SACW - 9 Nov 2018 | Sri Lanka: Constitutional Crisis / Nepal: Labour / Bangladesh: Hefazat-e-Islam Fundos to honour Hasina / Pakistan: perils of appeasement / India: An Alliance With We The People / The Rising Sea

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Thu Nov 8 17:18:47 EST 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 9 Nov 2018 - No. 3006 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. Afghanistan: UNAMA Report ‘2018 Elections Violence’ - Taliban campaign to disrupt polling
2. Bangladesh: 2016 attack on Santals a shame for nation, says Sultana Kamal
3. A Short Brief on the Present Constitutional Crisis in Sri Lanka by Lawyers for Democracy
4. Sri Lanka: Political Is Personal – An Essay In Despair by Jayadeva Uyangoda
5. Recent on Communalism Watch:
 - India: City renaming madness continues
 - India: Christian event in Ahmedabad faces protest from Hindu outfits - Report in Indian express
 - India: BJP Minister in Rajasthan Booked for Seeking Votes in the Name of Religion
 - India: ‘Act Against BJP President for Questioning Authority of Supreme Court’ - Letter from Retired Civil Servants & Diplomats
 - India: The Birth of the Ram Mandir Agitation, a Ticking Communal Time Bomb | Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
 - Ram will not help BJP that has broken all promises - Press Release by Socialist Party of India (6 Nov 2018)
 - India: Hashimpura verdict highlights the bias within police against religious minorities | Vrinda Grover
 - India: Strike beef off Team India's menu: BCCI to Cricket Australia
 - India - Assam: Ethnic tensions following killings in Tinsukia
 - India: National meet of Hindu monks calls courts ‘anti-temple’

::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
6.  From Bonded to Industrial Labour: Precarity, Maoism, and ethnicity in a modern industrial factory in western Nepal | Michael Peter Hoffmann
7.  Sri Lanka: Has Sirisena’s Conspiracy Misfired?  Kumar David  
7.1  The West is upset about Sri Lanka’s sacked PM, but it’s not about democracy | Kalinga Seneviratne
8. Pakistan: The perils of appeasement | Zahid Hussain
9. Bangladesh: Hefazat-e-Islam Fundamentalists to honour PM for Dawra-e-Hadith recognition
10. Pakistan: The warning signs are here — is anyone listening? | Raza Rumi
11. Captain Pakistan’s Wild Ride | Max Rodenbeck	
12. India’s refusal to talk to Pakistan has much to do with BJP’s electoral narrative | Christophe Jaffrelot 
13. An Alliance With We The People | Akeel Bilgrami
14. Our real ranking: Highest statue in the world – and other sad tales of rising India | Kanti Bajpai
15. Failing to lead by example: on Kerala and the Sabarimala tension | Krishna Kumar
16. India: Political karma comes full circle for BJP as it returns to Hindutva | Bharat Bhushan
17. Black hole of silence on demonetization | C. Rammanohar Reddy
18. Mining in India’s Bundelkhand causes drought and destruction | Inder SIngh Bisht
19. ‘Intellectuals, Philosophers, Women in India: Endangered Species’ Women Philosophers' Journal, Issue N° 4-5
20.  Bangalore  | Jasmina Tesanovic (8 Nov 2018)
21. The Rising Sea | Brian Stone

Afghanistan’s long-awaited parliamentary elections took place on 20, 21 and 27 October 2018. The Government made efforts to secure polling centers enabling more than four million Afghans to safely cast votes. Many citizens, however, exercised their right to votein the face of violence, with the first day of polling seeing the highest number of civilian casualties recorded on any election day since UNAMA began systematic documentation of civilian casualties in 2009. Additionally, those who made efforts to vote did so in defiance of an orchestrated campaign of abductions, threats, intimidation and harassment of voters and election workers carried out by the Taliban in the weeks and months leading up to the elections.

Earlier, hundreds of Santals carrying red flags, placards, banners and festoons brought out a procession demanding justice for the attack and return of their forefathers’ lands at Sahebganj sugarcane farm belonging to Rangpur Sugar Mills in Gaibandha.

Since the commencement of the constitutional crisis on 26th October 2018, the Speaker has made several public statements on the need to reconvene Parliament. His most recent statement issued on 5th November reiterates this position. This is not the first time a Speaker of Parliament has made such a decision. In 2003 the then-Speaker, Joseph Michael Perera, came to the same conclusion. We also have a rich history of decisions where the separation of powers is clearly established. In this short brief, Lawyers for Democracy, sets out why the reconvening of Parliament is in accordance with the spirit and the letter of our Constitution, and must be respected and upheld by all parties.

by Jayadeva Uyangoda
October 26 was a Friday. Although I am not a superstitious person, I look back at that rainy, gloomy Friday as the day I felt personally betrayed too. I can no longer think of Mr. Maithripala Sirisena as a symbol of political hope for the citizens of this country, and particularly for the younger generation. His actions that Friday marked a shockingly tragic end to the political hope and promise he had epitomized since November 21, 2014.

 - India: City renaming madness continues
 - India: Christian event in Ahmedabad faces protest from Hindu outfits - Report in Indian express
 - India: Kinnar akhara from Ujjain that works with the transgender bats for Ram temple & Modi
 - UP Chief Minister Adityanath renames the city of Faizabad as Ayodhya
 - India: BJP Minister in Rajasthan Booked for Seeking Votes in the Name of Religion
 - India: ‘Act Against BJP President for Questioning Authority of Supreme Court’ - Letter from Retired Civil Servants & Diplomats
 - India: The Birth of the Ram Mandir Agitation, a Ticking Communal Time Bomb | Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
 - Ram will not help BJP that has broken all promises - Press Release by Socialist Party of India (6 Nov 2018)
 - India: Hashimpura custodial killings - Delhi High Court ruling of 31 oct 2018 - multiple commentaries
 - India: Hashimpura verdict highlights the bias within police against religious minorities | Vrinda Grover
 - India: Strike beef off Team India's menu: BCCI to Cricket Australia
 - India - Assam: Ethnic tensions following killings in Tinsukia
 - India: National meet of Hindu monks calls courts ‘anti-temple’
 - India: Proposal by Ajaz Ashraf for Ayodhya title suit having 'only Hindu' judges on Supreme Court bench will set a dangerous precedent

 -> available via:
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
by Michael Peter Hoffmann
Modern Asian Studies, 
Volume 52, Issue 6
November 2018 , pp. 1917-1937

This article focuses on how people who formerly worked as bonded labourers adapt to the new realities of an insecure capitalist labour market. It examines how the past shapes the uncertain labour situation of the present, including resistance. The article reflects on the current experiences of precarious labour at industrial sites in western Nepal. It describes how former bonded labourers and their descendants have begun working as contract workers in a modern industrial food-processing factory, with the help of contractors related to them by kin. The article further shows that one of the defining features of their new life as contract labourers is its chronic precariousness. Undisguised forms of confrontation, such as open disregard for management instructions, are also part of their new reality in the labour market. Contract labourers are often strongly assertive in the face of managerial authority, and this assertiveness has been shaped largely by either past experiences or memories of bonded labour. The article contributes to debates about bonded labour and its transformations in South Asia. It also offers a reflection on the limited impact of the Nepali Maoist Revolution on precarious labour and on the ethnic dimensions of this segment of Nepali society. Finally, it contributes to discussions about industrialization and Adivasi communities in South Asia and beyond.

by Kumar David 
Colombo Telegraph
November 6, 2018

What motivates this short note is the Colombo Telegraph report yesterday that Sirisena has activated “Plan B”. That is his meeting with Rajiva Senaratne and John Amatratunga proposing a UNP-SLFP (what about the SLPP?) so-called national government, excluding Ranil Wickremesinghe but including as many UNP traitors as Rajitha and John could drag in. Without Mahinda Rajapaksa where is the money going to come from to buy over a large number of parliamentarians? Who will come only for a cabinet job in the dying days of parliament and face ruthless public opprobrium? Big money has been paid to ALL who crossed-over early, don’t think Amunugama and Fowzie because they come from the monied class are above suspicion. The richer the greedier they say?

Is it not likely that Sirisena is probing Plan-B because Plan-A is not going well? No one can predict for sure whether Mahinda Rajapaksa can get 113 votes. The hatred and contempt in which his bribe-taking Cabinet, if it survives a vote of confidence, will be held by the public is gigantic. The filthiest gutter cases like TNA cross-overs will be lynched when the full swell of public anger explodes. Worst of all this exercise will ruin Mahinda Rajapaksa’s chances at the next elections. It seemed that he was gaining ground after the 10 February victory; now that is in tatters. I am optimistic that this conspiracy cum political coup will end in a setback for predator-MR and guttersnipe-Sirisena. And I mean this this will be the case in a matter of months even if MR gets 113 bandits to vote for him,

What about Rajitha and John? Did they consult their party, go with a mandate to meet Sirisena and find out what the guttersnipe was up to, and come back and report to their party? In that case it’s a UNP information seeking tactical move. That’s ok. Or have they followed Sirisena’s example and sunk into the moral gutter typical of recent Sri Lankan politics?

o o o


South China Morning Post
6 November, 2018

by Kalinga Seneviratne

On the night of October 26, most Sri Lankans were taken by surprise when President Maithripala Sirisena named his former leader and later political foe Mahinda Rajapakse as Prime Minister. Within minutes, celebratory firecrackers were lit across the country, as Rajapakse is still widely popular, especially among the Sinhalese majority, for having brought peace to a nation rocked by a 30-year civil war.
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But the news flashed across the world by the Western-dominated international media was different. They depicted the President’s move as dipping Sri Lanka into a new era of “dictatorship” and possible violence, going back to the old narrative of Rajapakse as a “ruthless” human rights violator and war criminal. They went to the sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, still holed up in his official residence refusing to quit, and his supporters including Western-funded NGOs, for quotes that fit their narrative.

Wickremesinghe, who comes from an Anglicised, urban background, is widely unpopular with the predominantly Sinhala Buddhist majority because he is seen as unable to connect with them and too aligned with Western, Christian interests. He is more comfortable speaking in English than in the native Sinhala language. President Sirisena, who is the son of a rural Sinhalese Buddhist rice farmer, is poles apart culturally, and when both of them came together to defeat Rajapakse in 2015, many people wondered how long the alliance could last.
Thousands of Sri Lankans take to streets in support of new government led by former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa

Their differences have now come to the surface, and were reflected in Sirisena’s address to the nation on October 30, in which he explained Wickremesinghe’s sacking through a devastating put-down of his character.

Sirisena pointed out the sacked prime minister’s inability to connect with the common people, Wickremesinghe’s disrespect for those outside a small circle of Colombo-based elites, his disregard for the country’s sovereignty and his tendency to favour foreign business over locals. It was only towards the end of Sirisena’s speech that he referred to an assassination plot against him, which he said Wickremesinghe did not take seriously. The international media largely latched on to this comment, making the president look childish for sacking the prime minister on these seemingly flimsy grounds.

[Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena makes a televised statement from his official residence in Colombo. Photo: AFP]

Sirisena was the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which was led by Rajapakse during his tenure as President from 2005 to 2015. He defected in November 2014 and became the opposition candidate to challenge Rajapakse – a decision that shocked the nation. Along with a slogan of yahapalanaya, or “good governance”, coined by Western agencies and delivered via NGOs funded by them in Sri Lanka, it connected with the masses, who resented the corrupt practices of Rajapakse cronies, including his family members. Thus, riding on this popular anti-corruption wave, he won the presidency narrowly in January 2015.

A day after being sworn in as President, Sirisena appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister, citing a campaign promise, even though Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) only had 46 MPs in the 225-member parliament. After the appointment, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe alliance forced the existing prime minister D.M. Jayaratne to submit a backdated resignation letter to avoid any constitutional hassles.
US and Japan freeze billions in development aid to Sri Lanka after Wickremesinghe ousted as prime minister

Today, when Wickremesinghe loyalists accuse Sririsena of breaching the constitution, Rajapakse supporters point out the “unconstitutionality” of the Wickremesinghe appointment in 2015. They argue that since Sirisena’s SLFP withdrew from the “National Government” formed in 2015 a day before he appointed Rajapakse as prime minister, the existing cabinet and prime minister ceased to exist, and thus the president was within constitutional norms in his appointment of Rajapakse. This could be why Wickremesinghe has not gone to the Supreme Court to challenge it, and instead has tried to mobilise his Western allies to bail him out.

Immediately following the events of October 26, the ambassadors of the United States, Britain, the European Union, Canada, Japan and Australia met Wickremesinghe at his “official” residence, which the new government says he is illegally occupying. After this, their governments issued statements calling for the “restoration” of democracy and recalling of parliament (which the president has prolonged until 16 November). They have also had meetings with opposition leaders and foreign-funded NGOs.

[Sri Lanka’s ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Photo: AFP]

On October 30, President Sirisena summoned all foreign envoys for a meeting to brief them about his actions. During the meeting, EU Ambassador Tung-Lai Margue warned that if democratic norms and constitutional provisions were not observed in handling the ongoing political crisis in Sri Lanka, the EU might consider withdrawing the trade concessions the island nation enjoyed under the General System of Preferences Plus. On Sunday, it was reported that the US and Japan are withholding some US$1 billion of promised “aid” to Sri Lanka.

On the perceived unpopularity or unacceptability of his act of removing Wickremesinghe in the way he did, Sirisena reportedly told the Western envoys it was best to leave the governance of Sri Lanka to Sri Lankans, and that the government and the people of Sri Lanka knew best what was good for them.

At a time when the US and EU are complaining about Russian interference in their domestic politics, the western envoys’ behaviour in Sri Lanka is a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations adopted in 1961.
Sri Lanka: supporters occupy banquet hall of sacked PM’s residence ‘Temple Trees’ as power struggle deepens

“We are facing blatant external interference in a domestic political process … A climate of insecurity is being created artificially by the defeated allies of the West whose objective may be to provoke a violent situation that will provide justification for external intervention,” warned Tamara Kunanayakam, former Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva in a commentary published by local media.

In October 2015, the Sri Lankan government co-sponsored UNHRC resolution 30/1 “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”, an action taken by then-Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, which Sirisena claims was not approved by him. This invited direct interference by the UNHRC in the country’s domestic affairs, even to the extent of trying to establish war crimes tribunals with foreign judges. The people of Sri Lanka are vehemently opposed to this, except for a few urban elites and NGOs around Wickremesinghe.

[Wickremesinghe supporters taking part in a rally near the Prime Ministerial residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo: EPA]

Under Wickremesinghe, western aid agencies, think tanks and corporations shaped, drafted and helped to implement policies, opening “new frontiers” for US hegemony. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which claims to be independent, is a US government body chaired by the US Secretary of State, has a project unit physically located inside the Prime Minister’s office and was involved in drafting Wickremesinghe’s eight-year economic development plan, “Vision 2025”, that was believed to be planning to recommend constitutional changes to make it easier for foreigners to buy land in the country.

Wickremesinghe on Sunday told Reuters the MCC was withholding US$480 million worth of aid for a “motorways project and improving land administration”. While the US and its allies have widely criticised the allocation of about 100 hectares around the Hambantota harbour to a Chinese government-linked company on a 99-year lease as infringing on Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, the Vision 2025 plan is suspected to include provisions to declare government land across the country as economic assets that could be acquired by foreign investors.
‘I’m not leaving’: Sri Lanka’s ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe digs in at Temple Trees as political crisis deepens

When parliament resumes later this month, Rajapakse is expected to present an interim budget in place of the budget that was due to be presented in parliament last Friday. He had previously said he would prepare an economic plan to encourage domestic production and agricultural sector activities, and hinted that the outgoing government’s outward-looking policies favouring foreign investors would be curtailed.

If he loses the vote on the budget, it will allow Sirisena to dissolve parliament immediately and call for a snap general election, which Rajapakse loyalists want and the UNP, Wickremesinghe’s party does not. There are also many UNP members who have not yet completed five years in parliament, upon which they will receive a government pension. If a new election is held many of them are likely to lose; they could abstain from voting, giving Rajapakse victory. Winning the budget vote will legitimise his appointment as prime minister, and Wickremesinghe’s allies will find it difficult to move a no-confidence motion.

However, with a lot at stake for US, India and China in the geopolitical battle in Sri Lanka, things can also take a nasty turn outside the confines of parliament.

Dr Kalinga Seneviratne is a Sri Lankan-born journalist, media analyst and international communications expert based in Singapore

Zahid Hussain
November 07, 2018

ONE thought the moment had arrived. The judges had broken the ring of fear. The prime minister’s tough words reassured the nation. The civil-military leadership were said to be on the ‘same page’.

Yet, when crunch time came, the government capitulated. Surely, it was not the first time the state had been brought to its knees by rampaging zealots, but the terms of submission had never been so humiliating. And the ordeal of Aasia Bibi, despite her acquittal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, is far from over.

It is not just about the content of the agreement; in fact, what matters more is the government yielding to radical clerics who openly called for the killing of the judges and incited mutiny against the army chief. Their call for the overthrow of the civilian and military leadership can be seen as sedition. While the government claims that the accord has helped restore peace, its politics of appeasement has eroded the authority of the state and further empowered the religious right.

One cannot agree more with Shireen Mazari, the federal minister for human rights, that appeasement to “avoid bloodshed” sends a dangerous message to non-state actors, and undermines the very concept of democratic peaceful protest. She is among the few saner voices in the ruling party that is torn by its own contradictions. The division within became more pronounced during the handling of last week’s crisis.

Surely, the policy of appeasement does not seem to be working as the situation remains volatile with the TLP not backing down. The crackdown on rioters in the aftermath is not going to contain Khadim Rizvi and his followers who appear emboldened after the agreement that promises to bar Aasia from leaving the country. It is tantamount to signing her death warrant.

Even more alarming is that the issue has become a battle cry for all religious groups including the mainstream Islamic parties who are threatening to come out on the streets. The blasphemy law comes in handy to whip up public sentiments for Islamic parties of all hues, who had been swept aside in the elections. It is no more an issue restricted to hard-line Barelvi groups such as the TLP. The Aasia Bibi court judgement seems to have brought together squabbling sectarian groups, making it more difficult for the government to deal with the impending challenge.

    Despite the warning, the administration had not taken any preventive measures to stop the violence.

What happened last week did not come as a surprise. The religious groups with the TLP in the lead had turned the case into a highly emotive issue. The matter was highlighted with the murder of Salmaan Taseer, the Punjab governor, by his security guard for defending the poor Christian woman. The execution of his assassin Mumtaz Qadri also led to the rise of Barelvi militancy that is represented by the TLP.

The movement is built entirely around the blasphemy question. Its followers not only come from the Barelvi madressahs spread across the country but also draw support among the less-educated, poorer sections of the urban and rural population mainly in Punjab. Notwithstanding the rise of religious extremism in the country, this new phenomenon is more dangerous as it evokes wider emotional appeal among the populace. The filthy language used by these clerics and the open incitement to violence has made the lives of not only members of minority religious communities but also moderate Muslims more vulnerable to mob violence.

Their siege of Islamabad last year contributed to the spectacular rise of the group. The capitulation by the state gave the group the boost it needed before elections. The widespread perception that the security agencies were behind the sit-in in the capital may have also been a factor in its meteoric rise on the political scene. Although the TLP may not have won a single National Assembly seat, it did have a significant impact on the elections securing more than two million votes across the country.

This newfound sense of power was manifested in the recent protests that almost brought the country to a halt and forced the government to sign a controversial, five-point agreement, the legality of which is questionable. Ceding to the demands of a group that refuses to accept the Supreme Court order will further weaken the authority of the government and state.

It was evident that despite the warning, the administration had not taken any preventive measures to stop the violence. There was no clear plan or strategy to deal with the situation. One of the reasons for this paralysis is the PTI’s own soft position on religious extremism. It was the only political party that justified the TLP’s Islamabad siege and supported the demand for the law minister to step down.

Some senior PTI leaders have also attended rallies of extremist sectarian groups and played the religious card in the elections. How can one forget the spectacle of the Punjab provincial information minister visiting the grave of Mumtaz Qadri and paying homage to a convicted murderer? So it was not just a question of the government’s capacity, but also the PTI’s own hidebound views that have been responsible.

It was certainly not a spontaneous movement that had paralysed the country. The TLP was well prepared for protests after the Supreme Court reserved its judgement in the case in early October. The violence spread like a prairie fire, taking law-enforcement agencies by surprise. The statement by the ISPR chief at the peak of the violence giving the impression that the military would not intervene added to the confusion. The statement was more surprising as the TLP leaders were inciting mutiny within army ranks.

Indeed, it is primarily the responsibility of the government to protect the rights of the people and uphold the rule of law. But the issue of violent extremism must also be the concern of the state as a whole, as well as other stakeholders in the democratic set-up.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Dhaka Tribune

Ashif Islam Shaon

    Published at 02:19 pm November 4th, 2018

qawmi rally
Thousands of students and teachers of Qawmi madrasas gather at Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka to attend a rally titled "Shokrana Mahfil"on SundayMehedi Hasan/ Dhaka Tribune

She was accorded a reception for recognizing the top Qawmi degree  

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said the government will construct 560 model mosques and an Islamic university. 

“The Saudi government will assist us in these projects,” she said in her speech as the chief guest at a rally, titled “Shokrana Mahfil,” at Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka on Sunday.  

Al-Hiyatul Ulya Lil-Zami'atil Qawmiya Bangladesh, the highest organization of Dawra-e-Hadith of Qawmi madrasa, organized the rally to receive the prime minister following the government’s recognition of the Dawra-e-Hadith (Takmil) degree of the Qawmi madrasa system. 

The organization’s chairman, Hefazat-e-Islam Ameer Shah Ahmad Shafi, chaired the event. 

Thousands of students and teachers of Qawmi madrasas started gathering at the venue, from across the country, since morning. 

Thousands of students and teachers of Qawmi madrasas gather at Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka to attend a rally titled "Shokrana Mahfil"on Sunday <b> Mehedi Hasan/ Dhaka Tribune </b> 

The government postponed Sunday's Junior School Certificate and Junior Dakhil Certificate examinations to November 9 for the event. 

At the rally, Qawmi leaders expressed their desire to see the prime minister in power for a third consecutive term. 

“Since Sheikh Hasina has recognized [ the top Qawmi madrasa degree] we want her to come to power again, so that she can fulfill the rest of our demands,” Qawmi leader Fazlul Karim said.

The speakers said there is a change in Bangladesh now, and Qawmi leaders were not able to receive a prime minister before, with such warmth, because none had listened to their demands.

On September 18, parliament passed a bill to recognize the Dawra-e-Hadith (Takmil) degree as equivalent to a post-graduate degree in Islamic Studies and Arabic. 

o o 

Dhaka Tribune
Tribune Desk

October 1st, 2018

WEB_PM Sheikh Hasina_Hefazat chief Ahmad Shafi_2017_Edited_Courtesy_01.10.2018
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during a meeting with Bangladesh Qawmi Madrasa Education Board and Hefazat-e-Islam on April 11, 2017, announced that Qawmi madrasa's Dawra-e-Hadith would be recognized as a post-graduate degree Courtesy

A 15-member committee has been formed to host the reception in Dhaka this month

Hefazat-e-Islam Ameer Shah Ahmad Shafi will hold a reception for the Prime Minister since a bill to recognize Dawra-e-Hadith (Takmil) degree of Qawmi madrasa was passed in parliament.

This reception will be given on the initiative of Al-Haiatul Ulya Lil-Jamiatil Qawmia Bangladesh, the highest organization of Dawra-e-Hadith of Qawmi madrasa.

The decision was taken at a meeting on Monday at Al-Haiatul Ulya Lil-Jamiatil Qawmia Bangladesh in Hathazari in Chittagong with Hefazat chief Shafi in chair.

Also Read- Madrasa teachers to be barred from politics

A 15-member committee has been formed to host the reception in Dhaka this month at the Bangabandhu International Conference Center.

Shah Ahmad Shafi will preside over the reception, the date of which is yet to be set. 

The meeting was also attended by Ashraf Ali, Anwar Shah, Mahmudul Hasan, Abdul Halim, Abdul Halim Bukhari, Mufti Muhammad Waqqas, Mufti Faizullah, Maulana Muslehuddin Raju, Maulana Anas Madani, Maulana Abdul Kuddus and Maulana Mahfuzul Haq.

On September 18, parliament passed a bill to recognize the Dawra-e-Hadith (Takmil) degree with the status of post-graduate degrees of Islamic Studies and Arabic.

If the political elites occupying Parliament, the Army and the judiciary are serious – they will have to unite in setting a new direction for the country
Raza Rumi
The Daily Times
November 4, 2018

Asia Bibi, a poor Christian farm worker, wrongfully accused of blasphemy was acquitted by the Supreme Court (SC) after nearly a decade. This was a rare occasion whereby the highest court in Pakistan overturned a blasphemy conviction and delivered a clear verdict. The hope was that this verdict would become the basis for a robust national debate aimed at reviewing the man-made laws that have been flagrantly abused over the years. Not unexpectedly, Asia Bibi’s acquittal prompted a severe backlash with all shades of Islamists joining hands, baying for blood and pressurising the state to retreat. Within days of the landmark judgment, the euphoria has evaporated and the state has once again surrendered to the demands of the extremists.

Immediately after the SC announced its historic verdict, the Barelvi clerics comprising Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) started to mobilise their supporters on the streets. The protests were violent in nature and attacked the Army chief while asking other generals to step in. Worse, the judges were threatened and one of the leading clerics asked the domestic staff working with the judges to kill them! Of course, Imran Khan was also called a Jewish agent and there was a demand for the removal of his government. As protests and verbal assaults grew in intensity, the Prime Minister appeared on national television and reassured most Pakistanis that he meant business when it came to protecting the writ of the state and upholding the rule of law. Shortly thereafter the PM left for China and it is unclear who in his absence was holding the fort.

Another day of protests, road blockades, violence ended with an agreement with the TLP assuring the protestors that a review petition would not be opposed and that legal action would be initiated to place Asia Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL). The latter point of agreement was not just bizarre but blatantly illegal. For how can citizens be barred from leaving the country when there is no case against them? In fact, by placating extremist passions, the state of Pakistan has even overlooked the grave threat that the [majoritarian] sectarian mobilisation now poses. In other words, a non-Muslim Pakistani even when acquitted by the highest court must face the mobs.

The rise of TLP is also an assertion of the Barelvi re-entry into politics. Since the 1980s, the Barelvi political power had been subsumed under the growth of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in urban Sindh. Both were the favoured political entities of the establishment until the 1990s when cracks appeared in the political alliances. During the past two decades, these compacts have virtually broken. The third ouster of Nawaz Sharif (and splintering of MQM) in 2017 formalised this separation. TLP was actively encouraged and launched as an instrument to undermine the PMLN in the Punjab and it succeeded in delivering this short-term objective.

    The cost of nurturing religious extremists is way too high. The 2017 experiment has evidently backfired; even sooner than expected by Pakistani standards. TLP’s instrumentalisation as a political proxy is a reality. But this is not to overlook its genuine support base as was witnessed during the past few days

First, it brought the PMLN government to a standstill in November 2017; and prevailed in inserting the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat issue in the election campaign. Because the PMLN government had hanged MumtazQadri, the murderer of the former Governor of the Punjab, it found itself on the back-foot. Some leaders within the now ruling PTI actively played the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat card in their voter mobilisation. Furthermore, when the July 2018 elections came around, the TLP managed to reduce the PMLN majority by 10-20 seats; participating in the polls and securing two provincial seats. Moreover, it bagged more than 2.2 million votes to emerge as the third largest electoral force in the Punjab. Even bigger than the mainstream PPP; which was once a popular in the province.

But Pakistan’s history is replete with examples whereby using religion for political gain backfires time and again. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto used the Islam card during his turbulent tenure during the 1970s. Parliament responded by declaring the Ahmadi sect non-Muslim; and later the Islamisation drive by Bhutto provided the necessary groundwork for Gen Zia’s to intensify this over the next decade. Bhutto was ousted and hanged with the full right-wing support.

Nawaz Sharif continued the trend and during his tenure the blasphemy laws were amended by the Parliament; when death penalty was introduced as a new punitive measure. It is ironic that two decades later he was also accused of blasphemy and fatwas were issued against him. But the use of religion has not been limited to the domestic political project. In fact, it has been most pronounced when it comes to foreign policy.

After the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian revolution, the Pakistani state patronised non-state actors who employed the jihad narratives; serving ‘national’ interests as well as those of allies Saudi Arabia and the US, among others. The Mujahedeen in Afghanistan transformed into the Taliban in the 1990s while various splinters of anti-Shia groups kept the Iranian influence under check. Some of these Mujahedeen also became useful vis-à-vis the Kashmir conflict with India.

The cost of such instruments was borne by Pakistanis when these proxies became a liability during the post-9/11 war on terror which has resulted in at least 50,000 deaths in the past decade or so. The Taliban then splintered and started attacking the Pakistani state and civilians. And it is only in the last few years that such policies have been revised. The sectarian militias and Pakistani branch of Taliban, the TTP, have been dealt with through police and military action.

During these decades, the reliance of the state was on the Deobandi sect to juggle Salafi doctrines of jihad with foreign policy goals. The Barelivs remained largely out of this equation until recently. In the domestic arena, the mainstream religious parties like Jamaat-e-Islami(JI) and Jamiat-e-Ulema-I-Islam-Fazal (JUIF) have also lost ground as their appeal finds little traction and their conventional supporters especially in KP province are switching to the PTI with its promise of clean government and economic progress. As the alliances with Deobandi groups are waning, the Barelvis have found it expedient to acquire more power. The TLP is a force to reckon with for it enjoys a much wider support base and the majority of Sunni Muslims in Pakistan adhere to the Barelvi subsect. And blasphemy is an emotive issue that also fits into the larger narrative of global Muslim injury by the West.

If there is a singular lesson to be learned, it is this: the cost of nurturing religious extremists, be it at the hands of the political elites or the establishment, is way too high. The 2017 experiment has evidently backfired; even sooner than expected by Pakistani standards. The TLP’s second agitation and brazen threats to the state within one year attest to that. Its instrumentalisation as a political proxy is a reality. But this is not to overlook its genuine support base as was witnessed during the past few days. The ideological state since Gen Zia has filtered into laws, judicial verdicts, executive directives, textbooks, media narratives; and the notion that Pakistan’s destiny is to be an Islamic state has indoctrinated an entire generation. Imran Khan’s reference and goal to create the state of Medina also fits into this populist framework.

Aasia Bibi’s acquittal is therefore a watershed moment. If the political elites occupying Parliament, the Army and the judiciary are serious – they will have to unite in setting a new direction for the country. Otherwise, the scenes of violence and mayhem and threats to state institutions represent clear warning signs for the future.

The writer is editor, Daily Times

Max Rodenbeck	
The New York Review of Books
November 22, 2018 Issue

Reham Khan	
by Reham Khan
Lancashire: SK, 534 pp., £17.99 (paper)
Reimagining Pakistan: Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State	
by Husain Haqqani
HarperCollins India, 336 pp., $34.99

When he was young and dreaming of a career in cricket, long before he dreamed of being prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan was told to trim his ambitions. He wanted not just to play the sport professionally; he wanted to be a fast bowler, a niche talent in what Americans call pitching that consists of mastering the essential skill and craftiness of spinning, curving, and plotting the bounce of the ball, and then combining all this with the most intimidating possible speed.

Khan says he was told by coaches and peers that he simply had the wrong physique to be a fast bowler. But rather than accept the verdict, he set out to change his own shape. It took years of effort to develop the powerful shoulders and limber throwing arm needed to terrorize a stationary batsman, and to perfect the bounding, windmilling approach followed by a precision launch of the ball at up to ninety miles per hour. In the end, Khan rose to the pinnacle of cricket in Pakistan, where the sport comes a close second to religion in the passion it inspires. As a two-time captain of the country’s team in the 1980s and 1990s, he carried Pakistan to its greatest glory since the country’s independence in 1947: the capture of the Cricket World Cup in 1992. He also had the crowning good sense to retire from the game after that peak.

On August 18, following a national election in July in which his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, or Justice Party), won the largest number of seats, Khan was inaugurated as Pakistan’s prime minister. It might be said, however, that as a politician Khan has battled a handicap similar to the one he overcame in cricket: he is in many ways the “wrong shape” to lead a strategically important but poor, religiously conservative, and chronically troubled nation of 201 million that has slowly drifted toward the bottom rankings of human development indexes.

[ . . . ]

by Christophe Jaffrelot 
The Indian Express
November 8, 2018

Sometimes what has not happened needs to be explained as much as what has happened. External Affair Ministers of India and Pakistan, Sushma Swaraj and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, did not meet on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly in New York in September. Why? In his victory speech in July, Imran Khan had said that Pakistan would respond by taking two steps for any step taken by India for normalisation of relations. In his congratulatory message to Khan on his swearing in in August, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had responded constructively and called for dialogue. Imran Khan had then sought a meeting between the two ministers of foreign affairs in New York. India had agreed — the meeting was supposed to take place on September 26 — but called it off less than 24 hours later for two reasons: The “brutal killings” of Indian security personnel at the hands of “Pakistan-based entities” and the release of 20 postage stamps “glorifying a terrorist”, Burhan Wani. These two incidents happened before the Ministry of External Affairs had confirmed the talks. Some analysts have pointed out that only after confirming the talks did New Delhi realise that three days after the meeting, it would celebrate the second anniversary of the “surgical strike”. Contradictory signals would be sent if peace talks were followed, that closely, by a grand commemoration of a transborder attack against Pakistan.

This explanation is convincing but needs to be seen in a larger perspective. The BJP is in an election mode and that makes it more difficult for the government to talk to Pakistan. After all, this country has figured prominently in all the recent election campaigns of the party — those by Modi in particular. As the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi had constantly spoken about the Pakistani threat and projected himself as a strong leader vis-à-vis Pakistan and its jihadists. During the 2012 Gujarat election campaign, he arraigned then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for being weak vis-à-vis Pakistan. In a letter to Singh that was released to the public even before it reached the PMO, the then Gujarat CM warned that “any attempt to hand over Sir Creek to Pakistan would be a strategic blunder”. Singh responded that that was not his intention.

This tactic gained momentum during the 2014 election campaign. In March that year, Modi tweeted, “3 AKs are very popular in Pakistan: AK 47, A K Antony & AK-49”. While Antony was the then UPA government’s defence minister, Modi dubbed Kejriwal “AK 49” in obvious reference to his first term of 49 days as Delhi’s chief minister. In a meeting in Hiranagar in Jammu and Kashmir, he said that the three AKs were helping Pakistan in different ways. In Kejriwal’s case, this accusation stemmed from the fact that “his website shows Kashmir as part of Pakistan”. Antony was seen as too weak vis-à-vis Pakistan. One month later, a former BJP minister of the Bihar government and a future Union minister, Giriraj Singh, declared at an election meeting in Mohanpur in Jharkhand: “Those opposing Narendra Modi are looking at Pakistan, and such people will have a place in Pakistan and not in India.”

Modi himself never indulged in such rhetoric, but constantly referred to Pakistan during subsequent election campaigns. The 2017 Gujarat assembly election is a case in point. During the campaign, he declared: “There was a meeting of the High Commissioner of Pakistan, the former foreign minister of Pakistan, the former vice president of India and the former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house (…) My brothers and sisters, this is a grave matter. Pakistan is a sensitive issue; what was the reason behind this secret meeting with that high commissioner, especially when elections are taking place in Gujarat?”

To suggest that Congressmen were conspiring with Pakistanis over a dinner (that, incidentally, held no secrets) was part of an electoral tactic, but it also aimed at creating a politics of fear. Such politics were fostered by alleged recurring jihadi attempts to assassinate Modi, that were exposed by the Gujarat police in the early years of his tenure as CM.

While the sense of vulnerability vis-à-vis the Pakistani threat is particularly acute in the border state of Gujarat, BJP leaders have referred to Pakistan during other state elections. During the 2015 Bihar election campaign, for example, Amit Shah said: “If the Bharatiya Janata Party is defeated in the Bihar assembly polls and does not form a government, firecrackers will be burst in Pakistan.” During the 2017 assembly election in UP in 2017, a BJP leader told journalist Prashant Jha (How the BJP Wins): “We want anti-Muslim polarisation. Why pretend otherwise?” Another BJP member explained his party’s success in UP to the same journalist in simple terms: “It was an India-Pakistan election.”

The way one relates to Pakistan can be used as an acid test, not only to polarise society along religious lines but also to differentiate the patriots from the traitors. The February 2016 JNU event that resulted in the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar and others is a good illustration of this process. They were arrested because of the alleged anti-national slogans they had raised — these were publicised via video broadcast. Journalist Vishwa Deepak gave a revealing testimony after resigning his job at Zee TV: “The video, that never had a slogan of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, we ran again and again to stoke passions. How could we convince ourselves so easily that the voices in the darkness belonged to Kanhaiya or his friends? Blinded by prejudice we heard ‘Bharatiya court zindabad’ as ‘Pakistan zindabad’.” Deepak does not attribute the words, “Pakistan Zindabad” to any doctored tape, here, but to his own confusion, the confusion that had been created by propaganda.

Pakistan has become part of India’s election campaign for good reasons. Election campaigns are the right time for debating issues such as national security. And there is evidence of the fact that the ISI did orchestrate the Mumbai attack in 2008 and engineered infiltrations of jihadists though the Line of Control. Other terrorist attacks, including the one in Pathankot, have also been convincingly attributed to the Pakistani security establishment.

But peace talks are made even more difficult when the party in office tries to mobilise voters by highlighting its military achievements against its neighbour. For instance, in an Aap ki Adalat show in September on India TV, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was asked: “During the election campaign, you people had said that if they cut two heads, we will cut 10 heads. But 10 heads are not really being cut.” The minister responded: “We are also cutting heads, but not displaying them.” Another election campaign has started.
Jaffrelot is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King’s India Institute, London

Outlook Magazine
01 November 2018

Coalition-making and opposition to authoritarian politics must have not just form but content—and that content must come from the street, the farm...

The state in polities broadly described as ‘liberal democracies’ with political economies broadly described as ‘capitalist’ are characterised by a feature that Gramsci called ‘hegemony’. This is a technical term, not to be confused with the loose use of that term to connote ‘power and domination over another’. In Gramsci’s special sense, hegemony means that a class gets to be the ruling class by convincing all other classes that its interests are the interests of all other classes. It is because of this feature that such states avoid being authoritarian. Authoritarian states need to be authoritarian precisely because they lack Gramscian hegemony. It would follow from this that if a state that does possess hegemony in this sense is authoritarian, there is something compulsive about its authoritarianism. Now, what is interesting is that the present government in India keeps boastfully proclaiming that it possesses hegemony in this sense, that it has all the classes convinced that its policies are to their benefit. If so, one can only conclude that its widely rec­orded authoritarianism, therefore, is pathological.

There have been spectacular cases of this authoritarianism such as the recent arrest of five journalists and professors on charges that are virtually nonsensical. The liberal middle class has expressed some anger about these and, given how authoritarian the government has become, that took some courage. But Muslims and Dalits and, quite generally, the unprotected poor suffer from brutality and arbitrary arrest each day and this goes unreported even in the regional media. It is so pervasive that it is not news and it invokes nothing but indifference from the liberal middle class.

Quite apart from this compulsive tic of authoritarianism (compulsive, as I said, ­because it exists in spite of the more or less plausible claim to hegemony), a good question to ask is what underlies the hegemony itself? Before the 2004 election, there was a similar claim to hegemony by the then BJP government. All was said to be luminous, all classes were told to bask in the Indian sunshine and vote the government in again. The electorate refused. No doubt this was partly because of the unexpectedly impressive campaign carried out by Sonia Gandhi’s leadership.

But, more relevant to the question of hegemony is the fact that India was saved by its illiteracy. The propaganda of ‘India Shining’ by an uncritical press reached mostly the literate middle class. The illiterate among the electorate got a far better political education from their own experience of life and politics. They voted the government out.

What, then, was different in 2014? Well, for one thing there is no denying that apart from the period of the Emergency, the incumbency of UPA-II was about as bad a period of governance as has been known in independent India. But y’s failures cannot explain x’s hegemony, which can only be explained by x’s success in convincing others that the interests of those it represents are the interests of all. And this was achieved not merely by the media (as cheerleading as before and possibly with wider influence now as a result of an increase in its reach) but, as is well known, by a swaggering leader’s charisma.

As is also well-known, the substance of what he said and what his party stood for is to be found in two elementary propositions: open India to globalised finance even more than the past quarter century so as to create jobs and opportunities; and India is a Hindu country, with others to be tolerated on a strict understanding that that is so. Where the latter could not possibly be the basis of hegemony, the former was intended to pick up the slack.

There was nothing new about the first of these substantial promises. Manmohan Singh and his economic advisors had pursued just that strategy for ‘development’ and its outcome had been foretold by every honest economist (which is not to say that there were not many more, as always with that discipline, dishonest ones): an intensification of the impoverishment and insecurity of the poor and working people of the country, and a continuing criminal transfer of the nation’s wealth to the ultra-rich corporate elites. Yet all classes came to believe in its efficacy even so, and this was the real achievement of the demagoguery of a charismatic leader and the crores his party acquired from the corporate elites both at home and abroad to spend on a fantastic public relations campaign that would turn a demagogue into a demigod of economic hope.

Will the voter believe next year that these hopes have been fulfilled? Will she find the pathological authoritarianism tolerable? Will she embrace the open season against Muslims and Dalits as the India she wishes to live in?

Politics is a demanding and difficult terrain. Anyone with a humane politics cannot allow the world to sober her too much. Anyone with a sensible politics cannot allow her idealism to make her politics remote and arcane. How to navigate these twin constraints, pulling in different directions, requires a sense of balance that is hard to maintain. Nothing seems more important today than maintaining it.

A humane politics is bound to answer each of the questions I posed above with a resolute ‘No’. But having given that answer, what sensible political options are available? Democratic politics, whether in India or elsewhere, surfaces both at the parliamentary site and at the site of movements.

Photograph by AP

Anyone with a sensible politics can’t allow idealism to make her politics remote and arcane.

Let’s, first, consider the former. Hegemony surfaces in very different ways in different political systems of democracy. In two-party systems such as the United States, very often the ruling class simply spans both parties, and their differences are minor (though it is not as if they don’t often make a difference to people’s lives.) It is very hard indeed to break out of the consensus between the two parties. And it is a symptom of how precarious the lives of working people have become in that country that they gave support to two leaders within the parties who were prepared to defy the consensus between their respective party orthodoxies. (Sanders with considerable success in the primaries even though he failed to secure the nomination, and Trump in both the primaries and the national elections–though it predictably turns out that Trump on every important issue is taking the orthodox positions of that party even further in the direction of an inhumane politics.) Britain is not strictly a two-party system, but carries the historical weight of a two-party tradition and there again it is a symptom of how deep working-class dissatisfaction goes that both the Brexit vote and the continuing popularity of Corbyn has managed to finesse the long consensus that Blair and his successors in the party had managed to forge with post-Thatcherite Conservatives. India, unlike these countries, is fortunate to have a thriving multi-party political system. It is to that ext­ent easier to oppose a consensual hegemony. Even if major parties form a consensus, more minor and regional parties can form alliances against the consensus. Fighting the consensus does not always require one to fight one’s own party’s orthodoxies as in two-party systems. The tasks in India are, thus, quite different.

The idea that any one existing opposition party can, without forming alliances, defeat the BJP in 2019 is wholly without sense. A refusal to contaminate one’s idealistic and humane politics by alliances with other parties is not sensible, it is a recipe for a party’s eventual dem­ise. Thus, for instance, it is becoming clear that some parties (the CPI-M, for instance) will bec­ome irrelevant for decades to come if they don’t seek to exert their (already dwindling influence) through alliances. To some extent, this common sense has finally emerged and parties seem to be seeking such alliances. But equally, such a sensible politics must throughout be guided by a humane politics and not embrace these sensible alliances at the cost of it. What does that imply?

There is an obvious lesson to be learnt from the period of the Emergency and its aftermath. Opposition alliances emerged then with an exclusively negative purpose. It would be wrong to dismiss them as opportunistic since the purpose was a worthy one then (as it is now): to overturn an intolerably authoritarian regime. But such victories as that opposition achieved were short-lived and in fact, as we know, it suffered an utterly crushing defeat at the hands of Indira Gandhi’s Congress in 1980 for the very plain reason that it stood for nothing positive over and above opposition to a previously authoritarian Congress government. And the situation is far worse today because nobody would describe that Congress government as relying on anything like the Gramscian hegemony that the current government and the class it represents enjoy. In fact, the Emergency was declared out of an anxiety that such hegemony was precisely what it did not have. That leaves one with the absolutely alarming eventual prospect of another 1980-style outcome in the future. If the rec­ently emerging opposition alliances do succeed next year, it would be a scary prospect to imagine the kind of ­hegemony a subsequent returning BJP government might have after the ineffectual rule of a government formed by an alliance of parties with no positive platform apart from ending the nightmare of the past four years. It becomes a matter of some urgency, therefore, that an election should be fought by a set of alliances at the national and regional levels with a common, positive, hum­ane ­platform which can carry conviction. To draw and erect such a platform requires a lot of enormously hard work, a great deal of tact and resolution and vision, and a leadership in each party of each alliance that fetches respect and has authority.

Photograph by HT

I can just hear the sneering dismissal of all this by the orthodoxies within the Congress.

What positive common programme will suffice? It is here I think that the parliamentary site of politics has to pay attention to what is surfacing on the site of movements and provide a sort of unifying force in a common and integrated electoral platform of the causes that they reflect. Only such a conscientious effort to integrate in the electoral field seemingly miscellaneous yearnings surfacing on the street and the maidan has any chance of getting the support of a massively heterogenous electorate with its prodigiously varied interests. In my country of domicile, such attentiveness to causes emerging on non-parliamentary sites was the basis of virtually every fundamental and effective change in society: to give just two examples, FDR’s attentiveness to the demands of the labour movements of the 1930s and Lyndon Johnson’s acknowledgement of the civil rights movement. So also, Sanders’s remarkable success in the Democratic primaries was entirely because of the energy that went into bringing together quite diverse ongoing causes in movements, ranging from the protests around post-financial crisis unemployment and wage stagnation to the protest against foreclosures of homes, to the students’ protests against the costs of higher education, and the mobilisations of millions marginalised on the health care front. Something similar lies in Corbyn’s success.

The recent farmers and workers rallies in Maharashtra and in the north (and last November in Delhi) and the adivasis’ recent long march in Chhattisgarh, the repeated and remarkable Dalit display of political agency over the past few years against the recurring violence they face, the courageous and brilliant students’ campaigns against the communal elements on campus, the women’s protest against rampant sexual violence, are all causes that need to be integrated into a common platform speaking to the issues that concern labour and peasantry and the youth, women and the oppressed castes. It is true that Muslims have in recent years not shown the mobilisational agency that Dalits have shown and that they themselves showed in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the mosque in Ayodhya. In the face of the viciousness of the almost daily attacks on them (sanctioned tacitly by the very presence of BJP in positions of power at the Centre and the regions), they have gone entirely into their shells. They need particularly deliberate inclusion, therefore, in forging such a common platform. Above all, any common agenda that doesn’t offer a serious pro­gra­mme of uplifting the poor through food schemes, employment schemes (both of which were started in small measure under UPA-I) and extending to health and housing schemes, will never have any chance of long-term success against the domination of the BJP.

I can just hear the sneering dismissal of all this by the ort­hodoxies within the Congress and the experts who advise the prince and would-be princes: “All these schemes for employment and food and health etc can only be pursued by first growing the economy and that growth is precisely what the successive governments since 1990 have sought.” I’ve said this before, as have many others, and I’ll say it again. The kinds of schemes that we are talking about increase the ‘social wage’ of ordinary people and thus actually produce growth (a quite different kind of growth, of course, from the bubble-generated growth of neo-liberal economies, a growth that can be sustained rather than end up in a crash). They increase the purchasing capacity of the vast mass of ­ordinary people and that expands the market at home and that, in turn, increases the investment to meet it.

It is not for nothing that the period in the West in which this was tried and done (roughly the thirty-year period after the end of the Second World War) was called “The Golden Age of Capitalism” with high rates of growth. This is a point so obvious and straightforward that you don’t need to be an economist to understand it. Anyone can und­erstand it—in the plains of the Ganga, in the fish­ermen’s villages of Kerala, in the slums of Mumbai…in every corner of the land and by the humblest and least educated citizens. No opposition that dismisses these possibilities as merely humane but not sensible politics will sustain the support of ordinary people for more than a fleeting term. It will not win and does not deserve to win. And even if it does win next year, it will predictably lose and lose big five years thence.

Akeel Bilgrami is Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy and Professor, Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University

Kanti Bajpai
The Times of India
November 3, 2018

Apparently, we should be proud that India has the highest statue in the world – taller than anything the US and China possess. Poor Sardar Patel – his memory invoked in such a schoolboy way. A giant leader, with all his strengths and weaknesses, represented by a monstrous metal emblem of rising India.

As we think about the tallest statue in the world, we should also remember the other rankings we own. Here are some health snapshots. India’s life expectancy, in one estimate, is low enough to put us at 164th out of 224 nations – in our region only Pakistan ranks worse. In 2016, India had the highest incidence of tuberculosis and the largest number of cases of multi-drug resistant TB. Three years ago, India and Nigeria accounted for 40% of under-5 diarrhoeal deaths. Plus, 60% of new leprosy cases globally are in India.

Despite stellar economic growth over the past 20 years, the Global Hunger Index ranked India 103rd out of 119 countries. In 2017, we recorded the highest number of malnutrition cases. Not surprisingly, we also have the highest number of stunted children in the world. On average, Indian men are short in stature: we rank 90th out of 101 countries for which there was data in 2016.

India is an environmental disaster. Fourteen out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world were in our country. In 2018, two million premature deaths in India were attributed to pollution, a quarter of the world’s premature deaths in this category. India also has the highest number of children under the age of 5 dying from the effects of pollution. According to the Environmental Performance Index, India ranks 177th out of 180 countries.

Our water situation is parlous. We have the highest freshwater withdrawal in the world. By 2050, India’s per capita water availability will be a frightening 1140 cubic metres. This means we will just be above the water scarcity threshold of 1000 cubic metres. In 1950, India’s per capita water availability was 5000 cubic metres.

If India could count on a vibrant educational system, the picture wouldn’t be all gloomy. Unfortunately, in 2018, India was ranked 115th out of 158 countries in the World Human Capital Index (a finding promptly and predictably rejected by a brittle government). We fell 12 places in one year: in 2017, we had ranked 103rd. In 2017, we were placed lower than Nepal and Sri Lanka (though, small mercies, higher than Bangladesh and Pakistan). We often like to boast about our computers and IT sectors. The ICT Development Index recently put India at 134th place amongst 176 countries.

Let’s complete this melancholy rendering with two political rankings. The Global Impunity Index, which measures the dangers for journalists, noted that India was 14th out of 14 countries with the worst record. This placed India in the same abysmal league as Somalia, Syria (war-torn, terror-ridden Syria), Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Worse, on the Rule of Law Index, democratic India was 62nd out of 113 nations – and below neophyte democratic Nepal!

These are just some of the indicators of the quality of life of an average Indian. The real picture is much worse. The next time the prime minister tapes his Mann ki Baat broadcasts, an act of truly good governance and statesmanship would be to tell us where the ordinary Indian really stands in the world.

This government and its predecessors have failed ordinary Indians, year after year. Our governors don’t tell us the truth about our condition and allow us to be distracted by statues and Sabarimalas. It is laughable to talk about a rising India given our sad, scabrous state. Sardar Patel would not be impressed by the unity he helped engineer. Sixty eight years after his death, he would be appalled by today’s India.

Krishna Kumar
The Hindu
November 05, 2018

Kerala’s success in education is hard to reconcile with the palpable tension that the Sabarimala verdict has caused

Politics alone cannot explain the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Sabarimala case. This is because for the rest of India, Kerala has served as a model of progress guided by a long-sustained pursuit of welfare policies, especially in health and education. Kerala also has a history of social movements that mobilised people to let go of the grip of custom and ritual. Some of these movements were aimed specifically at propagating reason and knowledge. If the regime of modernity got a fair test anywhere in South Asia, surely it was in Kerala.

A patriarchal ethos

These common impressions are hard to reconcile with the discomfort and palpable tension that the Sabarimala verdict has caused. Conflict and the threat of violence can, and perhaps, should be attributed to political rivalry and administrative ineptitude. But there seems to be a wider unease with the verdict.

In a phone-in programme of the Hindi service of the BBC, a senior woman journalist, who knows Kerala socially, said that the verdict is ahead of the times, that it will take one or two more generations for people to accept the entry of women of all ages in the Sabarimala temple. That sober prognosis left me wondering about the value and meaning of Kerala’s achievement in public literacy and children’s education. Was it wrong to imagine that the spread of education would cause a deep enough dent in all forms of gender inequality? Persistence of dowry certainly suggests that. So does the acceptance of misogynist humour I have myself witnessed in the middle of serious discussion.

Apart from its failure to dilute a patriarchal ethos, education has also performed rather poorly in widening the space available for dialogue between contending positions. This is one reason why both the state and society are finding it difficult to appreciate a civic solution to a faith-related practice.
Promise of education

Education tends to arouse many expectations, both in the individual and the social mind. First, there are economic expectations. They are so strong that the educated do not mind enduring long stretches of unemployment. Equally complex is the political expectation association with education. It is widely believed that education nourishes democratic values and behaviours. But historical evidence suggests that education can nurture democracy as well as dictatorship. It depends on what is taught and how. If schools and colleges are intellectually exciting places, and if the curriculum encourages critical inquiry, we can expect education to strengthen democracy. If schooling stifles curiosity by regimenting the body and the mind at an early age, education can nourish authoritarianism.

Similarly, if language and literature are taught to train young minds for participation in open-ended dialogue, we can expect education to sustain an ethos where freedom to differ without fear is guaranteed and dissent is tolerated. The opposite may happen if language and literature are marginalised in the curriculum or subjected to mechanical testing and other means of oppression. Similar things can be said about the teaching of the subjects that constitute the social sciences. They can either be used for indoctrination or to encourage reflection.

Subject to regime change

The question why education has not improved Kerala’s capacity to sustain a culture of dialogue is not difficult to answer. Education did spread widely, but efforts to reform its inner world — curriculum and pedagogy — remained weak and somewhat confused. Significant initiatives were taken more than once, but the financial and intellectual resources deployed for this task were inadequate. Also, the effort remained subject to regime change. In teacher training, one had expected that Kerala would make a breakthrough by investing significant academic resources in this unfortunate area. That did not happen. Bridges between universities and schools remained half-built. As in other States, progress of education in Kerala remained confined mainly to expansion of the system. That too did not proceed coherently. Social and economic divisions got entrenched within the system of education. Successive governments remained indifferent to this trend and to the need to create a provincial policy.

Hailed as a model, Kerala has disappointed. Apart from failing to create an ethos where dialogue and deliberation are conveniently possible, Kerala’s progress on the gender front has also remained unimpressive. The grip of early socialisation into deep-set notions of womanhood has stayed tight. One consequence of this grip is the perpetuation of deeply negative beliefs about the physical aspect of maturation. At this level, gender disparity deserves to be understood as a far more complex cultural phenomenon than merely a matter of unequal opportunities. Education can influence gender roles and their relations by creating new predispositions in early childhood. This is a tough area for reform. It has remained on the margins of education, both in terms of funding and status as a policy sector. Few would admit that they do not fully understand it or its significance.

Moreover, not everyone believes/wants education to disturb established social patterns. In fact, many people feel unsure about the introduction of critical pedagogy in schools. Why Kerala disappoints us today is because it had fostered the hope of being different. It probably is, but not to the extent one had assumed. Its system of education is just as bureaucratised and compartmentalised as anywhere else. Complacent attitudes also block vision and direction. A common meaning of progress now is to secede from the local board and join the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) or its private counterpart. Kerala set the benchmark for total literacy and implementation of the Right to Education Act. Looking ahead, Kerala could have sorted out the tenacious points of confusion such as the crucial role of language, both in children’s growth and in enhancing society’s capacity for dialogue. The social incoherence one sees in Kerala gains strength from poor teaching of language and related fields of knowledge.
The Sabarimala prism

It is true of many other parts of India, but Kerala’s case hurts because a sound basis for putting in place a sophistical system of education existed there. Had its early advantages been used with greater focus and commitment, we might have witnessed a somewhat smoother transition in Sabarimala.

Krishna Kumar is a former director of the NCERT

Bharat Bhushan

Miffed at the Supreme Court according low priority to hearings on the Ayodhya land dispute case, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has threatened to launch a 1992-like agitation for the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. The 1992 agitation began with a rath yatra by Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani which left a trail of communal riots in its wake.

Claiming that it respects judicial processes, the RSS has nevertheless urged the Supreme Court to reconsider its priority on the “sensitive issue” as Hindus in the country felt “insulted”.

Emotive religious issues are returning centerstage for the RSS and its political front, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as the general election approaches. However, little seems to be going right for the Hindutva agenda.

Central to the Hindutva agenda are: the construction of a Ram Temple at the site of the destroyed Babri Mosque; abolishing the special status of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state and privileges granted to its residents under Article 370 and 35A, and implementing a uniform civil code. To these have been added the issue of allowing women of menstruating age entry into the Ayappa shrine at Sabarimala in Kerala.

The most emotive of these is the construction of a Ram Temple at Ayodhya. Those in power must have hoped that a pliant judiciary would deliver a quick verdict on the land dispute, leaving them some months before the general elections to begin construction at the site. However, the Supreme Court has postponed the hearing to January next year despite the pleas of the Uttar Pradesh government. The court’s verdict is unlikely to be out before the general elections putting paid to hopes of temple construction during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s current tenure.

A frustrated BJP and its mother organisation are asking the government to bring an ordinance for land acquisition at the site or bring a Bill in Parliament to facilitate temple construction. However, as long as the land ownership is not resolved by the Supreme Court neither an ordinance not a Parliamentary Bill will allow temple building to start. A Bill will only be a symbolic reiteration of the BJP’s resolve and serve at best to brand the Opposition as ‘anti-Hindu’.

Diwali, Ayodhya

People lighting earthen lamps on banks of River Saryu during Diwali celebrations in Ayodhya

In South India, the religious issue of the moment is the removal of restrictions on the entry of women worshippers into the Sabrimala temple. The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of gender equality over misogynous interpretation of “Hindu faith”. Initially the BJP welcomed the Supreme Court’s judgement. It is a position supported by the RSS since 2006. However, the BJP’s central leadership had to backtrack when its state unit in Kerala revolted against the apex court’s ruling. Meanwhile the Congress party in Kerala opposed the verdict and gained a head start over the BJP on the issue.

The core constituency of the BJP is also upset that the government has not opposed the Supreme Court order curbing Diwali celebrations by imposing a two hour limit on lighting firecrackers. Well-worn Hindutva arguments are circulating once again that while celebration of Muslim festivals like Eid and Christian festivals like Christmas are not interfered with, Hindu festivals are always being subjected to restrictions. It is all the more galling that this is happening under a ‘Hindutva’ government.

The revoking of the special Constitutional status of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir has always been central to Hindutva conceptions of national unity encapsulated in Shyama Prasad Mukherjee’s slogan, “Ek deshmein do vidhan, do Pradhan aur donishaannahinchalenge". Literally, A single country cannot have two Constitutions, two Prime Ministers and two emblems. (At the time the Chief Minsiter of J&K was also called Prime Minsiter).

Article 370 of the Indian Constitution allows J&K certain degree of autonomy within the Indian Union. Its provisions have been considerably reduced by a series of Presidential ordinances. Now the attempt is to challenge the constitutional validity of Article 35A in the Supreme Court, which empowers the J&K legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state who are entitled to special rights and privileges.

Although the Modi government did not itself institute the legal case, it did not file an affidavit in support of the Constitutional provision, even though previous governments had done so on two earlier occasions. The issue of Article 35A is unlikely to be resolved soon as the issue evokes strong local sentiments. Hearings were postponed to January next year at the instance of the Attorney General himself citing potential law and order problems as local body and panchayat elections were due in the state. That was at the end of August.

The political situation is unlikely to become any more conducive to resuming hearings on Article 35A by January 2019. Governor’s rule imposed on the state on June 20 this year will come to an end in December. In every possible scenario that follows, the law and order situation in J&K will only deteriorate should hearings resume without the government taking a stand against its abrogation.

The failure of the government in implementing a uniform civil code is all too apparent. Going to the polls with the ban on instant triple-talaq as its only ‘achievement’ will neither fetch it substantial votes among Muslim women nor among Hindus.

Under these circumstances, the options before the BJP and Prime Minister Modi are limited. Job creation cannot take a quantum jump in the short time remaining before the general election. Nor does setting up imposing statues translate into votes, as the experience of former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, demonstrates.

It may be that the Modi phenomenon is about to come full circle. Arthur C Brooks, president of the conservative think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute, recently said in Chennai: “Once every 50 years there is a financial crisis in which we have a populist leader. Usually, within five years, the populist leader becomes incredibly ineffective and unpopular and we go back to status quo.” Brooks was talking of his own country of course, but might his observations be relevant about populist leaders elsewhere?

C. Rammanohar Reddy
Nov 06 2018

Two years on, why do we still not ask about the people and economic activities that were severely disrupted by this ‘surgical strike’?

There is one “surgical strike” from two years ago that will not be celebrated this year: the 8 November 2016 demonetization of ₹500 and ₹1,000 currency notes. Two years on, the economy and its institutions continue to experience the negative after-effects of the processes and the events surrounding demonetization. For instance, the central government is now brazenly able to put pressure on the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and its governor, Urjit Patel, to hand over its surpluses only because two years ago the same RBI under the same governor did not demur on the demonetization of 2016.

Since there is always an official fog of rationalisation spread around demonetization, it is important to remember what the objectives were as laid down in that late evening speech on 8 November 2016 of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the gazette notification later that same day. The prime minister outlined three sets of objectives, (i) “to break the back” of corruption and black money, (ii) to end the circulation of fake currency and (iii) to end terrorist financing. The gazette notification outlined the same three objectives but did not mention corruption.

Gift wrapping note ban

The BJP-led NDA government, which places so much importance on packaging, had to suitably wrap demonetization in a manner that would sell. It was therefore not surprising that ending fake currency circulation and terrorism financing were tagged along with the main objective of rooting out black money. These two objectives were drawn up at a time when a fervour against “anti-nationals” had been cultivated. By themselves, neither objective made much sense.

There was indeed a spike of fake high denomination notes (HDNs) of ₹500 and ₹1,000 detected during the surrender of notes in late 2016. This was to be expected since ultimately nearly all the HDNs in circulation returned to the banking system and were then processed by the RBI. But since the new series of currency notes did not have any additional unique security features, the counterfeit presses were soon in operation: a small number of fake notes of the new ₹2,000 were detected in the last few months of 2016-17 itself and a much larger number (almost 18,000 pieces) in the next year, 2017-18. So much for demonetization ending the spread of counterfeit currency.

The less said the better about demonetization ending terror financing. As many noted at the time and thereafter, it is in the nature of terrorism that it wreaks a destructive impact with the most limited of financial resources. In any case, disaffection as expressed in terrorism in the two years since November 2016 has been no less than before, giving lie to the strange claim that demonetization would reduce terrorism.

An old man crying for missing his spot in the long queue at a State Bank of India branch during demonetization. Photo: Hindustan Times
An old man crying for missing his spot in the long queue at a State Bank of India branch during demonetization. Photo: Hindustan Times

That leaves us with the main and perhaps only objective of demonetization of the HDNs of ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes which took out 86% of the currency in the market: ending the scourge of black money. In late 2016, the attorney general told the Supreme Court, which was hearing a petition against demonetization, that the government expected a quarter to a third of the HDNs in circulation not to return to the banking system, i.e., this would be the amount of black money destroyed.

It took almost two years for the actual picture to emerge: The RBI Annual Report for 2017-18 had this bald statement: “The total SBNs [specified bank notes] returned from circulation is ₹15,310.73 billion .” Or as the newspapers put it so well, this was 99.2% of the ₹15,440.5 billion of the HDNs in circulation on 8 November 2016.

It is clear that along with the honest who stood in line and deposited their cash in banks, the dishonest had got the better of the government. They had invented innumerable ways to deposit their illegal holdings of cash in the banks. This should not have surprised the government. The previous governor of the RBI, Raghuram Rajan, had advised the government that demonetization would not achieve its objective of unearthing black money because, among other things, the tax evaders would find ways to launder their holdings.

Yet, such advice was ignored and the Prime Minister’s Office went ahead with a decision that by all accounts, the prime minister himself took the lead on, based on a half-baked set of suggestions from a Pune-based NGO. In the end, far from turning into “worthless pieces of paper” (words used by the prime minister in his 8 November 2016 speech), almost the entire stock of illegal cash holdings had been successfully legalised.

New grand narrative

When, soon after November 2016, the aim of destroying black money looked to fail, the government’s attention shifted to creating new objectives and to then arguing that the deposits of the HDNs in banks was a positive development because this gave the government information that it could use to track down the money-launderers. To take the second first, it is revealing that more than 18 months after the Union finance minister announced in the February 2017 budget speech that his ministry would harness the powers of “data analytics” to track down the crooks, we are yet to see a single press release about the success in even a single case.

The big shift in objectives was of course to talk about digitalisation, better tax compliance, “formalisation” of the economy, the goods and services tax (GST) and demonetization as inter-connected parts of one giant mosaic of a modern and clean economy in which the success of the announcement on 8 November 2016 was crucial. Unfortunately, the reality says otherwise.

The govt is now brazenly able to put pressure on RBI because two years ago the same RBI governor did not demur on demonetization

To begin with, first, nobody was going to be fooled with this new grand narrative. Everyone knew that this was an ex-post rationalisation as the black money objective began to collapse. Second, demonetization—a surprise decision eight months before the tortuous introduction of GST—was a disruption that did not make the transition to GST easy. Third, digitalisation was not a new initiative; it had been in progress since the early 2000s. Demonetization did compel an acceleration in the process (which subsequently slowed but has since remained at a higher level of adoption), but as many have said we did not need the sledgehammer of demonetization to push digitalisation.

Fourth, this new talk of “formalisation” of the economy driven by digitalisation, demonetization and GST seemed to see the vast informal sector as nothing more than a community involved in regulatory arbitrage and tax evasion. Such talk ignored the fact that while there are indeed arbitrageurs and tax evaders in the informal sector, India’s ocean of informal activity consists of workers involved in low productivity jobs because there is no alternative.

Fifth, credit is claimed for and much is made of the fact that the cash-GDP ratio post demonetization is now about 1.5 to 2 percentage points less than before. It is always assumed that a less cash-intensive economy is a mark of progress. Yet, Japan and Switzerland have much higher cash-GP ratios than India and no one sees them as being backward. True, the use of cash can mask an audit trail and facilitate tax evasion. But we should not be blind to the fact that the larger part of black money generation now takes place inside and not outside the circuits of the banking system. Nirav Modi and Mehsul “Bhai” Choksi looted the banks and transferred wealth through banking channels; they did not do so with suitcases of cash.

Finally, there is the metric of improved tax compliance. Depending on what the data can be made to say, the metric that is used by the government to claim success is either (i) income tax collections, or (ii) number of returns filed, or (iii) the number of assesses or (iv) the income declared. Direct tax collections have indeed gone up. Some of it is to be expected as the money launderers make one-off payment of income tax. Some of it is also because to register under GST you also needed to be filing returns and with a PAN.

After a 6.6% growth in direct tax collections in 2014-15, there was an acceleration to 14.5% in 2016-17 and then to 18% (unaudited) in 2017-18. Yet, it is far too early to claim any transformation in tax revenue collections. Growth of over 15% in a year is not unusual. In 2010-11 as in 2017-18, direct tax collections jumped by 18% before growth fell off thereafter.

Sounds of silence

If the “successes” of demonetization seem hollow, there is a big black hole of silence as well. It is remarkable that while the dislocation of late 2016 and the first half of 2017 is behind us, we do not ask anything about how the people and the economic activities that were severely disrupted emerged from this policy blunder. How many were permanently affected? How many enterprises were compelled to shut down for good? How many temporarily? What survival strategies did they use? Did indebtedness increase? This government did not commission a single survey of a geographical area or economic activity or socio-economic group in order to understand what happened, to separate the permanent from the temporary, and to draw up a package of relief and rehabilitation measures. To do so would have been to acknowledge a mistake, anathema to this government. After all the suffering and all the dislocation, do we have by any reckoning a cleaner economy now? Even if we accept that the return of all black cash into the banking system has now brought it all into the white economy, and has therefore been for the good, is the larger economy less afflicted by black money after November 2016?

Illegal cash flows continue to flood elections like water. We should expect a huge spurt ahead of the 2019 elections in illegal expenses

Nobody would say so. The central engine of black money generation and use—real estate—has as many anecdotal reports as before of the use of illegal money in transactions. Illegal cash flows continue to flood elections like water. There has been no change in the splurge of money in elections since the Uttar Pradesh elections of 2017. We should expect a huge spurt ahead of the 2019 elections in illegal expenses, which are always made more by the ruling party since it usually has access to more funds. In some respects, a government that said it wanted to root out black money has actually taken steps to facilitate the greater use of black money. Its system of electoral bonds (introduced in 2017 after demonetization) in which the donor is anonymous—and can therefore call in favours after an election—is designed for corruption.

Demonetization was a Himalayan disaster but the voter has not punished the government for this folly. The BJP does not project it as an achievement in its poll campaigns; nor does the Opposition use it as a stick to beat the BJP. A country crushed by corruption, and tired of seeing rivers of black money coursing through society, was successfully sold on the idea that this was a bold measure that would rid society of this ill. People were bewildered, but the honest by and large supported it while the dishonest successfully escaped detection. With time the support has faded and the bewilderment has been replaced by a cynical resignation. There is now fear too. There is a fear that if the State can at one stroke remove 86% of the cash in circulation and thereby dishonour something as basic as legal tender, what could it possibly do next?

This is perhaps the true permanent outcome of the demonetization of 8 November 2016—the demonstration of naked State power that now makes people fear that the State can without any thought and discrimination hurt who it wants and where it wants. Perhaps that was the true aim of demonetization.

Looking back, it now all seems unreal. Living a dark fantasy seemed the only way then to make sense of a Tughlaq-like decision. Some TV outlets were convinced that each new currency note would carry a chip that would allow the government to track cash when it was used for illegal transactions. Social media was filled with outlandish news that many counterfeit currency presses that had surrounded India and were ready to flood India with fake currency. And no less a person than the finance minister said demonetization had enfeebled the “stone pelters”.

The only thing that was real at the time was the enormous patience and fortitude with which the citizen accepted the dislocation, pain and suffering that had been inflicted on her.

C. Rammanohar Reddy is the author of Demonetisation and Black Money, Orient BlackSwan, 2018.

The large region has been transformed from a forest-based economy to a mining-based economy, at great cost to the environment
by Inder SIngh Bisht
Asia Times
November 7, 2018

Spread across 13 districts in the neighboring Indian states Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the Bundelkhand region has suffered from drought for over a decade. This has caused an exodus by the majority of its working population who have left to seek a living in other parts of the country.

With agriculture starved by the drought and an absence of alternative industries, mining is one of the few sectors that provides a semblance of regular income to locals. This helps keep a lid on popular opposition to mining activities in the area, even when the industy is also a major cause of environmental degradation and disease in the region.

Silicosis, a form of lung disease caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica dust, is common among people who work in mines or live near stone-crushing plants.

But an insidious and even more harmful impact of mining is on the ground-water table of the region, say environmentalists who are angry that no substantial study has been undertaken to assess the  environmental impact of mining in Bundelkhand.
Mining-induced drought

The use of explosives to blast underground mines damages the aquifer—an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock—causing the water to leak away and leading to depletion in the water table, said Dr. Anil K Gupta, associate professor at National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM).

“In developed countries, trenchless technology is being used for mining which has a minimum impact on surface and ground-water levels. Here in India, due to the destruction of surface with explosives, underwater aquifers develop cracks which affect the water-retention capacity of the aquifers,” says Gupta.

Gupta further says that even in India, people are aware of mining technologies that could minimize damage to the earth surface. But since their use are not legally enforced and no political will is available to promote their use, miners still resort to their old ways of working. The result is drought.

Drought, according to Gupta, has multiple dimensions in its occurrence and impact. It can be categorized as meteorological, hydrological, and agricultural depending upon its stages such as rainfall deficit, and level of impacts on the hydrological cycle and agro-ecosystems.

Another environmental blow from mining comes when large numbers of trees are felled while digging up hills for stone quarries.

Environmentalists say that a thick forest cover helps in the precipitation of rain, an important condition to ward off meteorological drought.

“Stone quarrying in Bundelkhand has been flattening hills with dense forests and ruining the chances of their afforestation, which is important for the formation of clouds and their precipitation,” says Dr. Abhimanyu Singh, assistant professor at Institute of Environment & Development Studies, Bundelkhand University.

Rendering lands barren

Mining’s impact is visible around stone-crushing units, where a large expanse of agriculture land is rendered barren due to the blanket of stone dust that emanates from the nearby crushing units and settles on the crops, trees, and water bodies.

“Dust produced by hundreds of stone crusher units being put up by various mining companies in the region settles on the leaves and stems of the plants and blocks the evaporation of water vapors,” Singh adds.

Rising demand for granite and other minerals for the construction industry along with the availability of cheap labor makes more and more private players lease mines in the region. This results in the denudation of hills making them look like construction sites.

Ashish Sagar, a social activist from Banda who has been fighting illegal mining in the area for a decade, said that miners openly flout rules while installing stone-crushers as they are hand-in-glove with government officials.

“Government rules permit installation of stone crushers at least 500 meters away from a highway. But you can see the units are very close to the roads. The rules say there should be boundary wall around the crushers, greenery and regular sprinkling of water to kill the dust, but hardly anyone follows the rules,” he says.

Bhartendu Prakash, a senior environmentalist operating in the area for the last four decades, and also a co-author of a government backed-study titled, Problems and Potentials of Bundelkhand With Specific Reference to Water Resource Base, concurs with the view that mining is one of the biggest man-made reasons behind the drought-like situation in the area.
Plunder as a business practice

“Granite business has now become a highly lucrative business because of which there is a furious urge to flatten the hills and also to remove the granite from deeper levels. As granite mining goes deeper, considerable quantities of groundwater flow to the areas of mining operation. This is considered a hindrance, hence, [it is] pumped out on the surface causing waste of large volumes of water,” says Prakash.

“Where the granite (is) detected under cultivable lands, the earth cover has been removed allowing it to get washed down to the rivers, rivulets and the dammed reservoirs and to silt these up. Mining starts with deforestation and leads to groundwater wastage, soil erosion, silting and pollution of rivers and streams,” Prakash adds.

Successive governments have pumped in billions of rupees in the region in the form of rehabilitation packages without producing any signs of tangible change.

“From a forest-based economy the region has changed into a mining-based economy,” said Gupta, adding that “Mining per se is not a bad thing but to what extent it should be allowed and what technology should be deployed must be studied and debated. It’s high time a comprehensive study was initiated.” 


20.  BANGALORE  | Jasmina Tesanovic (8 Nov 2018)
I still have Indian dust on my shoes from the city of Bangalore, where I spent almost a week at the international literary festival.

    I was mind-boggled at the scale of this national Indian event: literature, politics, activism, feminism.  There was music and even street art, but what a crowd. Sixteen thousand highly literate participants, roaming from one outdoor stage to another, and engaged with every atom of their souls.

    Literary culture persists in this part of the world, where people still believe that leafing through books is a transformative spiritual experience that can change the world.

Authors of the first world, beset with Internet and economic crisis, often seem like plastic vanity-toys kept past their sell-by date, but maybe what they lack most keenly is a creative readership.   As a passionate reader, I often claim it is more difficult to read a book well than it is to to write one. As a less passionate writer, I know that even one ideal reader is enough to motivate a decent book.

    The beautiful literary carnival —- held on the broad, leafy grounds of one of Bangalore’s finest hotels, an oasis of glamor and privilege —  contrasted with the crooked streets of Bangalore where the sacred cows, pariah dogs and torrents of honking traffic live with a passion for survival. This was not my first visit to India, so I was ready for the epic scale of grandeur and abject poverty, but it was still a culture shock.  

    The jet-set’s digitized skyscrapers tower like phantoms over vast bazaars seething with a seize-the-day human vitality. It’s reflected in Indian literature,  where the English language, global yet somehow frail, towers over sixteen vernacular publishing scenes.  In the Bangalore festival, professional writers traded erudite quips in English because thats how one gets it done, but they were singing in the English-speaking choir, and they knew it. The seething, vibrant life in those modern Indian streets, half chopped coconuts and half cellphone components, is never taught at Oxford.

     All over the world we women haunt conflict zones, and India, which is vast, has plenty of them. The gunfire tends to sound the same but the conclusions are different.  The national patriot woman works to support her brave men at war; the peace activist withdraws support from men who aren’t brave enough to refuse the uniform and leave the slaughterhouse.  There is one common ground, though: whether life is called “peace” or “war,” the women always struggle in a trench.  

    The ongoing #metoo scandal in India is briskly spreading all over the country through social media.  It started with celebrities — actresses and directors, but spread through media centers, universities, publishing, wherever women get sexually harassed by wealthy and powerful men, which is to say, all over the place.  It’s evidence that complaints of Western feminism have a universality, and wherever women don’t speak up about the suffering of women, it’s not because the oppressions aren’t noticed; it’s because the complaints are repressed.   It’s taboo to speak up, and even a small distance in cultural mores can make the speakable unspeakable. 

  Women are keenly attuned to what can be said in what conditions.  At the festival, one female mystery writer complained that she simply can’t bear to read a “classic English whodunnit novel” which is set in Scotland.  All those careful cultural assumptions about who gets battered to death by the butler with the fire iron, they are fine in a homey English county but just don’t work in distant Glasgow, which seems as incongruous as Bangalore, almost.  This may be indeed be a literary problem, but it doesn’t explain why crime and detective fiction thrives inside India for Indians, because it does.  

     At the festival, a female science fiction writer complained: why must I be targeted as a woman when I write fiction about science? I may be a biological woman, but why should that restrict what I can write? I remembered that as a young writer, and as a young woman, I shared her frustration, but I gave it up as soon as I realized that my writing didn’t emerge from some gender-neutral science laboratory.

    When women were not on the page, it was an absence.  My favorite writers of novels missed the women's perspective. My own life experience was visibly missing from classical novels.  The women characters were lame, my world was not that world of canonic literary classics, I was invisible there, and not withstanding the fact that literature was my safe place, and a source of worldly education, I was  miserable. I had no power, I had no words. My experience and wisdom had not been captured in those novels I read. It was in my body, as in every other living woman through history, outside of genre, in a gender gap.

    As a woman without a fatherland and without a mother language, my own literature had to be born ante literam. The luxury of writing without a gender also has a gender, it is male “mainstream.” But the stream is not the ocean, and dams can break.

    In Bangalore I did a “book signing” without books! My books have never been in print in India, but I do have website with many of my books online,  and an old fashioned pen in my hand. A handshake, a signature, and a hug for a book from a website address! It was fair barter.

    Bangalore has many temples, small and big, fancy and clean, awkward and trashy.   The whole city conveys the impression of a temple on the move. The pavements are broken by banyan roots, the skies are speckled with vultures, the soil is overrun by small but aggressive striped squirrels, so watch your step!

    The traffic is Los Angeles times ten, with no lane or crossing discipline.  Pedestrians including the numerous cows and dogs simply amble through the noisy torrent of motor-rickshaws, endless scooters, bikes ringing, cars honking, trucks blasting.  Traffic policemen occasionally shake-down the worst offenders, who can either appear in court or else cough up half the cash on the spot, for cop’s pocket.   Somehow the whizzing vehicles respectfully avoid killing elderly women and small children.

    In the old summer palace of the Sultan Tipu, a historic structure which in  Italy would be guarded relentlessly with video cams, the local people sat on the gleaming wooden stairs, meditating, solemn. A little girl danced as endlessly as an extra in a Bollywood movie, gently applauded by her neighbors.

     It is a densely crowded, communal life in India. Most every task that might be done by one person in the West is parceled out among three or four people, then performed for an audience.

    In a coffee shop I simply asked for a cold soda.  The waiter conveyed the request to the boss; the owner gave the waiter a key to the refrigerator; another waiter opened the fridge, yet another retrieved the bottle  and, finally, my original waiter, with a flourish, brought it to me, opened it and carefully poured it out for me. Then I drank it in a rather showy fashion, because, after all that fuss, I felt obliged.

    People want to listen and to serve: in my hotel the Don’t Disturb sign is replaced by the written board: Please let us clean the room soon, our pleasure is to serve you. As a writer, as an activist, I confess I feel much the same.

    I feel edified and cleansed after being in Bangalore. In India, people check on your condition all the time, emotionally and materially. Then they certify your stay with a nice red stamp, ink in your passport,  or henna on your body.

Brian Stone
The London Review of Books Blog
10 October 2018

Tags: climate change	

A quarter of a century has passed since the impact of human activity on the global climate was formally recognised by the United Nations. The latest IPCC report, published on 8 October, calls for the average global temperature to rise no more than 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels, but climate change has already and irreversibly altered the physical world in ways that are fundamentally altering the human world: extreme droughts, a rising frequency of intense storms and wildfires, the geographic expansion of vector-borne diseases. The collective implication of these changes is uniform: a rising level of risk to your health and stability, regardless of who you are or where you live.

For anyone under the age of 30 – more than half the world’s population – the experience of a stable climate is entirely unknown. That is to say, not a single month in their lifetime has fallen within the limited range of temperature, precipitation or storm activity that governed the planet for the previous 10,000 years. Climate change is as much about our lived experience as our distant fate, despite its popular characterisation as a future threat only.

No biological community observed by science has been untouched by the changed chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans, by the repositioning of global wind patterns and currents, or by the rapidly migrating seasons. The residue of our species is detectable in a spadeful of soil collected from anywhere on Earth, revealed as a distinct horizon in the stratigraphic record, rich with coal dust and radionuclides, and securing our place alongside meteor strikes in the deep history of the planet. A single species has now ushered the planet from one geologic epoch to another, an occurrence without precedent in the paleoclimatic record, and unlikely to occur again.

Across the Earth’s biomes, the oceans wear the mark of the Anthropocene most plainly, with their steady, relentless rise – their contrapuntal response to the Earth’s disappearing ice. The oceans are a persistent, easily measured and inarguable record of our effect on the global ecosystem. About 40 per cent of the global population lives in coastal zones; the inexorable inland shift of the seas foretells a migration unseen in human history. Prior migrations brought about by human-driven ecological change – such as the Dust Bowl in the American West – were localised in space and in time. The climate migration unleashed by recent Atlantic hurricanes, in Puerto Rico and across the Caribbean, and well underway in more arid regions of the planet, is more likely to play out over a timescale measured in centuries than in decades, and will not be contained by continental or hemispheric boundaries.

On a recent trip with students to Charleston, South Carolina, we paused at a storm drain to observe seawater pulsating into a parking lot in syncopation with the nearby lapping of the tide. We were surrounded by building sites. One of the many challenges presented by the rapid transition to a new planetary epoch is that our economic systems are firmly rooted in a set of unspoken environmental assumptions that are no longer operational. The persistence of this fallacy may constitute a greater threat than the rising sea itself.

But the rising sea is a threat on two primary fronts: as a slow-moving occupier of densely settled land and as an acute hazard during extreme weather. The succession of powerful hurricanes forming in the Atlantic basin in 2017 compressed more weather-related destruction and economic loss into a few weeks than ever before experienced in the Americas. The quantity of rain deposited on Houston during Hurricane Harvey was consistent with at least a 500-year storm – a flooding event so rare as to be expected to occur only once between the discovery of the New World and today. Yet Houston has experienced a ‘500-year’ flood in each of the last three years.

For the last 10,000 years, the probability of a 500-year storm occurring in three successive years would have been 1 in 125,000,000. In the current age of climate instability, the probability of such an occurrence is unknown but appears to be rising. The assumption that a weather event rare in the past will remain rare in the future is reasonable only in a stable climate. Among the many untruths we tell ourselves about climate change, the assertion that yesterday’s flood zone will protect us against tomorrow’s flood may be the least defensible.

Oceans are less often the primary dumping ground for industrial waste than they used to be, but virtually all of our most persistent pollution finds its way to the sea. Two gyres of industrial refuse the size of Texas float beneath the surface of the North Pacific – two ceaseless, swirling hurricanes of plastic to which every reader of these words has probably contributed. The post-consumer lifetime of the billions of plastic bottles now spinning in the Pacific is estimated to be 450 years, a period of slow biodegradation that will leave the oceans far more degraded than they are now.

Yet even such an infusion of industrial waste is unlikely to alter the ocean’s chemistry as substantially as the fuel consumed in its production and use. The carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels is both heating the atmosphere and cycling into the oceans. Were the oceans not increasing their uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide, we would be much farther along the global warming trajectory than we are. Converted by seawater into carbonic acid, our carbon pollution since the Industrial Revolution has increased the acid content of the oceans by 30 per cent, bleaching corals worldwide and eroding the base of the oceanic food web. The fact that we now eat species not long ago referred to as ‘trash fish’ is only the most visible symptom of a dying ocean. Some studies project the loss of all wild seafood within three decades.

The most pressing environmental threats – violent weather, pollution, resource scarcity – are not new, but rather a heightened version of long-established threats, which come at the same time as an exponential increase in our numbers. The intertwining of population overshoot and ecosystem collapse has informed more than a generation of wildlife management practices, but the texts never depict our own species as subject to such natural laws. Every ecological indicator available to us today suggests they should.

A recently convened group of experts from the physical, natural and social sciences did not include climate change among the top three existential threats to our species, ranking it below genetically engineered pathogens, a unforeseen threat such as an alien invasion, and artificial intelligence. What seems to unite these perceived threats, and to elevate them beyond the far more likely but familiar scenarios of a global pandemic or climate-induced famine, is their exotic nature, and the common tendency to assign excessive risk to the unknown. Complacency has a recurring role in the annals of human miscalculation, and nothing breeds complacency like the familiar.

We might do better to see the parallels between our overshooting society and the many that have succumbed to ecological limits in the past. What then might we do? For a growing number of people, the most promising course of action would harness the very forces that have fuelled the climate problem in order to contain it – more and better technology. Having engineered the climate to make the Earth inhospitable, we simply need some reverse engineering to restore stability – giant mirrors in space, perhaps, or machines to suck carbon from the air. But our track record in directing the Earth’s many complex workings to our purposes – a record stretching over millennia – suggests that geo-engineering is hubris.

An alternative path still open to us may be less exotic than a geo-engineered world, but it is also less uncertain. It is still possible for us to re-engage in a way of life not so long ago lost – adhering to an ecological budget, acknowledging codependency with other species, and elevating the shared responsibilities of humanity. To understand climate change not as a new environmental problem, but as the long-running interplay of all environmental problems, is to return to an immutable truth: the only way out is through the door we came in by. It is, for now, still open.


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