SACW - 23 April 2018 | Afghanistan: Future for War? / Sri Lanka: hate speech / Pakistan: Academic Freedom / India: Rising violence & impunity / Hungary threatens the EU

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Sun Apr 22 15:37:37 EDT 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 23 April 2018 - No. 2984 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. Letter from Concerned Faculty Regarding Academic Freedom and Increased Repression on University Campuses in Pakistan
2. Had Nehru not been its first prime minister, India would have been a dump for crackpot science | Pervez Hoodbhoy
3. Modi’s government fails to act on rape: A letter in the Guardian signed by over 50 women’s groups’ representatives and academics in the UK
4. Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir | Nyla Ali Khan
5. India: On Targeting of media women - Statement by National Alliance of Journalists & Delhi Union of Journalists
6. ORF report on hate speech on Facebook in India

7. Recent on Communalism Watch:
 - India: Can it be that riots guilty are only foot soldiers? Haridner Baweja
 - Announcement: Caste and Race Conference at U Mass Amherst, Mass., USA. May 4-6, 2018
 - India: socio-economic decline of Muslims, any move in their favour is made to look illegitimate
 - India: Hindutva connected accused in cases of violence keep getting acquitted under the Modi govt ... Now Maya Kodnani has been let off
 - India: Prominent lawyer Prashant Bhushan files complaint against activist of BJP youth wing (BJYM) claiming credit for fire in Rohingya slum in Delhi
 - Taslima Nasreen / Beyond Misogyny. Untangling Kathua And Unnao - Response by Apoorvanand
 - India is a ‘republic of fear’ - The UK must keep the pressure on Modi | Amrit Wilson
 - India: What's Behind the Acquittal of Swami Aseemanand in the Mecca Masjid Blast Case - An inexperienced lawyer with ABVP connection as the main prosecutor
 - India - Uttar Pradesh: Humans of the Hindu Yuva Vahini | Khabar Lahariya
 - India: Sangh Terror and Failures of Justice - fron Anhad
 - Mr. Modi came to power in 2014, and four years into his term, religious and cultural bigotry stands mainstreamed in Indian society
 - India: In defence of Nehru | Mohammed Ayoob

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8. Is there a future for Afghanistan to enjoy? | Martin Berger 
9. Sri Lanka -- Facebook must meet its own standards | Sanjana Hattotuwa
10. The India I grew up in has gone. These rapes show a damaged, divided nation | Anuradha Roy
11. Shifting back, slowly : A tale of two discourses | Prabhat Patnaik
12. Rape rage: Will BJP lose J&K govt, women’s vote? | Bharat Bhushan
13. For real change: To improve civic decency in India, focus on raising education levels | Kanti Bajpai
14. A Legend In His Lifetime: Till the end, Justice Rajinder Sachar spoke up for the rights of fellow citizens | Tahir Mahmood
15. India: Stop the Kathua lies, it’s like raping the girl all over again | Rahul Pandita
16. Sharma on Talbot and Kamran, 'Colonial Lahore: A History of the City and Beyond'
17. US and Major ICs "sleep-walking" towards war, unsustainability |  D. Ravi Kanth
18. The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack | Robert Fisk
19. Hungary threatens the European Union – a photo essay from Budapest | Anthony Barnett
20. Criminal 'arms race' helping terrorists get weapons, report warns | Jason Burke

As faculty members we strongly condemn the intimidation and repression taking place in universities at the moment, and we urge the relevant authorities to take action against those responsible and to ensure that our universities remain free from outside interference in the future.

by Pervez Hoodbhoy
Nehru’s stamp upon Indian science can be seen across the length and breadth of India in the form of dozens of scientific institutes and universities that owe to him. India is probably the world’s only country whose constitution explicitly declares commitment to the “scientific temper” — a quintessential Nehruvian notion formulated during his years in prison. Briefly: only reason and science, not holy scriptures, provide us reliable knowledge of the physical world.

The media must question Modi about the involvement of his party members in these atrocities, write signatories including Meena Kandasamy, Sarah Green and Pragna Patel

by Nyla Ali Khan
And in practice, gender violence is a consistent feature of the riots and political thuggery that spasmodically grip the subcontinent. The wretchedness of the crime committed against Asifa bears testimony to the intersecting notions of family, nation, and community.

The Chairperson of the National Alliance of Journalists Gender Council Ms. Sujata Madhok , the President of the National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ)and the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) Mr. SK Pande and the Secretary General of the NAJ Mr. Koteswararao, have blasted the spate of attacks on women journalists this week . These range from a petrol bomb thrown at an editor’s home, death threats to a cartoonist for her critique of Hindutva, and lastly the patronising pat on the cheek of a woman journalist by the Governor of a state!

To effectively counter violent extremism and initiate an alternative narrative, it is imperative to understand the extent to which hate speech occurs

 - India: “Saffron Inclination was Always There … But Not So In The Face As It Is Today” - Naseeruddin Shah
 - Harsh Mander on Kathua rape case, solidarity with the minorities, and on becoming a society that is 'intoxicated'
 - India: Can it be that riots guilty are only foot soldiers? Haridner Baweja
 - Announcement: Caste and Race Conference at U Mass Amherst, Mass., USA. May 4-6, 2018
 - India: socio-economic decline of Muslims, any move in their favour is made to look illegitimate
 - India: Hindutva connected accused in cases of violence keep getting acquitted under the Modi govt ... Now Maya Kodnani has been let off
 - India: Prominent lawyer Prashant Bhushan files complaint against activist of BJP youth wing (BJYM) claiming credit for fire in Rohingya slum in Delhi
 - India: CPI(M), AAP, Swaraj Abhiyaan, KPJP & other minor parties likely cut into vote of big parties in 2018 Assembly polls in Karnataka
 - Protest in UK - 'Modi go home' placards & protest outside Downing Street and British parliament 
 - India: Courses to Train Pandits, Experts in Religious Tourism and Vaastu Shastra at JNU
 - Taslima Nasreen / Beyond Misogyny. Untangling Kathua And Unnao - Response by Apoorvanand
 - India is a ‘republic of fear’ - The UK must keep the pressure on Modi | Amrit Wilson
 - India: What's Behind the Acquittal of Swami Aseemanand in the Mecca Masjid Blast Case - An inexperienced lawyer with ABVP connection as the main prosecutor
 - India - Uttar Pradesh: Humans of the Hindu Yuva Vahini | Khabar Lahariya
 - India: Sangh Terror and Failures of Justice - fron Anhad
 - Mr. Modi came to power in 2014, and four years into his term, religious and cultural bigotry stands mainstreamed in Indian society
 - India: Is No One Guilty in the Mecca Masjid Blast?
 - India - New Delhi: Akhand Bharat Morcha’s motorbike rally - brandishing weapons outside mosques and shouting ‘threatening slogans’
 - India: In defence of Nehru | Mohammed Ayoob
 - India: No religion can stop its portrayal, says Supreme Court
 - India: Criminal complaint filed against Madhu Kishwar for spreading false rumours and communal hate & violence inciting tweets

 -> available via:
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by Martin Berger
New Eastern Outlook
April 20, 2018

ONE can often hear the Syrian conflict being compared with the war in Afghanistan, while the latter is often mentioned together with Washington’s aggression against Vietnam. In the second half of the 20th century, Washington deeply mired itself in Vietnam only to face imminent defeat. The same fate, it seems, is awaiting Western elites in Afghanistan. As it turns out, there’s a very particular reason why Afghanistan is often described as the ‘graveyard of empires.’
According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, for the fourth year in a row Afghanistan has lost 10,000 civilians, with people being murdered and maimed amid the ongoing conflict. Among the main reasons for such a death toll the UNAMA lists continuous air strikes carried out by Washington against residential areas.
This year, the number of civilian casualties will also surpass the 10,000 mark. This conclusion can be drawn from US president Donald Trump’s announcement made last year about the Pentagon taking a different approach to Afghanistan. The essence of this approach is simple: Washington’s policy will pursue the same goals with the same methods but this time around it will be much more ruthless. Trump’s administration hasn’t only failed to fulfill Trump’s pre-election promises about withdrawing US troops from the war-torn country, but chose to deploy another 14,000 servicemen instead.
There’s no arguing that America has paid dearly for its military aggression against Afghanistan. American taxpayers have wasted over 74 billion dollars on the training of Afghan security forces alone over the last 17 years. To make matters worse, it’s enough to mention that the deployment of a single American serviceman in Afghanistan exceeds 1 million dollars a year. This results in war costs reaching more than 20 billion annually for Washington, says Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. This amounts to double the annual budget of the whole UN Peacekeeping Department. In total, according to independent analysts from Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Washington has wasted well over one trillion dollars on its military adventure in Afghanistan…
It should also be pointed out that the production of opium in Afghanistan is soaring, amid all the efforts Washington has allegedly taken to put an end to it. Poppy fields can be easily found in pretty much every corner of the country. In 2017, opium production, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, increased by 87 per cent — to 9,000 tonnes — from 4,800 metric tonnes in 2016.
That is why many people continue questioning Washington’s true intentions behind its ongoing military presence in Afghanistan, along with the total lack of transparency and interest towards the concerns that other states have regarding Afghanistan’s future. Those factors have already dealt a massive blow to the influence that Washington had previously exerted in the region.
One may recall that last February the Pentagon announced that upon defeating ISIS in Iraq it was planning to redeploy its troops to Afghanistan. At the same time, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohammad Bagheri linked an abrupt increase in the number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan with the gradual transfer of radical militants to this state, initiated by Washington. Moreover, last month it became known that US secretary of defence James Mattis, paid a surprise visit to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. That’s when Washington announced that NATO would bring reinforcements to Afghanistan, while Trump announced his intentions to spend some 5 billion dollars more on Afghanistan this year alone.
These facts show that Washington fails to come to grips with the fact that there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict, since there’s no defeating of the Taliban forces on their home ground. The continuous attempts by Washington over the last 17 years serve as testimony to this fact. Nevertheless, the US is not planning to reduce its presence there, nor change the nature of that presence.
In recent years, military supply lines that NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan have relied consisted primarily of the so-called Durand Line from the ports of Pakistan to Afghanistan directly. However, the reliability of this route may be compromised due to recent growing tensions between Washington and Islamabad.
Had Washington not plunged itself into a new US-Russian Cold War, the Pentagon would have had the chance to take advantage of the transit route it used in the early 2000s, across Russia and a number of Central Asian Republics to Afghanistan. However, as of now there’s little to no chance Moscow would agree to this, as the Kremlin does not want to put its relations with Islamabad at risk and Washington is keen to push the blame on Moscow for his failure in Afghanistan. The Iranian corridor that Washington used to rely on doesn’t look viable either, as relations between Tehran and Washington have recently hit a new low.
In this situation, the only alternative for the Pentagon is the Azerbaijan-Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan corridor. The desire to create a so-called northern supply route has forced Washington to step up its diplomatic efforts in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. However, if the latter demonstrates its willingness to go along with Washington’s plans, the former is reluctant to put its relations with Russia at risk. Predictably, this resulted in Washington announcing new sanctions against Kazakhstan that are aimed at persuading Astana to change its mind, with US banks announcing the freezing of well over 22 billion dollars of the National Fund of Kazakhstan.
In a bid to preserve the vision of Sir Halford John Mackinder, Washington is determined to keep Afghanistan a hostile security threat to both Russia and China no matter what. And the fact that both Moscow and Beijing are facilitating the peace processes in Afghanistan can seriously jeopardize Washington’s plan of protracting the bloodshed in the region indefinitely.
That is precisely why Washington formed the Greater Central Asia Partnership for Cooperation and Development, which is designed to facilitate its contacts with regional players, while excluding Russia, China and Iran. Experts believe that such a union can provide the US with a continuous presence in Central Asia for many years to come and the subsequent development of the Central Asian region along with its plans. Afghanistan in this case can be used as a springboard with its own system of warehouses, airfields and military bases in place for years.
Thus, establishing a network of military bases in Afghanistan, the United States may put Russia, China, and Iran’s borders at risk, while conducting military operations outside Afghanistan through the use of locally trained troops. It’s possible that soon Iran may become the first to test the readiness of those troops firsthand.

Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst.

After recent violence, company needs robust controls on hate speech
by Sanjana Hattotuwa
Nikkei Asian Review
April 20, 2018

The Facebook post during the height of recent anti-Muslim violence in Kandy, one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka, was stark and disturbing. "Kill them all, these Muslims," it said in Sinhalese. "Don't even spare an infant. They are dogs."

The scale of the violence conducted by mobs of mainly young men shocked the country even though it had witnessed earlier bouts of Islamophobia against the Muslim minority in this majority-Buddhist land. While the violence was rooted in decades-old local tensions, blame for spreading it focused on the new phenomenon of social media, particularly on Facebook.

In many ways, Facebook has become a convenient scapegoat for the government, which is struggling to keep the conflict between Buddhists and Muslims under control. Like its predecessors, the current administration has done little to address the underlying social problems. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe join a long list of leaders from whom much was expected, but little was delivered.

Witnesses in Kandy said the violence was fanned by politicians associated with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa who want to exploit communal tensions to regain national leadership. Rajapaksa has denied any involvement by him or his associates.

But, whoever was responsible, it seems clear the riot at Kandy is not an isolated incident and it could happen again.

That is why social media's role in allegedly stoking violence must be examined. The "kill them all" message posted on Facebook was reported to the company by an individual, who then waited six days before receiving a response. Incredibly, Facebook saw nothing wrong with the content and said that it did not violate the company's Community Guidelines, which explicitly prohibit messages that incite hate and violence.

Around the same time, a well-known female politician and activist Jeevani Kariyawasam, who called for the taking down of inflammatory content on Facebook, instead had her own Facebook post and account blocked. Facebook later apologized for these lapses, but there is clearly a pattern and problem here.

Facebook has 6 million active users among Sri Lanka's 21 million population. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram, all owned by Facebook, are also extremely popular. Mobile telecoms providers offer special packages with unlimited data for WhatsApp and Facebook, which gives vital access for these services to poorer Sri Lankans.

It should not be forgotten that Facebook and other social media have, at times, acted as a force for good in Sri Lanka. In the lead-up to the 2015 presidential election, they provided a platform for those accusing the Rajapaksa government of authoritarianism. Independent media relied on Facebook as a source for reports of corruption, violence and nepotism. Civil society groups used Facebook to coordinate activities.

But since 2015, Facebook has clearly become weaponized by those targeting civil activists, minorities and other vulnerable groups, including women. Such targeting has largely gone unnoticed by the outside world since most of it is conducted in Sinhalese.

This is where Facebook is culpable. Delays of days in responding to complaints are unacceptable. Even worse was the decision that the "Kill them all" message passed muster. Since 2014, we at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Colombo-based think tank, have conducted data-driven research on how Facebook is being used by many groups, including sections of the Buddhist clergy, to whip up ethnic and religious hatred.

Until the Kandy violence, Facebook never responded with concrete measures to stem the growth of content that deeply harms Sri Lanka's democratic fabric. As more people use Facebook and other social media, the tenor of the conversations has become more divisive. Those who attempt to promote reconciliation and justice often find themselves subject to attacks. When calls for violence appear on Facebook, the company should address the issue just as the government and civil society have to respond.

Reacting to the violence in Kandy, the government temporarily blocked access to social media, including Facebook, to contain the situation. This hurriedly brought Facebook representatives to Colombo to keep the service in operation. They promised to examine measures to curb hateful content. But in a worrying sign, civil society groups were not invited to participate in these discussions.

Facebook has said that the number of people working to monitor content had doubled globally to 14,000 in the past year and included Sinhala speakers. "In response to the situation in Sri Lanka, we have increased our local language capabilities [and] established communications with government and non-governmental organisations to support efforts to identify and remove such content," it said in a statement.

With global scrutiny of Facebook increasing, the company is being forced to address how its service has been used to promote violence in such countries as Sri Lank and Myanmar. An open letter by 13 Sri Lankan civil society groups to Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg before his recent U.S. congressional testimony prompted an unprecedented formal acknowledgement from Facebook. But its official response glossed over points made by the civil groups, which demand that Facebook put extra effort into monitoring content posted in Sinhalese -- over and above what the company has already done.

What can small countries do? Actually, a lot. The countries that been most affected by the abusive misuse of Facebook, such as Myanmar and Sri Lanka, are among the heaviest users of the service relative to population size. The proportion far exceeds the rate of use in the U.S. Individually, we are small markets. Collectively, we are strong. For Facebook, doing the right thing by us would be doing the right thing globally.

Collaboratively finding solutions to these problems goes to the heart of Zuckerberg's stated intent before the U.S. Congress that Facebook should be used to connect people in the most positive ways possible.

Activists in Sri Lanka are in touch with those from Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere to compare notes and ensure that what Facebook promises in one country is also pursued in others facing similar challenges. Sri Lanka is not alone in seeking to hold Facebook accountable. The world is watching.

The recent ethnic violence in Sri Lanka is not the direct result of social media. But Facebook's technology has been used as a megaphone for fringe and institutionalized racism. The company alone cannot solve Sri Lanka's democratic deficit or governance problems. But while the chief responsibility for solving the country's troubles lies with government, Facebook has clear duties to carry out. For too long, we have heard only promises or apologies from Facebook. What we need now is meaningful action.

Sanjana Hattotuwa is a senior researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Colombo.

Anuradha Roy
The Guardian
17 April 2018

Ugly Hindu nationalism and the ruling regime’s sense of impunity are common factors in these appalling crimes

A chilling leitmotif of Nordic crime fiction is a child leaving home to play, never to return. Detectives search out trails pointing to sexual violence and murder, and by degrees it becomes clear that the crime is not isolated: it is the symptom of a damaged community. The abduction, gang-rape, and murder in India of eight-year-old Asifa Bano reveals such damage on a terrifying scale. It shows that the slow sectarian poison released into the country’s bloodstream by its Hindu nationalists has reached full toxicity.

Where government statistics say four rapes are reported across the country every hour, sexual assault is no longer news. Indian minds have been rearranged by the constant violence of their surroundings. Crimes against women, children and minority communities are normalised enough for only the most sensational to be reported. The reasons Asifa’s ordeal has shaken a nation exhausted by brutality are four. The victim was a little girl. She was picked because she was Muslim. The murder was not the act of isolated deviants but allegedly of well-organised Hindu zealots. And the men who are accused of raping her included a retired government official and two serving police officers.

When the police in Jammu (the Hindu-dominated part of Kashmir) tried to register a charge against the men they had arrested, a Hindu nationalist mob threatened the few honest policemen and lawyers who were trying to do their jobs. The was a mob with a difference: it included government ministers, lawyers and women waving the national flag in favour of the arrested men, as well as supporters of the two major Indian parties, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) – the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in Britain this week to attend the Commonwealth heads of government meeting.

Nationalism can be benign as well as malignant: Tagore foresaw the malignant variant a century ago. “Alien government in India is a chameleon,” he wrote. “Today it comes in the guise of an Englishman … the next day, without abating a jot of its virulence, it may take the shape of our own countrymen.” Given the right political conditions, virulent nationalism creeps into every bone, every thought process. When it leads to the calculated mutilation of a child, ethnic cleansing does not appear too far distant. If the world has understood fascism better through Anne Frank, its understanding of contemporary India will remain incomplete unless it recognises the political venom that killed Asifa.

Asifa belonged to a nomadic Muslim tribe that herds its cattle 300 miles twice a year in search of pasture. In January, when the snow lies deep in their alpine meadows, these shepherds walk down to Jammu. Here they graze their animals in the little land still available to them. Asifa went one evening to bring back grazing horses, and never returned.

Recently filed police investigations conclude that a group of men imprisoned her for a week, drugged her, starved her, and took turns to rape her in a Hindu shrine. It was well organised. The hiding place was agreed, and sedatives kept at hand. The motive was to strike terror among the Muslim nomads and drive them from Rasana, a largely Hindu village. Tribal Muslims make up a negligible percentage of the local population, perhaps 8%. Even so, the Hindus there fear “demographic change”, and have been fighting to drive them out.

Absolute darkness begins imperceptibly, as gathering dusk. Reading of 1930s Vienna in Robert Seethaler’s The Tobacconist some months ago, I began to feel an uneasy sense of familiarity. At first, only a few minor problems befall Seethaler’s Jewish tobacconist. His antisemitic neighbour, a butcher, contrives through a series of petty offences to make life difficult. After each act of vandalism, the tobacconist replaces broken glass, swabs away entrails, opens his shop again. The vandalism is a feeble precursor of what is to come. Anschluss is a few months away and it requires little conjecture to know how the novel and its tobacconist end. Even as the details of Asifa’s death emerged, another crime came to light, this time from Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, also ruled by the BJP. The father of a teenage girl wanted merely to lodge a report with the police that his daughter had been raped over several days by a legislator and his brother. The father was arrested and died soon after in custody.

The thread that binds these crimes is the sense of invincibility that a majoritarian regime has granted its personnel and supporters. Manifestations of the newfound swagger include vandalising sprees after electoral victories, and the lynching of Muslims and Dalits (the lowest in the Hindu caste hierarchy). The general idea is to create a sense of terror and uncertainty, and in this the tacit support of the state pumps up the mobs – and they rampage with greater confidence. In swathes of rural north India, violating women to signal caste, religious and masculine supremacy is only an extension of such activity. The primeval divisions within Indian society have never been sharper. The BJP’s ruthless drive to consolidate patriarchal Hinduism has pressurised women about what they can wear, families about what they can eat, and young people about who they may marry. Parties in the opposition, envying the electoral success of the BJP, tend to speak out against this culture of sectarian hatred after first sniffing which way the wind is blowing, then gauging how strongly it is blowing.

In the India where I grew up, memories of Gandhi, Tagore and Nehru were strong; the necessity of secularism was drummed into us. We knew that our politicians were largely venal, but it was still a country in which morality and humanity mattered. Now, journalists and writers who speak up against the undeclared war on Dalits, Muslims, poor people and women are trolled by cyber-mobs. – if they’re lucky. The most publicised murder last year was of a dissenting journalist shot dead outside her home in Bengaluru, in south India.

Modi, renowned as a demagogue, is coming to be even better known for what he chooses to stay silent about. Sympathy for the suffering individual, many have noticed, is not among his most distinctive traits. When the student Jyoti Singh “Nirbhaya” was raped and killed in Delhi in 2012, it took several days of massive public outrage to stir Sonia Gandhi and her ruling Congress party, from their mansions. In the aftermath of Asifa, the current prime minister, perhaps quicker off the blocks, took a mere three days after the details of the eight-year-old’s killing were released to understand how much he stands to lose by saying nothing when the whole world is watching. The times are such that even so little so late from Modi has been seen as an acknowledgement, however reluctant, that India’s constitution requires him to ensure justice and equality for all its many communities.

Anuradha Roy is an Indian author. Her third novel, Sleeping on Jupiter, was longlisted for the Man Booker prize and won the DSC prize for south Asian literature

Prabhat Patnaik
The Telegraph
April 18, 2018 

The Hindutva bubble has clearly burst. Not that efforts will not be made to form another bubble before the 2019 elections, but the one that had formed in the run-up to the 2014 elections and had carried the Bharatiya Janata Party to power is over.

In the last few days, there have been mass demonstrations by peasants, traders, doctors, teachers, students and even school children. What is striking about these demonstrations is not just that the fear that had gripped people in the recent years is over and that they are willing to take to the streets to express their anger, but also, above all, the fact that they are concerned with the practical issues of life, with the "this-sidedness" of things as Marx would have put it. Let me explain.

All fascism, and that includes our own "communal-fascism", to borrow Amartya Sen's phrase, is based on creating a binary between "us" and the "other" (whose identity may change depending on the context). Each is seen not just in an empirical or factual sense but as a totalized metaphysical category; and "us" are depicted as being victimized by the "other" but immensely superior to it.

The growth of fascism thus necessarily presupposes a shift of discourse, from the quotidian issues of material life that normally occupy people and find occasional articulation through peasant rallies, workers' strikes, and student protests, to one that constructs these metaphysical totalities, obliterating all distinctions within each and positing an essential and immutable conflict between them.

This is because fascism has little to offer towards a resolution of the material problems of life facing the people. Its raison d'être lies in this vision of conflict between "us" and the "other"; and it appeals to "us" on the grounds that it would vanquish the "other". All fascisms therefore strive to bring about a discourse shift as a condition for their ascendancy.

To be sure, there are specific material conditions that facilitate such a discourse shift away from the issues of material life. These have been much discussed and need not detain us here (see, for instance, my piece in The Telegraph, October 17, 2017). But the point is that this discourse shift is always away from the material issues of life.

In India this discourse shift began with L.K. Advani's rath yatra demanding the construction of a Ram temple at the site where the Babri Masjid had stood. It also marked the beginning of the ascendancy of the BJP in the nation's political life. The demolition of the Babri Masjid would not have made an iota of difference to anyone's material condition of life; it would not have paid anyone's grocery bill. But it did bring about a change of discourse, buttressed cynically by the carnage that followed, which brought the BJP to power at the Centre for the first time in independent India.

The wave generated by this discourse shift was not strong enough to give it exclusive power; nor was it strong enough to sustain it in power (which it lost in 2004). But it left a residue. India could not go back to the old discourse that had engaged the Congress and the Left, about poverty, hunger, unemployment, income distribution, monopoly power, economic self-reliance, and such like, all of which related to material issues, not metaphysical ones like Hindutva.

It was clear, however, that communal-fascism required some additional prop. It could not just ignore the practical-material world; it had to have some agenda relating to it, to supplement its metaphysical Hindutva appeal. This was necessary not just for its revival but for its appeal to be strong enough to give it exclusive power.

That is where Narendra Modi came in, with his slogan of "development". His links to the corporate-financial oligarchy of the country, which had been forged during his days as the chief minister of Gujarat, lent a degree of credibility to his promise of "development". And this promise, which cashed in on UPA-II's lacklustre economic performance, was magnified by a large chunk of the corporate-owned media.

But lacking any vision (of the sort that Jawaharlal Nehru, or Indira Gandhi, for a while at least, thanks to her advisors, had), or any straightforward sympathy for the poor (like MGR had), or any minimal acquaintance with economics (that would have prevented disastrous measures like demonetization), Modi's utter incapacity to cope with the material-practical reality soon stood exposed.

Metaphysical appeals, however, have a peculiar limitation. Already insufficient as a means of garnering exclusive power, they also need to be continuously stoked even for retaining their existing strength. The practical material reality, of peasant indebtedness, youth unemployment, and Dalit exclusion, has a habit of always intruding upon the metaphysical narrative of Hindutva. Classical fascism built upon its metaphysical appeal by carrying it forward to a climax of war and insane destruction; and a by-product of that process in the practical-material realm, at least for a while, was higher employment and the overcoming of the Great Depression.

But communal-fascism today cannot obviously carry its metaphysics forward in that horrendous fashion. Nor can it capitalize on any act of provocation by its supposed "other", above all the Muslim community. In fact, this community has shown a remarkable stoicism and an exemplary forbearance, of which the Asansol imam's call for peace, despite losing his son to a communal riot, is a moving example. This has actually thwarted the escalation of the metaphysical discourse.

It is this combination of an inability to escalate the Hindutva discourse on the one hand, and the inherent incapacity to cope even temporarily with the quotidian problems of the material-practical world, which has made the latter world intrude strongly upon the Hindutva discourse. It has shifted the discourse back to issues of indebtedness, exclusion, and unemployment from those of temple-building and mosque-destroying.

We are thus witnessing a reverse discourse shift. Just as the BJP had come to power on the basis of a discourse shift, from material to metaphysical issues, it is now helplessly caught in the throes of a reverse discourse shift, from the metaphysics of Hindutva to material-practical issues. Its electoral setbacks in the country's heartland reflect this discourse shift.

All this must not be taken to mean some glib forecast about 2019 elections. As noted earlier, a new bubble will be sought to be created before that date. Besides, a shift of discourse does not automatically translate itself into a change in political fortunes. There is also a danger of the Left basking in the congeniality of the discourse shift, deriving satisfaction, no doubt deservedly, from the impressive peasant mobilization it carried out in Maharashtra, and underestimating in the process the paramount need for a political struggle, with appropriate strategy and tactics, against the hegemony of communal-fascism. That eventuality, were it to occur, would amount, alas, to a withdrawal from communist politics to a kind of economism.

But while these pitfalls exist, for me and no doubt many others, the fact that the Indian political discourse is again acquiring a resemblance to what it had been in the pre-Modi years, is a source of great satisfaction. It feels as if some sanity has been restored to the political discourse.

The author is Professor Emeritus, Centre for Economic Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Bharat Bhushan
The Asian Age
April 18, 2018

The government’s prolonged silence on the two cases and the BJP’s complicity in protecting the accused is likely to have two important consequences.

 The Narendra Modi slogan about protecting the girl child (Beti Bachao) was turned on its head — to mean that the girl child had to be saved from the BJP’s lumpen leaders. (Representational image)

Justice for the child rape victim in Kathua in Jammu has become a national rallying cry against the ruling BJP. The stomach-churning incident of an eight-year-old Muslim girl being raped repeatedly in a temple in Jammu has shaken the nation’s conscience. Angry protesters have poured into the streets all over India.

People have also watched with disbelief the brutality of the Uttar Pradesh police in torturing and killing the father of a rape victim in Unnao and trying to protect the accused, a powerful MLA from the BJP. Together, the Kathua and Unnao rape cases have brought public anger against the BJP to a boil.

With even United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asking for justice for these rape victims, India’s reputation has been tarnished globally yet again. And domestically, the disillusionment with the Narendra Modi brand of governance has multiplied.

The government’s prolonged silence on the two cases and the BJP’s complicity in protecting the accused is likely to have two important consequences. The support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi among women voters is likely to suffer a major erosion. And the chalk-and-cheese coalition in Jammu and Kashmir between the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and the BJP is likely to come apart.

The BJP was already at a gender disadvantage in the 2014 general election — more men than women voted for it. According to the National Election Studies data of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, the BJP suffered an acute gender gap in states like Assam, Karnataka, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand while its support was marginally higher among women in Delhi and Madhya Pradesh. As awareness about its attitude towards rape increases, the BJP could have women voters abandoning it.

The Unnao rape case helped focus national attention also on the ordeal of the minor raped in Kathua, ignored by the national media for nearly three months.

However, the filing of the chargesheet in the case, the communalisation of Jammu by BJP leaders’ protest marches to protect the rape accused and the stand taken by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti somehow came together at around the same time, when the Unnao rape case was being splashed in the media. There was no way then that the public discourse could be limited only to one rape case, ignoring the other.

The public twinning of the two cases made the Kathua minor’s ordeal a pan-Indian rallying cry for justice. After all, her rape showcased communalism at its worst — kidnapping, confining, sedating and repeatedly raping a child in a temple and using her rape to evict her community from a predominantly Hindu area. This criminality was compounded with the BJP trying to protect the perpetrators. The arrogance of communal politics suddenly became vividly apparent.

When stark gender violence is seen to have state support, then the victim’s religion is immaterial to those who feel potentially targeted. Women are far more sensitive when the danger is not only to themselves but to the pre-pubescent body of their daughters. The strong moral position taken by them was evident in the number of women who turned up in the street protests.

Many women, including officers of the Indian Police Service, changed their profile pictures on social media to that of the minor raped in Kathua in a show of solidarity. Young women announced on television that they would never vote for the BJP again. The Narendra Modi slogan about protecting the girl child (Beti Bachao) was turned on its head — to mean that the girl child had to be saved from the BJP’s lumpen leaders.

The Kathua case could also make the BJP lose power in Jammu and Kashmir. It has already begun affecting the PDP-BJP relationship. After being on the backfoot, Ms Mufti retrieved some ground by forcing the resignation of the two BJP ministers who had tried to protect the rape accused.

It is not coincidental that the resignations came after her brother and Cabinet colleague Tassaduq Mufti issued a threat to call off the alliance. He said the PDP and BJP had become “partners in a crime (for which) an entire generation of Kashmiris might have to pay with their blood”. He threatened that if the BJP did not honour the agenda of alliance, the PDP would have no option but to “take one last bow and apologise to the people for having unknowingly pushed them into something they did not deserve”.

Although his comments were about the overall crisis in the state, it forced the BJP’s hand in the Kathua rape case. The party had to beat a retreat by forcing two of its ministers to resign. The BJP is smarting under public rebuke and fighting the impression that its partymen were directly involved in the minor’s rape and murder, which they were not.

This, however, is just the beginning of the unravelling of the BJP’s image. One of the ministers involved has now claimed he went to Kathua on the direction of his state party president. This implicates the entire party and has the potential of causing further damage to the BJP.

The PDP-BJP relationship has always been tense. Only a month ago, a PDP minister who, allegedly at the BJP’s prompting, claimed that Kashmir was witnessing a social crisis, not a political one, had to be sacked. In the second round, the BJP lost two ministers and is now waiting for an opportune moment to exact revenge.

However, the BJP is unlikely to have much time as Ms Mufti is keen on convicting the rape accused within 90 days through a fast-track court. When the perpetrators are punished in the next three months, there could be another crisis in the state. At that point, the PDP might, to quote Tassaduq Mufti, take its last bow, apologise to the people of the state and go into political exile for survival. That would be the end of the BJP’s rule, even if in a doomed coalition, in Jammu and Kashmir.

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.

Kanti Bajpai
The Times of India
April 21, 2018

While our security analysts ponder the China “reset” and India’s new “leadership” role in the Commonwealth, let’s consider something far more real and strategic about our society. No, not our internal day-to-day politics, which are shambolic and sinister and all too real. The pretence that India can lay claim to civic decency and democracy has now effectively ended: we are a rape republic, literally and metaphorically. Unfortunately, there is little to be done about it.

Let’s focus instead on an area of Indian life that may still be actionable and remediable: the abysmal education levels of our children. In 2012, the international group PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) ranked a sample of Indian students as second last out of a group of students from 74 countries. The Indian government picked two of India’s leading education states, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, for testing. In reading and mathematics, India scored almost at the bottom. Shockingly, PISA estimated that an 8th standard Indian child was educationally roughly at the level of a 3rd standard Korean.

When the results were publicised, the usual excuses were trotted out: apparently, the test was unfair only to Indian students! Fortunately, for some years, Pratham, the India NGO, has also been testing Indian students. Their homegrown findings, unfortunately, bear out the depressing PISA picture.

Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in 2017 tells us that among rural youth aged 14 to 18, more than 25% cannot read in their own language. About half cannot do simple division problems in mathematics. In addition, most cannot tell time in terms of hours and minutes. Worse, the proportion of children in the 8th standard who can read a 2nd standard text is declining, from nearly 87% in 2007-8 to about 75% in 2014-15. The proportion who can do simple division sums has reduced from nearly 72% to 44% in the same period.

What is going on here? India is richer than ever, going by the size of the economy; and our indefatigable governments launch new educational schemes by the day. No country can match India for the number of rules, regulations and school policies it has on the books. Yet it is an educational disaster. Why?

Government spending on education, the number and location of schools, the facilities at schools including toilets (especially for girls), the quality and quantity of teachers, the incompetence of school leadership and management, the absurd number of days teachers spend doing government duty, the awful state of textbooks, all these are among the reasons that are paraded before us.

It is time, however, to face up to another, almost structural problem, at least for the next many years: malnutrition and stunting. Estimates are that only 1 in 10 Indian children is properly nourished in the first two years of life – the crucial years for brain development. The malnutrition rates in India are worse than in most of South Asia and Africa – 44% of Indian children under the age of 5 are under-weight; the figure for Africa is about half that. Malnutrition causes stunting. In 2016, 26% of children in the world were stunted, compared to 38% in India. Roughly 47 million Indian children are stunted.

Stunting is not just being short physically. More tellingly, it affects brain development and cognitive abilities. This results in poor school performance. Stunting is caused by malnutrition, which in turn is caused by poor dietary habits and lack of sanitation. One of the key reasons for bad sanitation is open defecation. And open defecation has its roots in culture, social practices, and government apathy. These are changing, but in the meantime, we have another generation of young Indians who will be mentally disadvantaged to the end of their days and who will be brutally challenged in an increasingly competitive global economy.

by Tahir Mahmood
The Indian Express, 
April 21, 2018

He was a legend in his own lifetime. Highly respected in life and deeply mourned in death, Rajinder Sachar was a household name. Son of a Congress veteran, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and inherited his grandfather’s legal acumen. On returning from Europe after completing my higher education in early 1970s, I had befriended in Delhi some great law brains much senior to me and drew inspiration from them till the end of their lives. Among them were Kerala High Court judge V R Krishna Iyer, then a member of the Law Commission, and Delhi High Court judge Rajinder Sachar. Both were destined to leave deep imprints on the development of human rights jurisprudence in the country. Their judgments, extrajudicial writings and seminar speeches were parts of my early lessons in human rights education.

I was an eye witness to the stance Sachar took with exceptional grace on the indignities inflicted on him as a judge during the dark days of Emergency, and to the celebratory mood in legal circles when following the end of that ghastly spell in India’s history his rightful place in the capital’s high court was restored. During the devilish dance of anti-Sikh brutalities on Delhi roads in 1984, he part-heard a challenge to police atrocities and did the utmost that a human rights-conscious judge could have done. But he was deprived of the chance to finally decide the matter. The bitter memory of the unfortunate episode remained his lifelong haunt.

As the Chair of National Minorities Commission I was a member ex officio of the National Human Rights Commission when its chairman Justice M N Venkatachaiah constituted a review committee for the Human Rights Protection Act 1993. Former Chief Justice A M Ahmadi had agreed to chair the committee, but Sachar was the leading light on it and the imprint of his thoughts was well writ in its report. How I wish the report had been accepted and implemented in toto by the powers that be, but 18 years later the report is totally forgotten and the NHRC remains a toothless tiger as at its inception. With its reportedly 10 notices to the UP government in the last few months on incidents of human rights violations, the state remains what it has been all these months.

Sachar was denied a seat on the Supreme Court Bench. It was sheer injustice not as much to him as to the nation at large. He, however, turned this denial into a blessing in disguise by arguing before the apex court as a counsel on many human rights matters. In his 81\st\ year, he forcefully pleaded in the court for a forthright repeal of the draconian law called the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act put on the statute book in the preceding year. Its blatant misuse in certain parts of the country had stirred his conscience and he put his heart into the NCPUL’s brief seeking its abolition. The devil was soon killed but soon took rebirth in the form of another Act; and he remained a restless soul all his life.

On returning to power in 2004, the Congress thought of initiating action on some tall promises it had habitually made in its election manifesto — among these being measures for examining the minorities’ long-pending demand for reservation in educational institutions and government jobs and for eliminating socio-economic backwardness of Muslims. The apolitical prime minister of the day wanted to get the vulnerable jobs handled by judges and academics. Two independent bodies were set up soon, one for minorities in general and the other for Muslims, which media nicknamed as Ranganath Misra Commission and Sachar Committee respectively. Ranganath Misra became brand name for the report written by me as the commission’s member, and Rajinder Sachar for that prepared by the committee’s member-secretary Abusaleh Sherrif. While Misra signed my report on the dotted lines, Sachar read every word of his learned colleague’s report and owned it up from the core of his heart. Misra remained tight-lipped about his report till his end in 2013, Sachar was vocal in its support till a few days ago. Both the noble souls are now resting in peace, and both the abortive reports in national archives.

{The author is professor of law and former Chair, National Minorities Commission}

Rahul Pandita
The Times of India
April 22, 2018

In 1755, a major earthquake destroyed the city of Lisbon, killing thousands of its inhabitants. It created a theological crisis of sorts in Europe, with ordinary people and philosophers alike questioning how a “kind God” would allow such suffering.
Since then, humans have brought so much destruction upon themselves that the only question one needs to ask of God is why men could turn so evil. As the philosopher Susan Neiman writes in ‘Evil in Modern Thought’, “The more responsibility for evil was left to the human, the less worthy the species seemed to take it on.”

Nowhere has this been more evident recently than in the Kathua case. We are not supposed to take her name, but how does one stop thinking about the girl who lies buried in an alien patch of land, away even from her temporary home in Kathua, where she played football by herself? Her parents have left, following the old tradition of their forefathers, negotiating one hill after another, setting up camp wherever they can, along with their livestock. The girl who cannot be named, the girl who had big eyes, the girl who the autopsy report said was 110 centimetres long, cannot accompany them any longer.

Immanuel Kant believed stupidity is caused by a wicked heart. To this the philosopher Hannah Arendt added that wickedness may be caused by absence of thought. In the case of the people who are in absolute denial about the circumstances that could have led to the girl’s death, perhaps both of these are true. Otherwise how can one explain their diabolical proclivity to spread lies or believe in lies about her murder? This is tantamount to mutilating the girl several times over.

In the past week, I have become sick with random news items landing in my email and other inboxes from such people or from others who get severely confused after reading them. “What do you have to say about this?” asked one, after he sent me a Facebook post on how the girl’s biological parents were dead and how her murder was a result of a property dispute. This is after her real parents had already been interviewed several times by journalists. Then another item was sent on how the “in charge” of the crime branch team was involved in the custodial death of a man and the rape of his sister in 2007 in Jammu’s Doda region. This pertained to one of the members of the team — not the in charge — who was accused but later exonerated of all charges and reinstated in the force with full benefits.

And then, I was flooded with screenshots of a report in a national Hindi daily that claimed that there had been no rape. I cringed at it. I had seen the autopsy report on January 17 itself, conducted on the day the girl was found dead, when the crime branch was not even involved in the case. The investigation officer at that time was the policeman who is now one of the accused in the case. But such facts do not matter to those who keep on brandishing their ignorance the way they waved the national flag earlier in favour of the accused.

There is no doubt that Jammu has some genuine concerns about the Rohingya influx. Last year, the state home department said in the assembly that there were 5,743 Rohingya in Jammu who had “entered the state on their own”. The number is believed to be much higher. India has provided sanctuary to refugees for centuries, but in this case one wonders how the Rohingya ended up so far in a state that has already seen polarisation and violence for decades. While the civil society in Jammu was well within its rights to raise this issue, it committed the mistake of conflating it with the girl’s brutal murder. And then, on April 9, a few lawyers in Kathua thought that shouting Jai Shri Ram would let them prevail over India’s Constitution.

Now we know one thing. The court will decide whether the accusations made in the chargesheet are true or not. But, so far, whatever has been produced as ‘evidence’ in favour of the accused has turned out to be false.

Till the court decides, it is time for everyone to quieten down. Let the judiciary do its job. In the meantime, listen to a song or something. I have personally taken solace in ‘Ek Lau’ from the movie, Aamir, sung beautifully by my friend Shilpa Rao. Also, if you can, take Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s advice and stay away from the internet as much as possible. Also, if you can, lock yourself in a room and read Hannah Arendt on the “banality of evil.”

(Pandita is the author of ‘Our Moon Has Blood Clots: A memoir of a lost home in Kashmir’ )

 Ian Talbot, Tahir Kamran. Colonial Lahore: A History of the City and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 256 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-064293-8.

Reviewed by Shalini Sharma (Keele University)
Published on H-Empire (April, 2018)
Commissioned by Charles V. Reed (Elizabeth City State University)

Although landlocked and without high-rise housing, Lahore has the identity and vibe of any modern city. The residents of Lahore are a proud people, who have known the good life as well as the bad, and such memories live on, not least among the thousands turfed out and exiled from the city in the years because of partition. This is a Lahore neglected and ignored in most historical literature, a literature that focuses on communal strife, or idealizes Lahore through an orientalist optic as static, somehow preserving the mysteries of the unchanging East. Happily, this book falls into neither category. Rather, it is a synthesis of recent work that has opened up the city’s history to new questions and perspectives. The authors are seasoned Punjab historians, but in this work they seek to write a global history of Lahore, illuminating the connectedness of its citizens, their links with zones of trade, consumption, and cultural zones within and beyond the city. In this way, they describe the architecture of the city as influenced by waves of migration. They show how the development of military cantonments from the nineteenth century onward shaped the urban economy and topography, similarly the railways from the 1870s. Lahore as a crossroads of empire also emerges from this study: made and remade by the Mughals, Persians, Sikhs, and the British.

Evidence of Lahore’s cosmopolitan identity is drawn from familiar sources: tourist accounts and the travelogues of overseas visitors, such as Beatrice and Sidney Webb. For the most part, however, Tahir Kamran and Ian Talbot take us to a Lahore that was invisible to Rudyard Kipling and other Western gazers. The authors point the reader to the spaces in the city where Punjabis came together as poets, wrestlers, filmmakers, and pilgrims. The first banks of Lahore, the city’s newspapers, motor industries, and shopping centers are vividly brought to life. Sometimes the coverage is too slight. For example, we are offered snippets from the English-language newspapers, rather than analysis of long runs. At other moments one is left asking for more: why for instance did Lahore come relatively late to the itinerary of Thomas Cook’s tours? On the whole, however, this is a satisfying read. Biographical vignettes enliven the chapters, for example, the legendary wrestler Ghulam Muhammad or “Gama,” Altaf Hussain or “Hali,” and the musharia culture of the city. We watch the rise and fall of the business magnate Lala Harkishen Lal, and follow the experiences of migrants from Delhi. The combined effect of mixing life stories with structural analysis is to emphasize how the unique character of the city comes from the particular alchemy created by its people. This is the book’s main achievement.   

In most respects, the book is a fresh departure from older treatments, continuing the innovative work of such scholars as Farina Mir (The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab [2010]) and William Glover (Making Lahore Modern: Constructing and Imagining a Colonial City [2008]) on the cultural history of the city. However, the authors do tend to follow Markus Daechsel (2012) in privileging the agency of the Lahore middle class, meaning the that book mainly explores the city of a certain type of Lahori: bourgeois, literate, and masculine.[1] Although women appear as consumers in one chapter, they are absent from the discussion here of Lahore’s cultural scene, its public spaces, its changing fashions. Women were as much a part of Lahore’s elite in the colonial period as were men, even if less documented. A peek at just a few celebrities, such as the artist Amrita Shergill and the Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz, would have presented a more rounded picture. Other examples would complicate the story. Women were central to the establishment of the first female college in Lahore in 1922, and they participated in local politics (especially at the time of Bhagat Singh’s trial) and in local election campaigns.

A preoccupation with the middle class also excludes other Lahoris, and Lahore’s “others,” namely, Dalits or Ad-Dharmis. The Ad-Dharmi movement started out from nearby Hoshiarpur, and had a huge impact on Lahore politics in the 1920s and 1930s, a factor that is neglected in the authors’ account of local opposition to the Simon Commission in 1927. Moreover, looking at what the British termed the “depressed classes” would add a number of layers to the story of Lahore presented here. How were these communities zoned in the spatial development of the city? Where did they fit? Did the modernizing city liberate “untouchables” from their caste background, or was their ascribed lowly status reinforced in the urban context? What about the municipal history of Lahore: could the arguments of Vijay Prashad’s study of the Balmikis of Delhi (Untouchable Freedom: The Social History of a Dalit Community [2000]) be extended to Lahore? In these ways, the history of women and Dalits would have enhanced this book. Despite that omission, we are left with a rich and varied history of the city. It is a must read for any student of Punjabi history and of the history of the city in South Asia. And it shows the way ahead for future research for historians of Lahore, Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s “city of lights.”

[1]. Markus Daechsel, “Being Middle Class in Late Colonial Punjab,” in Punjab Reconsidered: History, Culture and Practice, ed. Anshu Malhotra and Farina Mir (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012), 320-356.
by D. Ravi Kanth
South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) #8663 
17 April 2018

Major developed countries led by the United States are "sleep walking towards war" by implementing unsustainable fiscal and monetary policies since the 2008 financial crisis, with the destructive consequences to be borne by the developing countries, two former senior officials of the Bank for International Settlements warned on Friday (13 April).
Hervé Hannoun, a former deputy general manager, and Peter Dittus, former secretary-general of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), sounded this warning in presenting a comprehensive report titled, "Revolution Required - the Ticking Time Bombs of the G7 Model."
Speaking at a meeting convened by the South Centre at Palais des Nations on 13 April, the two former senior BIS officials argued that "the current economic model built on unsustainable growth of debt, asset prices inflation, arms race, and unsustainable use of carbon will come to an end."
They called for "revolution" to usher in a "sustainable model" that "uses little carbon," "stops the military build-up," "puts the common interest before the interests of the few," and "distributes the fruits of the economy more equitably."
In such a revolution, the authors argued, "state" and public policy must play a crucially "larger role" than becoming, as over the last [several] decades, "a servant to economic and financial interests."
Calling for transformational change, the two authors said, this is an imperative if the world were to avoid the worst crises on several fronts simultaneously.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, which was an offshoot of the unsustainable fiscal and monetary policies followed by the United States Fed and other central banks in the major industrialized countries, the G7 countries, with the exception of Germany, have continued to implement "lax fiscal policies" on a sustained basis.
Consequently, the gross liabilities (government debt to GDP) last year hovered around 221% in Japan, 157% in Italy, 124% in France, 121% in the United Kingdom, 105% in the United States, 97% in Canada, and 72% in Germany.
Since 1971, when President Richard Nixon ended unilaterally the direct international convertibility of the American dollar to gold, the US, which continues to enjoy the "exorbitant privilege" (of printing its currency and paying other nations for goods and services bought from them), has become the epicenter for the unsustainable monetary policies without any concern for its ballooning twin deficits.
The US, in turn, exported all its failures to curb the "twin deficits" (fiscal and current account deficits) to other G7 countries which religiously followed the US model except Germany.
"The US administration multiplies new expenditure and tax cuts by trillion dollars, with no funding other than more debt" which includes US$1.5 trillion tax bonanza for the big corporates, US$1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, colossal increase in the Pentagon budget by more than US$700 billion, Hannoun and Dittus argued.
Unfortunately, the other G7 countries chose to remain silent without any murmur about this dangerous "opening of the flood gates."
Meanwhile, the party goes on despite "the reckless behaviour" of the US.
The overall US fiscal deficit is projected around US$1 trillion in 2019, and this would not be possible without the permissive monetary policy conducted by the US Federal Reserve (the American central bank) since 2009, Hannoun and Dittus maintained.
"The silence or complacency of the Big Three US-based rating agencies (Standard & Poor's, Moody's, and Fitch group), with the blessing of the International Monetary Fund, exposes the hypocrisy of the watchdogs," the two said.
If anything, it vindicates the financial impunity with which the US could adopt such dangerous monetary and fiscal policies because of "the exorbitant privilege" arising from the dollar being the anchor of the international monetary system.
Moreover, the "bipartisan complacency" shown by the Republicans, who are supposed to be financial conservative hawks, and Democrats, who believe in higher taxes and spending, is equally disturbing, Hannoun and Dittus argued.
"First, a dramatization of the shutdown, followed by negotiations among politicians, and then an increase of suspension of debt ceiling," the former BIS officials pointed out.
Little wonder that the "G7 central banks have become the facilitators of unfettered debt accumulation."
And "the sorcerers' apprentices," according to Hannoun and Dittus, include incentives for unfettered debt accumulation such as "near zero or negative nominal interest rates."
Such low interest rates are the price of leverage in an economy, they maintained. The main beneficiaries of negative nominal interest rates are "non-bank corporations" who buy back their own shares, thereby increasing "leverage and deteriorating deliberately their gearing ratios to please their shareholders."
In effect, the total debt of the seven major developed countries is estimated at around US$100 trillion in the third quarter of last year. Of the total world debt, the US, Britain, Canada, Japan, and the Eurozone account for 64%.
The extreme fundamentalist monetary policies followed by the seven developed countries since 2012 have undermined "the foundations of the market economy."
Further, "the distortion of all asset prices," because of the intervention of the G7 central banks during the past six years, "have introduced a significant element of a command economy in G7 countries, which have moved towards a regime of centrally planned financial markets," Hannoun and Dittus maintained.
Consequently, "the G7 model is no longer complying with a textbook market economy model," as the long term interest rates are manipulated and fail to reflect the fundamentals of an economy.
The "everything bubble" engineered by G7 central banks is ready to burst, following the unprecedented asset prices bubble stemming from seven years of near zero or negative interest rates, Hannoun and Dittus warned.
Thus, the G7 monetary policies "are a common factor to most of the speculative excesses observed in bonds, stocks, and real estate."
The "US Federal Reserve has dealt with the bursting of every asset bubble of the last 20 years by creating another, larger bubble."
Since 2012, the G7 Central Banks are no longer seen as able to "take away the punch bowl when the party gets going," Hannoun and Dittus argued.
In short, the "asset price inflation engineered by central banks is a key driver of the rise in inequality," the former BIS officials maintained.
"The "everything bubble" of asset prices is another ticking time bomb of the G7 model," Hannoun and Dittus said.
The most scary asset price bubble is the bond bubble, with Japan, Germany, and France having nominal ten year bond yields between zero and one per cent.
Around 43% of G7 government bonds in major reserve currencies are now held by central banks and other public entities.
"By transforming quantitative easing into a permanent monetary policy tool, the G7 central banks are at risk of heading towards the slippery slope which ultimately leads to government debt monetization," Hannoun and Dittus maintained.
Because of the sustained reckless policies, the G7 central banks are facing a dilemma whether "to choose between two stylized scenarios - policy normalization or government debt monetization", they argued.
Arguably, the monetary and fiscal policies followed by the seven developed countries have resulted in the "capture" of monetary policy by financial markets and "regulatory capture" by large banks and financial industry.
Effectively, there is pushback against financial sector reform in the US and elsewhere. "The lack of integrity of the global financial system" can be seen in two major regulatory failures, Hannoun and Dittus pointed out.
The two regulatory failures are "zero risk weight for sovereigns in bank regulation of credit risk," and "no pillar 1 capital charge for the interest rate risk in the banking book," the two former BIS officials maintained.
The flawed monetary and fiscal policies being implemented by the G7 countries are contributing to the twin dangers of "the global warming time bomb" and "war," Hannoun and Dittus said.
During the discussion on the report presented by Hannoun and Dittus, the former governor of the Indian central bank (Reserve Bank of India, RBI), Yaga Venugopal Reddy, agreed with their finding and called for thorough "rebalancing" on several fronts.
"Rebalancing has to be between national and global economy, state and market, finance and real," said Dr. Reddy, maintaining that "policymakers cannot base their policies on hope or assumptions, but they should be based on the assessments of the rebalancing that occurs from time to time."
The former RBI governor cautioned against adopting a "single model for all countries or for the global economy as a whole" given the emerging complexities in the global economy.
According to Dr. Reddy, Hannoun and Dittus are correct about the "G7 monetary policy capture by financial markets" as well as "regulatory capture by large banks and financial industry."
The global financial crisis actually became the global economic crisis which was "transformed into a social crisis, and of late it is manifesting itself in political developments which we are unable to understand fully," Dr. Reddy argued.
"The attack on multilateralism," according to Dr. Reddy, "is really an offshoot of the global financial crisis and its consequences."
As a central bank governor, Dr. Reddy said, he knew the difficulties involved in the global financial reform.
He gave as an example how he was dissuaded by the highest authorities in New Delhi and Washington from mentioning the "consideration of Tobin Tax" on cross-country financial transactions in a speech.
Wall Street, according to several accounts, including that of the former International Monetary Fund Chief Economist Simon Johnson, has become the "Wall Street-Treasury corridor," Dr. Reddy said.
As regards the current face-off between the US and China, with China holding more than $1.3 trillion of US treasury bills, Dr. Reddy said "while the real economic activity is shifting rapidly to Asia, in particular China, the financial sector continues to be dominated by the West."
Besides, public sector dominates in China by making public policy more effective, while private sector dominates in the US economy.
"While China has significant strength on the current account, the US has significant strength in terms of the return on external assets" which has implications for external sector vulnerabilities, Dr. Reddy said.
The former UNCTAD senior economist, Mr. Andrew Cornford, concurred with the findings of the report while Mr. Martin Khor, the South Centre's Executive Director, said the report is a timely reminder of the dangerous period the world is going through at this juncture.
Former UNCTAD director and South Centre chief economist, Dr. Yılmaz Akyüz, in some concluding remarks spoke about the need to factor in the findings of the report for serious reforms in the global financial system.

Robert Fisk Douma, Syria
The Independent (UK)
17 April 2018

This is the story of a town called Douma, a ravaged, stinking place of smashed apartment blocks – and of an underground clinic whose images of suffering allowed three of the Western world’s most powerful nations to bomb Syria last week. There’s even a friendly doctor in a green coat who, when I track him down in the very same clinic, cheerfully tells me that the “gas” videotape which horrified the world – despite all the doubters – is perfectly genuine.

War stories, however, have a habit of growing darker. For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.

As Dr Assim Rahaibani announces this extraordinary conclusion, it is worth observing that he is by his own admission not an eyewitness himself and, as he speaks good English, he refers twice to the jihadi gunmen of Jaish el-Islam [the Army of Islam] in Douma as “terrorists” – the regime’s word for their enemies, and a term used by many people across Syria. Am I hearing this right? Which version of events are we to believe?
[ . . . ]

Anthony Barnett
Open Democracy
17 April 2018

"I joined a massive demonstration against the Orbán supremacy a week after the election, on Saturday afternoon 14 March. It completely filled Budapest’s wide avenues between the Opera and Parliament."

lead lead ‘Orbán, get lost to the tulipy cunt.’ A famous Hungarian curse put to a new use. All photographs the author's own.The election victory of Viktor Orbán – his third in a row – in Hungary last week is a much greater danger to the European Union than Brexit. A clearly undemocratic Premier now threatens to overturn the rule of law and install himself as an effective dictator based on popular mobilisation, stirred by noxious racist and xenophobic strobes.

The menace follows his overwhelming election victory last week on Sunday 8th March. The recipient of billions of euros in EU support, much of which is apparently misappropriated by regime corruption, and benefiting from German permission, Orbán is arguably now coming to represent actually existing Europe.

Hungary’s capital city voted against him and his party, Fidesz. The town is still covered in election posters. Idealistic images of the leaders of the fragmented opposition parties stare out from lampposts. From Jobbik, the rightist party that came second, to centrist and leftist movements – like Momentum, founded last year, that gained just 3% of the vote and failed to enter parliament. A brief post-election report is filled with their now gloomy faces in defeat and resignation.

The thought that together they had 51% of the total was little consolation. The electoral system introduced by Orbán loaded the votes in his favour and gave him a two-thirds parliamentary majority, enough to do as he wishes with the constitution.

The countryside of this modest, 10 million strong people, backed Orbán to the hilt, after two terms in power and outrageous examples of corruption, support for Fidesz grew. “Basically a significant part of Hungarian society wanted this type of governance to continue. This is not because these people are stupid, tunnel-visioned, or unprincipled”. The words are those of Márton Gulyás, a brilliant, 32 year-old opposition leader, whose Country for All movement did not run in the election but attempted and failed to persuade opposition parties to cooperate and ally against Orbán, to prevent his gaining the two-thirds parliamentary supremacy that now offers him unlimited power.

Behind the alarm and disappointment there hangs an overwhelming reality. Orbán’s campaign was one of unmitigated fear and loathing. He had no programme and offered no manifesto, against which his achievements could be held to account over the coming four years. Instead, he set out his strategy in a speech on 22 June last year, and proposed to defend Hungary from a campaign organised by George Soros and the European Union to dissolve Hungary and Christian Europe in a tide of Muslim migrants.

I knew things were grim in Hungary but until going there did not understand how bad they are, or how it feels. It was like going to the USA after Trump has won a third term. If you can, imagine Trump being in office for eight years, building his southern wall and amending the constitution so he could run again. Then, winning. Not only that, third-term Trump has increased his popular support, has two-thirds majorities in the Senate and House made up of his hand-picked candidates, looks forward to filling a majority of seats in the Supreme Court. While, immediately after the election, the New York Times and Washington Post announce their immediate closure as no longer commercially viable.

It is not the likelihood of such a scenario that is concerning, although this year white rural America support for Trump has grown from 50 to 65 per cent since January. It is what it would mean – and what has happened in Hungary. It is no ordinary election that can be reversed at the end of a four-year term. It promises a transition from law-based elections to plebiscitary Bonapartism, arbitrary dictatorship and a chauvinist crushing of liberty and free-thinking.
Goodbye reality

One of the many election posters filling the Budapest bus-stops is a fake. It is a photo-shopped picture of Soros embracing four of the opposition party leaders. Proclaiming “Let’s Stop Soros’s Candidates”.

“Let’s Stop Soros’s Candidates”. This image has no basis in what used to be called reality. The four parties attempted to take its deployment to court and failed, it was ruled to be free speech. Apparently across much of the countryside the picture was taken to be of an actual get-together.

Along with it are other posters claiming that the opposition wanted to dismantle the wall built by Orbán on Hungary’s southern frontier. Another, taken from the same image of young male refugees made infamous by Nigel Farage in the Brexit referendum, proclaimed STOP about something that is not happening.

Proclaiming STOP to something not happening.To use Miklos Haraszti’s description, a propaganda state has been created in Hungary. It combines post-truth anti-Semitism, such as the anti-Soros mantra in which the ‘J’ word is not mentioned, with explicitly anti-Muslim bigotry. Using this vile propaganda Fidesz has mobilised support across a countryside weakened and threatened not by immigration but by the scale of emigration, as the best of the younger generation flee the country for opportunities abroad.

With the opposition parties reeling from the devastating scale of their political annihilation, a civil-society network came together to call for a rally of protest via Facebook. For a spontaneous demonstration the turnout was astounding.

To our left. To our right.These two photos are taken from the same spot as we gathered in the avenue leading to the Opera House before marching on parliament.

The demonstrators were very mixed. The red striped flag of Jobbik supporters joined the Momentum generation.

There were the young.

The serious

And the patriots

Some demonstrators came in peace and carried daffodils that were handed out

The posters were often witty and intelligent.

‘Dictators of the world, unite?’ A pertinent question.

Two placards were especially visible by the screens in front of the parliament building as we listened to the speeches.

This shows Chancellor Merkel saying ‘We cannot give you as much as you steal’.

Warning finger: ‘Don’t Cheat Don’t Steal Don’t Lie Because the government cannot tolerate competition’.

Others were more scholarly.

‘Rights are not what they give but what they cannot take away.’The regime’s destruction of the opposition press was highlighted.

Propaganda machine is no media.

The press is squeezed. At the end of the speeches, in the huge space in front of the parliament, the organisers declared they would sing the Hungarian national anthem followed by the European Union’s. In clear, firm tones the great crowd sung their national anthem. Then the speakers blasted out Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Its words were not familiar and as the glorious choir began, spontaneously people began to turn on their phone searchlights.

This 35 seconds gives you an idea of the size and the presence of the people of Hungary that the EU ought to be supporting.

The speeches at the end of a great rally are usually symbolic not substantive. But inspired by the force of the mobilisation one of the organisers declared that they will gather ‘next week’.

There were loud protests next to me. Rightly so. It can hardly be bigger. A numbers game will be played. Some organisers will disagree leading to negative publicity. 
European solidarity

This problem is a familiar one of recent years for the spontaneous, open-minded opposition to the well-funded organisation of closure and narrowness. Without clearly achievable demands, a civil society movement cannot grow into an immediately effective force.

Any attempt to simply defy the authorities will be ground down, by techniques now quite well established and shared by security forces around the world; who are only too happy to crush the diehards when support peels away. The only time such protest has been completely successful in its own terms was the indignados in Spain in 2011. They occupied the main squares of Spain, starting in Madrid and then in 81 towns and cities.

They generated an intense learning experience and almost immediately debated when to disperse, doing so within three weeks. Unlike the Occupy movements in Wall Street and London, they didn’t try to hang on indefinitely. Instead, they pivoted to engage with the poorer areas of Spain to challenge the way the economy was being run. Out of this came not only a new and relatively successful political party but also municipal victories in Barcelona and Madrid.

No such opportunity to defy the authority of Viktor Orbán was on offer in Budapest or could be. After all, he had just won an election with a significant increase in support. He felt the force was with him last July, when Orbán declared, ‘Twenty-seven years ago here in Central Europe we believed that Europe was our future; today we feel that we are the future of Europe’.

The task that confronts the urban demonstrators is to prove this wrong – which they cannot do without Europe itself refusing Orbanism as its future.
Anthony Barnett is currently a visiting fellow at the IWM Vienna

Reactivated and smuggled guns used as barriers to obtaining firearms in Europe break down
Jason Burke
The Guardian
18 April 2018

Automatic weapons
Part of a haul of £100,000 worth of eastern European guns smuggled into the UK by a criminal gang in 2016. Photograph: NCA/PA

An “arms race” between criminal groups in Europe risks making it easier for terrorists to obtain high-powered, military grade firearms, a report has warned.

The survey says long-standing barriers to obtaining firearms have broken down in recent years owing to the emergence of the internet, cross-border smuggling of military-grade assault rifles into the EU, the conversion of large numbers of blank-firing guns and the widespread reactivation of weapons previously rendered unusable to be sold to collectors.

“The increased availability of firearms has contributed to arms races between criminal groups across the EU,” the report, funded by the European commission, said.
The Paris and Brussels attacks

In recent years, extremist attacks in France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and elsewhere have involved firearms. In the UK, plots involving firearms have been broken up by police and security services.

Militants from the Islamic State used automatic weapons and bombs to kill more than 130 people in bars, outside a stadium and at a concert hall in Paris in November 2015 in the bloodiest such incident.

Other uses of firearms in recent years have included lethal shootings at a museum in Brussels in 2014, the attack on the offices of a satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris in January 2015, a series of attacks on off-duty soldiers and Jewish targets in south-west France in 2012 and at a synagogue in Denmark in 2016.

Attackers frequently have used “reactivated” and converted weapons, or firearms stolen from legitimate owners.

The attacks in Paris involved automatic weapons originally from former military stockpiles in the Balkans that had ended up in the hands of criminals in Belgium.

The report noted that in Paris it was firearms – “primarily automatic AK-pattern assault rifles and handguns acquired from intra-European criminal sources” – that had caused the vast majority of casualties.

AK-47 assault rifles seized by Albanian police from local crime gangs in Tirana in 2015. Photograph: Arben Celi/Reuters

“In western Europe the traditional closed character of criminal gun markets has partially eroded in recent years and we have observed an increased availability of military-grade firearms. These weapons have then also ended up in hands of terrorists,” said Nils Duquet, the editor of the report and a senior researcher at the Flemish Peace Institute, an independent research institute that coordinated the study.

Two trends particularly worry researchers: the “trickling-down” of the possession and use of firearms to lower-level criminals in several EU member states, especially in western Europe, and the growing overlap between Islamic extremists and the criminal underworld.

The phenomenon of “gangster jihad” has become a major concern for experts and security services.

Many high-profile attacks in Europe and the UK in recent years have involved extremists previously convicted for petty or serious crime.

Several key members of the network that carried out the November 2015 Paris attack had been involved in drug and arms sales.

Extremist recruitment efforts have specifically targeted former criminals, with one British group’s propaganda image of a fighter accompanied by the slogan: “Sometimes the people with the worst pasts create the best futures”.

The report concluded that terrorists generally rely on previously established criminal connections to obtain firearms on illicit markets. It identified prisons as places that offered new opportunities for extremists who did “not yet have the necessary criminal connections to acquire firearms”.

Laws and policies have been tightened in recent years to reinforce the fight against illicit arms trafficking.

However, the report said a lack of sound research meant these initiatives had often been based on a “case-bound, partial or even completely lacking, meaningful intelligence picture”.

Amedy Coulibaly carried out a terrorist attack in Paris in 2015 with reactivated automatic rifles. Photograph: Reuters

The situation in the UK is different, researchers found, but Duquet said there were growing fears of smuggling of powerful automatic weapons to the UK.

“A number of recent cases, for example, have demonstrated that criminals have been trying to bring military-grade firearms to the UK by exploiting legal loopholes in other EU member states with regard to easy-to-reactivate deactivated firearms,” he said.

According to a separate report, also released on Tuesday, by analysts at the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, criminal and terrorist networks on the continent obtain firearms from two major sources: weapons smuggled from south-east Europe after the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, and the more recent trade in converted firearms, some of which originate in EU member states.

Converted and reactivated weapons in Europe are seen as having posed an acute problem in recent years. Amedy Coulibaly, who carried out shootings in Paris in January 2015, used two reactivated automatic rifles and and six handguns. The firearms had been sold in Slovakia before being reactivated and eventually smuggled into Coulibaly’s hands.

Weapons seized from Mohamed Merah, who carried out attacks in January 2012 in Toulouse and Montauban, included a reactivated Spanish-made pistol. The perpetrator of the July 2016 shooting in Munich reportedly used a reactivated Glock pistol purchased on the dark web.

Such weapons are smuggled in small quantities, sometimes just components that are later reassembled.


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