Monday, August 19, 2019

Russian history gives America an ominous warning

Russia is often in the news these days – corrupt and repressive at home, aggressive and malevolent in relation to neighbors and rivals. Yet this Russia is heir to a country that shaped the twentieth century and had a formative impact on the cultural and political history of the modern world. It cannot be dismissed as a plaything of Vladimir Putin’s arrogant ambitions. Over the past hundred years, Russia has been a bellwether, not an exception. We should take heed.

Russia has more than once demonstrated the ease with which complex societies can fall apart. It has shown how difficult it is to uphold the legitimacy of nations and to install and sustain democratic regimes. The country we know as the Russian Federation changed names, borders, and political systems twice in the course of the twentieth century. We remember the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. A megapower suddenly vanished–the ideology that sustained it deflated like a punctured balloon. The periphery defected – fourteen former Soviet republics emerged as independent nations. Nevertheless, Moscow remains the center of a multiethnic territory that continues to span the Eurasian continent. Democratic in form, authoritarian in practice, Russia is still a major player on the international stage.

This recent transition – by now thirty years old – was not the first time the center held, against all odds, and the promise of liberation was disappointed. Seven decades earlier, between 1917 and 1921, an entire civilization collapsed and a new one was founded. In 1913 Tsar Nicholas II celebrated the three-hundredth anniversary of the Romanov dynasty; in August 1914 he took Russia into World War I on the side of the Allied powers. In March 1917 mutinies in the imperial armed forces, bread riots by working-class women, industrial strikes in the key cities, and peasant revolts in the countryside led to the defection of the military and civilian elites. 

For years, a burgeoning civil society and a disaffected radical fringe had been dreaming of change – the one of the rule of law, the other of socialist revolution. When Nicholas renounced the throne, a seven-month experiment in democratic politics ensued – at the grass roots in the form of elected soviets (councils), on the scale of empire in the form of elections to a Constituent Assembly. Millions voted at every level; democracy was in the air. Yet, the Provisional Government, which honored Russia’s commitment to the Allied cause, could not cope with the same war that had proved the monarchy’s undoing. In October 1917, the Bolshevik Party, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, arrested the liberal ministers, took control of the soviets, and heralded the installation of the world’s first socialist government... read more:

Book Review: Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India by K. S. Komireddi

What Komireddi’s pithiness belies - like those of so many current politicians and commentators who invoke History - is the complex subjectivity of historical data that cannot be captured in brevity… Komireddi ought to have considered that ‘Europeans’ are ‘imperialists’ because they never settled in India and made it their home; the Muslims did. And it is that choice of settlement in what was to Muslims initially a foreign land that what Komireddi sarcastically calls a ‘cultural exchange programme’ occurred. History is not for bytes, nor for the present; it is a discipline to study the past. Perhaps this is too fine a point to make here, but in a world where non-historians invoke History and its ‘wrongs’ to disaggregate the present to justify victimhood, and downward spirals of violence and discrimination against co-citizens, a case ought to be made for greater responsibility by all.

In Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India, author K. S. Komireddi examines the rise of the BJP and Narendra Modi, and the impact of his right-wing Hindu nationalist government on India. While the book offers an open and unabashed critique of the recently re-elected Prime Minister, Nilanjan Sarkar finds an informative, pithy and attention-grabbing book that also offers a trenchant critique of the Nehru-Gandhi ‘Dynasty’.

Not much is left to expectation when a book has ‘malevolent’ and ‘New India’ in its title. As the world lives through a civilisational turn towards majoritarian insecurity and its politics thereof, Komireddi’s book is an open and unabashed critique of the right-wing Hindu nationalist government in India, led by its poster-boy Narendra Modi, ‘the worst human being ever elected Prime Minister’ (p. 211). But before one castigates the author for his prejudiced perspective, it should be noted that the book begins approximately from 1964 (the death of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru), and more concertedly from the time of India’s period of political Emergency (1975–77) that was unleashed by the Congress.

The book is in 2 unified parts: the first 4 chapters comprise the ‘Antecedents’ to the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party/Narendra Modi, while the remaining 6 chapters are on ‘India under Narendra Modi’. A final ‘Coda’ apprehends the national elections of May 2019 (the book was published before the elections, which has brought the BJP back to power with a greater majority for another 5-year tenure). Whilst seemingly about Modi, the book in fact is also a trenchant critique of the Nehru-Gandhi ‘Dynasty’- beginning with the matriarch Indira (and her lawless son, Sanjay), then Rajiv, Sonia, Rahul (and a bit of Priyanka/Robert), a singular line of political leadership made motley by the interregnums of stooges Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, the only two non-Gandhis to have been made Prime Minister in 40-odd years.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sickular Libtard: The power of positivity

Whenever people have gotten upset with the Modi-led NDA, Narendra Modi has told them to “be positive.” In a ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio address, he said, “Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power,” and encouraged everyone to create hashtags like ‘#PositiveIndia’ and ‘#ProgressiveIndia’ (or, as he didn’t say but probably wanted to, PI-PI). 

When everyone was screaming at him about the economic slowdown, he told them to “stop spreading negativity.” Asking Indians to “make positivity viral,” he constantly reinforces the message that there’s no such thing as bad policy or governance, only bad attitude... read more:

Thursday, August 15, 2019

MITALI SARAN - Worms in the Chocolate: The Indian media’s collective, voluntary amnesia

holding your nose in a fire does not protect you from the flames...

On 15 August 2014, in his first Independence Day speech as prime minister, Narendra Modi said: “whether it is the poison of casteism, communalism, regionalism, discrimination on social and economic basis, all these are obstacles in our way forward. Let’s resolve for once in our hearts; let’s put a moratorium on all such activities for ten years. We shall march ahead to a society free from all such tensions … My dear countrymen, believe in my words.”

Lots of red flags should go up when a prime minister puts an expiry date on social harmony, but most mainstream media quoted Modi’s speech either uncritically or approvingly, including a national daily describing it as “non-partisan.” By 2014, the media should have been alert to the doublespeak of, and the division of labour in, Hindutva forces. A speech in the hinterland might demonise Muslims; one at a media summit in Delhi might focus on inclusive growth and democracy. A speech made by Modi is not binding on Adityanath, then a member of parliament from Gorakhpur and today the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, whose repugnantly communal comments in the Lok Sabha, just a few weeks after the speech, did not ruffle the prime minister’s feathers.

Over ten years, India’s rank on the World Press Freedom Index has dropped from 105 in 2009 to 140 in 2019. Its current position is worse than that of Maldives, Jordan and the war-torn Palestine

But for the last five years, the English mainstream media and many intellectuals have helped to not only whitewash bigotry, but also to scrub Modi’s failures and missteps out of the public discourse. Today, clinging to his words instead of his track record has become a collective delusion.

VINOD K JOSE - Narendra Modi’s shadow lies all over the Haren Pandya case

On 5 July, the Supreme Court upheld a Gujarat trial court’s verdict convicting 12 people accused of the murder of Haren Pandya, a former Gujarat home minister. Pandya, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader and a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, was killed in Ahmedabad on 26 March 2003. The trial court’s conviction, on 25 June 2007, had been reversed by the Gujarat high court on 29 August 2011. In a scathing indictment of the investigation, the agencies responsible and the lower court, the high court had acquitted all the accused of the murder charges and termed the trial court’s verdict as “perverse and illegal.” The high court’s judgement noted that the investigation had been “botched up and blinkered” and “misdirected.” It also came down heavily on the investigating officers and recommended that the “concerned ought to be held accountable for their inaptitude resulting into injustice, huge harassment of many persons concerned and enormous waste of public resources and public time of the courts.”

Following the high court’s acquittals, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the state government—then led by Narendra Modi—challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court. Notably, the CBI investigation was helmed by YC Modi, an Indian Police Services officer, who was appointed as the head of the National Investigation Agency in September 2017 by the Modi government at the centre. Along with the appeals, the Supreme Court bench comprising Arun Mishra and Vineet Saran also heard a public-interest litigation filed by the non-profit Centre for Public Interest Litigation, which sought a fresh court-monitored probe in the Pandya murder case.

The CPIL’s petition stated that “new pieces of information that have come to light regarding the possibility of IPS officers, including DG Vanzara, being involved in the conspiracy to kill Pandya.” This new information was the testimony of Azam Khan in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case on 3 November last year. Khan was an associate of Sheikh and a key witness in the case, in which Vanzara was among the prime accused. Vanzara is a former deputy inspector-general of Gujarat Police and has been implicated in multiple cases of extra-judicial killings in Gujarat, under Modi’s watch, between September 2002 and December 2006. In his testimony before a Mumbai court, Khan claimed that “during discussion with Sohrabuddin, he told me that he, along with Naeem Khan and Shahid Rampuri, got the contract to kill … Haren Pandya of Gujarat.” According to Khan, Sohrabuddin told him that “the contract was given to him by Vanzara.” Khan’s testimony led to speculation that Pandya’s murder and Shiekh’s encounter killing in 2005 could be related.

In the following extract from “The Emperor Uncrowned,” a profile of Narendra Modi in The Caravan’s March 2012 issue, Vinod K Jose, the executive editor of the publication, charts the complex dynamics of Pandya’s relationship with Modi—first, as a senior leader who refused to accommodate Modi’s ambitions, and then, as a rebel minister who spoke against Modi in the aftermath of the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in the state.... read more:

More posts on Vanzara
Retired officials, veterans and academics remind Election Commission of transgressions
Samjhauta Express blast case verdict: ‘Who will answer for death of my five children?’

HARTOSH SINGH BAL - For Modi and RSS, Kashmir is a tool to consolidate their hold over the twice-born castes

Adivasis who enjoy paying no taxes, Kashmiris who enjoy special status, Muslims who enjoy four wives, the Khan Market Gang who enjoy everything - it’s an endless list. It is a list that is not really about the group being singled out, but about the group for whom the pantomime is being played out. 

On 31 July, I spoke at an event titled, “An Enigma called Nation & the Question of Identity,” organised in Delhi by the Hindi literary publication Hans to mark the birth anniversary of the writer Premchand. Among my fellow speakers was Makarand Paranjape, the director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, in Shimla. In the course of his lecture, Paranjape referred to various inequities created by provisions of the Indian constitution and invoked Adivasis who do not have to pay taxes.

When the time for questions came, an irate member of the audience asked what taxes he expected from those who did not have an income. Paranjape clarified that he was only referring to tribal government servants in the Northeast. When the audience member confronted him with the enabling provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which give a special status to the northeastern states, Paranjape said that it was precisely such legal distinctions among citizens, as enabled by the schedule, which were the problem.

PRAVEEN DONTHI - The Image Makers: How ANI reports the government’s version of truth

The few uncomfortable questions she asked were either framed weakly, or not followed up on, allowing Modi to spin the issues any way he pleased. Modi followed the famous dictum by the former US secretary of defence Robert Mcnamara: “Never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked.” ... when she brought up allegations that he used the state machinery to snoop on a woman in Gujarat, Modi gave a confident, five-minute answer on the abysmal record of crimes against women in Congress-ruled states. Smita never returned to the specific allegation against Modi.

NARENDRA MODI and the larger Hindu-nationalist ecosystem often distinguish between two categories of journalists. The first is that of “news traders” - media persons who are sponsored by Modi’s opponents in Lutyens’ Delhi and are working for his downfall. The other is that of unbiased, “real” journalists. A noteworthy name in this latter category is Smita Prakash, the editor of Asian News International, India’s biggest television-news agency. In recent times, Smita has been hailed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s leaders and supporters as a beacon of hope for independent journalism.

Though she often likes to mention her three decades of experience, Smita only gained pre-eminence as an “independent journalist” following an interview with Modi in 2014, during his campaign for the general election that year. That interview went rather pleasantly for both Smita and Modi. A behind-the-scenes account that Smita wrote for a news website was mostly a list of things she was impressed with. She marvelled at how little instruction she had received from Modi and his men on how the interview was to be conducted, and even at the bare simplicity of his Gandhinagar house - “nothing on the walls, not even a carpet.” If he became prime minister, she speculated, “this man is going to turn 7 Race Course Road (the PM’s official residence) into a monastery at this rate!”

Modi did not have to face too many tough questions. Smita’s idea of impartiality sounded rather convenient for Modi. “I am holding fast to my desire to be as neutral as possible in the interview,” she wrote in the account. “My questions are beyond the riots of 2002, beyond Hindutva and beyond hate speeches.”.. read more:

see also

Shoaib Daniyal - Red tape is being weaponised in India to declare millions stateless

Anti-immigrant hysteria is sweeping the world: it has powered Trump, enabled the Brexit vote and is roiling the politics of continental Europe. And while the damage done by this politics has been well documented in the west, one country rarely discussed in this regard is India. Yet millions are about to be declared stateless in the country on the grounds that either they or their ancestors came over as undocumented migrants from India’s eastern neighbour, Bangladesh.

Currently, the north-eastern state of Assam is updating its National Register of Citizens: a supposed listing of genuine Indian nationals. Anyone who does not find their name on this NRC will be branded an illegal migrant. The NRC released a draft list in 2018 that declared more then 4 million people to be foreigners. The final list is expected on 31 August.

As in other places across the world, Assam is using the fig leaf of migration to target minorities. The NRC is widely seen as a means to harass Assam’s Bengali speakers, who share their ethnic identity with Bangladeshis. This in spite of the fact that there are more than 83 million Bengalis who are Indian citizens and Bengali speakers have lived in Assam as long as any other ethnic group. This ethnic targeting in Assam merges with the prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism. Modi and his party, the BJP, paint a picture of Muslims from Bangladesh swamping India. Sound familiar?

Illegal migration was a key issue in the May general elections, which the BJP swept. While campaigning, the party president even went so far as to call migrants “termites”. This hysteria means that even India’s courts have taken an exceedingly illiberal turn. Rather than act as a check on executive excess, the judiciary has itself pushed the NRC hard, leading a shocked legal commentator to declare: “The supreme court has transformed itself from the protector of the rule of law into an enthusiastic abettor of its daily violation.”.. read more:

see also

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Mukul Kesavan - The case made by liberals for abolishing the state of Jammu and Kashmir – and why it’s flawed

Scholars, intellectuals and public figures intervening in policy controversies deserve our attention. Kuldeep Nayar is remembered for his opposition to the Emergency. Nikhil Wagle’s consistent critique of the criminalisation of Maharashtra’s politics has a place of honour in the history of Indian journalism. Gauri Lankesh is a larger than life figure today because she was murdered for her commitment to free speech and a secular politics. The dark side has its own heroes. There’s no shortage of Indians queueing up for a star in Hindutva’s Hall of Fame. The ranks of Modi’s willing enablers are massively oversubscribed.

The government of India’s gutting of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories was endorsed by a number of writers not affiliated to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Retired diplomats, engaged entrepreneurs, journalists, South Asian scholars and strategic studies experts lined up behind the National Democratic Alliance government’s radical move. The assumptions and absences that mark their arguments are interesting because they help us understand the extent to which independent thinkers channeling the nation state become proxies for the government of the day.

Amit Shah will need luck to handle what comes next: Former RAW chief AS Dulat on Kashmir
It’s a sad and unfortunate thing because I do not think it was necessary. I was told that even the home minister Amit Shah said in parliament that this erosion [of Article 370] was already taking place; we are only completing the process. He is right there, that erosion was taking place. I have said it many times that 370 is nothing, it’s only a fig leaf. So, why do you want to remove that fig leaf? Why would you want to rub the Kashmiri nose further into the ground?

The arguments in justification that they offered were hardy perennials, easily summarised.

One, the existence of Article 370 had cut Kashmir off from the rest of India and acted as a man-made obstacle to its integration. Its abolition would allow that process to resume.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

"A statement so vapid it is worthy of a British prime minister".. Arwa Mahdawi on the problems with celebrity activism

Only in recent years has such activism gone mainstream. We have started to take famous people increasingly seriously. We listen to medically unqualified actors’ opinions on vaccineswe take dietary advice from online influencers; we elect reality TV stars, comedians and cricketers as heads of state. Everything is showbiz now and the line between politics, activism and entertainment is almost invisible.

BeautyCon chat is usually more cashmere than Kashmir, but Chopra had been waxing lyrical about her humanitarian activities, which irked Malik. “It was kind of hard hearing you talk about humanity, because, as your neighbour, a Pakistani, I know you are a bit of a hypocrite,” Malik said, referencing a tweet that Chopra had sent in support of the Indian armed forces on 26 February, the same day India conducted airstrikes in Pakistan. “You are a Unicef ambassador for peace and you are encouraging nuclear war against Pakistan,” Malik continued.

Chopra disagreed; after the microphone was grabbed from Malik, the former Miss World retorted that “war is not something that I’m really fond of, but I am patriotic” – a statement so vapid it is worthy of a British prime minister. The confrontation was captured on camera and went viral, prompting headlines internationally.

You may wonder why this spat made the news. Who cares what the star of Quantico, a mediocre TV drama, tweets about politics? This is Priyanka Chopra, not Noam Chomsky. The answer, I am afraid, is a hell of a lot of people. Celebrities are no longer just entertainers; they are activists and thought-leaders. There doesn’t seem to be a single celebrity who hasn’t claimed a cause as their own. Kim Kardashian has prison reform; Emma Watson has feminism; Leonardo DiCaprio is fighting the climate crisis; and Madonna has taken it upon herself to save Malawi. I could go on ad infinitum – the celebrity without a cause or a fancy UN title is a rare beast these days... read more:

Monday, August 12, 2019

Aarti Tikoo Singh: I'm no more an outsider in Kashmir // Whats just and unjust?

NB: I post here two viewpoints on Kashmir from persons I know. The first is an opinion piece; the second by a student, whose permission I have to post his letter to me. DS

Like most Hindu and Muslim shrine-goers in Kashmir, mother believed it. Every Thursday evening, she would take us to the shrine, lift my sister and me in her arms so that our hands could reach the shut window. As children, we gleefully knocked.

That was during and till the early 1980s when Kashmiris - Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs - prayed and lived peacefully in shared spaces. My father and his Muslim friends grew up at each other’s homes in the 1950s and 1960s. After my grandparents and parents, aapa and abbu, who performed namaz five times a day, were my guardians.

By the end of 1989, all of it had unraveled - the Pandit community’s most prolific writer and lawyer in the small town where we lived was shot dead; more than 20 Pandits were killed by the Pakistan-backed Islamist insurgents in Kashmir in a month. Muslims, especially girls from the community, were ordered to follow Islamic dress code. On the morning of the New Year 1990, the decree on our banishment from the Kashmir Valley was issued by JKLF on its letterhead and pasted on our gate. 

On January 19, 1990, hordes of separatists in mosques and streets blared communal slogans while evoking “Nizam-e-Mustafa”, “Pakistan” and “azadi” (from India)...Read more at:

RSS organisations in Dehradun force two colleges to say they won’t admit Kashmiris
What is to be Undone

Whats just and unjust? (A letter from a student)
Dear Sir,
I hope you are doing well. I am writing to you in the time of a great ongoing political turmoil which has in a way also generated an inner turmoil in me. I am currently home in Hyderabad, away from all my 'liberal' colleagues, spending time with my family which celebrates every sneeze Modi and Amit Shah make.

The 'constitutional' yet undemocratic means in which the annexation of Kashmir has happened, has left me distressed and thinking, unable to understand and take a stand as to what is just and unjust. Many of my friends, who in solidarity with our Kashmiri friends are raging with political opinions on social media. Parallels of "Israel-Palestine", "concentration camps", "mass genocide",  are being seen in the social media circles of the Left. Our former VC's article called 'Blood and Betrayal' in The Indian Express also seems strongly-worded.

While display pictures in "blood red" with hashtags "Kashmir bleeds" have been going viral since the past two days before any violence has taken place, I cannot help but wonder as to what constitutes the people of Kashmir, who are "the people" which I am asked to stand for by showing my protest and solidarity? Needless to say, my thoughts and prayers are with all the civic life in the region which has been left dark and out of communication, and I hope that the play of violence is as minimal as possible.

But I can't seem to ignore few other Kashmiri Pandit friends who are jubilant and in overwhelming tears. In fact, even a distant friend in Ladakh has expressed great joy over their region becoming a UT. My grandfather's generation tells me stories of how they had seen the Razakars of Nizam loot their villages, molested women and children long before Hyderabad was annexed by the Indian State.

My mother's generation tells me of how Hyderabad has always seen communal sparks throughout its history while yet they have largely managed to live in harmony with Marwadis,  Telugus, and Muslims. While I was in my junior college, I remember during the time of Telangana bifurcation, ABVP would come into our classrooms breaking tables, chairs, and tube lights calling off bandh. It was for 2 months that my college remained either closed or dysfunctional. Section 144 was imposed for many days during the riots. I say this is not to compare the issues and horrors which Kashmir has seen. But I believe fortunately or unfortunately, by some means, I have been exposed to many multiple realities.

While one side of my family, friends, and acquaintances are greatly overwhelmed at the revoking of Article 370 through unjust means, many of my 'liberal' colleagues, friends and acquaintances have taken to social media in identifying with a protest supporting the "Kashmiris".  I am torn between the two and I can't seem to understand what they mean when people use the words "We" and "us" as "Kashmiris". Is there one definition of Kashmiri?

The solidarity which is running for the "Kashmiris"  I feel is very narrow and not holistic, each posing itself as a Grand narrative of all Kashmiris. I am reminded of what you once said in the class regarding self-determination: "The idea of democracy is linked to the concept of identity. Demos is the term used for "the people". The slogan of self-determination carries the implicit presupposition that we know who the people are before we speak of their right to self-determination."

I believe to have taken extensive effort to read the complex history, politics, and philosophies associated with this issue, and I still can't seem to arrive at a judgment as to what is just and unjust.  While I wish to communicate that any 'nationalism' or 'anti-nationalism' today only demands responsibility and empathy, I am unable to speak as the tyranny of being politically correct seems to me more totalitarian. Nietzsche once remarked that "All truths are bloody truths", I guess it is true.  The truth I wish to speak today itself deceives me into standing on both the just and the unjust at the same time...

see also

Bharat Bhushan - Sitting on a volcano in J&K: Reloading political matrix will not be easy

The Narendra Modi government has clearly discarded the option of seeking rapprochement with the political elite of Jammu & Kashmir. It wants to create a new class of political actors in the state. In favour of its new political strategy it offers the argument that democracy had degenerated into a system controlled by a corrupt and self-perpetuating political elite. It promises to revive it from the grassroots by encouraging elected village representatives to occupy the political vacuum left by the marginalisation of existing political dynasties.

By presenting its decision as a much-needed act of political engineering, the government will try to gather legitimacy for Prime Minister Modi's unilateral breaking of the Indian state's democratic commitment to the people of J&K. These arguments in the name of national interest, development and democracy have managed to pass muster in Parliament but it is yet to pass the peoples' test. Surely PM Modi knows he is sitting on a volcano in J&K. His government is likely to face a crisis of legitimacy once curfew is lifted in the Kashmir Valley. The quest for peace and stability in J&K could then be painful and prolonged.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Dalya Alberge: Waiting for the Barbarians

Film-makers struggled for 20 years to get investors interested in a film adaptation of Waiting for the BarbariansJM Coetzee’s novel. His complex tale of immigration and integration was not the easiest sell. But, in today’s unsettled world, the story feels pertinent as never before. Now the film, starring Mark Rylance, Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson, is receiving its world premiere at this month’s Venice film festival.

All the actors were motivated by a desire to convey the “message” of the film, as well as explore its “artistic component,” said Andrea Iervolino, one of the producers. “Another production company was trying to do this movie for 20 years. Then they proposed the idea … to me and Monika Bacardi, my business partner. We loved [it] right away because this movie, like the book, speaks about integration and immigration in a world of division,” Iervolino told the Observer.

“Now all governments try to push away immigration, so immigrants are not really welcome. But this movie will show how important and beautiful integration and immigration can be … We believe that the message which this movie gives is very important, more important than 10 or 20 years ago.”

The film is the first English-language movie for the film’s Colombian director, Ciro Guerra and the screenplay is by Coetzee. When his novel was published in 1980, critics described it as a masterwork, a parable about the use of mythical enemies for social control. In a story set in an imaginary empire populated by barbarian tribes, Rylance plays The Magistrate, “a responsible official”, who begins to question imperialism. Iervolino described by Varietymagazine as one of the industry’s most powerful independent producers, is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in major movies, said the actor deserved an Oscar for his performance.

“He plays someone who realises that the government was trying to scare the population by saying that ‘the barbarians are coming, bad people are coming, the invasion is coming’. Actually, the government was only instilling fear.” Depp portrays a heartless bureaucrat despatched by the Empire’s secret service amid claims that the barbarians are preparing to mutiny.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Mukul Kesavan - False citizens: What does a nation do with a minority that it cannot purge?

What does a nation do with minorities that it doesn’t regard as real citizens? Hitler’s answer was genocide but modern nations have experimented with other solutions, expanding the menu of discriminatory options available to the majoritarian State. These are worth examining. The Holocaust was, in scale and intent, so evil that pundits hesitate to compare the industrial murder of Jews to the persecution of minorities elsewhere. This is a useful check on rhetorical excess but it stops us from seeing something true: all majoritarianism isn’t fascism, but fascism is always majoritarianism unbound.

Majoritarianism is a clumsy but necessary word for a scapegoating nationalism. Not every example of the gravitational pull of a cultural, linguistic or religious majority qualifies. So the surname-less hero called Raj who used to be the hero in every other Hindi film not so long ago, was the film industry’s gesture at normalcy, a lazy (if loaded) take on an Indian Everyman, not a symptom of majoritarianism.

Political majoritarianism is a supremacist project. It is the ideological claim that the natural owners of the nation state are the members of its ethnic/religious majority. It denies the legitimacy of political majorities forged with the aid of minority support or votes; see Modi’s suggestion that Rahul Gandhi’s choice of Wayanad, a Muslim majority constituency, represented a flight from the national mainstream. Demanding obedience, deference and public abasement from minorities is the majoritarian’s stock-in-trade; see, for example, Maneka Gandhi’s hectoring speech to her Muslim constituents, threatening to withhold patronage if they didn’t vote for her.

A majoritarian State will put minorities on notice by selectively allowing vigilantes to target them. This achieves two things: it lets minorities know that they live on sufferance outside the protection of the rule of law and it allows members of the ethnic majority to feel vicariously superior to a vulnerable underclass. The first priority of this ideology is to consolidate the majority as a vote bank by uniting it in the subordination of a ‘dangerous’ minority. The second, which follows from the first, is to make minorities marginal, even irrelevant, to the political life of the nation… read more:

Friday, August 9, 2019

Brian A. Victoria - Holy War: Toward a Holistic Understanding

Brian A. Victoria - Holy War: Toward a Holistic Understanding
Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.
John Donne

Is religion a force for peace or war? Or to borrow a phrase from the title of Christopher Hitchen’s recent book, God Is Not Great, does religion really poison everything, including the possibility of living in a peaceful world? The answer is much like posing the question of whether the glass is half full or half empty. That is to say, for every example cited to prove that religion has supported warfare and violence, other examples can be presented to show ways in which religion has contributed to not only peace and the avoidance of war but to the betterment of humanity and the world. When the question is posed in this way, the debate is as endless as it is futile unless the “winner” is the side that amasses the greatest number of examples.

There is, however, a more fruitful way to address the question, at least for those who, like me, recognize that all of the world’s major religions have, at one time or another, engaged in “holy war,” or more accurately, condoned the organized use of violence against perceived enemies. The question then becomes one of seeking to understand the various factors at work in the world’s major faiths that have led them to condone, justify, or at least tolerate the use of violence. And equally, if not more, important is the question of whether there may be some underlying commonalities in the world’s major faiths that, transcending differences in doctrine and praxis, result in the sacralization of violence, at least under certain circumstances.

Let me stress that the search for such factors or commonalities is not done with the intent of denying the many positive contributions the world’s major religions have made to peace and human well-being. Yet, it is also true that these positive contributions are not the problem that is of so much concern to contemporary society, one reflection of which is the creation of the very journal this article appears in. In other words, it is not the bright side of religion that gives cause for concern but its dark side... read more:

Schoolchildren in China work overnight to produce Amazon Alexa devices

Hundreds of schoolchildren have been drafted in to make Amazon’s Alexa devices in China as part of a controversial and often illegal attempt to meet production targets, documents seen by the Guardian reveal. Interviews with workers and leaked documents from Amazon’s supplierFoxconn show that many of the children have been required to work nights and overtime to produce the smart-speaker devices, in breach of Chinese labour laws.

According to the documents, the teenagers – drafted in from schools and technical colleges in and around the central southern city of Hengyang – are classified as “interns”, and their teachers are paid by the factory to accompany them. Teachers are asked to encourage uncooperative pupils to accept overtime work on top of regular shifts. Some of the pupils making Amazon’s Alexa-enabled Echo and Echo Dot devices along with Kindles have been required to work for more than two months to supplement staffing levels at the factory during peak production periods, researchers found. More than 1,000 pupils are employed, aged from 16 to 18.

Chinese factories are allowed to employ students aged 16 and older, but these schoolchildren are not allowed to work nights or overtime. Foxconn, which also makes iPhones for Apple, admitted that students had been employed illegally and said it was taking immediate action to fix the situation.
The company said in a statement: “We have doubled the oversight and monitoring of the internship program with each relevant partner school to ensure that, under no circumstances, will interns [be] allowed to work overtime or nights... read more:

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

George Monbiot - How the world’s dirtiest industries have learned to pollute our politics

The tragedy of our times is that the gathering collapse of our life support systems has coincided with the age of public disservice. Just as we need to rise above self-interest and short-termism, governments around the world now represent the meanest and dirtiest of special interests. In the United Kingdom, the US, Brazil, Australia and many other nations, pollutocrats rule.

The Earth’s systems are breaking down at astonishing speed. Wildfires roar across Siberia and Alaska – biting, in many places, deep into peat soils, releasing plumes of carbon dioxide and methane that cause more global heating. In July alone, Arctic wildfires are reckoned to have released as much carbon into the atmosphere as Austria does in a year: already the vicious twister of climate feedbacks has begun to turn.

Torrents of meltwater pour from the Greenland ice cap, sweltering under a 15C temperature anomaly. Daily ice losses on this scale are 50 years ahead of schedule: they were forecast in the climate models for 2070. A paper in Geophysical Research Letters reveals that the thawing of permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic now exceeds the depths of melting projected by scientists for 2090.

While record temperatures in Europe last month caused discomfort and disruption, in south-west Asia they are starting to reach the point at which the human body hits its thermal limits. Ever wider tracts of the world will come to rely on air conditioning, not only for basic comfort but also for human survival: another feedback spiral, as air conditioning requires massive energy use. Those who cannot afford it will either move or die. Already, climate breakdown is driving more people from their homes than either poverty or conflict, while contributing to both these other factors.

A recent paper in Nature shows that we have little hope of preventing more than 1.5C of global heating unless we retire existing fossil fuel infrastructure... read more:

Pratap Bhanu Mehta: The story of Indian democracy written in blood and betrayal

NB:There are no final solutions to complex problems. Respect for constitutional norms is a basic minimum for any attempts at resolving such problems. To totally disregard the rights of Kashmiri groups and parties - even those who stood by the Indian Constitution despite attacks by militants - is throwing mud on the faces of the population. Anil Nauriya's comments are of interest; as his article on the targeting of Kashmiri leaders. In 2011, when the Anna Hazare drama ended, the bulk of commentary on social media celebrated the 'abolition of corruption' by the new Mahatma, who had ushered in the Lokpal. (Has anyone heard the word 'Lokpal' after 2014 ?) 

Our public (this is true elsewhere) likes to get stoned on ideology. One of my friends called it (the Lokpal celebration) champagne super-nova in the sky. In India it also reflects the Final Solution Syndrome - the psyche that yearns for 'victory over the evil outsiders after 1000 years' etc. I first heard this in December 1971, in a train in Bengal. It's still going on. As this piece shows, there's a lot of Freudian goings-on in Hindutva politics. ..DS

Kashmir Valley has seen many  a lockdown but why this time it is so different
“This government has undermined those Muslim voices here who not only disagreed with their own people and even shed their own blood because they believed in a secular India and wanted the state to be part of that secular India,” a leader of the Peoples Democratic Party said. “There is nothing left for these (mainstream) parties now. From National Conference to newcomer Shah Faesal, they are all in the same boat. The argument that kept them alive for the last 70 years is in pieces within 15 minutes in Parliament,” said Mohammad Umar, a student at Kashmir University. “They have nothing to say..."  Said a National Conference activist, whose father was killed by militants: “My father died for the idea of India and I joined mainstream politics for this idea. He took militant bullets because he thought Kashmir is safer with secular India. After this, I question his and my wisdom. If we (mainstream) don’t stand up against this, I will have to decide about my political future.” 

A senior PDP leader told The Indian Express that leaders of four political parties had an informal meeting. Calling the move to reorganise the state a “Constitutional fraud,” he said: “There is no sanctity of the Instrument of Accession. Our participation in elections will be signing our own death sentence. There is a growing feeling that the only way forward at this moment is to start a joint resistance. First, the NIA, Enforcement Directorate and other agencies were used to harass and intimidate separatists. We thought they are doing it to purge the separatists,” the leader said. “We didn’t know they will come for us too, those who have held the Tricolour for the last 70 years, those who were true Indians in Kashmir.”

BJP thinks it is going to Indianise Kashmir. Instead, we will see, potentially, the Kashmirisation of India.
There are times in the history of a republic when it reduces itself to jackboot. Nothing more and nothing less. We are witnessing that moment in Kashmir. But this moment is also a dry run for the political desecration that may follow in the rest of India. The manner in which the BJP government has changed the status of Jammu and Kashmir by rendering Article 370 ineffective and bifurcating the state is revealing its true character. This is a state for whom the only currency that matters is raw power. This is a state that recognises no constraints of law, liberty and morality. This is a state that will make a mockery of democracy and deliberation. This is a state whose psychological principle is fear. This is a state that will make ordinary citizens cannon fodder for its warped nationalist pretensions.

The narrative supporting a radical move on Kashmir is familiar. Article 35(a) was a discriminatory provision and had to go. Article 370 was not a mechanism for integration but a legal tool for separatism. The Indian state, despite the horrendous violence it has used in the past, has never had the guts to take a strong stand on Kashmir. The radicalisation within Kashmir warrants a crackdown. The treatment meted to Kashmiri Pandits has never been recompensed either through justice or retribution. The international climate is propitious. We can do what China is doing: Remake whole cultures, societies. We can take advantage of the fact that human rights is not even a hypocrisy left in the international system. We can show Pakistan and Taliban their place. Let us do away with our old pusillanimity. Now is the time to seize the moment. Settle this once and for all, if necessary with brute force.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Pratap Bhanu Mehta - Reading 1919 in 2019

NB: An insightful essay. In the ideas contained in Weber's inaugural lecture on his appointment to the chair in political economy at Freiburg (1895) he comes across as an economic nationalist in favour of colonial expansion; and the closure of Germany's eastern border to 'cheap' Polish labour migrants. He also used social Darwinist vocabulary, such as struggle for existence etc. The terrible effects of the Great War quite clearly had an impact by the time he delivered his lectures on science and politics DS

Exactly one hundred years ago, Max Weber published what curiously still remains one of the few ruminations that touch on the subject: ‘Politics as a Vocation’. Though published in July 1919, the lecture was delivered in January to Free Students Union at the University of Munich, against the backdrop of immense political upheaval: Germany’s defeat in World War I, the spectre of Bolshevism, political assassinations and deep scepticism about parliamentary democracy. This was a companion piece to Weber’s famous essay, ‘Science as a Vocation’. 

Both essays had a common thread: What does it mean to invest a vocation with meaning in an age characterised by disenchantment and rationalisation? What does it mean to take “politics” or “science” both as a profession and as something deeper, a calling? What ethical commitments and character traits do they draw upon? The lecture is a typical Weber performance that manages to combine clarity, ambivalence and disillusionment all at once. He begins by telling his audience that the lecture “will necessarily disappoint you.” But the sense in which he is about to “disappoint” has various dimensions. Those coming to look for instructions were going to be disappointed. Instead of instruction, what Weber offers is thinking: Thinking about how politics functions as a human activity. In formal terms, it is an autonomous domain in its own right that cannot be reduced either to pure ethics or purely the necessity of economic interest.

Monday, August 5, 2019

'We have to fight for our rights': is Russia ready to defy Putin?

On the terrace of a recently renovated market hall overlooking Moscow’s Trubnaya Square, lounge music beats played as well-dressed customers drank from bottles of craft beer or cradled glasses of Aperol spritz. Below them, as the concrete glowed in the last rays of sunshine, hundreds of riot police chased groups of young people through the square and into neighbouring streets, roughly bundling those they caught into waiting police vans. A booming voice from a loudspeaker on one of the police buses cut through the music on the terrace, threatening the protesters with arrest.

The scene – played out last Saturday as police met a protest about opposition access to the Moscow local elections with the largest number of arrests in recent Russian history – was a striking distillation of the contradictions of life under mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who in recent years has offered Muscovites an impressive programme of urban beautification while keeping extremely strict limitations on political freedom.

The protests are the biggest the capital has seen for nearly a decade. The issue of independent and opposition candidates being barred from standing in September’s elections to the Moscow city parliament is relatively niche, but a broader, more existential discontent has coalesced around it. This Saturday, central Moscow was again thronged with protesters, who turned out despite the knowledge that they risked arrest, court cases and prison terms... read more:

El Paso shooting comes amid global rise in white nationalist violence

More than 175 people have been killed in at least 16 high-profile attacks linked to white nationalism around the world since 2011

The Canadian man who opened fire at a mosque in Quebec in January 2017. The American man who plowed his car into a crowd of protesters after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, later that year. The 46-year-old American who allegedly attacked a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018. The Australian man who allegedly killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, this March.
Supporters of the National Socialist Movement, a white nationalist political group, give Nazi salutes while taking part in a swastika burning in Georgia, 21 April 2018.
Supporters of a white nationalist political group give Nazi salutes 
in Georgia, 21 April 2018. Photograph: Go Nakamura/Reuters
Many of these attacks inspired even more acts of violence. The suspected Christchurch shooter, who is accused of livestreaming his murder of dozens of innocent people in New Zealand in March, appears to have inspired at least two additional mass shootings in the United States within five months. In April, another young white man opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, California, killing one woman and injuring three other people. He cited the Christchurch attacks as his model, prosecutors said. On Saturday, the manifesto linked to the El Paso shooting, too, referred to the Christchurch massacre as an explicit inspiration.

El Paso shooting is Trump-inspired terrorism
“Too many people still think of these attacks as single events, rather than interconnected actions,” the historian Kathleen Belew, author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, wrote in an opinion column on Sunday. “We spend too much ink dividing them into anti-immigrant, racist, anti-Muslim or antisemitic attacks. True, they are these things. But they are also connected with one another through a broader white power ideology.”.. read more:

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Kashmir- The indignity of being second class citizens at home. By Siddiq Wahid

NB: While more detailed comments on the ongoing drama will emerge soon (I presume), our news anchors may kindly remind themselves and their audiences that Article 370 cannot be revoked by the GoI; such a step would require a constitutional amendment. This is why even the current Presidential Order has been issued under Article 370: read the first line of the notification. Art 370 refers to a State not a Union Territory. So long as Art 370 exists in the Constitution of India, the State of J&K exists. Here is an article by Dr Aman Hingorani on the legal implications of the latest decision.

Moreover, while Ladakh enjoys representation under the current situation, it will be deprived of representation under the new proposals. DS

Even for Kashmir, which is all too familiar with the murkiness that accompanies government activity here, the last two months have been testy. In early June, immediately after the Lok Sabha elections, J&K Bank, arguably the last of the state’s autonomous institutions, saw its Chairman summarily ousted and called for questioning to New Delhi under the rubric of corruption. Since then has disappeared from professional view. There was a deafening silence about this slapdash action, apart from furtive rumors that the bank, the state’s symbol of fiscal self-reliance, would be merged with State Bank of India or some other nationalized bank.

Then in late June there was a sudden and well-advertised deployment of the military. The annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave was to begin on July 1, so more and better fortified bunkers arose all over the valley. Apart from the militarization of the pilgrimage, there were not-so-subtle messages that did not go unnoticed by the everyday Kashmiri. Several private airlines announced to pilgrims that their vehicles would have GPS locating devices. Within days, one fifteen-kilometer stretch on the highway saw the number of bunkers increase from twelve to twenty-two. In the city, road repair crews suddenly swung into action. After-winter potholes were rapidly repaired, white and yellow traffic lines were freshly drawn and diligently placed signs welcomed and directed pilgrims at each fork in the road. Worse, long lines of local public and private vehicles were stopped to the sound of rude whistles and threatening batons as pilgrims’ vehicles sped through towards their destination.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Hours after street chaos, more protests loom in Hong Kong

Support the Chinese peoples struggle for democracy

The protest movement began in early June with broad support. Organizers estimated more than 2 million people marched against the extradition bill in one of the initial demonstrations. However after nine weeks of protests, the movement appears to be taking an economic toll. Business leaders say 
sales are down compared to last year, while one firm found that the number of flight bookings to the city appears to be falling.

Yet the mostly young protesters -- who say they face a much bleaker political and economic future than their parents did, with Hong Kong one of the world's most expensive and unequal places to live -- have shown few signs that they're willing to back down. Anger at police has been building over what many protesters claim are heavy-handed tactics. Officers also came under scrutiny after a slow response to a mob attack in the suburb of Yuen Long last month.

Eight people, including the leader of a banned pro-independence party, were arrested last week for possession of offensive weapons and suspected bomb-making materials. And last month, police seized what is thought to be one of the largest ever caches of high-powered explosivesuncovered in the city. A total of 44 people, including more than a dozen students and a 16-year-old girl, were also charged with rioting after an illegal protest last Sunday brought parts of the city to a standstill.

Some protesters say this is their last chance to affect change before 2047, when the "one country, two systems" model that Hong Kong is governed by expires. "One country, two systems" was enacted when the UK handed control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, and was supposed to guarantee that Hong Kongers would continue to enjoy legal and political rights not granted in mainland China.
"We are pessimistic about Hong Kong but we still have to come out -- because if we don't, we lose our last slither of hope," one man, surnamed Yu, told CNN at the Mong Kok march on Saturday... 

Sicilian fishermen risk prison to rescue migrants: ‘No human would turn away’

NB: This story is moving because our time is filled with animosity. It reminds us that there are still amongst us those for whom compassion is a primary instinct. If there are people in danger at sea, sailors save them, without asking where they come from or the colour of their skin. The legend of the Madonna del Soccorso and its association with Sicilian fishermen is a lesson on the significance of folk tradition (of whichever religious denomination) for human societies: To reject the sacred is to reject our own limits. It is also to reject the idea of evil, for the sacred reveals itself through sin, imperfection, and evil; and evil, in turn, can be identified only through the sacred. To say that evil is contingent is to say that there is no evil… The order of the sacred is also a sensitivity to evil.. Leszek Kolakowski, The revenge of the sacred in secular culture. DS

Daya dharm ka mool hai/ paap mool abhimaan/ Tulsi daya na chodiye/ jab tak ghat mein praan

with the appearance of the human - and this is my entire philosophy - there is something more important than my life, and that is the life of the other. That is unreasonable. Man is an unreasonable animal. Emmanuel Levinas

A father and son describe what it’s like to hear desperate cries on the sea at night as Italy hardens its stance against incomers. Fishermen in Sciacca are the only ones authorised to carry, barefoot, the one-tonne statue of the Madonna del Soccorso during religious processions. Legend has it that the statue was found at sea and therefore the sea has a divine nature: ignoring its laws, for Sicilian people, means ignoring God. That’s why the fishing boats generally bear the names of saints and apostles – except for the Giarratanos’, which is called the Accursio Giarratano. “He was my son,” says Gaspare, his eyes swelling with tears. “He died in 2002 from a serious illness. He was 15. Now he guides me at sea... with every rescue, Accursio is present.” If there are people in danger at sea, sailors save them, without asking where they come from or the colour of their skin. 

Having suffered such a loss themselves, they cannot bear the thought of other families, other parents, other brothers, enduring the same pain. So whenever they see people in need, they rescue them. “Last November we saved 149 migrants in the same area,” says Carlo. “But that rescue didn’t make news because the Italian government, which in any case had already closed the ports to rescue ships, still hadn’t passed the security decree.” ... He doesn’t want to be a hero, he says, he was just doing his duty. “When the migrants were safely aboard the coastguard ship, they all turned to us in a gesture of gratitude, hands on their hearts. That’s the image I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life, which will allow me to face the sea every day without regret.”

Captain Carlo Giarratano didn’t think twice when, late last month, during a night-time fishing expedition off the coast of Libya, he heard desperate cries of help from 50 migrants aboard a dinghy that had run out of fuel and was taking on water. The 36-year-old Sicilian lives by the law of the sea. He reached the migrants and offered them all the food and drink he had. While his father Gaspare coordinated the aid effort from land, Carlo waited almost 24 hours for an Italian coastguard ship that finally transferred the migrants to Sicily. News of that rescue spread around the world, because not only was it kind, it was brave.

Ever since Italy’s far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, closed Italian ports to rescue ships, the Giarratanos have known that such an act could land them with a hefty fine or jail. But if confronted with the same situation again, they say they’d do it all over 1,000 times. “No seaman would ever return to port without the certainty of having saved those lives,” says Carlo, whose family has sailed the Mediterranean for four generations. “If I had ignored those cries for help, I wouldn’t have had the courage to face the sea again.” 

I meet the Giarratanos at the port of Sciacca, a fishing village on the southwestern coast of Sicily. I know the town like the back of my hand, having been born and raised there among the low-rise, colourful homes built atop an enormous cliff overlooking the sea. I remember the Giarratanos from the days I’d skip school with my friends and secretly take to the sea aboard a small fishing boat. We’d stay near the pier and wait for the large vessels returning from several days of fishing along the Libyan coast... read more:

Simon Tisdall - Don’t call them Syria’s child casualties. This is the slaughter of the innocents

Murdered children are no longer news. International media coverage of the war in Afghanistan, where child deaths reached an all-time high last year, is sporadic at best. In Yemen it is estimated that at least 85,000 under-fives have died of starvation since 2015, a figure that numbs the mind. In Syria, especially, it is hard to keep count because children are being killed almost every day – and who is really counting?

Harrowing images briefly capture public attention. One of the more recent showed five-year-old Riham struggling amid the rubble of her bombed home in Ariha, in Syria’s north-western Idlib province, to save her baby sister, Tuqa. Riham died later in hospital along with her mother and another sister. Thanks to her efforts, and White Helmet rescuers, Tuqa survived.

But the following day, at least another 10 civilians, including three children, were killed in air raids on villages and towns in rebel-held areas of Idlib, Aleppo and Hama. According to Save the Children, more children have been killed in the past month than in the whole of 2018. Monitors say there have been 800 deaths since the Syrian regime’s Russian-backed offensive in Idlib began in April, 200 of them children. Most of these murders were not captured on video.

There are more comfortable ways to describe child deaths. The word “casualty” suggests the killings might even be accidental. But murder is what it is, and what it should be called. These are war crimes and crimes against humanity, ultimately carried out at the behest of two leaders – Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin – who must one day face justice, or else international law is meaningless. “Intentional attacks against civilians are war crimes, and those who have ordered them or carried them out are criminally responsible for their actions,” Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s human rights chief, declared last week. Earlier in Syria’s eight-year war, she said, the world had shown considerable concern. “Now, airstrikes kill and maim significant numbers of civilians several times a week and the response seems to be a collective shrug.”.. read more: