Category Archives: Politics

Class Struggles in West Bengal

Slavoj Zizek mentions in one of his essays that the precise moment at which the Revolution in Iran against the Shah’s brutal regime began, can be traced back to one incident: The refusal of a lone pedestrian to obey the command of the policeman on a busy street. The moment at which this pedestrian refused to obey the command, the symbolic chain of impenetrability of the order was broken, and it suddenly became clear that commands could be disobeyed. More and more people joined in disobeying the command. Increasingly greater numbers joined in protests against the order. In another context, Louis Althusser would call such a situation ‘overdetermined’ – a situation where a whole range of different conflicts and discontents ‘merge’ or ‘fuse’ into an explosive situation. That is what determines, according to Althusser, a revolutionary or insurrectionary situation.

Something of this kind happened in West Bengal, sometime towards the end of 2006 when Singur erupted into a mass struggle. But the crucial turning point, of course, came with Nandigram. The ‘Nandigram effect’, which could not have been possible without Singur but which took the logic of Singur to an insurrectionary level, made one thing clear: The CPM-police-government-vested interest nexus could be broken; that it was not invincible. Almost within a few weeks of Nandigram, as Vaskar Nandy explained in a talk in Delhi University last April, the Nandigram effect had pervaded the tea gardens ruled by a powerful nexus of vested interests of the CITU, police and the industrialists. The virtually invisible local revolts against this cadre-raj drove away the self-appointed leaders breaking these nexuses irreparably.

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Suspend All Military Support to Myanmar Junta

yangon demonstrations

There has been a flood of reports of alleged brutal killings, disappearances and arrests as the military in Myanmar stamped out the anti-government protests of the last week. At least 1,000 people have been arrested in Yangon alone, the majority of them monks. Arrests are also reported from towns and cities across the country. This is in addition to at least 150 other persons arrested in August at the onset of the protests. Numerous key figures in the National League for Democracy, the main opposition party, and other activists are among those arrested. However, it remains extremely difficult for anyone to confirm details about who has been arrested, where they are held, why and under what circumstances. This uncertainty is partly as a consequence of restrictions on internet and phone use.

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‘Secularism has become another religion’ – Etienne Balibar

[French Marxist philosopher, Étienne Balibar was in Delhi recently, where he delivered a series of lectures. A former student of Louis Althusser, Balibar has over the last few decades, worked towards the articulation of a critical Marxism – one that is at once liberated from the shibboleths of old modernist certainties and yet does not give up on the idea of a possible emancipatory project of a world beyond capitalism. Balibar’ later philosophical work has been more and more engaged with the contemporary political problems of France and Europe.

Balibar is critical of hardline French secularists for their xenophobic intolerance of issues concerning French citizens of Arab and African descent. In the 2007 French presidential election, he was among the two hundred intellectuals who expressed support for the candidature of Marie-Ségolène Royal of the Socialist Party. Professor Emeritus of Moral and Political Philosophy at Université de Paris X – Nanterre, and Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine, Balibar gave a series of lectures in New Delhi last week. S. Anand of Tehelka joins Nivedita Menon, Reader in Political Science at the University of Delhi, and Aditya Nigam, Fellow at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, in discussing with Balibar the overlap of racism, Islamophobia and secularism in a global context. The interview is published in the current issue of TEHELKA.]

etiennebalibar

Menon: You have written about the race riots in 2005 in the French banlieues, the suburbs, as a ‘revolt of the excluded’ and have linked it to the contradictions of globalisation. What were the dynamics of these riots?

Balibar: I am surprised these events provoke such curiosity in places as far away as Chicago and New Delhi since I think these riots were extremely banal in the sense that they are a type of urban disorder that has repeatedly taken place all over the world for a long period, owing to similar issues of “difference”. Perhaps the French were exceptional in thinking that the typical effects of the redistribution of populations created by globalisation, involving race and class factors, would not affect France. There’s also been extreme reluctance on the part of French commentators, not only of the Right but also the Left, to use race and racial categories.

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“IB’s bearded ‘jihadi’ moulvis trapping Muslims “

[Evidence is piling up – of a whole range of so-called encounters to actual ‘terrorist’ acts, conducted by police, intelligence agencies and their undercover agents. Different groups and organizations have been gathering evidence, meticulously documented, that shows clearly how police have gone about ‘fighting terrorism’ and in effect (if not by intent) actually created an atmosphere of terror for the minorities. Every time such a suggestion is made, predictably, there are howls from certain quarters. So we think this extremely important and silent work of documenting will eventually help to uncover the nefarious ways of these agencies. Often these are carried out in cahouts with the organizations of the Hindu Right. How many times have we not wondered about so-called terrorists who come out of a railway station, take a taxi to go and either blow up Akshardham temple or the Ayodhya ‘Ram Mandir’! What if their train was late? what if, they did not get a cab on time. What if….But does it really matter, with a gullible and all to complicit media to blow up police versions as ‘serious terrorist plots’? Here then, is a small story from The Kashmir Times. The characters mentioned in this story are not unfamiliar to those who follow how they were first recruited as ‘mukhbirs’ or informers and when they refuse to play along, they become ‘terrorists’ – exactly the way the ex-surrendered Afzal Guru was made into the ‘terrorist ‘who, even the Supreme Court felt should be hanged to satisfy the ‘collective conscience of the nation’ even though no evidence could be produced against him. So, much for the “world’s largest demcracy”. – AN ]

NEW DELHI, Sep 21: Next time, you confront a long bearded Maulana with some sob story extorting young men to take to ‘Jihad”. Beware! He could be an intelligence mole, hunting for fodder to the canon of “war on terrorism”. A former informer of Delhi Police’s Special Cell and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) now cooling heals in Delhi’ Tihar Jail is spilling beans.

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Persecution and Resistance: The Struggle for Human Rights

A well-known activist of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and a medical doctor Binayak Sen gets arrested in May 2007 in Chhattisgarh state, under the provisions of the controversial black laws, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 (CSPSA), and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 having been amended in 2004 and made more stringent after the collapse of POTA. In August 2007, a woman activist Roma, working among the women, tribals and dalits of Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh under the aegis of Kaimur Kshetra Mahila Majdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti and the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers is arrested and charged under the National Security Act. A young Oriya poet and literary editor Saroj Mohanty, who is also an activist of the Prakrutik Suraksha Sampada Parishad, an organization supporting the struggles of the people of Kashipur, who for the past 13 years have successfully opposed the entry of large bauxite mining companies in the region, was picked up by the police in July 2007 at Rayagada, Orissa, on charges of dacoity, house trespass and attempt to murder. Two activists – Shamim and Anurag – of Shramik Adivasi Sanghathana and Samajwadi Jan Parishad, which are working amongst tribals in Betul, Harda and Khandwa districts of Madhya Pradesh, were served externment notices in June by the Harda District Magistrate under the State Security Act.

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Of ‘Nation’ and Other Modes of Belonging

It might be appropriate to begin this piece with the story of an old man from the ‘East’. No, this ‘East’ is neither the East of the Orientalists, nor indeed the Biblical ‘East’ (as in the ‘three wise men from the East’). This old man hailed, rather, from Eastern part of the north Indian province of Uttar Pradesh (UP) – a purabiya as ‘easterners’ are referred to in spoken Hindi. This man, Mata Badal, belonged to some village in the Awadh region and worked as a gardener in the house in Dehra Dun where we grew up. (The tale of Dehra Dun, once part of Western UP and now the capital of the newly formed state of Uttarakhand itself reveals one more dimension of the reconfiguration of Indian identity in the last two decades.) Every other year Mata Badal used to take leave to go to his des (literally country or homeland). He would tell us that he did not like life here in this pardes or foreign land, where he had had to come in search for livelihood. As children we used to laugh at his ‘ignorance’: how silly of him, we often thought, that he does not even know that his desh is the whole of India.

What I did not realize then but have begun to feel increasingly now is that his des was emphatically not merely a linguistically fallen form of the purer, Sanskritik, desh. I realize now that it probably embodied a different mode of being and idea of belonging. Outside this des, he continued to live like an exile. It is also interesting and worth underlining that it was not merely his notion of belonging but also of all those who would refer to him as an ‘Easterner’ – for implicit in the notion of the purabiya is the idea of the frontier or horizon, beyond which what is East does not matter. Even ‘Calcutta’ (Kolkata), which for instance became the subject of so many folk songs of separation for the inhabitants of Eastern UP (as male members from those parts went off to Calcutta in search of jobs), did not figure, till very recently, within the lived geography of Western UP inhabitants. The concept of a national identity, embodied in the more Sanskritik term Desh, remained, I believe, largely fictive or at any rate, not quite relevant to the rhythm of daily lives of millions of people all over India.

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Mayawati Intervenes, Sends Out New Signal

In a refreshingly swift intervention in the affair concerning Roma’s arrest, the UP chief minister Mayawati has ordered the revocation of the cases under the National Security Act and she was released soon thereafter. Mayawati has also called for an explanation in this regard, from concerned police officers of Sonebhadra district. This is unimaginable in contemporary India, across the political spectrum from the Right to the Left. Rarely has such a prompt intervention been undertaken by those tempered in the logic of power and ‘institutions’. As a matter of fact, experience shows that, even in the best of cases, such complaints – even uproar – about the misuse of power, are routinely pushed through a mesh of bureaucratic ‘rules and regulations’ in a manner that leaves you wondering, in the end, whether there is really any desire on the part of the political leaders concerned to address the issue at hand.

Mayawati’s decision has been welcomed by Medha Patkar and other organizations and activists like Tahira Hasan of Tehrik-e-Niswan and Roop Rekha Verma of Sanjhi Duniya. It is worth remembering that while Medha Patkar has been supportive of struggle over land, elsewhere in the state, she has been quite forthright in welcoming this move. Jansatta reporter Ambarish Kumar, quotes Tahira Hasan and others to the effect that this step by Mayawati shows that she has decided not to go the Mulayam Singh way, for such a thing would have been unimaginable in his rule. Kumar also reports that CPI(ML) Liberation leaders have also welcomed this decision. This is important because, a large number of those killed or arrested by the police in these areas of UP, have actually been activists of the CPI(ML) Liberation and not ‘Maoists’ – who hardly have any presence in the region.