SACW - 16 Feb 2018 | Asma Jahangir (1952-2018) / A. Sivanandan (1923 – 2018) / India: Hindutva Right Wing Propaganda in Full Swing / Sri Lanka: Local Government Elections / Automated Digital Tools / a grass-roots bid to expose Stalin's 'Great Terror' / Far-Right Politics in Europe

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Fri Feb 16 02:43:16 EST 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 16 February 2018 - No. 2970 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. Pakistan: Asma Jahangir (1952-2018), Secular icon, Feminist, Human Rights Lawyer Passes Away - links to reports, interviews / portraits and tributes
2. A. Sivanandan (1923 – 2018) : Tribute to the late editor of Race & Class | B Skanthakumar
3. BJP Ideology and Future of Scientific Enterprise in India | Ram Puniyani 
4. Partition: The Danger of Counterfactuals | Neera Chandhoke
5. India: Aadhaar’s $11-billion question | Jean Drèze, Reetika Khera
6. India: PADS Condemns Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister for Intimidating State Officers who Expressed Opinion Against Communalism
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:
 - Religion was always recognised in India’s public sphere — but, unlike now, in the plural | Christophe Jaffrelot
 - Allauddin Khilji-Padmavati: what does the History say?
 - India: Is Hindutva mercenaries plan for Hindu rashtra working out ? Shamsul Islam
 - Indian Authoritarianism in CPI(M) Resolution | Y Venu Gopala Reddy
 - India: Full Text of statement Condemning Violence Unleashed by the Police and the RSS Outfits Against Dalits in Vadayampady, Kerala
 - India: Hindutva’s Desperate Attempt to Use Bhagat Singh Against Love
 - India: Bhagwat’s army comment deserves to be condemned, but not for the reasons you thought - Hilal Ahmed
 - The story of escape from a Mormon fundamentalist family
 - India: RSS Chief's statement that his organisation is better than the Indian army | Bharat Bhushan
 - India: The history of archaeology at Ayodhya is also a history of ideology in archaeology - Jaya Menon, Supriya Varma
 - India: On Ankit Saxena’s father refusing to communalise his son’s murder | Harsh Mander / Personalised violence cannot be equated with systematic, normalised violence | Sanjay Srivastava
 - India: BJP lawmakers continue targeting India’s religious minorities | Aritry Das
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
9. Nepal’s communist party leader Oli named next prime minister
10. Nepal gives up its hippy zeitgeist | Ross Adkin
11. Sri Lanka: After the Local Government Elections -- Back to the chessboard? | Jayadeva Uyangoda
12. India: Why political parties are reluctant to ban khap panchayats - Editorial, Hindustan Times
13. Nuclear Power: Challenging Rosatom's claims - Our opposition to Rooppur power plant . . . | Mowdud Rahman and Debasish Sarker
14. Bhagwat’s Better-Than-Army Comment And Brownshirts’ Appeal To Replace The German Army | Bharat Bhushan
15. Amar Kanwar: From the fault lines| Vandana Kalra
16. India’s secret war | Praveen Swami
17. Automated Digital Tools Threaten Political Campaigns in Latin America | Emilio Godoy
18. In Russia, a grass-roots bid to expose Stalin's 'Great Terror' | Fred Weir
19. Review: Dafnos on Camus and Lebourg, 'Far-Right Politics in Europe'

Asma Jahangir: Pakistan human rights champion died on sunday 11 February in Lahore, Pakistan. Here is an ongoing compilation of reports, portraits, tributes etc  

1.1 Obituary: Pakistan’s bravest citizen is no more | Ahmed Rashid
Nobody in Pakis­tan’s brief history, which has witnessed four military coups, has matched Asma Jahan­gir for her dedication to public service, her belief in the rule of law, her relentless defence of democracy and pursuit of free and fair elections. She stood for both peace and justice with all of Pakistan’s neighbours.

1.2 An indomitable will’ – why Asma Jahangir was Pakistan’s social conscience | Moni Mohsin
The death of Asma Jahangir, the Pakistani activist, lawyer and human rights campaigner who passed away on Sunday after suffering a cardiac arrest at her home in Lahore, has left a nation reeling with a profound sense of loss.

by B Skanthakumar
Ambalavaner Sivanandan, who has died aged 94 in London on 3 January 2018, was an organic intellectual working at the interstices of race, class and imperialism.

by Ram Puniyani 
With Indian independence and coming of Indian Constitution; the foundations for progress in the society were laid. This was to be for an all out progress and the basis of this was the principles of scientific temper. This process was guided by the architect of modern India, Jawaharlal Nehru.

    . . . till today, communal organisations continue to trigger the brutalisation of social and political identities, creation of divides, exacerbation of hitherto muted schisms, and the creation of new ones. We have, it appears, not paid heed to these warnings. If we had, India would not re-enact the horrors of the Partition.

by Jean Drèze, Reetika Khera
Word has it that World Bank economists use “obviously fabricated” data from time to time. These are not Sitaram Yechury or Medha Patkar’s words, but those of Paul Romer, former chief economist of the World Bank, in a recent email exchange reported by Financial Times. Romer retracted them later, but this “may not end the controversy”, as The Economist mildly put it. This not the first time that World Bank economists skate on thin ice. Another recent example concerns the widely-quoted estimate of $11 billion annual savings (or potential savings) due to Aadhaar

Statement from People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism on 8 February 2018

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.

 - Religion was always recognised in India’s public sphere — but, unlike now, in the plural | Christophe Jaffrelot
 - Allauddin Khilji-Padmavati: what does the History say?
 - India: Is Hindutva mercenaries plan for Hindu rashtra working out ? Shamsul Islam
 - Indian Authoritarianism in CPI(M) Resolution | Y Venu Gopala Reddy
 - India: Full Text of statement Condemning Violence Unleashed by the Police and the RSS Outfits Against Dalits in Vadayampady, Kerala
 - India: Hindutva’s Desperate Attempt to Use Bhagat Singh Against Love
 - India: Bhagwat’s army comment deserves to be condemned, but not for the reasons you thought - Hilal Ahmed
 - The story of escape from a Mormon fundamentalist family
 - India: RSS Chief's statement that his organisation is better than the Indian army | Bharat Bhushan
 - India: The history of archaeology at Ayodhya is also a history of ideology in archaeology - Jaya Menon, Supriya Varma
 - India: On Ankit Saxena’s father refusing to communalise his son’s murder | Harsh Mander / Personalised violence cannot be equated with systematic, normalised violence | Sanjay Srivastava
 - India: BJP lawmakers continue targeting India’s religious minorities | Aritry Das
 - India: Please respect Interfaith Marriages a Constitutional right - Shehla Rashid
 - BJP To Launch a Communal Propaganda Procession Across India Starting 13 Feb 2018 from Ayodhya
 - Muslims have no place in India says BJP's MP Vinay Katiyar -- Should an MP say this in a secular country?
 - View from the spider’s web - Jawed Naqvi
 - 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)

 -> available via:
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The Asahi Shimbun

February 16, 2018 

Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, center, announces his resignation in Katmandu on Feb. 15. (AP Photo)

KATMANDU--The leader of Nepal's communist party was named the Himalayan nation's new prime minister Thursday, a day after the results of parliamentary elections were finalized.

Khadga Prasad Oli, who also served as prime minister in 2015, was to take the oath of office later Thursday, a spokesman for the president's office said.

Oli will be leading a coalition government made up of his Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center), which took the most seats in the November and December 2017 elections.

The poll results were made official Wednesday night, leading Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to resign earlier Thursday after eight months in office.

Oli's biggest challenge as prime minister will be balancing Nepal's relationship with its giant neighbors India and China, as well as managing lingering internal strife stemming from the country's new Constitution and transition from a monarchy.

The 2015 charter divided the nation into seven provinces that are now governed as a federal republic but sparked violent ethnic protests in southern Nepal that left more than 50 people dead and shut down the entire region for months.

The Madhesi ethnic group was unhappy with the Constitution, believing they deserved more territory than assigned for their province. India supported the Madhesi and choked the supply of oil, medicine and other supplies to Nepal, resulting in severe shortages and making Oli's first turn as prime minister a difficult one.

Landlocked Nepal is surrounded by India on three sides and imports all of its oil and most supplies from India. It also shares a border with China.

The protests eventually fizzled out, but relations between India and Nepal hit a low point.

India appears to be seeking a better relationship with Oli this time around. It sent Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to Nepal earlier this month in an apparent move to woo the incoming alliance government.

Oli, 65, was born in a village in east Nepal and has been involved in politics since he was young.

He worked up the ranks of the communist party and was jailed a total of 14 years for opposing the autocratic rule of Nepal's monarchs. The monarchs banned political parties until 1990, when street protests forced then King Birendra to allow political parties to contest elections and turned him into a constitutional monarch.

The monarchy was formally abolished in 2008.

Oli has a kidney illness and has made regular trips to Thailand for medical treatment.

Nikkei Asian Review 
February 15, 2018

New rules and new hotels transform the once-seedy tourist district of Thamel


In the evenings, people travel through the streets of Thamel, the popular tourist district of Kathmandu. © Jurgen Schwenkenbecher/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

In north-central Kathmandu sits the famous tourist district of Thamel. From the uneven path that wends its way to the area through Amrit Campus, a famous science college, a visitor can see the ongoing transformation of the city's skyline. Skeletons of concrete and brick reach up, ever further, into the shabby, dusty blue of the sky.

It will be some months before rooms in these structures will be full of hoped-for arrivals from China and South Korea, but the names on the signboards -- for example, Fairfield by Marriott -- already signal Nepal's ambitions to attract a more "respectable" clientele than the neighborhood's traditionally bohemian visitors.

Last October, a long-awaited municipal decree came into force that could hasten the drawn-out death of one of South Asia's most enduring monuments to the hippy era. The banning of most motor vehicles on Thamel's narrow and crowded streets will make wandering and shopping a more pleasant experience, and perhaps attract a better quality of shops and clientele.

The new rules also ban cycle rickshaws from Thamel's center and force pullers to congregate at its fringes, robbing them of the mobility needed for the part-time purveying of adulterated hashish, another of the neighborhood's traditional selling points.

The real home of the hippies was around Freak Street, just to the south. But in the 1980s, residential Thamel became a hub for mountaineers, rafters and trekkers. In its transformation into a shadier self, it took on the mantle of the vestiges of hippy culture of 20 years earlier. The district became a seedy, concrete hodgepodge of adventure adrenaline, Buddhist art and cover bands playing Dire Straits and Creedence Clearwater Revival, an ambiguous character that nevertheless put the area on the tourist map.

Overseas graduates wrote theses about the meeting of Nepalis and foreigners here. British director Murray Kerr's low-budget feature film "Sick City" was shot there and paints a bleak picture of Thamel's dark, druggy underbelly.

"Thamel is a physical space, but it is, equally, a mental artefact," Rabi Thapa wrote in "Thamel: Dark Star of Kathmandu," a wonderful combination of memoir and reportage detailing the area's history and the most recent homage to the neighborhood.

The 65 Nepalese rupee ($0.63) breakfast of fried potatoes, a banana, toast and fluorescent pink jam, along with the instant coffee served in tall glasses and dosed with copious amounts of milk and sugar, has virtually disappeared. Also gone are the music shops, full of pirated Grateful Dead and Bob Marley albums -- and the chance to pick up some classical Indian music or Tibetan chants as you loaded up on cheap CDs.

Where the iconic Pilgrims Book House used to be (it burned down in 2013), there is now a miniature mall, made of unlovely concrete and faux marble, with around 10 stores selling cashmere shawls and Apple products.

Thamel's bookshops still cater to every ideology and creed, however. And Pilgrims has reopened elsewhere. Halfway down Mandala Street, the shiny, grand-looking China's Tibet Book Store sells books about Chinese philosophy, literature, educational ideas and Taoism. It also has shelves of books telling China's side of the Tibetan story. In pride of place were Nepali and English editions of Chinese leader Xi Jinping's latest book, "The Governance of China," which was released in Nepal in 2016 by President Bidya Bhandari.

In a cafe on the southern edge of Thamel, I met a climber from Beijing who said he lived in Nepal half the time, in a small, cell-like room. He worked as a guide for Chinese tourists into the mountains. He spoke as little Nepali as the hippies would have done, and no English. He seemed content and busy. An estimated 100,000 Chinese tourists visited Nepal last year, some making the kind of long and intrepid overland journey that is no longer made from the West in any serious numbers.

The poverty/spirituality trope that inspired many of these journeys, and which lingers on in international media coverage and development discourse, is being increasingly challenged by the aspirations of the country's young and mobile population. Meeting such ambitions will require Nepal to take better advantage of its location between India and China. In exorcising the "ghost of the hippy" and by welcoming more and more visitors from east of the Himalayas, the sanitized, more respectable Thamel is already showing the way.

Ross Adkin is a U.K.-based writer.

(The Hindu
February 15, 2018)

The political crisis in Sri Lanka will likely end in a reconfiguration of coalition forces

Sri Lanka’s local government election held on February 10 has become more than a mid-term poll that usually helps the opposition. Rather, it has led to an immediate political crisis of sorts, threatening the stability of the present government.

While the disunited ruling coalition, jointly headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has lost the election badly, the newly formed Sri Lanka People’s Front, unofficially backed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has secured a sweeping victory in provinces except in the north and east.

Pressure points

There are two dimensions to the crisis. The first is the pressure from the Rajapaksa camp for the Wickremesinghe government to resign, interpreting the local government election as a referendum on the government as well as a loss of its popular mandate of 2015. The government can easily dismiss that pressure by showing that Mr. Rajapaksa’s new party polled only 44% of the popular vote this time while the parties that were partners in the coalition that brought them into power in 2015 have nearly 52% of votes between them.

Besides, the outcome of the local government election has no direct bearing on the government’s parliamentary majority. Mr. Rajapaksa has only about 50 MPs. Thus, the balance of power within Parliament has not been altered, and it is likely to remain that way unless the ruling coalition breaks up.

It is in that sense that the second dimension is more serious than the first. The hostility and disunity between the two centres of power of the ruling coalition — one headed by Mr. Sirisena and the other by Mr. Wickremesinghe — has shaken the very foundations of the government. Mr. Wickremesinghe heads the United National Party (UNP), which is the largest component of the coalition with 106 MPs. Mr. Sirisena heads the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), with only 37 MPs with him in the coalition government. The local election showed 32% voter support for Mr. Wickremesinghe’s UNP —and Mr. Sirisena’s UPFA and SLFP polled a low 12%.

The discord build-up

The discord between the President and the Prime Minister has been building up for over a year on a mixture of policy and personal issues. The President has been open in saying that Mr. Wickremesinghe and his ministers had been mishandling the economy, slowing down the investigation into alleged corruption by the Rajapaksa family, and even engaging in large-scale corruption while preaching clean governance. Mr. Sirisena also felt that Mr. Wickremesinghe has been ignoring him on policy issues. Thus, due to the simmering disharmony, bitterness and mutual distrust, the Sirisena and Wickremesinghe camps of the government could not even contest this election as a coalition. Once in the fray as competitors, the two main parties of the coalition quickly transformed themselves into rivals and adversaries.

In the backdrop of the escalating cold war between the two leaders was a major policy failure of the government — a massive financial fraud that was committed during the central bank’s bond sales in 2015. This was under the new government, within three months of its coming to power on a platform of corruption-free good governance.

Much of the blame for the bond sales fraud was laid at the door of the Prime Minister by the opposition and the media for allowing it to happen and then attempting a cover-up. Amidst a public outcry, Mr. Sirisena appointed a commission last year to investigate the fraud. In its report, submitted to the President late last year, the commission recommended the prosecution of the bank’s former Governor, his son-in-law and their accomplices. This was a blow against the government, and caused further deterioration of relations between the President and the Prime Minister.

The issue dominated campaigning for the local government election, which began early in December, with Mr. Sirisena targeting the UNP. He also pledged that he was going to clean up the government after the election, indirectly suggesting a change in the composition of the cabinet.

It is this conflict that exploded in February 11 soon after the election results showed Mr. Rajapaksa’s new party winning comfortably. Mr. Sirisena began to search for a replacement for Mr. Wickremesinghe, despite not having the constitutional authority to sack or appoint the Prime Minister or members of the cabinet. Mr. Sirisena failed to make any headway after two days of manoeuvring. Alive to the threat, UNP Ministers and MPs, even amidst fresh divisions, have now closed ranks against Mr. Sirisena. By the night of February 13, the UNP began a line of action independent of Mr. Sirisena and his SLFP/UPFA and then to reconstitute the coalition government.

In this scenario, the UNP envisages an outcome in which Mr. Wickremesinghe will continue as the Prime Minister of a reconfigured coalition government, with a much weakened Mr. Sirisena as President. Mr. Wickremesinghe has 106 UNP MPs in the 225-member Parliament.

There is speculation that nearly a dozen SLFP Ministers, who are currently with Mr. Sirisena, are ready to join Mr. Wickremesinghe’s new government in case of a clear split between the two leaders. There is also speculation that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is ready to offer conditional outside support to Mr. Wickremesinghe. Devolution, peace building and constitutional reform are sure to be the themes of those conditions.

There is another scenario in which Mr. Sirisena will continue to insist on Mr. Wickremesinghe’s resignation as Prime Minister. This will certainly deepen the crisis because the UNP is no mood to lose the power struggle. As mentioned earlier, the President is reported to be searching for a replacement for Mr. Wickremesinghe from among senior members of the UNP, but with limited success. A part of Mr. Sirisena’s strategy would also be to create dissent within the UNP with a view to weakening Mr. Wickremesinghe.
Thus, the political crisis that has been precipitated by the election seems to be intensifying but is expected to end with the significant step of re-constitution of the government.

Difficulties ahead

Whatever happens, the undeclared power struggle between the two main coalition partners will have to come to an end in a new configuration of coalition forces. As things stand now, the two leaders do not seem to be giving way in the battle for supremacy within the coalition government. Reconciliation between the two coalition leaders is not in the realm of immediate possibilities, but they will have to find a framework of cohabitation given that the Rajapaksa family is waiting to move in. However, the political drama that began on February 10 is unlikely to end soon. Buoyed by the surprise win for its party which was formed just a year ago, the Rajapaksa family will continue to stake claim to power both within and outside Parliament. It will also have another chance of consolidating its newly gained electoral power in the Provincial Council elections to be held later this year. After this, presidential elections will have to be held by end-2019, followed by parliamentary elections. Sri Lanka watchers can expect more political surprises ahead.

Meanwhile, if the President and the Prime Minister do not find a framework of constructive reconciliation between them, governance in Sri Lanka will crawl along for two years. Worse still, the much-valued programme of constitutional and political reform, peace building, inter-ethnic reconciliation and democratic consolidation will enter an extended state of stalemate. Its resurgence, sadly and ironically, might require another phase of democratic setback.

Jayadeva Uyangoda is Professor Emeritus at the University of Colombo

(Hindustan Times, Feb 07, 2018)


Political parties do not want to ban khap panchayats because these caste groups command large vote banks. But no matter the support they get from political parties, they are illegal and must be ruthlessly stamped out.

Boys will be boys and will commit mistakes (reference to the Delhi gang rape), an old wife loses her charm, mobile phones and jeans used by women are against Indian culture – just a small selection of remarks from prominent politicians which echo the sentiments often expressed by the infamous khap panchayats across north India.

These self-styled kangaroo courts will now have to watch their words since the Supreme Court has castigated them saying: “If people decide to marry, they are adults and you are nobody to interfere.” While the court’s sentiments are laudable, it will take much more to get the khaps to fall in line, secure as they are in the political patronage they enjoy. There are two reasons for this support. One is that many politicians, even some women leaders, are opposed to inter-caste and inter-religious marriages very much as the khaps are. The other is that the khaps control sizeable vote banks and can be called upon to gather support during elections. The apex court has earlier too spoken out strongly against these khaps, which seem to hold the power of life and death for those who come up against them. Many young couples have been hounded out of their homes and some murdered, all in the name of the honour of the family.

These murders, horrific as they are, enjoy a considerable amount of social sanction in the villages where they took place and even the families of the victims have often come out in support of the killings. The court’s ire apart, the killings continue because of the ease with which the killers are able to get away with it or get off lightly.

Often, this is because the witnesses are reluctant to come forward and there is political pressure on the police to go slow or botch up the cases. Even those politicians who do not want to come out in support of khaps have restricted themselves to saying that they are part of traditions and culture. But it is the job of any elected lawmaker to ensure that tradition does not translate into the murder of young people who have committed no crime other than to exercise their freedom of choice of a partner or a way of life.

The Supreme Court’s latest directive was in response to a plea before it to ban khaps altogether. There is little possibility that they will transform into reformation movements in the near future. So odious as bans are, there is some merit in the suggestion that they be neutralised before they do further damage.

by Mowdud Rahman and Debasish Sarker
(The Daily Star, January 21, 2018)

On December 25, 2017, an opinion piece was published in The Daily Star by Andrey Shevlyakov titled “Changing perceptions on nuclear energy.” Given the author's institutional position as the acting CEO of Rosatom South Asia and their business interest, it is not surprising that he is engaged in an effort to change the public perception of nuclear power. After the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and global trend to backtrack from nuclear power projects, any company with huge investment in this industry is bound to engage in such a campaign. We appreciate the author's effort to publicly engage in discussion on the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant; however, we write this response to his article to record our dissent to Rosatom's misinformation campaign. What Shevlyakov has written does not reflect the real scenario of the nuclear industry today, rather it was a clever attempt to justify a dangerously destructive project.

Shevlyakov talked about what all they had done to ensure public participation because, as he suggests, “public acceptance affects both the implementation of individual nuclear energy projects and our industry as a whole.” Sadly, in the implementation of Rooppur project, we have not seen any public consultation. Even before starting the construction of this 2,400 MW capacity plant, a plan has been formulated to install 4,800 MW capacity by 2041. It was necessary to go for a public mandate and an open discussion within various groups in the society. It seems Shevlyakov's remark on public acceptance is rather rhetorical. In reality, they are imposing their pre-conceived idea of nuclear power on us.

Shevlyakov claimed “public acceptance is promotion of direct dialogue” and that they have done so through arranging—might we say sponsoring—trips for Bangladeshi youth to Russia or journalists' visit to Ishwardi. A trip to Russia may be a long-cherished dream for many, and Rosatom has every right to enjoy appreciation from individuals who received their support to realise that dream. However, it is not clear how such trips for a small group of individuals can improve larger public perception on nuclear power. Do they have any statistics about what percentage of people in Bangladesh actually knows about this project? Other than advertisement and propaganda, has there been any activity to count the common people's voice on this vital project? Why hasn't the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report been made public? Without a proper information flow, how are they changing perception on nuclear energy? These overseas trips appear to be an attempt at sidestepping open and public dialogues and justifying such a complex project. The author has spent a good chunk of his column space on these trips, which is rather unconvincing.    

Shevlyakov mentioned that Rosatom gives the highest priority to nuclear safety and will comply with all the necessary safety and security standards prescribed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. According to IAEA, there are two zones surrounding any nuclear reactor—the first of which is the Precautionary Action Zone, which has a 5km radius area of any nuclear reactor and it is recommended to have evacuation facility and preparation for any emergency situation to evacuate the area within 15 minutes' notice. And, the second zone is Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone, which covers a 30km radius area and is recommended to have the facility to evacuate the area within one hour in any emergency situation. The people of Pabna, Bheramara, Lalpur, Kushtia, Ishwardi are all living within the 30km area of the proposed Rooppur nuclear power reactor. Have they been informed by the government about the possibility of an emergency situation? Is there any plan to comply with the international safety and security standards and build infrastructure to evacuate thousands of people within hours? In a densely populated region, would it be possible to build such capacity and maintain the mechanism effectively? From our own independent investigation, we did not find the people to be aware and ready to leave their ancestral land in just 15 minutes.

Shevlyakov's piece is implicitly built on the assumption that the dissenting voice that exists in Bangladesh about nuclear energy is based on fear, and not scientific information. We want to assure him that our fear is historically and scientifically grounded. We can't help but recall the history of the Russian nuclear industry, which is built on denial—denial of truth. They have records of using substandard equipment, bypassing in-country expert community suggestion, and so on. The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant that they have recently built in India bears evidence of these allegations. In October 2017, a French public authority of nuclear safety and security identified a cloud of radioactive isotope ruthenium-106 in European territory which originated from a Russian nuclear facility. It is not surprising that Russia's nuclear agency has refused to accept any responsibility in this regard (The Guardian, November 21, 2017). Therefore, our opposition to Rooppur power plant is not based on unfounded fear but on the past records of Rosatom and the nuclear industry at large; we are expressing our concern about our future as Bangladeshi citizens.  

Shevlyakov proudly announces that 3rd generation plus technology will be used by Russia at Rooppur. We all know that it is nothing but an advertising tool of the nuclear industry. Improvement of technology is a continuous process and it keeps on adding new features every day. The third-generation technology might be the latest one in their basket but surely not the last one. Fukushima, when it happened, had the most advanced technology at its disposal, yet it could not avert the disaster. Besides, averting a disaster is not the only risk involved here. Therefore, the third-generation plus technology cannot be the right answer to our concerns. They are taking cues from previous disasters to build new technology at the expense of immense loss of lives and ecology. Therefore, advanced technology could be their selling point but it does not answer our concerns.

Mowdud Rahman is Engineer and Energy Technology Researcher, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay) and Debasish Sarker is Engineer and PhD Researcher on Nuclear Safety, Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, Germany.

Dejavu: In 1934, Head of Hitler’s Brownshirts wanted his force to replace army as main fighting force of Germany
by Bharat Bhushan
(Outlook Magazine Web Site
14 February 2018)

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Chief Mohan Bhagwat boasted that his organisation could get battle-ready in as little as three days compared to the six-seven months taken by the Indian Army. Bhagwat’s comments reveal that given the right political milieu, the RSS aspires to a formal role in the State.

The typical RSS member looks more like the paunchy grandpas of the BBC sitcom Dad’s Army, than a formidable fighting force. Unfit to fight but full of jingoism in Dad’s Army the middle-aged characters prepare to deal with the fictional contingency of a German landing in South England. As they prepare to hold off an invasion their commanding officer observes with bravado: “It'll probably be the end of us, but we're ready for that, aren't we, men?”

However, Bhagwat’s comments also bring a more sinister image to mind. Of the Stormtroopers (Sturm Abteilung or SA), popularly called the Brownshirts of Adolf Hitler and the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (MVSN, "Voluntary Militia for National Security"), better known as the Blackshirts, of the Italian fascist, Benito Mussolini. The Brownshirts (SA) and the Blackshirts (MVSN) were both paramilitary wings of their respective parties and were given respectability once the fascists assumed power.

The SA, founded in 1920, played an important role in Hitler’s rise. They marched in military-style rallies and protected party meetings, broke up meetings of the Opposition, and intimidated voters during elections. Its head Ernst Roehm sent a memorandum in January 1934  to the German Army Chief, General von Blomberg, demanding that the SA replace the army as the main fighting force of Germany.

The activities of SA under Roehm were viewed with suspicion by the regular army as he hoped to merge the SA and the army under his leadership. Unsure of the SA’s loyalty, Hitler formed his own personal guard the Schutzstaffel (or SS).

On 30 June 1934 - known as the ‘Night of Long Knives” - Hitler used the SS forces to carry out a brutal purge of the SA as he became suspicious of Roehm who had called for a second Nazi revolution along socialist lines. Hitler ordered the killing of the top SA leadership, including Roehm. In all 80 extra-judicial murders including that of a former Chancellor and some generals took place.

In the aftermath of the bloody purge, the downsized SA remained an instrument of violence and trained the German Home Guard from 1939. The SS, on the other hand, became much  more important. One of its wings was used for enforcing the Nazi state’s racial policies, the other known as the Waffen-SS or armed SS, constituted the combat units of the German Army, and a third wing took over the running of the concentration camps from the SA after 1934.

Both the SA and the SS were accommodated in security roles by the fascist state. Is this what the RSS also seeks?

The Italian Blackshirts are another example of the fusion of fascist vigilante groups with State forces. The RSS as is well documented was greatly inspired by Italian fascism.

Italian historian Marzia Casolari has documented how Mussolini’s fascism inspired RSS leader B S Moonje. Mentor of the organisation’s founder KB Hedgewar, Moonje made a trip to Italy in 1931. He was deeply impressed with militarisation of schooling under Mussolini. On his return inspired by Italian fascists he adopted a programme of militarising Hindu society The Bhonsala Military School which the RSS apparently uses to train its cadre, was set up by Moonje.

The Italian Blackshirts started in 1919 as ‘action squads’ fighting those whom they considered a threat to the Italian nation. In 1923, the vigilante groups led by nationalist intellectuals, war veterans and landowners were officially constituted into the MVSN, as the private army of the fascist party. Like Hitler’s SA, they were a national, political militia. Once Mussolini came to power, the Blackshirts formally became a part of the establishment and were called the ‘fourth branch’ of the armed forces.

The RSS is a political militia that can be mobilised at short notice – three days according to Bhagwat.

This militia feeds other vigilante groups sharing the same ideology - the Bajrang Dal, the Sri Ram Sene and theGaurakshaks. Each one is summoned for a specific task and its members then dissipate into the cadre of another organisation depending on social, political and ideological contingencies. The ability to apparate into new forms according to circumstance allows the RSS to project itself as a social service organisation helping victims of natural disasters at one time and to appear as the sword arm of Hindutva at another.

In saying that the RSS too can be morphed to become one with the Indian Army, Bhagwat is doing more than celebrating its military ethos. He is deliberately trying to blur the distinction between his Hindu bullyboys and the professional and secular armed forces of the Indian Republic.

(The writer is a journalist based in Delhi)

(The Indian Express, 
February 11, 2018)

How the unabashedly political art of filmmaker Amar Kanwar is earning him a global following.

Written by Vandana Kalra | New Delhi

Amar Kanwar Artist and filmmaker Amar Kanwar at his Saket, New Delhi residence on Thursday, December 14, 2017. Express photo by Abhinav Saha

Early on in the millennium, when art was still blue-chip in India, an Indian filmmaker was invited to participate in the most prestigious contemporary art showcase. The Nigerian art director of Documenta 2002, Okwui Enwezor, wanted to make the festival truly global and present undiscovered but exceptional artists. Amar Kanwar was one of them.

The unassuming Delhi-based filmmaker was not a regular at the leading art galleries; nor the toast of white cubes and art fairs. Instead, he was just becoming known outside the experimental art circuit for his works that explored the inequalities of the subcontinent. “There were artists who admired him, completely believed in his work, but then there were also those who did wonder how he was at the Documenta,” recalls Roobina Karode, director and chief curator of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

Kanwar’s work at Kassel was a befitting reply. His 77-minute film, A Night of Prophecy, recorded the music and poetry of tragedy and pain. The artist-filmmaker had travelled across India, from Andhra Pradesh to Kashmir, Maharashtra and Nagaland, to weave poetic narratives that questioned the promise of democracy. Dalit writer Prakash Jadhav’s powerful poem, Under Dadar Bridge, comes alive when a son recalls asking his now deceased mother whether he was born Hindu or Muslim. His mother replies, “You are an abandoned spark of the world’s lusty fires.” In Nagaland, children sang of freedom, and a schoolteacher in Kashmir recited verses as the screen moved from Kashmiri Pandits to graves of Kashmiri Muslims.

“It’s a film that has a life of its own and lives beyond me now,” says Kanwar. Seated in his sparsely furnished Saket studio, he has since then turned to poetry in several of his narratives. The only Indian invited to show his work at four consecutive Documenta editions, including last year, he is lauded for successfully blurring the boundaries between cinema and art. “He has not only developed his own mode of making videos but also given films an entirely new dimension. It is art in every sense of the word. I don’t know anyone else of his kind in India,” says veteran artist Gulammohammed Sheikh.

Kanwar has affirmed his position as one of the world’s most politically discerning artists. Mounted as multi-channel installations, his videos compel his audience to build their own perceptions. He layers his chronicles with interviews and archival material, poetry, prose and animated drawings. He informs his audience of the different ways of viewing, just as his own art teacher did, at Delhi’s Air Force School. “He asked us not to follow a prescribed template. All leaves are not green, the sky didn’t always have to be blue,” he says.

What he saw as a student of history in Ramjas College, Delhi also politicised him. Sikhs were killed or maimed by murderous mobs seeking to avenge the assassination of then PM Indira Gandhi in 1984. In that broken city, Kanwar assisted in relief work and participated in campaigns demanding justice for the victims. “I was upset and shocked at the brutality that followed against innocent citizens of my country, by the complicity of the police and politicians in power in the killings. I was upset by the protection that the killers received and still receive,” says Kanwar.

A few months later, the toxic gas leak at Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal killed thousands. “Again, we saw the same thing. Violence in another form. Disrespect for people. Complicity of corporations and administrations. And impunity. Those responsible were protected,” says Kanwar.

We meet the 53-year-old a few weeks after he was awarded the Prince Claus Award at the Royal Palace Amsterdam, that recognises socially engaged cultural practitioners. It adds to the long list of accolades he has received, including the Golden Gate Award, San Francisco International Film Festival, USA (1999). “I took up films just because it seemed interesting, more open, without rigid academic and examination systems,” says Kanwar, talking of the years when he enrolled for post-graduation at the Mass Communication Research Centre at Jamia Millia Islamia.

He was still pursuing his Master’s when he made Site and A Wager (1986), a film that discussed minimum wages, health and maternity benefits in India. The irony of portraying the plight of the underprivileged through the expensive medium of film struck him so much that he decided to quit filmmaking in the late 1980s. Posted in the coal mining belt of Madhya Pradesh as a researcher at the People’s Science Institute, he felt the urge to share stories from the area. “I started looking at cheaper mediums such as drawings, photography and theatre, but then I returned to films,” he recalls.

Back in Delhi, he was still searching for opportunities when he found himself at the centre of a civil and democratic rights movement, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, led by Shankar Guha Niyogi. The trade union leader wanted a filmmaker to document the mass movement in Bhilai. Kanwar reached a day after Niyogi was assassinated. He could not film him but he did record the funeral and the outrage that followed. There was also a recorded audio message in which Niyogi predicted that industrialists would harm him. Years later, in 2005, when the Supreme Court acquitted local industrialists accused of conspiring to kill Niyogi, Kanwar revisited the scene of crime in The Prediction.

A projection on a handmade book had archival photographs, newspaper reports, the legal history of the trial, and Niyogi’s prophecy. It also included the mineral and resource maps of Chhattisgarh, and the prediction of their gradual eradication. Two more handmade books were part of the trilogy — The Constitution which talks about how the state fails to protect the basic rights of citizens, and The Counting Sisters, a story written by Kanwar where mourners count the dead and missing displaced by the government and large corporations in Odisha.

The series, along with several other elements, adds up to The Sovereign Forest, a project that evolved over a decade and one that Kanwar filmed intermittently since 1999. Central to the display was the 42-minute single channel projection “The Scene of Crime” that offered “an experience of a landscape just prior to erasure as territories marked for acquisition by industries”. “Almost every image in this film lies within specific territories that are proposed industrial sites and are in the process of being acquired by government and corporations in Odisha,” wrote Kanwar in a note. It was exhibited across the world. Kanwar even took it to Odisha, inviting people to the Samadrusti campus in Bhubaneswar from 2012 to 2016, “to add to the growing body of evidence collected”.

Scrupulously, he flips through a book that lists over 272 different varieties of rice seed, grown and harvested every year by the farmer Natbar Sadangi, meticulously labelled, collected from the “crime scene”. “There were 30,000 varieties of traditional paddy seeds in Odisha, assuring very high yields. Today, there are only a few, all requiring large amounts of water and chemical fertilisers,” says Kanwar.

Kanwar remains a reclusive artist, reluctant to talk about himself or commit to networking. “I clearly discovered, that over a period of time people actually relate to the ‘work’ rather than the network. And there is only a limited amount of energy so it’s better and easier actually to let the films do the talking and connect with people than through networking. People reach out to you if they find meaning in the films,” he says.

Seldom seen at art soirees, he is solely represented by New York’s Marian Goodman gallery. “Once I started working with them, I realised I was just very comfortable working with them. I didn’t feel the need to have dealings with more commercial galleries,” says Kanwar. His cinematographer Dilip Varma and editor Sameera Jain, too, have been working with him since 1995.

His neighbours in Delhi might not recognise him as a world-class artist but his audience would identify his melancholic voice from his videos, where he is often the narrator. In A Season Outside (1997), for instance, he told them, how his family too fled Pakistan in 1947, and he grew up listening to stories of Punjabi women nailing their windows to barricade themselves against the prolonged rape and murder unleashed by Partition.

Over the years, his work has explored the nature of truth. “The ‘document’ of the documentary has for long already been thrown up into the air. Is an illusion more real than a fact? Which vocabulary is more appropriate for a dream? How can a pamphlet be a poem, how can a poem be the story of a murder, how can a murder become a ballad, how can a ballad become an argument, how can an argument become a vulnerability the expression of which negates the argument but eventually shifts all positions,” says Kanwar, talking about his documentation approach.

Evidence for him is paramount. But what Kanwar does is question its very meaning. “Who defines evidence?” he asks. He had set out to find answers to this question during the making of The Sovereign Forest. He had also addressed it in his eight-channel video The Lightning Testimonies (2007).

Reflecting on the history of sexual brutality and violence in times of political conflict, the film’s starting point was Partition. The 2002 Gujarat riots prompted Kanwar to gather stories from the past, collecting evidence, speaking to both victims and their families over a course of four years. From Manipur, he had interviews of women who famously protested naked outside the Assam Rifles office in Imphal. In Wokha, Nagaland, an orange tree was cited as witness to “everything the army had done over a number of days that seemed like years”. “Sexual violence is something that we find difficult to talk about and often are unable to express. The narratives of sexual violence always seems to disappear, but, in fact, the memory remains submerged and lives for long. I tried to find a way to go beyond the violence and suffering which I think did happen, towards the experience of resistance and ways of surviving” says Kanwar. The account might be rooted in India, but its relevance is universal. “This work allowed us to open up conversations about sexual violence in other conflicts — in Europe after the World War II, in Africa, in Southeast Asia,” says Nada Raza, assistant curator of Tate Modern, London, where the work was on view till last week.

In his most recent work, though, Kanwar makes a slight departure. He is still responding to the times and questioning the consensus but this time it is through his fictional protagonist, an aging mathematician who, at the peak of his career, retires to an abandoned train carriage. On the verge of blindness, he begins to experience hallucinations and epiphanies. They compel him to write letters that he compiles in the ‘Almanac of the Dark’. Screened at Documenta last year, Such a Morning is a cinematic parable about the limits of knowledge, and addresses global political tensions, violence and insecurities. “The film searches for a sensory, hallucinatory and metaphysical way to re-comprehend the difficult times we are living in and the very meaning of truth, rather than presenting an argument,” says Kanwar.

At the end of the film, he presents “a set of clues that may help to live, re-calibrate, respond and resist”, suggesting the presence of light at the end of the tunnel. His own predisposition might take him elsewhere. As he says in A Season Outside, “I have a compass which keeps spinning me into zones of conflict”.

Against the Grain

1992: Invited to Bhilai to document the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha led by Shankar Guha Niyogi, Kanwar reached a day after Niyogi was assassinated. He recorded the outpouring of rage in his film Lal Hara Lehrake

1997: Kanwar explores non-violence and the Partition in A Season Outside. The 30-minute film opens with the ritual at Wagah, moving to the international border, where “only the butterflies and birds are free to fly across”.

2000: The Many Faces of Madness captures images of ecological destruction, mining, displacement and deforestation.

2002: For A Night of Prophecy, a film in 12 languages, Kanwar travelled across India to record poetry and protest music about caste, labour, religion and nationality.

2003: The silent film To Remember is a homage to Mahatma Gandhi in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots.

2007: Screened across the world, from Documenta to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Art Institute of Chicago and the Assam State Museum, The Lightning Testimonies explores the often ignored instances of sexual violence in times of political conflict, beginning with Partition.

2011: The Sovereign Forest, made in collaboration with Sudhir Pattnaik and Sherna Dastur, emerges from the conflict in Odisha between local communities and the government and mining corporations.

The implications of the questions raised by the Kulbhushan Jadhav case go far beyond Jadhav’s fate. It is time India reflects seriously on its expanding programme of covert action and its long-term consequences. By Praveen Swami
February 16, 2018

FOR six hours, the hired car had driven through a forest of shadows, cast by the mountains of Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province—for generations, a refuge for smugglers, insurgents and spies. Heading towards Saravan, a town of 50,000 some 20 kilometres from the border with Pakistan, the car was carrying a businessman from Mumbai to a meeting. The men he wanted to meet were waiting, but there were others, too: like every spy story, this one ended in betrayal.

India knows something of what happened next: Kulbhushan Jadhav is now on death row, awaiting execution, after a hurried trial by a military court in Pakistan which found him guilty of espionage.

Early in January, Jadhav appeared on Pakistani television, insisting he was still “a commissioned officer of the Indian Navy”—a statement that contradicts the government of India’s statements and directly implicates it in his activities.

Precisely who Jadhav was and why he ended up where he did remain profoundly opaque. Basic questions remain unanswered; official documents are sealed. But interviews with over 10 diplomats and intelligence and naval officials from three countries make it clear that the governments of both India and Pakistan have been economical with the truth.

The implications of these questions go far beyond Jadhav’s fate, for behind the case lies a secret war that may claim hundreds, even thousands, of lives.

Ever since 2013, India has secretly built up a covert action programme against Pakistan, seeking to retaliate against jehadists and deter their sponsors in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate. Led by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, and now by Research and Analysis Wing’s (RAW) Anil Dhasmana, the programme has registered unprecedented success, hitting hard against organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Muhammad. But the story of the man on death row illustrates that this secret war is not risk-free. Lapses in tradecraft and judgment, inevitable parts of any human enterprise, can inflict harm far greater than the good they seek to secure.

Service in the Navy

In principle, there should be no difficulty in settling the truth of the claims that Jadhav still serves with the Indian Navy. The Gazette of India records, among other things, the commissioning, promotions and retirements of military and civilian officials in granular detail. Inducted into the Navy in 1987, with the service number 41558Z, Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav would likely have been promoted to the rank of commander after 13 years of service, in 2000.

But the digital archive of the Gazette of India, a public document, has removed all files relating to the Defence Ministry for several months in 2000. Files in subsequent years bear no record of Jadhav’s retirement—though the Gazette is far from being immune to errors and omissions.

The government of India has told the International Court of Justice that Jadhav was a retired naval officer—a question that is, in any case, irrelevant to proceedings there— but it has declined to state exactly when he retired.

In response to a written question from this writer, the Naval Headquarters declined to confirm or deny whether Jadhav was a serving naval officer. Instead, it referred this writer to the Ministry of External Affairs. The Ministry, in turn, said it had “nothing to add to whatever is already in the public domain”.

In general, nation states simply deny any ties to individuals arrested for espionage. Thirteen Indians are being held in Pakistan on espionage charges, and 30 Pakistanis are in Indian jails, but in not a single case has either country officially concerned itself with its agent’s fate.

Into a grey area

The possibility that Jadhav is still a serving naval officer is precisely what makes this case different. The governments of both India and Pakistan almost certainly know the definitive truth—but only glimpses of it are so far visible outside their vaults.

From the accounts of two separate naval officers who served with Jadhav, it appears the commander’s journey into the grey world of the spy began soon after the near-war between India and Pakistan that followed the Jaish-e-Muhammad’s attack on Parliament House in 2001—a claim that the officer also made in the first of a series of hastily produced videos of his custodial confessional, possibly given under duress.

Late in 2001, the Navy set up nine naval detachments to monitor the Gujarat and Maharashtra coasts, anticipating the nascent threat to coastal cities from jehadist groups. Intelligence had begun to arrive around that time that the Lashkar was training operatives in marine skills at the Mangla Dam’s reservoir in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The implications were obvious and the Navy was deeply concerned.

Early on, though, the Navy realised it had one key problem: the absence of an independent intelligence capacity to monitor the organised criminal cartels most likely to serve any terrorist operation across the seas. Jadhav, his colleagues said, volunteered for covert service.

“Few sign up for these kinds of dangers,” recalls a senior intelligence official who met Jadhav on one occasion. “His was a choice of exceptional courage.”

But there was a catch, a senior naval official recalls. “The commander was insistent that he be allowed to remain on the Navy’s rolls to secure his promotion and pay,” he said. “The Navy didn’t have a system for off-the-books operatives overseas, so this was how it had to be.”

To Iran

In December 2003, Jadhav travelled to Iran from Pune on a passport (E6934766) that identified him as Hussein Mubarak Patel. The passport identified “Patel” as a resident of the Martand Cooperative Housing Society in Pune but gave no apartment number. There has been no official investigation into how the passport was issued.

The Pune passport office records show the passport was earlier held by another individual, but the files contain no address. The Indian government has offered no explanation of how this passport was obtained by Jadhav.

Funding for Jadhav’s fiction—the term used by spies for their cover identities—was provided by the Naval Intelligence, sources said. Iranian investigations, diplomatic sources said, supported that conclusion, showing Jadhav paid cash to set up the Kaminda Trading Company, which engaged in marine engine repairs.

Later, it operated a dhow called the Kaminda out of the port in Chabahar. Records show that Jadhav’s company invited contracts for the supply of gypsum, which India imports for the manufacture of cement. In March 2015, for example, Jadhav looked for partners to enter into an annual contract for gypsum running to March 2016.

In a confessional testimony released by Pakistan’s military, Jadhav says he “established a small business in Chabahar in Iran [and] I was able to achieve undetected existence and visits to Karachi in 2003 and 2004”.

Tehran’s own investigation into the affair, a senior diplomat said, has shown that the Kaminda did little business, leaving a question mark over just why Jadhav stayed on in Iran for so many years. There are no records in Iran, the diplomat continued, to suggest that the Kaminda sought or received bank finance, a normal part of business.

In India, the Jadhav family did not receive regular remittance payments either, a police officer close to Jadhav’s father said. The family has repeatedly declined to meet the press.

Expansion of role

In the build-up to 26/11, growing numbers of Indian jehadists were being routed to training camps in Pakistan through Iran’s Zahedan: figures like Fahim Arshad Ansari, allegedly among the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s top surveillance agents in India, and the fugitive bomb-maker Fayyaz Kagzi. The Baluch insurgency also exploded in 2006. Though Indian intelligence was kept well-informed of events there by its stations in Afghanistan, there was pressure inside the intelligence community to develop better contacts in the region.

To the dismay of Naval Intelligence, two officers said, their new asset in Chabahar soon began to be drawn into counterterrorism work for the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.)—raising fears that the fact that he was still on the organisation’s payroll could lead to embarrassment.

Even though Admiral Arun Prakash, Navy chief from 2004 to 2006, resisted the efforts, the sources said, his concerns were overruled by intelligence chiefs desperate for reliable assets in the region.

“The Navy was extremely worried about the possible consequences of the tasks being assigned to Jadhav by the Intelligence Bureau,” said one officer. “However, we were basically told that since he was there, that was how it needed to be.” Former RAW officials claimed that the push to draw Jadhav into front-line intelligence work was driven by the I.B.’s ambitions to have an independent overseas role. RAW’s own intelligence capacities in the region, they argued, were more than adequate to address emerging threats.

I.B. officials who served at the time disputed the claim and pointed to successes that their initiative had registered. In March 2007, for example, eight Pakistani nationals led by the Lashkar operatives Jamil Ahmad Awan and Abdul Majid Araiyan landed near Mumbai. They were presumed to have been tasked with attacking targets in Maharashtra and Gujarat. But the planned attack was penetrated by the I.B. and the terrorists were interdicted.

Either way, the sources said, Jadhav sought to expand his role after 26/11, even drawing up plans to use the Kaminda to stage a reprisal attack on Karachi, should a similar terrorist strike take place again. The idea received no traction but drew the attention of top intelligence officials who were convinced that more covert action was needed to deter Pakistan.

The former naval commander was greeted with consternation at RAW, where he first appeared in 2010, introduced as a former naval officer. Anand Arni, the head of RAW’s Pakistan desk, shot down proposals for Jadhav to work with the organisation, sources said, arguing that the naval officer had little intelligence that RAW did not already possess.

“There were, shall we say, some small tests put to him in the course of the four meetings we had,” a former RAW officer recalled. “He failed to give us anything particularly interesting.”

But small cash payments, the source added, were made to Jadhav by successive RAW chiefs, beginning with K.C. Verma—“a standard practice to maintain a working relationship with potential sources”, said an official familiar with the payments.

Interestingly, the payments appear to have continued through the tenures of several spymasters, running from Verma’s successor, Sanjiv Tripathi, chief from 2010 to 2012, and Alok Joshi, who led RAW from 2012 to 2014.

Through this entire period, no one appears to have reviewed Jadhav’s employment structure—which means he may have remained on the books as a naval officer because of bureaucratic oversight.

RAW routinely employs military officers, but on secondment, and never for front-line operational tasks, thus ensuring that there is a wall between the activities of agents and the government in the event of disclosure.

In a purported confessional testimony, Jadhav says he began working for RAW in 2013, reporting to an officer named Anil Kumar Gupta. There is, however, no officer in the organisation of that name, past or present. In later videos, though, he names RAW chiefs Anil Dhasmana and Joshi.

Perhaps significantly, both Verma and Joshi were former I.B. officers—as is the present National Security Adviser Doval—and may have come across Jadhav’s work in the pre-26/11 period.

In 2014, Jadhav obtained the passport (L9630722) he was eventually arrested with in Pakistan, which was issued in Thane. This time, he identified himself as a resident of the Jasdanwala Complex on the old Mumbai-Pune road cutting through Navi Mumbai. The flat, municipal records show, was owned by his mother, Avanti Jadhav. Giving the accurate address on the passport was an extraordinary lapse of professional judgment if Jadhav was, at the time, still in service with an espionage organisation.

“Basically, it makes it impossible for India to deny he is who he says he is, which is a basic element of tradecraft,” a RAW official pointed out. “It’s criminally irresponsible for a spy’s cover identity to be so closely linked to his real life.”

Towards betrayal

From 2014 onwards, sources say, Jadhav grew increasingly close to the Karachi-based ganglord Uzair Baluch, once a valued ally for Pakistan’s military but forced to flee the country in 2013. Having held an Iranian passport since 1987, Uzair Baluch moved in and out of Chabahar. Living next door to Baluch’s nephew, Jaleel Baluch, Jadhav paid cash for information. Pakistani military sources insist that he made at least five deliveries of weapons to Baloch insurgents for RAW after 2014—but, like so much to do with the story, the facts are murky.

An official Pakistani investigation document shows that Baluch, who was provided safe haven by Iran after a falling-out with the ISI, returned the favour by becoming “involved in espionage activities, by providing secret information/sketches regarding Army installations and officials to foreign agents”. The material he handed over appears to have been low-grade.

Last year, Uzair Baluch was finally detained in Abu Dhabi, on the basis of an Interpol warrant, and deported to Pakistan. Baluch’s interrogation, Pakistani official sources say, eventually led the ISI to the Indian whose operations in Chahbahar had gone undetected for over a decade. In April 2017, Uzair Baluch gave testimony in a Karachi magistrate’s court, admitting to having been in touch both with Jadhav and Iranian intelligence. His account provides some insight into how the Jadhav story came to an end.

Though Jadhav was accused in the Pakistani media of engaging in acts of terrorism, the secret military court in Pakistan that sentenced Jadhav to death tried him only under the Official Secrets Act. The Act allows the imposition of the death sentence on individuals who pass any “information which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy”.

Following Jadhav’s kidnapping from Saravan, Pakistani sources said, a decision was taken at the ISI Directorate to link him to acts of terrorism. Notably, however, the first of Jadhav’s confessional videos, released by Pakistan’s military, referred in general terms to acts of terrorism by India but none involving himself. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s foreign policy adviser, Sartaj Aziz, told the Pakistani Senate in April 2017 that a dossier prepared by the intelligence services for the government “did not have any conclusive evidence”. “What the dossier contained was not enough,” he said.

But in a sealed submission to the International Court of Justice, Islamabad named 13 senior Indian officials who it says facilitated Jadhav’s operations. In an earlier letter to the Indian government, Pakistan sought “assistance in the investigation process and early dispensation of justice”—invoking India’s language in requests on the 26/11 and Pathankot cases.

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and former RAW chief Alok Joshi, senior government sources said, are among the officials named in both sets of documents—an effort to draw a parallel between the Jadhav case and the involvement of Pakistan’s intelligence services in jehadist strikes on India.

“This is an effort to equate acts like 26/11 with Indian covert action,” said a former intelligence officer. “The only reason it has traction, though, is because of the opacity around Jadhav’s employment status. If he is indeed a serving naval officer, that means there are some serious problems with the infrastructure for our covert action programme, which need addressing.”

Perils ahead

In 1948, the United States government created a new Office of Special Projects within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to conduct covert action across the world. The Office’s tasks, according to a National Security Council directive, were activities “conducted or sponsored by this government against hostile foreign states or groups or in support of friendly foreign states or groups”. In practice, this meant funding anti-communist forces, including former Fascists, in countries like Italy, and even assassinating leaders whom the U.S. found hostile.

There was one key caveat in the directive: covert action had to be “so planned and executed that any U.S. government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorised persons and that if uncovered the U.S. government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them”.

Evidence on whether Jadhav is still a naval officer or not remains ambiguous. But the questions that have already surfaced give reason to suppose that his interrogators in Pakistan’s ISI have enough material to embarrass India. The foundation of any covert action programme is, after all, plausible deniability.

For Indians, this ought to be an occasion for serious reflection on the country’s expanding programme of covert action and the long-term consequences it might have. There has, sadly, been next to no informed political debate on the issue in India, a situation that ought to be of concern to both advocates and critics of covert action. Political consensus, after all, is the bedrock on which countries as diverse as the U.S., the United Kingdom, Israel and Russia have built their covert action programmes. There are precedents for the covert action programme India is now unleashing. Establishment 22, operating under the command of Major General Surjit Singh Uban, carried out a secret war in what is now Bangladesh. Establishment 22 personnel aided Sikkim’s accession to the Union of India; trained Tamil terrorists; and armed rebels operating against the pro-China regime in Myanmar.

In the early 1980s, RAW set up two covert groups, Counter Intelligence Team-X and Counter Intelligence Team-J, targeted at Khalistan groups backed by the ISI. Each Khalistan terror attack targeting India’s cities was met with retaliatory attacks in Lahore or Karachi.

“The role of our covert action capability in putting an end to the ISI’s interference in Punjab,” the former RAW officer B. Raman wrote in 2002, “by making such interference prohibitively costly is little known.”

Prime Minister I.K. Gujral ended RAW’s offensive operations against Pakistan, and his predecessor, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, wound up its eastern operations.

Ever since 26/11, a welter of senior intelligence figures, including former National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, are known to have argued for an expansion of RAW’s covert offensive capacity to retaliate against the ISI.

Inside the intelligence community, RAW’s new offensive operations are reputed to have registered unprecedented success against jehadist groups in Pakistan. The assassination of Lashkar chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed’s security boss, Khalid Bashar, in 2013; the penetration of the Jaish-e-Muhammad’s cross-border attack plans; the tit-for-tat arming of Baluch nationalists to retaliate against the ISI’s sponsorship of the Kashmir jehad—these have all been attributed, in Pakistan, to RAW’s new leadership.

Nation states, almost without exception, use similar covert means to secure ends they cannot legally or ethically defend in public. Such operations allow for the discreet exercise of power, minimising the risks of war, and allow governments room to manoeuvre free of public pressure. Yet, the scholar Alexandra Perina has noted, “the very attributes of these tools that are so appealing present corresponding costs; by taking their conduct out of the public realm, states cede their influence in shaping international public opinion about their conduct, with consequences not only for the legitimacy of their actions but for the law itself”.

Moreover, covert action can have unintended consequences. The U.S.’ backing of Contra insurgents in Nicaragua aided drug traffickers in its own cities, while its arming of anti-Soviet jehadists in Afghanistan led, inexorably, to 9/11. Its use of proxies to destabilise regimes around the world undermined the norms of the global state system, with dangerous consequences.

Unanswered question

Hence, the Kulbhushan Jadhav case ought to raise questions about whether India’s intelligence bosses are devoting the kind of granular attention that the issue requires to insulate the country from the potential risks. The questions over Jadhav’s passports, the opacity of his business operations and, most important, the lack of transparency about his connection to the Indian Navy, have all made it difficult for the government of India to dissociate itself from his cause—the usual, necessary fate of the spy. It is also not clear why, if he is indeed a spy, he was not withdrawn after Uzair Baluch’s arrest, an elementary precaution.

Perhaps more importantly, there ought to be a serious political debate cutting across party lines on the possible consequences of covert action.

In this case, Pakistani prosecutors may have little to tie Jadhav to actual acts of violence. But lapses, if left unaddressed, could cause significant damage. Global reaction to a future 26/11, after all, might be different were it ever to be demonstrated that India had links to similar acts of terror.

Knowledge of the truth about the Jadhav case, as it emerges, will do little to alter his fate. In a May 18 judgment asking Pakistan not to proceed with Jadhav’s execution, the International Court of Justice recorded that “the Vienna Convention does not contain express provisions excluding from its scope persons suspected of espionage or terrorism”.

Put simply, Jadhav is entitled under Indian law to the assistance of the Indian government—including legal assistance—irrespective of the nature of his activities in Iran or Pakistan.

The International Court of Justice does not, however, conduct criminal trials; nor can it strike down domestic laws. It will, at most, ask Pakistan to try Jadhav again, this time ensuring that he is allowed to access support from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. A local court will assess the evidence Pakistan prosecutors bring before it—and that evidence will include the claim, supported by Jadhav’s confession, that he was a serving naval officer working as a spy.

Precedents do exist to resolve situations like this. Gary Powers, the pilot of a CIA espionage flight shot down over the Soviet Union in May 1960—and reviled by his colleagues for not committing suicide—was eventually exchanged for the legendary KGB spy Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher.

In both New Delhi and Islamabad, there are rumours the two capitals are working on just such a deal—possibly involving former ISI officer Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Zahir Habib, alleged to have been kidnapped by India—or a wider deal, which could see the release of multiple espionage convicts.

Both countries have much to gain from a dispassionate conversation on the case—on the norms that ought to govern covert activity of the one against the other, and on the inexorable consequences of the secret war Pakistan has long run.

For that, the Kulbhushan Jadhav case needs to be elevated above prime-time ranting and opened up for rational discussion.

by Emilio Godoy
(Inter Press Service)

Automated programmes, known as "bots", threaten to smear political campaigns, through massive deceitful messages, which can disrupt the democratic game. Credit:

Automated programmes, known as "bots", threaten to smear political campaigns, through massive deceitful messages, which can disrupt the democratic game. Credit:

MEXICO CITY, Feb 13 2018 (IPS) - The use of technological tools in political campaigns has become widespread in Latin America, accompanied by practices that raise concern among academics and social organisations, especially in a year with multiple elections throughout the region.

The use of automated programmes – known as “bots” – to create profiles in social networks intended to offset critical messages, propaganda, the spread of lies and hate campaigns on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are already the digital daily bread in the region.

For Tommaso Gravante, an academic at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Sciences and Humanities at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, an emerging concern is detecting fake profiles on social networks using artificial intelligence or machine learning.
"The main problem is that regulating a discourse means deciding what is a lie and what is not, and that is a problem. In terms of freedom of expression, anything should be said and the limits should be minimal. Election laws must be updated to face the challenges of on-line campaigns, but I'm not sure whether that's a good idea." -- Catalina Botero

“Clearly, this gives the impression that these technologies impoverish the debate with superficial answers. There is a problem in companies that handle ‘big data’, such as Google. They accumulate information, but we do not know how it is managed. Complex algorithms are used. How it is managed is a mystery,” he told IPS.

Gravante was one of the five winners in 2017 of the Seventh Worldwide Competition for Junior Sociologists organised by the International Sociological Association, and is one of the editors of “Technopolitics in Latin America and the Caribbean”, published in 2017.

In 2018, six Latin American countries will hold presidential elections, while others are holding legislative elections or referendums. And technopolitics is part of the electoral landscape in the region.

As the July 1 presidential elections in Mexico approach, the use of social networks is already being seen, and the same is expected for Colombia’s elections in May and Brazil’s elections in October. Voters in Costa Rica, Paraguay and Venezuela will also elect new presidents this year.

“The two-way digital technology (anyone speaks-anyone hears) represents a great advantage for freedom of expression, as it not only enhances the possibility of informing but also of getting informed. But it also shows how the problems of society are appearing in the networks,” Colombian expert Catalina Botero told IPS.

The problem involves the potential reach of a message on the Internet, which also applies to its possible negative effects, said Botero, the current director of the non-governmental Karisma Foundation, which works for human rights in the digital environment, and a former special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2008-2014).

The use of social networks and digital media in political campaigns broke onto the scene in the United States in 2008, at the hands of Democrat Barack Obama (2009-2017), who won the presidential elections in November of that year.

Since then, there is a perception that new technologies can determine the tone, and therefore the outcome, of election campaigns.

That belief was consolidated even more with the use of big data and data mining in 2016 by current US President Donald Trump, to build electoral models and tailor messages.

As a result, political parties across the spectrum have sought advice in these fields, while marketing and digital imaging agencies have added those services to their portfolio.

Six out of 10 Latin Americans use a social network, according to a December study carried out for the Spanish newspaper El País by the consultancy firm Latinobarómetro and the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean, a unit of the Inter-American Development Bank.
Map of the 2018 elections in Latin America. Credit: ACE

Map of the 2018 elections in Latin America. Credit: ACE

Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay are the countries most connected to social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.

In 2015, 43 percent of Latin American households had internet access, according to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Costa Rica head the list of the most connected households, while Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador are the least connected.

As several studies have shown, there are already practices in the region to manipulate information and guide political discourse, as has happened in countries such as the United States, Great Britain and Germany.

The 2017 study “Troops, Trolls and Trouble-Makers: A Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation” detected bots in 28 countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela.

The report, prepared by two researchers from the Computational Propaganda Research Project (COMPROP) of the University of Oxford Internet Institute in Britain, considers that governments and political parties promote these digital hosts, through official institutions or private providers.

Another 2017 analysis, “Computational Propaganda Worldwide”, also published at Oxford, found that bots and other forms of computer propaganda have been present in Brazil.

The study says they were used in the 2014 presidential elections, the 2016 impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016), and the municipal elections in Rio de Janeiro the same year.

“Highly automated accounts support and attack political figures, debate issues such as corruption and encourage protest movements,” says the report.

In Mexico, another report identified in 2016 the presence of bots in 2014 to block criticism of the government of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto, in power since 2012.

“They want to create trends, but nobody knows how people can appropriate that discourse, although it can be stimulated with some provocations. The only antidote against this is to take to the streets, as a response to these manifestations, get organised neighborhood by neighborhood. The learning process is linked to social needs,” said Gravante.

In this respect, the expert argued that social conflicts enhance “empowerment processes”, in which “there has been impressive progress…In that sense, I am techno-optimistic,” he said.

The 2016 US elections won by Trump offer a preview of what is taking shape in Latin America.

In September 2017, Facebook said it found some 80,000 publications on controversial issues in the U.S. elections, created by Russian-linked agents, which reached more than 126 million people in the United States from June 2015 to May 2017.

Twitter, meanwhile, identified more than 50,000 Twitter accounts linked to Russia, which spread false information during the 2016 presidential elections in the United States.

For Botero, it is worrying how citizens can be involved in political processes that use digital media and the emergence of manipulation through networks, which can determine election results and, ultimately, impoverish democracy.

“WhatsApp chains are impacting the way people are informed and viralizing a lot of information that could be labeled as ‘fake news’. Their impact has not been measured,” she said.

The use of social networks is not regulated in the region, although most governments monitor their use, and in countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador and Mexico the electoral authority reviews on-line advertising and propaganda.

“The main problem is that regulating a discourse means deciding what is a lie and what is not, and that is a problem. In terms of freedom of expression, anything should be said and the limits should be minimal. Election laws must be updated to face the challenges of on-line campaigns, but I’m not sure whether that’s a good idea,” said Botero.

(Christian Science Monitor, February 12, 2018)

The nascent movement mirrors efforts in many countries - Japan, Germany, Rwanda, and the United States, to name a few - to confront elements of a dark past.   

VORONEZH, Russia-Just about every former Soviet city has a place outside town, usually a forest or piece of scrubland, where Joseph Stalin's secret police brought thousands of executed "enemies of the people" and dumped them into mass graves, especially during the nightmare years of the Great Terror of 1936-38.

Here in Voronezh, a central Russian city of about 1 million people, that place is known as Dubovka. It's a forlorn stretch of sparse oak forest that even today can be reached only by a long hike along unmarked paths. For decades the subject of rumors and frightened whispers, Dubovka was recently designated an official "memorial zone." Mostly youthful volunteers have been excavating the pits each summer, removing and reburying the remains of at least 10,000 local victims that are thought to have been interred here.

What they find are the remains of men, women, and even children, often with their hands still tied behind their backs, whose tattered documents, buried with the bodies, show they came from all walks of life. Researchers say many had a swift and perfunctory trial, if they had one at all. Most were charged with fantastical crimes, such as operating under the direction of German or Japanese intelligence. They were accused of committing acts of sabotage, motivated by loyalty to Stalin's personal enemies, such as Leon Trotsky.

"I hope the time has come for people to face this monstrous reality, but it is not happening," says Lena Dudukina, a local poet and volunteer with the human rights group Memorial. She wants to start a website similar to one set up by activists in the western Russian region of Karelia to document all that is known about the mass slaughter and, perhaps, inspire others around the country to begin their own investigations.

"Something has to be done so that when the public and the government do decide to face these issues squarely, enough facts have been collected to assist that process," she says. "The worst thing would be if it all slips back into the realm of mythology, and no justice is ever realized."

In one sense, the nascent movement here mirrors enduring grass-roots efforts in many countries around the world to confront elements of a dark past. In Japan, officials are being forced to deal with the atrocities committed against South Korean "comfort women" during World War II. In the United States, the legacy of slavery continues to haunt many states and institutions. (Click here for related story.) Germany's moral reckoning with the Holocaust is ever present, and countries from Indonesia to Cambodia to Rwanda have had to deal with past genocides.

The nations that do confront past atro­cities do so in their own ways and at their own pace. Some hold very public truth and reconciliation hearings. Some erect monuments. Others deal with it more quietly, through schoolbooks and social discussions.

Russia's response has been more muted than that of other countries in similar situations. Eight decades later, the crimes of Stalin have yet to be fully recognized, much less documented. There is no closure for millions of descendants whose grandparents disappeared, and no consensus - or even much debate - among Russian historians about what happened and why. The slaughter and incarceration of millions remain shrouded in myth, even though former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced the repressions in a secret speech in 1956 and attempted to "de-Stalinize" the Soviet system before he was overthrown. His successors, seeing the whole discussion as a threat to Soviet legitimacy, quelled the talk altogether.

During Mikhail Gorbachev's attempts to reform Communism in the late 1980s, a flood of revelations about Stalinist repressions in the media, and wrenching memoirs of surviving victims, did contribute greatly to public loss of faith and the subsequent peaceful collapse of the USSR.

To this day, no one has a clear estimate of how many Soviet people fell victim to the massive waves of political purges that rocked the Stalin era, tearing families and whole communities apart, and leaving scars that have not healed.

"Between August 1937 and November 1938, about 1-1/2 million people [in the USSR] were arrested and perhaps 700,000 of them were shot," says Nikita Petrov, one of Russia's leading historians on the secret services and an expert with the Memorial society. "It was a really terrible time in our history." During the entire period from the early 1920s to Stalin's death in 1953, he estimates, about 12 million people were either killed, sent to labor camps, or otherwise suffered directly from repressions.

"We would like very much if our state would provide official figures, perhaps in the form of an apology, but the Russian state doesn't seem at all interested in doing that on any level," he says. "They say: 'Leave it to the historians.' But how can we do our jobs when the archives are still mostly closed, even to specialists?"

One of the few surviving victims of the Great Terror is Valery Chekmaryov. His father was one of a group of 23 railroad workers accused of treason and shot in 1937. As the family of a convicted "enemy of the people," young Chekmaryov and his mother were arrested shortly thereafter, evicted from their apartment, and trundled off to a labor camp in the Volga region of Mordovia.

Chekmaryov spent nearly a year in the gulag before being taken to Voronezh to live with his grandmother while his mother was still being held.

"The fate of my family was typical for those designated as enemies of the people," says Chekmaryov, who has spent his life trying to document what happened to his parents. His mother returned from the gulag in 1946 and, following Stalin's death, managed to get herself and her husband "rehabilitated" - which is Soviet-speak for having one's rights as a citizen restored and their convictions expunged from the record. Chekmaryov himself was only rehabilitated by a Soviet court in 1989. Still, he managed to live a productive life in the Soviet Union, becoming a railroad engineer like his father.

But it's only in recent years that he's managed to gain access to some of the documents in his father's case. For instance, he has a court paper, stamped as a "true copy" by today's FSB security service, that says his father's group was convicted after a 20-minute trial of being "a Trotskyist spy and sabotage unit acting under the direction of Japanese intelligence."

"I have been studying this for many years, and I still have no idea how all [the state purging] was organized," says Vyacheslav Bitytsky, head of the Voronezh chapter of Memorial - which has, ironically, been declared a "foreign agent" by the Kremlin because it receives international funding. In addition to trying to document the extent of the Stalin-era mass terror, the group works to legally exonerate victims and introduce educational programs in local schools that could help lift the fog that still surrounds this horrific chapter of history.

"They didn't just seize people in the streets. They opened cases, investigated, held trials, and hence there must be documents," says Mr. Bitytsky. "Yet it becomes harder and harder to get access to the archives, unless you were a victim or a direct descendant. People like Chekmaryov are the last ones who will be given any access at all. He's over 80 now, and most of the others are long gone."

For years, Chekmaryov did his research largely in anonymity. No one was particularly interested in his efforts to dig up details of his family's past, nor his push to get the country to confront this dark era. But that began to change about five years ago.

Now he sits on a committee in Voronezh that prepares events each year to mark a national day to "commemorate victims of political repressions." He is also a regular guest at solemn ceremonies authorities organize at the Dubovka gravesite, and is often consulted on issues about Stalin-era crimes by local and regional officials.

"Once a year, at least, this issue gets quite a lot of coverage in our local media. The governor and others organize and attend events to honor the victims of repressions," says Chekmaryov. Sitting in a hotel room in Voronezh, he comes off as someone who has spent a lifetime battling the system - passionate, engaged, committed. "That is something quite new in Russian life, and it's a symbol of the attitude of our authorities," he goes on. "On the other hand, the continuing difficulty of getting access to documents, to fully research what happened, is another mark of their attitude."

What Chekmaryov has been able to find out, he's written in a book, which he published himself. At this point, he doubts he will unearth any new information. "You can't call it closure," he says. "But it's something."

Voronezh is a cultural and industrial hub in southwestern Russia that sits astride a broad river. It was the city where Peter the Great built his first great naval fleet and, more recently, was almost completely destroyed in back-and-forth sieges between the Germans and Russians in World War II.

Voronezh lies in a more liberal part of Russia, and local authorities, unlike those in many other cities and regions, have been cooperating with efforts spearheaded by the local chapter of Memorial. But even here it's an uphill slog for activists. They perceive that officials are deeply ambivalent about an issue that remains explosively controversial, and are therefore unwilling to let the social conversation move much beyond commemorating victims and expressing shock at the tragedy that struck here 80 years ago.

Besides sponsoring the annual commemoration day, local authorities have assisted in the publication of a "Book of Memory" that lists thousands of area people who were executed or sent to gulag labor camps. RIA-Voronezh, a state-funded regional news agency, has run a series describing the stories of local people who suffered death and imprisonment during those terrible days.

But that's about as far as it goes.

Alexander Akinshin, a history professor at Voronezh State University, and one of the authors of the Book of Memory, says there are two institutes of higher learning in Voronezh with modern history departments, but not a single course is taught about those terrible events of the 1930s. Historians do write about it, but usually their work, like his own, focuses on individual cases rather than trying to analyze the era.

"To investigate those events properly, to examine the whys and wherefores, you would need access to a lot of documents that are absolutely unavailable today," he says. He can't name a single book by any contemporary Russian historian that tackles the broad themes of purges and gulags, though there are plenty by Western authors. "Perhaps not enough time has passed," he speculates. "Public interest is not there. People these days are too concerned with their private lives, personal problems, and there is no pressure from below for change."

Those boundaries have undoubtedly been set by the Kremlin. On one hand, Vladimir Putin has gone much further than any previous Soviet or Russian leader in acknowledging the massive tragedy that befell millions of Soviets, and admitting that it was wrong. On the other hand, President Putin is striving to knit together a narrative of Russian history that promotes national unity, and Stalin needs to be integrated into that story as an effective leader who oversaw industrialization and a victory over Nazi Germany, and left the USSR a mighty superpower on the world stage when he died.

"What we see in the official narrative is that victory over enemies takes precedence over the 'mistakes' that were made. It doesn't deny the repressions - as [the government] did in Soviet times - it accepts that they happened but offers a very vague moral verdict," says Anastasia Nikitina, a former history teacher who is now an education consultant for a local coalition of nongovernmental organizations called Human Rights House.

She works with local schools and teachers, with the aim of raising consciousness about fascism and Stalinism. Ms. Nikitina says students generally know that many people were killed during this period but few teachers are interested in discussing the atrocities in any depth.

"There is a strange imbalance in the way this history is taught," she says. "Young people are officially encouraged to speak about their grandparents who died fighting against Nazis in the war. Whole classes are devoted to showing pictures, recounting their experiences, keeping their memories alive. But no one is encouraged to speak about ancestors who perished in the repressions. It's an awkward, silence-inducing subject."

Nikitina takes some solace in knowing that young people today seem more willing to discuss such topics. While the interests of the state tend to reign supreme in Russian political culture, she says that young people today believe their opinions matter.

Still, she believes the country has a long way to go in addressing the atrocities of the past. In her view, Russia needs to not just recognize the victims of the Stalin era, but the crimes that took place as well. "People want justice, and that only happens when the criminals are named and the crimes are punished," she says. "We are very far from having any kind of discussion about that."

Last Oct. 30, the official day commemorating "victims of political repression," Putin inaugurated a major monument to thousands of faceless victims of Stalinist terror called the "Wall of Sorrow" in central Moscow. It is a 100-foot-long bronze wall featuring a multitude of faceless figures intended to represent the victims of repression and persecution. The wall is curved like a scythe and contains stone fragments from gulags across the country.

"An unequivocal and clear assessment of the repression will help to prevent it being repeated," Putin said at the unveiling on a damp night. "This terrible past must not be erased from our national memory and cannot be justified by anything."

Yet in his recent interview with US filmmaker Oliver Stone, Putin slammed critics for "excessive demonization" of Stalin and argued that focusing on the former dictator's crimes against humanity "is one means of attacking the Soviet Union and Russia."

That illustrates the fine line the Kremlin is attempting to walk over how to deal with the massive crimes of the Stalin era, which did more to delegitimize the USSR than any other issue and cannot be comfortably woven into any conceivable narrative of Russian history that purports to stress continuity, national unity, and rightness of purpose.

One key problem for Putin is that Russia sees itself as the inheritor state of the Soviet Union, and many of its current institutions proudly trace their roots back to Soviet predecessors. Foremost among these is the FSB security service, which recently celebrated 100 years since the founding of the Cheka, the first Soviet secret police organization. To mark that occasion the current FSB director, Alexander Bortnikov, gave a defiant interview to the press arguing that accusations against Stalin's secret police are greatly overstated. The USSR faced all kinds of threats from devious external enemies, as does Russia today, and the Motherland had to be protected even if the methods were sometimes harsh.

"The enemy either tried to defeat us in open combat or by using traitors inside our country to sow discord, divide the nation, and paralyze the ability of the government to effectively respond to threats," he said. "The destruction of Russia is still an obsession for many. Although many associate this period [1936-38] with the mass fabrication of charges, archive materials show a significant number of criminal cases were based on factual evidence."

Public opinion polls show that Russians themselves are increasingly inclined to see Stalin as an effective leader and play down the mass crimes that he oversaw. A tracking poll by the independent Levada Center in Moscow found the number of respondents who regarded the Great Terror as a "matter of political necessity that history will absolve" grew from 9 percent to 25 percent between 2007 and 2017. Those who viewed the purges as a "political crime that cannot be justified" fell from 72 percent to 39 percent over the same period.

"It's not just that the public is mostly indifferent to these issues; it's that even people who know all about it are conflicted," says Svetlana Tarasova, author of a series of articles about the Great Terror for the RIA-Voronezh news agency. "I talk with people who went through terrible things, who were real victims, and yet they still are unsure what to think about Stalin. Even if they suffered through agonizing personal tragedy, somehow they still find it possible to justify him."
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Chekmaryov, the gulag survivor, hears the same things - and it haunts him. The only way to cleanse a nation's soul and prevent the horrors of history from being repeated, many believe, is to have a full and forthright reckoning with the past.

"These days the thing that just astounds me is when I hear that somewhere in Russia, someone is talking about putting up a monument to Stalin," he says. "I wonder, have they learned anything from history?"
 Jean-Yves Camus, Nicolas Lebourg. Far-Right Politics in Europe. Translated by Jane Marie Todd. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2017. 310 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-97153-0.

Reviewed by Andreas Dafnos (University of Sheffield)
Published on H-Nationalism (February, 2018)
Commissioned by Caner Tekin

The Far Right and the influence it exerts on both domestic and international political systems have attracted increasing attention in recent years. Although there exists an abundance of scholarly work on the ebbs and flows of this diverse phenomenon, Far-Right Politics in Europe by Jean-Yves Camus and Nicolas Lebourg is a useful addition to the existing literature due to its meticulous investigation of the numerous Far Right factions that have been developed over time and across space. With a predominant focus on the European continent, the book defies easy explanations and can, more generally, be approached as an answer to the voices that indiscriminately tend to treat the Far Right as a single and unified entity.

The introductory chapter, titled “How the Far Right Came into Being,” covers a large part of the book. This comes as no surprise however, as a fundamental premise of the book is that the modern Far Right can be better understood if viewed through a historical lens. Therefore, Camus and Lebourg position the unit of their analysis in French history and specifically in the workings of the Constituent Assembly at the end of the eighteenth century. They trace the origins of Far Right thought, which was at the time portrayed as a plea for the restoration of the ancien régime by counterrevolution advocates. The chapter invites the reader to delve into the social processes that influenced the trajectory of the Far Right since that moment, showing how “the first globalization” of Europe allowed ideas and people to disseminate across geographic territories (p. 7). A recurring theme refers to this constant exchange of ideas and the tendency of the Far Right to adopt beliefs that may even belong to different political leanings along its own ideological lines. Another interesting observation is the realization that some of the dominant traits of the Far Right today cannot be considered idiosyncrasies of our era; in fact, national populism is shown to have been part of the French system for the last 130 years. Camus and Lebourg convincingly argue that the developments of the Far Right in terms of its ideological and organizational synthesis cannot be explained if context and time are omitted from analysis.

Chapter 1 turns its attention to the period after the Second World War, providing a detailed overview of the difficulties faced particularly by those groups that were closer to Fascism and Nazism. The Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI) is mentioned here, and this is important because academic work has often attributed the transformation of several like-minded groups to the catalytic role MSI has played. But what stands out in this chapter is the effort of the Far Right to build networks beyond national borders, since “immediately after the collapse of the Axis powers, Fascist militants saw a united Europe as the justification for their previous positions” (p. 64). Camus and Lebourg illustrate, for example, how these attempts led to the New European Order (NEO), an organization that decided to divert from Nazism and to adopt a discourse for the defense of neo-racism, marking a critical moment for the history of the Far Right as “that discourse would have many incarnations and transmutations” (p. 74). Another movement with the same purpose of establishing European presence is Jeune Europe (JE), which is also discussed at length due to its innovative nature. The chapter concludes with an important observation that “despite the desire of Fascist movements, a supranational and social reorientation has not really taken hold. Their efforts have not been fruitless, however, because, their innovations were useful to both populist and neorightist factions” (p. 96).

The next chapter deals with the role of white power and the role of race as driving forces for the actions of some Far Right groups. Here the discussion revolves around neo-Nazi groups that are “more cultural than political in nature” (p. 101), placing emphasis on the skinhead movement. It is interesting to see how this type of movement developed across Europe, in a period of time that the “proletariat was deconstructing” (p. 104). The authors explain that, among others, indoctrination through music and participation in violent practices are key characteristics of a Far Right skinhead, and then proceed to a more eloquent exploration of how violence is articulated through the activities of neo-Nazi groups. This section shows the extent of influence that the American Far Right had on its European counterparts. As one would expect at this point, there are references to the lone wolf strategy, which “should not be confused (as it often is) with the question of self-radicalization” (p. 110), and The Turner Diaries (1978), an influential book that is based on the principle of the struggle for race. Once more the narration of the authors is strengthened by the use of various case studies, helping the reader engage with the material of this section. 

Much has been written in the academic literature about the impact that the New Right had on ideological aspects of the modern Far Right, mainly as this was expressed through the idea of ethnopluralism that “every individual is attached to an ethnocultural group that would protect its identity by avoiding racial mixing” (p. 130). In chapter 3, the reader has the opportunity to engage with an important moment in the history of the Far Right. Camus and Lebourg exemplify that the New Right or Nouvelle Droite (as is often mentioned) is an amalgamation of intellectual groups and personalities that cannot, however, be assumed uniform. A key figure is GRECE (Groupe de Recherches et d'Études pour la Civilisation Européenne), which occupies a central place in this chapter. It is also interesting to see that the reason why the New Right emerged was “the organizational failure to build a European nationalist party in France” (p. 127). Once more the interplay between groups is evident as well as the influence of historic events (for example, May 1968) on the development of the Far Right. The ability of the authors to attain accuracy is outstanding, and this is evident, for example, in their narration on neopaganism and the New Right or the impact of Julius Evola’s theories.    

Chapter 4 dissects the relationship between religious fundamentalism and the Far Right, beginning with the intriguing observation that faith should not be associated with extremism, since it embraces the qualities of “freedom of conscience,” the antithesis to dogmatism, and takes an “interest in individual rights” (p. 152). However, the authors show how ideological stances can be fused into paths of multiple interpretations, signifying in this way the complexity of reality. This might explain, for instance, why compared to Catholics more Protestants vote for a Far Right party. Camus and Lebourg also define terms that seem to be conflated (see, for instance, on page 159 the differences between integrists and traditionalists), while a large section looks into the association between integrism and the National Front. Even the issue of the Jewish Far Right is raised and addressed toward the last pages, describing its true dimensions.

On the other hand, scholars keen on learning more about populism will find chapter 5 interesting, where the term is analyzed in depth. The chapter shows how populist questions came to the forefront and dominated the political debate. Indicative of this is the speech of Enoch Powell in 1968, which assigned blame to nonwhite immigrants and asked for their repatriation. The latter combined with the impact of the New Right thinking, as discussed previously, helps the reader understand that the evolution of the Far Right is the result of multiple factors. The chapter also offers a compelling account of successful and failed cases, showing that populism is no panacea for success, and that political groups may face insurmountable obstacles and challenges when they put the populist model into practice. Particular emphasis has been finally placed on the so-called neopulist shift that was determined by “the geopolitical crisis subsequent to September 11, 2001, and the socioeconomic recession that followed the 2008 financial crisis” (p. 196). The description of the Dutch case reveals how this shift can materialize.

The last chapter investigates the Far Right in Eastern European countries. Although it is debatable within academia to what extent the Eastern European Far Right can be compared to its Western counterparts, Camus and Lebourg make clear at the outset that “the eastern part of the continent must not be understood in terms of Western assumptions” (p. 210). What the authors find particularly interesting is the fact that some of the prewar ideologies did not lose their significance during the Communist era and appeared again after the collapse of the regimes. The chapter also familiarizes the reader with the ideas of one of the most important figures of Russian neo-nationalism, Aleksandr Dugin, and his concept of neo-Eurasianism, which “reconciles the two theoretical elements of George Sorel’s thought: myth and utopia” (p. 227). What is more, the analytical prism under which numerous countries (for example, Russia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria, to name a few) are being approached sheds light not only on the peculiarities of Eastern European Far Right groups but also on the composition of their base of support.

Finally, despite the fact that one could raise objections about the labels that have been used (for example, radical Far Right and national populism) or feel that some points are being obscured by the detailed description of events, this book is essential reading for those aspiring to understand the Far Right. In essence, readers have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with Far Right groups that encompass varying degrees of radicalism, and to look into their differences, overlaps, influences, and evolution up to the present time.


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   .--'--'-. |  | ____ |
  / __      `|__|[o__o]|
_(____nm_______ /____\____ 

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