INSAF Bulletin 68 December 2007

International South Asia Forum (254 Kensington Ave, Westmount., QC, Canada H3Z 2G6 (Tel. 514-690-4714; e-mail; or visit our website

Editors, Daya Varma (Montreal) and Vinod Mubayi (New York). circulation/website: Ramya Chellappa (New York).


1. Nandigram precipitates a mini crisis in the Indian communist movement (Daya Varma)

2. Uncalled for criticism of Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Zinn et al (Daya Varma)

3. Nandigram and beyond (Srinivasan Ramani)

4. Challenges facing the peace process in Nepal (Tapan K. Bose)

5. Policing and Minorities (Asghar Ali Engineer)

6. Resist, resist, resist: the gift of a crisis (Beena Sarwar, the Hindu, November 26, 2007)

7. Taslima Nasreen: no where to go?



Daya R. Varma


Fortunately, and somewhat uniquely, the Indian communist movement did not the face the same crisis that befell most other communist parties in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. If anything, its influence increased especially in West Bengal.  However, the Communist Party of India –Marxist (CPM), which is the major communist formation and the leading partner of the Left Front Government of West Bengal, and whose support is critical to the survival of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the center, has been challenged by almost every political formation since December 2006, when it attempted acquisition of land in certain areas of Bengal for industrial development. Although CPM abandoned the industrial development program in Nandigram, its opponents would not let it off the hook. November 2007 witnessed a renewed crisis of which the likely victim would not be CPM alone but rather the Indian communist movement as a whole.


There are two main trends in the Indian communist movement – one represented by CPM and CPI and the other by the Maoists. In between, there are other Marxist-Leninist parties, which talk like the Maoists but act like CPM-CPI. The Maoists and Marxist-Leninist parties do not constitute now and are unlikely to constitute in the future the main trend of the Indian communist movement. Therefore the crisis facing CPM is a crisis of the mainstream Indian communist movement and hence ought to be a matter of grave concern to secular, democratic and progressive forces in India.


At one level, it seems that the crisis has been caused by the economic policies of the CPM, which have not garnered the full support of its other left partners such as CPI, Revolutionary Socialist Party, RSP, and Forward Bloc, FB (the RSP and FB, which exist at a state level only in West Bengal, do not represent distinct policies, however). The CPM’s economic policy is born out of necessity and is essentially based on the cumulative experience of the communist governments that failed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and also of those that did not fail such as in China and Viet Nam. While CPM’s economic program and the manner in which it has been implemented could have contributed to the crisis, it is not really the cause of the crisis.


More importantly, the crisis has occurred because the reactionary forces have been waiting for a long time to bring the communist movement to its knees and for them the time was running out. So the very fact that West Bengal, a state where the Left Front led by CPM won a huge electoral victory last year, is in a crisis itself denotes a significant victory for Advani of the BJP and Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress. A large number of genuine democratic forces as well as long-standing communists like Ashok Mitra have also been drawn in because the manner in which the CPM has tried to solve the Nandigram issue is extremely shabby and full of violence. The CPM leadership utterly failed to take into consideration the full implications of getting its cadre to forcibly confront the cadre of the Trinamool Congress and Maoist-led BUPC (Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee, or Land Eviction Resistance Committee) who had occupied Nandigram.  It is clear that the CPM leadership failed to use a correct approach to defuse the crisis.


Political violence, in which ordinary citizens are brutalized, unfortunately happens all the time, particularly in India, and should always be a matter of grave concern. However, the reaction against CPM has been much more intense compared to that faced by other political parties at other times. Among those enraged by CPM’s actions are enthusiastic Maoists, other Marxist-Leninists, genuine democratic elements and of course diehard reactionaries. The anger of genuine democrats is understandable because they have always opposed violence against people and made no exception in the case of Nandigram. The anger of the Marxist-Leninists and other independent leftists is opportunistic; it is not based on any principle but rather on their long-standing antipathy to CPM.


Communist governments in the past have committed violence against common people. The most important of such unfortunate episodes and the first, happened soon after the birth of Soviet Union. It was the Kronstadt rebellion of March 1921, which some have characterized as the Third Revolution. Workers and soldiers, many of who had participated in the October Revolution, rebelled against the harsh living conditions caused by the War Economy and Bolshevik discipline. The rebellion was brutally crushed on the orders of Lenin and Trotsky. Nearly 1000 workers died during the rebellion and twice as many were executed. The entire Central Committee of the CPSU(B), supported the suppression of the rebellion and the executions. Lenin’s New Economic Policy, which removed some of the centralized state controls on economic activity, was one outcome of the Kronstadt rebellion. But no one on the left went so far as to call the Bolshevik Party a fascist reactionary party. Even Isaac Deutscher was not that unkind to the Soviet Union or even to Stalin, who executed many, many more communists and others during his tenure.


The problem of CPM is that it is the ruling party in West Bengal and therefore obliged, even if belatedly, to take steps to advance the economy and improve the economic status of the population. Although CPM flaunts the banners of the old communist leaders (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, etc.) neither its General Secretary Karat nor the West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee is a Stalinist. Openly or otherwise they all recognize the constraints of Indian democracy and have learnt lessons from economic policies that failed as well as those that succeeded. It is thus a welcome development that CPM paid attention to industrialization and took steps to implement it in Bengal. What it seems to have ignored, unfortunately, is that it would face more determined opposition than identical (and, perhaps, worse from the standpoint of peasants whose lands were acquired) economic policies carried out by non-communist governments in Western UP, Andhra, Maharashtra and elsewhere in India. So while a fight between supporters of two rival parties is a norm in India and elsewhere (e.g. Chavez’s Venezuela), CPM ought to have used other means than its cadre to violently overturn the illegal occupation of Nandigram by BUPC and others, as argued by All India Muslim-Majlis-e-Mushawarat on Nandigram in their November 16 statement.


No one can blame the opponents of CPM who are exercising their right of free expression guaranteed by the Constitution. They are responsible to no one and their only agenda is anti-CPM. But CPM has a bigger responsibility, the most important of which is to not let the people of India develop hostility towards the communist left.  For, when it happens, the beneficiaries would be Advani’s BJP and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and not the Maoists.



Daya R. Varma


It is surprising that the brief note “To our friends in Bengal” by Professor Noam Chomsky and his peers, which appealed for left unity in India in the aftermath of the unfortunate developments in Bengal and expressed solidarity with forcibly dispossessed peasants, received such a scathing attack by the venerable Mahashweta Devi, writer Arundhati Roy and 16 other intellectuals.


According to Ms Devi and her associates, Chomsky and other “fellow travellers” wittingly or unwittingly fell prey to “A CPI (M) public relations coup”. About a year ago when Arundhati Roy was accused of saying something under external pressures, she blurted out: “I am not stupid”. Ironically, she and her colleagues seem convinced that Chomsky et al., all of impeccable integrity and independent thinking, were sucked into making a statement because of public relations maneuvering by CPI (M).   


The note by Mahashweta Devi and others is a tirade against the “unbridled” capitalist policies of CPI (M) as well as some remarks about the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, who has been living in sanctuary in India. They might as well have written a lengthier essay on a rational policy for India’s and West Bengal’s economic development, but why lecture to Chomsky and his peers who know as much, if not more, about this subject. Incidentally, the Left Front government of West Bengal has made no claims that it is dismantling capitalism.


The appeal by Chomsky and his friends for left unity is both timely and desirable. Unfortunately it seems to have made things worse, which merely points to the utter confusion about the feasibility of a non-capitalist path of development in the aftermath of the failure of the one that was tried. It is very possible that Chomsky et al are more concerned about an organized left with a mass base and less so about the attitude of free lance leftists. Only the Indian people can ultimately decide what is good for them and whether they should opt for other options after 30 years, if all is so bad in West Bengal ruled by the CPM-led Left Front.



Srinivasan Ramani

The recent events in Nandigram and it's coverage by a section of media as well as the response by sections of civil society (wrongly mentioned as intellectuals) point out to a grotesque dysfunction of bourgeois democracy, but that is not the concern of this article. This piece will be concerned more about the whys and wherefores of the problem that erupted in West Bengal over the past year, a problem that has not been studied well enough and that has been deliberately misrepresented by voices that professedly speak for variegated ideologies.

West Bengal: It's different!

The state of West Bengal remains apart from any other in India, as politically, this state remains the only one where there has been no anti-incumbency for the past 30 years, ruled as it is by a political entity, the Left Front, that remains the only effective one which has fulfilled a vital directive of state policy of the liberal Indian constitution, land reforms. This measure has ensured enduring political support from a section of society that pervades the demography in India, small and medium peasantry. Apart from this piece of economic reform, the Left Front ensured that political reform should also be carried out to benefit the same sections, hence, the adoption of the Panchayati Raj system. At the same time however, these pieces of bourgeois reform was not revolutionary or transformatory, and led by a Marxist party the government only willed to improve livelihoods further by undertaking what every civilized power unit was doing everywhere else in the world, industrialization.

As the Indian  state took a turn toward  neoliberalism after wide ranging economic reform, West Bengal, as one of the states embarked upon industrialization through private investment as a sine qua non for change: from a peasant dominated economy to a more modern industrial economy. It was only bound to happen that the excesses and problems of neoliberalism were going to affect West Bengal too. The focus of the regime was to portray West Bengal as investment friendly state owing to a populace that was seen to be largely progressive, and which had good social development indicators, as well as an ideal geographic location for setting up export oriented industries. In this process of competitive wooing of investment (against other potential destinations in other states), the state embarked upon a few measures that were, at least, controversial, coming as they were, from a leftist regime.

A controversial SEZ Act was passed in the WB Assembly in the earlier tenure and provisions of this act was used to determine the contours of land acquisition from villagers in Nandigram for a chemical hub project What happened in Nandigram?  Obviously learning that the WB government was determined to forge ahead with this model of industrialization through land acquisition (from the Singur experience), villagers in Nandigram took up a violent means of protest, spurred on in the meantime by elements who had spread doomsday rumors playing upon the fears of land loss for the peasants. The means of protest included throwing away CPI(M) supporters from the village and forcing them to stay as refugees in a nearby area (Khejuri). Most of the confusion was spawned after a notice of land acquisition was pasted by a Haldia Development Authority (HDA) official, himself a CPI(M) leader, who was not authorized to take this move. Clarifications followed from the chief minister that no land acquisition would take place without due consultation, but the fire was already lit No amount of political cajoling through meetings or talks could create an atmosphere of peace and what followed was state action to mitigate the violent takeover of the Nandigram village by partisan villagers, now assembled under a motley grouping titled, Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh committee (BUPC), led by Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders. The state action, involving police personnel on March 14th resulted in a police firing that saw the deaths of 14 villagers. Widely berated for this move, the Chief Minister regretted the firing and held himself responsible for the deaths and resolved to find a solution to the impasse through further political meetings and talks with opposition members at the local level as well as the state level in Nandigram. At the same time, a CBI inquiry was ordered into the incident which is still pending, even as the government has at long last announced relief compensations to the casualties of the firing, recently.

Political meeting after political meeting was called to find a solution for this problem of lawlessness that had been instigated by the TMC and a section of Naxalite and Maoist sympathizers in the Nandigram area. None of these were attended by the very stakeholders in the opposition: the TMC-Maoists. One meeting was attended by Mamata Bannerjee; however, she left the meeting even before it started. Essentially CPI(M) supporters were made to stay as refugees for a full 11 months, before these villagers took it upon themselves to return back. Admittedly, at the same time, no action was taken against the officers involved in the firing, a concern raised by civil society groups who also question the fact that the turbulent area was not visited by the Chief Minister. The state government asked for CRPF personnel from the center, knowing very well that any state action would only be assessed as failure in this volatile area. CRPF personnel were late in coming, ostensibly because of the center's apathy, even as the state government was coy at intervening between the villagers again caught up in conflict.

The opposition and civil society were now back to berating the state government for its inaction and for letting the circle of violence go on allegedly for retribution by the displaced CPI(M) supporting villagers. No longer is the SEZ tune played now, however, as everyone now realizes that it is a turf war. The incidents in Nandigram are a repeat of what happened in Panskura (Keshpur-Garbeta story) in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Knowing fully well that there is a large chunk of support base for the Left entrenched among rural segments, the opposition realized that the only way out for wresting control was physically removing these sections from their strongholds. Hence, in a bye-election held after Geeta Mukherjee (of the CPI)'s death, the Panskura Lok Sabha seat was lost by a huge margin, which surprised many. The TMC cadre and leadership had gone on marches hailing the Panskura line in 2001. It took a concerted effort by the CPI(M) cadre to drive back the occupiers in Keshpur (yet another bloody culmination) to wrest back control over Keshpur and other areas. No wonder, Gurudas Dasgupta (the present CPI Lok Sabha member) won by a good margin in the next conducted elections, in the area. A thorough understanding To observers who have a liberal bent, the situation would not be understood using the mechanisms of liberal democratic principles that cloud their opinions. What requires is a more correct understanding of the class and rural settings in West Bengal to get the picture as to what exactly entails these violent political conflicts that have erupted in an otherwise progressive state Land reform in West Bengal has not only created entrenched support bases for the Left but it has also created several entrenched antagonists. A cursory look at the percentages that have voted for both the Left and the TMC-Congress will provide a better understanding. The absentee-landlords and rent-seeking sections supporting the same as well as middle class absentee landowners are all antagonistic to the Left in mofussil towns, because of the alienation of their owned land which was registered to the tillers and share-croppers. In one swoop, these sections lost their statuses as owners of land which they never tilled and their ability to play poker with their holding i.e. for example, if someone has a large piece of land on which some sharecroppers work, the owner has the prerogative to sell the piece of land to some other sharecropper or small peasant as he might will. This ability was gone after land reforms were undertaken. No wonder, these segments of the population have gone on to become supporters of the Congress and its likes, who later on manifested as the regional Trinamool Congress. The problem is that, these sections do not have committed political workers, as a peasant or a worker supporting the left would be. Apart from electoral work and some other mobilizations, political work is not quite a vocation for these people, in comparison to trade unionists, peasant organizations, for whom political activity is 24/7. This explains the grooming of musclemen and henchmen from lumpen sections in the right bourgeois parties, for the purpose of doing the hatchet political jobs. Yet, even this will not explain how sections of the Trinamool could take up causes for sections of the poor peasantry alienated from the Left, either. One would have to bring in the role of the political outfits from the radical and ultra left in here. The ultra-left (Naxalites and parties such as SUCI fall into this category) are primarily sections which have protested that the land reform measures enacted by the Left Front government have not been taken to the next “logical” extent- further distribution of land to landless laborers. This opinion is drawn from their theoretical understanding that places the peasantry in the vanguard of an agrarian revolution, a model that is termed, “Maoist”. In essence, the ultra left have tried to play upon the concerns of the landless peasants and laborers and held the Left responsible for only part-bourgeois and moderate land reforms.

A greater Mahajot

Since the support base for the Left Front in rural areas is still intact, obviously due to the measures of land reform and popular mobilization as well as the institution of Panchayati Raj and local governance, the oppositional space has been considerably narrowed. This space therefore saw the formation of one opportunist alliance after another by the bourgeois parties, termed, a mahajot. In the case of Nandigram, this mahajot received a new entrant, sections of the Naxalites and the Maoists, as the issue of a SEZ was harped as a move inimical to the small peasantry. The leaders in this mahajot, the BUPC, however had no qualms in having disparate sections from the ultra-left to the petty bourgeoisie right (the Trinamool), including sections which were representative of partisan communal elements such as the Jamaat-e-Ulema Hind.

Apart from this motley political crowd in the opposition, Neo-Gandhian groups from civil society, including voices such as Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (a non-governmental entity, which does not participate in elections) also ranged themselves against the government. For these sections, the problematic was not merely the allegation of excesses committed in the name of development, but the whole concept of development in itself. That industrialization is seen as a sine qua non by the state government and the CPI(M) for development, is not a vision that is shared by these neo-Gandhian sections, for whom no imperative to disturb “idyllic” peasant life can be justified. One could call these sections reminiscent of the Narodniks or even the anti-industry Luddites in the political spectrum. Thus even though ostensibly, the likes of Medha Patkar articulated their concerns about the non-democratic means of functioning of the state government, the fundamental problem for these sections as has been evinced from their “politics” across the country, is a serial opposition for the concept of industrial development inasmuch. A better term for such outfits led by Medha Patkar, could be “post-modern”.  

One could therefore say that, the turf war in Nandigram is very much a class-war, except that the State government and the Left have to be bound by the liberal instruments of the Constitutional processes, while the petty bourgeois right wing opposition willfully rejects these instruments and performs foul play, aided and abetted tactically by sections disillusioned with what they call “reformist” leftism. At best, such an alliance is incredibly opportunist, and even more critically, this alliance does not subject itself to the norms by which the state government is judged. One therefore cannot better explain the months of anarchy and egregious behavior of the BUPC, which was bent upon declaring Nandigram as a ³liberated zone² despite the shifting of the SEZ project. If the Trinamool Congress considered itself as a parliamentary party, subject to liberal norms, it should have declared victory at the precise time that the government backed off from the SEZ moves and should have used this as a platform to garner and win support in forthcoming elections. Instead, Trinamool thought it apt to emulate the Keshpur model, of using Nandigram as a platform for a “military victory” which could be used to enthuse sections opposed to the Left.

It was even more easier for the Naxalites and other ultra-left elements to acquiesce in this plan, partly because such “liberation” was part of their understood praxis and partly also because of the fact that there was no other means to dislodge the well entrenched CPI (M) and it's partners from rural Bengal. Meanwhile, the government in the centre, favorable to the big bourgeoisie classes has been very silent about the problems that have developed in Nandigram. It is essential to understand that the big bourgeoisie sees land acquisition for mega-projects as favorable and insists upon incentive after incentive (social bribe in correct terms, as put by Prabhat Patnaik) to be provided by the state for involving this class in development. Therefore it is not surprising that the big bourgeoisie have continued to repose their faith in the “reforming ways” of “Brand Buddha”, and have been gung ho about the mode of industrialization that they have envisaged for West Bengal State Government's role, the Left Front and its problems This is however not to absolve the role of the state government and the ruling party in the mess either. Yet, one needs a thorough understanding of the turn toward adopting the same policies, that are derided by the CPI (M) as neoliberalism, in the state (the SEZ is a culmination of which). The main problem that the Left Front government faces is how to industrialize, with limited power in a liberal bourgeois federal set-up. Land reform, the chief achievement was still a bourgeois measure helping in securing of property and land for small peasantry, giving them security and purchasing power. Yet the CPI (M), just as any avowed Marxist party wanted to continue the process of further release of productive forces, inevitably industrialization. Hampered by fiscal constraints, and other factors (labor militancy is incorrectly termed as the main problem) such as the national measure of freight equalization and antipathy of the big bourgeoisie to a leftist regime, the state perforce had to embark upon an industrial policy that had to be private-investment led, even as it took up measures to protect and revive sets of sick public sector industries.

Owing to the dominant economic ideology prevalent in the nation of which West Bengal was a part, and from whose problems of crisis the state could not escape and added to that the burden of increased pressure on agriculture due to diminishing holdings and consequently lower increases in productivity, the state government was squeezed into adopting the goal of private investment led growth. The origin of the saga at Nandigram is but a symptom of this goal. Added to this assessment, is the fact that 30 years of “parliamentarianism” and state rule has created a new dialectic that governs the class character of the largest left party, the CPI(M).

The party is seen to be mostly supported by sections of the small peasantry, the state government workers, teachers and that one could term that the support base was quite “petty bourgeois” and not quite “revolutionary working class”. The emphasis on the middle peasantry to play a transformatory role can rest on the theoretical understanding that since this class is exposed to capitalism in contrast to the rural proletariat, they can act as allies of the working class and tenurial reforms ensured this alliance. However, if whether this was truly the case in West Bengal is what is debatable? But primarily, the need of the hour is to pitchfork the debate on industrialization back on to the leftist mainstream. What exactly is the mode and tenor of release of productive forces in this new situation of a globalized world and a certain system of federalism, where federal state power seems drastically reduced? It is for the economists and Marxists to articulate necessarily and immediately a path of industrialization learning from the lessons in Nandigram. A viable alternative (to that practiced by other state governments in the country) than just being “a better state government” is what the CPI (M) must offer in West Bengal. The entire left constituency today is looking at this party to deliver and hopefully the incidents of Nandigram will act as a spur to rejuvenate the party to the level that it functioned when it first came to power.


Tapan K. Bose


The peace process in Nepal which was ushered in by the Jana Andolan II (Peoples’ Movement II) after the autocratic king Gyanendra was forced to handover political power to the political parties in April 2006 seems to be on the verge of collapse.


The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-M) had signed the 12 Point Understanding with the Seven Party Alliance in November 2005 and joined the ‘peaceful struggle’ for democracy agreed to abandon their armed struggle. They joined forces with the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) to transform Nepal into a federal republic. In September 2007 the Maoists pulled out of the interim government blaming the Nepali Congress Party’s octogenarian supremo, Mr. G. P. Koirala and the interim government for the continuation of the political crisis and the uncertainty about the status of the monarchy.


The Maoists who had voluntarily laid down their arms and put the members of their ‘Peoples’ Army’ in UN monitored camps, had earlier participated in the creation of an interim parliament, an interim constitution and an interim government. Their walk out of the ‘Interim Government’ on the ground that the interim parliament had to declare Nepal as a republic and abolish the monarchy before the election to the Constituent Assembly was a serious blow to the peace efforts and the up coming elections to the Constituent Assembly. Every body was looking forward to the election of the Constituent Assembly. By walking out of the interim government in September 2007, the Maoists effectively derailed the holding of the election to Nepal’s first ‘Constituent Assembly’ which was due on the 22nd of November this year.


In addition to the demand for declaring Nepal a republic before the election to the Constituent Assembly the Maoists also insisted that the election to the Assembly should be conducted on a fully proportional basis that would provide an opportunity to the divergent different ethnic communities and national minorities an opportunity to be represented in the Constituent Assembly on the basis of their status in the national population. The Maoists rejected the agreed ‘dual system’ of half first past the post and half on the basis of the seats won by each party in the first past the post system. The Seven Party Alliance, particularly the Nepali Congress rejected these demands of the Maoists. 



Most of the political leaders, the intellectuals, civil society actors and the news analysts of Nepal have blamed the Maoists for stopping the holding of the election to the Constituent Assembly. Various constituents of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) also claimed that that the Maoists took the desperate step of walking out of the government as they were afraid that they would do rather badly in the election. The non-Maoists political parties  claimed that after the election of the Constituent Assembly all of Nepal’s political problems would have been resolved and the country would have moved on to the path of political stability and progress. If this reading is correct then the Maoists are certainly to be blamed for the continuation of the political impasse in Nepal. However, one needs to ask whether the Constituent Assembly, elected on the basis of the dual system with the participation of the ‘Royalist’ or the ‘loyalists’ political parties could live up to the expectations of  the people as articulated on the streets during the Jana Andolan II and subsequent to that in Terai and other places. 


The Seven Party Alliance opposed the demand of the Maoists on the ground that it was the prerogative of the elected Constituent Assembly to formally remove the monarchy and declare the country as a republic. They argued that it would be illegal for the ‘interim’ parliament to take this decision before the election of the Constituent Assembly. However, considering the fact that the ‘interim parliament’ has taken many decisions including declaring the ‘interim Prime Minister’ as the de-facto head of state replacing the monarch, this argument sounded a bit hollow. Also, one can not deny that there is merit in the argument of the Maoists that if the status of the monarchy was left ambiguous and the political parties loyal to the monarchy were allowed to contest in the election to the Constituent Assembly, there is the possibility that the king and sections of Nepal’s feudal elite and the army loyal to the monarch would try to influence the electoral process to restore the monarchy.


The Maoists also pointed out that the people of Nepal during the Jana Andolan II had clearly indicated their preference for the removal of the monarchy and establishment of a ‘Federal Republic’. They argued that there was no need to fall back on constitutional niceties, particularly those which would give the royalists an opportunity to subvert the peoples’ mandate. The fact that till October this year, Mr. Koirala and several influential leaders of Nepali Congress were continuing to talk about retaining a form of ‘constitutional monarchy’ and that it was only after the Maoists walked out of the interim government, that the Nepali Congress adopted the resolution to establish a ‘federal republic in Nepal’, gives credence to the position of the Maoists that the interim government was not fully committed to the ‘republic’.


Similarly the demand of the national minorities and the ethnic communities to convert Nepal into a federal polity also remains to be addressed. The interim constitution is not clear about how the demands for territorial autonomy and division of power structures would be done. Though the demands for devolution of political power continue to be placed before the interim government every day by the ethnic minorities and the nationalities, the government has yet to come up with any policy perspective.

The unrests in the hill areas by the Janajatis (indigenous/ethnic communities) and the Madhesis in Terai plains have exposed the weaknesses of Nepal’s peace process. The Madhesis – plainspeople who constitute one third of Nepal’s population – have been protesting against the discrimination that has virtually barred them from public life. The demonstrations and clashes which have been going on since the past six months have left several dozen dead. The interim government led by Koirala has offered to increase electoral representation, affirmative action for marginalized groups and federalism but has dragged its feet over implementing dialogue.


Tension between the Janajatis and the Madhesis on one side and the Bahun-Chetri hill elite on the other has been building for several years. It has been largely ignored by the political elites dominated by the Pahadi Bahun and Chetri communities. The Madhesh or the Terai plains that stretch the length of the southern part of Nepal and are home to half the total population, including many non-Madhesis (both indigenous ethnic groups and recent migrants from the hills). With comparatively good infrastructure, agriculture, industrial development and access to India across the open border, the Terai is crucial to the economy of Nepal. It is also an area of great political importance, both as a traditional base for the mainstream parties and as the only road link between otherwise inaccessible hill and mountain districts.


The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) has emerged as a powerful umbrella group though it lacks an organizational base and clear agenda. It has decided to enter the electoral fray but if it is to challenge the established parties, it must first deal with the traditional Madhesi political parties like the Sadbhavana Party and other Madhesi politicians competing for the same votes. There has also been a proliferation of Madhesi armed groups; some have expanded significantly in numbers, and their strategy and attitudes will affect the political process. As is evident the from the continuing ‘Bandhs’, strikes and violent clashes the mood among Terai residents is increasingly confrontational, with collapse of trust between most Madhesis and the government. The armed Madhesi groups, led by break away leaders of the Maoists party have been attacking the cadres and leaders of the Maoists all over Madhesh.


Unresolved grievances and the hangover from the Maoist insurgency, especially the lack of reconciliation and the greater tolerance for violence, make a volatile mix. The unrest has also provided a fertile ground for subversion to the diehard royalists and Hindu fundamentalists in Nepal and from across the border in India, who see it as a chance to disrupt the peace process. The mainstream parties have changed their rhetoric but are reluctant to take action that would make for a more inclusive system. Mainstream parties, particularly the Nepali Congress who rely on their Terai electoral base have failed to compete with Madhesi groups in radicalism. They have also been ineffective at communicating the positive steps they have taken, such as reforming citizenship laws. Competition within the governing coalition is hindering any bold moves.


For the Maoists, the Terai violence was a wake-up call. As much of it was directed against their cadres, the Maoists characterized the Madhesi movement as a regressive movement supported by the Hindu fundamentalists from India and sponsored by the royal palace. However, the outbreak of the armed movement in Terai by rival groups like the Loktrantik Jana Adhikar manch led by former Maoists – Jaiprakash Goit and Jwala Singh shattered the myth of dominance of the Maoists. The Maoists hit back. What ensued was a virtual battle between the Maoists, the armed factions of the Madhesi groups and the Madhesi Jana Adhikar manch. Several lives were lost on both sides. Despite the pressure and attacks, the Maoists continue to remain well organized, politically coherent and determined to reassert themselves.


The key political issues in Nepal are clear and still offer room for a reasonable compromise. The Seven Party Alliance need to demonstrate more serious intent, such as ensuring political participation of all excluded groups (not just those whose protests have forced attention) and undertaking to discuss and resolve grievances not only with protest leaders but also with concerned parliamentarians, local community representatives and civil society representatives. The interim government has made several agreements with the leaders of the Jana Jatis organization demanding ‘autonomy’ and ‘equal rights’. Unfortunately those promises are yet to be translated into action. The Seven Party Alliance’s willingness to make concessions on the basis of equal rights for all citizens has to be demonstrated effectively. Confidence in national and local government will only come if there is decent governance, public security based on local community consent and improved delivery of services, redress for heavy-handed suppression of protests, demands for compensation, honoring of dead protestors and follow-through on a commission of enquiry need to be met. There is urgent need to revise the electoral system to ensure fair representation of Madhesis and all other marginalized groups, including a fresh delineation of constituency boundaries.


The political parties and the government in Kathmandu need to increase the representation of Madhesis and other agitating Jana Jatis in parties and state bodies. This would pave the way for longer-term measures to remove inequalities. This requires a change in outlook and a delicate political balancing act. The Kathmandu government must do some things immediately in order to earn the trust of the Madhesis and other marginalized communities. There is no doubt that the election of the constituent assembly is an urgent need. However now that the elections have been postponed, the time should be utilized in re-designing the elections in a manner that will give proper representation of the Madhesis and other Jana Jatis in the Constituent Assembly. If this does not happen, the fear of sections of the Nepali people rejecting the assembly will always remain.



Asghar Ali Engineer (Secular Perspective November 1-15, 07)


Mahatma Gandhi had said that quality of democracy should be judged from the way minorities are treated. Democracies are participative system of governance but numbers assume great importance in it and when it is multi-religious or multi-cultural society, those in larger numbers tend to dictate to those who are fewer in numbers. It has been termed as majoritarianism. Any democracy which is based on the concept of majoritarianism is qualitatively inferior. That is why Mahatma Gandhi maintained that real test of democracy is how it treats its (religious, linguistic or cultural) minorities.


But then everyone is not Mahatma, not even statesperson. An average person is motivated by his/her interests or prejudices. Most of the democracies in the world are infected by the virus of majoritarianism. Even western democracies treat immigrant populations from Asia and Africa in a manner which is far from desirable. They often remain on the margins of those societies.


India was multi-religious and multi-cultural from the day one in its history. Muslims were an important minority, even a ruling minority for few centuries but let us remember those who ruled were small minority within Muslim minority and had their own interests at heart, never of all Muslims. Overwhelming majority of these Muslims were converts from low caste Hindus, were poor and weak before conversion and remained poor and weak after conversion.


It is this poor and weak Muslim minority, which remained in India after partition to bear the brunt of not only their poverty and illiteracy but also of ‘guilt’ of partition. Those who were responsible for partition left the country to test its ‘fruits’ but Indian Muslims, remained behind to share its guilt and bear the brunt. Thus Indian Muslims have been suffering in different ways.


Majority communalists, and strangely even some rationalists, keep on blaming them for refusing to reform and become part of ‘national mainstream’. This kind of civil society discourse holds only Muslims responsible for their backwardness and illiteracy. They are supposed to be living embodiment of ‘religious fundamentalism’.


The textbooks taught in municipal or state schools are no better examples of our composite culture and pluralist society. They are, on the other hand, worst examples of majoritarian ethos of our democracy. Thirdly, our media, especially, regional media, plays no less important role in disseminating raw prejudices against Muslims. Papers like Samna (Marathi), Daily Jagran (Hindi), Sandesh (Gujarati) and several others publish provocative material against Muslims and are read by millions of people including the police.


The lower levels of police officials, particularly constabulary, are deeply influenced by these papers, apart from textbooks and their family atmosphere. Some top police officials, are also infected and have to take orders from political bosses who freely use casteism and communalism as powerful instruments to fulfill their political ambitions. This was so obvious in Gujarat 2002.


Add to all this is the fact that our police is largely colonial in ethos. The British colonialists had created this police to suppress people, not to help them, to oppress and torture them, not to help them maintain law and order, to serve political masters, not to effectively check crimes in the society. But our colonial policing continues uninterrupted further embittered by anti-minorityism. Thus it becomes explosive mix.


From Mumbai blasts in 1992-93 to two Hyderabad blasts in July and August 2007 it is a long story of police inflicting torture on Muslim youth, mostly innocent; with no accountability. What is most shocking is that despite all this police have not succeeded recently in catching any real culprit. In Godhra train blasts too, all those arrested are not being tried in court of law as police has hardly any concrete evidence against those detained. Even experts have opined those arrested do not seem to be real culprits and charges against them may not stand in the court of law.


TADA was a monstrous law which was opposed by all human rights activists and which was misused to the maximum by all those who rule including the Congress governments but particularly the BJP rulers against minorities. After the train blasts in Mumbai in which more than 180 innocent lives were lost, the Mumbai police, has failed to lay its   hands on real culprits, whosoever they are. Those arrested were inhumanly tortured and humiliated in most unimaginable manner before their family members.


Ms. Jyoti Punwani, a human rights activist and noted freelance journalist, exposed some of these cases. She was the lone voice of sanity. The national media by and large ignored these cases. Only the Urdu press focused on them. But Urdu press is read by Muslims alone. Now same thing is happening in Hyderabad after the Mecca masjid blasts and subsequent Priyadarshini Park blasts on August 25, 2007.


It is indeed a long and painful story of torture and humiliation of young Muslims from Hyderabad. A team of investigators constituted by social and human rights activists like Mrs. Nirmala Gopalakrishnan, K. Anuradha and Mohammad Afzal. They visited detainees in jail and also members of families of these detainees and prepared this report very painstakingly.


The whole text of this report is before me and it makes very painful reading. One is saddened to read this report and one wonders such flagrant violation of laws at the hands of their protectors, has been going on even sixty years after independence. Lower levels of judiciary and bureaucracy is no less insensitive to such blatant violations of law and victims and members of their families feel totally helpless.


Not only this, these victims and members of these families are so traumatized that they refuse to speak except in total confidentiality. Sometimes they do not speak even after all assurances of confidentiality are given to the victims and their families. The police even manipulates records of arrests or detentions. They arrest victims on slightest suspicion, torture them for days and then after several days will show them arrested or detained. The report under reference mentions several such cases. They were never produced before court within 24 hours as stipulated by law.


Most of them were detained illegally and tortured for days and even their family members were not informed. In certain cases habeas corpus petition had to be filed in the Andhra Pradesh Court as police would not inform their whereabouts. The Report, after meticulous investigation observes: “Many were picked up on flimsy grounds, kept in custody and released after many days of interrogation. For example, the Committee met Hafez Mohammad Bilal Muftahee, age 26 years, at the meeting with the families of the detainees, on 19-9-2007. He told the Committee that only reason for his detention (reason given to him by police) was that the police; wanted to question him about his association with Rizwan Ghazi. Hafez said that he had taught Rizwan a year ago. Hafez teaches Koran at the Royal Indian School is from West Bengal and has been living in Hyderabad for past six years.” The police came to his house on 2/9/2007 and had Rizwan Ghazi with them. Hafez was not allowed to inform his family. For five days he was interrogated at an unknown location where he was severely beaten, kicked, hit with sticks on the sole of is feet. After five days he was released. He was hospitalized and the records showed that the injuries he had were result of beatings.


This is one among several cases mentioned in the report on such illegal detentions and inhuman torture. Our police is generally very much against weaker sections of society, dalits, women from poor families and Muslims. When it comes to Muslims they are also motivated by their raw prejudices against Islam and Muslims.


I keep on conducting workshops for the police and experience these prejudices in the form of their questions. But I do not blame them as they are hopelessly ill informed and authorities make no attempts to train them in secular values and responsibilities in multi-religious society. Policing in multi-religious societies in modern competitive societies is highly challenging.


Media is also either prejudiced and justifies such torture for solving terrorist attacks (police has hardly ever succeeded despite such torture and indignities inflicted on people) or does not consider worthy of news. In the Hyderabad case also only Urdu papers, particularly Siyasat Daily, a sober Urdu daily, was reporting these cases and the English and Telugu papers turned a blind eye to it.


Such state terror to counter terror by terrorist groups would never solve the problem, but would intensify it. The problem is political and has to be solved with justice and wisdom. All state governments have failed to solve Naxalite problem too, for the same reason. The police lets loose repression against innocent citizens and ultimately derive them in the fold of Naxalites. We will create more terrorists by letting loose terror against innocent citizens.


Are our authorities listening? Perhaps not, and will not. (Centre for Study of Society and Secularism;




Beena Sarwar (The Hindu, November 26, 2007)

Those who came of age during General Zia’s regime and after may have a sense of déjA vu, but for newcomers into the activist field the sense of outrage is purer.

It may not exactly be a revolution, but the revolutionary zeal is there, particularly amongst the younger lot. Those who came of age during General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime and after may have a sense of déjÀ vu, but among newcomers into the activist field the sense of outrage and betrayal is purer. Something about the present situation has fired them up enough to engage in “subversive” activities such as public demonstrations against the martial law, for which they know they can be arrested, tried for treason, or worse.

“We’ve been gifted with a crisis,” is how Ahsan Jamil, a businessman in Karachi, analyses it. “In countries where things go well, a certain smugness or sense of complacency sets in. In Pakistan, we have not been allowed that luxury.”

The “judicial crisis” that dominated Pakistani politics since March has much to do with the general sense of discontent that began building up among those who otherwise had nothing much to complain about. This includes many among the “Musharraf generation” — well-to-do young urbanites for whom the pre-email, pre-cell phone and pre-independent television channels era is prehistoric — corporate bankers and lawyers, chartered accountants, television journalists (fabulously well-paid compared to their print counterparts), software engineers and business-people. In general, members of the amorphous, consumer-oriented urban middle class that benefited materially from the liberal economic policy of the Musharraf regime.

General Musharraf’s announcement of an “Emergency” on November 3 stunned many among this otherwise complacent generation — enough to finally act upon their convictions. In doing so, many re-grouped through contacts originally formed during times of natural disaster, such as the Kashmir earthquake. They used the tools at their fingertips — the internet, e-mail, chat, blogs and cell phone text messages — to come together, and also to join up with activists who have a long (pre-cell phone) history of political struggle for democracy.

Some landed up at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in Lahore the very next day for a public meeting to discuss the martial law — and were rounded up and detained for three days after the police raided the HRCP office.

In Karachi too, the jumble of women’s and human rights activists, journalists, trade union members and workers of small left wing political parties, who used to come together under the banner of the Joint Action Committee (JAC), were joined by those who have never been “activists” before: techies, artists, bankers and accountants. They eventually named this diverse, loose coalition of individuals the People’s Resistance. “This is the beginning of a movement,” someone said at this meeting.

Whether or not that is the case, many are fired up enough to engage in actions they have never done before. Some have gone to visit total strangers at their homes — the deposed judges of the High Courts — taking flowers in appreciation of the stand they have taken. “At first I thought this was all nonsense,” said a seasoned lawyer, who has been helping to get his colleagues released from Karachi Central Jail. “But it has made a huge difference to the morale of these judges. They’ve never engaged with the public before, and now they are proudly telling friends that ‘civil society’ came to visit them.”

Some new activists are using their talents to make and design posters that they distribute at public meetings, or make stencils to spray graffiti in public spaces. Some want to make their presence felt in public with candle-light vigils and demonstrations. Many turn up at short notice for what are called “flash protests” at a given public spot, each armed with his or her banner or placard. They demonstrate for a pre-determined period of time, and disperse before the police arrive.

“I want to collect a million signatures,” said Ali Assad, 26. An unlikely contender for the term “activist,” this mild-looking, clean-cut young investment banker, a graduate of the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences, has purchased several notebooks and is working with friends to formulate the text they want to get people to sign, incorporating basic demands such as “Lift the Martial Law, Restore the Judiciary and Media Independence.” His banker colleagues think he is slightly mad.

He is “mad” alright — as in angry. Angry at what is happening to his country. An avid reader, he was already familiar with the works of writers such as Eqbal Ahmad and Noam Chomsky, who reinforced his liberal political views and innate distaste of anti-authoritarianism and religious extremism. But he had never participated even in the anti-Iraq war protests at while a student at the LUMS.

So what changed things for him? “The lawyers’ movement and the media coverage … lawyers being beaten on streets and for what? They were fighting for judiciary; not for power, unlike political parties.”

The new heroes

The bloodshed on May 12 when the Chief Justice was prevented from coming into Karachi made Mr. Assad’s “blood boil with hatred for what was happening in the country.” He was “electrified” by the Islamabad Supreme Court seminar. “People in their speeches were articulating my sentiments, and suddenly my heroes became people like Talat Hussain of Aaj TV, and lawyers like Aitzaz Ahsan and Munir A. Malik.”

Most importantly, after the PCO orders of November 3, he found like-minded people with whom he could connect and coordinate. “I just wanted to make my voice heard. I felt that in a country where the highest judiciary receives no protection, what is my ‘auqaat’ [standing]? It scared me.”

Another unlikely young activist is Adnan Mufti, a chartered accountant, who is spreading the word among his colleagues. Responding to an e-mail from a lawyer in Maine, U.S., he wrote, “These young people are aware of their limitations, but feel that they must protest in whatever way they can.”

“I won’t sit still,” says Mr. Assad. “Maybe 10 years down the line I will be able to do more. But I will continue to do something.” He likes the Dante quote in the advertisement released a few days ago by leading intellectuals and retired bureaucrats in Lahore: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in the time of crisis choose to maintain their neutrality.” (Beena Sarwar is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Karachi.)

[In the Meantime, Musharraf has parted with his army uniform; nothing else seems to have changed. Ed.]



Feminist writer Taslmia Nasreen of Bangladesh was given refuge in Kolkata by the Left-Front Government. The Government under pressure because of Nandigram episode and afraid of mob violence by fundamentalists, with potential of another Nandigram,  has now ordered her to leave. A large number of people have angrily reacted to this.   Khushwant Singh, Arundhati Roy, Leila Seth, Kuldip Nayyar, Vijay Tendulkar, Aruna Roy, Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad, Saeed Naqvi, Y.P. Chibber, Shanker Singh and  Nikhil Dey appealed on her behalf as  did a statement SAHMAT signed by Prabhat Patnaik, Ram Rahman, D.N. Jha, Amiya Bagchi, Indira Chandrasekhar, M.K. Raina, Sohail Hashmi, Radha Kumar, C.P. Chandrasekhar and M.M.P. Singh. ANHAD organized a silent demonstration in Delhi on November 27. Below we produce excerpts from an article in Pakistan’s Dawn.



 Jawed Naqvi (Dawn, November 26, 2007) “Taslima Nasrin has been living in Kolkata for some time now. Her Indian visa expires in February. Rightwing Muslim groups recently threatened to bring life to a standstill in West Bengal if she was not thrown out of the country. What provoked the sudden outburst by the reactionary groups is a mystery. There are rumours that great powers are at work to dislodge the communist government from West Bengal. It is said, for example, that just as Muslim groups were banded together to take on the Russian communists in Kabul, Henry Kissinger, who was in Kolkata last month, prescribed similar methods to evict communists from power there. They had been a thorn in the flesh over the nuclear deal. On its part, the weak-kneed Left Front government, reeling on the back foot with its culpability in the violence in Nandigram, wasted no time to pack off Ms Nasreen to the BJP-ruled Rajasthan state.