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May 28, 2012

गरीब तबके का पेट्रोल से क्या वास्ता?


[दैनिक जागरण राष्ट्रीय संस्करण में 28-05-2012 को प्रकाशित]

पेट्रोल के दाम अचानक बढ़ा दिए जाने के बाद देशभर में उबल रहा गुस्सा न तो आश्चर्यजनक है न ही अप्रत्याशित. यूपीए सरकार जानती थी कि मूल्यवृद्धि पर ऐसी ही प्रतिक्रिया आयेगी और हाल में संपन्न पांच राज्यों के चुनाव तक उसने यह बढोत्तरी उस गुस्से के नकारात्मक वोट में बदल जाने के खतरे से बचने के लिए ही रोक रखी थी. पर चुनावों में शर्मनाक हार और दुनिया भर की आर्थिक मंदी की वजह से भारतीय मुद्रा के बेतहाशा अवमूल्यन की दोतरफा मार झेल रही सरकार के लिए अब इस वृद्धि को और रोक कर रखना संभव भी नहीं था.

मगर पेट्रोल वृद्धि पर तमाम गुस्से, बहसों और तर्कों के बीच कुछ बुनियादी सवाल छूट गए से लगते हैं. यह वही सवाल हैं जो इंडिया और भारत के बीच बढती जा रही दूरी को समझने के सूत्र देते हैं. सबसे पहला सवाल तो यह, कि पेट्रोल के मूल्यों में की गयी वृद्धि पर उबल रहा गुस्सा क्या सचमुच देशव्यापी है? इस गुस्से में क्या देश की आबादी के उस सत्तर प्रतिशत हिस्से का गुस्सा भी शामिल है जो ५० रुपये प्रतिदिन से कम पर अपनी जिंदगी बसर करता है और जिसे खुद की विदेश यात्राओं में प्रतिदिन २ लाख से ज्यादा खर्च करने वाले योजना आयोग के ‘माननीय’ उपाध्यक्ष २८ रुपये से ज्यादा कमाने पर तमाम सरकारी कल्याणकारी योजनाओं के लिए कुपात्र बनाने की कोशिश कर रहे हैं? बिलाशक इस तबके के पास पेट्रोल से चलने वाला कोई मोटरवाहन होने से रहा कि यह तबका इस वृद्धि से सीधा प्रभावित हो!

तर्कों के धरातल पर बेशक यह साबित किया जा सकता है कि पेट्रोल के दाम बढ़ाये जाने से देश की अर्थव्यवस्था प्रभावित होती है, मुद्रास्फीति की दर बढ़ जाती है और उससे बढ़ने वाली मंहगाई की मार सब पर एकसी ही पड़ती है, या फिर प्रतिदिन खाद्यान्न खरीदने को मजबूर तबकों पर सबसे ज्यादा पड़ती है. पर एक तो यह तर्क गलत है क्योंकि सार्वजनिक परिवहन में पेट्रोल की भूमिका लगभग नगण्य है. दूसरी तरफ खाद्यान्न से लेकर बाकी हर जरूरी चीज की कीमत तो यूं भी बढ़ रही है और उसके पीछे वह जमाखोर बैठे हैं जो उत्पादन के तुरंत बाद फसलों को कम कीमत में खरीद कर बाद में उनकी कृत्रिम किल्लत पैदा करते हैं. इन जमाखोरों के तार इस देश की वर्तमान सत्ता में बैठे कुछ लोगों से भी जुड़ते हैं यह भी एक सार्वजनिक तथ्य है. तीसरे, जिस देश में हर साल लाखों टन अनाज सरकारी गोदामों में सड़ जाता हो वहाँ खाद्यान्नों की आसमान छूती कीमतों का सम्बन्ध पेट्रोल की कीमत से नहीं बल्कि समाज में शक्ति विभाजन के उन संबंधों से है जो उत्पादन और वितरण की राजनीति को निर्धारित करते हैं.

पेट्रोल मूल्यवृद्धि पर आटोमोबाइल उद्योग की प्रतिक्रिया इस पर हो रही राजनीति की और भी परतें खोलती है. मूल्यवृद्धि के तुरंत बाद तमाम कार कंपनियों द्वारा अपने पेट्रोल मॉडलों की कीमत पचास हजार तक कम किये जाने की घोषणा विपक्षी दलों से लेकर के आम नागरिकों तक की बहसों से सिरे से गायब है. जबकि आर्थिक मंदी के बीच भी दुनिया भर में सबसे तेज गति से बढ़ रहे कार बाजारों में से एक भारत में इस घोषणा के गहरे निहितार्थ थे. पहला यह, कि उनका मुनाफा इस कटौती से कहीं ज्यादा है और उनकी बनायी कारें खरीदने वाले लोगों को इस मुनाफे से कोई दिक्कत नहीं थी. दूसरी यह, कि पेट्रोल के दामों में दी जाने वाली कोई भी सब्सिडी सबसे ज्यादा इसी वर्ग के काम आती है, वह वर्ग जो एक गरीब देश का सबसे संपन्न वर्ग है!

फिर सवाल उठता है कि आम मेहनतकश जनता के खूनपसीने की कमाई से कटने वाले कर से इस वर्ग को सब्सिडी देना क्या किसी भी प्रकार से न्यायोचित है? खासतौर से तब जब एक लीटर पेट्रोल का दाम अब भी ‘मध्यवर्गीय’ माने जाने वाले बरिस्ता जैसे कॉफी हाउसों की एक कप कॉफी की कीमत से कम है? तब भी जब यही वह तबका है जो कल्याणकारी राज्य की अवधारणा के ठीक उलट शासन के नवउदारवादी प्रतिदर्श के साथ खड़ा रहा है और इसने आमजनता की बुनियादी जरूरतों में शुमार होने वाले खाद्यान्न से लेकर केरोसीन तेल जैसी चीजों में दी जाने वाली सब्सिडी कम करने में बड़ी भूमिका निभाई है.

इस वर्ग का प्रतिनिधित्व करने वाले फिक्की से लेकर सीआईआई जैसे संगठनों तक ने लगातार मांग की है कि बाजार से सरकारी नियंत्रण खत्म किया जाय. यही वर्ग है जो गरीब किसानों की आत्महत्यायों से लेकर भारतीय ग्रामीण क्षेत्र में गहराते जा रहे संकट के दौर में भी रोजगार गारंटी कार्यक्रम को अर्थव्यवस्था पर बोझ मानते हुए उसके खिलाफ खड़ा था. यही वर्ग है जो आज भी जीवनरक्षक दवाओं तक के मूल्य नियंत्रण के सरकारी अधिकार के खिलाफ खड़ा हुआ है. हाँ, यही वर्ग है जो आईपीएल जैसे तमाशों पर होने वाले बेतहाशा खर्च और उसके आसमान छूते मुनाफे के बावजूद उसे दी जाने वाली कर छूट पर कोई ऐतराज नहीं करता. भारतीय पूंजीवाद का यह रवैया उसके अपने दावों के विपरीत उसे ‘क्रोनी कैपिटलिज्म’ नाम से जाने जाने वाले पूंजीवादी ढांचे के साथ खड़ा कर देता है.

हाँ, इस मामले में चिंता का एक दूसरा पहलू जरूर है. भारत में मध्यवर्ग कहे जाने वाले वर्ग का मध्यम और निम्नवर्गीय तबका जिसकी जिंदगी में परिवहन की तमाम जरूरतें निजी साधनों से पूरी होती हैं. पेट्रोल मूल्य वृद्धि की असली मार भी इसी तबके को झेलनी है जो सार्वजनिक परिवहन की अनुपस्थिति में अपने निजी साधनों के प्रयोग को मजबूर है. पर यहाँ भी रास्ता निकलता है एक बेहतर और आरामदेह सार्वजनिक परिवहन व्यवस्था के निर्माण से न कि उसकी कमी के आधार पर सिर्फ परजीवी उच्चवर्ग को फायदा पंहुचाने वाली सब्सिडी व्यवस्था का समर्थन कर. बेशक कुछ लोग होंगे जो सार्वजनिक परिवहन व्यवस्था की क्षमता और कार्यकुशलता दोनों के खिलाफ तर्क देंगे पर उनके लिए राष्ट्रमंडल खेलों की वजह से दिल्ली की सार्वजनिक परिवहन व्यवस्था में हुए आशातीत परिवर्तन का उदाहरण ही काफी है. वैसे भी, सामाजिक संसाधनों की गुणवत्ता मध्यवर्ग के इसी हिस्से की भागीदारी और सहभागिता से तय होती है. सरकारी स्कूलों की कमी का कोई लाख रोना रोये, केन्द्रीय विद्यालयों और नवोदय विद्यालयों के सालाना परिणाम इस बात का सबूत हैं कि यह वर्ग चाहे तो चीजें ठीक हो सकती हैं.

इसीलिये, पेट्रोल की तो छोड़ें ही, निजी परिवहन में इस्तेमाल किये जाने वाले डीजल पर दी जाने वाली सब्सिडी भी भारत की आमजनता की मेहनत से कमाए धन से आने वाले कर का आपराधिक अपव्यय है और इसे रोका जाना चाहिए. असली जरूरत है भारत में सब्सिडी व्यवस्था में आमूलचूल परिवर्तन लाकर इसे ठीक करने की जिससे इसका लाभ सिर्फ वास्तविक हकदारों को मिले. इस प्रक्रिया की शुरुआत की जा सकती है ग्रामीण और शहरी क्षेत्रों में एक ऐसा तरीका तलाशने से जिससे सिंचाई के साधनों में लगने वाले डीजल, ट्रैक्टर में, ट्रक में लगने वाले डीजल पर तो सब्सिडी हो पर कारों में डाले जाने वाले डीजल पर नहीं. जरूरत है कि इन सब्सिडियों पर बेकार खर्च हो रहे सरकारी धन को खाद्य भण्डारण को विकेन्द्रीकृत कर तमाम राज्यों में गोदाम बनाने पर खर्च किया जाय जिससे एक तो अनाज खुले में रखा जाकर खराब होने से बचे और दूसरे उस की ढुलाई पर खर्चा होने वाला अकूत डीजल भी बचे. ऐसा नहीं हुआ तो इस मूल्य वृद्धि का सिर्फ इतना परिणाम होगा कि सडकों पर नजर आने वाली तमाम चमचमाती कारें पेट्रोल के बदले अपने डीजल प्रतिदर्शों में बदल जायेंगी और हम अपने करों से उनमे पड़ने वाले डीजल का पैसा चुकाते रहेंगे.

May 24, 2012

Out to Assassinate the Left: A rejoinder to Aditya Nigam

[In reply to Aditya Nigam's critique of Prabhat Patnaik's stand on the cartoon row]

None can challenge Aditya Nigam in spitting venom against the organised Left, of any kind! That's bound to be the case for Nigam specializes in nothing else! Now its Prabhat, Earlier it was the rumour of Maoism! Even earlier was that piece in which Nigam documented both his fears and the relief.. To quote him..

"fear at the sight of these hundreds of little Stalins crawling out of the woodwork, and sheer relief that they will never be able to rule over us ever again."
Hundreds of little Stalinists! They must be Indian Citizens as well, ain't they? They must have their right to form associations and hold meetings guaranteed by the Indian constitution itself? Don't they? After all, whatever the argument of some of the organizers of MR, MR did neither issue a call for any sort of violence nor did it stop anyone else, including Nigam, to hold their WSF! Seems the term 'Stalinist' has gotten a whole new meaning!

Let's come to the 'diatribes' of Prabhat that Nigam is so scornful of! Prabhat's article had made a lot of sense to me, and it in my view represented the best possible stance the Marxists, of any kind, should had taken in this ongoing war of positions! Well, one can as well add Laltu's article that was published in Jansatta in the same league. Now, before someone jumps into some conclusions and/or discoveries, I have always been opposed to CPIM's political line all my life and have belonged to the ML camp. I have found many of Prabhat's positions highly problematic, including the ones he had on Nandigram.

But what is wrong with Prabhat's argument here?

He definitely is not treating the Parliament as some sacred and sacrosanct institution that is beyond any critique. He, quite on the contrary, is making it very clear that the Parliament will have to earn the respect it wants. All he is arguing is that the Parliament is a reflection of the collective will of the people and how deficient or efficient it is, is beside the point. He also argues that the power to make decisions cannot be abrogated to any other group that is not accountable to the people unlike the parliament! Is there any problem with that?

Nigam might be well in his right in locating all the Debates that are happening on issues ranging from the Nuclear Bill to Right to Food to the drawing room discourses of these EXPERTS of Prabhat whom he chooses to refer to as Citizens, but then who are the people who are waging their own wars on the grassroots? Are they all really so peripheral to the debate as Nigam makes them out to be? And mind it, I am not talking either of the erstwhile Harmads of the CPIM nor the Little Stalinists! I am referring to struggles like that of the MKSS in Rajashan to the one against Posco in Odisha. They might not be intellectuals but is it so easy to write them off altogether as Nigam finds it! Ah, Nigam did refer to his ‘perverse view of things’, albeit in a different sense, didn’t he?

Perverse. That is the word that defines rather amusing ‘evidence’ of Atal Bihari Bajpeyi justifying the deletion of ten passages from a book that Nigam uses to establish the expertise of Congress in such affairs. And all this while we thought that Bajpeyi belonged to the Bhartiya Janata Party and not Congress.

Apart from maligning all the different strands of Left, Nigam excels in one more thing, that is parrying the real questions away. Prabhat did not merely focus on the rights, and the wrongs, of the parliament. He had scrutinised a few other things as well. For example, the very first thing he argued was that the issue is not about ‘freedom of expression’. Then he buttressed the fact that this is not about any sense of humour either. He also touched upon the issue of sensibilities and how they develop into organised political actions. Yes, the cartoons might not have drawn an immediate protest but then the reasons for that can be located in the strength of the then Dalit movement. It could also have something to with the vocabulary, rather the lack of it, it had.

Even though Prabhat avoided using the classical categories like class and caste, he hinted at the composition of the experts (Citizens for Nigam) being so terribly schewed in favour of the so called upper castes and classes. Now, socialisation does has a role in shaping our sensibilities and perceptions, doesn’t it? Nigam decided to parry this question away as well. Why? For it is not that easy to fault someone on that account. Also, it is far easier to do an Anna Hazare than engage in the rigours that organised Left is all about. Doing Anna Hazare comes with its own middle class benefits is beside the point.

May 21, 2012

Republic on the Rise: Nepal embarks on the road to democracy.


[From my column OBVIOUSLY OPAQUE in the UTS Voice 15-31 May, 2012]

“You must try to contribute to the process of transitional justice, including the constitution making” said the young and cheerful human rights activist I was talking to. “That’s the thing” she added for a good measure. Yep. I nodded for transition is the thing. I could see it everywhere. It was there in the streets and it illuminated the discussions in the restaurants. It was there in the sparkle that lighted her face when she talked of transition. I could see it in the twinkle that swam into her eyes, a twinkle that betrayed her robust belief in the good days ahead for her country.

It was my third day in Lalitpur, cousin city of Kathmandu, the capital of the Himalayan republic and I had already lost track of just how many times I had encountered the words. Human rights activists talked of it in terms of transitional justice while asserting the need of something like the South African process of truth and reconciliation. Development professionals talked of it while underlining the need of international action for ensuring food security of the impoverished masses. Political activists talked of it, albeit with a little despair emanating out of one more failure of drafting the constitution in the stipulated time, while emphasizing the enormity of the task they were faced with.

It was scattered across pages of newspapers, both the Nepalese and the English ones. On my second day in Lalitpur, reputed English daily named Kantipur was reporting of yet another extension of the interim parliament couple with yet another change in the government, nay interim government to be precise. It was now going to be a national front government, albeit under the leadership of the incumbent prime minister only.

It’s not merely the parliament that’s abuzz with the talks of political transition. Neither is the idea of politics limited to a liberal democratic framework that brings cheer to those who have specialised the art of delivering democracy to the regimes that are unfavourable to them. Streets of Kathmandu have, instead, turned into an open school of Marxist ideology. I wonder what all these international experts/development professionals/aid workers would make of those red banners calling for an end to the factionalism, elopism and opportunism within communist ranks and files.

The last thing many of them would want, I am sure, is a dialogue within different communist parties that opens the possibility of a broad Communist front if not an outright merger. These banners, wall paintings and posters have painted the twin towns of Kathmandu and Patan RED. Even more interestingly, they have been put not merely by many communist parties that dominate the Nepali political scene as of now but also by trade unions like All Nepal trade Union of Restaurent workers (translation mine). A satisfying smile forces its way on my face. The process of trade unionisation is so complete in this country which was an absolute monarchy just a few years back!

Not that the forces of positive, however divided, are the only forces trying to take Nepal their way. There were many a wall writings of a Hindu Party of Nepal as well, with Revolutionary added to its name in brackets for effects, calling for ensuring the safety, survival and dignity of Hindus of Nepal! Hinduism is the majority religion in Nepal is beside the point. Their safety, survival and dignity are not threatened by whosoever seems even more irrelevant to whatever political group this is. Interestingly the Nepali Congress (Koirala faction) is conspicuously absent from the streets despite its huge support that is second only to two of the biggest communist parties. “Ah, they are too elite and too assured of their support to engage in such menial labour” quips another Nepali activist friend of mine.

Transition. The word defines the blossoming republic that was born out of mass protests called Janandolan that swept the monarchy away in its tide. Transition. The word guarantees that this time the republic has come there to stay unlike all those false starts that had come the nation’s way. Of course it would not be a smooth ride; it just cannot be for throwing off the yoke of that dreaded feudal monarchy is nothing less than a herculean task.

Of course it would be fraught with dangers, both from within and without for the influence of the erstwhile monarchy still holds some, even if greatly diminished, ground. Losing respect and power, as it is, does not necessarily translate into the loss of conspiratorial prowess, does it? Couple this with the vested interests that have entrenched themselves deep into the power corridors and the recipe for an impending threat is complete. Their scheming designs have drawn blood in the past and they cannot be believed to sit idle this time.

Not this time though. For the republic has drawn its first blood as well. The first thing it did was turning the then ‘Hindu Rashtra’ into a secular republic and thus correcting a historical wrong committed on Nepali people by the erstwhile monarchy that claimed to be of a divine origin. Unlike its western counterparts, this one was not to be content with a claim of being the ‘march of the God on the earth’ but wanted to be God itself, so it did precisely that. The kings claimed to be the incarnation of incarnation of Lord Vishnu, one of the Holy Trinity that sits at the apex of Hinduism. They claimed, for I am sure that even they themselves won’t be stupid enough to believe that ridiculous assertion of their own.

The republic has cut them, and all their claims, to size. There are no more Gods roaming through the streets of Kathmandu or Lalitpur. People have snatched all their streets, all their roads back. They have taken all those Darbars, or the squares surrounding the palaces, back too. In fact, it was at the Patan darbar where I witnesses one of the most fascinating glimpse of the transition that is seeping into the ordinary lives of these ordinary people. Darbar, at the center of Lalitpur, was abuzz with the people, right from the ‘foren’ tourists to the locals stealing little moments of leisure sitting idle on the steps of countless temples that make the Darbar.

Many of them are young couples lost into one another. In fact, it’s not merely the Patan Darbar but all of Kathmandu valley that young couples have taken by a storm. Quite apparently, they are not merely from the upper echelons of the society. Nepal is in transition. India, the big brother that sits at its borders witnesses act of ‘honour’ killings just at the outskirts of its national capital. Breaking the stream of thought a boy asks me “Will you please click a photograph of us”? The couple looks at each other and then, a little coyly, holds hands. And then I saw the queue, not of human beings though. It was a queue of pots, mostly plastic ones, lined up in front of the two water taps located in the pond like structure with steps that stood at one of the corners of the Darbar.

“What’s that”, I asked SachinGhimre, a Nepali friend of mine who was my junior at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi while I was enrolled there for my PhD. “What’s what”, he asked back. “That queue of the water pots in bright colours that only plastic can come with!” “Oh that”, Sachinlooked at the queue a little forlornly, “They are local people getting water as they don’t have tapped water supply for clean drinking water at their homes.” Were they allowed to do that beforehand? No, that happened only after the ‘janandolan”!

Ordinary, poor people collecting their water at a place that once was a palace! That’s what this transition is all about. People reclaiming their lives and their resources, that’s what this transition is all about. This is the evidence for the fact that the republic is on the move even if a little short on resources. But then, once the will is firmly in place, all that the lack of resources can do is slow down the process a little, it cannot turn the tide back.
Narendra spoke with a definite conviction. A conviction that was shaped by the will to move forward.A Conviction that was born out of the will to demolish all those structures that destined a section of Nepali population to a life of slavery and servitude.A conviction that dreams of turning the former Dalits as equal citizens of the new country, the one that is no more a Hindu nation.The one that has become a republic.

We were sitting in the office of the Jagran Media Center, a non-governmental organization that works on the issues of Dalit rights. “We have a network of seven hundred journalists”, he said and then added with a pause, “and four hundred and fifty of them were trained by us”. There was an unmistakable hint of the fact that he took pride in the success of the organization he is leading. “All of them are Dalits”, added Deependra. His voice was brimming with pride too.
They have just finished with a television serial named Dalan, or repression, which ran with grand success on Nepali TV. They are successfully running many radio channels that are both community based and community owned. They are playing an important role in the constitution making process as well with a pledge of bringing issues regarding Dalit rights to the national forefront. Undoubtedly, the republic is in transition. It is on the rise as well. The window of their office opens into a beautiful skyline dotted with the Himalayas on the horizons.

A memory crosses my mind. The memories of those beautiful days in JNU, marked with late night processions against a thousand injustices committed on the people. The memories of all those slogans including the one I liked the most, the people united shall always be victorious. Some of the victories are coming our way. They so certainly are.

I take a cab back to the guest house. The winding and narrow roads are absolutely similar to any of the roads that one finds in the quaint hill stations of India. What differentiates Kathmandu, though, is the Newari architecture that produces breathtaking beautiful houses of brick and wood. The windows don intricate patterns carved out of the wooden panes.Newaris, by the way, are people indigenous to the Kathmandu valley. They are something like a host tribe, one that forms majority of the capital city but is largely absent or is a tiny minority in the rest of the country.

Newaris love their Stupas, complete with four lions guarding their localities. Something catches my attention yet again. One of these Stupas is taken over by a woman vegetable seller. No, not all of that.another part of it is claimed by one who has a small cycle repairing shop, if one can call it a shop that is.

A smile takes my face over. This is what transition is. A transition where the traditional serves the modern. It is one where people have reined in that block called functional fixedness and can put things, successfully, to use. The one they have taken over is far better kept than the abandoned, decaying ones. That is another evidence for the success of community ownership of public spaces, isn’t it?

Looking at the Kathmandu valley from Swyambhoo, a Buddhist temple on a hillock that overlooks all of Kathmandu valley does not give even a hint of all that is churning within the Nepalese society. Yet, it does give panoramic views of the beautiful city that lays beneath. A city that has a past imperfect, but striving for a future much better than anything that there was.

May 11, 2012

A Didi so bereft of Mamta!


[From my column OBVIOUSLY OPAQUE in the UTS Voice, May 1-15, 2012]

Poor Shakespeare! Good that he is long gone or he would have wanted to die again. He would had to, for that is what people with honour of his times were known to do after getting proven decisively wrong by someone. He would never have asked what's there in a name had he known that hatred would never be as strong and self-reinforcing if it came with any other name than Mamata Banerjee. So much for the name, literally meaning love, of the maternal kind on top of that, Mamta, when the woman behind the name is so royally, in a democratic sense, bereft of any feelings of compassion forget love.

Poor Shakespeare! If only he knew that a rose can still smell as sweet even if it came with any other name but absurdity can never be as absurd if it had an address other than that of the Writer’s Building to vouch for. Writer’s Building! Pronounce the name loudly, maybe for ten times and the irony lost in the name starts slowly revealing itself to the unsuspecting ears of the lesser mortals. She used nothing named less fancily than the Writers’ Building to issue her diktat banning certain newspapers and magazines from public libraries scattered throughout the state. Do I even need to add that the newspapers were all that were getting more and more critical of her wayward ways of behaving like a dictator, nay, a hooligan while gracing the chair of the Chief Minister of the state? I certainly need to, however, mention the fact that these were the same newspapers that were so appreciative of her, and her wayward ways, till the other day.

Wayward, perhaps, need some explanation here. Waywardness for Mamta might actually be some higher order of consciousness, some higher order of knowledge that we, the lesser mortals do not have access to. She has her own scheme of things. She might have her own, and grand, scheme of the universe as well. Waywardness of Mamta might only be our lack of understanding, or stupidity therefore. Is it really right of us to tear her manners apart instead of thanking for her graciousness in not calling us stupid while hinting at that we were, after all? She did tell us that much, didn’t she? Why else, she would take the decision in ‘public interest’ nothing less?

We should have thanked her for saving us from the ignominy of falling prey to the ‘rumours’ and ‘propaganda’ and the ‘canards’ that these newspapers were found to be spreading. (The charges remind me of similarly worded differently signed press releases of the Left-Front days, but then that is beside the point). We should have broken into an Orwellian chant, something like four-legs-good-two-legs-bad in the Animal Farm style for expressing our joys of finding the liberator, finally. And here we, the thankless people are.

I am sure Mamtadi would have been laughing at the stupidity of those asking about the past of the same newspapers when they supported her and played a crucial role in the fall of the final frontier. Did the Orwellian chant not change into two-legs-good-four-legs-bad when prompted, and of course, required by the need of reassessment of concrete situations. Ok, I concede that for Mamtadi’s lifelong opposition to the ‘Left’ I should had tried to scavenge an analogy from the stables of the Right-wingers. Had ‘intellectually stimulating’ not been used as a synonym for ‘does not exist’ I would have done that. So I did not even try, and I am not sorry for that. Period.

She had much more on her mind, all in order to enlighten us, the lesser mortals, and to deliver us all to a level of higher consciousness. Apparently, she has had enough of our small pleasures of laughing at the cartoons that come tucked at the bottom of the front page, sometime that of the edit or Op-Ed, of the newspapers. Even if not exactly blasphemous, does the act not indicate at our stupidity of deriving pleasure from such trivial things, she must have thought. Add all the loss of working hours these cartoons cause to the nation by making us, the lesser mortals, laugh and share these stupid jokes and only then would one understand the true logic, and vision, hidden in her crackdown on such cartoons.

After all, have not we seen the cartoons tell the same stories, if we could call them stories that is, years after years and decades after decades? What changes did R. K. Laxman’s common man witness while appearing into our lives day after day? Did his life get any better? It did not, so what is the point to invest so much of energy and time into making ones. Similar would be the experience of the cartoonists depicting the politicians and the statesmen though I wonder if there are any left of the latter variety.

What purpose does it solve, then, to draw a silent Manmohan Singh instead of a sleeping Deve Gowda, (what was his full name by the way?) or a Mamta from a Jayalalitha, she would have asked herself. This, for her, must be a criminal waste of time aka the bad old days of the Left Front regime when they engaged in good for nothing strikes. And then there are lesser mortals, like us, who link it all to that abstract concept of democracy and criticise her. This is all a conspiracy against her, she must have thought. Why else the same people who did not go beyond muttering under their breath when Manmohan Singh called all the talks of corruption as mere propaganda are after Mamta’s life now?

So she was absolutely in her right to get that fella, whatever was his name, arrested. One he wasted his time by drawing something he was not paid for, and was mandated to, and then wasted more by spreading that. Creepy creature must be on the CPI M’s payrolls. Ah, CPI M, or as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is known in our country that is obsessed with the acronyms. CPI M leadership must be happy with that too, or they would have found it difficult to explain the meaning of the term Marxist that adorns their name. I, for one and also for the lesser mortal I am, could never understand if it should be seen as something similar to free in free beer or free as in free speech, but then that is, again, beside the point.

Going by the Mamta Banerjee’s statements, if you could actually call her rants that, CPI M must be terribly happy. If they really wield all that power the CM keeps accusing them of, they have never had it better than this. They are behind everything, from orchestrating gang rapes to malign CM’s image to making and distributing cartoons against her. They are the ones that have been successfully sabotaging her relations with the Indian National Congress and they are the ones who have convinced the media to portray Mamtadi as a buffoon, which, to the best of her knowledge and belief, she is not. Evidently, they have got that proverbial hand (see, that’s the evidence for covert conspiracies of the Congress in tandem with the commies) that is behind everything. They have got that proverbial hand), or is it hammer and sickle, that is bigger than the long hand of the law.

Long hand of the law! That reminds me of the miraculous, almost supernatural, powers of Mamtadi who could successfully make out a rape from an allegation. That too without even any preliminary investigation! She just sees the reality behind all that crops up in front of her eyes. The reality, in turn, is way too easy to make out. It is a rape if the accused belong to any of the shades of the Red that had dominated West Bengal for so long, and is merely an allegation that does not require even an inquiry if the accused have got anything to do with her stable. Simple logic, isn’t it? Just that it’s we, the lesser mortals, who do not have access to those higher level of consciousness that helps one see black from white.

We, by virtue of our ignorance, can actually ask questions like why the police officer in charge of the investigation then refuted the truth revealed by the Chief Minister as against the baseless allegations levelled by the victim. The answer is even simpler. The lady officer has been duly shunted out of her office, of course after telling the media that Mamtadi did not try to influence the investigation.

Perhaps this is the time for us, the lesser mortals, to repent for the sins of launching tirades against such well-meaning person. We can begin with demanding a law that makes scoffing at Mamtadi, including by making a cartoon, a criminal offence. Scrapping the provincial police and bestowing the powers of investigations and prosecution unto her (not in the post for those following her can be fallible) infallible persona. Amen.

May 07, 2012

‘Anonymous’ resistance to the "Merchant of Death": Narendra Modi comes an inglorious third in the Times poll

[From my column Obviously Opaque in the UTS Voice, 16th-30 April 2012]

First, the absurd. My wall was painted red by the saffrons. They were writhing in anger against the injustice done to Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat. Wait, I am not referring to the walls of the house I live in, but the one of my profile of that ubiquitous social networking site called Facebook that has come to define us more than what our real existence does. So, the saffrons had painted my, and almost anyone else’s who had something to do with India, red.

They had detected, invented would be the correct word though, a conspiracy against Mr. Modi as well. Ah, the man and his almost paranoid love for conspiracy. Such a penchant Mr. Modi has for conspiracies. I remember, with horror, the ones he has already exhausted. Having done to death part accusations part abuses like pseudo-secular, pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-liberal, Pakistani/Muslim, Italian/Christian and the likes , he would soon have to invent new ones, I am afraid. The spin- master he is, he may turn even that into propaganda for his vibrant Gujarat by declaring it the new Mecca, nay the New Ayodhya, for the linguists tasked with inventing new words that could ‘qualify’ conspiracy.

So the social media, right from Facebook to Twitter was put on fire by his over-zealous supporters over his ‘dethronement’ from the top position in an online poll for choosing hundred ‘most influential people’ that was being conducted by the Time, a reputed American news magazine. As it turned out, Modi was leading the poll till less than three days before the scheduled closing of the voting. Further, he was not merely leading; he was leading by a huge margin. Such an honour it was for a person who was declared persona non grata by the American establishment not long ago, and was denied visa despite being a ‘democratically’ elected chief minister of a province of the largest democracy of the word. Such a restoration of dignity it was to the persona of someone believed to be a mass murderer in disguise, wasn’t it?
He was leading the negative vote with an equally huge margin as well, though his supporters shied away from talking about that. They, instead, chose to beat the seventy per cent in favour against merely thirty per cent in opposition as the definitive and decisive evidence for the support their leader enjoys. They had drawn the first blood and nothing could stop them from setting propaganda machine in motion, all cylinders firing. The victory needed to be celebrated, and celebrated full on, for it was a victory of not merely a person but of all of Gujarat and its seventy million people. They had started placing orders for everything that could be used in celebrations. Gujarat, too, was bracing up for surviving the assault of the brigade, telling itself that no new king size cutouts could kill aesthetics more than the old ones, and that full page newspaper advertisements have already touched the ebb and that they could not go worse than what they already were.

Then came the avalanche. Master divider was pushed, unceremoniously, to the second place by the penultimate day of voting. Not only this, the votes against him were going up slowly but steadily. The number of ‘never, no way’ sayers had reached precariously, of course only for the zealots vouching for Modi, close to those far him. The dream run was going to be over, or was it already? The high hopes of making it big on the cover of the Time seemed to be running out of steam. But then, the bigots were not going to take it lying down, were they? They were working overtime, too, all for finding an excuse that could explain the failure or a hole that could puncture the balloon. How much they wanted something which could save the day for them.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for the sake of the human within me, I do not have any access to the ghettos where these fanatics live. Yet, I think I can pretty much guess what would have transpired in the deep and dark, nay saffron, insides of their mind to come up with what they later did. Here is a fictional account of that. “Eureka, one of them must have screamed at the height of his lung, for screaming comes easy to them anyways. This Anonymous guy, who has pushed our Modibhai to second place is a Hacker he would have shouted. Hacker? That gives us a shot at digging up some conspiracy theory, so close to Modibhai’s heart, his cohorts would have responded. Well then, let’s get down to job and save the pride of Modibhai, that is the pride of Gujarat by extension, and then that of Indian nation, or perhaps that of Akhanda Bharata as Modibhai would have preferred to call it, one of the gang would have exhorted his cohorts into.’

Now , the stupid. Their decision had culminated into an online petition complaining to The Time for looking into the ‘grave matter of ‘Anonymous Hacker’ who has, according to them, ‘penetrated into their system and had pushed Narendra Modi to second place while occupying the first for himself’. They had started a thousand campaigns on Facebook as well, inundating it with abuses for the hacker, anti-Modi secular, Left, liberal intellectuals Muslims and Christians and calls for their patriotic cohorts to ‘aggressively’ vote for Modibhai and save the national honour in the process.

There was something ironically true in their call. They had got it so right while naming all those they believed were opposed to Modibhai, for Modi had in fact given all of them a reason to hate him for. Further, they sounded so ominous in their call for ‘aggressive’ voting, for aggression, it seems, is the only natural reaction inherent to their degenerate systems that are human in form but beastly in nature.

There was something stupid in their call as well, in fact not merely stupid, for it was much more than that. Ok, I concede that no one in his senses would ever accuse a Modi supporter of being corrupted by something as silly as rationality and knowledge. Yet, expecting them to read the thing before launching a tirade would definitely not be too much to expect from them, would it? But then, those who can demolish expectations as innocuous as behaving like humans do can defy anything just as easily, can’t they?

As it came out, they had not bothered to read the description of ‘Anonymous’ as offered by The Time, forget checking it anywhere else. They confused the world-wide group of Anonymous ethical hackers that has proved to be resilient enough to be up and kicking despite an across the world crack down on them with some anonymous hacker operating out of his cubicle to manufacture money out of his malwares.

If only they were following even The Time, they would have known that the term Anonymous has assumed an aura of righteousness, not the pretended one of their sort, but one that denotes the resolute participation of the common person on struggles that started in the Arab Street and ran through the Wall street, engulfing all the dictatorships that fell in between.

If only they had known that this Anonymous was not the anonymous that specialized in the art of hiding himself behind a saffron mask for killing and maiming citizens as they did in Gujarat in that fateful summer of 2002. No, this Anonymous is the one that has kept that space of resistance on the internet up despite regular arrests of its key members in a pan-European witch-hunt much in the same way as the Anonymous citizens who bore the brunt of the first round of army fire to give birth to democracies out of US supported dictatorships.

But then, as I said earlier, can one really expect reason from those who rejoice in killing hapless people? Can one expect calls of harmony and peace from those who refuse to wear a Muslim skull-cap even while flaunting all others in their ‘Sadbhavana’ fasts? Can we expect an attempt of reconciliation from a Chief Minister who was accused of not following the ‘RajaDharma’ by the Prime Minister of the country belonging to his own party?

But can we expect this person to win the race of being most influential person of the world, even if the race does not mean much in itself? Not really, for the blood that they spilt in Gujarat is too thick to be forgotten by even those who claim to be friends of the murderer. No one has forgotten how Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar and a senior leader of National Democratic Alliance, has shooed Narendra Modi away threatening his Bhartiya Janta Party to break the alliance if they bring Modi in for canvassing in Bihar. Can we really forget how stubbornly had he refused to share dais with this sectarian leader?

Forget all this, for even the BJP’s own unit of Uttar Pradesh did not let him canvass there during the assembly elections fearing all the negativity it will cause. Narendra Modi is also just one, according to Nitin Gadakri, President of the BJP, of tens in the race for the post of Prime Ministership in the party. Can such a person, shooed away from Bihar and unwelcome in Uttar Pradesh, be the most influential person even in India, forget the world? No, he cannot. The Time had made a mistake and the Anonymous corrected that.

And lastly, the humiliation. To the grins of his detractors, including two-third of his party members, Mr Modi was not merely pushed to third place by the end of the voting but had also secured the dubious distinction of garnering more negative votes than the positive ones. Perhaps such shameless attempts of forcing oneself in the international arena are fated to end in such exemplary failures. Supporters of Modi, though, can convert this into an opportunity by launching campaign against the designs of a ‘foreign’ magazine that ‘conspired’ to insult a ‘patriot’ Narendra Modi. He loves the ‘C’ word in any case.

May 05, 2012

They don't need a war to get Internally Displaced!

[The Hindu published a shorter version of this article with the title Of Human Bondage on 4th May 2012]

Imagine a community with no place to belong to, in a country that cherishes the idea of motherland. Imagine a community forced to live a life perennially in flux, continuously on the move not in quest of greener pastures but for ensuring mere physical survival. Imagine one which can claim no village as its own, and is condemned to leave their hamlets once in a few years. Not in our country, at least in the ‘normal’ parts, one would tend to think but for a few scattered across the ‘disturbed’ territories.

Unfortunately, that is far from being true. For example, Baghelkhand, in Madhya Pradesh, has not one, but many such communities. Their plight does not reach us despite our persistent pursuit of the deepening crisis in agriculture. We might be aware , thanks to the relentless work of P Sainath, of the frightening flight from rural areas in the form of footloose migration yet that does not really prepare us to grasp the extent of the distress in actual, human terms.

“The walls of Kol houses do never get blackened by the smoke of the hearth, they have to move out much before that!” said Mamta Kol, a 30 year old resident of Gonta hamlet in Jawa block of district Rewa. The statement was so devoid of pathos, melancholy or anything that could get associated with grief or anger. It was no nonsense statement of fact coming out of a person, nay a community resigned to its ‘fate’ of getting displaced every few years.

Yet, the pathos intrinsic to the sentence was unmistakable. She was born in village Chamarahua, in Mau block of district Banda of Uttar Pradesh. Her father had got ‘patta’ or the landlease but never the possession. Despite repeated attempts, the revenue officials never informed the family of the exact location of ‘their’ lands. Failed in their quest and condemned to living the life of a bonded labour, they fled the village one night and landed in Katiya-Dandi a village in Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh. The story repeated itself there as well and the family escaped to Gonta where a few community elders have settled to escape brutal exploitation by their upper caste landlords. This was in 1984. Gonta proved to be quite an unlikely village for the Kols for its continued existence ever since. Not anymore though, for the government is gearing up to acquire the lands for a proposed thermal power plant. The miracle of continued existence of a Kol hamlet cannot be allowed, it seems.

Mamta’s story was in no ways atypical as I were to find during my field investigations for a study aimed at mapping the distress migration patterns. I met Sadhulal in Bishar, a hamlet deep within now denuded forests, who was born in Suhawal, had to move to Barahula followed by Daharan before finally ending up here. He is 62. He likes it here for the inaccessibility of the hamlet provides a sort of refuse from the dadulog, landlords in local parlance and gives him a shot at stability. Quite a genuine justification for people trying to escape generations of bondage, isn’t it?

He, with 56 other residents of the hamlet got a patta as well. Then, the fairy tale ended with and upper caste landlord turning up. He forcibly usurped some land and started litigation claiming that the distributed lands were his private property. Being ‘subjudice’, the lands are left uncultivated ever since. “If the governments give us land leases, does it give us for fighting court cases? Why would we have had to beg for the lands if only we had that much ‘power’?” asked Hiralal, a community elder.

The story remains the same even if the names of the hamlets change from Mohanaiyya plot of Seeganwtola to Nonariof Jawari and from Dondar Colony to Dhakara! The evictions come in different forms; sometimes self-inflicted in search of freedom from bondage, and by getting thrown out by the forest department for ‘illegally encroaching’ the forest lands at other. Displaced from their hamlets, they would find a new place, often inhabitable, for the risk of getting chased out increases with the habitability of the hamlet.

They would make the place liveable, call in their kith and kin wanting to escape structures of bonded labour. This would go on for a while and then, they will fall prey to a new development project or a new diktat of the forest department. Another eviction will come, and the same story will play itself out. In fact, the number of displacements, I found, would often be directly proportional to the age of the protagonist! Older you are, more the number of displacements suffered, sometimes spanning almost all of Baghelkhand!

Ironically, no evictions hint at a fate even worse, for that means that the inhabitant of the hamlet failed to flee from bondage as is the case with Loni, the only hamlet I came across that did not get displaced even once. The predicament of the residents of Loni explains, partly, the reasons behind people putting everything at stake for that elusive freedom. Ramkhelawan of Mohanaiyya seems to buttress the fact when he asserts that “What could be better than being the master of one’s own self. Whether there is livelihood or not, one is independent at least.”

Evidently, the quest for freedom and a life with dignity is not killed by all the hardships their circumstances have unleashed on these people. This is the same quest brought out by lifelong struggles of Shailesh Verma, a Dalit by caste, of Dhakara who chose to adopt a surname belonging to OBCs despite all odds. For him, it was not merely a way of escaping all those ‘insults’ his caste-name brought to him in a feudal society, but also an act of defiance by subverting the system that perpetuates their misery. Being the first ever graduate from his community in that area and then taking up their fight as his own must have done him proud. The defiance glowed all over his face when he told me that ‘Those who make it big become Rawat, while the failed ones remain Kol all their lives’.

Similar is the story of struggles of Ramkripal Namdev, 65, of Nonari, a crusader for hope against all hopes. Though hailing from ‘darji, or tailor community and thus not belonging to Kols or Dalits, he has made establishing villages for the dispossessed a mission of his life. Whenever he would see empty government lands he would invite the Kols, the Dalits or any such deprived group he could find and turn it into a new hamlet. He would, then, become the self-appointed mentor of the hamlet. He would lodge legal cases against the Forest department stopping them from reclaiming the lands and engage in the political struggles including indefinite hunger strikes. Ask him why and all he would, smilingly, offer is that ‘people have a right to live, don’t they?

Yet, stories of such defiance are few and far between as against those of evictions and displacements. The miseries of these communities should be treated at par with that of the Internally Displaced People, for the continuous movement deny them access to all fundamental rights ranging from a right to life with dignity to that of access to education. Is someone listening?