The Ghost of the Middle Ground

Uncertainty, Ambiguity and the Media Response to Efforts to Secure a Commutation of the Death Penalty for Mohammad Afzal Guru and An Enquiry into the Events of December 13

Shuddhabrata Sengupta, January 1, 2007 (posted earlier on the Sarai-Reader List)
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‘Now is the Winter of Our Discontent made Summer by the Pleasing Light of Television’

At the beginning of each new year, it is customary to take stock of what has happened in the last 365 days, and reflect on options for the future. I don’t want to speak for the entire year (let’s leave the year end newspaper and magazine supplements and the TV round-ups to do that). But I do want to look at this bleak now, the ongoing “winter of our discontent”, especially as it has played out on that hallowed and late, lamented entity called the ‘middle ground’.

This ‘middle ground’ is a territory currently under the occupation of large bastions of the mainstream media in India. It was on the parched soil of the ‘middle ground’ that the beast called public opinion was so eagerly sought to be beaten into shape (or pulp, depending on your point of view) in a daily gladiatorial during the course of the last few months. While this has always been the case, it did come into especially sharp focus ever since the question of the execution of Mohammad Afzal Guru came back on to what is sometimes called the ‘national agenda’ in late September – early October 2006. What began during our brief autumn rapidly gathered momentum as winter set in.

The thick fog that descends on Delhi with the onset of deep winter is a time where plots are laid ‘in deadly hate’, and ‘dangerous inductions, drunken prophecies, libels and dreams’ are aired by means of strategems that have every reason to be called ‘subtle, false, and treacherous’. Had William Shakespeare been writing a draft of Richard the Third in Delhi during an early twenty first century winter, he might have set the bleak iambs of the opening soliloquy in a television studio, and made the actor speaking them wear the pressed suits of a certain variety of senior journalist or news anchor, or the uniform or distinguished plain-clothes attire usually to be found adorning the person of an operative of the special cell of the Delhi police, or the Intelligence Bureau. Perhaps there might even be some actors who could essay both roles (a certain kind of journalist and intelligence operative) with practised ease, because there is so little left nowadays, to distinguish between the two functions. Call it what you will, embodied intelligence, or embedded journalism.

Continue reading The Ghost of the Middle Ground

Law, Primitive Accumulation and the CPM

Reading Marx in Singur

Marx opens his discussion of primitive accumulation, in the last section of Capital, Vol.I, by asserting that the origins of capitalist private property lie in ‘conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder’, even though, ‘(i)n the tender annals of Political Economy, the idyllic reigns from time immemorial.’

He further remarks that,

“The process…that clears the way for the capitalist system, can be none other than the process that takes away from the labourer the possession of the means of production; a process that transforms, on the one hand, the social means of subsistence and of production into capital, on the other, the immediate producers into wage-labourers.

He goes onto add that the so-called primitive accumulation is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production. Marx acknowledges that the process also embodies, alongside this enslavement and robbery, ‘their [the serfs’] emancipation from serfdom and from the fetters of the guilds.’ However, unlike his later day followers, he is not content to see only one side of this process. He pours scorn over ‘our bourgeois historians’ for whom ‘this side [the emancipatory side] alone exists’. In other words, even when he sees the emancipatory dimensions of Progress and Development, his moral revulsion against the violence and injustice of this process remains apparent. It is for this reason that, contrary to the somewhat uncritically celebratory tone of the Communist Manifesto, Marx is indignant: “…this history, the history of their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.”

Continue reading Law, Primitive Accumulation and the CPM

Hindu Terrorism

hindu_terrorism.jpg

According to the report, Panse’s motive was to avenge the deaths of Hindus killed in terror attacks. Panse was convinced that the mastermind behind these attacks were underworld dons Abu Salem and Dawood Ibrahim.

The report says that Panse was “pained” by the terrorist attacks in Delhi and Varanasi. He felt that Hindus would be “treated as hijras” if they failed to take any action.

Feeling that retaliation was necessary to uphold Hindu honour, Panse decided after the Varanasi blasts to engineer explosions in Muslim-dominated areas in central Maharashtra with the target of killing at least 300-400 Muslims in each incident.

A closer look at all the recent blasts that have occurred in central Maharashtra reveal a pattern which seems to fit with Panse’s plan. All blasts (including the ones in Malegaon on September 8 ) occurred between 1.45pm and 2.00pm at the most prominent mosque in these towns, just after the Friday prayers, when attendance is maximum. [Tehelka]

And as far as hijras are concerned, weren’t they supposed to rule in Kaliyug anyway?

The Narrative of Corruption

Good governance, accountability, transparency, efficiency
Good governance, accountability, transparency, efficiency
Good governance, accountability, transparency, efficiency

Good governance, accountability, transparency, efficiency – the mantra of new urban management as you all know. Standing from the pulpits of the city with who I share an ambiguous relationship, estrange yet intimate, I now deliver one more narrative of corruption.

Friends, Romans and countrymen, a few months ago I started meeting up with some technicians, some politicians, some actors in local politics, some financiers, some lumpen proletariat and some of the lumpen bourgeoise. Conversations and teas revealed that corruption is more ambiguous than the transparency of good governance and the accountability of transparency – that corruption is an important pawn in the new chess of urban management and that corruption has facets, some evident, some hidden and some yet to be revealed. Who plays the corruption card, directs the game (and the direction). Continue reading The Narrative of Corruption

My name is Asif

I sat in his autorickshaw.

When I left, he said his name was Asif.

When I sat in his autorickshaw, what struck me and amused me tremendously were the two identical photographs of film actor Preity Zinta stuck right on his photo identification which every autorickshaw driver in Bangalore has to display in the vehicle. Preity was dressed in a bridal outfit and stared prettily from the photo identification (in both the pictures). Amused I thought to myself, ‘urban closet desires’.

I was headed to National Market. Asif knew that National Market was somewhere close to Majestic, but he was unsure of the exact location. At one point he asked me which route I would like to take to get there and I gave him my preference. Then I asked him, ‘So you have Preity Zinta’s pictures on your photo id?’ He smiled and said, ‘Haan, woh Preity Zinta hai!’

As we crossed Corporation Circle, Asif started talking to me. ‘You know, there is an autorickshaw strike tomorrow.’

‘Why,’ I asked. Continue reading My name is Asif

Absent of the absent: The elusive stories of Naiyer Masud

By Gaurav Dikshit

The incantatory quality of Urdu writer Naiyer Masud’s ‘fictional universe’–as translator Muhammad Umar Memon puts it–would seem witchcraftish to isolated and uncertain readers. Brittle and fluid, the painstakingly imagined worlds of these short stories have no resemblance in world literature. As silent and palpable as a dream, they rustle the senses until one realizes they are quite unprecedented in form and as ambitious in their idea of fiction and of tragedy.

Masud has said his stories are based on his dreams, some recurring over months which he keeps recording on waking up. He has also confessed to be a ghar-ghusna (stayer-at-home), a phrase quintessentially of Lucknow, the city where he has lived all his life in the house his father built. Writing his first story at the age of 12, he retained its plot when he began publishing at 35. He has survived by teaching Persian at the Lucknow University, though he says “My true occupation, at any rate, is reading and, occasionally, writing.” Continue reading Absent of the absent: The elusive stories of Naiyer Masud

Medha Patkar on Singur and the Subversion of Truth

[A few days ago, CPM leader Brinda Karat wrote a piece entitled “The Truth of Singur” – a somewhat sanitized version of which was published in The Hindu. In the uncensored version circulating on email, she claimed quite unabashedly, that while her party stood with the peasants, workers and sharecroppers of Singur, Ms Roy (the reference here to the demonstration at the CPM office should not be missed) “is in the companyof Ms Mamata Banerjee, George Fernandes and Rajnath Singh and a 19-party alliance led by them (Krishi Jami Raksha Committee – KJRC) and has supported their campaign of anti-communist calumny.” The problem of course is that “anti-communist calumny” here is only a displaced effect of the struggle against the Tatas and in other contexts, Reliance and others – in short, corporate robbery of peasants’ land. If the communists have decided to stand with the corporations in West Bengal then it should be the CPM’s problem – not Ms Roy’s or Ms Patkar’s (about whose “political acumen” too, Brinda K is contemptuous). Parenthetically, we might refer to the extremely sexist, patriarchal and patronizing statement of her politburo colleague Biman Bose who reportedly said that “Mamata is behaving like an adamant little girl”. And presumably criticizing that would be indulging in “anti-communist calumny” as well, Ms Karat? Meanwhile, why forget that Buddhadeb Bhattacharya also made “communist” statements like saying that Medha Patkar is an outsider who just keeps going to different places creating trouble. Would you have been able to form a single union anywhere in a single place without “outsiders” ? This is the language used by the real anti-communists – to attack political activists by calling them “outsiders” is precisely anti-communist calumny. It just happens to be used by communists in this case! Apart from the matter of Singur, the fact is that Ms Brinda K’s piece confines itself to  the issue of compensation – a whole host of other issues that arise here are left unanswered. How can she or Biman babu for that matter, answer them? Medha’s response to the West Bengal government’s report raises, once again, all the issues that we need to keep in mind. – AN]

SINGUR: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Medha Patkar

Today when the world celebrates the 58th anniversary of the UN Charter of Human Rights as the International Human Rights Day, the people of Singur or Narmada or Raigad (Maharashtra), Dadri-Bajada (UP) cannot. They cannot be out of struggle for survival, for dignity, for life even for a moment to be able to breathe freedom and enjoy rights not just as citizens but as human beings.

The struggle of people of Singur continues at various fronts, ranging from the fasting group of women and men in Singur area itself to the one in Kolkata, from the everyday small and large actions by the representatives of various people’s organisations to the solidarity fora of the academics. It has gone beyond the heated Metropolis to the various districts of North & South Bengal since the voice raised from Singur is echoed in other places, why battlegrounds, and has
also effected other mass movements against similar onslaught of the corporatised State as in Midnapur district (against 2 SEZs & 1 Nuclear power plant). The prolonged violation of human rights and postponement of free, fair and informed dialogue on Singur is startling. A dialogue with a large alliance and network of people’s organisations, beyond electoral political allies or opponents of the West Bengal Government, could have been possible by now but for the over confident attitude and arrogance expressed by the West Bengal Government. The lack of initiative coming from anyone of the Left Front allies towards taking a serious cognizance and an urgent resolution through a decisive dialogue is certainly shocking.

Continue reading Medha Patkar on Singur and the Subversion of Truth

Thinking Kambalapalli in times of Khairlanji

M Venkatrayappa, a dalit from Kambalapalli, Kolar district, Karnataka still remebers the last glimpses of his wife Ramakka, sons Sriramappa and Anjaneya and daughter Papammas. It has been more than six years that they died a very tragic death. All of them with four others from their hamlet were burnt alive by the local Reddys.The police termed it revenge killing, supposedly in retaliation against the killing of Krishnappa Reddy, a village functionary belonging to upper castes.

Kambalapalli massacre in March 2000, had made national headlines.The tremendous public uproar compelled the then Congress government not only to apprehend the culprits but also shift the dalits to a new village which is situated around 40 kms from Kambalapalli.

Today all that is passe. The first week of December when the whole nation was debating the growing surge in atrocities against dalits came the damning verdict in this particular case. All the accused were acquitted.In legalese they call it the case getting settled as all ‘witnesses turned hostile’ during the court hearings. Continue reading Thinking Kambalapalli in times of Khairlanji

TRP: Television Rallying Point

Is Afzal now just a rallying point for intellectuals?

A day before the fifth anniversary of Parliament attack, some of country’s renowned journalists, activists and writers – led by Booker Prize-winner Arundhati Roy – came together to release a book that raises 13 “damning” questions about the attack. But is Afzal simply an intra-elite debate among India’s Left liberals or do the intellectuals actually have a public constituency outside the seminar halls of Delhi and Mumbai? [CNN-IBN]

A rallying point, says the dictionary, is “a point or principle on which scattered or opposing groups can come together.” So the question suggests that ‘intellectuals’ are merely exploiting Afzal to ‘come together’; the act of ‘coming together’ is the sole motive of the exercise. Continue reading TRP: Television Rallying Point

CPM In the Service of Capital

The cynicism of power, if you will, has got the so-called Left. In a sense, this is not very new – communists in power have always been diabolic to say the least. But this one takes the cake – pressed as it is in the service of capital. How else does one explain Sitaram Yechury’s insinuation that the entire struggle against forcible land acquisition in Singur, is motivated by corporate rivalry. How else can one read his statement that “There may be some whose interests would be hurt when the Rs 1 lakh car comes out. It is for the media to find out who could be behind all this”…There is of course a sense of deja vu in this cynical attempt to de-legitimize all opposition – such were the fairy stories fed to gullible followers about the soviet empire until one day, lo and behold! it vanished from the face of the earth.

Continue reading CPM In the Service of Capital

One Question

It is a matter of great satisfaction that our sluggish justice delivery system has bestirred itself and through a process of daily hearings found 100 people guilty of the conspiracy for the Bombay blasts. Almost 90% of them were Muslims, they as well as the remainder, have all been served their just desserts.

Justice has not only been done, more importantly, at least as far as our 24X7 media is concerned, it also appears to have been done. Every one knew from day one, who those fellows were, now the courts are saying that as well. So once these two basic requirements of appearance and deed have been met the national conscience, so gravely disturbed over the last several decades, can heave a collective sigh of relief and all men of good faith can take a well deserved rest.

One question, however, continues to bother me. Continue reading One Question

13 Questions for December 13

It is shortly going to be five years to December 13, 2001 when the Indian parliament in New Delhi was attacked by a group of men who entered the precincts of the Parliament in an Ambassador Car. In the past five years, we have seen the ups and downs of a convoluted trial. The forging of evidence, the acquital of SAR Geelani (one of the accused) and in recent days a mounting sense of disquiet around the circumstances in which Mohammad Afzal Guru has been handed a death sentence.

Many questions remain unresolved. Here is a list of 13 Questions for December 13, excerpted from the introduction by Arundhati Roy to the forthcoming Penguin India publication – ‘December 13 – A Reader: The Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament’.

The book is an anthology of essays and texts on December 13 by – A G Noorani, Arundhati Roy, Ashok Mitra, Indira Jaising, Jawed Naqvi, Mihir Srivastava, Nandita Haksar, Nirmalangshu Mukherji, Praful Bidwai, Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Sonia Jabbar, Syed Bismillah Geelani and Tripta Wahi

13 Questions for December 13 (by Arundhati Roy – from the Introduction to ’13 December – A Reader’, Penguin India, New Delhi, December 2006)

Question 1: For months before the Attack on Parliament, both the government and the police had been saying that Parliament could be attacked. On 12 December 2001, at an informal meeting the Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee warned of an imminent attack on Parliament. On 13 December Parliament was attacked. Given that there was an ‘improved security drill’, how did a car bomb packed with explosives enter the parliament complex? Continue reading 13 Questions for December 13

Begging for an answer

[First published in Mid-Day]

The blogosphere has imperceptibly risen to great importance in my life. The same time as being intangible, (that is why it is called virtual isn’t it), it is also a more visible sphere. The readers have names, you can interact with them, the comment-war can sometimes become unending. And there are no national boundaries.

A piece I wrote for a web journal called Kafila was linked to some other blogs and in one day alone, at one blog alone, there were over a hundred comments.

Apart from blogs, which is a sort of personal space with a public view, there are also mailing lists where critical discussions take a different form than a newspaper or a printed magazine. Continue reading Begging for an answer

Why Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV is Broadcasting Sunday Mass

By SOPHIE McNEILL

Sophie McNeill is a reporter with SBS Television Australia, her blog from Lebanon can be found at http://www9.sbs.com.au/

[Note from NM: I received this from nothing2report@gmail.com, and was struck by how this kind of complex reporting is almost non-existent in India, at least in the English media . How often do reporters actually speak to participants in a rally, going beyond the media-designated ‘stars’ who are present (whose own sincerity and commitment the media itself then paints as being ‘merely for publicity’ – it’s a vicious cycle.) How much political protest by non-party citizens’ groups gets covered at all except as traffic disruptions or if it has been ‘newsworthy’ because of stars/violence/self-immolations? How many reports in print or on the 24 hour TV news channels actually give the consumer a sense of what the issues are, what are the debates, or try to go beyond the Big Fight format of For and Against? Do news reporters do any background research ever? How many 6th of Decembers have passed with no coverage at all of huge-to-small (differing from year to year) secular protests by a range of people from Gandhians to the ultra left; but with two predictable photographs every year – one of recognizable Muslims and another of the Shiv Sena/Bajrang Dal protesting and celebrating respectively, counterposed on front pages of newspapers?
Apart from being an exemplary piece of reportage, Sophie McNeill’s article below give us a fascinating insight into politics in Lebanon.
]

A truck laden with yellow Hezbollah flags drives past the Christian neighbourhood of Gemayzeh early Sunday morning in downtown Beirut. There’s a picture of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on the windscreen, but it’s not his name that the young men on board are chanting. “General, General!” yell these young Shiite boys.

Their chant is for the leader of Hezbollah’s largest Christian ally, the former General Michel Aoun. And this van captures an important dynamic that many of the international and Lebanese press have omitted from their coverage of the last few days — that almost a quarter of the crowd at the huge anti-government protests have been Lebanese Christians. Continue reading Why Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV is Broadcasting Sunday Mass

Malegaon Bomb Blasts : Need for a Fresh Probe

It was rather an unusual type of protest on the streets of Malegaon. But hardly anyone outside the town could even know about it. Protesters donned same kind of hoods which police places on the heads of arrested criminals. They also wore black bands around their arms in a show of protest against official attempts to portray the victims as terrorists. But neither any of those ‘breaking news channels’ nor any of those citizen journos, deemed it necessary to at least report the incident.
The venue for the sit-ins were those very spots which had witnessed bomb blasts on 8 th September – namely Bara Kabristan and Hamidia mosque- where around forty innocent people breathed their last and hundreds of people got injured. (Ref : The Milli Gazette, 1-15 December 2006)


Of course, the unique sit-in was part of the ongoing protest campaign by the townspeople. In fact, the city observed a complete bandh on the 14 th November as part of its protest against the attitude of the police and authorities. It was a day when Chief Minister of Maharashtra Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh, came to visit the town to lay the foundation stone of a hospital. People very well knew that if the hospital would have come up as scheduled, many innocent lives could have been saved on that fateful day.
Continue reading Malegaon Bomb Blasts : Need for a Fresh Probe

God and Faith In The Life of Indians

What is common between golfer Jyoti Randhawa and actress Khushboo ? In fact, looking at their distinct fields, it would certainly be difficult to discern any thread of commonality. But if one would have come across the latest survey published in a leading newspaper one would already have got an answer. According to this survey, both of them do not believe in ‘any higher power’. For Jyoti ‘the only power I believe in is willpower- the power within you’, for Khushboo ‘my power is within me. I live for people whom I love and who love me’.
Interestingly people like Jyoti or Khushboo cannot be considered as lone rangers in this society which is becoming rather more religious with time. (A trend which is definitely at variance with what is happening in the West) Sixty six respondents out of a group of thousand plus clearly stated that they are non-believers.

Of course, the commonality shared by these two stalwarts of their own fields vis-a-vis their understanding about ‘higher power’ , is not the only interesting fact which readily emerges from the survey done by the Times of India people with TNS, a leading market research agency to know ‘how Indians view God and their faith’.(10 city TOI-TNS poll ( TOI, 26 th Nov 2006) )
More...
To be very frank , the recent survey done across ten cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Patna, Lucknow and Nagpur- with 1,007 respondents, which was restricted to people falling in socio-economic categories A,B and C, present a mixed set of conclusions. Continue reading God and Faith In The Life of Indians

Playing Cops and Reporters

This article was published in The Telegraph, Kolkata, December 5, 2006.

Here’s an amusing little story. According to reports in a leading daily, (August 26 and September 4), Hoshangabad police charged a couple with the murder of their twelve year-old son. Their son was indeed missing, and a body was found near the railway track. The parents confessed to the crime, and spent over 45 days in jail. Six months after his murder, young Gabbar turned up in town. He had fallen asleep while selling peanuts on trains, and woke up in Jalgaon. There he was put into a correctional institution, and later, sent to Bhopal. Finally he managed to convince someone to send him back home. Present in court, he listened to the government pleader arguing that the parents had confessed to the murder, so he could not be Gabbar; that the body found near the railway track was not Kallu alias Tufan, as claimed; and that neighbours had identified the dead body as that of Gabbar. The neighbours meanwhile, told the reporter they had never identified the dead body as his, and that this boy was indeed Gabbar. “We know him since he was born”, said one of them simply, “how could we make such a mistake?” Continue reading Playing Cops and Reporters

Action Alert – Communal harmony activists arrested in Karnataka

[From Clifton from Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore]

Friends,

Most of you are aware of the Sangh Parivar’s attempts to destroy the secular fabric in Karnataka by targeting the Baba-Datta shrine on Bababudangiri near Chikmagalur, a shrine that is an example of syncretic traditions in the state, attracting people of different faiths. You are also aware of the role of this present coalition government in supporting and promoting these activities of the Sangh Parivar. Now the government has given permission to the Sangh Parivar to conduct the Shobha Yatra and about 300 activists of the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike who reached Chikmagalur to protest this have been arrested today (02.12.2006).

Continue reading Action Alert – Communal harmony activists arrested in Karnataka

Left-wing Capitalism – a Senile Disorder

Red Carpet for Capital in West Bengal

The Marxist chief minister of West Bengal said in Kolkata day before yesterday (30 November 2006) that the West Bengal government will “do all that needs to be done” to ensure full protection to Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Sons, and the management and workers of Tata Motors “to stay here and start work” on the car plant at Singur, Hooghly district. Thus spake Buddhadeb and the above lines have been taken verbatim from a newspaper that is known for its sympathies with the Marxist party.

The chief minister, who also happens to be a politburo member of the CPI(M), also reportedly exclaimed in surprise “How can Mamata Banerjee stop the project” as it had the “overwhelming support of the people.” Farmers have apparently given consent letters to hand over 932 acres of land (out of the 997 required) and cheques were disbursed to them towards compensation. There have been two comments posted earlier on this blog which dealt with Medha Patkar’s response to the Indian Express on this issue. The farcical nature of cash compensations is of course well known for all who have any idea of what generally happens in such cases and has indeed happened in this one. Cash amounts are pathetic and the for most of those whom the Express correspondent “saw” queuing up to receive these cheques, this is the next best option to losing all the land at gunpoint, without compensation.

Continue reading Left-wing Capitalism – a Senile Disorder

DISSENT, DEBATE, CREATE

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