Tag Archives: democracy

करोना से ग़लत सबक़ लेना घातक हो सकता है : राजेन्द्र चौधरी

Guest post by RAJINDER CHAUDHARY

पिछले दिनों हम ने ‘करोना के कुछ ज़रूरी सबक़’ पर चर्चा की थी. पर बड़ी संभावना यह है कि करोना के आधे अधूरे या गलत सबक निकाले जाएँ.  इस के लिए भी हमें तैयार रहना चाहिए.

बिलकुल गलत सबकों पर आने से पहले, कुछ संभावित आधे अधूरे सबकों की चर्चा कर लें. निश्चित तौर पर करोना के बाद की दुनिया में वैश्वीकरण ढलान पर होगा; अब आर्थिक वैश्वीकरण बढ़ने के स्थान पर घटेगा. विशेष तौर पर दवाइयों और स्वास्थ्य सेवाओं से जुड़ी वस्तुओं के मामले में राष्ट्र आत्मनिर्भर होने की कोशिश करेंगे; करनी भी चाहिए पर यह अधूरा निष्कर्ष होगा. केवल स्वास्थ्य सम्बन्धी मामलों में ही नहीं, बल्कि जहाँ तक संभव हो हर मामले में आत्मनिर्भर होने की कोशिश होनी चाहिए. इस से भी आगे बढ़ कर यह आत्मनिर्भरता केवल राष्ट्रीय स्तर पर न हो कर स्थानीय स्तर पर भी होनी चाहिए.

Continue reading करोना से ग़लत सबक़ लेना घातक हो सकता है : राजेन्द्र चौधरी

Desirable Deaths, Malignant Neglect

Coronavirus reveals that in the capitalist world there is still no such thing as society.

Coronavirus

Bella Ciao! Bella Ciao! A song which traces its origins to the struggles of working women (rice-weeders) in 19th-century Northern Italy, and which later became an anthem of anti-fascist struggles there, recently made a comeback on the streets of Rome.

Well, there was no mass gathering, obviously, but you could hear people’s voices sing not only Bella Ciao from windows and balconies but many other patriotic numbers, some newly-composed.

With the world’s eighth-largest economy under lockdown, people restricted to their homes and fatalities due to novel coronavirus already over 1,400, this collective singing was the Italian people’s way of finding a moment of joy in this time of anxiety. It “lifted their spirits” and became a unique way for them to declare solidarity with each other.

( Read the full story here : https://www.newsclick.in/Coronavirus-Crisis-Capitalist-Society-Public-Funded-Health-System)

Lessons from Ambedkar and Gandhi to take forward

They represented two foundational but antagonistic visions of “what we as a society, what we as a state should embody”

( Review of ‘Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and The Risk of Democracy’ By Aishwary Kumar Navayana, Rs 599)

The book, Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the Risk of Democracy by Aishwary Kumar, takes forward the conversation around the two “most formidable non-Western thinkers of the twentieth century, whose visions of moral and political life have left the deepest imprints”.

In the early 1990s D.R. Nagaraj published The Flaming Feet, a compilation of his essays in which he admired both Gandhi and Ambedkar. Coming close on the heels of the phenomenon of Dalit assertion, it argued that “there is a compelling necessity to achieve a synthesis of the two”. But that has not been the only attempt to examine how the ideas of these two leaders interacted, challenged each other, and how they extended or revisited the meanings of different concepts.

The book, Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the Risk of Democracy by Aishwary Kumar, takes forward the conversation around the two “most formidable non-Western thinkers of the twentieth century, whose visions of moral and political life have left the deepest imprints”. For the author they “exemplified two incommensurable ways of forging a relationship between sovereignty and justice, force and disobedience”, or represented two foundational but antagonistic visions of “what we as a society, what we as a state should embody”.

Focusing mainly on Hind Swaraj — a monograph written by Gandhi on a ship to South Africa from London (1909) — and Annihilation of Caste, which happens to be the undelivered speech by Dr Ambedkar when he was invited by the Jat Pat Todak Mandal, Lahore (1936) — the organization rescinded the invite when it came across the ‘radical’ proposals he had put forward in the draft — this around 400-page book discerns “an insurrectionary element at the limit of politics” in the works of these two stalwarts. It is “an insurrection that sought to extract the political itself — and the social question — from the doctrinal prescriptions and certitude of its European past”

( Read the full text here : https://www.telegraphindia.com/culture/books/lessons-from-ambedkar-and-gandhi-to-take-forward/cid/1747042?ref=books_culture-books-page)

Democracy as Majoritarianism

Extract from the Preface of  ‘Hindutva’s Second Coming’

Preface

Democracy as Majoritarianism

We can never forget that everything that Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal,’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany, but I am sure that if I lived in Germany during that time I would have comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal… we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.
— Martin Luther King, Jr

What is the signature of democracy?

It is the understanding that minority voices will be allowed to flourish and they will not be bulldozed.
At the apparent level majoritarianism – rule by majority – sounds very similar to democracy but it essentially stands democracy on its head. For real democracy to thrive, it is essential that ideas and principles of secularism are at its core. The idea that there will be a clear separation between state and religion and there won’t be any discrimination on the basis of religion has to be its guiding principle.
Majoritarianism clearly defeats democracy in idea as well as practice.
While democracy’s metamorphosis into majoritarianism is a real danger, under rule of capital – especially its present phase of neoliberalism – another lurking danger is its evolution into what can be called as plutocracy – government by the rich.
As India enters the race for elections to the 17 th Lok Sabha, these are the two broad questions which are staring in everyone’s mind, whether the same dynamic – which has made the last five years as unique in Independent India’s history – will continue or we will witness a rupture.
It is a disturbing scenario when the biggest democracy in the world seems to have taken a ‘[Q]uantum Jump In Wrong Direction Since 2014’ (Amartya Sen) – prompting even the normally reticient community of scientists to ask people to reject the politics which ‘.[d]ivides us, creates fears, and marginalises a large fraction of our society’ and remind them that “[D]iversity is our democracy’s greatest strength; discrimination and non-inclusivity strike at its very foundation.’
Whether there would be further normalisation of majoritianism or ordinary people’s desire to live a more inclusive, egalitarian life and in a less toxic world would ultimately triumph the designs of the hatemongers and secondly, whether free run being given to the crony capitalists and moneybags would be over and ideas of redistribution would make a comeback with vengeance.
What has added a new dimension to this dynamic is the existence of a ‘self proclaimed cultural organisation’ called RSS – whose principles, ideology and activities contravene the very basis of Constitution – which is de facto ruling the country. It is an organisation whose principles “[d]epicting Indian nationalism in terms of the faith of the religious majority – have serious negative social and political implications for sections of the citizen-body and are in violation of the Constitution.” ( http://caravandaily.com/rss-principles-are-in-violation-of-constitution-detrimental-to-india-hamid-ansari/)
It was exactly 42 years back that Indian people defeated the attempts to throttle the democratic experiment by their united struggle, whether they would be we able to have an encore when more secretive, sinister and communal forces are on ascent who are also popular among a significant section of people.
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The central concern of the collection of essays (some of them published earlier and revised for this collection) presented here is this normalisation of majoritarianism which is taking place here. A situation where representation of the biggest religious minority in the outgoing Parliament had been at its lowest since independence and where it is being slowly invisiblised even from public discourse.
Section I tries to situate these developments in India in South Asian context and search for any commonality in the experiences of people and also looks at the societal roots for this fascination of hate filled ideologies and leaders.
Section II deals with the ‘pioneers of the Hindutva Supremacist movement and the new icons they want to present for a ‘New India’ which is supposedly taking shape under their wings. Section III tries to offer tentative suggestions to fight the menace which is trying to overwhelm the Indian republic.
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The book is dedicated to the memory of the legendary Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Tur (February 20, 1925 – April 30, 2006) who survived persecution, imprisonment and censorship, whose writings have inspired generations of Indonesian People,
What was remarkable that Pramoedya, a leftist, was jailed not only during the anti-colonial struggle but had to undergo a long phase of detention which started in mid-sixties when Indonesia witnessed a CIA sponsored military coup – which witnessed killings of lakhs of people. He was released from imprisonment in 1979, but remained under house arrest in Jakarta until 1992.
His tetralogy of novels – for which he is best known – ‘Buru Quartet’ was written during the tormenting period of detention only. “Is it possible,” Pramoedya asked later, “to take from a man his right to speak to himself?”

 

Glory to his memory !

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Contents

Dedication
Preface
Section I
1. India: The Road Less Travelled by
2. Time to Militarise Hindus, Hinduise the Nation
3. South Asia: Forward March of Majoritarianism
4. Dear Hitler
Section II
5. Veer of a different Kind
6. Can the Real Shyamaprasad Mukherjee Ever Stand Up?
7. Godse: In Love with the Assasin
8. Deendayal Upadhyay: BJP’s “Gandhi”
9. Many Silences of Mr Mohan Bhagwat
Section III
10. Hindutva’s Second Coming
Appendix IV
Nehru, Ambedkar and Challenge of Majoritarianism

Index
—–
About the author
Subhash Gatade ( born 1957) is a left activist, writer and translator.
He has done M Tech ( Mech Engg 1981) from BHU-IT, Varanasi.
He has authored few books including  Modinama : On Caste, Cows and the Manusmriti ( Leftword, in press), Charvak ke Vaaris ( Authors Pride, Hindi, 2018), Ambedkar ani Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ( Sugava, Marathi, 2016), Beesavi Sadi Mein Ambedkar ka Sawal ( Dakhal, Hindi, 2014), Godse ki Aulad ( Pharos, Urdu, 2013) , Godse’s Children – Hindutva Terror in India (Pharos,  2011), The Saffron Condition ( Three Essays, 2011)
He also occasionally writes for children. Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi ( NCERT, Hindi, 2010)

 

 

 

 

A Statement against Suppression of Dissent by IACLALS

We are publishing below a statement sent to us by the Indian Association of Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies against the suppression and criminalizing of dissent in India

The Indian Association of Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (IACLALS) expresses its deep dismay over the continuing assault on civic freedoms and constitutional rights of writers, teachers, students, human rights activists and public intellectuals in the country. The current political climate of fear and intimidation – fuelled and vindicated by the state and the ruling party – has simultaneously targetted entire communities through a range of religious-ethnic violence, as much as it has sought to silence conscientious voices that have spoken up against such onslaughts. Vacuous rhetorical constructions like “anti-national” and “urban naxal” – with no basis in fact or in principles of democratic governance – have been repeatedly manufactured as the grounds for punitive-legal action and media trials, through the invoking of outdated colonial codes like the sedition laws. The latest of these forms of orchestrated witch-hunt has seen the attempted arrest or chargesheeting of Hiren Gohain, Anand Teltumbde and of several JNU students – in the cause of raking up an electoral consensus against the spirit of scientific inquiry and free-thinking.

The IACLALS’ academic investments have engaged with and gained from the works and ideas of these scholars, who now face the ire of the state. As a scholarly association, we believe in the need and power of a critical public sphere, as the only promise of a living democracy. We stand in firm solidarity with them, and strongly condemn every attempt being made at gagging forms of dissent and enforcing regimes of censorship.

Pondicherry University, Feb. 8, 2019.

GJV Prasad (Chariperson), Subhendu Mund and M. Asaduddin (Vice Chairpersons), Rina Ramdev (Secretary), Angelie Multani (Treasurer)

 

Defend Constitutional Values, Save Hinduism from Hindtuva: For Civil Servants and Armed Forces Veterans

On 30 January 2018, retired civil servants and veterans of the armed forces jointly organised a conclave on ‘Hinduism and Hindutva’ at the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi. The conclave attended by over hundred participants, emphasized the need to rescue both Hinduism and the Indian Constitution from the clutches of the political project that calls itself Hindutva, and which has nothing to do with religion as such. The participants at the conclave sought to make a plea for saving Hinduism without making any concessions to the monstrosity of caste oppression, which in the spirit of many earlier reformers, they rejected.

This conclave followed an earlier one on ‘A Fractured Polity: The
Relevance of Gandhi Today’ organised on 10 October 2017, which had been
addressed by Justice A P Shah, Mrinal Pande and Ramachandra Guha. The
speeches are available on YouTube (Justice A.P. Shah, Mrinal Pande,
Ramachandra Guha). These civil servants and veterans have also raised severe
concerns about the present situation in a series of open letters over the last few
months: on vigilantism and hyper-nationalism; the suspicious death of Justice
Loya; and violence and discrimination against minorities in India. (See: Retired
Civil Servants open letter – 10 June 2017, Armed Forces Veterans open letter –
30 July 2017, Retired Civil Servants Letter 02 December 2017 – Enquiry into
Judge Loya’s death, Armed Forces Veterans letter to Supreme Court & Bombay
High Court on Judge Loya’s death, Retired Civil Servants open letter – 28 January
2018).
Continue reading Defend Constitutional Values, Save Hinduism from Hindtuva: For Civil Servants and Armed Forces Veterans

‘Degrees’ of Democracy – Field Notes from a Central University in Bihar: Debaditya Bhattacharya

Guest post by DEBADITYA BHATTACHARYA

This piece has long been in the coming. Soon after the summer of student protests in India exposed the terror-apparatuses of the state and unleashed a new vocabulary of progressive political resistance, the students of a certain Central University of South Bihar (in Gaya) went on strike against the university administration in the early days of August. They however were not fighting to protect constitutional rights, because their daily encounters with the university had already come to rest on a structural suspension of many such rights. Like those of speech, of rational thought and scientific inquiry, of gender-equality, and of resisting what Vemula called the event of being reduced to one’s “immediate identity”. These students merely decided to fight for their right to a degree.

They had come together to demand statutory recognition for courses that they were enrolled in since 2013, but most sections of the national media at that time deemed the issue ‘sub-national’ enough to be granted space or audience. Reporters from the local print-media were – in what seems like accepted practice across public institutions in the country – barred entry into the university campus, and hearsay reports constituted the stuff of low-key news-briefs with little context or compassion. Those who attempted to organise public opinion by writing on social and alternative media spaces, were – in a classic division of interests that administrative bureaucracies are deft at provoking – urged by students themselves to withdraw. The reason was simple: each social media post or conversation around the issue was declaredly spied on by the university administration in order to ‘detect’ subterranean alliances and “outside support” (as if it were a terrorist conspiracy!), and students were individually targeted and intimidated for passing on internal ‘secrets’ to ‘outsiders’. I know of specific Facebook posts which had been taken print-outs of and convened surreptitious meetings over, where administrative heads and proctorial board members put their heads together to crush the germ of student dissent and ‘outsider’-mobilizations. The agitated students continued in their own ways, despite open threats of disciplinary action and reminders of exam-time tactics of penalisation. The Vice-Chancellor marched off to Delhi to strike bargains for an interim settlement-package with officials in the ministry, and returned to meet the striking protestors with as much of an assurance as threats of expulsion. Continue reading ‘Degrees’ of Democracy – Field Notes from a Central University in Bihar: Debaditya Bhattacharya

Kashmir’s Freedom is India’s Freedom: Hum Kya Chahte? Azadi

I do not think ordinary Indians support the brutality of army occupation in Kashmir. Despite what the Indian state says, and despite what the Indian army and CRPF are doing, I honestly do not believe that any ordinary Indian supports the torture of young men, the blinding of people attending a funeral, the rape of women, the killings and maiming and abuse and humiliation that are now a routinized fact of daily life in the Kashmir valley. To believe that ordinary Indians enjoy watching this spectacle of violence, that ordinary Indians take pleasure in the torture of children, would be to think India is now a country comprised of sadistic psychopaths. I honestly do not think ordinary Indians are psychopaths. I do think, however, that ordinary Indians, and I count myself amongst them, have somehow managed, till now, to keep some distance between what is happening in Kashmir and the idea of India as a whole. After all, India is a large and complex country, a huge and diverse society. Everything that happens in Kashmir, the brutality of the army and the security forces, cannot signify the whole truth of India we tell ourselves. It seems somehow unfair to us ordinary Indians that what happens in Kashmir reflects on us all.

But the time has come now to squarely face some hard truths about ourselves, and the dissimulations, psychological and social, by which we continue to live in this country and call ourselves ‘Indians’. Continue reading Kashmir’s Freedom is India’s Freedom: Hum Kya Chahte? Azadi

P.A.D.S. Statement on the killing of Prof MM Kalburgi – a sane voice against communalism and superstition

People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS)

Murder of another rational voice against communalism and superstition

The respected and loved Kannada scholar and writer MM Kalburgi was murdered by two unidentified men on August 30 at his home in Dharwad. The seventy seven year scholar was actively researching Vachanas literature of early Kannada and literature produced during the Adil Shahi period in Northern Karnataka. He was a source of wisdom for many students and scholars, and his killers gained access posing as students. He was also a vocal critic of religious superstitions and had been targeted by fundamentalists within his own Lingayat community and by Hindutva organisations. He had received many threats and his house had been attacked with stones and bottles. He was given police protection, which was withdrawn only days before his murder.

Professor Kalburgi’s cold-blooded murder has caused widespread shock and dismay in the literary and intellectual circles of Karnataka. Many protests involving ordinary citizens have been held in Bangalore and Dharwad. At least one Hindutva Bajrang dal activist has publicly welcomed the assassination, warned another rationalist of Karnataka, Prof KS Bhagwan of the same fate.

Prof Kalburgi’s killing comes after the murders of two other prominent critics of religious superstitions. Dr Narender Dabholkar was killed in 2013 in Pune. Trade Unionist and Communist Govind Pansare was killed in Kolhapur in February this year. There are uncanny similarities in the modus operandi of all three cases. It is likely that as in the earlier cases, the police will fail to solve Prof Kalburgi’s murder. Continue reading P.A.D.S. Statement on the killing of Prof MM Kalburgi – a sane voice against communalism and superstition

Whatever happened to 15-M Movement? Atharva Pandit

Guest post by ATHARVA PANDIT

[Against the background of Spain’s recent criminalizing of public protests and the first ever hologram demonstration (see Kafila post by Geeta Seshu) against it, this article revisits the major eruption in 2011, that eventually laid the ground for the emergence of a new political force in Spanish politics]

15M, image courtesy El Tecolote
15M, image courtesy El Tecolote

Spain, seems to be a country that is still shaping itself. Somewhat like a nation that wants to come to terms with its past, unlike many other countries that have gone through a traumatic history and have finally emerged through the political passions – admittedly misdirected – of their distant past. Spain seems like it is yet to come to terms with a civil war that forged its legacy in millions of Spanish minds and the future generations of the country. The fascist forces that staged a coup, and consequently, went on to purge about 150,000 of its citizens in summary executions, far surpassed some of the worst dictatorships that the world has witnessed, including that of Pinochet’s in Chile and of Videla’s in Argentina.

Continue reading Whatever happened to 15-M Movement? Atharva Pandit

Land Acquisition and Delays Over Democracy: Shubham Jain, Sarangan Rajeshkumar, Dhruva Gandhi

Guest post by SHUBHAM JAIN, SARANGAN RAJESHKUMAR and DHRUVA GANDHI

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act, 2013 was passed with Objective to promote transparency and participative governance in the acquisition of land for industrialisation and urbanisation and to, thereby, ensure overall socio-economic development. In the pursuit of this objective, the law introduced mechanisms as Social Impact Assessment, Consent, and Rehabilitation et al.

This law, however, attracted widespread criticism from the industry on account of the supposedly time consuming barriers created for the acquisition of land. Accordingly, the Ordinance of 2015 was promulgated as a measure to hasten the process of Land Acquisition and to, thereby, contribute towards the economic development of the country. Unfortunately, most of the debate on this Ordinance has barely focussed on the problems it sought to address and, consequentially, there has been a dearth of an analysis of solutions proposed therein in the backdrop of these problems. Let us, therefore, contextualise the debate on the Ordinance and, then, examine the merits of the same. Continue reading Land Acquisition and Delays Over Democracy: Shubham Jain, Sarangan Rajeshkumar, Dhruva Gandhi

An Election of Hope Versus Fear

Yes it’s a simplistic dichotomy, but there is really no better way to describe the current Delhi elections. On the one hand, a little ragtag army of Davids behind “Mufflerman”, as his faithful supporters affectionately call him, a person in baggy sweater and sneakers, one you wouldn’t look at twice if you passed him on the road.

Mufflerman Business Standard

  Kejriwal

On the other hand, a massively funded, aggressively confident Goliath, openly backed by the corporate bodies and full-page ads, riding a  national “Wave” higher than most Tsunamis, topped by the 56-inch chest of “Modiman”, even if recently modestly covered by a 12-lakh rupee vest.

56-inch Modi78c0d4d3-be9e-4afb-b034-1247529df720wallpaper1

On the one hand, a fearful and awed media establishment donating PR for free to the seemingly invincible King of Gujarat, and on the other, an aam aadmi, a volunteer-cadre run campaign and a palpable vibe of trust and openness on the ground. I know I know, some will say it’s all ‘perception management’ and PR, but barring the googly of the 2 crores party donation thrown at the opportune moment, if Mufflerman’s party was any cleaner, it could have given Lalita ji’s Surf a run for its money. Whatever the result on the 10th (and there is reason to be hawk-eyed about the possibility of tampering as Nivedita Menon’s post has urged), how does anybody not get what a miracle this alone is, in a political economy with a black economy of a size that is higher than the GDPs of most smaller countries? Perhaps this is in fact about hope and fear after all, however clichéd that sounds.

Continue reading An Election of Hope Versus Fear

Feed The Poor, Go To Jail

image : Courtesy eideard.com

Whether serving food to the homeless is a crime?

Ask Arnold Arbott, known as Chef Arbott, a 90 year old man from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who along-with two other members of a Church charity faces potential jail term for at least six months for the same ‘offence’. In fact his name finds prominent mention in the police records in the past week for breaking the new city ordinance which has come into effect recently which characterises his act as breach of law, according to reports.

Talking to a newsperson he said:

“These are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing. They don’t have a roof over their head. And who could turn them away?”

Continue reading Feed The Poor, Go To Jail

Democracy as Permanent Advertising – Indian Media and Elections : Irfan Ahmad

Guest post by IRFAN AHMAD

It was nothing short of a scandal. On 12 April, India TV, a Hindi channel, telecast 117-minute interview of the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. Conducted by Rajat Sharma, it became, or was made, a mega hit. Tow days later, news director of Indian TV, Qamar Waheed Naqvi, resigned from his position alleging that the interview was ‘fixed’. Though Naqvi’s resignation was silenced in media, the fixed interview represents the dark and mutually constitutive relationships between media and politics.

Based on the analyses of select elections coverage by five television channels – India TV, NDTV, Aaj Tak, ANI, and IBN– I argue that:

  • The way journalists pose questions to their favorite politicians are often already answers;
  • In pursuing a storyline, journalists subordinate, even sacrifice, actual responses or events/facts to bolster their pre-determined narrative; and
  • Electoral polity like India is heading towards a designer democracy marked by permanent campaigning-cum-advertising.

In short, I caution against the use of widespread phrase: ‘media and politics’. It is more fitting to say: ‘media as politics’ or ‘politics as media’.

Share of prime time coverage, Image courtesy The Hindu
Share of prime time coverage, Image courtesy The Hindu

Modi’s ‘Fixed’ Interview: India TV Continue reading Democracy as Permanent Advertising – Indian Media and Elections : Irfan Ahmad

Some Reflections on the neutrality of political institutions and the project of making Modi more palatable: Moiz Tundawala

Guest Post by MOIZ TUNDAWALA

“ … . however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot. The working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of State such as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depend are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics.”

[Dr. Bhimrao Amdedkar]

These observations of Babasaheb Ambedkar, made on the 25th of November, 1949, one day before the Constitution was finally adopted after three years worth of labour, should suffice for anyone who dismisses Modi skeptics as excessive scare mongers. As a second year law student in 2006-07, I couldn’t quite understand why our revered constitutional law teacher Prof. M.P. Singh would keep reiterating these sentiments in class, something which I thought was so axiomatic it did not need emphases. With only a few days left for the outcome of what is being called an election for the soul of India, I now realize the wisdom underlying those constant reminders, especially in a law school converted by the culture and priorities of its students into a factory churning out smart but unreflective products for the corporate sector. I think those of us who find Modi problematic, but would still vote him in for the lure of the promised economic miracle, while at the same time consoling ourselves with the talk of sufficiently robust political institutions capable of surviving any onslaught, must listen to Ambedkar carefully. The Constitution is an artefact, a human creation, constantly needing ‘good people’ at the helm to work it out. If nothing else, resistance to Modi’s rise to power is at least resistance against the enthronement of ‘bad people’, who deep down have only harboured contempt for the Constitution as a foreign document.

Continue reading Some Reflections on the neutrality of political institutions and the project of making Modi more palatable: Moiz Tundawala

A Temporary Respite from Ordinance Raj: Apurv Mishra

Guest post by APURV MISHRA

The Roman legalist Julius Paulus once said that, “One who contravenes the intention of a statute without disobeying its actual words, commits a fraud on it.” With the model code of conduct declared on Wednesday, the country was spared the possibility of a fresh round of ordinances that would have amounted to yet another fraud on the constitution by the UPA government. Believers in constitutionalism, for whom a constitutional impropriety is as disturbing as a blatantly unconstitutional act, can now breathe a temporary sigh of relief.

The phrase “fraud on the constitution” is not of my own making. It was used by the Supreme Court in a case that at once represents the best and worst of Indian polity. Between 1967 and 1981, the governor of Bihar promulgated an astonishing 256 ordinances which were kept alive for up to 14 years, including a fateful day on which 50 ordinances were passed at one go. The state assembly meanwhile, passed only 189 Acts in the same period. This was a brazen disregard for the basic structure of our constitution of which “separation of power” is an essential component- a simple and intuitive scheme where the legislature makes laws after careful deliberations and the executive branch of the government implements them.

It required two extraordinary individuals to put an end to this “complete nonsense”- Dr D C Wadhwa, who meticulously collected data on the systematic abuse of power by the Bihar government at grave personal cost and then-Chief Justice of India P N Bhagwati, who delivered an outstanding judgment (on the PIL filed by Dr Wadhwa ) which stated in no uncertain terms that the power to promulgate an ordinance is essentially an emergency power to be used to meet an extraordinary situation and “it cannot be allowed to be perverted to serve political ends.” Continue reading A Temporary Respite from Ordinance Raj: Apurv Mishra

Hidden in Plain Sight – Problems of Democracy Under Capitalism: Ravi Sinha

Talk delivered by RAVI SINHA at the International Seminar on “Democracy, Socialism, and the Visions for the 21st Century”, 7th to 10th March, 2014 Hyderabad, India

If one has to say something brief and short about a large and complex subject, which is also a much discussed topic, one always runs the risk of stating the obvious. But one may also chance upon the unexpected and the counter-intuitive. Problems of democracy under capitalism and under socialism have by now a ring of tiring familiarity around them, but they also contain surprises that are hidden in plain sight. While fixing my coordinates by recounting the obvious, my hope is to point towards aspects that may be counter-intuitive to the political common sense prevalent in much of the left and the social movements.

 Let me begin with the status of democracy under capitalism. Popular mind considers them complementary to each other. Ancients – whether in Greece or in India – were familiar with the concept of democracy and, at least in some famous examples, they are also supposed to have practiced it. But the large-scale acceptance and practice of democracy overlaps with the history of capitalism. In addition, the history of socialism of the twentieth century has been such that this association got further entrenched in the popular mind. I will come to the socialism question a little later. For now, let me stay with the relationship between democracy and capitalism.
If I were to say, then, that at the core of this relationship lies a tension that is fundamentally irresolvable, it would appear counter-intuitive to the popular common sense. On the other hand, it would appear obvious to a leftist. On both counts there are reasons to dig a little deeper. Truth is often counter-intuitive for the wrong reasons, but at times it is also obvious for the wrong reasons.

Crafting the Modi Mask – India Inc and the Big Media

AAP Rally in Gujarat. Courtesy Mukul Sinha
AAP Rally in Gujarat. Courtesy Mukul Sinha

Two things stand out for their sublime quality in the current round of pre-election campaigning. First, the danger to Indian democracy has assumed unprecedented proportions, and there is a clear sense of desperation in the air. The threat emanates, you guessed right, from a group of anarchists who are poised to take over Indian democracy.  This is perhaps the dirtiest and most dangerous election that India has ever seen – what with the bunch of anarchists ‘fixing the media‘, ‘spreading anarchy‘, ‘hijacking democracy‘, ‘taking foreign funds‘ for their election campaign (while the others, the impeccable democrats of the BJP and the Congress have to make do with ‘local’ capitalists like  Mukesh Ambani). What’s more, these people are ‘political mercenaries‘,  urban Maoists in disguise and they want to wreck the neatly and painstakingly built edifice of our hallowed democracy. This widespread love of democracy is touching. For someone like me who has closely watched (and participated in) politics from the mid 1970s, the panic evident in the tone of those attacking AAP is as unprecedented as it is revealing. It is revealing of the fact that the political class is thrown into disarray by this new way of doing politics that AAP represents. In BJP’s case, in particular, one can discern complete befuddlement – neither its hope to reap the benefit of the mass anger against the Congress, nor its tried and tested polarizing communal vocabulary seem to have any meaning any more.

Thus, during the days of AAP rule in Delhi, the official BJP state executive resolution came up with this claim:

“Delhi is currently being ruled by a bunch of political mercenaries hired, supported and controlled by Congress party. The words and action of AAP leaders expose the fact that it is a Maoist outfit.”

Of course, the Maoists are “hired, supported and controlled by the Congress”!

Continue reading Crafting the Modi Mask – India Inc and the Big Media

Arvind Kejriwal, master-blaster

Arvind Kejriwal is the new Sachin Tendulkar. You throw him the most difficult googly and he sweeps it to add runs for his century. In 2011, he started a national anti-corruption movement with the specific aim of setting up an anti-corruption ombudsman called Lokpal. The movement’s public face and leader was Anna Hazare, a respected social leader, who like Gandhi, believes in fasting for politics. The critics said Anna is just a puppet and it’s Kejriwal’s movement, and that such sophistry showed Kejriwal (who takes oath as chief minister of Delhi tomorrow) had sinister motives.

Kejriwal’s critics said that fasting unto death was a blackmail strategy not suited to a democracy. Kejriwal can’t have a Lokpal just because he wants it. His popular support is just media hype. If he really wants a Lokpal, why doesn’t he form a political party and contest elections?

Kejriwal’s critics said he was supported by the RSS and the BJP, that he is a BJP stooge, that the Lokpal movement was a right-wing conspiracy to remove pristine, super-secular, people-loving, chosen-by-god Congress party from power. Continue reading Arvind Kejriwal, master-blaster

AAP’s Rise and Congress Rout – Some Obvious but Unconventional Questions: Sanjay Kumar

Guest post by SANJAY KUMAR

A Congress rout and the AAP success are the most obvious results of recent polls. Both are spectacular, in their own ways. Even BJP’s landslide victory in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh pales in comparison, for these two open up new possibilities.

Why a party whose legacy of anti-colonial struggle had lost sheen generations ago, whose top leadership is in the grip of a seemingly disinterested and incompetent dynasty, that lacks any organised cadre, coherent ideology, social base, and whose average leader appears more of a wheeler-dealer, and scamster, should continue to get close to thirty percent of votes from Indians even in worst of times, is a genuine mystery. That the Indian social analyses, barring a few exceptions, have tried little to unravel this mystery, is not only an indication of their intellectual limitations, but also of their ideological biases. The enduring success of Congress indicates seamier side of liberal democracy in general, which bourgeois social sciences try more to paper over than explore.

From voters’ perspective elections under liberal democracy are an exercise in choice, but not in freedom. When people vote, they are not acting as citizens shaping their social world, but as little men and women facing pre-existing structures of social power. The magic of elections under liberal democracy is precisely this. They offer a choice, the choice is not fake, its collective outcome is uncertain, yet the choice is already pre-determined in ways that by and large reproduce pre-existing power structures. That is why, exercising franchise is not necessarily a marker of democratic exercise, and leaders of fascist persuasion are often the loudest votaries of compulsory voting.  But that is not all. If elections were mere gears in a machine that simply revolved on and on, they would be quickly become a ritual, like those under state socialism in which the Party and leaders always got more than 95% approvals. Elections under liberal democracy in contrast provide flexible adjustment of state political functionaries to changing social conditions. They allow reflection of changes in public opinion, demography, gender politics, caste equations and balance of class forces, whose origins lie somewhere else, onto state politics. Punctuated adjustment with a time lag produces a sense of drama. Personae on stage appear as victors and losers, for voters there is enough stage space to allow their hope, vengeance or gratitude to play their part. For a time, and only for a time, the impersonal structure of state power becomes humanly palpable. Continue reading AAP’s Rise and Congress Rout – Some Obvious but Unconventional Questions: Sanjay Kumar

Katiyabaaz – the grid thief of Kanpur

Katiyabaaz Loha Singh in a still from the film
Katiyabaaz Loha Singh in a still from the film

By SHIVAM VIJ: A new documentary film, Katiyabaaz, presents a problem that I’ve been struggling with. Although the film is set in Kanpur, it’s a problem that faces many parts of South Asia. The film-makers, Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar, obstinately refuse to offer possible solutions. With catchy lyrics and music, the film celebrates Kanpur, its people, and this messed-up system. It’s a snapshot of who we are. It’s when you think about the film that it disturbs you.

The film’s anti-hero is a thief — Loha Singh helps a lot of people steal electricity in Kanpur. He connects the illegal wire that is known in north India as katiya. Katiya is the sort of simple solution to life’s problems that South Asians feel very smart about. It’s an example of jugaad, the shortcut to problem solving that’s now integral to pop management theories. Continue reading Katiyabaaz – the grid thief of Kanpur