SACW - 6 Feb 2018 | Maldives: Emergency / Bangladesh: Repatriation of Myanmar Refugees / Sri Lanka: 1971 JVP Insurrection / India: CPI(M) useful idiot for BJP; inter-faith marriages / Indonesia: Arabisation / Brazilian Left - What’s next ?

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Tue Feb 6 09:22:52 EST 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 6 February 2018 - No. 2970 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. The Maldives: Implement Supreme Court Order no.2018/SC-SJ/01 - Press release from Maldivian Democracy Network - 3 February 2018 
2. Bangladesh: Digital Security Act 2018 - A Cause for Alarm
3. Sri Lanka: Review of Neville Jayaweera’s ’The Vavuniya Diaries’ on the 1971 JVP Insurrection | B Skanthakumar
4. India: A candle for Ankit | Teesta Setalvad  
5. India: Release of WeSpeakOut study on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting among the Bohra community
6. India and Pakistan: The truth about the partition of Punjab | Ishtiaq Ahmed
7. McGarr’s Review of Leake, Elisabeth, The Defiant Border: The Afghan-Pakistan Borderlands in the Era of Decolonization, 1936-65
8. Recent on Communalism Watch:
- India: A Police Officer’s Allegiance Must Be to the Constitution and Not to a Temple by Basant Rath (in The Wire)
- India: Kerala Poet Attacked Allegedly By RSS Workers | report on Outlook
- Do you want India to turn into a Hindu Pakistan? Garga Chatterjee
- India: ‘Hindu’, ‘Hinduism’ & ‘Hindutva’ in court rulings
- India: Hindu Janajagruti Samiti leader, prime accused in Pansare murder case gets bail
- India: By foreclosing any united electoral challenge to the ruling BJP, the communist party only strengthens Hindutva communalism
- India: Hindutva FB page publishes list of 100+ couples in inter-faith marriages, calls for violence | report on AltNews
- India: Prolonged intimidation of minorities could lead to counter-violence | Manoj Joshi
- Act of weaving in religious discourses with science is a clever ploy to appeal to the urbane middle class | Gautam Benegal
- India: Abhisar Sharma on deliberate communal propaganda on TV regarding Kasganj violence
- What is common between Hindutva forces and the founders of Pakistan?

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9. Changed Public Sentiment Puts Dhaka In A Cleft Stick on Hasty Repatriation of Myanmar Refugees | Bharat Bhushan 
10. The Gandhi in our midst | Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar
11. India: The sangh and its affiliates have double-standards when it comes to women’s rights | Lalita Panicker
12. India: CPI(M) has proved to be a ‘useful idiot’ for BJP by rejecting alliance with Congress | Aniket Alam
13. India: Modi & Co looting the middle-class old through Mediclaim premiums | Faraz Ahmad
14. What’s in a name in Indonesia? Aisyah Llewellyn Medan
15. The Big Idea For Liberals | Jan Zielonka
16. The Seine Also Rises | Chris Newens
17. Beyond Lula's Candidacy for Presidency - What’s next for the Brazilian left? by James N. Green

We welcome the decision of the judiciary to reverse some of the unlawful and unconstitutional decisions that led to the destruction of the rule of law and the weakening of democratic governance in the country, and the call on all relevant government authorities and State institutions to respect and implement the Supreme Court order to reinstate the parliamentary seats of Members of Parliament and to release detainees that the order has deemed free.

The Digital Security Act 2018 will curb the freedom of expression and also impede independent journalism in Bangladesh

by B Skanthakumar
This slim memoir spanning a few months in 1971 is noteworthy for its insider view on the failed first insurrection of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP—Peoples Liberation Front), or more exactly its repression somewhere remote from Colombo and the southwest, by a principal participant. The author was then Government Agent, that is the top-most administrative official, in undivided Vavuniya

by Teesta Setalvad
Ankit Saxena was killed in west Delhi’s Khyala area on Thursday night [1 Feb 2018] allegedly by the family members of a woman with whom he was in a relationship.

FGM/C is risky and harmful. FGM/C has long been internationally recognized as a form of violence and discrimination against women and girls. It gravely affects women’s sexual pleasure, and their physical, & psychological well-being. It has been banned by a number of countries where the practice occurs, including Egypt, where Bohras trace part of their ancestry.

by Ishtiaq Ahmed
The partition of Punjab proved to be one of the most violent, brutal, savage debasements in the history of humankind

The rugged and contested South Asian borderlands that straddle Afghanistan and Pakistan have long attracted the interest of powerful international actors. Of limited economic significance in global terms, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border’s strategic importance as a conduit between the East and the West, has made it an enduring locus of great-power rivalry.

- We Can't Let Hindu Nationalists Rewrite India's History by Teesta Setalvad / AlterNet
- India: A Police Officer’s Allegiance Must Be to the Constitution and Not to a Temple by Basant Rath (in The Wire)
- India: Kerala Poet Attacked Allegedly By RSS Workers | report on Outlook
- Do you want India to turn into a Hindu Pakistan? Garga Chatterjee
- India: ‘Hindu’, ‘Hinduism’ & ‘Hindutva’ in court rulings
- India: Hindu Janajagruti Samiti leader, prime accused in Pansare murder case gets bail
- India: By foreclosing any possibility of a united electoral challenge to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the communist party only strengthens Hindutva communalism
- India: Spread of misinformation via WhatsApp
- India: Hindutva FB page publishes list of 100+ couples in inter-faith marriages, calls for violence | report on AltNews
- India: Even If I Don’t Get Justice, Won’t Have Hatred Against Any Community, Says Father Of Ankit Saxena In An Appeal To Not Communalise Son’s Murder
- Threat of Khalistani ­terror, fuelled and funded by foreign ­gurudwaras patronised by liberal white politicians ?
- India: Prolonged intimidation of minorities could lead to counter-violence | Manoj Joshi
- Act of weaving in religious discourses with science is a clever ploy to appeal to the urbane middle class | Gautam Benegal
- Aarti Tikoo Singh: Secular Love and Communal Murder [ killing of Ankit Saxena]
- India: Abhisar Sharma on deliberate communal propaganda on TV regarding Kasganj violence
- What is common between Hindutva forces and the founders of Pakistan?
- India: Curb the rioters ensure normalcy returns western UP after violence in Kasganj district
- India - UP: Bareilly district magistrate under fire from the right wing govt for his courageous post on facebook
- India: Alwar’s Long History of Hindutva | Kannan Srinivasan
- 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
-> available via:

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(Outlook Magazine, 12 February 2018)

The Bangladesh government has put the repatriation of nearly 7.5 lakh Rohingya refugees from Myanmar on hold by a month bec­ause of protests in the refugee camps and international pressure against a hasty deal. The rep­atriation process follows from a bilateral “arrangement” signed by Bangladesh and Myanmar in November last year to send back the Rohingyas crossing into Bangladesh after October 2016.

Two refugee leaders or majhis, who favoured repatriation, have been murdered in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. Those whose names they had put on a repatriation list are being blamed. The fact remains, however, that Ban­g­ladesh has neither the financial res­ources nor adequate public support to host the refugees for long.

Myanmar on its part has claimed that it was ready to receive 1,500 Rohingyas per week after verification of their resident status. Being ready may not mean much more than corralling the returning Rohingyas into ‘transit camps’. The government has made no promises to return or compensate property lost or prosecute those who committed violence. The refugees are wary of living in ‘grouped villages’ designed for monitoring and punitively controlling the Rohingya population.

Bill Richardson, former US ambassador to the United Nations, resigned from an international panel the Myan­mar government formed to help organise the return of refugees from Bangladesh. Saying he had no intention of becoming a member of a “cheerleading squad for the (Myanmar) government”, he has accused Aug San Suu Kyi of lacking “moral leadership”.

Since August 25, 2017, nearly 6,88,000 Rohingya refugees fled Myanmar’s Rak­hine province for adjoining Bangladesh. The Myanmar Army burned down Rohi­ngya villages, shot dead young adults and raped, tortured and abducted Rohingya women while ostensibly sear­ching for extremists who had attacked 30 police posts and one military outpost on the August 24/25 night in north-west Rakhine. The UN has described these army operations as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

The new influx of refugees joined nearly 1,00,000 Rohingyas who had fled due to army excesses in October 2016 to Bangladesh’s border district of Cox’s Bazar. A majority of the refugees are children (54 per cent) and women (52 per cent). About 14 per cent of the refugee families are headed by single mothers with husbands missing or dead. Nearly 4 per cent of the refugee families are headed by children, with separated children constituting 3.31 per cent of the population—and vulnerable to trafficking.

The refugees are housed in makeshift bamboo and tarpaulin shelters in spo­ntaneously formed and government-run camps in the Teknaf and Ukhiya sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar. Some 3,000 acres of forest land has been earmarked for a massive refugee camp in Balukhali and Kutupalong in Ukhiya. It is run by the army along with the local district administration. Except for 450-odd Hindu refugees, the Muslim Rohingya refugees are apprehensive of returning without guarantees of safety, and assurances of citizenship and justice.

At the Kutupalong refugee camp, Ghulam Nabi (all names of refugees have been changed), a majhi, sums up the dilemma of being stateless, “We are ‘Bengalis’ in Myanmar and Rohingyas here. We are not accepted in either country. But how do we go back if there is no peace in Myanmar?” Sayeda Khatun, a woman, interrupts the majhi with all the anger she could summon, “Both my husband and son were killed. I don’t want to go back at all.” Other women joined her in refusing to go back.

At the adjoining Balukhali camp, Ali Mamun from TulaToli village, the scene of a ghastly massacre by the Myanmar Army on August 30, 2017, asks, “Where should we go? Three out of my four sisters were killed along with one of my three brothers. Seven of us fled here after walking for three days. If there is no peace in Myanmar, what should we do?”

Mohammad Ameen of Urbi village admits that he will want to go back only “if there is assurance of peace and security based on Myanmar-Bangladesh understanding and if our property is returned.” He adds, “But we also want justice against the atrocities of the Myanmar army. Our children were killed and our women raped.” The question remains unanswered on where the unaccompanied and orphaned children, besides members of women or child-headed households or raped women with possible ‘war babies’, will return to.

The Bangladesh government had deci­ded that the Hindu refugees would be repatriated first. The Hindu refugees, housed in a separate camp, say that the violence against them was not from the army but from militant Rohingyas, possibly of the Haraqah a-Yaqin, better known as the Ara­kan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

Aashirbad Pal, a Hindu refugee, standing outside a ramshackle long bamboo and tarpaulin shelter housing an incredible 60 families, explains, “ARSA wants freedom. They wanted us to join them. We refused and they attacked us. We have Myanmar citizenship, while the Muslim Rohingyas don’t.”

He adds, “We are willing to go back right now but only if the Myanmar and Bangla­desh governments provide us security.” ARSA is believed to have killed 187 Hindus, burned down houses and temples and local Rohingya Muslims allegedly stole their cattle.

A senior official of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cox’s Bazar puzzled over Dhaka’s rush to repatriate the refugees says, “At the moment the refugees just need to settle. Some are still trying to find their missing family members within the camps. They need to form community links and get over their trauma.”

At the core of the repatriation efforts is Bangladesh’s refusal to recognise the Rohingyas as “refugees”. Termed as “Displaced Myanmar Residents”, they are at best “migrants” who do not enjoy any strong protection under the law.
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As “refugees”, they would be protected by a consolidated international law. They would be allowed to seek employment in the host country, apply for asylum and protected from forced repatriation to a country where they could face discrimination (principle of non-refoulement). Bangladesh, however, is neither a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees nor the 1967 Refugee Protocol (incidentally, nor is India). With no refugee policy, Bangladesh deals with the Rohingyas under the Foreigners’ Act of 1946 and local administrative mechanisms, although most policy decisions up to now have favoured the refugees.

The locals, who had initially welcomed the refugees, have of late become resentful. Many complain of rising prices.

The turning of public opinion against the refugees is an added reason for the government’s determination to rep­atriate them. The local community which initially welcomed the refugees has slowly become resentful. In Ukhiya sub-district, the refugees already outnumber the locals. A Rohigya Pratirodh Committee exists in Cox’s Bazar since the 1990s.

Locals complain that the price of daily commodities is rising because of the refugees and that they were being under­cut in the labour market where daily wage rates have fallen from Bangladesh Taka 400-500 to less than half. “Local employment is not allowed but in reality we cannot prevent that. The refugees have undercut the daily-wage rates, as they are willing to work for less,” says Mohammad Wahidur Rehman, the Additional Deputy Com­missioner General of Cox’s Bazar.

The local people also feel that refugees get priority in accessing services such as healthcare, as government doctors have been deployed in the camps. Schooling too has been largely disrupted as the army is yet to fully vacate school buildings occupied when it was drafted to manage relief distribution.

Local women are apprehensive that their husbands might take younger Rohingya women as a second, third or even fourth wife. Rohingya women are desperate for Bangladesh citizenship and local men think marrying them would mean access to free food and relief material.

Damage to the local environment and ecology are also a concern. Mohammad Junaid of Shomudrobarta newspaper said, “Our forests and agricultural land has been taken over by the refugees.” Elephant populations in the adjoining forests have already moved away. Environmentalists warn of the possibility of water sources drying up as hillsides are cut and deforested. The indigenous tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts fear further ingress into their territory as Rohingyas from previous waves have settled illegally in their area. Although Cox’s Bazar Assistant Superintendent of Police Muhammad Afrujul Haq Tutul denies a rise in crime rate, he concedes that “one should take the apprehensions of the local population into account”.

Even UN officials agree that an inc­rease in trafficking and trade in drugs and small arms is possible because of the “movement back and forth” across the border. Drug trade—almost exclusively in Yaba (tablets containing a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine)—has gone up and is a $2-billion industry today.

Camp Guard

An armed soldier at Kutupalong camp in November 2017
Photograph by Alamy

While the local police claim to control refugee movement from the camps, aid workers say that Rohingya refugee women were engaged in ‘survival sex’ at bus stops and hotels in Cox’s Bazar. Despite linguistic similarities between spoken Rohingya and the Chittagonian dialect, the cultural dislike for the Rohingyas is palpable. They are seen as “culturally backward”. Soeb Said, a journalist with, says, “We understand the Rohingyas are also human beings. But their lack of education makes them barbaric and aggressive.” The Imam of the central mosque at Ramu Upzila observes, “Despite being Muslims, they do not know how to offer prayers. Their behaviour is in conflict with local Muslims.” Sajalkant B. Choudhury, a Brahmin leader of Ramu, says, “They are uneducated, backward and uncivilised. Nothing good will come by their staying here.”

There are also fears of Rohingya extr­e­mists making inroads among the refug­ees. Several hitherto-unknown Islamic gro­ups are active in the camps. There were reports of night-long meetings in the camp mosques. An app­rehensive adm­inis­tration has banned the entry of outsiders to the camps after 5 p.m. “Up to now,” says Tutul, “we haven’t found any presence of ARSA loc­ally, but we have teams of police detectives keeping a close watch.”

Mohammad Nikaruzaman, the Upzila Nirbahi Officer of Ukhiya, acknowledges the shift in the public sentiment: “The resentment among the locals is growing and there could be an outburst soon.” Relief workers and the UN agencies also do not seem to be against repatriation per se, but they do not want the refugee situation to recur as in the past.

A UNHCR official says, “We should be involved in the repatriation talks as we bring the refugee voice to the table. We should also have access to Rakhine. Otherwise, how can we say in good conscience that conditions exist for the refugees to return voluntarily with safety, security and dignity?”

In 1992, the two governments had signed separate memorandums of und­erstanding with the UNHCR, leading to the repatriation of 2,30,000 Rohingya refugees. As of now, however, neither country has involved the UNHCR in the repatriation process.

(The writer was in Cox’s Bazar and Dhaka as a member of a fact-finding mission on the condition of the Rohingya refugees, organised by South Asians for Human Rights, Colombo

10. THE GANDHI IN OUR MIDST | Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar
(Dawn, February 01, 2018)

ON Jan 30, 1948, Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, for ‘appeasing’ Muslims and for the suffering of Partition. Much has been written about Gandhi’s life and death, but what of the Gandhi in our midst?

I have an image of the gentle, towering figure of Bacha Khan assisting a frail Gandhi cross a very narrow and precarious bridge in Jehanabad, Bihar, in March 1947, as the two friends struggled to bring salve and rebuild communities in the aftermath of the terrible cycle of violence set in motion by the Great Calcutta Killings of August 1946.

Bacha Khan, as Abdul Ghaffar Khan was lovingly called, is an important anticolonial figure of the 20th century and his historical significance needs to be understood not merely from the narrow confines of a nationalist narrative, but rather as essential to our understanding of struggles for justice, methods for social and political transformation, and the ethics of living together with difference — all urgent as ever in our times as in his.

If we think about colonialism as a form of political and economic subjugation, it was also accompanied by the production of a whole body of knowledge that made this subjugation both possible and legitimate. The powerful anthropological construction of ‘warlike’ tribal Pathans, who only responded to bribery and brute force rather than reason, was used to justify the most extreme forms of collective violence carried out in British India, and the northwest was a testing ground (especially during the interwar period) for grotesque technologies of war that would have raised a hue and cry of inhumanity had they been carried out elsewhere.

   In friendship they forged an ethics of care and dialogue.

By espousing nonviolence and mobilising one of the most successful nonviolent civil disobedience movements in the form of the Khudai Khidmatgars, Bacha Khan fundamentally challenged and unravelled this colonial understanding of Pathans.

The Khudai Khidmatgars are largely forgotten today or simply recounted as a huge exception in the militarised history of insurgency and counter-insurgency in the northwest. But were they a blip in the past? A small and irrelevant movement that stood up for, but a few moments, to the injustice and subjugation of the largest and most advanced military power of its time?

In his autobiography, translated into Urdu as Ap Biti, he recounts a conversation with Gandhi at his ashram where he asks Gandhi if he was surprised that the Khudai Khidmatgars, albeit the last to receive his training in nonviolence, had been the most disciplined and steadfast. The political theorist Uday Singh Mehta has pointed out that for Gandhi cultivating the “fighting spirit”, or the capacity for violence, was essential to then actively renouncing it — nonviolence had to be a courageous choice, not a coward’s submission. Thus Gandhi replied to his friend that he was not surprised at all for nonviolence as unarmed resistance required at least as much courage as armed resistance and as such the Pathans had a long history of courage.

By aligning Pathan courage to nonviolence, Bacha Khan had countered the foundations of colonial knowledge and exposed the utter brutality and illegitimacy of colonial violence. By becoming ‘Frontier Gandhi’, Bacha Khan also brought the concerns of the frontier into the mainstream of Indian politics.

The sources of Bacha Khan’s ideas are numerous as are those of Gandhi’s, but their extraordinary friendship too deserves our attention, rather than something to be feared. In friendship they forged an ethics of care and dialogue across vast religious and cultural differences, and it is an ethics that could have arguably saved Mashal Khan’s life at the Bacha Khan University not so long ago.

When Bacha Khan died on Jan 20th, 1988, Peshawar came to a standstill, the streets of Peshawar were covered in red flags of the Awami National Party, and Bacha Khan’s body was laid in Jinnah Park so hundreds of thousands of his followers and well-wishers could pay their last respects. Gen Zia came to pay his respects, and Rajiv Gandhi, then prime minister of India, was given permission to fly in to Peshawar, and at the height of the Cold War, the Soviets and the mujahideen held their peace as the Khyber Pass opened for the massive caravan that travelled from Peshawar to Jalalabad to lay him to rest there.

If we think of the national boundaries that were momentarily suspended for Bacha Khan, it may well allow us to not only recuperate his anticoloniality, but also his humility, simplicity and openness to the world.

(The writer is associate professor of history at Brown University and faculty fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies. She is the author of The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, Histories.)

(Hindustan Times, Feb 03, 2018)

The women who signed up for jauhar don’t even seem to realise that they are nothing more than pawns in a larger game of imposing what is seen as good Hindu values on society.

The horror of it all seems blunted by the ease with which over 2,000 women signed up with the Karni Sena to commit jauhar (suicide by immolation) if the film Padmavaat was released. They were defending the honour of a mythical queen and their community. The valiant men of the Karni Sena chose the infinitely easier route of vandalising public property, terrorising school children and blocking roads. As it turns out, no one committed jauhar, the film was released and the goons folded their tents and vanished secure in the belief that indulgent state governments would do nothing much to them to bring them to justice.

This in a way is representative of the right-wing and its attitude to women. Women must make sacrifices to uphold the honour of a patriarchal order; please note that the Karni Sena men did not speak of giving up their lives to uphold Rani Padmavati’s honour. A real women’s movement would challenge notions of male domination in a family. In the right-wing, women are seen as symbols of the ideal woman, the homemaker whose primary task is raising children and taking care of the larger family unit. These women, who form organisations such as the Rashtra Sevika Samiti (the women’s arm of the RSS) are mobilised when it becomes necessary . While they play a supplementary role to the men, they enjoy certain privileges on account of their position. The women in the Shiv Sena, for example, have been known to mete out justice to shopkeepers they think are cheats, resist the police when the latter are doing their duty, even beat up neighbourhood bullies with impunity.

Yet when it comes to leadership roles and decision-making, women are left out of the picture. Whatever these women undertake even by way of social work is seen as something done at the behest of men. The women feel empowered by the fact that they get the legitimacy to break the rules, exert their influence, broker peace in family disputes, tell women who are being abused to adjust and justify various regressive practices on account of the fact that they are subsidiaries of powerful right-wing organisations.

The pernicious propaganda about love jihad seeks to convey that the threat to Hindus is through the sly co-option of women by Muslims or even Christians. The Hindu right-wing seeks to portray the Hindu nation here in terms of the predatory Muslim and the pure Hindu woman who needs male protection in the form of violence against the predator.

When it comes to actual political or economic power for women, we see that the right-wing groups are not particularly vocal, and in fact, they are against any larger role for women outside of the home. If we go back to the origins of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, its founder Laxmibai Kelkar approached RSS founder KB Hedgewar to see if women could join his organisation. Needless to say, he turned her away. It was 11 years after the RSS was founded the women’s wing took shape. Even then, it had to stick to the dictum enunciated by MS Golwakar that disparity is an indivisible part of nature. In no way were the women to be considered on a par with men. Women were always seen in relation to their association with men; they could be mothers, sisters, daughters or wives. At all stages of life, they had to heed the voice of their male relatives. It is not for nothing that the RSS calls itself the sangh parivar.

Indeed, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is on record to say that under the social contract a woman should take care of the household and the man’s needs in return for which he will protect and provide for her. That’s not too far from the vision of the organisation’s founding fathers. In fact, Bhagwat says it is all right for a man to disown a woman who fails to keep her side of the contract.

The women who signed up for jauhar don’t even seem to realise that they are nothing more than pawns in a larger game of imposing what is seen as good Hindu values on society. They don’t seem to question why men who breathe fire and brimstone over the perceived insult to a mythical queen are quiet, even complicit, in dowry harassment, female foeticide and rape. They feel comfortable imposing dress codes and conduct on women, circumventing their freedom of choice. This is not just the tyranny of patriarchy, it is the duplicity of patriarchy.


(, 5 February 2018)

By foreclosing any possibility of a united electoral challenge to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the communist party only strengthens Hindutva communalism.

One could argue that despite socio-economic conditions in India being conducive for its politics, the Left regularly manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Indeed, the manner in which the central committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) recently rejected any possibility of a united electoral front against Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party suggests we are in for a repeat show of that most successful play of the communists: “historic blunder”.

This time the battle pivots on one word: “understanding”. Should there be any room left for electoral understanding between the parties opposed to the BJP so that the anti-Modi vote does not split? Shorn of all verbiage, the majority in the CPI(M)’s leadership believes that 15 months before the next general election, the very possibility of such a united front needs to be firmly closed. For any party invested in an electoral battle, or for that matter in any political contest, this does not make sense. The only sensible tactic is to keep all options open until the end and maximise the potential from all possibilities of victory.

There is consensus within the CPI(M) on two points, as indeed within almost any group opposed to the Modi government. One, that the BJP is a clear and present danger to the Indian republic, which is less than perfect but enshrines the ideals of democracy, justice, secularism and socialism for which we strive. Two, that another term for the present dispensation would mean the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s parent organisation, would push its agenda of Hindu Rashtra – an authoritarian, anti-secular, anti-democratic nation – much further, perhaps irreversibly.

The debate is about how to prevent this. Can there be an understanding with the Congress to prevent opposition votes from splitting and handing the BJP a victory? This happened in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election in 2017 when the non-communal vote was split and enabled the saffron party to win an unprecedented number of seats. It appears that Prakash Karat, the former general secretary of the CPI(M), has convinced enough of his comrades that irrespective of whether the split in opposition votes hands the BJP victory in 2019, there can be no possibility of “any understanding” with the Congress.

This position has been dressed up in complex argumentation and claims to some form of ideological and political purity among communist parties. In reality, it is merely another version of Arun Shourie’s (in)famous line that the BJP is merely Congress plus cow; that there is basically no difference between the two parties. In the language of India’s communist parties, these are both “ruling class parties” with little to differentiate them. In other words, tweedledee and tweedledum. Looking at independent India’s political history, it is clear that this formulation has only helped the BJP gain respectability. The perception that it is merely a more Hindu version of the Congress has allowed the Hindutva party to regularly divide its opponents and, more dangerously, to ally with non-communal parties in the name of anti-Congressism.

Historic blunder

Interestingly, this “Congress and BJP are the same” formulation did not stop the Left from having an understanding with the Hindutva party to defeat the Congress in 1977 or in 1989; the latter time at the height of the BJP’s campaign to demolish the Babri Masjid. Somehow, this equating of the Congress and the BJP has mostly stopped the communists from forming a united front against Hindutva fascists, it has rarely stopped them from coming together with the latter.

In any case, at no point in India’s history has this “Congress and BJP are the same” line been reasonable. A comparison with Pakistan, where Muslim communalism – Hindutva’s twin – has been in power since 1947, would show how absurd this equation of the Congress with Hindu nationalism has been. One has led to an imperfect but democratic republic, the other has led to a society deeply divided by religious fundamentalism, oppressed by military rule, and with a weak democracy. An unbending anti-Congress position perhaps made sense for the communists when the Congress was the “natural party of government”. It is not any more, and deploying political tactics from 1977 in 2017 is not merely anachronistic and silly, but opens the door for the political consolidation of the most bigoted, authoritarian, criminal and incompetent government independent India has seen.

The record of the previous United Progressive Alliance government, led by the Congress, also belies this false equivalence between the Congress and the BJP. Coming after six years of BJP rule, it delivered massive improvement on every social, political and economic indicator. Despite regular parliamentary obstructions by the BJP, the UPA’s decade in power saw some of the most progressive pieces of legislation and policies in the history of independent India put in place. In the given global context, it was a classic social democratic government that empowered people and widened the ambit of rights, while also helping the private sector prosper. This does not mean there were no blemishes, but given all its shortcomings, the UPA was a giant step forward towards a progressive India. The last two Congress presidents, Sonia Gandhi and now Rahul Gandhi, have been consistently pushing a rights-based social democratic agenda.

The Left, in which the CPI(M) was then the largest constituent, played a crucial role in formulating and deepening the UPA’s progressive agenda. The UPA is proof that a coming together of the Congress and the Left is not just feasible, it can play a crucial role in shaping a progressive, secular and pro-people agenda to unite the broadest sections of the Indian population to challenge the BJP in the coming general election. To foreclose that possibility is to be a “useful idiot” for the Amit Shah-Narendra Modi election machine. History may not forgive this blunder.

Aniket Alam is a historian and journalist who teaches at IIIT-Hyderabad.

(National Herald, Feb 05th 2018)

This government has scrapped the bonus for older insurance payees and instead now they promise to compensate you in other ways, which have not yet been defined 

In all the noise around the Union budget presented by the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley the other day, everyone seems to have overlooked the silent loot engineered by this government in the form of Mediclaim premium from people.

With any ado, the annual premium of Mediclaim has more than doubled, particularly for senior citizens, who are more likely to avail of the Mediclaim insurance scheme often. This is nothing but a well-crafted and planned plunder.

Last year, I paid ₹21,000 as premium for a mediclaim policy worth ₹5 lakh, not with a private company, but the nationalised New India Assurance. I found the premium, steep because I have had that policy for close to 10 years and have been promptly paying the premium every year, beginning at ₹15,000 and thereby. Thus, I have paid the insurance company around ₹2 lakh already whereas I availed of its facility only once for a minor hernia operation involving just an overnight stay at the Max Hospital, Saket, in 2014. This was after paying my premiums for three years. Thus, I had paid the company somewhere around or a little more than ₹80,000 and the cashless surgery with all expenses paid also cost me ₹80,000 of which I was asked to pay around ₹5000. So, there was also some money in my mediclaim account after that surgery. Since then I have never visited a hospital or consulted a doctor and have only been paying the company in the form of annual premiums.

This year, I turned 66 and the insurance agent shocked me with the statement that the annual premium has been increased to ₹42,000 and it includes a strong dose of service tax. Now, every year till the age of 75, I will pay over ₹42,000 and only then can I hope to get the insurance company pay for my hospitalization if needed. After the age of 75, there may be another such steep rise in premium under whose burden I may die anyway without ever going to hospital.

The premium slabs for the various age groups make an interesting reading. For a five lakh policy, the premium for a person under the age of 35 is only ₹5,420, very nominal indeed. For the age group of 36-45 it is ₹5,747, pretty reasonable, no doubt. For the age group 46-50, it goes upto ₹9,582. Mind you the probability of a 35-year-old falling ill and availing of the insurance is almost nil, except in exceptional circumstances. And, that of those between the age of 36-45 is marginally higher. And so is the premium, nominally higher. Once you enter the age 46-50 your chances of hospitalisation for even more ailments like hernia situation in my case proves. That’s when you expect your Mediclaim policy to come to your aid and so the premium for this age group shoots up suddenly to ₹9,582.

Now you are getting closer to the age when you will need to look back at your mediclaim to avoid sleepless nights over the prospect of hospitalization if needed. For all the years you have fattened the insurance company’s coffers and in the case of nationalized companies indeed the government’s. So, for the age group of 51-55, the premium is ₹14,418. The next age group 56-60 it is ₹18,954. It is becoming increasingly difficult to continue paying these premiums, especially for those who have not availed of any hospital facilities but only paid premiums every year.

Earlier there was a bonus that accrued to your account and thus your premium amount was reduced by the bonus that was accrued to your account. The government of our “poor” Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his equally “poor” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has scrapped the bonus and instead now they promise to compensate you in other ways. What are these, still not very clear?

Besides, the next budget may bring some more changes dumping even these assurances. But the real thing comes once you cross 60 and enter the age group of 61-65. That mind you is the retirement age when your capacity to make any payments suddenly comes down drastically and every penny out of your pocket is a torture, more so for those who do not get a pension, and many have not even had regular jobs and were thus bereft of any retirement benefits. The majority of the over 60 in our society fall into this category. And I am not talking of the poor who cannot afford this Mediclaim insurance any way. It is for us of the middle-class salaried lot who bought Mediclaim in the false hope of saving for the bad days when we may not have enough but may urgently need hospitalisation and don’t want to burden our children unnecessarily. So, the premium for this age group goes up to ₹25,243.

After 65 when you may really need to avail of your Mediclaim, the premium shoots up to ₹35,698. And all the figures quote above do not include the service and such other taxes. In the meantime, you have paid much more than ₹5 lakh for which you stand assured. All over the world, senior citizens are given concessions and comforted to ensure that they lead a hassle-free respectable life. Not in Modi regime though!

In effect then it is a big scam in which the government is stealing from you if you buy a policy from a nationalised company and helping the private companies too in turn to rob you, if you avail of their policies. And here the leading national newspaper such as the Times of India, which is deceiving its readers by claiming that ₹5 lakh health cover has been made affordable by this government. I have with me the entire table but since the story ran for ₹5 lakh health cover, I just stuck to ₹5 lakh health cover for which I have paid the premium just last month.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the organisation

14. WHAT’S IN A NAME IN INDONESIA? Aisyah Llewellyn Medan
(Asia Times, February 6, 2018)

Arabization is changing how parents name their children, a trend to be enforced in areas by a new ban on giving Western names

Children from the"Orang Rimba" tribe -- whose name translates as "jungle people", who have been converted to Islam and given up their nomadic ways, wearing Islamic skullcaps and hijabs as they gather to recite the Koran, in the Batang Hari district of Jambi province. Photo: AFP/Goh Chai Hin

Mohammad Hamdan is the spiritual caretaker of Mesjid Raya Al Mashun, the largest mosque in the Indonesian city of Medan on the island of North Sumatra. One of his top responsibilities is to help parents name their new born children.

Names are full of meaning in Indonesia, meaning parents take great care to give their offspring the possible start in life. “As Muslims, we believe that a name is like a prayer to god. If we give our child a good name, it’s like our wish for them for the future,” said Hamdan

Hamdan is himself an example of the phenomenon: his name means ‘praiseworthy.’ His parents hoped that he would be praised by Allah and blessed throughout his life. Instead of using the Indonesian word for ‘praise’ which is ‘puji’ (also a common Indonesian name), they chose the Arabic version to show their belief in Islam.

In recent years, Indonesians have increasingly chosen names with Arabic origins over local ones in a trend towards greater Islamization. Local names in Indonesia originate from local languages or dialects such as Javanese, Batak or Malay.

Around 80% of Indonesia’s population is Muslim, making it the most populous Muslim nation in the world. Although the country officially recognizes religious pluralism, there is a rising intolerance towards other faiths, with hard-line Muslim groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front even calling for sharia law to be the universal law of the land.

There have also been crackdowns on the LGBT community, a rise in blasphemy convictions and growing use of Islamic discourse in politics, trends which many see as a turn towards an increasingly intolerant brand of Islam. Naming culture could also play a part in the trend.

Academics Joel Kuipers and Askuri noted in a 2017 article entitled ‘Islamization and Identity in Indonesia: The Case of Arabic Names in Java’ that surveyed over three million names across three regencies a “growing popularity of bestowing Arabic names on Javanese children.”

In Java’s Bantul region, for example, “There were far fewer pure Arabic, or even Javanese–Arabic hybrid names until the mid 1980s. By the 1990s, however, about half of the children born have at least one Arabic name.

“During this same period … the number of children who have “pure” Javanese names — i.e., a name not mixed with either a Western or Arabic name—has dramatically declined, and by 2000, such names are a distinct minority.”

The origins of names are now a hot topic of national debate. In January, the Karanganyar Legislative Council (DPRD) in Central Java announced plans to issue a bylaw which will prohibit parents from naming their child using a ‘Western’ name.

According to the council’s speaker, Sumanto, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, “It will take quite a long time for the council to pass the bylaw. But in principal, the bylaw aims to protect local cultures that have begun to disappear.”

He pointed to a rise in the use of Western names in Indonesia, saying that he was “concerned about the condition” and thinks that local names should be protected as “part of the nation’s noble historical inheritance.”
A young Indonesian Catholic looks on as she celebrates Christmas during mass at the Saint Fransiskus Asisi church in Karo, North Sumatra on December 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / IVAN DAMANIK
A young Indonesian Catholic looks on as she celebrates Christmas during mass at the Saint Fransiskus Asisi church in Karo, North Sumatra on December 24, 2017.  Photo: AFP/Ivan Damanik

It is not immediately clear from Sumanto’s comments what differentiates a ‘Western’ from a ‘local’ name, or if the law would potentially be enforced retroactively, forcing Indonesians with Western-sounding names to pick new ones.

As Kuipers and Askuri’s research shows, however, many Indonesians in Java use Arabic names, so the law could cause a new surge in the Arabization of Indonesia’s naming culture.

Hamdan says for examples Indonesians who choose to name their children ‘David’ would in future need to use the Arabic version, which is ‘Daud.’ He says he supports the law as he feels that it is “better to give your child a Muslim name if you can” to show your Muslim identity.

Others, however, are gravely concerned about the proposed law’s implication for religious and other freedoms. Speaking to Asia Times, Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman describes the proposed law as “unnecessary and over-reaching into citizens’ private lives.”

From a legal perspective, Koman also urges caution because “the law could be discriminatory and could potentially violate parents’ right to freedom of cultural expression.”

Religious leaders already exercise a strong power of persuasion. Hamdan explains one of the ways that parents end up with Arabic names for their children. “When they are babies their parents take them to a Tuan Sheikh (an Islamic expert). The Tuan Sheikh asks questions, such as the day and time of birth and gives the child a good name accordingly.”

He also says that name choices are now increasingly being discussed publicly thanks to the rise of social media. The name you use on Twitter or Facebook forms part of your whole online persona, and people are now more mindful of their overall image, says Hamdan.
An Indonesian woman plugs into social networking platforms on her mobile phone in Jakarta. Photo: AFP/Bay Ismoyo
An Indonesian woman plugs into social networking platforms on her mobile phone in Jakarta. Photo: AFP/Bay Ismoyo

He suggests this is less a sign of Islamization and more an element of ‘showing off’ that comes with social media, with parents wanting to demonstrate that they have chosen a name with strong religious connotations. With the rise of shared online information, people are more aware that names matter, he says.

Hamdan also points to how names fall in and out of fashion depending on geopolitical events. At the time of the US-Iraq War in 2003, Hamdan says that a number of his friends named their children ‘Saddam Hussein.’

“Many of them wanted to show their support for Islam versus the West, which is how they saw the Iraq War,” Hamdan said. “To do this they did the most obvious thing they could think of – name their child after Saddam Hussein.”

Intan Veranica, an ethnic Batak Mandailing from Sumatra, says her name is not of Arab origin. Nor is her husband Wahyu Hidayat, a Javanese whose name is a Malay-Arabic hybrid.

Yet the couple recently chose to name their one-year-old son Abizar Al Ghani, one of the 99 names of Allah, because his father wanted him to have a name that “sounded more Arab than Indonesian to show that we are good Muslims,” she said. “Abizar means gold mine so we hope he will have a lot of money in his life.”

Naming a child after a religious or high-profile Muslim figure is common practice in Indonesia, but Hamdan says that this tends to come and go in cycles, as with the previous example of Saddam Hussein, which apparently is no longer popular.
JAKARTA, INDONESIA - DECEMBER 17: Child protesters show a poster reading "Israel go to hell" poster and save Palestine headscarf in the demonstration to support Palestine at National Monument in Jakarta, Indonesia on December 17, 2017. The action protest US President, Donald Trump statement to move the capital of Israel and US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting in Istanbul, Turkey on December 13, was declared East Jerusalem as Palestine's capital. The OIC is the second-largest inter-governmental body after the United Nations, and its 57 member states spread over four continentsñincluding Indonesian government that condemns the US formal recognition. Nani Afrida / Anadolu Agency
Child protesters demonstrate in support of Palestine at the National Monument in Jakarta, December 17, 2017. Photo: Anadolu via AFP/Nani Afrida

He says that one of the biggest religious and political issues in Indonesia today is the struggle between Israel and Palestine, which is spelled ‘Palestina’ in the local Indonesian language.

Strung across the street of his mosque is a colorful banner urging support for the Palestinians in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s recent controversial decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Hamdan notes that he observed a large rally in Medan several weeks ago in support of Palestine. “I walked through the crowd and people were saying that they would do anything they could to pledge their support to the Palestinian cause. Who knows? Maybe we will see more and more Indonesians naming their children ‘Palestina’ in the future,” he says. 

by Jan Zielonka
(Social Europe, 6 February 2018)

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, liberalism has been the “only game in town” across the whole of Europe. This is no longer the case. From Helsinki to Warsaw, Rome to Athens, liberals are losing votes to anti-liberal insurgents. The latter represent a very mixed bag, with numerous local variations. Yet they are doing pretty well at the ballot box against the centre-left and centre-right parties that have ruled Europe for many decades.

At first, liberals tried to forge a united front against the “populist threat.” In Greece, socialist PASOK went to bed with its long-standing foe from the New Democracy to prevent Syriza from coming to power. In Italy, Matteo Renzi from the left-wing (former communist) party worked hand in hand with the people from Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing party to fend off pressure from the Five Stars Movement. This tactic was a mixed blessing for liberals, especially those on the left. PASOK is practically dead, and Partito Democratico, led by Renzi may follow the suit. (We will learn more on the latter in March, after the Italian elections.) A “grand coalition” has seriously weakened social democrats even in economically prosperous countries such as Germany and Holland.

More recently, liberals, especially those on the right, have tried a different tactic. They have embraced a “soft” version of populism to defeat their “fully fledged” populist opponents. Mark Rutte in Holland castigated migrants, Emmanuel Macron bashed traditional parties, and Theresa May embraced Brexit. Sebastian Kurz in Austria went even further: in his recent electoral campaign, he adopted populist anti-immigrant rhetoric and later formed a government coalition with the party of the late Jörg Haider. (Finland witnessed a similar coalition with populists.) This tactic too is likely to be a mixed blessing, especially for those on the right. The distinction between soft and hard populism is fuzzy, and soft populists will be pressed to harden their stance when faced with the next economic, migratory or security crisis. Can liberalism survive such a populist turn?
Great revival?

The latest medicine for fading liberalism is called: the big idea. Liberals should stop being defensive and use their greatest weapon – intellectual capacity. Populists lack the necessary expertise to propose a vision of Europe fit for the 21st century. They are able to criticize, but they are not capable of offering plausible solutions to growth, security and democracy. They are a force of destruction, not a force of hope and vision. Liberals can do much better and offer the voters a positive alternative to chaotic and shallow populist programs.

I believe in this medicine more than in the previous two options, but we should not expect wonders. This is partly because those who betrayed liberal ideals cannot be trusted to lead the liberal renewal. People associated with Blair, Tusk or Renzi do not seem to understand that.

More crucially, liberalism is not good at generating big ideas, let alone utopias. Inspirational liberal thinkers such as Hannah Arendt, Isaiah Berlin, and Karl Popper invited us to strive for an ‘open society’ but keep in mind that the process of getting to the destination is as important as the final product. They were critical of revolutions with clearly defined agendas; they wanted to move forward through reasoning, deliberation and bargaining, with open minds and no dogmas. They were fond of experiments, marching through trial and error, recognizing our limitations, and suspicious of simple solutions for complicated problems. This is not an endorsement of benign-neglect policy; this is a call for modesty, patience and reason.

Three steps forward

My big liberal idea consists of three steps: reckoning with the past, engaging in experimentation, and creating a new liberal system fit for the digital world. The first step can be accomplished in a year or two, the second step in less than a decade, but the third step may take much longer and we ought to be honest about that. In short, the big idea does not amount to a big bang. Liberals should offer the public a new sense of direction in their march towards a better future. They should offer safe refuge to those unable to adjust to change. However, liberals should not fall into the populist trap of promising heaven on earth by issuing a few decrees and rebuking opponents.

Instead of cultivating nostalgia for the period of liberal glory, liberals should revisit the catalogue of liberal norms guiding their policies. Over the past three decades, those who called themselves liberals have given priority to freedom over equality; economic goods have received more attention (and protection) than political ones; and private values have been cherished more than public values. These priorities need to be revisited.

The next step is to endorse a series of courageous experiments reflecting basic liberal values. The Tobin tax, ‘timebanks’, and various forms of shared economy ought to be tried together with versions of e-democracy and Barcelona-style municipalismo. These experiments by themselves will not heal capitalism and democracy, but they will help to move Europe forward from the current deadlock, empower citizens, and reinstall a sense of justice. They will show that liberalism is a force for progress and not a device for maintaining the status quo and preserving the interests of those in power. Perhaps these experiments will even make liberalism sexy enough for young people to follow.

The final and most demanding step is to move from experiments to the new liberal system of governance. As Zygmunt Bauman has observed in his famous book Liquid Times, the “openness” of the open society “has acquired a new gloss, undreamt of by Karl Popper.” Today openness chiefly means “a society impotent, as never before, to decide its own course with any degree of certainty, and to protect the chosen itinerary once it has been selected.” Liberals should therefore find plausible solutions for unbounded trade, capital, migration, communication, crime and violence. They need to conceive a model of democracy and capitalism which makes sure that citizens are not left in “authority holes” with no public jurisdiction and protection. At present, even the brightest liberal minds lack holistic solutions for handling transnational movements; besides, possible solutions ought to be negotiated with the public and tried in practice, which takes time.

I strongly believe that the new version of the open society should welcome the plurality, heterogeneity, and hybridity of a Europe shaped by globalisation, but I know that some of my liberal friends fear that this would lead to chaos, free riding, and conflict. I am in favour of embracing technological innovation and employing it for the service of the open society, but it is hard to deny that the internet is also being used as a tool of propaganda and repression. Machines will perform many jobs more cheaply and better than humans, but they may also leave many people with no prospect of employment. I look at migrants as a cultural and economic asset, but this does not mean that those who demand a set of stricter conditions for allowing migration are wrong. We need to debate all these complex if not controversial issues and search for practical solutions to them, reflecting such core liberal values as openness and tolerance; individual rights and welfare; restraint, inclusiveness and fairness.

Jan Zielonka is Professor of European Politics at the University of Oxford and Ralf Dahrendorf Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College. His previous appointments included posts at the University of Warsaw, Leiden and the European University Institute in Florence. His latest book, Counter-revolution. Liberal Europe in Retreat, was just published by Oxford University Press.

16. THE SEINE ALSO RISES | Chris Newens
(London Review of Books Blog, 31 January 2018)

Tags: climate change | floods | paris	

For several days now, the Seine has been drawing a crowd. The international press, tourists and Parisians have come to look at the river because it is uncharacteristically high. Before I had seen it myself, I assumed the reason for all the curiosity was novelty. We’ve been told that the chances of the river breaking its banks are extremely low, but Paris can so easily be mistaken for a city frozen in time that changes in its landscape, even temporary ones, ask to be witnessed.

Setting eyes on the engorged river, though, mud brown and churning viciously around the bare branches of its towpath trees, stirred in me an unease I had not expected: that one day, though probably not today, the Seine may begin rising like this, and not stop. And it reminded me that Parisians have long harboured a fear of their city ending up underwater.

I have read about this in poetry and seen it in art. And Laurence Osborne’s Paris Dreambook (1990) begins with a fantasy of the city drowning:

   At first there was no sound as the water rose from the drains, lapped over the kerbs and restaurant doors, spilled untidily into the underground stations and filled up the cavities between the platforms … And as the oily slime made its way into the shops, garages and concierge’s lounges the population took themselves screaming to the rooftops. Everywhere clinging to makeshift rafts, scampering like rodents up church facades and famous monuments … The city finally went under, all except for the proud tip of the Eiffel Tower.

I found the scenes that Osborne describes easy to visualise, because I had seen them before. Not quite on the cataclysmic scale that Osborne imagines, but in photographs of the great flood of 1910, when the Seine burst its banks, and for a number of months, Haussmann’s boulevards filled with water and Paris was a city transformed.

Parisians fear another ‘crue centennale’, a 100-year flood, which they say is long overdue. And it will happen again: Paris was built on a floodplain and the weather will only behave itself for so long.

The fear of a drowned Paris is a fear for the submergence of all cities. Its star may have waned in the last fifty to a hundred years, but there are few places more synonymous with the perceived triumph of Western civilisation. (And it is where the most recent international agreement on climate change was signed.) To see it returned to the waves, to imagine fish swimming the corridors of the Louvre or octopuses nestling in the gargoyles of Notre Dame, is to contemplate the end of all things.

(NACLA, 5 February 2018)

As a historian of Brazil, I learned long ago that predicting the future is a risky business. The country’s past is filled with unexpected twists and turns, far too numerous to enumerate here. It is safe to say, however, that in this year of presidential elections, anything is now possible.

The Workers’ Party (PT) decision to continue supporting Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s candidacy for president after the 3-0 decision upholding his conviction for corruption and money laundering makes strategic sense. It challenges the weak case against him and casts the decision as political persecution against a person who remains incredibly popular among a large segment of the population.

According to the Barômetro Político Estadão-Ipsos poll conducted in November 2017, sponsored by the conservative newspaper O Estado de São Paulo, Lula’s approval rate reached a six-month high of 45%, climbing up from 28% in June 2017. His rejection level remained significant, around 54%, although it has dropped 14% over the past half year. Before this most recent verdict, momentum was clearly on Lula’s side. The most recent DataFolha poll, conducted after his appeal, found 37% of those interviewed still in favor of his candidacy for president.

Other presidential contenders have been less fortunate. Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right congressman from Rio de Janeiro and number two in the presidential race according to most national polls, has seen his popularity drop to 21% with a rejection rate surpassing that of Lula’s at 62%. Geraldo Alckmin, governor of the state of São Paulo and runner-up in the 2006 presidential election, is doing even worse as the nominee of the center-right Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB). His support dropped from 24% to 19%, and his rejection rate jumped from 67% to 74% in a single month.

Other potential contenders, such as the centrist Marina Silva, former Minister of the Environment in Lula’s first term and presidential candidate for the Green Party (2010) and later the Socialist Party (2014), is faring little better at 28% with a 62% disapproval rate. Ciro Gomes, the head of the leftist Democratic Labor Party (PDT), has inched up in the polls but has failed to get national traction, although this might change if Lula is barred from running. President Michel Temer’s astounding 97% rejection rate and 2% approval rate only underscores the country’s crisis of political leadership, which may be the lowest recorded approval rating in the history of polling.

So, forging ahead with Lula’s candidacy while his lawyers appeal on his behalf makes sense. Doing so represents a path out of the doldrums for the PT, hit hard by the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and a plethora of corruption charges surrounding some of its key figures. It places the leading party of the Brazilian left on the offensive as Lula rallies his supporters throughout the country.

However, it is unlikely that Lula’s candidacy will be allowed to stand, given the Clean Background (Ficha Limpa) law that prohibits those convicted of crimes upheld by an appeals court from running for office. At some moment ahead of the October 7 elections, he probably will be barred from the race and perhaps sent to jail.

That leaves three obvious options for the PT. If Lula’s name remains on the ballot, his votes will be voided. Alternatively, the PT could call on its supporters to cast a blank ballot in protest. Or, at the last minute, perhaps sometime in August, the PT could nominate someone else in Lula’s stead to campaign in the final month or so of the race.

Looking at a past election might offer a hint of what lies ahead.  In 1989, Brazil held its first democratic presidential election since 1960. With 22 candidates running in the first round that year, Fernando Collor picked up 30.47%, followed by Lula who received 17.18%. Leonel Brizola, another leftwing candidate, trailed Lula by less than a percentage point, and the PSDB candidate polled 11.5%. In the run-off, Collor defeated Lula by six points.

This year there could be as many as eighteen candidates from across the political spectrum running in the first roundThis year there could be as many as eighteen candidates from across the political spectrum running in the first round that will be held on October 7. They could easily divide up the electorate with unpredictable outcomes.  Any configuration of run-off candidates seems possible, from the PT’s standard bearer (assuming Lula is definitively out of the race) against ultra-rightist Bolsonaro to Marina Silva or Ciro Gomes pitted against Geraldo Alckmin. Although Lula’s popularity—and potential for him to become a national martyr should he be sent to prison—could increase the chances of the PT’s candidate making it to the run-off, it is possible that Bolsonaro could be the next president of Brazil.

This has made many politicians and their financial backers on the center-right nervous. The country remains profoundly polarized, and most of the traditional representatives of the center-right forces that ousted President Rousseff from office have lost their legitimacy.

One man potentially waiting in the wings is Luciano Huck, a Brazilian television host, media personality, and entrepreneur, whose Saturday night show on TV Globo, the media giant, averages 18 million viewers. Although former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso cautions that Huck is still too inexperienced to run for chief executive, the idea that a wild-card top entertainer and entrepreneur might be the answer for the center-right’s seeming inability to find a strong candidate does have a recent international precedent.

And what of the Left? Without Lula to head a center-left electoral coalition, one of the PT’s closest allies, the Communist Party of Brazil (PCB), is fielding its own candidate for the presidency. Similarly, the Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL), a leftwing offshoot of the Workers’ Party formed in 2004, is debating whether to launch its own contender in Guilherme Boulos, the charismatic leader of the São Paulo Homeless Workers’ Movement.

The impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2014, less than two years after she was reelected with 54 million votes, which many consider to have been a parliamentary coup d’état, and now the confirmation of Lula’s conviction, mark two serious defeats for the Brazilian left in recent years. For now, however, the PT’s focus on the 2018 elections will likely defer any serious debate over past mistakes or how the Left might reorganize itself to continue pushing an agenda of economic and social justice.

James N. Green is the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Professor of Latin American Studies at Brown University, the Director of the Brown-Brazil Initiative, and the Executive Director of the Brazilian Studies Association.


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