SACW - 29 Jan 2018 | Pakistan: Manipulating minds / India: Loud mobs & silent rulers; RSS setting the agenda / Secret struggle for Afghanistan / Russia: Homoerotic Videos / Brazilian Evangelicals

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Mon Jan 29 06:11:06 EST 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 29 January 2018 - No. 2969 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. Manipulating Pakistani minds | Pervez Hoodbhoy
2. India: Former state officials want the govt to act against hatred and violence against minorities
3. India: Loud mobs and silent rulers | Ruchir Joshi
4. Video: ’Some Reflections on the Limits of Liberalism’, 10th Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer Memorial Lecture delivered by Dr. Akeel Bilgrami 
5. India - Maharashtra: Rashtra Seva Dal’s Inquiry Report into Bhima-Koregaon Riots
6. Reconsider the decision to refuse Hamza bin Walayat’s request for asylum - Letter to British Home Secretary from philosophers
7. Recent on Communalism Watch:
 -  India: Violent enemies killed Gandhi, the ‘great soul’ of peace | Marea Donnelly
 -  Living in Pakistan - A Hell for Non-Muslims | Rahat John Austin
 -  India - Meghalaya: BJP is struggling to shed its anti-Christian image
 -  India: watching “Padmaavat” is a statement against the creeping lumpenisation of public space and discourse | Smruti Koppikar
 -  India: Patriotism Vs Jingoism | Ramachandra Guha
 -  India: Kasganj violence in UP - The Facts And Not The Hype | Amaresh Mishra (The Citizen)
 -  V.B. Rawat on Ambedkar’s Mission Towards Elimination Of Caste Discrimination
 -  India: Karni Sena isn’t a ‘fringe group’ – it is intimately linked to India's centres of power | Shoaib Daniyal /
 -  India: Mob violence over the film Padmaavat
 -  Excerpts from Romi Khosla's article on the fragility of the state of India  

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8. Bangladesh:  Religious, Ethnic Minorities - Rise in attacks due to culture of impunity | Sultana Kamal  
9. Female Pakistani Activist Pushes Back Against Blasphemy Charges | Nazrana Ghaffar
10. UN chief offers mediation b/w India, Pakistan
11. Why India’s Big Fix Is a Big Flub | Reetika Khera
12. Indian education minister dismisses theory of evolution | Michael Safi
13. India: RSS is clearly setting BJP agenda for 2019 | Bharat Bhushan
14. Karat’s blind eye towards BJP, another of CPIM’s historic blunders | Faraz Ahmad
15. History remains elusive as India battles violence over fictional movie | Mohan Guruswamy
16. The secret struggle for Afghanistan | Demetri Sevastopulo
17. What Homoerotic Videos Can Teach Us About Modern Russia | Maria Antonova
18. Rewriting Russian history | Dagmara Moskwa 
19. The Rise of the Brazilian Evangelicals | Chayenne Polimédio

Is it legal for a Pakistani state institution to maintain secret funds for influencing attitudes and opinions regarding individuals, groups, and political parties? Is there not a constitutional obligation to protect citizens from fake news, character assassinations, and hate campaigns?

We, retired civil servants belonging to different Services and batches, wish to register our deep concern at the continuing incidents of mindless violence in the country, especially those targeting the minorities, and the lackadaisical response of the law enforcement machinery to these attacks.

The anti-Padmaavat mass goondagiri stems from a disease that has been eating away at our society for a long time


Located at the eastern side of Pune and situated on the banks of River Bhima, Koregaon-Bhima can be traced along the Pune-Ahmadnagar highway and approximately 25 km from the Pune City; its population is around 7000-8000. January 1, 2018 was the occasion of celebrating the completion of 200 years of the Bhima-Koregaon battle. It is considered to be a valour day for the Mahar Regiment and this was initiated by Dr B.R. Ambedkar nearly 90 years ago in 1927. From 1927 to 2018 the number of people belonging to and consisting of depressed classes from all over Maharashtra increased magnificently from a few thousands to nearly around 1.5 million this year

Academic philosophers call on Amber Rudd to reconsider decision to refuse Pakistani’s request for asylum on the grounds that he did not mention Plato and Aristotle when questioned about humanism

 -  India: Violent enemies killed Gandhi, the ‘great soul’ of peace | MAREA DONNELLY
 -  Living in Pakistan - A Hell for Non-Muslims | Rahat John Austin
 -  India - Meghalaya: BJP is struggling to shed its anti-Christian image
 -  India: watching “Padmaavat” is a statement against the creeping lumpenisation of public space and discourse | Smruti Koppikar
 -  India: Patriotism Vs Jingoism | Ramachandra Guha
 -  India: Kasganj violence in UP - The Facts And Not The Hype | AMARESH MISHRA (The Citizen)
 -  V.B. Rawat on Ambedkar’s Mission Towards Elimination Of Caste Discrimination
 -  India: Karni Sena isn’t a ‘fringe group’ – it is intimately linked to India's centres of power | Shoaib Daniyal /
 -  India: Mob violence over the film Padmaavat
 -  Excerpts from Romi Khosla's article on the fragility of the state of India

 -> available via:
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(The Daily Star, January 20, 2018)

Sultana Kamal blames the culture of impunity and procrastination in law implementation as the reasons behind the rising incidents of communal violence. Photo courtesy of Prothom Alo

Staff Correspondent

A culture of impunity and delay in trials for attacks on religious and ethnic minority people were behind the rise in such incidents, eminent rights activist Sultana Kamal said yesterday.

“The state had to play a strong role in this regard, but it could not carry out the role,” she told a conference at the Jatiya Press Club.

The number of such incidents could have been brought down had the attackers been identified and put on trial immediately, she observed.

Bangladesh Mohila Oikya Parishad, an associate body of Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikya Parishad, organised the second triennial conference.

Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikya Parishad, inaugurated the conference which focused on establishing equal rights of the women from the religious and ethnic minority communities.

According to a recent report of the oikya parishad, more than 30,000 people from these communities became victims of at least 1,004 incidents of violence across the country last year. Of them, over 104 were either murdered or found dead and 325 injured.

Besides, at least 15 women were gang-raped, 18 were raped, and 11 became victims of attempted rape that year, said the report prepared based on newspaper reports.

Terming such communal attacks barbarous, Sultana said, “On average, three incidents of violence took place every day last year. If there was no culture of impunity and delay in trials, such incidents would not have happened.”

The main objective of the country's independence was to ensure the rights of all citizens irrespective of race, religion and cast as mentioned in the constitution, she told the programme while speaking as the chief guest.

“But the religious and ethnic minority people and those having differing views face severe violence from a group of people. It seems Bangladesh has been becoming shrunken gradually [due to the activities of that group].”

The minority community members, especially the women, should get united and raise their voice to resist such violence and ensure their rights, said Sultana, also an adviser of a former caretaker government.

Rana Dasgupta said communal forces and militancy have emerged in the country. “Many political parties formed unities with them at different times due to politics of vote.”

Even the textbooks have been communalised under pressure from the forces, he complained, adding that thousands of people did not lay down their lives during the Liberation War in 1971 for these reasons.

The Mohila Oikya Parishad President Jayanti Roy, General Secretary Priya Shaha and its former president Sabitri Bhattacharya also spoke, among others.

(Voice of America - January 27, 2018)

Pakistan's Gulalai Ismail delivers an acceptance speech after being awarded the Prize for Conflict Prevention for the work of her organization Aware Girls promoting women's issues and equality in Pakistan, during the award ceremony of the Jacques Chirac Foundation in Paris, Nov. 24 2016.


A female Pakistani rights activist has broken with tradition and set a precedent by seeking legal action against the person who accused her of violating the country’s anti-blasphemy laws.

Gulalai Ismail, founder of the Pakistan-based, nongovernment organization Aware Girls, was accused of insulting the religion of Islam, a charge she denies.

Hamza Khan, 23, a student from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, started a social media campaign against Gulalai, accusing her of “insulting religion and Pashtun culture.” He seemingly was unhappy with her role as an activist.

Khan, who claims to be the president of Mardan Youth Parliament, uploaded a 12-minute video on his Facebook page, November 20, 2017, in which he called for a mob to attack Gulalai for her alleged acts of blasphemy.

​Fears for safety

Fearing for her security, Gulalai filed a case against Khan on November 21 with the country’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which led to Khan’s arrest this week after a Peshawar court issued a verdict against him.

Pakistani authorities intervened, and Facebook removed the video, in which Khan is heard saying that Gulalai must be “eliminated” to safeguard Islam.

Gulalai told VOA she wants to be a voice for those who have been wrongly accused.

“I wanted to set a precedent so that other human rights activists and other young women can speak out and can use their right to freedom of expression without the fear of being silenced in the name of religion,” she said.

Additional Sessions Judge Ayesha Arshad in Peshawar dismissed a bail application for Khan.

Seen as ‘daring’ decision

Some see the order that led to the arrest of Khan as a bold move by Arshad.

Noreen Naseer, a professor of political science at the University of Peshawar, credited Arshad for her “daring” decision.

“It has set a precedent that if anyone tried to malign, threat[en], or use any other mode to harass and scare the women activists, then the consequences will be of serious nature,” Naseer said.

Gulalai’s actions were also celebrated by other activists.

“I think she did the right thing and took a big step that most women don’t, because harassers are the majority, especially if they belong to political parties,” Nadia Khan, a social media activist, told VOA.

“I think Gulalai has given hope to women who go through this and are convinced by men to let it go because of the consequences,” Nadia Khan added.

Gulalai’s Aware Girls organization, which is based in Peshawar, has been working for gender equality, education and female empowerment in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Her work as an activist has brought other cases of harassment as well.
FILE - Malala Yousafzai attends a ceremony with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres after being selected a United Nations messenger of peace in New York, April 10, 2017.
FILE - Malala Yousafzai attends a ceremony with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres after being selected a United Nations messenger of peace in New York, April 10, 2017.

Her organization is also cooperating with the Malala Fund, a global organization that works to provide education for girls in countries around the world. The fund is named after Malala Yousafzai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her activism in education and her resilience against the Taliban.

Gulalai founded Aware Girls at the age of 16 and has since received international recognition for her activism, including being given the Anna Politkovskaya Award, established in the name of a slain Moscow journalist.

Abuse of blasphemy laws

The anti-blasphemy law remains a controversial issue in the Muslim-majority country where anyone labeled as blasphemous faces dangerous consequences.

The laws are strictly enforced in Pakistan, and punishment for those found guilty is harsh.

In some cases, when courts have not charged suspects, ordinary Pakistanis have taken the matter into their own hands. A simple accusation that someone has committed blasphemy can lead to threats against the suspect. At times, it can mean death.

Last week, a student of Charsadda New Islamia College killed a principal after accusing him of blasphemy. The video of the accused killer went viral. In it he bragged about his actions and said he had no remorse.

Last year, a Hindu man was rescued by police from a mob in Hub, Balochistan. The man had been accused of posting blasphemous content on social media.

And in April 2017, Mashal Khan, 23, a journalism student of Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was beaten to death by fellow students. He had been accused of posting blasphemous content online.

Hamza Khan, the person who accused Gulalai of blasphemy, organized a protest against her in the same area where the protest was held against Mashal Khan.

Gulalai wants her case to set a precedent for those who use religion to incite violence.

“In Pakistan, it has become very easy to use religion for silencing people, especially human rights defenders. We have seen how, in the past, blasphemy has been used as a political tool,” she said.

She said she would also file a case against Hamza Khan under the country’s anti-terrorism act, because she says he has terrorized her with these baseless charges.

State support

Gulalai blames what she calls Pakistan’s flawed education system, which has been focused on creating patriots and “good Muslims,” she said.

“It’s not the fault of Hamza Khan or his friends. The real perpetrator is the state that intentionally indoctrinates our children and youth in education institutions,” she added.

Last year, Pakistan’s government formed a regulatory body to monitor and block blasphemous content online in an effort to further extend the enforcement of the country’s anti-blasphemy law into cyberspace.

Rights groups charge that the state’s commitment to enforcing the anti-blasphemy laws actually contributes to an environment where some feel empowered and emboldened to take matters into their own hands.

United Nations, Jan 23 (UNI) The UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres has urged both India and Pakistan to resolve the issue of ceasefire violations across the Line of Control (LoC) through a dialogue to avert more causalities.

Responding to questions at the regular briefing here in New York on Monday, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that the UN chief was ready to mediate peace talks between India and Pakistan provided the two neighbours accepted his good offices.

The spokesman underscored that Secretary-General’s good offices work only when both parties agree to mediation, adding that the UN chief was following the situation in the Kashmir region and called for talks between the two countries.

UNi XC-SNU 0639


(The New York Times, Jan. 21, 2018)

NEW DELHI — Aadhaar, India’s grand program to provide a unique 12-digit identification number to each of its 1.3 billion residents, appears to be collapsing under its own ambitions.
When it was set up by the Congress Party-led government in 2009, it was touted as a voluntary biometric ID system that would ensure the smooth delivery of public services — notably welfare benefits and subsidized food for the poor — while limiting the risk of fraud.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, then the main opposition party, was among the project’s fiercest critics at first, calling it too costly and a “political gimmick.” But after it came to power, in May 2014, the B.J.P. went further than Congress had ever dreamed of: Since then, it has made Aadhaar mandatory for accessing numerous public services, as well as for some private transactions.
So far, Aadhaar — “the foundation” in Hindi — seems to have helped neither with welfare nor against corruption, all the while creating new problems, including by exposing people’s personal data to theft or predation by the private sector.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court began hearings in a long-running collective case challenging the program’s constitutionality. In their opening statement, the petitioners argued that Aadhaar, if fully implemented, would “reduce citizens to servitude,” since not having an Aadhaar number — that “electronic leash” — in effect meant “civil death.”
On the one hand, having an Aadhaar number does not in itself guarantee access to India’s welfare benefits — among the least generous in the world. On the other, the need to have one and to link it to one’s various accounts and benefits has prevented some Indians from obtaining state assistance.
Several Indian states require people to enlist in Aadhaar before they can claim rice or wheat at subsidized prices under the Public Distribution System, an important source of food security in the country’s poorer areas. Among them is the eastern state of Jharkhand, where only about 7 percent of residents aged 6 to 23 get an adequate diet. In September, an 11-year-old girl there died of hunger after her family was struck off the beneficiaries registry because it had failed to link its ration card to an Aadhaar number. (The government has contested this account, claiming the girl died of malaria.) A half-dozen other Indians are reported to have died because of similar reasons.
These deaths are the starkest and most tragic example of the system’s shortcomings. But many, many thousands of Indians, perhaps even millions, are at risk — if not of dying, at least of losing access to food, pensions or other benefits they sorely need. And all of this, precisely as a result of a system that was supposed to help them get state help.
To buy subsidized grain in some states, for example, a beneficiary must authenticate her identity by placing the tip of a finger on a hand-held machine. Collecting a readable fingerprint this way requires functioning electricity, an internet connection and operational servers. In large swathes of rural India, such as in Rajasthan, all of this is a steep ask. Yet if any one of these steps fail, applicants are denied food assistance.
Previously, an infirm, older person could send a relative or neighbor with the relevant paperwork as a proxy to collect monthly rations. Now, the biometric identification system requires one’s physical presence.
In 2017, several economists and I conducted a survey of 900 households in Jharkhand, comparing villages that did and did not implement the Aadhaar system for buying grain. We discovered that the percentage of households that failed to obtain any grain at all was five times higher in the villages where Aadhaar authentication was compulsory (20 percent) than in those where it was not (4 percent).
In theory, biometric identification could help reduce identity fraud, but there has never been much evidence of large-scale identity fraud in India’s welfare programs.
The main problem with, say, the main food aid program is that officials and intermediaries appear to misreport official disbursements and skim off some of the aid. In a survey of about 2,000 randomly selected households in eight Indian states that the economist Jean Drèze and I conducted in 2013, the households collected only 87 percent of their entitlements; the rest of the resources were misdirected.
There is no evidence that Aadhaar has put a dent in corruption. In our 2017 survey, we found that among households that succeeded in buying grain, skimming levels were the same — about 7 percent — in villages with or without the Aadhaar system.
Despite these problems, the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expanded the reach of Aadhaar over the past year, requiring it for a host of public services beyond welfare benefits — such as to register marriages or file income tax returns.
Worse, the government wants to make it compulsory to link bank accounts and mobile phone numbers to Aadhaar numbers. Online shopping portals have also started asking for the ID from Indians simply trying to buy a book or a pair of shoes.
Some critics have warned that Aadhaar could turn into an instrument of mass surveillance. At a minimum, it already raises grave concerns about data security and privacy, neither of which is currently protected under Indian law. (The Supreme Court affirmed, in a landmark judgment, that privacy was a fundamental right under the Constitution last year.)
The government has admitted that last year millions of Aadhaar numbers had been carelessly displayed on more than 200 government websites. Earlier this month, an investigative reporter for The Tribune newspaper claimed to have found a way to buy unrestricted access to the details of any Aadhaar number for just 500 Indian rupees, about $8, from people operating on the mobile app WhatsApp.
Given the many ways in which the Aadhaar system is broken, at the very least it should be made voluntary again, and the data of anyone who opts out should be destroyed.
Aadhaar was supposed to showcase the government’s forward thinking about efficient administration; it has only exposed the state’s coerciveness. It was supposed to ease the poor’s access to welfare; it has hurt the neediest. It was supposed to harness technology in the service of development; it has made people’s personal data vulnerable. One of the Indian government’s biggest banner projects has become a glaring example of all that can go wrong with policy making in this country.

(The Guardian - 23 January 2018)

Scientists condemn Satyapal Singh for saying Darwin’s theory is ‘scientifically wrong’

India’s minister for higher education has been condemned by scientists for demanding that the theory of evolution be removed from school curricula because no one “ever saw an ape turning into a human being”.

Satyapal Singh stood by his comments on Monday, saying his ministry was ready to host an international conference at which “scientists can come out and say where they stand on the issue”.

“I have a list of around 10 to 15 great scientists of the world who have said there is no evidence to prove that the theory of evolution is correct,” Singh told a crowd at a university in Assam state, adding that Albert Einstein had agreed the theory was “unscientific”.

Singh, who has a postgraduate degree in chemistry from Delhi University, said he was speaking as a “man of science”.

“Darwin’s theory is scientifically wrong,” he said at the weekend. “It needs to change in the school and college curriculum.

“Since man is seen on Earth, he has always been a man. Nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, said they ever saw an ape turning into a human being.”

More than 2,000 Indian scientists have signed a petition in response calling Singh’s remarks simplistic, misleading and lacking in any scientific basis.

“It is factually incorrect to state that the evolutionary principle has been rejected by the scientific community,” the statement said. “On the contrary, every new discovery adds support to Darwin’s insights. There is plentiful and undeniable scientific evidence to the fact that humans and the other great apes and monkeys had a common ancestor.”

Singh’s plans for a conference on evolution were slapped down on Tuesday by his superior in the cabinet, Prakash Javadekar, the human resource development minister. “I have asked him to refrain from making such comments,” Javadekar said, according to the Press Trust of India.

“We are not going to fund any event or don’t have any plan for a national seminar to prove Darwin wrong. It is the domain of scientists and we should let them free to continue their efforts for progress of the country.”

Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution nearly 160 years ago, arguing that all species, including humans, evolved over time through a process of natural selection. He argued that humans and apes share a common ancestor who lived more than 7m years ago, an idea frequently misunderstood to suggest modern apes turned into humans.

Ancient Indian scholars are credited with advances in astronomy and mathematics including the invention of the concept of zero, but religious nationalist figures have been accused in recent years of pushing “ideological science”.

That includes claims by the prime minister, Narendra Modi, that myths from the origin texts of Hinduism include evidence of plastic surgery and genetic science.

YS Rajan, a prominent scientist, said in response to Singh’s comments that Hindu texts such as the Rigveda included lines that explicitly embraced knowledge from across the world.

“Nothing in … Bharatiya samskaar [Indian philosophy] would demand rejection of such theory or for that matter any scientific findings,” he wrote on Facebook.

o o o

Science, January 22, 2018

by Pallava Bagla 

Higher Education Minister Satyapal Singh on Friday labeled the theory of evolution “scientifically wrong,” provoking a backlash.

NEW DELHI—A new front has opened in the war on science in India. On Friday, India’s minister for higher education, Satyapal Singh, took aim at the theory of evolution. Calling himself “a responsible man of science,” Singh, a chemist, suggested that Darwin’s theory is “scientifically wrong” and “needs to change” in school and university curricula. In remarks on the sidelines of a conference in Aurangabad, in central India, Singh further noted that “nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, have said they saw an ape turning into a man.”

Top scientists have condemned Singh’s remarks. They “seem to be aimed at politically polarizing science and scientists, and that is the real danger we must guard against,” says Raghavendra Gadagkar, immediate past president of the Indian National Science Academy and an ecologist at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru. Yesterday, India’s three science academies released a statement endorsed by more than 2000 scientists, declaring that “it would be a retrograde step to remove the teaching of the theory of evolution from school and college curricula or to dilute this by offering nonscientific explanations or myths.”

Singh is not the only voice in India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) espousing antiscience views. The government took heat last year over an effort to validate panchagavya, a folk remedy based on cow dung, as a cure-all, and in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that the world’s first plastic surgery was performed in India when the Hindu deity Ganesh was created with a human body and an elephant head. “The BJP is the fountainhead of scientific nonsense,” says opposition politician Jairam Ramesh, a mechanical engineer by training.

Singh is not backing down. Over the weekend, he said his ministry intends to hold a conference in which evolutionary theory and creationism “could be debated openly.” However, a senior Indian official, Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar, told The Press Trust of India on Tuesday that the government has no plan “for a national seminar to prove Darwin wrong.” 

*Update, 23 January, 11:23 a.m.: This story has been updated with comment from a senior official, who said the government has no plan “for a national seminar to prove Darwin wrong.” 

(Asian Age - January 24, 2018)

Mr Modi is only an instrument for fulfilling the RSS’ ideological agenda.

After the Pyrrhic victory in the Gujarat Assembly elections, the contradictions between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Narendra Modi government are likely to increase. Tension between the two will circumscribe government policy and set the agenda for the coming 2019 general election.

Without the RSS, Mr Modi is like a groom without a horse and a wedding procession. That is why his government has tried to keep the RSS happy by appointing its nominees to head national institutions, research-funding bodies and universities. Yet two recent incidents indicate that the tension with the RSS still persists.

The RSS was not happy when the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo appointed a controversial police officer, Rakesh Asthana, as special director of the Central Bureau of Investigation. Aware of Mr Asthana’s services in Gujarat, it still favoured another officer who was transferred out to pave the way for him and is chafing at not getting its way.

The RSS was also upset with the empanelment of two senior income-tax officers as chief commissioners by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) early last December. Both had been named in a CBI FIR for receiving bribes from Sterling Biotech of the Sandesara group. The company allegedly has links with a senior Congressman. Three weeks later, the ACC decision was reversed to please the critics.

Earlier, after the Gujarat election, the party was pulled up by the RSS for its marginal victory (“alpvyap vijay”) and criticised for the “abrogation of decency” during the campaign. That there wasn’t even a yelp from the party suggests that the ideological agenda of the RSS is above all else.

Thus, for example, voices critical of the government’s economic policy within the BJP, like Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Subramanian Swamy, have not been silenced. They have not been shown the door. Perhaps their views are shared by some in the RSS.

The RSS thinks that demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) have led to an economic slowdown and increased unemployment. Both moves have hurt its natural base — the trading community and small businessmen who supply it with cadre and finance.

RSS organisations have also opened a front against the government’s economic policies. Aravind Pangarhiya, brought from Columbia University with much fanfare to head the Niti Aayog, was sent packing even before he could complete his tenure, under pressure from the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), an RSS affiliate.

The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), an RSS trade union, has accused the government of creating jobless growth, suppressing wages, increasing contractualisation of labour; and destroying the micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) sector. The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), the RSS farmers’ front, has taken the government to task for not tackling the agrarian crisis and has had to be persuaded not to participate in the nationwide farmers’ protests.

The contradictions between the Modi government and the RSS family of organisations also spill into areas beyond economic policy.

Thus, Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Pravin Togadia, a known critic of the government, fears that he may be killed in a fake encounter by the police. Surprisingly, he does not fear his ideological enemies but his friends in the government. Similarly, Pramod Muthalik, chief of the lumpen Sri Ram Sene, which specialises in terrorising teenagers in love and Muslims alike, has claimed that his ideological friends might bump him off. They must be aware of saffron terrorist Sunil Joshi’s fate.

According to reports, to keep tensions with the government manageable, Mr Togadia might be removed as VHP president and the head of BMS general secretary Virjesh Upadhyay is also on the chopping block. Besides Mr Modi, perhaps the RSS is also wary of Mr Togadia in case he runs away with the Ram Mandir issue.

Meanwhile, there is an attempt to bring Dattatreya Hosabale, a senior RSS functionary positively inclined towards Mr Modi, as the next chief executive (sarkaryavah) of the organisation, replacing incumbent Bhaiyyaji Joshi. The first such attempt failed in 2015 but should it now succeed, Mr Modi will be able to influence decision-making in the RSS.

This spring cleaning will happen in the next few months to prioritise a clear Hindutva agenda for 2019.

There is also speculation that the RSS leadership would like a greater say in the selection of candidates for the 2019 general election. For this they may even need a new BJP president more amenable to their suggestions than the present incumbent.

What is important to understand is that the RSS is not opposed to Mr Modi. In the larger scheme of things, he is only an instrument for fulfilling its ideological agenda. The RSS recognises that Mr Modi’s “deviation” from that agenda is not ideological but a result of the compulsions of governance. However, it wants to keep the contradictions at a level where the Hindutva agenda retains primacy.

Meanwhile, the RSS wants quick progress in cases of corruption against prominent Congressmen and their kin to delegitimise any political challenge. It also wants the temple construction to begin at Ayodhya by the end of this year. For that it needs a favourable judgement from the Supreme Court, and failing that, legislation. The RSS would also like the Supreme Court to abolish the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. This can be done by declaring Article 35A of the Constitution is ultra vires, or unconstitutional. It is by no means certain whether the court would limit itself to deciding on the inheritance rights of Kashmiri women or throw out the entire provision of privileges of a “state subject”. If it does the latter, J&K may well be reduced to the same status as other Indian states.

Despite the fact that there is a broad convergence on major issues between the RSS and Mr Modi, he has not been able to move forward on them at a pace acceptable to the former. Yet both he and the BJP know that with little to show in terms of performance, to get re-elected in 2019 they have to follow the dictates of the RSS.

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.

(National Herald, January 23 2018)

The CPIM has made historical blunders many times and each time it had willy-nilly aided the rise of Jana Sangh/BJP bringing it to the present state when it looks difficult to get rid of them

The people of India suddenly saw a glimmer of hope when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), faced a virtual rout, a month before in his home state of Gujarat, a citadel of the BJP for more than two decades.

It became evident from the results that had the Opposition presented a united and organised force on the ground and worked with greater conviction to defeat the BJP, there was no way Modi could have overturned the people’s verdict even with a pliable Chief Election Commissioner, manipulated Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and a kept media.

But less than a month later, that hope is fast fading and turning into despair and gloom for the oppressed classes at the distinct possibility of Modi returning triumphantly to rule us for another term and usher in formally a rule of the fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which, with a distorted Constitution already predicted by the likes of his minister Ananth Kumar Hegde, would continue to rule upon the people for an indefinite period a la Pakistan post General Mohammad Zia-ul Haq.

In 1977, when the mullahs with tacit support of the then Army chief of Pakistan, Zia-ul Haq, were conspiring to overthrow the “liberal and secular” regime of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) within the limitations of an Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, the son of the great stalwart of secular democracy, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, nee Bachcha Khan, chose to align with the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), surreptitiously backed by the Army seeking Nizam-e Mustafa. In effect, Wali Khan betrayed the cause of democracy and secularism by describing the PPP and Bhutto as bigger enemies of the people than the obscurantist Army-sponsored mullahs and by joining the PNA and happily participating in sabotaging and subverting the people’s voice in Pakistan.

Wali Khan’s son Asfandyar Khan, leading the Awami National Party in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (earlier the NWFP), who aligned with the PPP in the 2008-13 term and came to power in his state, had to reap the fruits of Wali Khan’s treachery with the Jihadi mullahs strutting around with impunity the entire length and breadth of Pakistan, more so in Pakhtunkhawa and Baluchistan, with or without the support of the ruling military establishment. Asfandyar nearly lost his life to these fascists when they made an almost successful bid on his life while his party was ruling the state.

This is worth mentioning to the likes of former CPIM general secretary Prakash Karat who refuse to characterise the BJP and Modi as fascists and have forced the leading Left party of the country to virtually consider the Congress a bigger enemy than the Modi/BJP/RSS combine. Can some thing be farther from truth than Prakash Karat’s formulation that the BJP is not fascist? It smacks of a certain Brahmanical mindset even though probably Karat is a Nair from Kerala and not a Brahmin. But Kerala CPIM has been following blindly the line extended by former Chief Minister and former CPIM general secretary  EMS Namboodiripad, a Brahmin. How else would you describe a perfectly intelligent, widely read and articulate leader like Karat, who sees the sword of fascism hanging loose over the heads of the people of India but chooses to turn away and look the other side at the Congress party?

Speaking from hindsight, the CPIM has made historical blunders umpteen number of times and each time it had willy-nilly aided the rise of Jana Sangh/BJP bringing it to the present state when it looks near impossible to get rid of these fascists in a democratic electoral battle.

Already, there is enough case for despair because whatever hope of defeating Modi in 2019 was glimmering, seems to receding, throwing us back into the abyss of unfathomable darkness. The Opposition parties were expected to draw inspiration from the Gujarat results and see the rainbow on the horizon, sit together to work out a strategy and plans to unitedly fight the BJP on the street and in the elections. The street movements by Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore, Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid, Chandra Shekhar Azad and Umar Khalid gave the people a lot of hope, considering the overwhelming response of the people. The Opposition parties were expected not just to help these young activists but build upon it to ensure that their efforts do not go waste.

However, the Opposition has gone into a lull once more, perhaps to wake up with a start only when the bugle to the general elections will be blown by Modi’s fascist establishment at its convenience.

(Asia Times - January 25, 2018)

(Financial Times - January 26, 2018)

Journalist Steve Coll investigates the encounter between the CIA and Pakistan’s ‘Directorate S’
Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai visiting the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, in January 2013, accompanied by the then US defence secretary Leon Panetta (centre) © Getty

In March 2008, three American senators flew to Kabul to assess the state of the conflict still ravaging Afghanistan more than six years after the US invasion. Joe Biden, who had recently quit the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, was joined by Chuck Hagel and John Kerry — a team, it turned out, that would later deal with Afghanistan as vice-president, secretary of defence and secretary of state in the administration of President Barack Obama.

As the trio returned to Kabul in Black Hawk helicopters following a tour of eastern Afghanistan, the general escorting them pointed out that Tora Bora — the mountain cave complex where Osama bin Laden hid after the invasion — was nearby. Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, advised against flying closer because there was a blizzard approaching and they were low on fuel, but Biden, who was the senior of the group, insisted that they take a detour. The helicopters ended up making emergency landings, leaving the three men in their sixties stranded in the snow within sight of armed locals; after hiking for an hour they were rescued by US troops.

According to Directorate S, a spectacular account of 15 years of secret CIA and US military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the investigative journalist and academic Steve Coll, the day was about to get even worse. That evening the senators dined with Hamid Karzai, the elite Afghan who had become president after the CIA whisked him into Afghanistan from Pakistan on a motorcycle following the invasion. By then, Karzai was a quixotic figure prone to lash out at the Americans. After he declared that the US hadn’t “done anything” for his country, Biden banged the table, announced that “This conversation, this dinner, is over”, and stormed out. Karzai was unaware that Biden’s son was about to be deployed to Afghanistan.

It is difficult not to see this episode as a metaphor for the war as a whole. Ill-considered decisions, unreliable allies and misunderstandings were always at the heart of the problems that only two weeks earlier had led Condoleezza Rice, then secretary of state for George W Bush, to conclude during a visit to the country that “this war isn’t working”.

The senators’ visit epitomised the turbulent relationship between the US and Afghanistan — and particularly Karzai — that underpinned and undermined US efforts in the longest war in American history. It also prefigured the further deterioration in relations with Karzai that would occur after Obama inherited the Afghan conflict from Bush, who had retained a reasonable bond with his Afghan counterpart.

Directorate S is the sequel to Coll’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars (2004), the definitive account of the CIA, Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden before September 11, 2001. The title of the new book derives from the US name for the secret unit inside Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency responsible for sponsoring and funding Taliban activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, ostensibly as a bulwark against its arch-rival India.

Coll reveals in detail the complex web of tensions, rivalries, suspicions and pure blunders that has prevented the US from being able to declare “mission accomplished” in Afghanistan. Through meticulous accounts of meetings between the key players, he demonstrates how an incredible lack of trust between Washington, Kabul and Islamabad — and frequently between competing agencies and characters within each of the three countries — all but doomed the US adventure from the start.

Along the way we get illustrations of the power of American intelligence, from the simple ability to detect that an Afghan man was using a pigeon to warn the Taliban about US patrols, to the satellites that allow pilots in Nevada to unleash Hellfire missiles from drones over Pakistan. But Directorate S also exposes how bureaucratic infighting and severe miscommunication between US agencies offset these technological advantages and hampered the war effort.

On one occasion, Gary Schroen, a CIA operative in Afghanistan, received a call from the person in charge of flying Predator drones over the country. The mission manager said they had detected two al-Qaeda agents dressed in western clothing who were standing beside an airstrip that the Taliban had just built. Schroen replied that they were aiming their drone missiles at his tall, bearded CIA colleague on an airstrip that the agency itself was constructing.

With impressive access to American, Afghan and Pakistani intelligence, Coll reveals the extent of the surveillance undertaken by all sides. At the same time that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on ISI director Ahmad Pasha, for example, Pasha was spying on someone closer to home.

    Pakistan’s ambassador to the US said, ‘If you’re going to send a Jason Bourne to our country, make sure he has the skills to get out like Jason Bourne’

After becoming CIA director in 2009, Leon Panetta flew to Pakistan where he dined with Pasha and Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s then president. During their meal, Zardari commented: “Ahmad knows everything I think and everything I say . . . I walk into my office every morning and say, ‘Hello Ahmad’!” The CIA later concluded that the Pakistani leader was the number one surveillance target for his own spy agency.

Coll outlines how US ties with Pakistan evolved over the tenures of Bush and Obama, with bouts of co-operation interrupted by periods when there was almost no trust. At one point, as the US was holding secret negotiations with the Taliban, Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Kayani and the ISI were helping the Taliban draft statements in the name of its leader Mullah Omar, whose location they claimed not to know even as he was dying in a hospital in Karachi.

But the deceit ran both ways. After a CIA operative was arrested for shooting dead two Pakistanis, Panetta told Pasha and Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s then ambassador to the US, that he was not working for the CIA. Haqqani later accused him of lying and said, “If you’re going to send a Jason Bourne to our country, make sure he has the skills to get out like Jason Bourne.”

Directorate S has a cast of characters that make Bourne movies pale in comparison — from type-A CIA officers and paramilitaries to cigar-smoking and whisky-drinking Pakistani generals to a dog nicknamed “Lucky” because he was able to detect incoming missile strikes from drones before they hit.

Coll rigorously explains why Pakistan pursued a double game and why US concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal meant that Washington never took as hard a stance with Islamabad as it otherwise might have. He also documents why Karzai waxed and waned with respect to the US, which was mostly because he was angry that the US was not cracking down on the ISI over its clandestine support for the Taliban.

While recognising these constraints, Coll reserves strong criticism for a US that he says was “blinded” to its limitations in Afghanistan. There were a host of reasons for this, including complacency resulting from the initial thundering defeat of the Taliban and also the “disastrous decision” to invade Iraq, which made it easier for the Taliban to attract new recruits at home. Both the Bush and Obama administrations, Coll writes, “tolerated and even promoted stovepiped, semi-independent campaigns waged simultaneously by different agencies of American government”.

His conclusion, which will be unwelcome in Islamabad, is that “the failure to solve the riddle of the ISI and to stop its covert interference in Afghanistan became, ultimately, the greatest strategic failure of the American war”.

Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001–2016, by Steve Coll, Allen Lane, RRP£25/Penguin Press, RRP$35, 784 pages

Demetri Sevastopulo is the FT’s Washington bureau chief

by Maria Antonova
(The New York Times - Jan. 24, 2018)

A still from a video made by Russian aviation students that went viral.

MOSCOW — Last week, a group of Russian aviation students unleashed a firestorm when a decidedly homoerotic video of them dancing to the 2002 electro hit “Satisfaction” found its way onto YouTube. What has happened since has been unexpectedly revealing — so to speak — of the real Russia, the one that exists beyond the conservative anti-Western facade put up by the Kremlin.

The original Benny Benassi video to accompany “Satisfaction” shows models slick with sweat, using power tools while licking their lips — a campy dig at the objectification of the female body for marketing purposes. The Russian students aren’t the first to be inspired to make their own version: In 2013, for instance, British military personnel made a parody in which they, too, wore almost nothing and danced erotically while cleaning their living quarters.

The Russian clip resembles the British version: It follows a gyrating, nearly naked cadet up the stairs of a dormitory building where the camera floats through various spaces typical of post-Soviet communal interiors. He encounters other young men dancing suggestively while engaged in household chores. In one scene, a cadet comes out of a bathroom stall and playfully tilts his peaked cap. In another, a young man thrusts away while ironing his uniform. A banana makes a pivotal appearance. At the end, the dozen or so performers converge to shake their butts together, with youthful abandon.

The reaction was immediate.

The Ulyanovsk Institute of Civil Aviation, where these students study, trains civilian pilots, not military ones. But as the clip went viral, officials began accusing the young men of desecrating their uniforms and offending veterans, as if they’d neglected their duties to the motherland by staging an ironic erotic performance. State television also immediately suggested the participants were gay — another taboo in modern Russia.

“There has been nothing like it in the 90-year-old history of Russian civil aviation,” fumed the country’s aviation watchdog, Rosaviatsia, warning that all those implicated in the “immoral” video would be expelled. “How can you ridicule what is holy!” the institute’s principal said plaintively, even comparing the performance to the band Pussy Riot, whose members were jailed after singing a protest song in a Moscow cathedral.

One might have reasonably expected, at this point, a sad end for these students: public apologies, expulsions, smears on state TV, even prosecutions for distributing gay propaganda. Instead something unexpected happened: Young people across the country started making similar videos in support.

Within a few days, students at a nearby agricultural college uploaded a video made in a similar dorm, in which they wore balaclavas and lathered one another with shaving cream. Future construction workers followed suit, dancing in their showers in hard hats; another clip, filmed in a stable, featured a young man cheekily biting a carrot and another dancing on top of a horse. By then, the meme was unstoppable: Other clips in the “Satisfaction challenge” have now featured pensioners in a communal flat, swimmers dancing underwater, future doctors, actors. A petition demanding that the cadets be allowed to continue their education gathered nearly 70,000 signatures.

The tide began to turn. National television, which walks a fine line between supporting the official ideology and trying to stay relevant, wavered. “They are 17 to 18 years old. Do we as a country really think they should be expelled?” exclaimed the Channel One personality Artem Sheynin, donning a similar peaked cap on his show. The channel’s top talk-show host, Ivan Urgant, eventually danced, albeit rather torpidly, to “Satisfaction” on his evening program. By the time transportation prosecutors, who were dispatched to the academy, concluded that they had found no reason to expel the students, the victory was complete.

Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union, have for decades been analyzed in a simplistically binary fashion. Soviet society was viewed as largely comprising Homo Sovieticus — individuals devoid of free will who blindly followed the party line — and a few heroic dissidents; Russian society, similarly, is divided into the 86 percent of “patriots” who support Vladimir Putin’s policies and embrace “traditional values,” and the “liberal” opposition, which supports Western values, doesn’t like the growing role of the church and occasionally protests. This binary leaves little room for unexpected phenomena such as a funny homoerotic dance clip that is not only created in a provincial state institution but also goes on to inspire over a dozen more clips, made by people across the country, in solidarity.

For Western observers whose only means of understanding Russia is through media coverage, the private lives of Russians are relatively inaccessible. And so it’s easy to assume a majority are on board with conservative policies, agree that Russia is surrounded by enemies and fear their children’s succumbing to dangerous gay propaganda. But scratch the surface and most people don’t share the kind of neo-Soviet puritanism pushed by the current traditionalist union of Russia’s church and state. This is especially true with the generation whose entire lives correspond with the Putin era, like these students, who grew up on the internet and find it easier to relate to the YouTube videos created by and for a globalized world rather than Soviet dogmas of right and wrong. How will the Kremlin relate to these youths when they head to the polls for the first time in March?

“There is an official order, a sort of shop-sign Russia, which does not correspond to the real Russia, which is a lot more alive,” Mark Shein, who runs the popular satirical news project Lentach that pokes fun of official Russian ideology with viral memes, told me.

The fundamental reason for the semi-naked flash mob, he says, is that the existing system doesn’t have anything to offer the new generation. “There is an elite made up of old geezers and a new generation of Europeans that don’t understand where they are, since they live one life on the internet, but in reality are in a state with an aging leader who has been in power for 17 years.”

In that situation, there is not much left to do but strip your uniform and shake your behind.

Maria Antonova is a Moscow-based reporter for Agence France-Presse.

(Eurozone - 19 January 2018)

A battle for the future shape of Russia's education system is under way. Not only is the Kremlin increasing its control over what it considers the correct version of the country's history, there are also signs of a gradual ideological turn towards promoting the glorification of Joseph Stalin.

In 2015 the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany was celebrated in grand style. During that time, a larger than usual number of Stalin monuments was erected in several cities especially in south-western parts of the country upon the proposal of the communist party.  The communists’ call came after a 2014 law passed by the Duma introduced a criminal penalty for rehabilitating Nazism and criticising Soviet activities during the Second World War. The law stipulates up to five years in prison for ‘lying about history’. Similar steps have been taken with regards to teaching history in schools.

Academic shuffle

In August 2017 Olga Vasilyeva, who is known for her close ties with the Kremlin and the Orthodox Church, was nominated as the new Russian minister of education and science. She replaced Dmitry Livanov who was considered to be a liberal-minded technocrat. This change came as no major surprise. Livanov’s dismissal from his post had been discussed in the circles close to Putin for some time. The minister had many enemies, especially after the fierce battle he led against academic plagiarism in doctoral and postdoctoral dissertations at Russian universities. Livanov also worked on reforming the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) which, in theory, was meant to improve Russian academia and science. In practice, it has led to the government taking control of RAS’s assets and operations. As a result of the reform, the Federal Agency for Scientific Organisations (FANO) was established in 2013. It is a body that is subordinate to the government that manages fixed property and other assets of all educational institutions in Russia.

Even though the RAS reform turned out to be to the government’s advantage, Putin still decided to move Livanov, making him his advisor on trade and economic relations with Ukraine. The decision was seen as the president’s concession to conservatives in the ruling elite, who believed Livanov did not put enough effort into promoting patriotism, pride and the accomplishments of the Russian state.

In academic circles, Vasilyeva is a highly regarded historian, specialising in the Orthodox Church. Her research has mostly focused on the Soviet era and specifically on relations between the communist regime and the clergy. Less known, however, is the fact that Vasilyeva graduated in music, with a focus on conducting church choirs. She began her academic career as a teacher of history and singing. Without doubt, the minister is a prolific scholar. She has published nearly 160 academic articles over a span of 30 years. Thus, the controversy around Vasilyeva’s nomination is not related to her academic accomplishments, but rather revolves around how she interprets the past.

Olga Vasilyeva. Source:

Vasilyeva’s articles and lectures illustrate her open approval of the Stalin era and her appreciation for the impact – positive, in her view – that Stalin had on the development of the Orthodox Church as well as in his promotion of patriotism and pride among Russians. Not surprisingly, her nomination was received with sincere enthusiasm, on behalf of the Orthodox clergy, by Patriarch Kirill and Archimandrite Tikhon (Putin’s personal confessor). On the day of her nomination as the new education minister, Vasylieva gave an interview to Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Russian daily newspaper, in which she was reported as saying that her appointment was ‘a realisation of God’s will’. A few days later, however, she walked back from those comments, explaining that what she had said was ‘the realisation of the inevitable’. Since both expressions sound very similar in Russian (bozhestvovanye versus dolzhenstvovanye, respectively), the newly appointed minister was able blame her interviewer for misinterpretation, and accuse him of being unprofessional.

Thus, Vasylieva found a clever way to deal with an inconvenient situation. Her nomination caused quite a stir in the Russian media who started citing her earlier, approving references to Stalin and the Soviet Union. Her speeches from 2013 were published on, a leading online Russian-language news website, quoting her as saying: ‘Despite his shortcomings, Stalin is a public good because on the eve of the outbreak of the war he committed himself to uniting the nation; he reactivated the heroes of pre-revolutionary Russia and promoted the Russian language and culture which, in the long run, allowed Russia to win the war.

Vasilyeva is active not only academically, but also politically. Prior to her nomination, she had worked for the president’s administration thanks to her involvement in the widely discussed preparation of a project called ‘the single textbook of Russian history’.

The ‘single’ textbook

In 2013, when Putin criticized history teaching in schools – stating that various textbooks were presenting opposing points of view – it marked a new era for Russia’s education system. In response to the president’s criticism, a new, single textbook on Russian history was suggested. This new book was to be written ‘in beautiful and correct Russian … and free of any internal contradictions and ambiguities’. To achieve this aim, the president summoned a group of loyal officials and academics (among them Livanov, Aleksandr Tschubaryan of RAS, Sergey Naryshkin, the Chairman of the State Duma, and Vladimir Medinsky, the minister of culture) who quickly took on the project. It was endorsed in October 2013 and preparation of a standardized textbook of Russian history began.

The book was envisioned to promote patriotism, a sense of civic responsibility and tolerance towards other nationalities. It was meant to teach Russian youth to be proud of their country, specifically the accomplishments of the heroes of the 1812 war and the Great Patriotic War (Second World War). Thus, it was supposed to emphasize the common military effort of a nation faced with danger. It was also expected to include information about recent acquisitions by the Russian Federation: Crimea (the refrain ‘Crimea is ours’ still helps maintain Putin’s high popularity across the nation) and the port city of Sevastopol.

During the preparations, however, it was decided that there would not be a single textbook, but several books. ‘We will have a single standardized view of history and culture that should be followed when preparing all history textbooks. That does not mean, however, that there will be just one single textbook,’ Livanov told Izvestiya, a Russian daily, in August 2014. In the end, three different textbooks were approved for introduction into schools in October 2015.

One of the outcomes of the reform was a considerably shorter list of textbooks in other subjects authorized by the ministry to be used in schools. Textbooks that had formerly been quite popular among teachers (including several maths textbooks), and had been available at school libraries, disappeared from the list, deemed unpatriotic and ‘inefficient’. The reform also called for approved textbooks to be prepared every five years, rather than annually. Textbook publishers will now have a longer waiting period before they get another chance to bid for publishing new textbooks.

A single interpretation

The Prosveshcheniye publishing house now holds the largest share of the teaching materials market in Russia. As a result of the reform, in Moscow alone it increased its share from a mere 1.23 per cent in 2013 to 93.2 per cent in 2015. This phenomenal market success can be attributed to Prosveshtschenye’s owner, Arkady Rotenberg, who is a long-standing friend and former judo sparring partner of President Putin. Notoriously, companies owned by Rotenberg made huge profits during preparations for the Olympic Games in Sochi after being awarded a large number of lucrative contracts.

Prosveshcheniye operations prompt a number of questions. In May 2015, for instance, the Moscow department of education sent out a letter addressed to the directors of Moscow primary schools in which it was clearly suggested that they should purchase teaching materials and textbooks published by Prosveshcheniye. When asked, employees denied any knowledge of the letter. Similarly, in 2016 a letter signed by the publishing house’s director, Mikhail Kozhevnikov, was circulated. It stated that following the debates of the National Convention of History and Civic Education Teachers (in April 2014) it was recommended that textbooks published by Prosveshcheniye and edited by Anatoly Torkunov are the best option for history teachers. However, in the actual resolution that was prepared to summarize the decisions of the convention, Prosveshcheniye was not mentioned once.

In terms of the practical effects of the reform on the teaching of a single interpretation of history in Russian schools, the story of Vladimir Luzgin, a teacher from Perm, is instructive. It is also a warning of what can happen to those who attempt to depart from what is now being seen as the correct narrative. Luzgin posted on VKontakte, a popular Russian social media site similar to Facebook, a statement that the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact had enabled Hitler to start the Second World War and that the signatories to the pact (the Soviet Union and Germany – editor’s note) had together invaded Polish territory in September 1939, thus unleashing the war. For sharing this information, he was fined 200,000 rubles (almost 3,000 euros) by a local court. The court justified its decision by ruling that Luzgin’s activities constituted an act of ‘rehabilitation of Nazism’, which, it argued, could lead to a revision of the consequences of the war, thus standing in contradiction with the decisions of the Nuremberg Tribunal. The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation upheld the verdict, dismissing the argument that Luzgin’s post was in accordance with the interpretation of history as it was presented in history textbooks from 1994–1995 – the time when Luzgin himself was learning history in school.

Another example illustrating the process of creating a single version of history and assigning this responsibility to Putin’s loyalists is the controversy over the doctoral dissertation of the current minister of culture, Vladimir Medinsky. In 2011 he defended his PhD thesis, which analysed problems of objectivity in Russian history from the 15th to the 17th century. However , five years later, in April 2016, the Russian ministry of science received a request to nullify his degree because of alleged plagiarism and citation of non-existent sources. The dissertation was re-examined in June 2017 and it was concluded that Medinsky could retain his doctorate. The case was again reopened in October after it had been recommended by the scientific council of the Higher Attesting Committee of the Ministry of Education that the minister’s academic degree should be nullified on the premise that his dissertation did not meet the necessary academic standards. However, the decisive body – the presidium of the Attesting Committee – rejected the accusation and the minister was again allowed to hold onto his doctorate. This episode attracted strong criticism within the academic community (including RAS members) who argued that academia should be independent of the government: in their view the Higher Attesting Committee should not be dependent on the Ministry of Education, but instead subordinate to the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Look who’s back

Many Russians see Stalin as the builder of the Soviet Union, the victor of the Second World War, and a commander and strategist who had extraordinary skills and amazing political intuition. Emphasising the dictator’s pragmatism makes it easier to justify his morally dubious decisions which led to mass repression and murder. Instead, it is argued, it is thanks to Stalin that Russia became a global superpower, something that many Russians feel nostalgic about today. Thus, demand for a cult of Stalin is now growing.

New monuments to Stalin are just one way to honour the dictator. In 2015, a few days before the commemoration of Victory Day, the Communist Party put forward a proposal to erect new statues of Stalin across the country. Such monuments can now be found in Lipetsk, Stavropol and Penza. Also, in 2015, on the 70th anniversary of the Yalta Conference, a monument to the Big Three (Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt) was unveiled in the city. The opening ceremony was attended by the chairman of the Duma and the president of the Russian Military-Historical Society (RMHS). In 2016, in the Pskov district a bust of Stalin was unveiled, funded by the RMHS. Upon another initiative by the same organisation, a ‘Leaders’ Alley’ was built in Moscow. There, next to the busts of various political figures from the Soviet and post-Soviet period, are those of Lenin and Stalin.

The myths associated with the Soviet Union’s victory in the Great Patriotic War are shared by many Russians who see it as the biggest accomplishment of the Soviet nation (and by the same token, the Russian nation) and are being used by the Kremlin as a foundation for an identity-building process. However, while the interpretation of history that is being now propagated by the Kremlin tends to stress military victories and technological advancements, Stalin’s repressions are conveniently forgotten. This manipulation finds fertile ground within Russian society: some research, for example, finds that many in Russia still regard Stalin as the most prominent figure in Russian history. In one survey, conducted by the Levada Centre, Stalin was ranked in first place, closely followed by Putin, Aleksandr Pushkin and Lenin.

Overall, knowledge of Stalin’s repressions and terror is rather limited in Russia. In 2012 six percent of respondents claimed to be unaware of his criminal acts, whereas by 2017 as many as 13 to 25 per cent said that the repressions ‘were a politically justified necessity’, while 36 per cent said that the aims and accomplishments of Stalin’s period justified the number of victims. There are, however, places where local authorities have opposed initiatives to unveil new monuments to Soviet leaders. In Surgut, for example, a statue of Stalin was disassembled by the municipal authorities at the request of the city’s inhabitants. The monument had been splashed with red paint several times. Such actions, undertaken either by the authorities or NGOs show the need to commemorate the victims of terror and repression is shared by part of Russian society, even though it is still a minority. It is also somewhat encouraging that the history textbook prepared by another publishing house, Drofa, which was thoroughly evaluated by experts and allowed to be published and circulated in Russia in 2015, emphasises that while Stalin is the symbol of Soviet Union’s victory in the Second World War, he was also responsible for political repressions.
Historical oversensitivity

Just like any other society, Russians want to promote an idealised version of their past rather than face inconvenient truths. It is a version that is driven by emotions and serves as guidance for social conduct and values. History textbooks are a useful tool in this regard, as it is through them that the young generation shapes its understanding of history. In Russia, so far, nothing has worked better than the myth of the Great Patriotic War which, to a large extent, was constructed on the Soviet victory over the Nazis, thus allowing the narrative that the Red Army saved Europe from complete disaster in 1945. This, in turn, has been interpreted as Russia having the moral right to decide on the fate of other nations in eastern Europe.

The immense power of suggestion wielded by the Russian authorities, as well as the appeal of the myth of the Great Patriotic War, has resulted in a lot of oversensitivity, especially in regards to statements that diminish the Soviet Union’s role in the victory over Nazism. This situation is one of the explanations for the changes that are taking place, which include the gradual revival of Stalin’s cult, punishment for those who are ‘lying about history’, and the introduction of new textbooks which present an officially accepted version of history. Such activities are undertaken with the long-term goal of forming a society that is loyal to the government, proud of its historical accomplishments and ready to defend it when needed. Before we judge, we should ask: is there any state in the world that does not want to have that?
Published 19 January 2018

Original in Polish
Translation by Agnieszka Rubka
First published in New Eastern Europe 1/2018 (January-February 2018)

(The Atlantic - Jan 24, 2018)

Meet Jair Messias Bolsonaro, the ultra-conservative military officer-turned-politician poised to capitalize on the fall of the Workers’ Party.

Jair Bolsonaro gestures during a press conference he called to announce his intention to run for the Brazilian presidency, at a hotel in Rio de Janeiro on August 10, 2017. Apu Gomes / AFP / Getty

Hope is in short supply in Brazil. The country is struggling to recover from the worst recession in its history and more than 12 million Brazilians are unemployed. Violent crime is on the rise. A slew of scandals is sending an endless parade of politicians to prison for corruption. The latest major figure to fall in the ongoing anti-corruption purge is Brazil’s beloved former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, an economic populist who helped lift millions of Brazilians out of poverty. Today, three judges at one of Brazil’s Federal Regional Tribunals in the city of Porto Alegre, ruled on whether Lula is guilty of crimes of corruption and money laundering, after he received a beachfront apartment plus $1.1 million-worth of improvements from a construction company in exchange for helping the company obtain contracts from the state-owned oil company Petrobras. Lula’s lawyers tried to convince the judges that there wasn't enough evidence to send him to prison for 12 years. But that wasn’t enough, and the court unanimously upheld the conviction. Lula’s conviction signals that no one, not even Brazil’s most popular president, is above the law.

Today’s news is also likely to further erode whatever remaining trust Brazilians feel for their country’s political elite. In a recent survey by Ipsos, 94 percent of Brazilians said they don’t feel represented by their politicians. José Maria de Souza Junior, an international relations professor at Rio Branco University in Sao Paulo, said Brazilians are facing a moral crisis. “When the economy is doing badly, when there are no jobs, we respond to that … We are very sensitive,” he said.

In recent years, as crisis has consumed Brazil, there has been a notable shift in political, social, and religious attitudes. According to a 2016 survey, 54 percent of the Brazilian population held a high number of traditionally-conservative opinions, up from 49 percent in 2010. The shift is particularly evident on matters of law and order: Today, more Brazilians are in favor of legalizing capital punishment, lowering the age at which juveniles can be tried as adults, and life without parole for individuals who commit heinous crimes. Observers have ascribed this phenomenon to Brazilians’ increasing fear of violence over the last few years. This rightward shift has been accompanied by a massive growth in the country’s Evangelical Protestant and Pentecostal churches, which constitute the greater part of Brazilian Protestantism. The percentage of those who identified as evangelicals in Brazil has grown from 6.6 percent in 1980, to 22.2 percent in 2010.

Perhaps the clearest articulation of this shift has been the rise of 62-year old military officer-turned-congressman Jair Messias Bolsonaro. In a time when corruption has tarnished Brazil’s political class, his blunt charisma, zeal for law and order, and rapport with Brazil’s evangelicals, have turned what would ordinarily be glaring weaknesses into strengths. He has defended the legalization of capital punishment, and argued that the “politics” of “human rights, and of the politically correct, give space to those who are against the law and on the side of criminals.” He has said he’d rather have “a dead son over a gay son” and that he would not rape a particular female deputy in congress because “she wasn’t worthy of it.” Political parties, congressmen, and even the Brazilian Bar Association,  have filed a total of 30 requests to have him removed from his position as federal deputy for the city of Rio de Janeiro, a position he’s occupied for nearly three decades, for actions that broke congressional decorum, like sending death threats to another member of Congress and saying the military regime that ruled Brazil for 30 years “should have killed more people.” He has shown no particular grasp of policy: When questioned about how he was planning on ensuring a fiscal surplus, keeping inflation low, and maintaining a floating exchange rate (known as Brazil’s macroeconomic tripod, which has been the basis of economy policy in the country since 1999), he said that the person who needed to understand such things would be his finance minister, who he’d appoint if elected.

Despite Bolsonaro’s considerable baggage, as of last December, 21 percent of Brazilians said they would vote for him for president in this year’s election should he choose to run. While that’s not enough to get him through the primaries, his rising popularity suggests a transformation in Brazilian society that may be picking up speed.

Bolsonaro was born in Campinas, a city in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, on March 21, 1955. In 1974, at the age of 19, he enrolled in the Academia Militar das Agulhas Negras, Brazil’s equivalent of West Point, eventually rising to the rank of captain. At the time, a military career was promising: Brazil had been under military rule since 1964, when a coup brought down the democratically-elected President João Goulart. Under the dictatorship, Brazil experienced rapid economic expansion. But these were also the “The Heavy Years,” when critics of the regime went into exile, and dissent was met with censorship, violence, and sometimes death.

Eventually, the debt-saddled regime began to crack. The oil shock of 1973 forced Brazil to increase its borrowing to compensate for the higher cost of oil, while the value of its exports depreciated due to global inflation. By 1985, popular protests and international pressure convinced the dictatorship to transition to civilian rule. Political parties were legalized, and the country readied itself to write a new constitution and hold free and fair elections.

Under the dictatorship, Brazil’s evangelical community largely stayed out of politics, as Paul Freston, a religion expert at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, has written. (The community’s slogan was “Believers don’t mess with politics.”) But as the dictatorship crumbled, Brazil’s evangelicals came to recognize their new strength: Democracy is a numbers game. And their own numbers were growing.

So in 1985, at a gathering in Anápolis in the rural state of Goiás, the leaders of the Assembly of God, a popular evangelical church, announced they would begin endorsing and supporting candidates to run for office and thus be part of the “Constituent Assembly,” which would write a new constitution for Brazil. Founded in 1911, the Assembly of God had chapters all over the country; evangelical candidates had a real shot at victory. With the slogan Brother votes for Brother, “the organized participation in politics by the major Pentecostal denominations” was a “big novelty” and the beginning of a new era, Freston told me.

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro was fed up with the treatment of his community—the military—under the new government. In a 1986 article for Veja Magazine titled “The Salary is Low,” he complained, with some justification, that the government had underfunded the military. In fact, all public employees in those years faced pay cuts when the government refused to adjust salaries for hyperinflation. One year later, Bolsonaro was arrested after giving an interview to Veja in which he detailed a plan, complete with sketches, to set off bombs at the Agulhas Negras Military Academy to draw attention to low salaries in the military. He would later deny that he was the author of the sketches, even though experts confirmed they were his. He was convicted for his “anti-ethical behavior,” but served only 15 days in a military prison after a successful appeal.

Bolsonaro’s outlandish plan created a media frenzy, and broadened his appeal among those who yearned for the days of the junta. Capitalizing on his newfound fame, he won the position of city counselor in Rio de Janeiro in 1988, the same year the Constituent Assembly finished the new constitution. In the same election, thanks to the Assemblies of God’s new political strategy, more evangelical candidates were elected at the municipal level than ever before. In the following years, the Assembly of God’s donations to the Christian Social Party (PSC), a new political party that put religion at the front and center of its platform, strengthened and facilitated the church’s political efforts.

By the early 1990s, Brazil’s economy had improved and inflation was down. Yet Bolsonaro couldn’t seem to let go of the dictatorship. As a city counselor and later as a federal deputy, he focused on increasing the benefits, salaries, and pensions of the military. In 1993, he called for the abolition of Congress, and in 1999, was suspended from congress after saying he wished the military had assassinated the current democratically-elected President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. A majority of Brazilians, meanwhile, had no interest in going back to the military years.

While Bolsonaro’s extreme views confined him to the margins, evangelical leaders embraced Brazil’s desire to join the global middle class. By 2003, their emphasis on faith and acts of sacrifice (particularly through tithing) as the path to material wealth, was one of the main reasons why Brazilians joined their churches. Around the same time, Lula, a labor leader during the dictatorship in the outlawed Workers’ Party, had finessed his leftist views into a palatable populist message. With a government flush with cash from rising commodities prices, he pushed massive infrastructure programs and direct cash transfers which eventually brought 36 million Brazilians out of poverty over 10 years. Despite the evangelical community’s suspicions of Lula, most eventually embraced him. Lula reciprocated, bringing them into his governing coalition. Both drew from the same base of support: poor Brazilians who wanted a better life.

But the global recession and a collapse in global commodities prices foiled Lula and his successor, Dilma Rousseff. Operation Carwash, which began in 2014 and uncovered a massive corruption scheme involving Petrobras, politicians, and construction companies, in which billions of dollars were siphoned off from public coffers, outraged Brazilians and signaled the beginning of the end for the Workers’ Party. In May 2016, Brazil’s senate impeached Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s successor, for manipulating the federal budget. With crime and violence skyrocketing, unemployment hitting a record high, and a never-ending slew of political scandals, Brazil spiraled into chaos. In 2016, the police gave up trying to control violent areas of Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro’s district, because the government couldn’t pay the police. Some began to wonder if what their country needed was a more disciplined, firmer approach to governing.

In May 2016, the same month Dilma was impeached, Bolsonaro was in Jordan. On May 12, Pastor Everaldo, a prominent leader of the Assembly of God and the head of the Christian Social Party, baptized Bolsonaro in the Jordan River. This was his most important act in formalizing his relationship with Evangelicals that he spent the early part of this decade cultivating. And even though Bolsonaro hasn’t renounced his Catholicism—he calls himself a Catholic who, for 10 years, attended the Baptist church—evangelical leaders like Silas Malafaia are ready to offer him their support as someone who can put the country back on track. Bolsonaro’s wife and son are evangelical, which so far has given him just enough credibility to navigate the evangelical community. With Catholics projected to become a religious minority by 2030, and evangelicals making up 22 percent of the electorate, Bolsonaro has placed his political fortunes in the hands of the evangelicals.

Bolsonaro’s evangelical supporters continue to back him not so much because of his extreme rhetoric, but because they view him as incorruptible. For Carlos Henrique Bernardes, a member of the Baptist church, Brazilians “don’t have options for ‘clean’ candidates, and Bolsonaro seems to be the only one who’s not corrupt, and that’s what makes him so appealing.” Meanwhile, to broaden his appeal, Bolsonaro has toned down some of his more extreme claims. He has connected with segments of the Brazilian population who feel they have been ignored by their elected officials, according to de Souza Junior. “That might be one of Bolsonaro’s greatest strengths,” Bernardes said. That’s what got Lula elected. And Bolsonaro might benefit from it, too.

With crime and corruption rampant, Brazilians find Bolsonaro’s nostalgia for military dictatorship and even his disdain for democracy appealing. And so he’ll continue bringing those fed up, middle-class Brazilians together with conservative Christians sympathetic to a law-and-order governing style.

Lula is likely resort to Brazil’s Supreme Court to challenge the verdict from the court of appeals. At a speech given to his supporters while the judges read their verdicts, he said he’ll stop fighting only when he dies. And his resilience might pay off. For de Souza Junior, “Lula’s voters aren’t sympathizers, they’re loyalists.”

But even if Lula ends up being able to run and wins the presidency, the scandal that will plague his term and the possibility of his impeachment should only further boost Bolsonaro’s long-term support. For de Souza Junior, the “precariousness of Bolsonaro’s platform wouldn’t necessarily deter his victory.” Today, one in three Brazilians would support a military takeover in the country.

In an interview 19 years ago, Bolsonaro said: "You can’t change anything in this country with voting and elections.” It seems that now it is precisely through voting and elections that he’ll try to make his kind of change.


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