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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Saffron Terror

Nanded, in Maharashtra, is a town with a significant population of different faiths – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist. Nanded could well have become a new metaphor for secularism as practised in the Subcontinent, but this was not to be. Instead, Nanded has come to represent the emergent danger of a violent new brand of Hindu militancy, with due support from a section of the state machinery. A place that was once witness to the final days of Guru Gobind Singh, Sikhism’s Tenth Guru, has today metamorphosed into an epicentre of violent Hindutva. Indeed, Nanded represents the build-up of the violent fundamentalist Hinduism of the past half-century. The town has been witness to a new spate of acts that can be inarguably dubbed ‘terrorism’.

The inner workings of this new form of Hindutva were on show recently in two, evidently accidental, explosions in Nanded within a span of nine months, in April 2006 and February 2007. These blasts, which killed four people, took place at the houses of activists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena. The arrival of Nanded on India’s ‘terror’ map was followed by media investigations into similar previous incidents, which also showed the involvement of Hindu youth in terrorist actions.

The new element here is the increasing similarity between Hindu militancy and ‘terrorism’ of other hues. Continue reading Saffron Terror

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.]


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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Interview with Evo Morales

Democracy Now!

By way of Liberation News Service

[Interview with Bolivian President Evo Morales. Here he talks about some interesting question relating to the new possibilities of democratic transformation, the problems of leadership, and global warming – among other things. Some Excerpts:]

AMY GOODMAN: The Bolivian Supreme Court recently asked the government to start extradition proceedings for the former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who lives here in the United States in Miami. They also asked for an order for him not to be allowed to go to another country, but to be sent back to Bolivia. What is the former president guilty of and whether he thinks the United States will extradite him.

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: First of all, the United States cannot, should not receive, protect delinquents from any part of the world. It is unconscionable that the United States, a democratic country, would be protecting international criminals like Posada Carriles. The process has to do with two issues: first of all, human rights, and second of all, for economic damages done to the state. So people who massacre peoples, that violate human rights and do economic damage to countries and their economies have to go to jail. The United States shouldn’t be sitting there waiting for a process to be put into motion, but rather should kick these people out so that they can be submitted to justice.

I hope the United States respects these norms and respects the decision of our Supreme Court. But here, we have an experience. The last military dictator was sent to jail. And since that time, in Bolivia, no member of the military dares to threaten a coup d’etat. Likewise, any democratic government that violates human rights, that massacres people or that does economic damage to the state should also be subject to these sorts of processes, and their leaders should be put in jail, so that they never dare to do it again either.

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The Righteous Anger of Our Hon’ble Lords

A treat to the eyes and ears this! The screaming headlines in the newspapers today: “Angry SC talks of Prez Rule as DMK shuts TN” (The Times of India). “SCs new anger Benchmark: We can get the state government sacked” (The Indian Express).

Rewind to 1992. 6 December. A bewildered country watched aghast as a mob led by the soon-to-be Deputy Prime Minister, Home Minister and other important personages – including the chief minister of a certain state where an old monument was located, demolished the monument. This was done after the motely crowd of ministers-to-be and chief minister et al gave their commitment to the honourable Supreme Court that they will not demolish the monument. Remember. This was not a peaceful bandh but an act that changed the face of India forever and led to some of the worst carnages in our post-independence history. Were the hon’ble lordships angry? Did they demand the dismissal of the Kalyan Singh government – or threaten it? And did they decide to take any action against the Advanis and Joshis?

Fast forward a decade. Gujarat 2002. February 27-28 onwards – not one day but for months on end…a series of carnages that reduce December 1992 to child’s play. This is not so very long back But did the conscience of the judiciary lead it to demand – or simply threaten – the dismissal of the Narendra Modi government? The fact that the DMK is a strong ally of the UPA government has been invoked this time but at that time, the state government was led not by an ally but the leading party of the ruling NDA coalition.

I hold no brief for the DMK or any other party for that matter but am simply puzzled…and this could be a crime these days. But one word may not be out of place. The honourable judges may ban the written word and jail the Mid Day journalists or anybody else who dares to challenge the undemocratic writ of the courts, but who can jail those thousands and lakhs of spoken words that are being uttered daily about this same matter – undermining the authority of one of the most august institutions of our democracy. Who can jail that mall owner businessman in Vasant Vihar who recently told a friend of mine that he really was not worried about the judiciary because he knew that its judgement in a certain case would go in his favour?

Perils of Arbitrariness – MSS Pandian

The Central Educational Institution (Reservation and Admission) Act, 2006, which provides for 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in institutions of higher learning, is in a state of deep freeze. The Union Government’s desperate promises to expand the educational infrastructure in these institutions, to increase the number of seats so that the number of open quota seats will remain the same, and to address the issue of creamy layer, has failed to convince the Supreme Court. After a court battle of five long months, a Supreme Court Bench has finally refused to vacate the stay on the Act imposed in March 2007.
The Supreme Court’s objection to the Act is quite straightforward and seemingly reasonable. It posed to the Union Government, what is the basis on which the figure 27 per cent had been arrived at. The Union Government failed to come up with any credible answer and the Supreme Court, as one would expect, stuck to its position. In other words, Supreme Court wants no legislation to be arbitrary but be based on defendable rational basis.
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