SACW | Nov 12, 2009 / Deserters / Media and the money / State and religion / Remember MB Naqvi
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Thu Nov 12 06:02:26 CST 2009
South Asia Citizens Wire | November 12, 2009 | Dispatch No. 2665 -
Year 12 running
[ SACW Dispatches for 2009-2010 are dedicated to the memory of Dr.
Sudarshan Punhani (1933-2009), husband of Professor Tamara Zakon and
a comrade and friend of Daya Varma ]
NOTICE to ALL: This issue of the sacw is specially dedicated to
honour and remember M B Naqvi the prominent journalist, humanist and
progressive voice. He played a very active role in the Pakistan India
People's Forum for Peace and Democracy, the Pakistan Peace Coalition,
among other platforms. Mr Naqvi died on the 7th of November 2009.
Since late 1990's Naqvi saheb's articles were regularly redistributed
via the South Asia Citizens Wire. His last article was carried in
SACW dispatch of November 9-11, 2009. "Naqvi Saheb we will sorely
 Sri Lanka: Interview with Dr. Asoka Bandarage (Ben Linden)
+ Time to revisit the citizenship debate (Lynn Ockersz)
 Pakistan: M.B. Naqvi passes away (Dawn)
+ Les pots-de-vin du président pakistanais (Guillaume Dasquié)
+ Al Jazeera Interview with Seymour Hersh on US and Pakistan
 Celebrating desertion (Jawed Naqvi)
 India: The medium, message and the money (P. Sainath)
 India: Fated To Fade Away - It is high time the Left wore its
thinking cap again (Ashok Mitra)
 Address on occasion of 2009 UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the
Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence (Madanjeet Singh)
 India: Resources For Secular Activists
(i) Encroaching Places of Worship (Editorial, Economic &
(ii) Not Relevant Indians? (Omar Khalidi)
(iii) Intolerant politics a threat to urban living (Amritha
- Human rights before religion (Seyran Ates)
- Catholic Church’s interference in Obama’s health bill robs women of
rights (Editorial, New York Times)
- When state and religion mix (Danny Rich)
 Sri Lanka:
IA-FORUM SPEAKS WITH PROF. ASOKA BANDARAGE ABOUT SRI LANKA AND THE
by Ben Linden (9 November 2009)
International Affairs Forum: Where does the situation in Sri Lanka
stand today? Is the humanitarian situation in the Tamil areas in the
North as bad as it was following this year's military offensive?
Dr. Asoka Bandarage:First of all, in Sri Lanka there are no areas
that are exclusively Tamil or Sinhalese or Muslim, and much of this
conflict is about that. In the Eastern Province, there are
populations from all the ethnic groups, and the Tamils are a minority
there. The notion that the North is a Tamil area is not true in that
there was ethnic cleansing of Sinhalese and Muslims from the area. I
want to make that clear from the outset.
Along with that, it needs to be said that the majority of Tamil
people in Sri Lanka live outside of the Northern Province and a very
large proportion of the Sri Lankan Tamils are also outside of the
country—one quarter or so is part of the diaspora. These demographics
are important to understand the situation.
With regard to the humanitarian situation, there is no question that
there has been a crisis, not just following the military offensive
but during the armed conflict as well. There is a lot of criticism of
the government for maintaining Tamil people in camps—over 300,000 of
them after the offensive. From what I’ve read, now there are less
than 200,000, so 100,000 or more have been resettled. There is no
question that this is the most important issue, but the issue is
nonetheless a very complicated one given that many of the people in
the camps came from areas that were under the control of the LTTE and
there is evidence that there are LTTE cadres in those camps. For the
security of all the people, it is important to make sure that
potential terrorists are not released into the larger population. So
checking and taking care of other security matters are important. And
de-mining the northern areas is also important, since so many mines
have been planted there over the years.
One of the criticisms that have been leveled at the government is
that it has not allowed media to go into the camps and that it has
stopped the rest of the world from finding out what is really going
on. I think that needs to be corrected, just as the rehabilitation of
all Tamil civilians needs to be addressed. But there is also the
reality faced by the government. It has been under a lot of attack
from the international media and there have been fabricated stories
and criticisms. So there is a reluctance on the part of the
government to open up certain areas to the media. For example, there
was a video that Channel 4 in London aired which supposedly
documented Sri Lankan soldiers shooting and killing Tamil civilians.
It received a lot of attention around the world. But later it was
revealed that this was a concocted video, and Channel 4 expressed
apologies accepting that it was duped by a group claiming to be a
human rights organization which had provided the video. I’m just
giving that as an example of why the government and certain segments
of the Sri Lankan population are wary of the international media and
human rights groups. This is not to justify keeping the media out
because we need to have accountability and transparency, but at the
same time, it is important to recognize the possible continuation of
the LTTE, which was the most ruthless terrorist organization in the
world. So, the government has to take the necessary precautions
against the LTTE rearming and reactivating itself.
IA-Forum:So are you saying that the current policies are purely
security-based? Seeing all the celebrations that occurred in Sri
Lanka following the military victory, one wonders if there was there
was any element of collective punishment or spoils going to the winner.
Dr. Bandarage:We have to move beyond seeing this as a Sinhala versus
Tamil primordial conflict, which is the dominant analysis of this
conflict, and I take this on in my book. I’m not denying there is an
ethnic dimension. But the fact is that the entire population—
Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims—were all victimized by the LTTE.
Terrorism is the greatest of all human rights violations. The Tamils
were more victimized in a way by the LTTE than any other group. They
were forced to give their children up as suicide bombers. In certain
regions, like for example the Eastern Province, each family
supposedly had to give a child for the cause. The LTTE established a
totalitarian regime which did not allow any kind of dissent. So not
having the LTTE opens up possibilities for Tamils and other groups to
come together and try to fashion a better future for all the people.
IA-Forum:What was the nature of this conflict as you see it? A civil
war? A regional conflict?
Dr. Bandarage:It is a separatist conflict with domestic, regional and
international dimensions. There are Tamils as well as Sinhalese and
regional and international actors supporting the creation of a
separate Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka. Likewise,
there are Sinhalese as well as Tamils and regional and international
actors supporting the continuation of the unitary state of Sri Lanka.
As I said before, there is an ethnic dimension to the conflict, but
the predominant tradition in Sri Lanka has been one of mutual
coexistence. Different ethnic and religious groups have lived
together side by side for hundreds if not thousands of years. But in
the course of this war, ethnic polarization deepened. But, it is
wrong to see this simply as a domestic conflict. In my book, I
present the broader regional dimension—the demand for a separate
Dravidian-speaking state of Dravidasthan in southern India and the
quashing of that separatist movement by India when it passed the 1963
anti-secessionist amendment to its constitution. The spread of Tamil
nationalism in southern India in conjunction with developments in Sri
Lanka produced this conflict. And then, as I discuss in my book, the
conflict became internationalized by the Tamil diaspora, which is
quite wealthy and influential in western countries, and which is
still supporting the separatist struggle in Sri Lanka.
IA-Forum:From a counter-insurgency perspective, what worked and what
didn't? Which tactics by the Sri Lankan government improved the
situation and which exacerbated it?
Dr. Bandarage:I’m not a counter-insurgency expert but from what I
understand there were a number of factors. The Sri Lankan government
started working with other governments in the international community—
and interestingly, it a was a Tamil, Lakshman Kadirgamar, who was a
former foreign minister, who initiated contact with some of the
western countries to ban the LTTE as a terrorist organization,
including in the US. Efforts to cut off funding for the LTTE and
efforts to separate the Tamil issue from the LTTE also had a role to
play because the LTTE presented itself as the sole representative of
the Tamils. Making that distinction was important.
Also, the country became war-weary. It had gone through several peace
processes and attempts at negotiation with the LTTE including the
2002 peace process. When that failed, not just the Sinhalese, but
also some Muslim and other Tamil groups became fed up with the LTTE.
So there were both internal and external factors which came together
to create a sense of urgency to bring the armed conflict to an end.
This doesn’t mean that the political conflict is resolved. There is
still a lot of work to be done, but, the conclusion of the armed
conflict opens the space to address those broader issues.
IA-Forum:What, if anything, did the insurgency achieve for the Tamil
Dr. Bandarage:The Tamil people really lost a lot due to the
insurgency. The community lost its moderate leadership. It lost some
of the best and brightest people, who left the country. That is not
just a loss for the Tamil people—it is a loss for the entire country
because they were among the most talented and experienced
professionals. And with the insurgency, the Tamil culture and
community were destroyed and weakened. The Tamil community had been a
relatively advanced community, so this was a tremendous loss. So many
leaders were killed. That’s why it’s important not to continue this
conflict and start another cycle of war. Instead Tamils have to take
their rightful place in society because they have a lot to contribute
to Sri Lanka and they always have.
IA-Forum:Not to justify it in anyway, but through the use of violent
struggle, did the insurgency succeed at all in at least calling
attention to the legitimate grievances of those Tamils who felt they
Dr. Bandarage:Yes, I think so. For example, if we look at some of the
post-independence legislation, which was meant to redress grievances
of the Sinhalese majority that had been discriminated against during
the British colonial era. In retrospect, the insurgency has made
people question if those were the right steps. So I think it has
opened up an opportunity to really look at the whole history of the
country and relations between different communities. The loss of all
those lives also raise questions about the meaning of democracy and
justice for all groups. I try to do this in my book—to look at Tamil
grievances but also the grievances of other groups, and how all of
that can be redressed.
One thing that often gets overlooked when we talk about the Sinhalese
or the Tamils as monolithic groups is the differences and
inequalities within groups. Within the Sinhalese, the majority are
underprivileged. Similarly, within the Tamil community, there are
differences between elites and masses and caste differences. And now,
of course, you have the difference between the diaspora and the
people on the ground. The diaspora supported the armed conflict,
which was the longest running armed conflict in Asia. Now, after the
military offensive is over, they are continuing the separatist
struggle outside of the country through political means. This makes
it difficult for the government and domestic Tamil groups to move
forward in terms of rehabilitation and development because the
political conflict has intensified. This is not to say that that
political issues should not be addressed, but it should be done in a
constructive way rather than in a way that polarizes communities and
continues the acrimony. The diaspora and other groups should be
focusing on how to bring communities together—and they should think
of the people on the ground, like the people in the camps, who are
the ones that have suffered the most. They are the real victims.
Meeting the basic needs - shelter, employment, land, access to water,
and education for children—needs to become the priorities over the
political interests of elites from all communities whether they be
Tamil, Sinhalese or Muslim.
[. . .]
FULL TEXT AT: http://www.ia-forum.org/Content/
Asoka Bandarage is a professor in the Public Policy Institute at
Georgetown University. Her latest book is entitled “The Separatist
Conflict in Sri Lanka: Terrorism, Ethnicity, Political
Economy” (Routledge, 2009)
o o o
The Island, November 12, 2009
TIME TO REVISIT THE CITIZENSHIP DEBATE
by Lynn Ockersz
A mob attack on a place of religious worship in a Colombo suburb
recently, while drawing public attention to the simmering fires of
religious intolerance in some quarters in this country, provokes a
reexamination of unresolved issues at the heart of Sri Lanka’s
The attack on the place of worship needs to be unequivocally
condemned by all, including, of course, the state. Rather than
withdraw into a state of self-induced inner paralysis, the wanton
attack should be condemned by the right-thinking, not only in the
name of religious harmony and unity but also in recognition of the
need to defend and uphold the Rule of Law.
If the laws of the land have been violated by anyone associated with
the place of worship in question, he should be subjected immediately
to the due process of the law and punished by the relevant organs of
the state. Under no circumstances should he be allowed to be a victim
of murderous mob violence. In this instance no persons were harmed
but the place of worship was vandalized, which is equally violative
of the law. Apparently, the ‘long arm of the law’ was completely
inoperative when the acts of lawlessness were unleashed. This amounts
to undermining the Rule of Law and giving criminality and lawlessness
a further boost.
It was only the other day that a man who was described as mentally-
ill was done to death by persons who were identified as law-enforcers
in the seas off Bambalapitiya, in an unsettling reminder of the
degree to which the Rule of Law has crumbled. If this deleterious
trend goes unchecked, brutality could very well become
It would amount to labouring the obvious if it is stated that it
would be none other than Sri Lanka which would suffer the ill
consequences if the Rule of Law is thus relentlessly undermined. One
of the tragedies of our times is that brutality is being seen by some
as synonymous with heroism, and conscience and reason are being
interpreted as signs of weakness. A terrible blight has indeed been
The state has a lot of explaining to do in this latest instance of
destructive violence which has apparently been unleashed with
impunity, because a representative of a minor party in the UPFA has
been quoted as having justified the attack on the centre of worship.
If this is so, some sections of the ruling alliance stand accused of
fostering lawlessness. The government is obliged to put the record
straight and bring all wrong-doers in this incident to justice, if it
intends taking governance seriously. Besides, the state must ensure
that incendiary observations by its alliance partners, which have a
destructive impact on national unity, are henceforth put an end to.
Since then we have had a statement from the National Bhikku Front,
which, among other things, draws attention to the mutually-
reinforcing nature of ‘fundamentalisms’. This is a timely perception
which should not go unnoticed and unappreciated. There is no
disputing that fundamentalisms of all kinds militate against the
democratic health of a country.
What is equal in importance to this gamut of issues relating to law
and order, are the implications, some statements issued in the wake
of the attack on the place of worship by hard line nationalist
opinion, have, for fostering an equal citizenship in Sri Lanka and
consequently, for generating social peace.
Apparently, the opinion was voiced by the above sections that Sri
Lanka ‘belongs’ to only those who profess the majority religion and
so, practitioners of other religions cannot be accommodated in the
Lankan fold. Implicit in such narrow sentiments is the opinion that
one’s identification with the majority religion, culture and ethnic
group is a ‘must’ for being signified as a Sri Lankan. In other
words, those who do not possess these labels of identification are to
be considered ‘aliens’; in most cases, in the land of their birth.
Therefore, decades after the enactment of the infamous Citizenship
Acts of 1948, which resulted in tens of thousands of plantation
workers of Indian origin losing their citizenship of Sri Lanka, the
myths of who constitute Lankan citizens, are stonily present,
preventing the establishment of an inclusive Sri Lanka and precluding
the possibility of the expeditious founding of a united country.
Viewed superficially, Sri Lanka’s citizenship laws could be described
as, more or less, equitable in the sense that they do not allow for
any distinctions once Lankan citizenship is acquired by a person ‘by
descent or by virtue of registration’. In fact Article 26(1) of the
Lankan constitution states that, ‘There shall be one status of
citizenship known as "the status of a citizen of Sri Lanka"’.
Moreover, Article 12(2) of the constitution states that, ‘No citizen
shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion,
language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any one
However, the truth is that discrimination against citizens on a
number of grounds, flourishes in some state institutions. Not all
functionaries of the state regard the above constitutional provision
as sacrosanct; this, this writer knows for a fact. The 30 year war in
Sri Lanka, growing out of the ethnic issue, was proof of the
inadequacy of these constitutional provisions, if not their near
Apparently, Sri Lanka needs to greatly expand on its constitutional
provisions regarding citizenship and also ensure their stringent
implementation. What we need are constitutional provisions that
clearly acknowledge and spell out the plural character of the Lankan
state. Citizenship needs to be defined as encompassing all the ethnic
and cultural groups of the land and should cease to be seen as the
sole preserve of this or that ethnic or cultural group. The current
provisions on citizenship fall short of these standards by being too
general in nature. By lacking specificity, they fail to meet the
country’s concrete requirements as regards minority rights.
Besides, and equally importantly, minority safeguards should be
emphatically incorporated into the constitution. In fact, the state
should seriously consider incorporating in the constitution and
rigorously implementing, measures that could contribute towards the
empowerment of minority communities, as is done in India, for instance.
It could be seen that plenty of awareness-raising needs to be done on
the above and related issues by the state and other sections who need
to evince a keen interest in them. If the groundwork in this
direction is laid, the appeal of the current ‘fundamentalisms’ could
be greatly blunted and democratic development ushered in.
Dawn, 8 Nov, 2009
M.B. NAQVI PASSES AWAY
Mohammad Baqir Naqvi, a senior journalist and human rights activist,
died at the age of 81.—File photo
Karachi: Mohammad Baqir Naqvi, a senior journalist and human rights
activist, died at a hospital here on Saturday afternoon. He was 81.
He left behind his wife, two sons and a daughter.
He had been facing cardiac problems for a long time, but his health
was stable. After he complained of pain and congestion on Thursday,
his wife took him to the National Institute of Cardio-vascular
Diseases, where doctors advised hospitalisation.
His condition suddenly deteriorated on Saturday morning and he died
in the afternoon.
Born in Amroha (India) in 1928, M.B. Naqvi, as he was popularly
known, got his education there. After migrating to Pakistan, he took
up journalism, joining Indus Times (Hyderabad). After some time, he
Then he moved to Rawalpindi and joined Radio Pakistan. After return
from Rawalpindi to Karachi, he again started writing for Dawn and
later wrote for The News. He was also a contributor to Herald, a
For the past few years he was busy writing a book on the country’s
nuclear programme and foreign policy. The work remains unfinished.
A number of foreign publications used to solicit his articles. Among
them were Daily Star (Bangladesh), Deccan Herald (India), Gulf News
M.B. Naqvi was an untiring human rights activist and consistently
highlighted injustice against women and other oppressed sections of
He had a long association with the Human Rights Commission of
Pakistan, Aurat Foundation and similar forums.
o o o
Liberation, 11 Novembre 2009
LES POTS-DE-VIN DU PRÉSIDENT PAKISTANAIS
Ali Zardari aurait touché des commissions dans l’affaire des sous-
marins de la DCN.
par Guillaume Dasquié
o o o
AL JAZEERA INTERVIEW WITH SEYMOUR HERSH ON US AND PAKISTAN NUCLEAR
Dawn, 12 Nov, 2009
by Jawed Naqvi
IT may seem sinister but it is commonplace. Frenzied soldiers shoot
their fellow officers, also comrades, all the time. Or they desert
armies they otherwise served loyally. The more senior officers plot
Sven Kempe and his wife Ann-Charlotte would favour desertion any day
to bloodletting. In the 1960s, the Swedish couple ran a virtual
asylum — though they called it a commune — for American army
deserters. It was located in a scenic spot in Uppsala, not far from
Sven belongs to a wealthy industrialist family and heads a textiles
business in Sweden. His burly frame and capitalist pedigree mask a
gentle, giving human being. He speaks with nostalgia about the days
when a successful anti-war movement raged from Europe to the United
States. And he became an important part of it. The commune they ran
won the couple many friends from far and near.
Among them was their last week’s host in Delhi, a common friend at
whose farmhouse I met the couple over a lazy late afternoon lunch. My
interest was mainly to find out what opinions the more neutral
observers had managed to form of Major Nidal’s murder of 13 fellow
soldiers at Fort Hood. What I got in return was a glimpse into the
tragic story of the US army’s Major Jerry Bhagwan Das.
Bhagwan Das was an Indian orphan who somehow found himself cleaning
ships in Thailand. That was when an American naval officer and his
childless wife spotted him. They adopted the boy and brought him up
as an American patriot who would join the army. Jerry, as he came to
be called, was so good at his work that he was inducted as a member
of an elite force in Vietnam. He killed many Vietcong guerrillas and
civilians; too many, as he later told his friends.
During an R&R break in Germany in 1969, Jerry escaped to Stockholm,
which had become a sanctuary for deserting soldiers from the US army.
Often when the soldiers subsequently wanted to return home, even when
they were prepared to face the stigma and punishment (as pugilist
Muhammad Ali did for dodging the draft) they were set humiliating
conditions. They had to say their return was prompted by their
mistreatment in Sweden, which was a lie.
At the commune, Jerry befriended a Swedish girl and both were happy
together. Then, very quietly, almost stealthily, he one day doused
his body with kerosene and set himself on fire. His friends rushed to
save Jerry but he perished in hospital after a brief struggle. Sven
doesn’t quite know why the young officer took his life but their
horrific deeds in Vietnam did haunt many of his guests from the
world’s most powerful army.
Sven and Ann-Charlotte celebrated the desertion by the soldiers
because they were opposed to the Vietnam War. If asked, they would
also consider desertion the only proper way for the licensed killers
to atone for their deeds. The alternative is too forbidding to
contemplate. There must be so many Major Nidals lurking inside the
most disciplined armies across the world. They are just waiting to be
It would be interesting to find out if there were peaceful ways for
Major Nidal Malik Hasan to say ‘no’ to a proposed assignment in
Afghanistan without being branded a deserter, an option he did not
choose. This is assuming that he is not an Al Qaeda-like fanatic,
which he is being made out to be.
Al Qaeda and Taliban, though they lend themselves easily to the
description, are not the only fanatics in the business of
bloodletting. Not too long ago it was routine for violent military
coups to be staged at the behest of powerful democracies. A lot of
innocent blood was spilt and still continues to be wasted.
Desertion and killing of fellow officers has a history. Patriots in
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh rejoice in the great sepoy mutiny of
1857 against the British. On their part, the British bribed or
coerced local chieftains to switch sides not always without a bloody
mess. There is at least one familiar instance of a Gandhian leader
who exhorted the military to revolt, albeit peacefully, against a
rival civilian despot.
The exact phrase that Jaiprakash Narayan used in urging India’s
security forces to rebel against Indira Gandhi’s authoritarianism is
a matter of dispute. But bereft of the semantics involved it was
nothing short of a call to mutiny. However, Mrs Gandhi found a good
ruse in the exhortation and suspended democracy before she realised
her mistake and called elections, which she lost.
In India, it is not infrequent to hear of regular soldiers and
paramilitary troopers, particularly in the punishing terrain of
Kashmir, turning their guns on fellow officers. The Sikh rebellion in
Punjab of the 1980s shook the Indian army to its core but that was
not the end of the matter. It was Mrs Gandhi’s vetted security
guards, in the sanctum sanctorum of the state’s authority, who
murdered her in revenge for a military assault on the Golden Temple
Pakistan of course lost a large chunk of its army when many of its
officers became embroiled in the political turmoil that led to
Bangladesh. From the 1951 Rawalpindi case, which involved officers
and communist leaders in a plan to overthrow the state, to a more
eerie assassination plot against Gen Musharraf, Pakistani soldiers
have had their share of infidelity and bloody-mindedness. Reported
desertions by Pakistani soldiers during their ongoing war with the
Taliban were probably a more agreeable statement to make than the
unimaginable horrors of bloody subversion from within.
Of all the desertions that took place in history, the First World War
saw possibly the highest toll. As the seemingly endless war went on,
desertion and mutinies became an increasing problem. To deal with the
problem, commanders began tying deserters and mutinous troops to
poles where they would be executed by firing squad. The British shot
320 men and the French 700. The Germans shot about 50, according to
While it will deal with Major Nidal according to its sovereign laws,
the United States has been less than generous with rebels even from
rival armies. It induced large-scale desertions from the Iraqi army
following their 1990-91 conflict. Around 4,000 Iraqi deserters were
sent back to Iraq against their will in 1992 only, according to a
“Some countries of resettlement, such as the US, were sensitive about
the security risk involved in the operation and were conducting
extensive background checks for criminal elements among the
candidates for resettlement,” the document by the Immigration and
Refugee Board of Canada stated. “For example, the US decided to
refuse all Iraqi army officers.” Sven and Ann-Charlotte still have a
job to do. They can start refurbishing their fabled commune.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
The Hindu, October 26, 2009
THE MEDIUM, MESSAGE AND THE MONEY
by P. Sainath
The Assembly elections saw the culture of “coverage packages” explode
across Maharashtra. In many cases, a candidate just had to pay for
almost any coverage at all.
C. Ram Pandit can now resume his weekly column. Dr. Pandit (name
changed) had long been writing for a well-known Indian language
newspaper in Maharashtra. On the last day for the withdrawal of
nominations to the recent State Assembly elections, he found himself
sidelined. An editor at the paper apologised to him saying:
“Panditji, your columns will resume after October 13. Till then,
every page in this paper is sold.” The editor, himself an honest man,
was simply speaking the truth.
In the financial orgy that marked the Maharashtra elections, the
media were never far behind the moneybags. Not all sections of the
media were in this mode, but quite a few. Not just small local
outlets, but powerful newspapers and television channels, too. Many
candidates complained of “extortion” but were not willing to make an
issue of it for fear of drawing media fire. Some senior journalists
and editors found themselves profoundly embarrassed by their
managements. “The media have been the biggest winners in these
polls,” says one ruefully. “In this period alone,” says another,
“they’ve more than bounced back from the blows of the ‘slowdown’ and
done so in style.” Their poll-period take is estimated to be in
hundreds of millions of rupees. Quite a bit of this did not come as
direct advertising but in packaging a candidate’s propaganda as “news.”
The Assembly elections saw the culture of “coverage packages” explode
across the State. In many cases, a candidate just had to pay for
almost any coverage at all. Issues didn’t come into it. No money, no
news. This effectively shut out smaller parties and independent
voices with low assets and resources. It also misled viewers and
readers by denying them any mention of the real issues some of these
smaller forces raised. The Hindu reported on this (April 7, 2009)
during the Lok Sabha elections, where sections of the media were
offering low-end “coverage packages" for Rs.15 lakh to Rs.20 lakh.
“High-end” ones cost a lot more. The State polls saw this go much
None of this, as some editors point out, is new. However, the scale
is new and stunning. The brazenness of it (both ways) quite alarming.
And the game has moved from the petty personal corruption of a
handful of journalists to the structured extraction of huge sums of
money by media outfits. One rebel candidate in western Maharashtra,
calculates an editor from that region, spent Rs.1 crore “on just
local media alone.” And, points out the editor, “he won, defeating
the official candidate of his party.”
The deals were many and varied. A candidate had to pay different
rates for ‘profiles,’ interviews, a list of ‘achievements,’ or even a
trashing of his rival in some cases. (With the channels, it was
“live” coverage, a ‘special focus,’ or even a team tracking you for
hours in a day.) Let alone bad-mouthing your rival, this “pay-per”
culture also ensures that the paper or channel will not tell its
audiences that you have a criminal record. Over 50 per cent of the
MLAs just elected in Maharashtra have criminal charges pending
against them. Some of them featured in adulatory “news items” which
made no mention of this while tracing their track record.
At the top end of the spectrum, “special supplements” cost a bomb.
One put out by one of the State’s most important politicians —
celebrating his “era” — cost an estimated Rs.1.5 crore. That is, just
this single media insertion cost 15 times what he is totally allowed
to spend as a candidate. He has won more than the election, by the way.
One common low-end package: Your profile and “four news items of your
choice” to be carried for between Rs.4 lakh or more depending on
which page you seek. There is something chilling about those words
“news items of your choice.” Here is news on order. Paid for. (Throw
in a little extra and a writer from the paper will help you draft
your material.) It also lent a curious appearance to some newspaper
pages. For instance, you could find several “news items” of exactly
the same size in the same newspaper on the same day, saying very
different things. Because they were really paid-for propaganda or
disguised advertisements. A typical size was four columns by ten
centimetres. When a pro-saffron alliance paper carries “news items”
of this size extolling the Congress-NCP, you know strange things are
happening. (And, oh yes, if you bought “four news items of your
choice” many times, a fifth one might be thrown in gratis.)
There were a few significant exceptions to the rule. A couple of
editors tried hard to bring balance to their coverage and even ran a
“news audit” to ensure that. And journalists who, as one of them put
it, “simply stopped meeting top contacts in embarrassment.” Because,
often, journalists with access to politicians were expected to make
the approach. That information came from a reporter whose paper sent
out an email detailing “targets” for each branch and edition during
the elections. The bright exceptions were drowned in the flood of
lucre. And the huge sums pulled in by that paper have not stopped it
from sacking droves of staffers. Even from editions that met their
There are the standard arguments in defence of the whole process.
Advertising packages are the bread and butter of the industry. What’s
wrong with that? “We have packages for the festive season. Diwali
packages, or for the Ganesh puja days.” Only, the falsehoods often
disguised as “news” affect an exercise central to India’s electoral
democracy. And are outrageously unfair to candidates with less or no
money. They also amount to exerting undue influence on the electorate.
There is another poorly assessed — media-related — dimension to this.
Many celebrities may have come out in May to exhort people to vote.
This time, several of them appear to have been hired by campaign
managers to drum up crowds for their candidate. Rates unknown.
All of this goes hand in hand with the stunning rise of money power
among candidates. More so among those who made it the last time and
have amassed huge amounts of wealth since 2004. With the media and
money power wrapped like two peas in a pod, this completely shuts out
smaller, or less expensive, voices. It just prices the aam aadmi out
of the polls. Never mind they are contested in his name.
Your chances of winning an election to the Maharashtra Assembly, if
you are worth over Rs.100 million, are 48 times greater than if you
were worth just Rs.1 million or less. Far greater still, if that
other person is worth only half-a-million rupees or less. Just six
out of 288 MLAs in Maharashtra who won their seats declared assets of
less than half-a-million rupees. Nor should challenges from garden
variety multi-millionaires (those worth between Rs.1 million-10
million) worry you much. Your chances of winning are six times
greater than theirs, says the National Election Watch (NEW).
The number of ‘crorepati’ MLAs (those in the Rs.10 million-plus
category) in the State Assembly has gone up by over 70 per cent in
the just concluded elections. There were 108 elected in 2004. This
time, there are 184. Nearly two-thirds of the MLAs just elected in
Maharashtra and close to three-fourths of those in Haryana, are
crorepatis. These and other startling facts fill the reports put out
by NEW, a coalition of over 1,200 civil society groups across the
country that also brought out excellent reports on these issues
during the Lok Sabha polls in April-May. Its effort to inform the
voting public is spearheaded by the NGO, Association for Democratic
Each MLA in Maharashtra, on average, is worth over Rs.40 million.
That is, if we treat their own poll affidavit declarations as
genuine. That average is boosted by Congress and BJP MLAs who seem
richer than the others, being well above that mark. The NCP and the
Shiv Sena MLAs are not too far behind, though, the average worth of
each of their legislators being in the Rs.30 million-plus bracket.
Each time a giant poll exercise is gone through in this most complex
of electoral democracies, we congratulate the Election Commission on
a fine job. Rightly so, in most cases. For, many times, its
interventions and activism have curbed rigging, booth capturing and
ballot stuffing. On the money power front, though — and the media’s
packaging of big money interests as “news” — it is hard to find a
single significant instance of rigorous or deterrent action. These
too, after all, are serious threats. More structured, much more
insidious than crude ballot stuffing. Far more threatening to the
basics of not just elections, but democracy itself.
The Telegraph, November 6 , 2009
FATED TO FADE AWAY - It is high time the Left wore its thinking cap
Cutting Corners - Ashok Mitra
A faded group photograph one chances upon shows the faces of the
earnest members of the first national executive committee of the
Congress Socialist Party formed exactly 75 years ago, in 1934. The
CSP was put together within the folds of the Indian National Congress
as a kind of ginger group to push the lugubrious juggernaut of the
great parent party towards a more radical direction. The elderly
caretakers of the Congress listened — half-mockingly, half-
patronizingly — to the new breed who talked of such exotic things as
happenings in the Soviet Union and the rise of the Nazis in Germany
and the fascists in Italy as direct spin-offs of economic depression
and mass unemployment. Even in the United States of America,
capitalism was said to be malfunctioning, the ranks of hunger marches
swelled every day, extensive public works under State auspices were
somehow saving the system. The dedicated crowd milling within the CSP
were grappling with the significance of these events for India. The
nation must of course be freed, here and now, from foreign shackles,
but that was not enough. What sort of free India was it to be, what
would be the contours of its social and economic order? India
belonged to its masses: the overwhelming number of dispossessed
peasantry and underpaid workers and artisans of various descriptions
as well as the mute castes and tribes at the receiving end of
exploitation over centuries. The Congress must adopt concrete
programmes for a total reconstruction of the economy in post-
independent India so that a proper kisan-mazdoor raj emerged. The CSP
was going to see to all that.
Its first national executive committee, the faded photograph attests,
was a curious mélange: Farid Ansari, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Dinkar
Mehta, Nabakrushna Choudhuri, Narendra Deva, P.Y. Deshpande, S.M.
Joshi, Soli Batlivala, S. Sampurnanand, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay,
Jayaprakash Narayan, N.G. Goray, Achyut Patwardhan, Purushottam
Trikamdas, Charles Mascarenhas. It was too improbable a combination
to last long; it did not.
Communists like Namboodiripad, Batlivala and Dinkar Mehta left this
clandestine shelter by 1941. Nabakrushna Choudhuri, the devout
Gandhiite, also soon detached himself, and later became Congress
chief minister of Orissa, and subsequently joined Vinoba Bhave in his
bhoodaan mission. Sampurnanand too, at some point, became Congress
chief minister of India’s largest state; by then he was an arch-
social conservative leaning towards Hindu orthodoxy. Minoo Masani, a
great admirer of Soviet collectivization in the 1930s, somersaulted,
ending up as a foaming-in-the-mouth anti-communist and co-founded the
Swatantra Party. Narendra Deva, the gentlest of souls, gradually
withdrew from active politics and remained satisfied with his role as
an ideologue of socialism, a slice of Marx, a slice of Gandhi, mostly
Rousseau. Jayaprakash Narayan, the underground hero of the 1942 Quit
India movement, mellower with the years; most of the time he was with
the Praja Socialist Party — the CSP’s direct legatee — but was also
with Vinoba Bhave. He finally led the nava nirman struggles in the
1970s to emerge as the father figure of the Janata Party, which
demolished Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. He was lucky to die before his
handiwork broke into smithereens.
Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was always a rebel of a woman in search of a
cause, which at the end she discovered in cottage crafts and the
theatre movement. Of the rest, S.M. Joshi, Achyut Patwardhan and N.G.
Goray clung for long years to the Praja Socialist Party and its later
incarnations, walked into the Janata Party when J.P. put it together,
then migrated to the Janata Dal or one of its innumerable factions.
Some of them had developed pockets of influence among a number of
caste groups, ‘other backward classes’; innate feudal instincts,
however, drove them to waste their strength in endless internal
squabbles until it was disaster time.
The Indian National Congress, it would seem, was both the curse and
the ultimate provider of shelter for several of those rebels who
loved to talk socialism in their calf days. It supposedly represented
‘the stream of national consciousness’; its cloying charm was almost
impossible to resist. For quite a few of them, the expression,
‘national consensus’, would have a bewitching effect: yes, engage in
debate, let arguments and rhetoric have free flow, yet, at the end of
it, it would be gross lack of patriotism not to fall in and join the
Others had disappeared; for the past few decades it is, therefore,
only the communists who could claim the socialist inheritance. The
Left and the communists became synonymous. Given their ideology, the
communists, many had expected, would not get caught in the trap of
‘national consensus’. Were not they the quintessential Left, the
other side in the class war, where there could be no scope for
compromise with adversarial forces? Their failure to tackle
satisfactorily the class-caste dialectic was, however, a major
problem. Equally ticklish was the issue of whether the global
brotherhood of the working classes transcended national priorities.
The communists have been extraordinarily cautious after the
experience of 1962, and have taught themselves to be careful so that
nobody could dub them as less than ‘patriotic’. The Left led by the
communists has, for instance, ceased to question the huge allocations
in the name of defence and national security. The nuclear agreement
signed with the US can be safely opposed; but courage fails when the
question is one of across-the-board reduction in defence outlay; to
argue for such reduction would not be ‘politically correct’. The Left
has thus modulated its ideology; it too must be an integral part of
the patriotic front.
Consider this other instance. The Left in the past used to advocate
the thesis that the Indian nation is a conglomerate of linguistic —
and sometimes ethnic — sub-nationalities, and overall national
progress was impossible if these sub-nationalities were left out in
the cold. Its emphasis on an equitable structure of Centre-state
relations stemmed directly from this understanding of the polity.
They availed of the opportunity of the temporary decline of the
Congress in the post-Emergency phase and were able to gain much
credibility for their demand for expanded financial powers for the
states. They dazzled only to disappoint. In the course of the past
couple of decades, they have swung completely in the other direction:
the state headed by the Left in West Bengal became most vocal in its
support for full fiscal integration across the nation, a cause dear
to the heart of the capitalists. It has indeed been a bizarre
spectacle, the Left campaigning for a financial regime where the
states will in effect be permanently at the mercy of the Centre.
Even on the issue of globalization, the Left has succumbed to
centripetal urges. The state governments under its control mouth the
formal party line against economic liberalization. This is
nonetheless being accompanied by a desperate zeal to invite capital,
including foreign capital, into their premises. In a competitive
environment, the Left, the argument goes, could not allow the
territories under its influence to turn into an industry-less desert
because of dearth of capital. Examining the feasibility of
industrialization via the public sector route is no longer on the
Now for the tailpiece. The Congress ruling at the Centre, according
to party theorem, represents feudal-bourgeois oppressor classes
against whom the Left is to pursue a relentless battle. True, the
Left is under great stress since the Maoists, for their own reason,
have chosen the formal Left as their principal enemy. Even so, it is
altogether incongruous how, to combat the Maoists, the Left has
totally identified itself with the Centre. The incongruity appears
all the greater because not so long ago the Left was vociferously
opposed to the very concept of the Centre raising a police force; was
not law and order a state subject?
These are disturbing developments. Should not the Left re-wear its
thinking cap? And, while doing so, should not it ask itself how a
situation could be allowed to develop where Maoists can instantly
mobilize a few thousands to lay siege on a railway station in a
tribal belt, where a partisan of the Left dares not enter the area
without adequate security guard?
Or has a decision already been reached for self-destruction, the Left
is to fade away — like the faded faces in that group photo discussed
in the earlier paragraphs?
 2009 UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance
ADDRESS BY UNESCO GOODWILL AMBASSADOR MADANJEET SINGH
November 16, 2009
Excellencies, my UNESCO colleagues, friends:
May I at the outset warmly felicitate the 2009 UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh
Prize laureates, Abdul Sattar Edhi of Pakistan and François Houtart
from Belgium, as well as the Honourable Mention nominees, the St.
Petersburg Government Programme on Tolerance, Russian Federation, and
the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, United Kingdom, for
promoting peace through intercultural dialogue, human rights,
tolerance, and non-violence.
It was an intense desire to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary
of Mahatma Gandhi that prompted me to fund the UNESCO Prize,
notwithstanding financial constraints. May I also mention a proximate
event of great significance: November 14 marks the 120th birth
anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, the apostle of secularism. I was
naturally delighted when, in 1995, the UNESCO Executive Board
unanimously created the Prize, and decided to award it biannually on
16th November, the day on which UNESCO was established and the United
Nations declared it as the Day of Tolerance.
The lifelong efforts by the 2009 UNESCO Prize laureates to promote
international cooperation is a corollary of the fall of the Berlin
wall in 1989 – the historic legacy of which we are celebrating this
week. It formally ended the cold war and spurred on the unity and
expansion of the European Union. The euphoria the fall of the wall
created among the people of a united Germany proved there is no such
thing as permanent enmity among nations – that peace is forged
horizontally as well as top down but basically from the bottom up.
The event heralded the triumph of multiculturalism over selfish
UNESCO highlighted the cultural connotation of these concerns at the
33rd session of the General Conference when its 183 Member States
adopted a resolution on 'Convention on the Protection and Promotion
of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions'. The objective was to
create, in the context of an increasingly interconnected world, a
rich creative diversity in which all cultural expressions may be
affirmed. This strengthened the ties that bind the diversity of
cultures and their development to foster mutual understanding and
dialogue between peoples. UNESCO’s historic decision reiterated that
multiculturalism is essentially holistic, comprising global issues
such as protection of the environment, unfettered trade and commerce,
regional cooperation, and amicable partnerships, accessible to all
for the benefit of humanity.
There was a time when Europe greatly benefitted from Asian and
African cultures born and bred in India, China, Mesopotamia, Egypt,
and so on. Later the imperial European powers amassed enormous wealth
by exploiting their colonies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The
Second World War turned the tide and the winds of change began to
blow in the opposite direction. The fall of the Berlin wall was the
watershed, wrote Professor Brahma Chellaney of the Indian Centre for
Policy Research, because as “Europe got freedom, Asia became rich.”
Barely six months before the wall crumbled, I recall asking the West
German Ambassador in Washington if East and West Germany would ever
unite. “Not in my lifetime,” he was convinced. But the world suddenly
changed in ways inconceivable only a few months earlier.
East has in fact met the West, contrary to Kipling’s adage "never the
twain shall meet." Against this background I am confident that the
wall of India’s Partition erected by the Indian and Pakistani vested
interests shall inevitably crumble as suddenly as the Berlin wall. I
am convinced that my vision of creating a rainbow partnership of
South Asian counties and a common currency shall become the anchor of
economic stability, security and regional cooperation -- as the
ASEAN, African, Latin American, and Gulf countries are planning to
launch a common currency by emulating the Euro.
Before I close, may I take this opportunity to heartily congratulate
Mme Irina Bokova, the first woman to be elected Director-General of
UNESCO. Her unprecedented appointment has shattered the wall of
UNESCO machismo since the organisation was established 65 years ago
on this day. Let us celebrate the breaching of this formidable wall
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting and
participating in this exceptional event.
 India: Resources For Secular Activists
Economic & Political Weekly, November 7, 2009
ENCROACHING PLACES OF WORSHIP
The Supreme Court delivers a bold interim order on construction of
places of worship on government land.
Those who occupy public places in the name of religion have received
a warning from the Supreme Court. An interim order of the apex court
has halted with immediate effect all fresh construction of temples,
churches, mosques, gurdwaras in public streets or public spaces
across the country until the Court finally resolves all cases
relating to illegal religious structures. The bench directed the
state governments and union territories to review current disputes
over unauthorised worship places on a “case by case” basis.
The apex court was hearing an appeal by the central government
against an order of the Gujarat High Court. The high court had in
2006 given a directive to municipal corporations in Gujarat to
demolish all illegal religious structures in public spaces in the
state. The central government interfered in this matter when a riot
was triggered in Vadodara after the demolition of a dargah and the
army had to stage a flag march to restore order. The centre had
approached the apex court to stay the order of the Gujarat High Court
on the demolition drive. (On 17 September 2009, before the Supreme
Court gave its interim order, a meeting called by the Solicitor
General with the representatives of states and union territories to
discuss the issue of mushrooming religious structures on public land
reached a consensus to stop fresh construction of worship places on
all such land, a decision that was communicated to the Court.) The
tendency to encroach on public spaces and government wasteland
(“peramboke” land) for religious purposes has become a threat to our
definition of secularism as enunciated in the Con- stitution.
Hitherto, any religious institution or individual has been able to
install an idol or a cross anywhere on public land. Such structures
are usually seen on waste or unoccupied land to avoid government
actions against the illegal occupation. The site gradually becomes a
full-fledged place of worship – be it a temple, a dargah or a saint’s
shrine. Public gatherings simultaneously increase and the performance
of daily rituals begins and a collection box is also installed; the
accountability of the collection is, however, not considered a public
The local administration initially does not take any action to stop
such activities on government land. The legality of such structures
becomes an issue only when the government decides it needs the site
for some activity. Then the authorities are unable to act, for
“sentiments” are likely to be affected. Because it is a matter of
religious sentiments, political parties are not to be left behind in
arguing in support of the illegal structure. It has not been uncommon
for civic action against such illegal structures to lead to a
communal conflagration. It is therefore not surprising that
government bodies are loath to remove these structures. The interim
order of the Supreme Court only temporarily halts new religious
structures. It would be interesting to see to what extent the local
governments will feel empowered by the Supreme Court’s order and
prevent new buildings of worship from coming up on public land. As
far as the existing illegal structures are concerned, which is the
real problem, the apex court has passed the ball to the state
governments and union territories and asked them to deal with the
issue on a case by case basis. Various cases involving religious
structures constructed on public land are pending in the high courts
across the country and given the influence that religious sentiments
have come to exercise on public action, it is doubtful if any
municipal/state government will want to take action clearing such
Outlook, Nov 10, 2009
NOT RELEVANT INDIANS?
NRIs are largely seen as rabid supporters of right-wing Hindutva, but
there is another category of them who like to see themselves as
having made the likes of Narendra Modi into a political pariah abroad
by Omar Khalidi
In the United States, Indian Americans are often seen as a highly
educated, tech savvy, upwardly mobile, wealthy minority along the
lines of other "model minorities", such as the Asian Americans and
Jews. Like other immigrant groups, most Indian-Americans have been
happy to be apolitical high achievers inhabiting upscale suburbs from
coast to coast.
Of those politically active NRIs within American politics, in the
past, almost all seemed to confine themselves to three broad areas:
uncritical support to India’s security concerns involving China and
Pakistan, US-India economic ties, and issues involving Indian
Americans within the United States.
For example, the US India Political Action Committee, (USINPAC),
consciously modelled after American Israeli Political Action
Committee (AIPAC), is the apex organization formally established in
2002, dedicated to providing uncritical support to India’s foreign
policies and furthering of Indo-US economic ties. It has never
concerned itself with India’s domestic issues.
However, there are NRIs who do concern themselves with India’s
domestic issues. Two obvious examples are some of the Kashmiri and
Sikh groups actively, and often successfully, influencing US
legislation and state policies on Punjab and Kashmir.
Leaving aside these two exceptional and regional groups, advocating
extra-Constitutional solutions, a third group of politically
conscious NRIs has emerged, particularly after the 2002 carnage in
Gujarat. They are increasingly visible as a critical voice in India’s
domestic politics, leveraging public opinion, US legislators, and
even the executive branch of the government, particularly the
Department of State.
Among these politically conscious NRIs who want to influence policy
outcomes in India are academics, journalists, community activists
working in conjunction not just within the diaspora Indians but also
Americans of a diverse set of political and social agendas. These
individuals and organizations have built coalitions, alliances and
networks based on a vision of India that is democratic,
decentralized, secular, pluralistic, and gender just. They lay a high
emphasis on economic and social justice along with accountability.
There is as yet no well-funded, central organization along the lines
of USINPAC, nor do these NRIs focus only on US government to the
exclusion of other states involved in relations with India. Informal
organization, shoe-string budgets, uncertain funding, and loose
coalitions characterize these organizations and individuals who
represent a new breed of NRI activism. But they are digitally
connected -- within United States, within India and everywhere else.
New technologies have created and connected communities out of a
world divided by space and time.
For starters, note some of the recent successful lobbying efforts:
In March 2005, the new breed of US NRIs successfully persuaded the US
State Department to revoke visa to Narendra Modi, the pogrom-tainted
Gujarat chief minister. The visa revocation sent shock waves into the
Gujarati Vaishyas, Modi’s staunch supporters, now chastened, are
beginning to see Modi as bad for business. In August 2008, the US
State Department confirmed in a letter to Congresswoman Betty
McCollum (D-MN), that Modi remains persona non grata despite lapse of
time since the pogrom of 2002.
In November 2007, a group of over one hundred professors at leading
American universities led by an Indian academic at Massachusetts
Institute of Technology wrote to World Economic Forum in Geneva
asking it not to invite Narendra Modi to its forum in Davos,
Switzerland. The professors’ campaign was based on press reports
citing Gujarat government chief secretary’s claim that WEF had
invited Modi. In response to the professors’ petition, the WEF
officially denied it ever invited the chief minister.
In May 2009, numerous NRI groups with the full support of Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch brought immense political
pressure, backed by an impressive array of medical practitioners and
academics, to force the Chhattisgarh government to release Dr.
Binayak Sen, the physician-turned human rights activist who was
jailed in Bilaspur.
In August 2009, the United States International Commission on
International Religious Freedom, a federally-funded organization
placed India on its Watch List of countries where there is absence of
religious freedom. This was a sequel to legislations in various
Indian states curbing freedom of faith. The Watch List, developed
with input from a broad spectrum of NRI opinion, effectively
bracketed India with habitual offenders of religious freedom such as
Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and China.
In September 2009, following public criticism, the ‘FDI Asian
Personality of the Year’ awards by FDI Magazine of the Financial
Times group given to Narendra Modi was withdrawn; instead the award
went to Gujarat state.
At the same time in September 2009, a group consisting of 21 members
of US House of Representatives, wrote to Orissa Chief Minister Navin
Patnaik expressing deep concern about the violence against Christians
and calling for immediate end to restrictions on religious freedom
and to bring perpetrators of violence to justice.
In October 2009, US and France-based activists launched a web
campaign asking the Sultanate of Oman to rescind an invitation that a
minister of that country had given to Narendra Modi. The Oman Embassy
in New Delhi, fearful of adverse publicity for hosting a pogrom-
tainted politician, took unprecedented action by purchasing
commercial space in two New Delhi-based Indian newspapers
disassociating itself with the invitation, thus effectively slamming
the door against Modi’s entry into Muscat. Stung by the rebuff, the
BJP spokesman was reduced to calling the ad “ in bad taste”.
In November 2009, Jagdish Tytler, Congress politician accused in the
1984 pogrom of Sikhs was dropped out of a delegation to Britain
fearing arrest by Scotland Yard. A British MP had merely asked that
such an action be taken by Scotland Yard at the behest of his Indian
While this sounds like a series of successes, there have been
failures too: In September 2006, RSS spokesman Ram Madhav met US
State Department officials despite NRIs protest, though the US
government was careful to say that the meeting did not amount to an
endorsement of RSS’s hate ideology. While the new breed of NRIs
succeeded in preventing Sadhvi Rithambra, the hate mongering ascetic
from speaking from the official platform of a Florida town hall in
2007, the NRI’s failed to persuade some Gujarati temples from
inviting her again in 2009.
What does the new political mobilization of NRIs in general, and in
the United States in particular, portend for India’s domestic issues?
Long dismissed as Not Relevant Indians, the NRIs now are highly
relevant for Indian domestic political issues. The era of old-
fashioned “patriotic” lobbying for anything Indian--regardless of
what some politicians do as represented by USINPAC--is over. The
series of rebuffs to Modi ruined his political career outside Gujarat
and if he remains caged in Ahmadabad, it is likely that business
savvy Gujarati corporate community will begin to see him as a
political liability to be shed as soon as possible. Controversial
politicians and good business are bad combinations.
The NRIs’ political mobilization, despite its short life, has cast a
long shadow on Indian domestic politics. To the politicians who
thought they will remain immune from critical scrutiny of an alert
public opinion among overseas Indians, there is bad news. You are
under the radar. For those who want informed input for introducing
accountability in Indian political system, this may be the trend they
were hoping for.
As Modi begins to pack his suit cases for a trip to an obscure
province in Indonesia, there are already attempts across the world
asking Jakarta to fall in line with world public opinion. If
Indonesia rescinds the invitation that the South Sulawesi Governor
gave to Modi, will it unpack Modi’s suit cases for ever? The fear of
a law suit and arrest in Britain prompted Jagdish Tytler, the
Congress politician involved in the Sikhs’ pogrom in 1984, to drop
out of a delegation to Britain. Modi may not necessarily meet the
same fate, given Indonesia’s general indifference to India’s domestic
issues, but the Indonesian government may not want to be the one to
welcome a political pariah.
Hyderabad-born, MIT-based Omar Khalidi is the author of Muslims in
Indian Economy, and Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India
INTOLERANT POLITICS A THREAT TO URBAN LIVING
by Amritha Ibrahim
The Guardian, 26 September 2009
HUMAN RIGHTS BEFORE RELIGION
Have we forgotten to protect women in our bid to accommodate
practices carried out in the name of Islam?
by Seyran Ates
Worldwide, women and children are among those most affected by human
rights abuses; women and children make up the majority of victims of
domestic violence; it is mainly women and girls who are deprived of
an education, or even denied an appropriate position in the labour
market despite a good education; political opportunities for women
are still minimal, despite active and passive suffrage. This is the
case regardless of culture or religion. In this sense, achieving
gender equality is one of the greatest political challenges of our
This standardised picture requires one qualification. Without wishing
to relativise violence and human rights abuses or create a hierarchy,
there are grave differences between what has already been reached in
some countries and a standard that can be denoted as stable. While
women and girls in western countries generally no longer, for
instance, have to worry about whether or not they are allowed to work
or go to school, or whether they will soon be married off to a cousin
or a much older man, this is still a reality for countless women in
most Islamic countries and in South America, Asia and Africa.
This global perspective is necessary to understand the particular
situation for many Muslim women and girls in European countries,
especially those who live in parallel societies. In a plural, open
and liberal society such as Germany, different cultures and religions
jostle together so closely that conflicts are unavoidable and
solutions supposedly hard to find. The fear of ostracising foreign
cultures and religions and stoking xenophobia has led to a
politically precarious situation, in which every criticism of
Islamically justified misogyny can make you a racist, an enemy of
Islam or even a Nazi. Such labels are thrown around with abandon.
Those who still dare to criticise religious practices in the Islamic
community or other cultures often receive death threats or are the
victims of a character assassination. In both cases, the aim is to
strike from public discussion the issue of violence against women
done in the name of Islam or some other understanding of cultural
values. Some wish to do so because they are themselves rightwing
(Islamic fundamentalists and/or nationalists), others (those who are
allegedly political correct, leftwingers and do-gooders) because they
are afraid that such criticism will play into the hands of the
xenophobic rightwing Germans. But silence plays into their hands even
more. The elections in Austria and Switzerland are good examples of
Five years ago, almost no one in Germany wanted to speak openly about
arranged marriages, genital mutilation and honour killings. The hijab
has led to strong political polarisation since roughly 1998. It is
fast becoming a matter of course to see it in the street and it has
changed something – people are talking more and more about the
issues. Yet just as German women in the 70s had to put up with a lot
of political malice, because they demanded women's centres and talked
openly about violence, these days we have to put up with hearing that
the public debate over the subjugation of women in the Islamic
community is more of an insult to Islamic women than a help.
In Germany's recent past, in the kaleidoscope of cultures and
religions in this multicultural society, many people have forgotten
that human rights must come before religious practices. I do not say
that as a critic of Islam – I don't know why people label me as such
– no, I say it as a practising Muslim and human rights activist, who
lives in a democratic state and would like to continue to express her
o o o
The Ban on Abortion Coverage
Editorial, The New York Times
November 9, 2009
When the House narrowly passed the health care reform bill on
Saturday night, it came with a steep price for women’s reproductive
rights. Under pressure from anti-abortion Democrats and the United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops, lawmakers added language that
would prevent millions of Americans from buying insurance that covers
abortions — even if they use their own money.
The restrictions would fall on women eligible to buy coverage on new
health insurance exchanges. They are a sharp departure from current
practice, an infringement of a woman’s right to get a legal medical
procedure and an unjustified intrusion by Congress into decisions
best made by patients and doctors.
The anti-abortion Democrats behind this coup insisted that they were
simply adhering to the so-called Hyde Amendment, which bans the use
of federal dollars to pay for almost all abortions in a number of
government programs. In fact, they reached far beyond Hyde and made
it largely impossible to use a policyholder’s own dollars to pay for
The bill brought to the floor already included a careful compromise
that should have satisfied reasonable legislators on both sides of
the abortion issue. The vast majority of people expected to buy
policies on the new exchanges would pay part of the premium and
receive government tax credits to pay for the rest. The compromise
would have prohibited the use of the tax subsidies to pay for almost
all abortions, but it would have allowed the segregation and use of
premium contributions and co-payments to pay for such coverage. A
similar approach allows 17 state Medicaid programs to cover abortions
using only state funds, not federal matching funds.
Yet neither the Roman Catholic bishops nor anti-abortion Democrats
were willing to accept this compromise. They insisted on language
that would ban the use of federal subsidies to pay for “any part” of
a policy that includes abortion coverage.
If insurers want to attract subsidized customers, who will be the
great majority on the exchange, they will have to offer them plans
that don’t cover abortions. It is theoretically possible that
insurers could offer plans aimed only at nonsubsidized customers, but
it is highly uncertain that they will find it worthwhile to do so.
In that case, some women who have coverage for abortion services
through policies bought by small employers could actually lose that
coverage if their employer decides to transfer its workers to the
exchange. Ultimately, if larger employers are permitted to make use
of the exchange, ever larger numbers of women might lose abortion
coverage that they now have.
The restrictive language allows people to buy “riders” that would
cover abortions. But nobody plans to have an unplanned pregnancy, so
this concession is meaningless. It is not clear that insurers would
even offer the riders since few people would buy them.
The highly restrictive language was easily approved by a 240-to-194
vote and incorporated into the overall bill, which squeaked through
by a tally of 220 to 215. It was depressing evidence of the power of
anti-abortion forces to override a reasonable compromise. They were
willing to scuttle the bill if they didn’t get their way. Outraged
legislators who support abortion rights could also have killed the
bill but sensibly chose to keep the reform process moving ahead.
The fight will resume in the Senate, where the Finance Committee has
approved a bill that incorporates the compromise just rejected by the
House. We urge the Senate to stand strong behind a compromise that
would preserve a woman’s right to abortion services.
A version of this article appeared in print on November 10, 2009, on
page A34 of the New York edition.
o o o
The Guardian, 29 October 2009
WHEN STATE AND RELIGION MIX
The JFS case shows that wherever religious groups accept state
funding, a tangle of problems is likely to arise
by Danny Rich
The Jewish community of Britain has frequently made history, and its
appearance in the first ever case in Britain's new supreme court is a
further, albeit hardly auspicious, example.
The case involves the refusal by the Jews' Free School (JFS), a state-
funded secondary school, to admit a child, the mother of whom was
converted to Judaism by a Progressive synagogal authority. Despite
the fact that at least a third of Britain's Jews reject the authority
of the Office of the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue, the JFS
defines "who is a Jew" for the purposes of entry by reference to the
regulations of that office. It was for this reason that I advised the
Treasury Solicitor that the policy was "politically motivated" in the
sense that the state funded JFS was showing a clear, unreasonable,
and discriminatory bias in favour of one part of the Jewish community
over its other sections.
Who is a Jew can be a complicated matter even for Jews! Most sections
of the British Jewish community use as a main criterion "birth to a
Jewish mother", and thus they faced falling foul of the appeal
court's decision that it is not permissible to discriminate on racial
grounds in the provision of services. Liberal Judaism was the only
sector of the mainstream British Jewish community which welcomed the
ruling, since – whilst birth may be a factor – it accords Jewish
status to an individual on the basis of self-expressed words of
recognition or acts of identification.
For much of history the state took a great interest in religious
identity but the rise of the democratic, secular state included a
demand for "the separation of religion and state" and the assumption
that religion was essentially a private matter. The United States of
America is the best constitutional example of this, although former
President Bush's affection for state/faith initiatives stood in
marked contrast to the position of his contemporary Tony Blair's
policy of the time: "We do not do God".
Although England has its established church, Britain's multifaith
environment is much in evidence, and the current government has built
increasing partnerships with religious communities. Statutory
services have been devolved to religious based charities; Hindu, Sikh
and Muslim schools have received public funding; "faith advisors"
have been appointed to a number of government departments, and there
is a special immigration track for ministers of religion.
It was inevitable in my view that if religious communities received
state funding it would not be long before religious institutions
providing public services would face legal and other challenges. Thus
secular, legal and other authorities have been drawn into areas where
it was not intended they be and where they may not be best equipped
Perhaps the result of the current case – whether the outcome (which
will take some time to be delivered) is to uphold the lower court or
not – will be to re-affirm the desirability of the separation of
religion and state, whereby the state meets its functions in an
impartial manner and religious groups fund their own particular needs
and keep their squabbles to themselves.
You are invited to the
Fourth Annual Discussion on State of Parliamentary Democracy in India
Manoranjan Mohanty, Durgabai Deshmukh Professor of Social
Development, Council for Social Development;
Achin Vanaik, Professor of Political Science, University of Delhi and
Vijay Naik, Consulting Editor, Sakal Group of Newspapers.
Interns from Lok Sabha
Suhas Borker, Convener, Working Group on Alternative Strategies
12 November 2009 6.30 p.m.
India International Centre (Conference Room II)
40, Max Mueller Marg
New Delhi 110 003
Conference Room II is located on the 2nd Floor.
If required please take the lift located in the Main Reception Area.
Jointly organised by
India International Centre &
Working Group on Alternative Strategies
Working Group on Alternative Strategies
[Vaikalpik Rananiti Karya Samuh]
Towards a secular, democratic, inclusive, participatory
and equitable development paradigm
1992-2009: 17 Years
South Asia Citizens Wire
Buzz for secularism, on the dangers of fundamentalism(s), on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
Asia. An offshoot of South Asia Citizens Web: www.sacw.net/
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