Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Chhattisgarh govt says staff can join RSS, service rules don’t apply

Kicking off a political storm, the Chhattisgarh government has issued a notification that allows government servants to join RSS and participate in its activities. The Chhattisgarh Civil Services (Conduct) Rules 1965 prohibit a government servant from taking part in politics. “No government servant shall be member of, or be otherwise associated with, any political party or any organisation which takes part in politics nor shall he take part in, subscribe in aid of, or assist in any other manner, any political movement or activity,” states Rule 5(1).

NB: The 'parivar' repeatedly flaunts its political interests, intervenes in selection of senior BJP functionaries, campaigns vigorously in elections; and then claims it is non-political. Who are they trying to fool? Why not be honest for a change, instead of clever? This same controversy happened in the year 2000, when the Gujarat government of Keshubhai Patel with the support of the Vajpayee government, lifted the ban on RSS recruitment among civil servants. In the ensuing controversy Prime Minister Vajpayee revealed his mind on February 5. "The RSS is not a political outfit. It is a cultural and social organisation and I don't think objections should be raised to anybody joining it."

This was resisted and the BJP was forced to withdraw: 

However, the state government, in a notification dated February 23, with the subject line “regarding participation of government servants in activities of RSS”, said that “as far as Rule 5(1) of Chhattisgarh Civil Services (Conduct) Rules 1965 is concerned, its restriction does not apply to RSS”. The notification was signed by Additional Secretary (General Administration Department) K R Mishra, and copies were marked to almost all major government officer-bearers in the state, including Principal Secretary to Governor; Chief Minister’s Office; Principal Secretary, Vidhan Sabha Secretariat; Registrar General, High Court; Public Service Commission; Human Rights Commission; Lok Ayog; Information Commission and all collectors and divisional commissioners.

Opposing the notification, the Congress termed it as “politicisation of administration”. “It is an unconstitutional move with clear political colours. It will indoctrinate government servants. They will go to shakhas and will no longer remain impartial,” said former chief minister Ajit Jogi. “It is an attempt by the government to force officers to visit RSS shakhas. It will blur the dividing line between the government and a political party. The BJP’s top leadership is annoyed with Raman Singh. He wants to save his chair and please them. The present move confirms his desperation,” said PCC chief Bhupesh Baghel. “Officers will now openly speak and work in favour of RSS-BJP. It will damage democracy in Chhattisgarh,” he added.

Welcoming the move, the RSS claimed that it was not a political organisation. “This rule was made by the British but still continues. This government has done a good thing. The RSS is not a political party, we are a social organisation,” said Deepak Vispute, RSS’s Chhattisgarh Sar Sanghchalak. Asked about the RSS’s involvement in campaigning for the BJP, he said: “We never asked people to vote for BJP. RSS ne wahi kaha jo Election Commission ne kaha — matdaan karo. We only asked people to vote for rashtra hit.” 

When pointed out that RSS leaders occupy top political posts, Vispute said: “Our swayamsevaks are in various fields. Some of them are in politics also, but we are a cultural organisation.” Countering the RSS, Baghel said: “The RSS claim is bogus. Everyone knows that it is into deep politics and controls BJP.” Several officers also expressed their displeasure with the move.

Earlier, the Centre had held that the RSS and Jamaat-e-Islami are political organisations and “participation in them by government servants would attract provisions of sub-rule (1) of Rule 5 of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964.” In its 1966 order, the Centre had said that “any government servant who is a member of or is otherwise associated with the aforesaid organisations or with their activities is liable to disciplinary action.” The Union Ministry of Home Affairs had clarified to The Indian Express last year, in response to an RTI application, that the 1966 order is “still applicable.”
In Himachal Pradesh, the previous BJP government withdrew the memorandum (restricting its employees from participating in RSS activities) with immediate effect on January 24, 2008. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP government issued a clarification on August 21, 2006 that the “restrictions are not applicable to the RSS”.

See also
The non-politics of the RSS

The Abolition of truth

सत्य की हत्या

Meet the people the government won't allow Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai to talk about

A Greenpeace photographer captures the lives of mahua collectors in Mahan forest, which is at risk of being turned into a coal block.

Every year in March, the tribal residents of the Mahan forest in Madhya Pradesh gather mahua fruits falling off trees and sell them to make a living. But this year, as they wait for the collection season to begin, there is a threat real looming over them: the Indian government is considering allocating a coal block in the region that is bound to have ruinous effects. It was this danger and these people that Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai had wanted to bring to attention last month when the Indian government had muscled in. In January, Pillai was offloaded from a flight to London on the orders of the central government. She was travelling there to testify before a British parliamentary committee on the impact that a coal mining project by the London-based company Essar would have on the tribal population of Singrauli near the Mahan forest.

The government declared Pillai’s mission “anti-national” and claimed in an affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court that Pillai’s testimony before the British committee would have been “prejudicial” to India’s interests and foreign investments in India. On February 18, the court termed Pillai’s offloading “inappropriate”. The next hearing is yet to be scheduled.

Meanwhile in Mahan, tribal villages are waiting the mahua collection season to begin.
Over the years, the fragrant mahua has become not just a primary source of food for Singrauli’s tribal communities but also their chief source of livelihood. A month of living in the forests and collecting the fruit allows a household to make Rs 40,000 in a season. In this series of photographs, Greenpeace photographer Harikrishna Katragadda captures the many moods of the mahua collection season in Mahan.'t-allow-Greenpeace-activist-Priya-Pillai-to-talk-about

सत्य की हत्या

This is a translation of my article The Abolition of truth posted on January 29, 2015 

The translation may be read at:

Tea garden workers struggle for better wages

Statement of Tripartite Wage Agreement 
We are shocked by the tripartite wage agreement signed on 20.2.2015 in the presence of the State Government in West Bengal. The agreement has provided a raise of Rs.37.50 over three years to tea plantation workers in Terai and Doars and Rs.42.50 to workers in Darjeeling. Workers will therefore be paid a miserly amount of Rs. 112 .50 in the first year, Rs.122.50 in the second year and finally Rs. 132.50 in the third year. 

These amount to starvation wages and are likely to worsen conditions of poverty and malnutrition amongst tea plantation workers. We are thus likely to continue to get shameful reports of starvation deaths in an industry that is a huge export earner and has a flourishing and ever expanding domestic market.

By no logic can such an increase be justified. Firstly it comes nowhere near the repeatedly articulated demand by the workers for minimum wages, which all unions had calculated to be between Rs.285 and Rs.345. Nor does it make tea plantation workers at par with other sectors, with the State Government-declared minimum wage even in the poorest agricultural sector, being Rs.206 at present.

As a face saver, the agreement has also put down in writing that the agreement will remain in force till a Government committee formed on 17.2.2015 puts forward its proposal on minimum wages under the Minimum Wages Act 1948. Despite repeated appeals by various unions, no deadline has been given for this committee and it has been asked to submit its report “as early as possible”.

There are well defined and well accepted norms for the calculation of minimum wages. In West Bengal, such an exercise has been carried many steps forward, with a draft notification given in 2010 by the previous Government. With proper political will of all concerned, the exercise to declare a minimum wage for the tea sector should be possible within a short time.

We call upon the State Government to ensure that the minimum wage committee submits its report in the next three months and that the wages in tea sector are raised to meet all accepted norms and Supreme Court orders for a minimum wage. We also extend our solidarity and support to the tea plantation workers who will now have to continue their struggle for a decent wage.

Asanghatit Kshetra Shramik Sangrami Union
Binodini Shramik Union
Durbar Mahila Sammanvay Committee
Durbar Disha Mahila  Griha Shramik Sammanvay Committee
Hosiery Workers Unity Centre
Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity
Paschim Banga Swarojgari O Radhuni Union
Shramajivi Mahila Samity
Shramajivi Samanvay Committee

For more information about our work and struggles , please  look at our  blog site at

'Syriza wins time—and space' by Étienne Balibar and Sandro Mezzadra

Alongside the comments made by Costas Lapavitsas and Stathis Kouvelakis on the Greek government's "capitulation" in the Eurogroup negotiations, Étienne Balibar and Sandro Mezzadra argue for a different approach to the present moment.
So is it true, as many of the papers tell us, that Athens has given in to the Eurogroup’s demands (as La Repubblica puts it) or that it has take the first step toward returning to austerity policies (as the Guardianreports)? If we believe certain leaders of the left wing of Syriza, the new government’s courage didn’t last long, and the ‘capitulation’ has already begun…

It is a little bit early to pass judgement on the agreements made at the Eurogroup meeting. Only in the next few days will the technical details be published, and only then will we be able to gauge their full political meaning.
However, in the meantime, here we are going to suggest a different way of analysing the confrontation between the Greek government and the European institutions – as expressed by Syriza’s compromises and the hints of division within these institutions. By what criteria should we measure Tsipras and Varoufakis’s actions, in order to judge how effective or appropriate they were?
Let’s say it again right away: the conflict opened up by Syriza coming to power has come at a moment of acute crisis in Europe. The wars spreading just outside the periphery of the EU, to its East as well as its South and South East, or the series of massacres of immigrants – drowned in the Mediterranean – suggest something like a decomposition of the European space. But there are also other aspects of the crisis, proliferating dramatically in just a few years of recession. More or less racist and neo-fascist political forces are on the rise from one end of the continent to the other. In these circumstances, Syriza’s electoral triumph and Podemos’s advance in Spain look like a unique opportunity to reinvent a left-wing politics fighting for equality and freedom, across Europe.
Nor should we forget that the background to these possibilities are the imposing mass struggles against austerity that have already been going for several years in Greece as well as in Spain. But at the same time that they spread ‘horizontally’, these struggles also crashed up against equally formidable ‘vertical’ limits: the banks’ and financial institutions’ domination of contemporary capitalism, and the new distribution of political power that has established itself thanks to the crisis. A few years ago we called it ‘a revolution from above’ [1]
These are the barriers Syriza has come up against, only just after it succeeded in establishing a ‘vertical’ axis of power allowing the rejection of austerity to resonate in Europe’s halls of office. Soon enough, it has had to deal with the regime that is currently in power in Europe and suffer all the violence of financial capitalism. It would be naïve to imagine that the Greek government could break down these barriers all by itself. Even a country with a much larger population and economy than Greece would not have been able to do so. Recent events have again demonstrated – if it was even necessary – that we will not be able to build a politics of freedom and Europe simply by asserting national sovereignty.
Yet the ‘barriers’ of which we have spoken now appear in a different light, as does the possibility of sweeping them aside. Struggles and protest movements did shine a light on how odious they are, but the rise of Podemos as well as Syriza’s triumph at the polls, followed by the actions of the Greek government, have begun to outline a strategy for overcoming them. We didn’t need telling that an electoral outcome alone would not be sufficient – in any case, Alexis Tsipras himself was clear enough on that point. Rather, we need a political process to open up, and, to that end, the affirmation and construction of a new relationship among Europe’s social forces.
Lenin once said something like the following: there are situations where we have to give up some space in order to buy ourselves some time. We could adapt this principle to last Friday’s ‘accords’: as always in politics, there is some unpredictability, here, but our bet is that the Greek government has ‘given something up’ in order to win both time and space. It has done so in order to allow the opportunity that has arisen in Europe to remain open, waiting until other possibilities ripen (not least with the Spanish elections), and until the agents of the new politics have managed to ‘conquer’ other spaces.  
But for this process to develop, it must take to many different terrains in the coming months: this means social struggles and political initiatives; new everyday behaviours; a different state of mind among Europe’s populations; government action; and citizen counter-powers that assert their autonomy. So while we recognise the decisive importance of what Syriza has accomplished – and Podemos is planning to do – on the institutional terrain, we must also articulate the limits of this.
In an extraordinary article that recently appeared in the Guardian, the Greek finance minister Varoufakis showed that he is himself perfectly aware of this [2]. He tells us that, fundamentally, what governments can today do is seek to ‘save European capitalism from itself’ – save it from a tendency to self-destruction that threatens the peoples of Europe and opens the door to fascism. They can seek to push back the violence of austerity and crisis and open up spaces for conservation and cooperation, in which workers’ lives are a little less ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ (to use Hobbes’s words). No more than that, but no less either 
So let us interpret what Varoufakis is saying. By definition, going beyond capitalism lies outside of any government’s field of possibilities, in Greece or anywhere else. That is something more than urgently rescuing European capitalism from a catastrophe that would also be our own – it is a perspective on the horizon of prolonged social and political struggles that cannot limit themselves to the institutional terrain. 
But the collective force on which the advances of future months and years depend must be materially established also on the terrain of this other ‘continent’. So the terrain this force has to take to is – can only be – Europe itself, with a view to a constituent rupture with the current course of its history. Hence the importance of mobilisations like the one that the Blockupy movement has called for 18 March in Frankfurt, upon the inauguration of the new ECB headquarters. It is an opportunity to make the European people’s voice heard, supporting the actions of the Greek government. Beyond the – very necessary – denunciation of finance capital and the post-democratic regime (Habermas), it is also an opportunity to measure the advance of alternative forces, without whom the activity of the parties and governments fighting austerity will itself be condemned to powerlessness. 
[1] ‘Europe: la révolution par en haut’Libération, 21 November 2011
[2] ‘How I became an erratic Marxist’The Guardian, 18 February 2015.

By Étienne Balibar and Sandro Mezzadra
Translated by David Broder.The original piece was published in Libération 23 February.
More in #Syriza

R K Misra - Pinstripe Politics And The Deadly Design

Put up along with 400 other gifts received by Modi after taking over as PM, the suit remained the focal point of attraction for the rich and the famous as well as the poor and the bunched. In the fray were textile magnates and diamond merchants and even a school teacher. Was it a mere coincidence that many of these who went around with cheque in hand had figured in income-tax raids and records? “I have been absolved,” said one under media questioning, while the other claimed no misdemeanor was proven.

Nursery school teacher Rajesh Maheshwari who offered Rs 1.25 crore claimed to have stitched the bid through a collection of Rs 50,000 from 250 people! The coming events were casting their shadows ahead on media persons’ ‘whatsapp’ groups in Gujarat much in advance. That a Rs 5 crore target had been fixed  in deference  to instructions ‘from above’ was known on Day-2.Gujarati daily Divya Bhaskar carried a pictorial report by its Surat correspondent showing undated but signed cheques with amounts filled in , collected in advance by district administration officials.

Correspondents covering the event spoke of CR Patil; the Surat based BJP MP from Navsari, lurking in the background. A once penalised policeman, Patil had worked his way first to former Union textiles minister Kashiram Rana and then into the good books of Modi. His are the unseen hands that move  mountains in Surat, the diamond capital of India where limited year postings in the constabulary go for over Rs 25 lakh and ‘white ‘ is a distant laggard against ‘black money’ racers.

Interestingly, the last straw that broke the camel’s back in the tussle between Narendra Modi and the then Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar also has its genesis in Surat and the venerable worthy playing a role in it. In June 2010, during the BJP national executive meet in Patna, big advertisements had appeared in Bihar newspapers in praise of then Gujarat chief minister and his efforts to aid Bihar during the Kosi floods. This led to Kumar cancelling the official dinner being given in honour of the delegates and returning the Rs 5 crore flood aid cheque back to Gujarat. Subsequently, the BJP and the JD-U parted company in view of the irreconcilable differences between Modi and Kumar. Ahmedabad-based advertisement representatives of Bihar newspapers had to lengthen their chase to Surat to bag a bit of the revenue largesse.

If the suit auction in Surat formed the core of an image salvage operation, the spanner in the works came from an officer of the Coast Guard picked up by the press in the same city. The officer claimed to have ordered that a Pakistani fishing vessel be blown up in the sea, debunking a government claim that it was a terror mission gone awry, whose target was the Gujarat coast on the eve of the Pravasiya Bhartiya Diwas and Vibrant Gujarat Global Investor Summit held in Gandhinagar.

Perception management is a key component of any brand building exercise. The truth of the fishing vessel explosion notwithstanding, old ghosts continue to haunt politics and politicos. The bulk of the alleged fake encounters in Gujarat took place to neutralize fidayeen terror outfits attempting to assassinate the then Gujarat chief minister. Almost all of them took place around the time Modi was facing a political challenge or crisis of sorts. The pattern persists even in the vessel affair. As a crisis erupted in Bihar and the BJP moved to fish in troubled waters, another distracting development unfolded in Delhi. It was the Modi government’s action against high profile corporate espionage. Another perception management operation at work? Likely.

The correctives have become necessary after the Delhi debacle. This one is seen by some as an attempt at neutralizing the overly corporate-friendly image the Modi government has vis-a-vis the Ambanis, the Adanis and the like. The two action-packed events had media attention riveted, taking the spotlight away from Bihar. In any case, Chief Minister Manjhi threw in the towel before the trial of strength, leaving little space for the BJP to get involved. Those who have watched the vintage Modi-Shah duo at work can easily predict what will follow. After all, in politics, foxes are the ones who have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.

Isis burns thousands of rare books and manuscripts from Mosul's libraries

Isis militants have reportedly ransacked Mosul library, burning over a hundred thousand rare manuscripts and documents spanning centuries of human learning. Initial reports said approximately 8,000 books were destroyed by the extremist group. However, AL RAI’s chief international correspondent Elijah J. Magnier told The Independent that a Mosul library official believes as many as 112, 709 manuscripts and books, some of which were registered on a UNESCO rarities list, are among those lost. 

Mosul Public Library’s director Ghanim al-Ta’an said Isis militants then demolished the building using explosive devices. “People tried to prevent the terrorist group elements from burning the library, but failed,” a local source told

Other reports indicated that Isis militants later broke into the library and constructed a huge pyre of scientific and cultural texts as university students watched in horror.
Among the documents believed lost are a collection of Iraqi newspapers from the beginning of the 20 century, maps, books and collections from the Ottoman period.

Mosul resident Rayan al-Hadidi said a mood of sorrow and anger had overtaken the capital. "I cry today over our situation," the activist and a blogger told The Fiscal TimesToday the library's official website was down. A University of Mosul history professor told the Associated Press extremists began destroying the library – established in 1921 and symbolic of the birth of modern Iraq – earlier this month. He claimed Isis members had inflicted particularly severe damage to the Sunni Muslim library, the library of the 265-year-old Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers and the Mosul Museum Library – which contained manuscripts dating back to 5000 BC.

Reports also indicate the militants may have not destroyed all the books, with some Mosul residents telling local news outlets they had seen trucks with Syrian licence plates loaded with documents driving off in the middle of the night. A local report cited by AP claims that residents saw approximately 2,000 books – including children’s tales, poetry, philosophy, sports, health, culture and science – loaded onto six pick-up trucks.

In 2003, during the second US invasion, Mosul library was destroyed. Many of the precious volumes disappeared, but the efforts of locals – who saved many precious manuscripts by hiding them in their homes – and the money of wealthy families, who bought back the stolen books, saved the library.

Mosul, in northern Iraq, is the biggest city currently held by the Islamic extremists, who took it in June last year. Earlier this week US Central Command claimed an Iraqi and Kurdish force of approximately 20,000 was being prepared to retake the city in May. The Iraqi government has criticised the decision to announce their intentions, claiming US commanders have revealed their hand to Isis.  

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Govind Pansare consigned to flames, his voice echoes in supporters

The social activist and veteran Communist leader is no more. But his voice will live on. His supporters are ensuring that it will. They had launched a fast-unto-death after Govind Pansare and his wife were shot at when they were returning from their routine morning walk in Kolhapur. In Pune, supporters of Pansare and his views started the fast in protest against the attack. The leader passed away in Mumbai on Friday and his mortal remains were consigned to flames on Saturday in Kolhapur.
There is anger among the activists. They have resolved to continue their agitation until the state government “wakes up and acts decisively against the killers”. Harshal Lohakare, Ashwini Satav Doke, Rajan Dhandekar and Hanumant Pawar started their fast on Monday, seeking immediate arrest of the killers of Pansare.
On Saturday afternoon, blood tests on the activists showed a fall in blood sugar. They were advised by doctors to get admitted to hospital. The activists refused to comply. “We are here to ensure our voice is heard, and to raise awareness on issues,” said Satav Doke. Other than their belief on freedom of speech, the activists have a background of either journalism or social work.
Unidentified men had opened fire on Pansare and his wife Uma on Monday morning when they were returning from their morning walk in Kolhapur. Pansare who was shifted to Mumbai breathed his last on Friday and was cremated in Kolhapur on Saturday.
Since Monday, the four activists are on a fast-unto-death meters from the spot where anti-superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar was gunned down a year-and-a-half ago.
“The attack on Pansare as well as Dr Narendra Dabholkar was not just an attack on individuals but an attack on freedom of speech, which is a constitutional right. Pansare’s assassination is an effort to silence free speech and signals the rise of right wing elements in our state,” said Satav Doke.
The main demand for activists is that the government should accelerate ongoing investigations into both incidents as well as make public the progress made in investigations so far. They also want the government to take action against masterminds of the attacks. “Post the murder of Dabholkar, CM Devendra Fadnavis had asked for resignation of the then government. Even five days after the attack on Pansare, police have failed to find any substantial lead… so Fadnavis who is the Chief Minister should now resign,” they argued.
Pansare’s fight, activists, said was against development at the cost of human rights. “We will continue his fight for rights for people and against that kind of development wherein only few benefit,” they said.
While District Guardian Minister Girish Bapat visited them, the activist said they are yet to hear officially from the government. “Some leaders from opposition parties had come to express their solidarity with us and we told them the state lacks an opposition in the real sense,” they said.
Communist leader Kiran Moghe on her part pointed out that the murder of Pansare was a direct attack on values and ideology that works for the common man and the oppressed. “Throughout his life, Pansare worked for consolidation of workers and the marginalized. His attempts to give a voice to voiceless have to be the main reasons for his assassination. This cold blooded murder is an attempt to silence voices that work against the established class order,” she said.
see also
Was Dhabolkar ally and rationalist leader Pansare shot by communal elements?
The Abolition of truth

Mr PM, We Could Have Saved Govind Pansare
Months after the murder of anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar in 2013, Pansare received a threat letter stating "Tumcha Dabholkar Karu", which translated that he could also be killed like Dabholkar.
The Non-politics of the RSS
How power trumps justice // Very short list of examples of rule of law in India

Protest march in Mumbai University, Kalina against the killing of Comrade Govind Pansare - Feb 26, Kalini campus, I pm

Monday, 23 February 2015

Priya Pillai: 'Speaking out is the most patriotic thing I have ever done'

Priya, a Greenpeace activist, was offloaded from a flight to London where she was to address a group of British parliamentarians about tribal and environment violations in India. The Indian government, on its part, defended the Look Out Notice against her saying her 'deposition' before a British parliamentary committee would have been 'prejudicial to national interest'.
By Priya Pillai
Over the last few weeks, I have been branded anti-national, a conspirator, a paid mercenary, a mole and a doodh mein makhi – and all because I was going to talk to an All Party Parliamentary Group of MPs in London about the violations of Indian laws by a multinational company with a registered office in London.
I have watched as BJP spokespeople spout the letters ‘APPG’ in TV debate after TV debate, as if the All Party Parliamentary Group is the powerful instrument of global foreign policy making. I have read the government's affidavit which espouses confidently that my ‘deposition’ in front of the APPG in London will have a ‘cascading effect’ that will open India to a sanctions regime similar to that of Iran, North Korea and Russia.
So what is this APPG that apparently poses such a potent threat to the world’s biggest democracy?
For the record, the APPG is, as the name suggests, an interest group that cuts across party lines and ‘has no official status in the Parliament’ as clearly stated on the British Parliament’s website. The Group I intended to speak to, before I was offloaded at Delhi airport, concerns itself with tribal rights. Other APPGs focus on matters as diverse as care for the elderly, education and mountaineering. The MPs on a Group often meet ‘informally’. They frequently invite organisations and members to discussions on various subjects.
So that’s who I was scheduled to speak to before the government tried to silence me. Now the government is claiming I was going to make a ‘deposition’ before this parliamentary club. Really? The word deposition denotes a legal hearing or undertaking. It doesn’t sound much like the meeting I tried to attend, but I wanted to be sure, so I asked my colleagues in London if APPGs ever call their meetings depositions. My colleague’s answer? “What’s a deposition?”
Out of interest, the chair of the Indo-British APPG was the first British MP to invite Mr Modi to the UK after he became prime minister last May. Not for a deposition of any kind, but an informal interaction. If our Prime Minister had accepted, would that have been anti-national? Of course not. It’s called diplomacy, otherwise known as the exchange of ideas. And that’s what I hoped to engage in before I was told I am banned from leaving India.
Multinationals and Indian Law
Essar is a multinational company. It has a registered office in London’s Berkeley Square, a registered head office in Mauritius, with corporate offices in Bombay, Doha, New York and Mozambique, to name a few. Until early 2014, Essar was listed on the London Stock Exchange. As a company registered under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, Essar seems to be playing rather fast and loose with Indian laws in Mahan. It has threatened and intimidated the local activists in the past and refused to comply by the provisions under the Forest Rights Act of India.
Within the UK, its operations are subject to the jurisdiction of the equivalent of British company law. Additionally, since UK is a part of the OECD group of countries, Essar needs to abide by the environmental norms and the principle of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) when it comes to dealing with local communities. Essar is guilty of flouting all of the above.
As an activist and an Indian citizen, I chose to raise questions about Essar’s multiple violations in India using all means available to me in a democracy. Meeting British parliamentarians to let them know that a company is violating Indian laws with impudence was also a way of ensuring that Essar is held accountable in a country of its operation.
Not leaving my rights behindThe government’s ‘offer’ to me in the court was this: I can have my right to freedom of movement back, if I give up my right to free speech. Naturally I refused this offer. Does the government really think a proud Indian would happily pack her bags, travel to the airport, present her passport, check-in her luggage then check-in her constitutional rights as the price of being allowed to fly? Would you consent to such a farce? Of course not, and neither will I.
In the end I spoke to the MPs on Skype and I have appeared on live TV debates that can be watched anywhere in the world, London included. That doesn’t make me anti-national. I believe that helping the local community to claim their rights in Mahan by speaking out is the most patriotic thing I have ever done. And whatever our government may think, the Indian constitution guarantees my right to do just that.
Jai Hind

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Mark Lindley - Islam and the military in modern Turkish politics

Turkey's military officers are all secularists (unlike many American military officers), and there is a clear historical reason for this. Their predecessors a hundred years ago were in the service of a decadent imperial regime—Westerners called it "the sick man of Europe"—which was hanging on partly by claiming that the sultan was the caliph, the successor to Muhammed. That claim entailed for the Ottoman state the task of defending Muslims against Christians in a vast geographical area including the Crimea, Bulgaria, Egypt, Lebanon, Greece etc.; and a group of Turkish generals, among whom most brilliant politician was later named "Atatürk," meaning "father of the Turks," saw that that task was too much; so, after the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I and then the allies occupied Istanbul for four post-war years, the Turkish army not only drove them out of Istanbul but also overthrew the sultan and founded the republic in 1923 with a new capital at Ankara in the heartland far away from Istanbul, and Atatürk obliged his parliament in Ankara abolish the caliphate altogether in 1924.
His political party was called the "Republican People's Party" (of course "republican": not imperial), and it governed Turkey until 1950. In the early days he had his parliament legislate a lot of drastic reforms. On one day, everybody had to take a surname, on another day it became illegal to wear a hat without a brim (this did away with the Ottoman fez), on another day it became illegal to use the traditional Arabic alphabet, you had to write Turkish with newfangled Western letters (there was a lot of preparation for this, with Atatürk setting an example by visiting schools and teaching the alphabet), on another day it became illegal to call the faithful to the mosque in Arabic, you had to do it in Turkish (this law is no longer in effect), and so on. You can understand why the Saudis say that the Turks aren't really Muslims at all; but of course they are.
Atatürk did, however, supplant the religious identity of the Ottoman imperial state with a secular national identity drawing upon pride in the historical Turks even though the population was to a considerable extent racially mixed since it had a lot of Turkish-speaking immigrants from Greece, Bulgaria, the Crimea etc. (not to mention the Kurds in eastern Turkey). One rather odd part of the new secular identity was a new national dance, the Turkish tango, promoted by Atatürk; you dance it to the same music as the Argentine tango, but it's more demure, and a lot of high-school students learn it still today. Two important features of his policies were, on the one hand, to favor state ownership of industry as the quickest way to build up a modern economy, and on the other hand to cultivate peaceful relations with all of Turkey's neighbors. 
Atatürk put this latter precept on display when he visited the city on the western coast which had been the capital of the Greek part of the Turkish mainland before he had driven the Greeks out. His assistants put a Greek flag on the ground so that he could trample on it, but he wouldn't do it. That part of his heritage is still very alive today. Let me mention two examples: (1) When the new year is ushered in at midnight at the end of December, on TV in Istanbul you see the crowds celebrating in Athens, and on TV in Athens you see the crowds in Istanbul. And (2) when the USA was about to invade Iraq eight years ago, the Turkish generals issued a statement saying that they were prepared to let their friends the Americans enter northern Iraq from Turkey, but of course they would have to have parliament's permission—which was a good joke and of course the permission wasn't forthcoming.
There have been some military coups and the like in Turkey since the abolition of the sultanate. Let me mention briefly three preliminary facts in order to explain about them. (1) Turkey has, like a lot of Western European countries, a president as well as a prime minister, and the president has, as in those other countries, a few important functions whereas the prime minister is the head of the executive branch of the government. (2) The constitution obliges the "National Security Council," which consists of the president and the top elected officials and cabinet officers and the top generals, to meet at least once every other month. (3) There could never be a military coup in the republic until some party other than the Republicans could win an election and then make a hash of governing.
In 1945 the prime minister gave a speech inviting politicians to form opposition parties in order to cultivate the principals of parliamentary democracy which had gained prestige as a result of how the Second World War had gone. And in that same year, a difference of opinion among the Republicans about economic policies (How much state ownership should there be?) was aggravated by the passage of a land- reform bill, the leading opponents of which were expelled from the party and formed a new, somewhat right-wing but culturally somewhat populist "Democratic Party," which was voted into power in 1950. These Turkish "Democrats" did not reject secularism and Westernization, but they did win support among the village peasants by upholding those basic Republican precepts a little less strictly than the Republicans had done. The peasants included, of course, the women who wear head-scarves instead of dressing French-style and showing off their figures and plucking their eyebrows like those hussies in Istanbul.
The Democrats had Turkey join NATO in 1952 to protect herself from Russia, which had taken the Crimea away from the old empire and was now trying to foment a Communist revolution to overthrow the republic but couldn't succeed, partly because of American support to the republic as promised in the Truman Doctrine. Yet by 1955 there were, even though it was now peacetime, terrible economic conditions in Turkey, including high inflation and a shortage of consumer goods. This made the governing Democrats very unpopular; theyreacted by suppressing opposition in dictatorial ways; and thatprompted a military coup in 1960, with tanks in the streets and a year and a half of government by a junta which put the top Democrats on trial for "unconstitutional rule and high treason" and hanged the deposed prime minister. This coup lasted for two years. It wasn't about secularism vs. Islam, it was about other things.
Then, in 1968, a deep economic recession led to strikes and mass demonstrations and a surge in robberies and left-and right-wing political assassinations and bomb attacks and kidnappings, and, amidst all that, some Islamist manifestos repudiating secularism; so the generals in 1971 handed a memorandum to the prime minister demanding "the formation, within the context of democratic principles, of a strong and credible government which will neutralize the current anarchical situation and which, inspired by Atatürk's views, will implement the reformist laws envisaged by the constitution." The prime minister quit; the generals decided to control the government not directly (because they didn't want to look like the Greek junta) but by giving instructions behind the scenes to a non-partisan parliamentary government of technocrats; but that didn't work very well, there was still a lot of chaos in the streets and imprisonments and torturing to suppress the Islamic fundamentalists and all the other extremists, including the Kurdish Communists. 
In fact, a lot of this was really a proxy battle between the USSR and the USA; and in 1980 a direct military takeover was sponsored by the CIA. This coup was not mainly about secularism vs. Islam, it was much more about Russia and Communism.
Civilian government was restored in 1983, and 14 years after that, the first pious-Muslim prime minister (whom the generals disliked, of course) got into office in a deal for a coalition with a secularist party whereby he and a very corrupt lady who was the head of that other party (which had come in third in the most recent election) were supposed to take turns in office, switching back and forth every year until the next election. But just a short time before it became the pious Muslim's turn to take over, there was an appalling public corruption-scandal—a story which you would dismiss as lacking in verisimilitude if it were written in a novel—and then the devout Muslim, after getting into office, outraged everyone by making scornful remarks about the people who were demonstrating in the streets all over the country against the corruption, and so when the time came for him to give his office back to the very corrupt lady who was the head of the third largest party, the president put an end to the political deal by appointing instead the head of the second largest party. 
A leading newspaper in Istanbul called this a "post-modern coup"—and later in that same year of 1997 a court banned the former prime minister's Islamic-fundamentalist party. That was about secularism vs. Islam, but it was done by a court, not directly by the military, and the lady to whom the president denied a second patch as prime minister was not an Islamist but a corrupt secularist... read more:

John Naughton - Google and tech’s elite are living in a parallel universe

The gap between the richly rewarded few of tech firms and banks and the rest of us is growing wider. Blame the digital revolution

Someone once observed that the difference between Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher was that whereas Thatcher believed that she was always right, Blair believed not only that he was right but also that he was good. Visitors to the big technology companies in California come away with the feeling that they have been talking to tech-savvy analogues of Blair. They are fired with a zealous conviction that they are doing great stuff for the world, and proud of the fact that they work insanely hard in the furtherance of that goal. The fact that they are richly rewarded for their dedication is, one is given to believe, incidental.
The guys (and they are mostly guys) who manage these good folk are properly respectful of their high-IQ charges. Chief among them is Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and a man who takes his responsibilities seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he co-authored a book with his colleague Jonathan Rosenberg on the care and maintenance of these precious beings. Dr Schmidt objects to the demeaning term – “knowledge workers” – that economists have devised for them. Google employees, he tells us, are much, much more impressive than mere knowledge workers: they are “smart creatives”.
In the opinion of their chairman, these wunderkinder are very special indeed. They are “not averse to taking risks”, for example. Nor are they “punished or held back when those risky initiatives fail”. They are “not hemmed in by role definitions or organisational structures”. And “they don’t keep quiet when they disagree with something”. And so on. Altogether, they are an admirable body of men and women – mostly men (70%), admittedly, but, hey, what’s a little gender imbalance in a brave new world.
Dr Schmidt’s smart creatives work all the hours that God sends, and then some. They are, to use his term, “overworked in a good way”. The concept of work-life balance can, he thinks, “be insulting to smart, dedicated employees”, for whom work is an important part of life, not something to be separated. The best corporate cultures, he thinks, “invite and enable people to be overworked in a good way, with too many interesting things to do both at work and at home”.
All of which no doubt makes perfect sense if you’re running an outfit like Google. But it also highlights the extent to which our world is bifurcating into parallel universes. In one – that populated by technology companies, investment banks, hedge funds and other elite institutions – people are over-stimulated, appreciated, overworked (but in a “good way”, of course) and richly rewarded. Meanwhile, in the other universe, people are under-stimulated, overworked and poorly rewarded. And the gap between the two universes appears to be widening, not narrowing every time Moore’s Law ratchets up another notch in computing power.
Which is why we need to make a connection between what those smart creatives in California and elsewhere are creating and what is happening in the real world. In that domain, the level of economic inequality has attained staggering proportions for reasons that Thomas Piketty set out in his celebrated book Capital in the 21st Century.
Although there have been lots of detailed arguments about Piketty’s work, his central proposition – that in the absence of special circumstances such as war or redistributive taxation, the rate of return to capital exceeds the rate of return to labour – is both simple and obvious. What it means is that if your wealth involves ownership of capital assets (like company shares), then you will inexorably get richer at compound rates.
One of the oddest things about the furore surrounding Piketty’s book was that almost nobody talked about the role of technology in all this. Specifically, there was little discussion of the strange coincidence that the recent catastrophic rise in levels of inequality has coincided neatly with the digital revolution.
When you think about it, it’s clear that this isn’t just a random correlation. The digital revolution is driving inequality, not reducing it. That’s because the technology has certain characteristics (zero marginal returns, network effects and technological lock-in, to name just three) which confer colossal power on corporations that have mastered the technology. In the process it confers vast wealth on those who own them.
But that wealth isn’t shared with the users of the platforms operated by those corporations: most of the work that generates revenues for Facebook or Google is done by unpaid workers – you and me. And folks who work in paid occupations powered by those platforms – Uber drivers, Amazon warehouse workers, to name just two – are not sharing in the wealth it generates for their owners either. Like Google’s smart creatives, these people are also overworked. But not in that “good way” advocated by Dr Schmidt.

Gujarat protest march against Modi government’s land acquisition ordinance

“They talked about land rights and development, food and what not. But when they become kings they do not remember us lesser mortals. If he does not give us land rights, we will go to Delhi, throw him out of his house and say we will live here now.” - Maya, a sharecropper from Jhansi

Yatish Mehta is a diamond merchant. He has had three bypass surgeries and has walked 33 km in the last three days in a procession of 5,000 against the Narendra Modi government’s land acquisition ordinance. He hails from Surat, the city from where another businessman has paid more than Rs 4 crore for a suit with a name weaved in it.

“I handed over my business to my sons and joined Ekta Parishad some years back. I am working with weavers in Mahakoshal in Madhya Pradesh, trying to build a market for their products. I am walking ahead of these people because I cannot walk fast; I have a heart condition and diabetes. I start before the others,” he says, while the crowd breaks into yet another song about Modi.

“Humse dosti ladai, aur phir… Modi laga laga ke yaari humka pagal kar gaye re, ghayal kar gaye re (he made friends with us, he made friends with us and then drove us mad, left us wounded)” go the lyrics of one song.

Many of these people from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh did vote for the prime minister and his lotus in the Lok Sabha elections last May. “Then he was on TV saying all the right things, his men came and sweet-talked us, so we voted for the kamal,”  says Maya, a sharecropper from Jhansi. “They talked about land rights and development, food and what not. But when they become kings they do not remember us lesser mortals. If he does not give us land rights, we will go to Delhi, throw him out of his house and say we will live here now.”

The group has been surviving on a single meal a day for the last three days, the idea being that in a satyagraha some penance is inevitable. After the women leading the march for two days, it is now the turn of children to lead. They do so enthusiastically, shouting slogans with zeal but tripping on the “Jal jangal zameen” tongue twister.

In the background, Ajuddi, the lead singer, is persistent with his musical Modi bashing. Ask him who wrote the lyrics and he grins. “These songs are sung during every movement, we just do minor tweaks here and there to suit the occasion. This one nobody wrote, it just emerged from the crowd.”
Among the leaders of the march, though, there is perceptible unease about the government’s statement on Saturday about not having any intention of taking a relook at the land acquisition ordinance. They talk about their meeting with BJP general secretary Ram Madhav to drive home the claim that the ruling party is divided on the issue of land acquisition.

Madhav confirms he did meet them. “They came to my office three or four days back and highlighted five or six issues they have on land acquisition. I told them we will look into the matter at a suitable time,” he tells The Indian Express.
There are also murmurs about whether getting Anna Hazare to flag off the journey was counterproductive to the cause. Hazare is identified with anti-corruption and the issue of land as a scam is something that the public might not connect with him easily. Functionaries of Ekta Parishad who are in the know of deliberations with the government and opposition, however, are in no mood to lend any credence to these concerns for fear of the government taking advantage of a divided house.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

VRINDA GOPINATH - Chasing The Wrong Story Using the OSA in the “corporate espionage” case is a bad idea. Journalist Santanu Saikia must be released

Media ignorance and incompetence is evident from its hysterical reporting of the “corporate espionage” in the Petroleum Ministry. Now, ministry officials who have been stealing the documents (two serving and two former employees) have been duly arrested by the Delhi Police, should a journalist who runs a petroleum website be arrested too?

For starters, every media organization refers to journalist Santanu Saikia, who runs Indian Petro Group, a web portal that disseminates oil and energy news, as a “former journalist.” In fact, Saikia is an accredited journalist with the Government of India, and is listed in the Press Information Bureau as “Correspondent.” If this is not a case of stupidity, then is it deliberate ploy to confound the issue? After all, there’s nothing like including a hack to primp up a story of corporate espionage, document stealing, illicit trade, etc.

More importantly, which newspaper, news television channel or news organization has not brandished official and classified documents which have not been got through undisclosed “sources”? Every week, news channels and even the print media have crowed while waving documents and official papers, pointing to specific portions highlighted for the viewer and reader, to prove their story. Bizarrely, it’s the very same organizations that take pride in exhibiting their access to officialdom, which has shown scarce diligence for facts in the Saikia issue.

According to the Official Secrets Act, the governing law in such cases, it “empowers persons in positions of authority to handle official secrets, and others who handle it in prohibited areas or outside them are liable for punishment.” 

The law is quite fuzzy as far as journalists are concerned (when should the government force you to reveal your sources etc), worse it is even more foggy as to what exactly is “secret.” Are government policy decisions that help corporate houses secret and classified? There is no clarity, and the Narendra Modi Government, which has shouted from rooftops about reform in law, has maintained a sullen silence over it.

In fact, the Modi Government has gone out of its way to enforce the archaic Official Secrets Act 1923, a colonial era law,  against the media, when National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, declared his intention to crack down on the leakage of news to the Press. Last December, television news channel Aaj Tak, revealed a series of communiqués between Doval and Cabinet Secretary Ajit Kumar Seth, expressing his concern over the classified documents flashed on another news channel NDTV, about a report on India’s nuclear submarine INS Arihant. As the channel reported Doval’s letter, "It has been observed that in the last few years, it has become a regular practice, particularly in the media, to violate secrecy laws with impunity. Firm action need to be taken in such cases that undermine the national security of the country."  However, the joke was Doval’s letters asking for punishment against the media was leaked out of his office!

The last notorious case against a journalist under the draconian Official Secrets Act was in June 2002, when Kashmiri scribe Iftikhar Gilani was charged and arrested for possession of "secret" military papers despite them being publicly available! It was only when the second military intelligence report contradicted the charge, saying there was nothing "official or secret" about it, and the media uproar that ensued about the trumped up charges, that Gillani was finally released, six months later.

Speaking today, Gillani is firm when he says that there is nothing “secret” about economic policy decisions in ministries. “The OSA comes into play only if classified documents and official secret papers are detrimental to the security of the nation. Since when has economic policy decisions that help corporate houses dangerous for the nation’s security? This information can be had through the Right to Information Act. At the most, possession of such papers is inappropriate, but certainly does not violate the OSA.”

So, why is the media trumping up the corporate espionage case as if it is a mega nation-shaking news story? Even the Delhi Police is toying with the use of Section 420 of the IPC (of stealing) and breaking in, rather than the OSA. Is this yet another case of the Modi Government faking a mammoth expose to send a message to the people that he's tough on his corporate friends? After all, this is just a case of corporate undercover activities. And since when has anyone been arrested for buying stolen goods? Journalist Saikia has only bought the official papers for his website, he must be released immediately, or the Press Council of India must take up the case forthwith.