Category Archives: Debates

Graziano Transmissioni and the Cheer-Leaders of Capital


‘The chief executive officer of a Greater Noida-based gear manufacturing company [Graziano Transmissioni India Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of an Italian TNC] was lynched to death inside factory premises on Monday, allegedly by a group of dismissed workers.’

‘“Around 125 dismissed workers armed with iron rods barged into the factory and went on rampage. They broke computers and machinery and smashed windowpanes. When Lalit tried to pacify them, they assaulted him with rods,” board of director Ramesh Jain told Hindustan Times.’ See report here

‘Companies in the area are known to employ contract labour in large numbers, though the law clearly states that such workers can be used only for non-core functions and not on the shop floor.’ says another report.


They’d never had it so good. Through the 1990s and into the 2000s, the party had gone on. Continue reading Graziano Transmissioni and the Cheer-Leaders of Capital

The red mongoose in solemn procession: Samkutty Pattomkary

[This guest post by SAMKUTTY PATTOMKARY responds to the ongoing debate in Kafila on the Chengara issue. -AN]

Reading through the discussions on Chengara in kafila, some thoughts I felt I need to articulate as follows.

It comes out vividly through the Chengara struggle that a large section of people remain alienated from social and political powers in the so-called democratic society of Kerala. Why is it not possible for the ‘class proponents’ to see and engage themselves in working towards solving the issue politically? Continue reading The red mongoose in solemn procession: Samkutty Pattomkary

Is Hindu right wing behind Indian Mujahideen, ask Muslim groups: IANS

September 17th, 2008 – 9:56 pm ICT by IANS –

Mumbai, Sep 17 (IANS) Terming the Indian Mujahideen, which has claimed
responsibility for the serial blasts in Ahmedabad and New Delhi, as
fictitious, several Muslim organisations and clerics have demanded
investigations into the possible role of the Hindu right wing in the
terror attacks.In a statement issued here Wednesday evening, 21 Muslim
organisations challenged Indian Mujahideen leaders to come out in the
open and prove their actions.

Continue reading Is Hindu right wing behind Indian Mujahideen, ask Muslim groups: IANS

Breakthrough in Singur?

Dear all,

(Adapted from a recent post made on the Reader List)

Kafila has in the past discussed the debacle of Nandigram in West Bengal and more recently, Singur.

For the past several days, a peaceful agitation on the Durgapur expressway near the Tata Motors Factory site in Singur in West Bengal has protested against the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation and the West Bengal Government’s decision not to engage with the demands of the farmers and others who did not voluntarily accept the paltry compensation offered to them by the WBIDC for the loss of their land or their livelihoods.

At the close of last night, the Governor of West Bengal, Gopal Krishna Gandhi announced that a solution acceptable to all (the protesting farmers at Singur and the Government of West Bengal) has been found, and that Ms. Mamata Bannerjee of the Trinamool Congress (one of the key protagonists of the Singur protest) would announce that the agitation at Singur would be suspended.

This is good news, as it demonstrates that hitherto unwilling and insensitive governments that try to ride roughshod over people in the interests of capital can be made on occasion to listen to organized and peaceful  expressions of peoples’ dissent. The CPI(M) led Left Front Government of West Bengal seems to have learnt at least some lessons from the fallout of its earlier shameful and anti-democratic conduct in Nandigram. This is welcome. It can only be hoped that the CPI(M) leadership takes stock,  learns to listen more to people, and indeed to many from amongst their own cadre who have been unhappy about the way in which their party brokered unfair land deals for Capital.

The people of Nandigram had based their struggle on what they had learnt from the earlier phase of the Singur situation. It appears today that the people of Singur have benefited from the restraint shown by a government and ruling party chastened by its mismanagement of the situation in Nandigram. The people of Singur owe their current sense of respite to a great extent to the people of Nandigram and their struggle.

Though it may be premature to call this ‘breakthrough’ a victory for peasants and working people, it is certainly reason to believe that not every struggle conducted by ordinary people over land, resources and livelihood is doomed to failure. This news should raise the hopes of all those committed to protest against unjust land aquisition and transfer moves – be they in Orissa, Haryana, Kerala, Goa, Kashmir or elsewhere.

See a PTI report in the Hindu that gives more details of the agreement.



Mediotics, Industrialization and the Angel of History

[Being a sequel to ‘Singur, Mediotics and an NGO Called Indian Express‘]

“There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. An angel is depicted there who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment…to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.” Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History.”

These prophetic words were written in 1920 1940, when modernity’s arrogant faith in Progress was still pretty much intact. The rubble-heap of Progress has since piled up like never before. The world is now engaged in battling the effects of modernity that threaten humanity’s very existence. We know, for instance, that global warming or climate change threatens to destroy human civilization itself. Who knows, perhaps, millions of years later, some future civilization might discover its remains submerged under the sea and wonder at the heights of the ‘Progress’ it had achieved. Little might it occur to them that it was Progress itself that took this civilization to the sea.

Continue reading Mediotics, Industrialization and the Angel of History

Singur, Mediotics and an NGO Called Indian Express

[Note: Television was often referred to as the the idiot-box. For very sound reasons. It produced idiocy on a regular basis. It still does. But in these days, this is no longer the monopoly of the televisual media. Newspapers too are doing pretty much the same. Let us call this specific form of media-generated idiocy, rampant among media persons, mediocy and the phenomenon, mediotics. Those affected by it will then be mediots.]

I know that someone will immediately step in to correct me to say that Indian Express is not an NGO. But if one looks at the completely illiterate use of the term made by the Indian media, then anything that is not ‘governmental’ is ‘non-governmental’ and can, hence, be called an NGO. Except that for the large mass of ignoramuses peopling the media i.e. mediots, this is a safe term to describe an animal that you cannot identify. Continue reading Singur, Mediotics and an NGO Called Indian Express

Qatl ki Raat – Watchout Tomorrow

Tonight is the Night of the Long Knives – or Qatl ki Raat as they say in Hindustani. Indeed, it is not the night of the long knives of Nazi vintage – for that was carried out by Hitler against his own SA (the Nazi paramilitary organization), in one desperate power struggle. This is our very own CPI-M’s equally desperate power struggle – but directed outwards towards the struggling Dalit families in Chengara. Continue reading Qatl ki Raat – Watchout Tomorrow

सुपरहीरो की उदासी का सबब – अभय कुमार दुबे

[अभय कुमार दुबे का यह लेख नवभारत टाइम्‍स मे छपा था। यहाँ इसे दीवान लिस्‍ट के सौजन्‍य से पेश किया जा रहा है। उनका यह आलेख अमरीकी पॉपुलर कलचर के कई किरदारो की यकायक गायब होती ‘प्रासंगिकता’ पर नज़र डालता है। इस दिलचस्‍प लेख का एक पहलू वह है जो शीतयुद्धोत्तर अमरीका की बदली हुई राजनीतिक हैसियत के साथ पॉपुलर मानसिकता का एक गहरा रिश्‍ता देखता है। पढ़ते हुए अनायास स्‍लावोज ज़िज़ेक का एक लेख याद आ गया जिसमें वे उस अमरीकी फ़ंतासी (या दुस्‍वप्‍न?) की बात करते हैं जिसमें एक आम अमरीकी हमेशा किन्‍हीं एलियन्‍स या डायनोसॉरों द्वारा आक्रांत होने के रोमांचक ख़ौफ़ में जीता है, और जो 11 सितम्‍बर 2001 को अचानक चरितार्थ होती है। शायद किस्‍सा बैटमैन आदि पर ख़त्‍म नहीं होता।]

फैंटम, जादूगर मैंड्रेक  और फ्लैश गॉर्डन के कारनामों की खुराक पर बचपन गुजारने वाले भारतवासियों की पीढ़ी को मालूम होना चाहिए कि कॉमिक्स के पन्नों से हमारी-आपकी जिंदगी में झांकने वाले सुपर  हीरो किरदारों की दुनिया अचानक बदल गई है। अमानवीय ताकतों से लैस जो चरित्र दुनिया को भीषण किस्म के खलनायकों से बचाने का दम भरते थे, आज अपनी ही उपयोगिता के प्रति संदिग्ध हो गए हैं।

जो लोग फैंटेसी की दुनिया से बाहर नहीं निकलना चाहते उन्हें यह देख कर अफसोस हो सकता है कि  उनका ‘फ्रेंडली नेबर’ स्पाइडरमैन पिछले दिनों रिटायर होते-होते रह गया। अब गौथम सिटी का रक्षक बैटमैन भी बुराई से लड़ने का अपना फर्ज निभाने में खुद को नाकाफी महसूस करने लगा है। इस बात का एहसास पिछले दिनों हमारे देश में सुपरहिट हुई हॉलिवुड की कुछ फिल्मों को देख कर हुआ है।

Continue reading सुपरहीरो की उदासी का सबब – अभय कुमार दुबे

“I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight”

(Adapted from a posting made earlier today on the Reader-List, Apologies for Cross Posting)

Even as the Indian state seems to be on the threshold of losing its grip both on hearts and minds in Kashmir and on its own wisdom, we have our own bunch of proud patriots making a heroic effort to convert the column inches of newspapers and the floor space of television studios into their own, special, battleground. Perhaps they might be consoling themselves with the hope that the turf battle of perception management in the media may yet be won, even if Kashmir is lost. Somehow, I am not so sure that this is going to be the case.

Unfortunately for them, to win in arguments, both – the state in Kashmir, and the Indian nationalist hard liners in the media and on other public fora, need some ideas, some attempt at reason, some amount of vision. I am afraid, that so far, neither the state, nor its hyper-loyal editorialists, sound-byte commandos and cyber-footsoldiers, have been able to display any. Instead, we have had bullets in Kashmir, and as I write this, news of midnight raids, arrests and the putting in place of the machinery of a major crackdown tomorrow, on those planning to assemble to protest peacefully on Lal Chowk in Srinagar, and restrictions on the freedom of expression. It is possible that a lot will happen tomorrow and in the next few days that will not filter through on television and the newspapers. It is possible that internet connections will be momentarily ‘down’ and that phone contact with the valley may be suspended. If it is not, then it is imperative that those who are in the valley, especially journalists of major international newspapers witness and report what might happen. If the worst does not come to pass, then, everyone will be relieved, and I really hope that is the case. We must remember, that in 1989-90, major massacres took place in Srinagar and in the rest of India, nobody really knew what was going on before it was too late. It is not as easy today for the Indian state to replicate the news blackout that accompanied the crackdown that took place in 1989, but certainly, the signs are that there might just be an attempt to do precisely that underway.

The PTI report quoted in a story just uploaded on the Indian Express website an hour before midnight, yesterday, 24th August, makes for chilling reading, especially if we read between the lines. It deserves being quoted in its entirety.
Continue reading “I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight”

Will the Left’s’Negative Hallucination’End in Kerala?

Today, perhaps for the first time after early August, the Chengara land struggle attained some front-page space in the newspapers. It was front-page news in the Thiruvananthapuram edition of The Hindu, which reported the ongoing efforts for negotiated settlement. The Revenue Minister, K.P.Rajendran, and the Minister for the Welfare of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, A.K. Balan, held talks with Laha Gopalan, and other solidarity council members, and “promised them that the government would do everything within its power to meet their demand for provision of land to the landless among the Scheduled Castes and other similarly placed sections and assured them that there was no question of the government resorting to repressive measures against the agitators”. However, the Ministers revealed that” the government could promise to give them only land that is already with it or that which could be taken over without the possibility of further litigations.”

 So far so good, and obviously we are in here for a long haul. The leaders of the agitation apparently made it cleared that they were not demanding the immediate assignment of the estate land but a more comprehensive package. The government has also announced that medical camps will be conducted in the struggle point and that the road bloackade will end. Relief, indeed, after so many tense days.It is clear that the real hard work begins now. Pressure will have to be kept up until the package is announced; it will have to debated, and adequate monitoring of its implementation will have to be assured through, perhaps, a national monitoring committee.

 But as a historian, I’d say that that this is indeed an opportunity to attain greater clarity on the political relevance of political decentralisation and local planning. In the mid-1990s, it was projected as a panacea to all possible ills — from Kerala’s fiscal crisis, to non-sovereign forms of power. The People’s Planning Campaign shifted the focus to local-level development, promising to transform welfare recipients into small producers. In itself this was an interesting proposition in some ways: one that focused on small capitalism rather than neoliberal extractive growth, and promised to make poor citizens independent of state welfare. Continue reading Will the Left’s’Negative Hallucination’End in Kerala?

Binayak Sen and the Right to a Fair Trial

The right to a fair trial is a cornerstone of democratic societies. How a person is treated, when accused of a crime, provides a concrete demonstration of how far a State respects human rights. Detention is ‘arbitrary’, where there are often grave violations of the right to a fair trial. Detention and imprisonment, which may be lawful under national standards, are considered ‘unlawful’ under international standards. A fair trial is indispensable for the protection of other rights, such as the right to freedom from torture, the right to life, and the right to freedom of expression. This right should never be compromised. However, throughout the country, people are being detained and imprisoned without a fair trial. In these circumstances, many face torture and other forms of ill-treatment. The continued detention of Dr. Binayak Sen, Vice-President of India’s leading human rights organization, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), should trigger a debate, not only in Chhattisgarh, but also around the country, about whether and to what extent the right to a fair trial may be compromised in the name of security.

Continue reading Binayak Sen and the Right to a Fair Trial

Gun Salutes for August 15, 2008

Anniversaries are good opportunities for reflection. I write this in the early hours of 15th August, 2008, the 61st anniversary of Indian independence.

The events of the past few months, and the past few days, in the Indian administered state of Jammu and Kashmir have demonstrated how well and how equally (or not) the police, paramilitaries and armed forces of the Indian Republic treat different kinds of protesting crowds. The facts that I am about to discuss are good measures with which to think about the relationship between acts of power, different kinds of people, sovereignty, life and death in the Indian nation state as it has evolved over the past 61 years.

The region of Jammu in the province of Jammu and Kashmir has been caught in the grip of a fierce agitation against the revocation of the land transfer to the Amarnath Shrine Board. We have all seen footage of angry SASS (Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti) activists brandishing trishuls, setting up roadblocks and burning tyres, the agitation has spread to different parts of India

Continue reading Gun Salutes for August 15, 2008

A Tangential Addition to the Great Auto Debate

I want to go off on a bit of a tangent here. Just to open a different discussion in the spirit of thinking, and muddling along together. It seems to me that one of the axis on which the debate has turned is on the question of desire and its representation. Who is the desiring subject, towards whom is this desire directed, who represents this desire in what way, what are the slippages therein, who has the right to speak about whom.

I was wondering if we can approach this from a slightly different angle by taking this question of desire beyond the individual subject (variously defined). And in fact nameless did gesture to this in one of her responses where she raised the question of the appropriation of what she termed subaltern practices by elite intellectuals where certain practices and forms, in this case autos, are made to stand in for certain values – in this case progressive, ‘left” etc – which says more about the locations of the intellectuals and their insensitivity to their own class-caste positions, in a move which is patronizing at best and exploitative at worst. I think inherent in this critique is the shadow of a kind of objectification of a certain experience, so that a symbol becomes alienated from the actual life practices in which it is located to circulate as some empty signifier, to be appropriately filled as per requirement.

Continue reading A Tangential Addition to the Great Auto Debate

Nuclear Deal, ‘National Interest’ and the Indian Left – PK Sundaram

It is the Indian left’s concurrence, rather than its disagreement, with the idea of a nuclear future (including nuclear weapons) that has made its case weak and inaudible to the larger masses.

Contextualizing the deal

In a charged atmosphere produced by the backers and opponents of the deal both pitching their positions in terms of ‘national interests’, it would be necessary not to lose sight of its broader meanings and implications.

In its essence, the deal is about opening up of the restrictions over nuclear commerce put on India after its 1974 ‘peaceful nuclear tests’. Though initiated and facilitated by the United States, this move will provide India access to international markets in nuclear fuel, material and technology, in accordance to the safeguards and guidelines of the IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). While it would imply huge imports from the US, the deal also removes international fetters on nuclear trade with other countries including Russia, China, France and Australia whose corporations would get major business orders from India once the deal comes into effect.

Read the full article here.

The Rest of Now

My colleagues (Jeebesh Bagchi and Monica Narula) and I (as Raqs Media Collective) have been working over the last year on curating an exhibition titled ‘The Rest of Now’ which opened recently as part ofManifesta 7in the town of Bolzano/Bozen in northern Italy. Manifesta is an itinerant biennial of European contemporary art. I am posting below our curatorial essay, which may be of interest to some amongst you, and look forward to your responses.

The Rest of Now
by Raqs Media Collective


A hundred years ago, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, artist, poet and high priest of a muscular industrial aesthetic, was seriously injured in an automobile accident on the outskirts of Milan.  Continue reading The Rest of Now

Death of the Author(-ized)?

Or it is just another case of planning paranoia?

Although commonly understood to be a city of traders, Ravinder Singh Chowdhary*, is adamant that Delhi be understood as the abode of farmers.  Sitting adjacent to lush verdant fields of brinjal, rice, and spinach in the village Madapur Khadar in Delhi’s Badarpur Constituency, Chowdhary, explains how Delhi is paradoxically “a city of farmers.”  “From Kilokri and Kotla Mubarakpur in the South-East, to Karol Bagh in Delhi’s North-West, almost every new colony post-partition has been settled on farm land. Those settled by the Government were given water, electricity and drainage and became proper colonies; those settled by private individuals were denied these basic amenities and termed ‘illegal’ or ‘unauthorised’.”

In its most recent and controversial policy announcement, Delhi Government and the Union Ministry of Urban Development seem to take cognisance of Chowdhary’s understanding of the city’s settlements and have begun the process of issuing provisional regularisation certificates to about 1,500 unauthorised colonies that are mostly settled on agricultural land; a move that they claim will benefit approximately 40 lakh residents.
Continue reading Death of the Author(-ized)?

Reflections on the Great Unexpected Auto Debate

Little did I think when I put up this image, that it would lead to such a rich set of comments on class, caste and gender.

The picture had been circulating on the web, in blogs and email lists for some time, and without comment, as a funny, jokey kind of thing. Autos and trucks (in Delhi anyway,) are renowned, as Aman pointed out in his comment, for pithy, witty, quirky, dolorous, amorous etc. comments on life. Briefly glimpsed, their ability to linger in our minds is a reflection of their literary quality.

When this one was sent to me, the reason I posted it on kafila was initially light-hearted too, since we consider autos to be our mascots, as representing kafila’s philosophy and relationship to the city in some way – small, cheeky, full of “attitude”, winding nimbly through the mass of traffic, a resistant challenge to the idea of a shiny, “world-city-like-paris-and-singapore” that our various governments want to turn all our cities into, by neatly removing the poor, the workers, the slums etc.

Continue reading Reflections on the Great Unexpected Auto Debate

Textbooks and Intolerance, Communal and Secular

Once again, religious sentiments have been hurt. This time in the God’s own Country, Kerala . And the culprit is a small portion of a lesson from the social science textbook for class vii, part i. It has been alleged by groups claiming to represent Muslims and Christians that this particular lesson preaches atheism. It sticks because the government which is getting the textbooks published is led by Marxists and there is a perception that Marxists have a pathological hatred for religion. Kerala has been witness to a bitter controversy on the faith only recently in which the church and the CPM were at loggerheads. So, there is a background to the new battle over a small lesson in a class seven textbook. But first let us try to look at the facts.

Continue reading Textbooks and Intolerance, Communal and Secular

Textbooks Yet Again

The current agitation in Kerala demanding withdrawal of the class vii social science textbook has turned murderous. James Augustine, 45, a headmaster of a primary school was killed in an attack by the Indian Union Muslim League youth activists on a training program. And this was done even after the announcement by the Kerala government that it had decided to remove the controversial portion of the textbook. Will this utterly meaningless death of the teacher at their hands stop the agitators in their track? Will we allow warriors of different shades of identity politics a free run? Or, will the sacrifice of a life turn into an occasion for all of us to once again ponder over issues related not only to the politics of textbooks but also the principles on which textbooks in a diverse country like India should be prepared?

It is very easy to see that the allegation on this particular book that it promotes atheism cannot be substantiated as the text in question closes with the response of the parents of Jeevan, who belong to different religious identities that he would be free to choose his religion when he grows up. It only shows that they are very relaxed about his identity and are ready to give him freedom to decide on his identity. Surely the agitating groups are neither sure nor relaxed about their relationship with the members of their denominations. Do they fear that texts like the one dealing with the religious identity of Jeevan can give ideas to children about their right to take decisions in the matters of marriage and identity? Even if we leave this aside, the charge leveled by the opposition that the book is substandard deserves a reasoned discussion. It needs to take into account the role textbooks are expected to play in a country like India, the process of textbook writing, the implication of the federal character of India for school education in general and textbook writing in particular.

Continue reading Textbooks Yet Again

Commissar Karat in October 1917

In his opening passage of the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx attributed to Hegel (somewhat mistakenly) the idea “that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice” and added sardonically that Hegel forgot to add: “First time as tragedy, second time as farce.” He went on to illustrate his comment thus: “Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851[66] for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire.”

Marx’s point was simple but profound. The tradition of the dead generations, he claimed, weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living: “Just as they [revolutionaries, ‘men’] seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95.”

Continue reading Commissar Karat in October 1917

Farewell to our Humid Weimar

Dear All,

I find it sad that all those who live in India are being sent headlong into a period of turbulence following the unilateral  decision by the so-called Left parties in response to the Indo-US  Nuclear Deal to withdraw support from the UPA government. This decision is not a response to basic issues like the rising cost of living, but in support of the chimera of ‘sovereignty’ in military affairs. It is shameful that parties that continue to call themselves communist should feel no embarassment at all in exhibiting the worst and most pathetic form of militarist nationalism, premised on the maintainance of an obscene Nuclear military policy. In all likelihood, if the government of the day fails  to pass the test of numbers on the floor of parliament, India will head straight for early elections.It will do so entirely because of the ‘Patriots’ on the so called ‘Left’. Continue reading Farewell to our Humid Weimar