Posts Tagged ‘Bharatiya Janata Party’

India’s Polls and South Asian Peace

April 17, 2009

By: J. Sri Raman, t r u t h o u t , April 16, 2009

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Women line up to vote in India’s national elections. (Photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)

“Just as the winds of change have swept across the United States, I have no doubt that India too will witness change when the next parliamentary elections take place in a few months.”

Thus spoke, some time ago, Lal Krishna Advani, former deputy prime minister of India and the far right’s candidate for the country’s top political post. Seldom were more misleading words spoken.

India, indeed, embarks on an extensive democratic exercise on April 16, 2009. The general election – in which some 714 million people are scheduled to cast their votes in 543 constituencies across 35 States and smaller Union Territories in five phases until May 13 – cannot but have giant consequences. The epic event will lead to far more than the formation of a new Lok Sabha (the Lower House of India’s Parliament) and a new government (by the first week of June).

The election can unleash winds of change across not only India, but South Asia as well. But it can bring change of the kind Barack Obama represented for the American voter only if the people of India reject and rout Advani and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

History will pronounce its verdict on whether Obama lives up to the voters’ hopes. There never was any doubt, however, about the meaning of their mandate. Theirs was a vote against wars and one for an all-inclusive American identity. Advani, the “shadow prime minister” of the BJP, cannot cast himself as an Obama-like candidate of pro-changers merely through an imitative media and Internet campaign.

A vote for Advani and his party will be one for wannabe representatives of a religious majority with an agenda of rabid anti-minorityism. It will also be a vote for reversal of the peace processes and an escalation of the role of militarism in regional relations. A pro-BJP and a pro-Advani vote will mean this all the more for the particularly vicious campaign the party has chosen to pursue this time. It has been searching for a single wining issue, but in vain. No major corruption scandal, no manmade mega calamity of the kind that can lead to a landslide victory for a wily opposition has come its way. The BJP has made up for this lack by manufacturing a series of state-level issues of religious communalism aimed at the two major minorities – Muslims and Christians.

The party and the “‘parivar” (as the far-right “family” calls itself ) have combined their anti-minority violence with hate campaigns aimed at polarizing voters on religious lines and harvesting a Hindu vote that has never really been cast on a national scale. The far right is hitting a new low this time with speeches frothing with hate.

Young BJP leader Varun Gandhi (a nephew of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi) set a trend with a videotaped and widely circulated tirade, where he is heard threatening violence against “circumcised” traitors (with few nonparty takers for the theory about a “fake tape”). Narendra Modi, who presided over the infamous Gujarat pogrom of 2002, has been carrying the same divisive message across different parts of the country as a rabble-rouser with an elevated party role. Advani himself continues to insist on “cultural nationalism” as the true import of the party’s religious communalism, while strongly defending Varun and Modi against the diatribes of “pseudo-secularists.”

What is the likely fallout, in this context, of a far-right poll victory for South Asia?

Pakistan-India relations should be the area of primary concern on this count. Islamabad has repeatedly expressed the hope that the strains between the nuclear-armed neighbors after the Mumbai terrorist strike of November 2008 will start easing after the Indian general elections are over. New Delhi, for its part, even while denying any electoral politics behind its current toughness towards Pakistan on terrorism, has suggested revival of the India-Pakistan peace process after reassuring post-Mumbai action by Islamabad.

The BJP, however, is in no hurry to offer such a hope. In one of his recent election rallies, in fact, Modi has virtually threatened a Mumbai in Pakistan in India. “Response to terrorism should be given in the language of terrorism,” he declared. “Pakistan should be made to understand in Pakistani language.”

The BJP has not mentioned India’s other Muslim neighbor, Bangladesh, in connection with Mumbai, though Pakistan has done so. This, however, does not mean that the party has decided to pursue a policy of peace with Dhaka. The BJP has officially hailed the victory of Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s Awami League in the Bangladesh general elections and her government’s declared goal of a South Asian anti-terrorist task force. It has been left to Modi to revive talk of Bangladeshi “infiltrators” (never called either “migrants” or “refugees”) as part of the party’s election rhetoric.

It is not only the minority in India’s northeast, close to Bangladesh, that has been left quivering by Modi. Migrants in Mumbai and New Delhi, eking out a precarious existence in the most miserable of slums, also have reason to fear a recrudescence of attacks on them and their livelihood.

Hearts are not going to leap up with joy at any prospect of a BJP victory in the Himalayan state of Nepal as well. The BJP has not for a moment cared to conceal its disapproval of the dethronement of a hated monarch there and the advent of a democracy under Maoist leadership. The party is particularly upset at the re-born nation ceasing to be a Hindu kingdom and turning into a secular republic.

Alone among India’s political parties, the BJP described Nepal’s declaration as a “negative development.” Senior BJP leader and former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh waxed emotional when he said, “As an Indian and a believer in ‘sanatan dharma’ [Hinduism], I feel diminished.” In the event of the BJP’s victory in the elections, the rulers in Kathmandu cannot look forward to a smooth revision of an old, unpopular and unequal Indo-Nepal treaty, as proposed some months ago.

Sri Lanka, another neighbor, cannot be sanguine about the prospect of a BJP return to power in New Delhi either. Officially, of course, the party takes the stand that it is for Colombo to deal with the terrorist problem of its own. Not many have noticed it at the national level, but the ethnic issue of the emerald island is becoming an electoral one for the party in one of the southern states.

In Tamilnadu, where the voters have a sense of ethnic solidarity with the suffering Tamil minority of Sri Lanka, the BJP is trying to include the issue in its ever-bloating religious-communal baggage. Recently, a party unit in the state staged a protest over the killings of “Tamil Hindus” in Sri Lanka and urged the Centre to take into consideration the deaths of “Hindus along with the Tamils” in that country. A local BJP leader said, “The BJP is taking it up as a Hindu problem, to which the whole nation will respond. The Central Government [in New Delhi] is not responding because they think of it as a Tamil problem alone.”

What the people of India, including common Hindus, can do in order to promote peace within India and with its neighbors is clear indeed. They can vote for this change by voting against the BJP.

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Narendra Modi, the Anti-Muslim Politician of India

March 30, 2009

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By Abhay Singh | Bloomberg.com

March 30 (Bloomberg) — As Narendra Modi, chief minister of the state of Gujarat, walks into a cavernous tent filled with 20,000 investors and business leaders in western India, he’s greeted like a Bollywood movie star. Conference goers surround the politician to shake hands, snap photos and touch his shoes — a show of reverence in India.

After the January conference gets under way in the city of Ahmedabad, billionaire Anil Ambani, whose empire ranges from telecommunications to financial services, steps to the lectern. He praises Modi, 58, for turning Gujarat into India’s top destination for investors before paying the Hindu nationalist the ultimate compliment: He should be prime minister.

Since Modi became head of Gujarat in 2001, he’s lured investors with a rapid approval process for developments, a network of roads and ports and uninterrupted power supply — a rarity in India.

“If Narendra Modi can do so much for Gujarat, imagine the possibility for India by having him as the next leader of India,” Ambani says.

Some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the conference, in a Muslim ghetto called Juhapura on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Modi’s name isn’t celebrated. He’s a top official in the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or Indian People’s Party, which opposes special treatment from the government of any one religious group, including Muslims.

Contaminated Food

For the 700,000 residents of Juhapura, the water runs only 15 minutes a day, potholed asphalt roads are lined with rubble and government-subsidized shops sell contaminated flour and rice that make people sick, says Mohammad Ishaq Sayed, a tailor who lives with his family of six in a one-room, 100- square-foot (9.3-square-meter) apartment.

“We live in Gujarat and still we get nothing,” says Sayed, 53, sitting in a plastic chair outside his apartment, where naked electrical wires snake along the walls. “Why is there no development for us? What enmity do they have with us? We are Muslims, that’s why.”

As India continues to tally the economic costs from the terror attacks by Islamic militants that killed 164 people in Mumbai in November, Modi stands out as a symbol of a nation that, 62 years after independence, has yet to come to grips with a sectarian divide that’s fueled decades of violent riots and the marginalization of Muslims.

Shut Out

The 158.6 million Muslims, which account for 13.4 percent of India’s population of about 1.2 billion, are among the poorest people in the country. They are shut out of jobs and unable to get equal access to education, according to a 2006 government-sponsored report. At state-run companies such as banks and railways, Muslims make up only 4.9 percent of the workforce.

Thirty-eight percent of them live in such deprivation that they consume less than 2,100 calories of food a day, the report says. By comparison, 20 percent of Hindus living in cities don’t receive proper nutrition.

Alakh Sharma, director of the Institute for Human Development, a New Delhi-based group that studies labor markets, development policy and education, says India’s exclusion of Muslims from the mainstream hampers its economic growth.

“If 13 percent of the population is alienated and doesn’t become part of the economic process, how will the country continue to grow?” Sharma says. “It’ll affect demand for goods and become a source of conflict and strife.”

‘Scary Prospect’

In more than two decades in the BJP, during which time he’s ascended to the position of general secretary, the third- highest rank, Modi has been in the middle of the sectarian conflict whose origins go back centuries.

Modi helped organize a campaign in 1990 for the BJP leader to drum up support for building a Hindu temple at the site of a Muslim mosque in the state of Uttar Pradesh, according to his Web site, narendramodi.in. In Gujarat alone, the BJP campaign spurred 1,520 violent incidents between Hindus and Muslims from April 1990 through April ‘91, according to a report by the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

“Modi’s rise is a very scary prospect for India,” says Shabnam Hashmi, an atheist who runs Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, a group started to counter sectarian politics in India. “He polarizes people by promoting the ideology of hate.” Jagdish Thakkar, Modi’s public relations officer, didn’t respond to several requests for an interview.

Rampaging Mobs

In February 2002, four months after Modi took control of Gujarat, Hindu mobs went on a rampage against Muslims after a fire on a train claimed 58 lives, among them Hindu pilgrims. In the riots that followed, more than 1,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims, while Modi allegedly instructed police to stand down and allow the violence to continue, according to an investigation by the eight-member Concerned Citizens Tribunal. The group, with no legal standing, was made up of former judges, professors and a retired police officer.

“If you are a minority you are pushed to the brink and treated like dirt in this state,” says Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit priest who runs a human rights center in Ahmedabad.

Modi has denied the allegations from the citizens group and critics.

“My future will be determined by the people of Gujarat,” Modi said at a conference sponsored by the Hindustan Times newspaper in October 2007. “In a democracy, criticism is welcome, but I am against the allegations.” The Supreme Court of India is still investigating the riots.

Holy War

The killings in Gujarat partly inspired Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic militant group based in Pakistan, to launch its holy war against India, according to a study on the Web site of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, a U.S. Department of Defense institute in Honolulu.

In November, 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba attacked two luxury hotels, a Jewish center, a cafe and railway station in Mumbai, according to Indian officials. In a massacre that shook India, the terrorists killed 164 people, including 26 foreigners. Earlier in 2008, the Muslim group Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in three Indian cities.

The spate of violence weighs heavily on Indians as they elect a new prime minister starting in mid-April. The BJP is attacking the ruling Indian National Congress party for being soft on terrorism. The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 76, has delayed the hanging of a convicted Muslim terrorist sentenced to death in 2002 — a fact that the BJP’s candidate, Lal Krishna Advani, 81, rails against on the campaign trail.

Slowing Economy

The BJP is trying to return to power after a six-year term from 1998 to 2004, during which time it stiffened prison penalties for terrorists and lengthened the maximum detention period for suspects who hadn’t been charged to 180 days.

“People lived under six years of a BJP government, but the end of terrorism was not one of its achievements,” says Mahesh Rangarajan, a professor of modern Indian history at Delhi University. “The terrorism card that the BJP could cash in on is gone.”

India’s economic downturn may be an even bigger election issue in a country where voters have regularly rejected incumbents, Rangarajan says. The economy grew 5.3 percent from October through December, the weakest pace since the last quarter of 2003. The recessions in the U.S. and Europe, combined with the terrorist strikes in 2008, are taking a toll on India’s tourist industry.

Partition

The number of visitors to the country plunged 12 percent in February compared with a year earlier. A February poll by an Indian affiliate of CNN showed that neither party would gain 50 percent of the vote, forcing the winner to cobble together a coalition government.

The divide between Hindus, who make up 80.5 percent of the population, and Muslims runs deep. In the 16th century, the Mughals, an Islamic dynasty, took over and ruled the land until the British made the subcontinent a part of its empire three centuries later. Before Britain relinquished control of India in 1947, it partitioned the nation into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-majority India to buffer historical conflicts.

Eleven million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were uprooted, seeking refuge in one of the two countries and clashing along the way. The violence took 500,000 lives. Since the 1960s, there have been at least four major sectarian battles each decade in India, spurred by everything from a Muslim’s cow entering a Hindu’s house to conflicts over religious sites.

‘This is Not Our Country’

Muslims, fearing violence, tend to live together in small clusters in places like the Byculla area in Mumbai and the neighborhood of Nizamuddin in New Delhi, according to the 2006 report sponsored by the Singh government, “Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community in India.” In Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, where investors have backed new malls with big grocery and electronics stores and movie multiplexes, some apartment complexes are off-limits to Muslims, according to the rules of occupancy set by building owners.

Activist Hashmi says her family, because of its Muslim name, has felt unwelcome in parts of New Delhi. In 2003, her daughter, then 7 years old, came home from school after being verbally attacked.

“Another girl told her that we should go live in Afghanistan, this is not our country,” Hashmi says.

Finding Jobs

Muslims also face obstacles in finding employment at state-run companies, which provide 70 percent of the full-time jobs with benefits in India, the report says. At Indian Railways, one of the country’s largest employers, with 1.4 million workers, Muslims make up only 4.5 percent of the total. Among civil service officers — bureaucrats, diplomats and police — 3.2 percent are Muslim. At banks such as State Bank of India, the No. 1 lender, the figure drops to just 2.2 percent. Of the 30 companies in the Bombay Stock Exchange’s benchmark Sensitive Index, only one — software services provider Wipro Ltd. — is led by a Muslim, billionaire Azim Premji.

The report recommends that employers include Muslims in hiring to increase their numbers.

“A very small proportion of government employees are Muslims, and on average, they are concentrated in lower-level positions,” the report says. “While no discrimination is being alleged, it may be desirable to have minority persons on relevant interview panels.”

Drop Outs

Dev Desai, an economics undergraduate student at GLS College in Ahmedabad, encountered discrimination recently when trying to get a Muslim friend and fellow student a job.

“I spoke to some people and told them she was from my college and studies with me,” says Desai, a Hindu. “On hearing her name, they asked if she is Muslim. When I said yes, they told me to let it be.”

The minority group lags behind in education as well, partly because of a shortage of schools that teach in Urdu, a language used by Muslims. As many as 25 percent of Muslim children ages 6-14 never attend school or drop out. Muslim kids in the Juhapura ghetto face another issue: Their school is in a Hindu area.

“Some children are afraid and don’t go,” says Niaz Bibi, a resident and mother. “Their thinking is, we’ll never get a job so why study? Might as well learn a vocation like fixing cars.”

Bollywood

In top colleges offering science, arts, commerce and medical courses, only 1 in 25 undergraduate students is Muslim.

“This has serious long-term implications for the economic empowerment of the community and consequently for economic development of the country,” the report says.

India has put aside its sectarian differences in a few areas, such as its movie industry. Muslim film celebrities Shah Rukh Khan, a romantic leading man also known as “King Khan,” and Aamir Khan often top the box office. Aamir Khan starred in Bollywood’s biggest hit of 2008, Ghajini. While Indians have never elected a Muslim prime minister, lawmakers have selected three Muslim presidents, the titular head of government, including A.P.J. Abdul Kalam from ‘02 to ‘07.

Modi mocked the government report, which was chaired by retired judge Rajindar Sachar, at a conference sponsored by India Today magazine in March 2008.

Spiraling Investments

“Mr. Sachar came to see me and asked, ‘Mr. Modi, what has your government done for Muslims?’ I said, ‘I’ve done nothing,’” Modi said. “Then I said, ‘Please also note that I’ve done nothing for Hindus either. I work for the people of Gujarat.’”

As head of the state, Modi has spurred a construction boom by attracting a slew of investors, including Sabeer Bhatia, co-founder of e-mail service Hotmail. Investors pledged $243 billion to Gujarat at the 2009 Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors’ Summit in January, a 60 percent jump from the previous event in 2007. In a country infamous for bureaucratic red tape, Gujarat lures investors with a streamlined process requiring developers to get approval for major projects at only one agency, the Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board.

Tata Group, the $62.5 billion conglomerate that owns everything from salt to software companies, got permission from the state to build a plant to produce the $2,500 Nano, the cheapest car in the world, in three days.

Hindu Nationalist

“Most of us in India have come to regard a time frame of six months or three months as an average time to get clearances,” Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Group, said from the stage at the January conference in Ahmedabad. “In this particular case, that tradition was shattered, and we had our land and most of our approvals in three days. That, in my experience, has never happened before.”

After Tata’s speech, Modi walked toward the lectern and gave the executive a hug before addressing the crowd himself.

“Even in a recession, companies aren’t going to stop manufacturing,” he said. “They will prefer a destination where low-cost manufacturing is possible. This is a chance for a country like India, if we can provide a low-cost manufacturing environment, to grab this opportunity.”

Modi joined the burgeoning Hindu nationalist movement as a teenager after growing up in a family of modest means; his father ran a tea stall at Vadnagar railway station in Gujarat, according to a 2007 article in the Times of India.

Ideological Fraternity

After completing his master’s degree in political science at Gujarat University in the 1970s, he became a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteers Corps, his Web site says. The RSS advocates that Hinduism is central to Indian culture and life.

At the time, northern India was recovering from a famine and sectarian violence was rising: 500 people were killed in Ahmedabad in 1969. Members of the still active RSS take part in regular military-style parades, drills and exercises dressed in white shirts and khaki shorts. The RSS, which hatched political groups that would coalesce into the BJP in 1980, remains the fount of the party’s ideas.

“The RSS ideology is all about cultural nationalism,” says Prakash Javadekar, spokesman for the BJP and a member of India’s upper house of parliament. “We are an ideological fraternity.”

Babri Mosque

The BJP built itself into a national power starting in the late 1980s with a campaign to construct a temple where a mosque stood in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Modi, who joined the BJP in 1987, helped organize a 10,000-kilometer journey for Advani, now the BJP’s candidate for prime minister, to rally support for the temple and the party. Advani’s trip in a truck, with the bed trussed up to resemble a chariot from Hindu mythology, was scheduled to end at the site of the mosque.

Hindus believe the site was the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram and that a temple once stood there until Muslim invaders destroyed it in the 16th century and built the Babri Mosque.

Advani’s journey was cut short when authorities arrested him in the state of Bihar in October 1990. According to Advani’s Web site, he was arrested by political foes who opposed a resurgence of nationalism in India. Two years later, Hindu mobs tore down the mosque, fomenting riots in Mumbai that claimed more than 1,000 lives, mostly Muslims.

Train Fire

The temple campaign catalyzed Hindu support across India for the BJP, which won its first national election in 1996 and its second in ‘98.

“Communal violence in the last two decades is a result of the manipulation of religious sentiments by Hindu right- wing organizations for political gains,” according to the Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies report. “The politicization of the temple-mosque issue and the subsequent demolition of the mosque gave the BJP the opportunity to consolidate its vote bank.”

Javadekar rejects that claim, saying the Congress Party’s sectarian politics and favoritism toward minorities poses the biggest danger to India. Javadekar says the BJP supports the equal treatment of all religious groups in India.

“That means you do justice to all and appeasement of none,” he says.

The 2002 riots in Gujarat began with a fire in a train coach carrying Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya. A commission set up by the Gujarat government said that Muslims set the fire after an altercation at the station between some pilgrims and Muslim vendors.

Lost Everything

The report of the citizens tribunal, which was released in October ‘02 and based on about 2,000 interviews, shows the fire started within the coach and was not deliberate, says Ghanshyam Shah, a social scientist who was a member of the tribunal.

As news of the fire spread through the state, Hindu mobs surrounded Muslim neighborhoods, destroyed houses with homemade bombs, raped and killed women and butchered men, according to the three-volume report of the citizens tribunal.

“We escaped with just the clothes on our backs,” says Sayed, the tailor in Juhapura. “Everything was destroyed. Our house was torn down, and all our possessions were stolen.”

Sayed, his wife and three sons were rescued by a Muslim police officer and taken to a camp outside Juhapura.

“The Muslim officer risked himself and brought us to the camp,” Sayed says.

Police Don’t Arrive

The police didn’t respond to calls for help from many Muslims, according to the report. It details the murder of Ahsan Jafri, a former member of parliament from the Congress Party.

The attack on the neighborhood where Jafri lived in Ahmedabad began on the morning of Feb. 28, 2002. A high- ranking police official visited Jafri at 10:30 a.m. and assured him that police reinforcements were on the way to quell the riots. The police never came even after Jafri’s desperate phone calls to Modi’s office and the police. Jafri was dragged out of his home and killed in the afternoon, as were others who had taken shelter in his house, the report says.

Three years later, in 2005, the U.S. State Department denied Modi a diplomatic visa and revoked his existing one under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that bars entry of foreign officials who are complicit in severe violations of religious freedom.

‘Absence of Healing’

“The violence in Gujarat in 2002 was extremely serious; it went on for months,” says Delhi University’s Rangarajan. “If you travel in the hinterland of Gujarat, what is more serious is the absence of a healing process.”

In 2008, six years after the riots, the Supreme Court of India formed a special team to investigate the violence. In February, the team arrested Deputy Superintendent of Police K.G. Erda, the officer in charge of the area where Jafri lived, for dereliction of duty and abetment of murder, according to Mitesh Amin, Erda’s lawyer. Erda has been released on bail, and the Supreme Court has halted the trial, Amin says.

In March, investigators submitted their confidential report to the court, which asked the Gujarat government to file a response by April 13.

The 2002 riots shouldn’t taint Modi’s reputation as a good administrator, says Ajit Gulabchand, managing director of Mumbai-based Hindustan Construction Co. The company is building an $8 billion waterfront development in Dholera, an industrial and business hub.

Carnegie Mellon University

“What happened was terrible,” Gulabchand says. “The question is, Are we moving on? Here is somebody who welcomes people and creates an atmosphere for business and other investments to thrive.”

Yogesh Patel and his business partner, Hotmail’s Bhatia, are also bullish on Gujarat. They’re building university campuses in Dholera and have partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to open a graduate school there.

During a meeting last year, after Patel told Modi about the potential for generating solar energy in northern Gujarat, the chief minister immediately called in a bureaucrat and asked him to get working on a plan.

“It’s like dealing with a private enterprise and talking to a CEO,” Patel says.

‘Modi Has to Evolve’

While political analysts say Modi is a possible future candidate for prime minister, he would face hostility from Muslims. “God will bring Modi down one day,” Sayed says.

In states with large Muslim populations, where they comprise more than 15 percent, Modi would have to soften his anti-Muslim image.

“Modi’s problem is very real,” Rangarajan says. “Modi has to evolve.”

In Ahmedabad’s Juhapura ghetto, Hindus built a 10-foot- high wall with barbed wire at the top to separate themselves from Muslims. The wall is a reminder of the issues confronting Modi and his party as they vie to rule India again.

To contact the reporter on this story: Abhay Singh in New Delhi at abhaysingh@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: March 29, 2009 17:00 EDT

Nehru descendant guilty of Muslim hate crime

March 24, 2009

By Andrew Buncombe in Delhi | The Independent, UK, March 24, 2009

Varun Gandhi: Accused of threatening to 'cut throats' of Muslims

RAVEENDRAN/AFP/GETTY

Varun Gandhi: Accused of threatening to ‘cut throats’ of Muslims

India’s main opposition party has said it will stand by a great-grandson of the country’s first prime minister in forthcoming elections, even after an independent body found him guilty of hate crime and urged that he not be fielded as a candidate.

In a move that will be seized on by its rivals, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said it will continue to support Varun Gandhi as its candidate for a constituency in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

The 29-year scion of the Nehru dynasty was condemned by India’s election commission following a speech two weeks ago in which he threatened to “cut the throats” of Muslims.

As the speech was repeatedly replayed on television, Mr Gandhi claimed the tapes had been altered, and he was the victim of a conspiracy. But he pointedly refused to apologise.

The election commission said there was no evidence the recording had been doctored. It found his speech – in which Mr Gandhi compared a political rival to Osama bin Laden – had also incited violence against Muslims. It said that if the BJP stood by Mr Gandhi, it would be “perceived as endorsing his unpardonable acts of inciting violence and creating feelings of enmity and hatred between different classes of citizens of India”.

In a bid for power following its surprise defeat in 2004, the right-wing BJP sought to reposition itself, and reach out to centrist voters. However, yesterday party officials said they would continue to support Mr Gandhi’s nomination despite the commission’s ruling.

“The commission has no authority to give such direction to a political party,” said Balbir Punj, a BJP leader.

Dr Valerian Rodrigues, a political scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that despite what the BJP had said publicly, it may yet ask Mr Gandhi to stand down and replace him with his mother, Maneka Gandhi, a former MP and daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi.

Nehru heir under fire for ‘anti-Muslim rant’

March 19, 2009

By Andrew Buncombe, Asia Correspondent

The Independent, UK,  Wednesday, 18 March 2009

India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party leader Varun Gandhi speaks to media outside his residence in New Delhi

AP Photo/Manish Swarup

India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party leader Varun Gandhi speaks to media outside his residence in New Delhi

A great grandson of India’s first prime minister was filmed at an election rally allegedly threatening to cut the throats of Muslims.

Varun Gandhi, a grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru and nephew of Sonia Gandhi, is being investigated by police in the state of Uttar Pradesh after he allegedly said that all Muslims should be sent to Pakistan. He was speaking at a rally for the right-wing, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for which he is a candidate in upcoming elections.

The recording, made on 6 March, apparently shows Mr Gandhi saying: “All the Hindus stay on this side and send the others to Pakistan.” Raising a palm, he said his hand was the “Lotus hand” – a reference to the symbol of the BJP – and said that after the election “it will cut their throats”.

Yesterday, Mr Gandhi, 29, claimed the recording of him speaking – posted on the internet – had been deliberately doctored in order to undermine him. “I’ve been a victim of political conspiracy. This is a vigorous attempt to malign my faith…Those are not my words, this is not my voice,” he told local media. “I am a Gandhi, a Hindu and an Indian in equal measure.”

Mr Gandhi is the son of Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s younger son who was killed in a plane crash. Unlike other members of the family who joined the ruling Congress Party, Varun Gadnhi disowned the dynasty and instead joined the BJP. His cousin, Rahul Gandhi, is a Congress MP and tipped as a future prime minister.

Mr Gandhi’s comments come just weeks before India’s general election, to be spread over a month. Most polls suggest the Congress will emerge as the party with the most seats.

Muslims make up around 13 per cent of India’s vast, 1.1bn population. Communal violence between Hindus and Muslims is not uncommon, especially around elections.

India stages “martial law” elections in Kashmir

January 8, 2009
By Deepal Jayasekera and Keith Jones |  World Socialist Web Site,  January 8,  2009

Omar Abdullah was sworn in as the chief minister of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir Monday, ending six months of central government or “president’s” rule.

India’s lone Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir has for two decades been convulsed by a popular insurgency against Indian rule.

Indian authorities recently reported that 47,000 people have died in the conflict, including 20,000 civilians and a like number of anti-Indian insurgents. The Coalition of Civil Society, a prominent Kashmiri-based human rights group, says the true death toll is in excess of 70,000.

Abdullah leads a coalition that was patched together after last month’s state assembly elections produced a fractured verdict. The coalition unites his National Conference, a Kashmiri regionalist party, with the Congress Party, the traditional governing party of the Indian bourgeoisie and the dominant partner in India’s United Progressive Alliance government.

The National Conference captured 28 assembly seats and the Congress 17, meaning that the coalition has only a bare majority in the 87-member state legislature.

Neither party improved its standing from the last election. The National Conference won the same number of seats as it secured in the 2002 election when it fell from power, while the Congress suffered a net loss of 3 seats.

The Kashmiri-based People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which co-governed the state with the Congress from 2002 till last June, won 21 seats, five more than in 2002, and thereby supplanted the Congress as the state’s second largest party. The Hindu communalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 11 seats, all of them from the Hindu-majority Jammu region. Smaller parties took six seats and four were won by independents.

India’s political establishment and corporate media have proclaimed the staging of state assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the installation of a new coalition government, and the lifting of president’s rule a triumph for “democracy.”

The reality is that Jammu and Kashmir, especially the Kashmir Valley, remain under military occupation, with half a million security forces deployed in a state whose total population is little more than 10 million. Since 1990 the state has been under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives the military sweeping powers. These include the right to use deadly force and raid any premises without a warrant, as well as immunity from prosecution.

The elections were held in seven phases, stretching from November 17 to December 24 so as to maximize troop deployment in areas during and immediately before voting.

Curfews, declared and undeclared, were imposed by security forces so as to prevent anti-Indian government protests and those protests that were mounted were brutally suppressed. Several dozen prominent opponents of Indian rule were kept under house arrest throughout the election campaign, under the draconian Public Safety Act, which authorizes police to detain people for up to two years without trial.

The state of siege was intensified following the commando-style terrorist attack on Mumbai in late November. BBC correspondent Chris Morris, reporting from Srinagar on the eve of polling in the state’s largest city, said, “Every 50 meters or so, on every main street, stand several men (or very occasionally women) armed with assault rifles and—more often than not—big sticks.”

Indian authorities continue to adamantly oppose any serious investigation of the horrific human rights abuses, including torture and summary executions, perpetrated by security forces—some of them former insurgents who have been coerced into becoming police “auxiliaries”—in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The “disappeared” number in the thousands, if not tens of thousands.

Much has been made of an increase in the election turnout from the 2002 state election. Although the advocates of union with Pakistan or an independent Kashmir called for an election boycott, 61.5 percent of the electorate voted as compared with just 43 percent in 2002. In the Kashmir Valley, the state’s most populous region, and the center of both its Muslim population and the opposition to Indian rule, half or more of the electorate voted.

The increased voter turnout came as a welcome relief to the Indian elite. Indeed, in announcing last fall that the Jammu and Kashmir state elections would be held on schedule, the head of India’s election commission conceded it was a calculated risk.

In June, the PDP had withdrawn from its coalition with the Congress, forcing the imposition of president’s rule, after popular protests broke out against a state government decision to cede 100 acres of Kashmir Valley land to a Hindu shrine. The shrine has become a major pilgrimage site in recent years, at least in part because of the efforts of Hindu supremacist organizations who view its veneration as a means of asserting Indian/Hindu control over the valley. The protests quickly mushroomed into a mass popular movement against the police-military occupation of the state and to a considerable degree Indian rule itself. State authorities brutally suppressed the protests, killing dozens of people. Meanwhile the Hindu right, with the connivance of local Congress leaders, whipped up a Hindu communal counter-agitation. (See: Indian government mounts brutal campaign of repression in Kashmir)

More astute and less-biased observers concede that the increased turnout in the 2008 election is not indicative of any new-found enthusiasm for the repressive rule of the Indian state among Kashmir’s Muslim majority. Rather, the populace seized on the elections as a means of trying to influence government decisions concerning economic development. “In their approach to the elections,” wrote The Hindu‘s Siddharth Varadarajan, “it is apparent that the people in the valley made a distinction between the ‘masla-e-kashmir,’ or the problem of Kashmir, and ‘kashmiriyon ke masail,’ or the problems of Kashmiris.”

A second factor in the widespread spurning of the anti-Indian opposition’s boycott call is increasing popular disaffection with the insurgency. Not only do the insurgents advance no progressive program to address poverty and economic backwardness, they have become ever-more explicitly communalist and Islamic fundamentalist in program and orientation. Pakistan, it should be noted, played an important part in this process, as it viewed Islamicist elements as the most malleable in its efforts to exploit the grievances of the Kashmiri people to serve its own predatory ends.

The National Conference, which favors increased autonomy for Kashmir within the Indian Union, placed economic issues at the center of its election campaign, promising to improve the state’s dilapidated or non-existent infrastructure and create jobs. “If voted to power, National Conference will usher an era of unparalleled development in the state and open new avenues of employment,” declared Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah’s father, and himself a four-time Jammu and Kashmir chief minister.

The central theme of the PDP election manifesto was “Make Self-Rule Happen.” In a 2006 address to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank, Mufti Mohammad Syed, the father of PDP head Mehbooba Mufti, and the party’s official “patron,” argued that autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir and the development of cross-border ties with Pakistan-controlled Azad Kashmir, would allow the state to become the hub of a thriving Indo-Pakistani capitalist trade.

The Kashmiri regional parties speak for rival sections of the local elite. Their autonomy demands and maneuvers with New Delhi—the National Conference was aligned with the Hindu supremacist BJP from 1998 to 2002—have nothing to do with meeting the socio-economic needs and fulfilling the genuine democratic aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, be they Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist.

Neither of them challenge the reactionary 1947 communal partition of the subcontinent. Imposed by the Congress and Muslim League in connivance with British imperialism, Partition is at the root of the ordeal of the Kashmiri people, on both sides of the Line of Control that divides Indian- and Pakistani held Kashmir, and of the geo-political rivalry between India and Pakistan—a rivalry that has repeatedly erupted in war.

The Congress and National Conference have had a tumultuous, decades-long association, involving periods of partnership and confrontation. The founder of the National Conference, Omar Abdullah’s grandfather, Sheikh Abdullah, supported the accession of the princely state of Kashmir to India and became the Indian state’s first chief minister. He was jailed by the Congress from 1953 to 1964, after he balked at declaring the state an integral part of the Indian Union.

In 1984, a Congress central government through the centrally-appointed state governor maneuvered to dismiss a National Conference ministry, only to prod the National Conference into an electoral alliance three years later. The joint efforts of the Congress and National Conference to rig the 1987 elections did much to discredit the Indian state and fuel the eruption two years later of mass protests against Indian rule.

If the Congress has rushed to forge a new governmental coalition with the National Conference, agreeing that Abdullah will serve as chief minister for the government’s full prospective six-year term, it is because it is anxious to give the state the appearance of a stable, democratic government. It is leery of the PDP’s more assertive position on autonomy, what many in the press have termed “soft separatism.”

More importantly, it and the Indian elite as a whole have been rattled by last summer’s sudden eruption of mass protests and want to ensure that there is a democratic fig leaf for the continuation of its two decades-long campaign to stamp out opposition, whether in the form of an armed insurgency or civil unrest, to Indian rule.

At the same time, New Delhi, with the full support of the official opposition BJP, has seized on the recent Mumbai terrorist atrocity to push through even more draconian “anti-terrorism” legislation and to ratchet up pressure on Pakistan to end its political and logistical support for the anti-Indian insurgency in Kashmir.

Several factors account for this belligerence. India’s military-security establishment and the Hindu right have long been pressing for a more belligerent stance against Pakistan and various national-ethnic and Naxalite (Maoist) insurgencies within India. With national elections looming, the Congress is anxious to counter any attempt by the BJP to cast it as “soft” on terrorism. The campaign against Pakistan also serves to divert attention from, and channel in a reactionary direction mounting frustration over, the deepening economic crisis.

That said, the Indian government’s attempt to cast Pakistan as a nexus of international terrorism is also clearly aimed at preempting any attempt by the incoming US administration of Barack Obama to take a greater role in the Indo-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir. A number of Obama aides have suggested that as a quid pro quo for Islamabad intensifying its efforts to eradicate support within Pakistan for the insurgency against the US-installed government in Afghanistan, Washington would facilitate a settlement of the Kashmir dispute. Obama himself told Time magazine last October that he wants to “devote serious diplomatic resources” to the Kashmir dispute, including getting “a special envoy in there, to figure out a plausible approach.”

India has long opposed any outside intervention in the Kashmir dispute, since it believes that bilaterally its economic and military power far outweighs that of Pakistan. Obama’s suggestion was, consequently, pilloried in the Indian press and quietly but firmly rejected by Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The strength of the reaction from India has been duly noted by members of Washington’s geo-political establishment. Speaking Tuesday, Selig Harrison, a longtime US think-tank specialist on South Asia declared, “A US Kashmir initiative, however veiled, would poison relations between New Delhi and Washington.”

Dealing With the Indo-US Nuclear Deal

October 6, 2008

by: J. Sri Raman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective, October 3, 2008

photo
Activists shout slogans during a protest in New Delhi against the Indo-US nuclear deal. (Photo: Reuters)

India received a strange and darkly significant gift on a once-sacred day of its annual calendar. In the early morning of October 2, marking the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi of hallowed memory, the nation heard the news about the victory for the US-India nuclear deal in Washington.

We can leave it for historians to answer the deeper and larger question arising from this dramatic irony: how did the India of a nonviolent, anticolonial struggle end up as a nuclear-weapon state proudly entering into a pact of strategic partnership with a neocolonial superpower? We will deal here with a simpler question.

How did the deal come to be done, and with little difficulty? How did this happen despite presumed opposition to it from many quarters and predictions of its defeat at several stages? The answer may help us face and fight the after-effects better than the deal struck originally between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Capitol Hill on July 18, 2005.

When the two leaders uttered the D word, the deal seemed an indefinite distance away. Opponents and independent observers of the move assumed the obstacles were too many to overcome easily. The chief obstacle was deemed to be democracy in both countries. The presumption has proven premature.

Bipartisan backing for the deal was considered extremely unlikely. The hurdle of political opposition in the USA did not even stop the first stage of the process – the Henry J. Hyde US-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of December 2006, passed as enabling legislation for a bilateral agreement. Such an accord, the 123 Agreement as it is called, was signed in July 2007, just about two years after the Bush-Singh brainwave, despite the many differences that media depicted as almost unbridgeable.

Bipartisan support, of a hidden kind, helped Singh at home too. The main opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party, which in its term of power had set India on the path of strategic partnership with the US, had no basic objection to the Bush-Singh advance upon the idea. The objective took precedence over all else for the main political players in both countries. Little wonder, the Singh government won a trust vote in Parliament on July 22, 2008, on the deal without any difficulty that the numbers seemed to denote initially.

The next stage where the deal was expected to be stalled also proved smooth. On August 1, 2008. the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) approved the deal. India’s earlier votes against Iran in the IAEA were not the only reason, with more Iran-friendly states also helping to facilitate the deal. It was expected to meet its nemesis at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). On September 8, 2008, however, the Bush administration succeeded in bullying and cajoling the NSG into a consensus in the deal’s favor.

The peace movement in India and the world campaigned against the deal all through, with indisputable persistence and determination. If the campaign still failed, the main cause should not be far to seek. It fought the deal, above all, as a dire threat to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and sought to undo the deal through an appeal to pro-NPT states. Founded on a false hope, perhaps, the campaign was bound to fail.

The illusions entertained about the NPT never really helped the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament in India or elsewhere. The discriminatory and hypocritical treaty, which allows five nuclear powers to preserve formidable arsenals and prescribes nuclear abstinence for the rest of the world, does not deserve any credit for any decrease in the global stock of these weapons due to other factors. The much-hyped Article VI of the treaty – a polite plea to the P5 to proceed towards nuclear disarmament “in good faith” – does not detract from the global terror posed by the self-appointed guardians of non-proliferation.

Not only in the US of Bush, but also its allies swearing uncompromising commitment to the non-proliferation cause have lent powerful support to the pact for the sake of larger strategic and corporate interests.

Prominent sections of the peace movement have proceeded on the assumption that the NPT represents the strongest weapon in its hands. Experience, however, makes it eminently clear that the treaty, in fact, places the strongest weapon in the hands of nuclear hawks in nations like India. They have only to turn to their people and tell them of patent discrimination in the NPT’s provisions to peddle their nuclear-weapons programs.

Sections of the peace movement in India and elsewhere have also played into the hands of these hawks by stressing the issue of sovereignty while talking of the NPT and the deal. The absurd argument that national sovereignty can be asserted by producing nuclear weapons cannot defeat either devotees of the treaty or advocates of the deal. It is egregiously erroneous to see the deal as damaging to the NPT or “the current world non-proliferation regime” as it is incorrectly described. The deal, on the contrary, must be viewed as one of the results of the faith placed in a fundamentally flawed and false treaty.

There is increasing recognition in the world peace movement of the need to replace the NPT with a UN convention to ban nuclear weapons. The movement, however, must beware of attempts by nuclear hawks in India and similar other states to extend hypocritical support to the effort. The government of India, for example, has already named former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra, intimately associated with the initiation of the “strategic partnership” as its representative in an international commission for nuclear disarmament set up by Australia and Japan!

The deal could have been stalled only through democracy. Only the people of India and the US could have done so by declining a mandate for nuclear militarism. Only democracy of this kind can combat the consequences of the deal, too.

»


A freelance journalist and a peace activist in India, J. Sri Raman is the author of “Flashpoint” (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributor to Truthout.

When faith uses force

September 30, 2008

Behind a new outbreak of violence against Christians in India lies a long-running campaign for Hindu cultural dominance

Protest in New Delhi against Hindu anti-Christian violence in India

An activist demonstrating in New Delhi against the violence of hardline Hindu groups against Christians in several Indian states, September 29 2008. Photo: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Standing next to France’s President Sarkozy, the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh today made a heartfelt plea over the spread of anti-Christian violence in India. The sight of Hindu mobs smashing churches and prayer halls while Christians in the country are killed or left cowering under tarpaulin sheets in refugee camps is, as Dr Singh rightly described, a “national shame”. There are calls from within the ruling Congress party, which relies on the votes of Christians and Muslims in India, to ban Hindu extremist organisations such as the Bajrang Dal, which uses force when the force of argument fails.

There has been bloodshed on both sides. One Christian priest was “cut to pieces” in front of his wife. A Hindu priest was shot dead for campaigning against religious conversions. The violence, which has left nearly two dozen dead, has spread across six states. Even after the Pope intervened, the Roman Catholic archbishop of one of the worst affected areas in eastern India said the situation was “out of control”.

What lies behind this violence is nothing less than a struggle for the soul of India. Religion is deeply rooted in this country of one billion. The divine was fundamental in the creation of post-independence India. Unlike Europe, in India the Gods will not disappear in a blaze of rational thinking.

But views of God led to a schism in Indian nationalism. One side is rooted in secular thinking: that beneath the differences among India’s religions there is a common creed, a moral order articulated in the country’s constitution. Opposing this is the Hindu right. Their philosophy aims to unify the country under the banner of the majority religion. It sees the country’s post-independence constitution as an instrument forged by “pseudo-secularists”, which now needs to be updated to reflect the Hindu character of India.

Christians in India long pre-dated the British, who sponsored missionary activity with little success. In 1947, only 3% of the country was Christian. There’s an unmistakable tint to Christianity in India: the priests are mostly upper-caste Brahmin converts and the flock is mostly drawn from the country’s untouchable communities known as Dalits. Contemporary Hindu anger centres on the idea that India’s rise will see an explosion of Christians in the country – a takeover by a foreign ideology like that experienced by South Korea in the 1960s.

The Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata party, says it is against proselytisation through coercion, inducement, or by vilifying any faith. That conversion continues, therefore, and that it remains legal, drives Hindu groups into a bloody frenzy. By decrying the violence but remaining powerless to prevent it, the Indian prime minister exposes his strength and weakness. The Indian federal government could suspend state administrations – for failing to quell violence. This is the nuclear option of unseating a democratically elected local regime. Instead, the Indian prime minister chooses only speak up.

Martha Nussbaum, the noted American philosopher, draws a comparison with 1950s America where only a few groups such as the Ku Klux Klan would openly advocate violence, but “where the whole society was suffused with attitudes that … often condoned violence against African Americans, attitudes that clearly affected the behaviour of the police and other officers of the law”. This remark is telling because, in the southern Indian town of Mangalore, it was Christian churches that were attacked, yet the leaders of Hindu mobs walked free for days, untouched by the police.

The violence is the really about the clash within. Like the United States, India has never had a state-imposed religion. It has always had a tradition of sects and religious minorities, which coexist and compete with each other without suffering state persecution or patronage. Instead of trying to capture state power for the purpose of waging a cultural war, the Hindu right would do the country a service by reforming itself from within – promoting equality and unifying its own denominations and sects.

Religion’s role in India must be one of restraining passions, not inflaming them.

To keep up with Randeep Ramesh’s blog from India, go here.

Fighting Terror, the Far-Right Way

September 18, 2008

by: J. Sri Raman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective, Sep 17, 2008

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People participate in a silent candlelight march in New Delhi. (Photo: Reuters)

Newton’s Third Law of Motion now has nearly as neat a political parallel. Every non-state terror strike against human lives leads to an opposite and often more than equal state assault on human rights. The New Delhi blasts of September 13 have led to no different a sequel.

India has witnessed ten major serial explosions of this kind in the post-9/11 period, excluding the still mysterious attack on the country’s parliament on December 13, 2001, and militant offensives mainly targeting the army and security forces. The fallout of the calamity, which has become frequent and familiar, has been predictable every time. The reaction to terror-wrought tragedies, from powerful sections of the political spectrum and, particularly the far right, has been remarkably the same and twofold.

Every time, even before the blood at the site has dried and bodies are being counted, the far right and its friends – as well as even some of its avowed foes that are not free from its influence – hasten to point fingers at the usual suspects. No investigations are deemed necessary before “Islamic terror” is indicted, and the culprit is identified as “cross-border terrorism,” aided and abetted by local “sleeper cells.”

The second reaction, which follows within a split second, is to demand “more stringent anti-terror laws,” with less rights for the often arbitrarily accused than allowed under law for even a common criminal. Without severe curbs on human rights, it is asserted, inhuman terrorism cannot be combated.

The story has been repeated after the five blasts in crowded and central areas of New Delhi, claiming a toll of 22 lives so far and seriously injuring at least 98. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political front of the parivar or the far-right “family,” in fact, has outdone itself on this occasion. And for a good reason. Assembly elections are coming soon in New Delhi and other states, while the country’s general election is due in early 2009.

A couple of anti-minority riots have always been the party’s preferred method of campaigning for elections. The New Delhi explosions have given it on a platter a divisive issue of its heart’s desire.

BJP leader and former deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani surprised no one by calling immediately for a stringent “anti-terror law” again. He added two riders to the demand. He upheld, in the first place, such a law passed by the assembly in the State of Gujarat as a model for the rest of the nation. The Gujarat Control of Organised Crime (GUJCOC) Bill is a brainchild of Chief Minister Nerendra Modi, whose name is written in golden letters in the annals of a grateful Indian fascism, for the grisly anti-minority pogrom six years ago. Advani shared Modi’s indignation at New Delhi sitting on the bill and stalling its enactment.

Continued . . .

India’s Terror Laws and Indian Muslims

September 18, 2008

Fighting Terror the Terrorist Way

By Badri Raina | ZNet, Sep 18, 2008

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page

I

Who doesn’t know how the Capitalist social order has worked from day one?—

By first causing monumental social upheavals in the pursuit of profit maximization, then recommending quick-fixes guaranteed to spawn still worse upheavals so that more profitable quick-fixes are in turn rendered “necessary.” And all these rooted in technologies of the newest kind that tell us what we always needed to solve our problems.

In those processes of declension, is it any wonder that the final quick-fix that we are offered should be the gun? After all, let us please remember that the biggest enterprise worldwide is the arms industry, and the biggest insurance for the continuance of this order of things not the end of warfare but its assured continuance in myriad forms and theatres. The better things get for the Capitalist class, the more they must remain the same for all the rest. And nothing ensures that result as well as warfare in perpetuity.

The coterminous “spiritual” trick that Capitalism of course employs is to ascribe all social upheavals to the “sinful” nature of man—those opposing Capitalism more sinful than others—rather than to its own ascertainable doings. An ancillary part of Capitalist ideology, so to speak, that then finds a central role for church, mosque, and temple, and takes the wretched of the earth away from either addressing rationally the sources of their condition or putting up a fight.

II

Thus it is that a resurgently Capitalist class in India is today howling for a new, “tough terror law” that would forever make propertied India safe for super-powerdom. Switch to any corporate TV channel, especially the ones in English, or read most corporate print media, or visit any upwardly-mobile urban elite home, and you will find but one strident recipe for fighting terror; namely, be like the terrorist and give them their own medicine. Only the Muslim terrorist of course, needless to say. Are there any others?

This would be fine if only it worked

The minute, however, you pose that question another ready answer follows: look at America—not a single terrorist strike there after “9/11”. Ergo, why can’t we be like America in every conceivable way, down to the colour of the toilet paper?

Not that we are not getting there, with the “strategic partnership” (read military collaboration) now in place, buttressed by junk consumerism, instinctual anti-Islamism/pro-Zionism, contempt for socialist ideas (retaining nonetheless the appellation “socialist” in the preamble of the Constitution, rather like the residual tailbone at the end of the human spine), a mighty embrace of an increasingly lethal majoritarian religiosity, professional therapy for stresses and tensions, the neighbourhood gym or godman as the answer to moral fatigue and vacuity, belief in infinite possibility for the “endowed” and karmic fate for the misery-ridden, waving the flag in the face of the sanest criticism and so forth.

Most of all, avoiding at all cost the reading of needlessly complex or critical materials that do not straightforwardly endorse the American life-style, or that drag us into considerations that have no understandable bearing on our corporate pay packages, or cloistered dens of comfort. Or, that dampen gratification with any insidious invitation to gravitas, or take our plastic smiles and sniggers away even for a bit. To wit, hey, why can’t we be like animals—kill, eat, defecate, copulate, and leave all the rest to god and nature. Gargantua, Gargantua, thou art the best.

It is another matter that, as we write, god and nature (Lehman and Hurricane Ike?) seem yet again confronted with the “spectre of Marx.” Although, be sure, we can well meet all that with a strike on some other part of the disloyal world, which, after all, remains happily full of “enemies” but with assets we can use. Why else are we “strategic partners” I ask you? Lehman may sink, but Pentagon is forever.

Continued . . .

Kashmiris Seek Trade Route to Pakistan

September 9, 2008

Hindus Blocked Off Road to New Delhi

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service, Monday, September 8, 2008

SRINAGAR, India — After Hindu protesters blocked the only road connecting predominantly Muslim Kashmir with the rest of India last month, Altaf Bukhari, like many business owners in this disputed Himalayan region, became convinced of the need for an alternative trade outlet.

The most logical solution to the impasse is reopening a historic road that was closed to trade when the Indian subcontinent was partitioned in 1947. Part of the ancient Silk Road connecting Europe with Asia, it winds from Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, to the bustling market town of Rawalpindi, in Pakistan, 100 miles away.

It’s a direct route to a city far closer than Kashmir’s trading partner of New Delhi, India’s capital, about 400 miles away. But several political twists and turns must be navigated before the road can be used again for commerce.

India says it is ready to open the old trade route but has taken few steps to do so. It blames Pakistan for the delay. Pakistan has blamed India. But last week Pakistan proposed a meeting with the Indian government to discuss reopening the route as quickly as possible.

Kashmiri business leaders say everyone is watching eagerly. If India and Pakistan reopen the road, it could go a long way toward building confidence among entrepreneurs in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which has seen some of the largest pro-independence demonstrations this summer since an uprising against Indian rule broke out in 1989.

Tens of millions of dollars were lost in the fruit industry alone during the blockade, said Bukhari, an agricultural businessman. Family farms fell into debt, he said, adding that the business community learned how vulnerable it is under Indian rule.

“This blockade has changed our psychology completely. There is a real fear psychosis now,” Bukhari said, adding that he lost almost $1 million when his plums, pears and freshly packed apple juice couldn’t make it to Indian markets last month. “For us, business is business, and India is a good market, but it’s now created a fear in our minds.”

Along with chants of “Azadi,” or “Freedom,” demonstrators in Srinagar this summer were chanting, “Kashmir’s market is in Rawalpindi.”

“Everyone has woken up to the fact that economic independence would be completely powerful. India can shut us down any time it wants, and that is a terrifying thing,” said Nisar Ali, an economics professor at the University of Kashmir. “Opening the trade route to Pakistan, a nearby and logical road, is an idea whose time has come. Opening the road would go a long way to cooling down temperatures — a long way.”

Pakistan and India have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir, since 1947. Both claim Kashmir but control only parts of it. Human rights groups estimate that the conflict has left 77,000 people dead and as many as 10,000 missing.

Tensions appeared to be easing. But a crisis erupted in Kashmir in June when Muslims launched protests over a government decision to transfer land to a Hindu shrine, saying it was a settlement plan designed to alter the religious balance in India’s only Muslim-majority region. After the plan was rescinded, Hindus took to the streets of Jammu city, in the predominantly Hindu part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, demanding its restoration.

At least 35 unarmed protesters were killed by Indian security forces during peaceful self-rule demonstrations after the land dispute. A nine-day curfew was imposed late last month, and several separatist leaders were arrested.

A degree of calm has since been restored. The curfew was lifted last week at the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, and the separatist leaders were released from jail, although they remain under house arrest. The land-deal controversy was settled, in what many observers see as a draw: The Hindu shrine would be able to use the land during the three-month pilgrimage season but would not own it. The roadblocks that caused the economic blockade have been removed.

Still, the reopening of the road to Pakistan remains a powerful rallying cry among Kashmiris.

“The blockade was really an act of war that left children without milk and patients without medicine,” said Yasin Malik, a separatist leader. “It really woke up the business community to what azadi and what self-reliance would mean. It won’t be forgotten.”

For the Ahmed family, the reopening of the road would mean food on the table, money for schools and safety for the two oldest sons, who ply the dangerous route to New Delhi.

Sitting on the floor of his family’s kitchen with his head wrapped in gauze, Wahid Ahmed, 23, and his brother Munir, 24, said they were attacked while trying to bring a truckload of about 100 sheep from New Delhi to Kashmir.

The Indian army said it would escort them, the brothers said. But the soldiers later left them, saying all was safe. Soon afterward, the brothers said, they were pelted with stones by groups connected to India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which was protesting the overturning of the land deal.

“We are afraid to try again,” said Wahid, who had 15 stitches. Family members, listening nearby, said they needed the brothers’ earnings. “We have no other road to choose,” Wahid said. “We just hope things are safe now.”


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