty, up from an estimated 300 million in the late 1980s.’ The future, ahead, does not look good.

So much for the reforms. But where’s the debate?

Other spaces at the top shrank when we went nuclear in May 1998. The jingoism in the press was almost without precedent. Front-page editorials rejoiced at the end of years of mindless ‘self-denial’. The security experts told us that India once again ‘stood tall’. Intellectualised insanity at one end of that spectrum was matched by the Hindutva Right’s more direct lunacy at the other. The VHP launched a yatra to take the sacred radioactive sands of Pokhran to the doorsteps of the devout. A time for prayers and blessings. Nuclear nirvana in ten easy aartis. Once again, the mass mood did not reflect this. The polls that followed devastated the BJP.

Kargil itself has blown any validity the nuclear myth might have had. What did not happen in the past 28 years began less than 365 days after going nuclear. But while there are exceptions, this is mostly not reflected in public discourse in the elite domain.

What about other spheres in that domain? The idea of education as a sweatshop sector no longer excites the debate it used to. Self-deception prevails. On the one hand, magazines run cover stories on the ten best schools or colleges in the country; on the other, the space for a real learning – for an education – within these has shrunk. The worship of commerce has to have its impact. Excellence, for the ‘top institutions’ seems to mean the opening of a business school. That’s the great goal in ‘education’.

This mindset long ago fractured the liberal arts. Now, even science faculties in many colleges are shutting down. (Though when you recall that your minister for education is a professor of science who believes there were nuclear weapons in the time of Ram, you wonder if this is not a good thing.) Not surprisingly, there is little debate on so worthless a person sitting on so vital a portfolio. And after a bit of a scorching over the Saraswati Vandana mess, its been business as usual.

But it isn’t just the BJP. Their escapades in education do breach the border between the merely bizarre and the nearly insane. (Three pages for Hedgewar in a textbook chapter on the freedom struggle.) For the Congress, though, business as usual has usually meant business. In Maharashtra, Patan-grao Kadam was linked to 55 private ‘educational’ institutions while still education minister in the late ’80s. A small conflict of interest there, but what the heck? The debate that occurred at all arose not from any investigation. It came because of an advertisement taken out by Kadam’s friends in a newspaper extolling his ‘patron’ status with the Flying Fifty Five. That gave the game away.

It seemed quite okay to Maharashtra’s elite that such educational ‘chains’ should exist. (The reforms began in that state a decade before they took off elsewhere in the country.) Some of these run medical colleges without anatomy theatres. The capitation fees they charge totals countless crores each year. But so many of the Beautiful People make money out of these rip-offs that it shields them from public debate.

Long ago we replaced the highly educated with the expensively educated. Now it’s the era of the expensively uneducated. The crud. Even the rare bright technocrat has given way to the aggressive technocrud. The process is less surprising than the lack of debate over it. We began the ’90s by crowning Harshad Mehta and his species as the ‘role model’ for our youth. The covers of our most powerful publications asserted that. The scam dimmed his personal star, but his line of stardom remains irresistible. The debate forced on us when he blew a hole the size of Antarctica in the markets is dead. And Mehta is now an honoured columnist in the press.

With every section of the elite raking in revenue from some dirty deal, conspiracies of silence are logical. So is a consequent loss of public debate on these vital issues. With even the President having doubts about the deal, the telecom scam should have produced greater outrage. It hasn’t. Many important people are making money out of it.

Across the country, major issues of public interest are under-debated. The ruin of the public distribution system. Rural poverty. Urban housing. Or maybe transportation policy. In Mumbai, the race to put up 52 flyovers has no precedent in history. With some having space for shopping malls beneath them, they reek of wrongdoing. And involve money on a scale perhaps unimaginable in the rest of the nation. Yet, in real terms, the debate on this has been mostly on technical issues.

It isn’t just fear, though that is a factor, which produces silence and loss of space. Often sound commercial instincts are also involved. Newspapers violating the terms of their land leases can’t really talk back to those in power. When Udhav Thackeray held his photo exhibition earlier this year, you couldn’t bung a brick at the show without striking a senior Mumbai editor. (The Times troupe was there in strength.) Then they flocked in droves to Raj Thackeray’s exhibition of cartoons as well. They went as ‘honoured guests’ at the height of public outrage against the Sena. That is, after the destruction of the bcci office by that party’s hit squads. After all the humiliation heaped on him last year, M.F. Husain too, was an ‘honoured special guest’ at these shows.

In 1997, Loksatta editor Aroon Tikekar was attacked by name in a Saamna (Sena mouthpiece) editorial. Bal Thackeray himself likely wrote that. So Tikekar was in big danger. It was a month before The Indian Express group mentioned the threat. And during that time the paper never told readers its building swarmed with police ‘protecting’ him. That time, the truth did not involve us all. The Times ran a big supplement celebrating Thackeray’s 70th birthday. Yet in no other state in recent years have so many newspaper offices been ransacked. So many journalists physically attacked. Mostly, their papers have been muted in their criticism or just silent.

The swift mafiaization of Mumbai is daily reflected in the media all right. Reports on it are legion. But the linkages of that process can’t be followed up too often. Reporters who try that, and such still exist, could be pulled up by their own publications. A devastating recent story on serious land regulation violations of Chief Minister Narayan Rane has just vanished from the pages. We’re here to make money out of your reports, not report on the making of money. Thanks very much.

And no matter how great a cricketer you are, if your ‘academy’ runs on public land, you are unlikely to speak up. Remember the silence of the greats when the BCCI office was vandalised. But silence was not all they stopped with. Ajit Wadekar shared a platform with Bal Thackeray on his birthday. That was just days after the latter’s ‘boys’ had damaged the 1983 World Cup trophy. Sunil Gavaskar wriggled in agony when asked about the bcci incident on television. But he remained silent.

The Beautiful People are far too compromised to speak up with any authority. To criticise power in any meaningful way. Traditional spaces and forums at the elite level are shrinking. Any battle against it must begin by recognising that. Restoring public space is not going to be easy. But there’s a side we don’t try to look at enough. The fact that there is less debate in these forums does not mean an absence of debate itself.

We live in an age far more radical than many imagine. Hundreds of millions in this country are asserting their rights as never before. The last 15 years have seen tribal and Dalit assertion on a scale yet to be gauged, let alone understood. The Dalit upsurge has altered the politics of Uttar Pradesh irreversibly. And perhaps that of Tamil Nadu also. It is making dents elsewhere as well. In Andhra, the state assembly had its first debate on untouchability in decades. That, after a powerful movement against casteism forced the government on the defensive.

Tremendous new social energies are on the loose. They are chaotic but they are there. Fierce power battles are emerging at the panchayat level. Even this mere form of democracy has set off a backlash from the entrenched privilege of centuries. Still, millions seek human dignity against awesome odds. Struggles over common property resources are rocking the countryside. Battles over land are on in over three-quarters of the country. That these are poorly reported does not mean they are not on. But it does mean that forums which could once have discussed their implications are not doing so. They are busy making themselves irrelevant to mass aspirations.

Millions are not merely refusing to play the game by the old rules. They are simply not playing the old game at all. There is no institution that is not under challenge. Many are actually in the process of meltdown. This panics those who see no ‘solutions’. (Which means that the Beautiful People are finding their solutions tossed aside with contempt). Consequently, large chunks of the country are getting harder to govern. With all the negatives these processes entail, they also mean that rights and freedoms are being not only asserted but debated and redefined.

An incredible churning is under-way in India, but your media are unable to tell you about it. This is the space that the small journals, the local newspapers, have straddled in the past and which they can occupy again. The big press and other media, too, will be forced (not in the least by commercial considerations) to cover them as well. But that will likely be a case of too little too late. And what sort of a vision can they provide of what’s happening? One thing the big media are doing is abdicating vital spaces. How those can be accessed, the way those issues can be channelled, how they can be worked in the public interest – that’s another debate altogether. But those of us interested in the rights, dignity, freedoms and entitlements of hundreds of millions of Indians can work on it. After all, we know one thing at least.

They are worth a damn sight more than 43 paise.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The triumph of plural India!!

The postmortem of Elections 2009 results have begun.
Some term it as the victory of secular forces. Some take it as the defeat of communal, fascist forces. The greatest victor is Sonia Gandhi and the most pathetic loser is L K Advani. With the decimation of RJD, BSP, ADMK, TDP many have started to believe that the era of regional fiefdoms and satraps is over. With Singh as King there is no room to kingmakers, they proudly proclaim.
Amidst this cacophony of meaningless, petty squabbles I stumbled upon a thoughtprovoking article on the fall of BJP. Kumar Ketkar has written it and I cherished each and every word of it.
Excerpts from the article:

The Sangh Parivar is too broad a term. It incorporates the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Sri Ram Sene, Stree Shakti, Vyapari Sangh, Vanvasi Kalyan outfits and several other front organisations. It is a vast network of dedicated activists, stretching from Arunachal to Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu to Tripura and Gujarat to Kashmir.

In the past 30 years however, these outfits, and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the original gene, have ceased to attract the young. The shakhas have either disappeared or are virtually deserted. The top leadership is all above 70, the second rank is in the age group of 50-65. The third rank is thin and hovers around the age of 40. Then it gets emptier and emptier except in organisations like Bajrang Dal or Sri Ram Sene, where the lumpen join, because they get some kind of activity and identity. At one level, it is a reflection of rural and urban unemployment; at another, it is a manifestation of cultural frustration.

Apart from these organisations, their activists and fellow travellers, there is a huge urban middle class constituency. It is interesting to note that the BJP with its abstract Hindu cause has attracted a large corporate class in the last two decades.The BJP or the Jan Sangh before 1980 had a following in the lower middle class, primarily among Brahminical communities. This was understandable because the RSS, when founded by Dr. Hedgewar in 1925, had its origins in this social mileu.

Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar was a Congressman and had been a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. After his death in 1940, he handed the organisation over to Guru Golwalkar. Organisation was of supreme importance for the Guruji and under him, the network spread all over India, including in Karachi. The ideology of the Sangh was Hindu cultural nationalism as distinct from the inclusive, pluralistic nationalism of the Congress. Among the first three Congress presidents, one was Christian, one Muslim and one Parsi. But the Congress was a political organisation and the RSS proclaimed that it intended to keep away from politics and ‘culturally’ consolidate the Hindu masses.

It is necessary to remember that the Hindu Mahasabha was founded in 1915, a decade before the RSS, when Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was undergoing life imprisonment. If the objective was the same, then Dr. Hedgewar and his colleagues would have joined the HMS, or Veer Savarkar would have joined the RSS. But the fact is that RSS and the HMS had distinct identities. The HMS was an upfront political organisation, which believed in armed struggle to achieve independence from the British. It sought to establish a Hindu Rashtra politically, almost on the same lines of what later became Pakistan. Indeed, the Savarkarites used to ridicule the RSS swayamsevaks for their ‘political timidity’. It was much later that the RSS began to appropriate Savarkar’s ideology. Savarkar died in 1966, never having ‘officially’ endorsed the RSS. Even after the Jan Sangh was formed in 1950 as a political wing of the RSS, the HMS fought elections in several constituencies against the Jan Sangh candidates.

All this while, the base of the RSS, Jan Sangh and the HMS was essentially upper caste, urban and middle-class. When the Jan Sangh merged with the Janata Party, it began to spread out under the cover of the JP movement. Inevitably, the socialists and old Congressmen who had been the major partners of the Janata Party, were alarmed. The party split vertically on the issue of ‘dual membership’, which meant that the Jan Sangh was expected to totally dissociate from the RSS. The BJP emerged out of the wreckage of the Janata Party. It is since then that the Sangh Parivar began to suffer from a ‘multiple personality syndrome’.

In the coming decades, the BJP which was reduced to just two seats in the Lok Sabha in 1985 and declared virtually dead, expanded along with the the new middle class and Mandir politics, just as the rural elite consolidated itself with the help of Mandal. Under the stewardship of Lal Krishna Advani, the BJP spread its tentacles all over a new urban middle class. In less than a decade, from 1990 when the Rath Yatra began, to 1998, the BJP-led 18-party front came to power with 182 seats.

The newly emerging middle class, which was the product of economic liberalisation, was the exact opposite of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, another Parivar outfit, which opposed globalisation and Americanisation. But for militant Hinduism, the BJP-led front could not have come to power. But to seek power through such militancy and to run a country like India, whose distinguishing characteristic is pluralism, are not easily reconciliable. That is why Vajpayee became the mask and Advani the face behind the mask. The moderates in the BJP became Vajpayee followers, the hardliners joined the Advani camp and the far right in the Parivar promoted the Togadias and Modis.

The BJP thus became a hybrid organisation, which is now looking for a stable personality. Vajpayee and Advani could not agree on Modi. Now, the BJP cannot recognise the ‘real face’ from the several masks that it has acquired for electoral persuasion. Once it had a strong urban base. Now it has lost all the major cities. Till a few months ago, Modi was promoted as a corporate as well as militant icon.

In Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, the vast majority across classes and castes, has found the real plural India. Today, along with the markets, most Indian people have introspected and recognised the the folly of militant Mandir and Mandal politics. That is why we saw the decimation of Mulayam and Mayawati, the marginalisation of Pawar and Paswan, and the discomfiture of Advani and Modi. Plural India has triumphed.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Globalisation is bad!

The following is an article on Globalisation. It is enlightening and interesting. I am very thankful for the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind people for sharing this valuable piece of intellectually stimulating article on Globalisation.
Nowadays everybody talks about Globalisation. It is the most discussed subject today in this country. But seldom I came across persons who are well versed in the subject. Those who take stands in the issue do so without any deep study and analysis. There are some who take an extreme stand and reject Globalisation wholly and fully. They brand globalisation as the tool of modern imperialists. They equate it with evil and reject it with vengeance.
There are some who have splashed in the illusions created by the Globlalisation. They are over awed by the glittering world created by the globalisation. They consciously chose to close their eyes and they refuse to see the side effects of globalisation.

Now with the UPA government once again in the centre and with Dr Singh as PM one could expect a rise in the globalisation process in India. They may behave responsibly and sensibly. Or they may not. And the leftists have already left the scene. They are no longer interested in the interests of the Aam Aadmi. Nandhigram and Singur are the worst examples.

Amidst this challenging scenario with nobody there to challenge the evils of Globalisation it is for the common man to do the job. Hence I commence a series of articles on Globalisation with this post. Excerpts from the article (author unknown):

There are two strands to the argument that globalization is undermining nation states. First, it is that it is empowering corporations at the expense of the nation state, and secondly, that the international institutions such as the WTO and World Bank are not democratic.

There is an issue of sheer size. It is noted that many corporations are larger than nation states – more than half the 100 largest economies in the world are corporations. The sales of Ford and General Motors combined are greater than the combined GDP of sub-Saharan Africa while those of the six largest Japanese trading companies are almost as big as all the nations of Latin America combined.

Critics of capitalism say the problem starts with laws of the early 19th century, which meant individual managers, and directors could not be held liable for the actions of the corporation. It is argued that globalisation was not a democrat choice but was pursued by corporations to suit their own ends of maximising profit by playing one nation off against another.

The international organisations, such as the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the IMF are make it their mission to open the world to the influence of transnational corporations. The IMF rules make it hard for nations to legislate to stop currency speculators from attacking their economy. The World Bank insists that nations to which it makes structural adjustment loans privatise government enterprises, often handing them to transnationals. The World Trade Organisation’s effort to break down trade barriers is designed to open markets to transnational corporations.

None of these supranational organisations are democratically constituted, and they make their decisions behind closed doors.

Globalization as an Attack on Democracy

THE GLOBALIZATION OF RECENT DECADES WAS NEVER A DEMOCRATIC CHOICE by the peoples of the world--the process has been business driven, by business strategies and tactics, for business ends. Governments have helped, by incremental policy actions, and by larger actions that were often taken in secret, without national debate and discussion of where the entire process was taking the community. In the case of some major actions advancing the globalization process, like passing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or joining the European Monetary Union (EMU), publics have been subjected to massive propaganda campaigns by the interested business-media elites. In the United States, public opinion polls showed the general public against NAFTA even after incessant propaganda, but the mass media supported it, and it was passed. In Europe as well, polls have shown persistent majorities opposed to the introduction of the Euro, but a powerful elite supports it, so that it moves forward.

This undemocratic process, carried out within a democratic facade, is consistent with the distribution of benefits and costs of globalization, and the fact that globalization has been a tool serving elite interests. Globalization has also steadily weakened democracy, partly as a result of unplanned effects, but also because the containment of labor costs and scaling down of the welfare state has required the business minority to establish firm control of the state and remove its capacity to respond to the demands of the majority. The mix of deliberate and unplanned elements in globalization's antidemocratic thrust can be seen in each aspect of the attack process.

ONE OF THE MAIN OBJECTIVES OF TNC MOVEMENT ABROAD HAS BEEN to tap cheaper labor sources. Labor is often cheapest, and least prone to cause employer problems, in authoritarian states that curb unions and enter into virtual joint venture arrangements with foreign capital, as in Suharto's Indonesia and PRI's Mexico. Capital moves to such friendly investment climes in an arbitrage process, shifting resources from the more expensive to the less costly locale, in a process that penalizes and thereby weakens democracy.

The actual shift of capital abroad, and the use of the external option to drive hard bargains at home, has weakened labor. Labor has also been weakened by deliberate government policies of tight money and restrictive budget policies to contain inflation, at the expense of high unemployment. These policies, and the incessant focus on labor market "flexibility" as the solution to the unemployment problem, reflect a corporate and antilabor policy agenda, fully institutionalized. There have even been more open and direct attacks on organized labor--both Reagan and Thatcher engaged in union busting, and the latter was quite explicit in her aim to weaken labor as a political force. Democracy, according to pluralistic theory, is said to rest on the existence of intermediate groups, like labor organizations, that can bargain and work on behalf of an otherwise atomized population. The deliberate weakening of such groups is thus an attack on democracy.

IN THE UNITED STATES, BRITAIN, CANADA, AND OTHER COUNTRIES the business community has also mounted a sustained ideological campaign to make their preferred policies part of common understanding. These campaigns have proceeded in parallel with globalization and have been remarkably similar, reflecting the global flow of ideology and overlapping sources of funding. The favored neoliberal ideology pushes the idea that the market can do it all, that government is a burden and threat, and that deregulation and privatization are inherently good and inevitable. It presses an extreme individualism and the value of "personal responsibility," which is highly advantageous to corporate power, leaving bargaining between large firms and isolated individuals. Collective and community values, the threat of externalities and ecological damage from unconstrained business growth, free market instability--all are shunted aside in this ideological system. This ideological campaign has been highly successful, because vast sums of business money fed to intellectuals and think tanks, and business domination of the mass media, have allowed their views to prevail. Heritage Foundation leader Edwin Feulner has described the strategy of his corporate-funded and globally linked think tank as analogous to Procter & Gamble's in selling soap--saturate the market with messages that overwhelm any that are less well funded.10 But this is a corruption of democracy; it is a bought market of ideas, not a free market of ideas.

The business community has also mounted a powerful effort to dominate governments--either by capture or by limiting their ability to serve ordinary citizens. Globalization has contributed to this effort, partly by the arbitraging process mentioned earlier, which favors authoritarian rule. Apart from this, by enlarging business profits and weakening labor it has shifted the balance of power further toward business, so that political parties have been even more decisively influenced by business money in elections. In the United States, it is notorious that Mr. Clinton has sought and received enormous sums from business and serves their interests almost exclusively, with only token efforts on behalf of the major nonbusiness constituencies of the Democratic Party. The globalizing corporate media have added their growing strength to the advance of neoliberal ideology and opposition to any vestiges of social democracy, making social democratic policies difficult to implement. The Murdoch effect on British elections, and the current Murdoch-Blair connection illustrates the point.

Another well-known and important antidemocratic force is the power of global financial markets to limit political options. Social democratic policies make for an unfavorable investment climate. Businesses will therefore respond to politicians and acts serving ordinary citizens with threatened or actual exit. Financial market effects on exchange and interest rates can be extremely rapid and damaging to the economy. Spokespersons for the new global economy actually brag about the ability of capital to penalize "unsound" policies, and the fact that money capital now rules.

These business efforts, aided and validated by the IMF and by media support, regularly cause social democrats to retreat to policies acceptable to the rulers. Thus, in country after country social democratic parties have accepted neoliberalism, despite the contrary preferences of great majorities of their voting constituencies. But this means that nominal democracy is no longer able to serve ordinary citizens, making elections meaningless and democracy empty of substance. This helps explain why half or more of eligible U.S. voters no longer participate in national elections.

Not satisfied with this level of political control, the business community has pushed for international agreements, and policy actions by the IMF and World Bank, that further encroach on the ability of democratic polities to act on behalf of their constituencies. These agreements and the demands of the international financial institutions invariably call for precisely the policies desired by the TNC community. The EMU conditions give primacy to budget constraints and inflation control, in accord with the neoliberal and corporate agenda. GATT, the WTO, and the NAFTA agreement also give top priority to corporate investor and intellectual property rights, to which all other considerations must give way. In the early 1980s, the IMF and World Bank took advantage of the Third World debt crisis and used their leverage with numerous distressed Third World borrowers to force their acceptance of Structural Adjustment Programs. These forced the borrowing countries to agree to give first priority to external debt repayment, private as well as government; it compelled them to adapt austerity programs of tight money and budget cutbacks focusing heavily on social expenditures affecting the poor and ordinary citizens; it forced a stress on exports, which help generate foreign exchange to allow debt repayment and that more closely integrate the borrower's economy into the global system; and it stressed privatization, allegedly in the interest of efficiency, but serving both to help balance the budget without tax increases and to provide openings for TNC investment in the troubled economy. The IMF is doing the same in Asia today.

A second characteristic of the new agreements and IMF-World Bank actions is their denial of democratic rights to non-corporate citizens and elected governments. These are subordinated to the rights of corporate investors, the superior class of global citizens with priority over all others and beneficiaries of the New TNC Protectionism. In the NAFTA agreement, governments are denied in advance the right to take on new functions; any not asserted now are left to the private sector and to the superior class of citizens. In these agreements, also, and even more aggressively in the Multilateral Agreement on Investment now under consideration, the global TNCs have no responsibilities and none can be imposed on them. They can fire people, abandon communities, fatally damage the environment, push local companies out of business, and purvey cultural trash at their full discretion. They can or will be able to sue governments, and disagreements are to be settled by unelected panels outside the control of democratic governments.

A third characteristic of the new agreements and IMF-World Bank actions is that they rest not only on neoliberal theory but on a false reading of recent experience and economic history. As noted earlier, globalization so far has been a productivity failure, a social disaster, and a threat to stability. The claim of its proponents that free trade is the route to economic growth is also confuted by longer historic experience: no country, past or present, has taken off into sustained economic growth and moved from economic backwardness to modernity without large-scale government protection and subsidization of infant industries and other modes of insulation from domination by powerful outsiders. This includes Great Britain, the United States, Japan, Germany, South Korea and Taiwan, all highly protectionist in the earlier takeoff phases of their growth process. The governments and institutions bargaining on behalf of the TNCs today, through the IMF, World Bank, WTO and NAFTA, have been able to remove these modes of protection from less developed countries. This threatens them with extensive takeovers from abroad, thoroughgoing integration into foreign economic systems as "branch plant economies," preservation in a state of dependence and underdevelopment, and most particularly, an inability to protect their majorities from the ravages of neoliberal top-down development priorities.


IN SUM, WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF AN ANTI-DEMOCRATIC COUNTERREVOLUTION in which globalization and its imperatives are being used to weaken popular and elected authority in favor of a system of domination by super-citizens, the TNCs. This process sows the seeds of its own destruction, as it serves a small global minority, damages the majority, breeds financial instability, and exacerbates the environmental crisis. Its destructive tendencies are likely to produce an explosion if the process is not contained and democracy is not rehabilitated.

Halting this anti-democratic juggernaut will be difficult, not only because of the power of its beneficiaries, but also because it operates within the framework of nominally democratic structures and musters plausible arguments. But these arguments are self-serving and wrong, and should be vigorously contested. An agenda should be advanced that serves ordinary citizens rather than the TNCs and financial institutions. Negatively, this agenda will include strenuous opposition to all supranational arrangements that take power out of the hands of democratic governments to serve some alleged economic need. Positively, the agenda requires support for the imposition of serious limits and responsibilities on TNCs, including capital controls and other deterrents to financial speculation. Pursuit of this agenda is going to require a combination of understanding and effective organization of the large majority who are the victims of globalization.

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