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)

‘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


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