Bengal, Politics

যাত্রাপালা : রঙমেলান্তি, ২০১৬ বিধানসভা নির্বাচন ও জনমত

ভোট নিয়ে আগে অনেক পরীক্ষানিরীক্ষা করেছি, সে জোড়া কুঠার (এ ম্যাওবাদী আসার অনেক আগের ব্যাপার বাপু, তখন তিনোমুল মানে মাঠেঘাটে ঘাসের মধ্যে ফুটে থাকা ফুলই জানতাম, কাজেই আমারে আবার ম্যাওবাদী বলে দেগে দেয়ার চ্যাষ্টা কইরেননা) হোক বা বেচারী বারে বারে জমানত বাজেয়াপ্ত হওয়া নেপালী বুড়ো (উঁহু, স্বাধীন গোর্খাল্যান্ডেও নেই)। ভোট মানে তখন লায়েক হয়েছি, আঙুলে কালি লেগে থাকল কদিন সেটাই বেশী আলোচনার বিষয়। তাপ্পর কলেজে তো সব অ্যাপল, রঙ আছে বললেই ক্যাল। তা সে ঠিকঠাকই ছিল, কলেজে রঙবাজি চালাতে গিয়ে নিজেদের মধ্যে লাথালাথি খেয়োখেয়ি না হওয়াই ভালো। গোল বাঁধল তিন সাড়ে তিন বছর পর, দুজন ছাত্র ইয়ার ল্যাগ খাবার পর। কলেজ তো গাজোয়ারি করে সংশোধনের জায়গায় বর্জন পলিসি চালিয়ে বসে রইল, এদিকে খাল কেটে কুমীর ঢুকে পড়ল, অ্যাপল হয়ে গেল লাল। ম্যাজিক নাকি! আরে অ্যাপল তো লালই হয়, লাল না হলেও রঙ চড়িয়ে হলুদ সবুজ পাশগুলোও লাল করলে তবেই না বাজারে খাবে! ব্যাস, ইয়ার ল্যাগ যে কে সেই বহাল রইল, মধ্যে থেকে আশেপাশের কলেজে নির্বাচনের সময় চলে এল বাস ম্যাটাডোর, লোহার রড উইকেট ইঁটপাটকেল সহযোগে সুষ্ঠু ছাত্র নির্বাচন ঘটাতে। সব কলেজ তখন সাহায্য পেয়ে লাল। আমরাও। অ্যাপল-ট্যাপল আবার কী!

এদিকে আমার তখন নিজেরও রঙ বাছার পালা। নেপালী বুড়ো হয়তো অতদিনে পটল তুলেছে। এ যেন ঘর রঙ করার টেনশন, সামনে ডুলাক্সের কালার চার্ট, কোনটা নি? তত্ত্ব-ফত্ত্ব জানিনা, ওই ইন-কিলাব-জিন্দা-বাদ শব্দকটাই রক্তে আগুন ধরিয়ে দিত। তারপর আবার কিনা শিক্ষিত বাঙালির পার্টি, অন্য কিছু করলে হয় অশিক্ষিত না হয় সিদ্ধার্থ রায়ের গুন্ডা, তাছাড়া কমরেড কথাটা শুনতে মন্দ না, সৌমিত্রও করে…আম্মো লাল হয়ে গেলাম। মানে ঝান্ডা ঘাড়ে ব্রিগেডে যাবার দলে নয়, এই বেশ নন্দন-কফি হাউস-পার্টি ম্যানিফেস্টো-অস্ত্রোভস্কি এইসব আর কী, পেটে লবডঙ্কা, কিন্তু পাক্কা আঁতেলের ভাঁজ মারার ইচ্ছাটা ষোলআনা। দাড়ি মুখ আর ঝোলা কাঁধে প্রেসিডেন্সি না যাবার আফসোস এখনো মনে দাগা মারে। সেই তখন থেকে যত্তদিন ভোট দিয়েছি সব গেছে লালে। এদিকে আবার কী কান্ড! পিসি এর তার সাথে বাওয়াল দিয়ে নিজেই পাটি গড়ে বসল। প্রচুর উৎসাহ ভক্তদের মধ্যে। কিন্তু ততদিনে মাথায় হার্ডওয়্যার হয়ে গেছে এ পিসি সে পিসি যে কোথায় কোথায় ডক্টরেটের কাগজ কিনে, না হয় গায়ে কেরোসিন ঢেলে বিনোদনে খামতি রাখেনা কিন্তু ভোট জিততে পারবে কিনা তা নিয়ে প্রচুর সন্দেহ। সেই আটানব্বই থেকে শুরু। আর পারছিনা গুরু। পরের তেরো বছর এ বলে আমায় দ্যাখ তো ও বলে আমায় দ্যাখ। তফাত হল গিয়ে ওই তিরিশ বছর ধরে যা চলেছে সেটা এখন হলমার্ক, সেই রেকর্ড ভাঙতেই হবে, এটাই টার্গেট। ভজহরি ফিল্ম কোম্পানির আমারো কি চান্সো মিলিবে না-র মত সব নিজের নিজের তামাশা দেখিয়ে আমাদের বেশ আনন্দ দিয়েছে অনেকদিন (কি! আনন্দ! পেয়াদা!)। তার ওপর আবার নতুন প্রজাতীর মহাবির্ভাব, বুদ্ধিজীবি। উরেববাস, তেনাদের মাথা এত বড়, তার ছায়ায় গোটা পচ্চিমবঙ্গো ঢেকে যায় যায়। এনাদের বচন শিরোধার্য, যা বললেন কইলেন জনগন হাপসে খেলো, পেট খালি তো কী বে! এর মধ্যে আবার আই ফোনের যুগে অচল নোকিয়ার মত সৌমিত্রদাদু চক্ষুলজ্জার বালাই না রেখে বলেই ফেল্লেন ভোটখানা বামফ্রন্টরেই দিয়েন। ফেলু মিত্তির বইয়ের পাতায় কতবার আছাড়িপিছাড়ি খেলেন সেই আহ্বান শুনে কে জানে। যাক এগারোর ভোটে গদি ওল্টালো, ভাবলাম এই শুরু হল পাগলের রাজপাট, ভাগ্যিস আমি আগে থেকে কাট মেরেছি। কলকাতা আর কলকাতা রইল না, মেছোবাজার হয়ে গেল্। নাহ, নিন্দুকে যাই বলুক, পিসি নিরাশ করেন নাই, কৌতুক নকশার ডবল ডাইজেস্ট সাপ্লাই দিয়ে গেছেন হরদম। উরেব্বাস রিম্পা-রুঙ্কা-ঝঙ্কা!!! আরে ওরা যে কল্লো চৌতিশ বছর সে বেলা? এ তো তৎকাল সার্ভিস, চৌত্রিশ কী চৌদ্দ বছরে ওদের রেকর্ড ভেঙে দেব। আর এদিকে জনগনের হাতে হ্যারিকেন। তবে জ্বালাতে হয়না, এতো শ্রীর ছড়াছড়ি, তাঁদের দ্যুতিতেই দশদিক আলোকময়। কিন্তু জনগন পড়েছে মহা ফ্যাসাদে। ননস্টপ খিল্লি দিতে দিতে গাল ব্যথা হয়ে গেছে কিন্তু থামার চিহ্ন নেই। কি করা? আবার মানুষের জোট হয়েছে এবারে, এতদিন মানুষ গান্ডু ছিল, এবারে তারা মানুষ হয়েছে। এইব্বার যাবি কোথায়? কমলা সবুজ লাল মিলেমিশে একাকার। আরে ছাগলরা, লালের সাথে লাল ছাড়া আর যাই জুড়িসনা কেন, জানিসনা লাল টা খালি ফ্যাকাশেই হবে? তবে কিনা বেশিরেড বলে তো কিছু নেই, লালে অন্য রঙ মিশলে তবেই না রেড কমরেড! বিজেপি নিয়ে বেশী কিছু বলা মানে সময় নষ্ট, বালের পার্টি বললেই যথেষ্ট। তা বেশ হয়েছে লাল আর বাল একদিকে। আরে পালটা বাকী রইল যে! ও সে তো ব্যস্ত কেষ্টোনগরে ছেলে ঢোকাতে। ফুল হাউস। আর নীল সাদা? পিসির দলকে নিয়ে কিছু বলার ধ্যাস্টামো নাই বা কল্লাম। নেতাদের নিয়ে তো কিছু নাই বা বললাম, তো কারা এই নীল সাদার বেয়াদপি দেখেও ওয়াহ ওয়াহ করছে?  কেউ আজন্ম পিসিভক্ত, পিসিকে একাধিক নোবেল দেয়া হচ্ছেনা কেন বলে সওয়াল করতে ব্যস্ত। আর একদল পাল্টিপারপাস, যে বিরিয়ানির প্যাকেট দেবে তার দিকে পালটি খাবে। কেউ কেউ আবার চারিদিকে তাড়কার ছড়াছড়িতে আপ্লুত হয়ে আহা আহা করছে। কী! বলতিস কিনা শিক্ষিত বাঙালির পার্টি, এবার দ্যাখ সালারা তোদের তিরেই (এই কেলো করেছি, আনন্দর মত তির লিখে ফেল্লামজে) তোদের ঘায়েল কল্লাম। কত বুদ্ধি দেখাতে হবে বল আরো বুদ্ধিজীবি ভাড়া করে আনব, কোথায় গ্যালো তোদের দেরিদা আওড়ানো বুদ্ধুবাবু? কী! অ সেও অবসর থেকে ফিরে পোচার করতে লেগেছে? আর কত খেল দেখাবি বাপু। ছিল খালি আমাদের সুমন নিজের ফেলা থুতু চাটার জন্যে, সেখানেও তোদের প্রার্থী দিতে হবে? কি কম্পিটিটিভ রে বাবা। অতঃ কিম?

এখন যদি প্রশ্ন করা যায় এই তুঘলকী ক্যাওড়ামোর জন্য কে দায়ী তা সে হলাম গিয়ে আমি আর আপনি। আমরাই চৌত্রিশ বছর জুলুমবাজি দেখেও কোনো যোগ্য বিকল্প নেই এই অজুহাতে একটা সরকারকে ক্ষমতায় রেখে এসেছি। আমরা মুখে বলি কম্যুনিস্ট, জনগনই সবচেয়ে বড় অস্ত্র, সর্বহারার মুখপত্র। অন্যদিকে সংগঠন চালানোর সময় চুড়ান্ত শ্রেনীবৈষম্য, শহরে আওড়ালাম নেরুদা-দেরিদা আর গ্রামে পুষলাম হার্মাদ, এতে সংগঠন রইল কিন্তু শহরের বাইরে প্রান্তিক মানুষের ঠিক তেমন কোন সার্বিক উন্নয়ন আর হলনা। বরং আজ যা অবস্থা তাতে বলা যেতেই পারে যে যদি কম্যুনিস্ট সরকার চান তো সিপিএমকে দয়া করে ভোট দেবেননা। ২০১১য় কিন্তু পিসির গদীতে বসার কারণ গ্রামাঞ্চলের মানুষের লালের ওপর থেকে ভরসা একদম চলে যাওয়ায়। সেদিক থেকে দেখলে, ১১তে সর্বহারার পার্টি কিন্তু তৃনমূলই। সিঙ্গুর নন্দীগ্রাম আনতে গিয়ে ছিপেম তখন জোতদারের প্রতিভূ। কিন্তু শহুরে মানুষের ভোটে তো সরকার পাল্টায়না, পাল্টায় গ্রামে। তাঁরা এখন কোথায় যাবেন? আগে যারা লালের হয়ে ঝান্ডা আর ডান্ডা বইত, হাওয়া বদলাতে তারা এখন নীলে। যে পুষবে তারা তাদের। কাল বিজেপি পরশু হয়তো আইসিস। তারা আগে ধমকাত লালে ছাপ না মারলে, এখন নীলে না মারলে। কোথায় দেবেন? যদি মনে করেন সব প্রার্থী ভুষিমাল তবে সবার নিচে চুপচাপ অপেক্ষা করা নোটা তো রয়েছে আপনার পুষে রাখা বঞ্চনা হেনস্থা সবকিছুর বিরুদ্ধে কথা বলার জন্য। সবাই জানুক যে পশ্চিমবঙ্গে নির্বাচনযোগ্য দল নেই কোন। যাত্রাপালা দেখিয়ে ভোট টানা আর যাচ্ছেনা তেমন। ক্ষমতা চলে যাবার ভয়ে সবাই গলবস্ত্র। তাই এ বলে নারদ সত্যি হলে টিকিট দিতামনা তো ও বলে হাত কেটে নেয়াটা একটু অন্যায় হয়েছিল বটে। তবে নোটা যে তেমন জনপ্রিয় হবেনা বলাই বাহুল্য। শহরে প্রচুর অ্যাক্টিভিস্ট তারা দুনিয়া পাল্টানোর স্বপ্নটপ্ন দেখে, নোটায় তারা ছাপ মারতেই পারে, কিন্তু দুশ পরিবারের গ্রামে নোটায় বোতাম টিপে পার্টির চক্ষুশুল হলে তখন এমার্জেন্সিতে হাসপাতালে বেড জোগাড় করে দেবে কে? সাধের বানানো বাড়িতে আগুন লাগানো রুখবে কে? ছেলেমেয়ে স্কুলে যাবার সময় তাদের নিরাপত্তা দেবে কে? সেখানে তো আলিমুদ্দিনেরও জোর খাটেনা, হরিশ মুখার্জিরও না। জোর হল লোকাল লিডারের আর তার বাইক বাহিনীর। তাহলে বিকল্প কী বা কে? চোখে পড়ার মত একমাত্র বিকল্প বলতে গেলে তো দিল্লিতে আপ সরকার। তারা নিতান্তই শহরকেন্দ্রিক, কলকাতা আলাদা রাজ্য হলে বলতাম আপ-এর মডেলে সরকার গড়তে। অঞ্চল, রাজ্য, ভাষা সংস্কৃতির গণ্ডি পেরোনোর মত রাজনৈতিক মডেল আপ-এর নেই। গ্রামের গা জোয়ারি রাজনীতিতে সে মডেল চলেনা। অগত্যা? নোটা ছাড়া তো কোনো গতি দেখা যাচ্ছেনা। এদিকে শহরে সিট অনেক, সেগুলো নোটায় খুইয়ে বসলেও গ্রামে যে জিতবে সরকার তো গড়বে তারাই। গোটা রাজ্য নোটায় ভোট না দিলে শঠে শাঠ্যং হবার কোনো উপায় নেই। তবে হ্যাঁ কালসাপ বিজেপি থেকে দুরেই থাকবেন, তাদের পয়সা দেয়ার লোকের অভাব নেই, খানিক পা রাখতে দিলে তখন দু দলই লোপাট হয়ে যেতে বেশি দিন লাগবেনা।  তখন দেখবেন কেমন মজা। আদ্ধেক রিফিউজিদের ডান্ডা মেরে পাড়া থুড়ি দেশছাড়া করার মতলব তো নরেন মুদি রাখঢাক না করেই বলে দিয়েছে। তবে তাদেরকে আর আলাদা করে সাম্প্রদায়িক বলা যাবেনা, ভোটের লোভে সবাই সাম্প্রদায়িক।

উপায় কি নেই? নাকি আসলে জনগনই বেশি চালু, লিডারদের বাঁদরনাচ নাচিয়ে তারাই রক্ষা করছে গণতন্ত্র? সারদার মত বড় মাপের কেলেঙ্কারী (তবে সারদা একা নয়, চিটফান্ড কোন সময় থেকে শুরু হয়েছে তা খুঁজতে গেলে কিন্তু আবার সেই গত চৌত্রিশ বছরের দিকেও আঙ্গুল উঠবে) না ঘটলে সরকার কে গড়ল তাতে সাধারণ মানুষের কি তেমন কিছু ছেঁড়া যায়? দশ-বিশ হাজার টাকা ঘুষ দেয়াটা তো জলভাত কোনো কাজ করিয়ে নেয়ার জন্যে। সে যে পার্টিই ক্ষমতায় থাকুক সেই ট্র্যাডিশন সমানে চলে আসছে, আসবেও। তাই হয় নোটায় ভোট মারুন, নাহলে নিজেদের মধ্যে যোগসাজস করে এমন ভাবে ভোট দিন যাতে যেই জিতুক পাল্লা যেন প্রায় মাঝামাঝি থাকে। তাহলে তিন দলই কাজ করে দেবে, কম পয়সায়। এদের হাতে যত ক্ষমতা দেবেন, ছিনেজোঁকের দল শুষে নেবে আরো বেশি বেশি। নেতাদের তটস্থ রাখুন যাতে তারা মানুষকে সমঝে চলে, উল্টোটা নয়। কাজেই বলি কী, বাইরে যে পার্টি যা রঙই হোক না কেন ভেতরে সব্বাই কালো– নিটোল মাকাল ফল। কাজেই ধড়াম করে দুই কী পাঁচ কী সাত না খুঁজে সবার শেষে পড়ে থাকা নোটা-টা নিয়েও একবার ভাববেন, আপনার পরিবত্তোন আপনিই আনতে পারেন, অন্যের ঘাড়ে বন্দুক রেখে “যত্ত গাড়োলের দল, এ পার্টিকে কে ক্ষমতায় আনলো” জাতীয় তত্ত্ব চায়ের দোকানের বাইরে কেউ খাবেনা। অ্যাপল হয়ে যান সব, বলুন লাল নীল সবুজ গেরুয়া কারুক্কে চাইনা। আমি ভোট দিলে এবার আর লালে নীলে না, সিধে নোটায় মারতাম। আপনি কোথায় দেবেন?/span>

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Education, India, Politics

The JNU protests with the context of nationalism

JNU students protests the arrest of the JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar

JNU students protests the arrest of the JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar

Thank goodness that this was JNU, not Jamia Millia Islamia, so the students were arrested by plain dress policemen inside the campus and were charged for sedition and their social network profiles are pasted all over Internet as the traitors of India. On the contrary, if they were from Jamia, perhaps the students would have been branded as members of SIMI or potential terrorists. Whilst there were reasonable doubts over Guru’s role in the attacks, the curtain of secrecy around his execution is definitely not a shining example of Indian judicial system. This is not the first time someone voiced concerns over his conviction and execution, but perhaps twenty-something students are much softer targets of the state than the seasoned politicians and stalwarts in the legislative procedures. Needless to say his execution took far too long, but the sudden and secret operation, tantamount to assassinations of Soviet era political dissidents, was not without political motives. If Afzal Guru was proven a terrorist beyond doubt, he should have been executed when he was convicted. It didn’t have to be done hidden behind an iron curtain. How the government wrapped the news around secrecy, didn’t inform his family, or denied a funeral, the integrity of the government was definitely questionable, especially approaching 2014 as all political parties were keen to prove their good intentions to the electorate.

DSU, the hosts of the cultural programme are a leftist student body, and they used the occasion to debate and discuss the systemic killing of Afzal Guru. A bold decision indeed, where the presence of socialist voice in most part of India is in decline. Perhaps the decision to commemorate the occasion was spurred by the reference of Afzal Guru during the Hyderabad university protest and the death of Rohith Vemula, another victim of state sponsored oppression that created an uproar but soon fizzled out and forgotten, with no action against the Uni authority who rusticated Rohith.

Smriti Irani said the anti-India chants were insults to mother India. So did Rajnath Singh, the home minister. Not sure who that fabled mother India is, she must be a polyamorous person, sleeping around with everyone’s fathers. When thousands of years before, the poet wrote Janani janmabhoomischa swargadapi gariyasi, he didn’t confuse the identities of mother with the land one is born. The personification or to be specific, maternalisation of India is yet another subtle way of splitting the society at least in two fragments — ones who are okay to accept it, and most of a billion population belongs to this side, and those who don’t. Mother India, Mother Nature, Mother Earth…the examples are boundless across the world, in every region, every culture. To carry on with the practice in the name of heritage and culture is basically an easy way of indoctrinating nationalist feelings from an early age. Country is your mother, so criticising your country is tantamount insulting your mother — the logic is simple and effective. And we like cheap drama, or nautanki, as proven by the success of soaps. So, the slogans were defaming the motherland etc are all bogus arguments altogether, in order to gain political mileage and appease the crowd that is already biased through a systematic brainwash from childhood.

If a nation is greatly offended by someone challenging the national unity and integrity, that definitely raises a question on the integrity of the nation itself. To truly become a country that is a champion of unity and integrity, the country will have to progress including everyone, not differentially. Incidents like JNU protests question and point at the shortcomings, where the systems and psyche of the nation still have a long way to go before we can truly proclaim ourselves as a diverse yet united country. Perhaps, this was also an occasion to remind ourselves that the nation can be the biggest terrorist – and there are numerous examples across the world – as the country and its government and institutions are the ultimate voice, and it can control the voices that speak against it. Sedition is a blunt concept in this day and age. It only tells if the legal system is at par with the reforms needed for the twenty first century. There were no threat to the country or any violence that ensued the claims, people were debating views and ideas, not dealing ammunitions. The charges against Kanhaiya Kumar will not hold ground during the court hearing, and he will probably be discharged without any conviction. Looking beyond the anti-India chants and claiming to immortalise Afzal Guru, there was an attempt to defy the government, defy the legal system. Defy the fact that no matter who is in power, a nation is still merely a puppet of the whims and avarice of the politicians who run it. It was a protest against the preferential treatment by the government and at large, the public. We act based on the bias in-built within us.

If there were any group of population who are and has always been vocal against such atrocities are students. They are the harbingers of change, the visionaries of tomorrow. The outcry to tarnish all protesters in the same colour is both foolish and dangerous. Even though the charges against the arrested students won’t hold water in court, social vigilantism spread their profiles and images all across the country. And needless to say, in a prejudiced country like India where people still ask age, religion, father’s name, mother’s name, husband’s name for a job application, where equal opportunity is perhaps merely a word in the HR strategy document gathering dust in a locked cabinet, these students will be discriminated against for a long time.

And then there are the right wing student unions like ABVP, they are getting the mileage they wanted on a national platform, whilst the student movements have historically been mostly left wing. Without a direction and vision, their agenda of inciting hatred against the protesters have struck the chord with millions of students, who would now subscribe to their ideology. The ABVP treats themselves as the sole spokesperson of nationalism at university campuses, and in fact their role during the debate was undemocratic, by trying to overrule a meeting that was approved for, by directly threatening the university governing body.

We Indians have a great tendency and ability to paint everything in the same colour. We do not treat issues singularly, but collectively. So, the outcry to shut down JNU is widely endorsed, people voicing concerns over the injustice in India are anti-nationalist and the protestors are traitors to the motherland. And the treatment they received from the country collectively — be it the media, politicians, police or public, just proves their point. They exposed the system and its divisive position. People voiced their opinion against anything undemocratic, before India was independent, and after. However, in the new Swachh Bharat surge, it appears that such thoughts and protests have suddenly become undemocratic, and therefore need to be swept under the carpet. So, rather than condemning the DSU student union for their villainy, we should pat their backs for standing strong against all adversities, and being bold enough to choose an occasion that aptly demonstrate the shortcomings of the legal system and human rights in India.

A caricature on the legal system in India

A caricature on the legal system in India

Also, glorifying another country, even if they were deemed your enemy, does not count as sedition. If Pakistan has done something praiseworthy, people can say good things about them, just as it was found that the government finally passed the Hindu marriage act, allowing Hindu marriages as official. However, the JNU protesters went beyond this, and voiced anti-India chants that mainly caught the media attention. What the BJP government and their ABVP sidekicks are turning a blind eye on, is they cannot make someone love their country, nor can anybody else. Forcing someone to say Bharat mata ki jay does not prove they are proud of their country, but it is tantamount an abusive husband raping his wife night after night and boasting during the day how much she loves him!

It is not necessary to love the country one is born in. It is most likely, as there is a bond developed since the childhood that is mainly nostalgic rather than informed, but that does not mean that people cannot change their opinion later on. Think of North Korea or Saudi Arabia, can the citizens there love their country with the rogue people running it? More oppressive the state becomes, more vocal the voices of the public need to be, before the country truly becomes a place one can be proud of.

The same can be said about the Kashmir debate, which was another reason why the sedition charge was brought in. It is almost comical how the rest of the nation has unanimously decided that Kashmir is part of their country and even debating the subject is sacrilege, although they tactfully exclude the views of the Kashmiri people, whose fate were being decided by the rest of India whether they should stay a part of India. The government doesn’t even recognise what the Kashmiri residents think, let alone arrange a referendum. With the unfortunate disaster at Siachen glacier recently, I wonder how many centuries it will take the fools across India and Pakistan to stop wasting exorbitant amount of money in protecting a border whilst that money could be utilised in progressing the country forward, improving hundreds of millions of lives who still lacks basic necessities of life – food, clothes and shelter.

A University is the ideal platform for such poignant debates, as what we learn in the courses are hardly ever used afterwards, but we we learn from classmates of various location, background and views shape the person we become in the future. Whatever and whoever the DSU supporters have discussed, disputed, criticised or defamed, that could have been countered with an equally critical discussion of their actions and agenda. Also, this has become a platform for all political mudslinging, where depending on their political clout, the parties are extending support or criticising, rather than leaving it as a debate between two politically opposite orientated student unions. There are a multitude of conspiracy theories going around for both sides — about the protesters shouting anti-India slogans coming to campus days before, or the ABVP activists in the DSU rally saying anti-India chants — digressing from the fact that this is not an issue to start a witch hunt, but to reflect the truth behind the claims and debate how the society can progress. Sending police in plain dress and arresting student body president just exemplifies the point these students have been trying to prove — that India is fast becoming an oppressive state and anyone who dares to speak against the government or the country will be publicly persecuted. Let’s hope that the protests such as this keep continuing all across the country, to challenge the government of its actions and the public at large, to change their age-old ideas about nationalism and love for motherland. It’s time we share the social profiles the Bhakt media spread over internet to show they were anti-nationals, to spread the excellent work they have done for human rights in India, and for its better future.

1. Speech from Harsh Mander, a social worker and a writer while attending the protest rally against Police arrest in campus
2. The translation of Kanhaiya Kumar’s original speech
3. A write-up in Bengali regarding the JNU protests, criticising the Government stance, with the header“Musclemen cannot invoke love for nation”
4. An account of the protest, as witnessed by a JNU student present actually present during the protest

The only moot point is that with the advent of technology, we are fast becoming net-activists. We are exasperated at something, we act on it, we criticise, and then within two weeks, that lesson is forgotten. We go back to our daily lives, or find another issue to fight about. We don’t fight hard enough to bring a closure. It’s like thousands of matchsticks are lighting up and put out, and failing to light the candle with a raging fire that the country needs to cleanse the injustice gathered over centuries. To make it really happen, people are needed to come down in the streets, be visible, be heard — revolutions cannot start from the confines of the room.

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Politics, Russia

Alexander Litvivnenko murder inquiry and Putin’s rogue state

A man looks at a portrait of ex-spy Andrei Litvinenko by Russian artists Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeyeva in the Marat Guelman gallery in Moscow May 22, 2007. Moscow cannot extradite former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoy to Britain on charges of murdering fellow ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko because of a constitutional ban, the Russian Prosecutor-General's office said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin (RUSSIA) - RTR1PYPQ

A man looks at a portrait of ex-spy Andrei Litvinenko by Russian artists Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeyeva in the Marat Guelman gallery in Moscow May 22, 2007. Moscow cannot extradite former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoy to Britain on charges of murdering fellow ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko because of a constitutional ban, the Russian Prosecutor-General’s office said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin (RUSSIA) – shared from The Guardian

Russia never failed to amaze me, from the Soviet Union during my childhood years, whilst reading the fables and folklore from the snow laden land, to now, knowing more about the state after the Iron Curtain was lifted, through various media coverages and current affairs, and all such information merge into a collage with stark contrasts. With its contradictions, Russia is in many ways similar to India, yet in many ways is miles apart. During my childhood, whilst marvelling at the utopia that all people lived as equals there, and that Lenin and Stalin were demigods, protecting the interests of the proletariat without a shadow of blemish on their persona, Russia was painted as the El Dorado, by our local communist press. Even when my beloved Tintin uncovered the oppression of the Bolshevik state, I was greatly miffed at Hergé and wondered whether he took sides with the capitalists. Then came the teenage years, with Rocky and Rambo dominating the silver screens, including many other films and books featuring the Cold War and showing that the Soviets were the actual bad guys there. I didn’t believe it, and treated most of it as they were represented — a work of fiction. Around the same time, however, the end of Communism and falling of Berlin Wall marked a new chapter in Russian history, which not only split the Soviet Union, but it also left all communist parties across the world in utter disbelief. The ripple of that seismic change in the global political equation also reached the east Indian state of West Bengal — one of the few states remaining as the last bastion of Indian communist movement. The fall of Soviet Union left indelible marks in the future of the party command, as there were no ideals to follow, no role models left. During my early adulthood, the keenness to learn more about communism kindled the fondness towards Russia, yet the search for more information was in vain without the access of computers and Internet. The next decade reaching up to my thirties, Russia remained a state that I adored before and still did, place of economic hardship and political oblivion, a state that is more humane than the Capitalist America and Britain ever was, and I always remained a supporter of Russia in games, sports, contests over the capitalist countries.

Until then, the images of Russia invoked a feeling as the land of Communism, and Siberia and Santa Claus. Of lake Baikal, of Ural Mountains, of Steppe and Tartars, of Volga and Vodka. Of leaders with undoubted integrity like Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev. In my thirties, I had access to more information through my researches and media — information that would starkly refute my rose-tinted vision of Russia, Soviet leaderships and the Bolshevik Revolution itself. The secrecy weaved by Lenin had turned the country into the Iron Curtain by Stalin, adding to it the atrocities during the WWII or the Katyn massacre, the Marxist dream probably was already slipping away. From WWII until the fall of Soviet Union, the state was mired with atrocities, espionage, distrust and suspicion.

With the wake of the CIS, and subsequently the Russian Federation, following the dissolution of the other member states, the communist idealist views were dead, but the ghosts of the practices from the Soviet era remained unchanged and with time, the power of the state was devolved into a number of powerful business leaders and the ex-secret service officials, the epitome of which is the charismatic president Mr Putin. Despite the highly censored media, there were instances of gross human rights violations, provocative actions at the international territories, secret assassinations, intimidations and at worst, annexing part of a foreign territory of Crimea through a dubious referendum. The presence of Russian Mafia in many of the European countries dealing arms to extortion made the threats to rest of the Europe palpable. With the corrupt officials at the helm, the presence of state sponsorship to such dealings is irrefutable. The assassination of Alexander Litvinenko exemplifies one such tale of secret assassination, state protection of the Mafia, and throttling the voices against the government. An incredible read, this report can only highlight the audacity of the events that unfurled on that fated 1st November 2006, and Russia’s complete disregard to the diplomatic relations.

Alexander Litvinenko: the man who solved his own murder

On 21st January, the high court in the UK released the verdict on Alexander Litvinenko assassination, that it was the Russian state who “possibly” murdered a UK citizen and an MI6 informer. However, the proofs and alibis scream loudly of the involvement of the prime suspects Lugovoi and Kovtum (Lugovoi has recently been awarded the state honour by Putin. And the source of the Po-210 isotope, which is a highly controlled substance and could only be sourced from the state run labs or reactors, corroborating the allegations. The case is open and shut, that the murder was definitely been carried out by the Russian state, with direct orders from Vladimir Putin. What changed the outcome of the report is unknown, possibly the lack of circumstantial evidences or the reluctance of the UK government to be on the wrong foot with Russia whilst dealing with ISIL or Iran’s sanction uplifting.

Russia was an enigma, and still is, and it has given the world great scientists, artists and thinkers. However, the present government has now been reduced to a bunch of corrupt officials from communist era, pimps and the thugs, who jettisoned their communist ethos of improving the lives of the others, and instead exploit the lives of its citizens and plunder the national wealth. At the same time, the methods of spying, interrogation, intimidation adopted in the Communist era to thwart the capitalist threat has now become the mechanism of the rogue state to continue its reign of torture, secret assassinations, extortion and trafficking whilst continuously flouting at the UN regulations.

People around the world still worship Putin, still rejoice how he shuts down the leaders of the capitalist countries, how he is a man of character and how a leader should be. Some people still like Hitler. That doesn’t make them right, nor do their fuzzy feelings justify the lives claimed by these “angels of death”. To conclude, here is the parting shot from Alexander Litvinenko on his deathbed, to his assassinator:

“You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.
You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value.
You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women.
You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.
May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.”

And the outcome of the inquiry may not be significant in terms of how much it would affect Putin, and Russia will claim the report was politcally motivated; but almost 10 years after his assassination, Alexander Litvinenko proved to the world the true colour of the Russian president…
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Feminism, Politics

Planned parenthood shootings and the future of pro-Choice debate

Ever since reaching the age of conscience — that is becoming a twenty-somethings for me, I was always at the pro-choice side of the debate than pro-life. I still am, but perhaps the hard pro-choice stance, which could often be misconstrued as anti-life, had softened over the years, especially during and after the birth of our first child. As we went through various stages of my wife’s pregnancy, and looking at numerous books showing how the fœtus must be doing and looking like, it made me realise that taking a stance for or against abortion on an absolute basis is not as straightforward because of the multifaceted nature of the issue. The two opposing camps have always waged a battle against each other, trying to undermine the views of the other side, and an empathic reconciliation has never taken place. I must admit, taking the pro-choice side, I have always been cognisant and critical of the pro-life arguments, and therefore, rightly or wrongly, I thought that the pro-life argument has always been very loud and desperate to win over supports, compared to the pro-choice campaigns. Adding the religious dimension on pro-life, the arguments also appeared seemingly outdated. The recent Planned Parenthood shootings took the perennial debate to a new and dangerous level, where people would be ready to kill the dissidents. Planned Parenthood shootings demonstrated the root of this rift between the two warring camps transcends the bias or prejudice of the pro-life campaigners and it delves into their identity, religion, race and other dimensions.

Growing up in 80’s India in a middle class background, discussions around sex was limited to sex education classes in a handful of private schools. Beyond that, everything was discussed behind closed doors. Whilst women still had their mother or other motherly figures to turn to, men ended up in a much worse situation with no sexual education apart from turning to porn or that one famous friend who magically managed to have some sex. The concept of abortion was taboo, partly due to religious and societal paradigm and partly due to lack of knowledge and government help. The contraception had just started to dawn on people, as an alternative to accepting each pregnancy with joy or stress.

With such a background, my first encounter with abortion was through opening of a new Marie Stopes Clinic in Calcutta — in a lush green parkland I often visited. Before the privatisation and swank private hospitals, the edifice of Marie Stopes clinic was a shining beacon of private healthcare. On various advertisements and at the entrance of the building showed a sign ‘Infertility clinic’. Although I wasn’t very familiar with the term infertility, I guessed what it was after a few years, whilst reading John Grisham, Erich Segal and Sidney Sheldon, coming across the term “back alley butchers”. It was perhaps those late teen years when I first realised the trauma, social stigma and persecution surrounding the issue of abortion.

A banner from Marie Stopes clinic in India

A banner from Marie Stopes clinic in India
Source: Marie Stopes Clinic India website

During my first thirty years of life in India, the issue of abortion revolved around gender and religion, than personal choice in most of the time. India had had a long history, especially in the majority Hindu caste system, of a patriarchal society, and thereby treating women as burden to the parents and men as the bread winners as well as the superior genders. Birth of a girl child not only meant a lifelong debts for the family to afford the dowry to “marry off” the girl, but also and end to the family line, carrying the family surnames and the heritage forward into the next generation. For the age old despicable dowry system, birth of a girl child was unwelcome and often resulting the parents keeping on having children until they had a boy, or in worse case, female infanticide in rural areas. With the advent of modern medical science, detection of the gender if the foetus gave rise to another malicious practice — predetermination of the sex and termination of the foetus if it was a girl. It was only in the nineties that the government decided to act and banned the prenatal sex determination to abolish sex selective abortions. Before this rule was passed by the Supreme Court of India, millions of women have been subjected to inhuman treatments — from quacks prescribing unknown drugs and herbs to the back alley butchers — it was not just the foetus that was terminated, but the mothers ended up permanently unable to have children any more, leading to another societal stigma of being infertile, or worse, being killed in the termination process. Not to mention the social trauma of going through the experience without any support in order to avoid drawing neighbours’/extended families’ attention. The sex-selective abortion was not as dominant in the Muslim population, but apart from religion, the Muslim community was and still is primarily patriarchal like Hindus; thereby putting a preference on the male child. If the Muslim women were not protected by the Islamic rules, the gender superiority, often observed in a Muslim household, would have forced many more women into terminating the foetus due to the societal preference of gender. Marie Stopes and similar clinics provided a professional and compassionate alternative to women through the period prior to the actual procedure. However, in an urban setting, with possibly extortionate prices, this may have provided an alternative to only a handful of women from affluent background. The suffering for rest of the women still continued until the Prenatal gender detection was banned.

However, amongst the Gen Y population in the urban areas, with education and more liberal points of view compared to the previous parochial generations, the taboo of abortion was much less stigmatised than before. The conversation amongst men and women were more open, although the areas such as sex, abortion, pregnancy, period were still veiled under a secrecy – only being revealed to the close confidantes. In late ’90s and early 2000s, abortion in the urban setting was discussed more openly and people were aware of the modes of contraception, and the morning after pills in case of unprotected sex. The fact that the medical help is available to discuss termination of unwanted pregnancies itself lifted a weight off the women from the new generation. Nevertheless, the plight of rural women continued with illegal street-side health centres mushrooming in small towns ready to carry out gender test under the guise of checking the health of the foetus. These clinics also carried out abortions as an outcome of the gender determinations. In the urban areas, however, abortion started to become a choice finally, rather than an imposition from religious or social situations. The women did not shy away discussing the technical details with the doctors and get professional opinion on the methods of abortion based on the stages of pregnancy. It became a question of more women having specific plans for the future and a child did not fit in that plan, nor was there any impulsion to continue with a pregnancy by mistake for the rest of the live. Even though the question of abortion was becoming a question of choice, the secrecy and shame has not been lifted entirely, and it appeared that if the female fœticide factor is removed, the amount of Indian women choosing to have abort a fœtus was still a small number.

When I emigrated to Western Europe, I expected the amount of pro-choice people would increase significantly. On the contrary, what I found from the media, is that the society is more pro-life orientated. In fact a report showed that Western Europe has the lowest abortion rates in the world at 12 per 1000, whilst Eastern Europe top the list with approx 43, and the rest of the world is scattered somewhere in between. My initial ideas of more liberal places to have more liberal views on burning issues like abortion were shattered. It was expected that the percentage of the population pro-choice in the USA would be relatively low due to large conservative republican belts, but finding the rates for Western European was entirely perplexing. However, the more I acclimatised with the Western European society, the reasons became clearer for the low rates.

First, the entire Western Europe has a phenomenal welfare system in place, including healthcare and its access to the majority of the population. Apart from religious grounds and misogyny, perhaps the biggest factor for women deciding on abortion is their financial situation, the affordability of providing for another life. The welfare system ensures that that worry is taken away, and the parents/ mothers get state allowances for each child to cater for their needs. The healthcare and education is free as well for children and this may have swayed the women to carry on with the pregnancy. Second, the quality and value of life is seen at a different perspective in Western Europe compared to many places in the world. That the fœtus is still a living organism with possible feelings and sensations make people less willing to carry on with the termination. The education and behavioural aspect of treating living beings with compassion perhaps deters many of the expectant mothers terminate the fœtus. Third, and this perhaps applies to numerous women in developing countries where premarital pregnancy is still a social stigma that resulted in abortion. In Western Europe, the social stigma around children outside wedlock or single parenthood is nearly abolished other than pockets of orthodox conservative regions/communities. Also, the religious bias and the doctrines from Christian and Muslim — the two biggest communities excluding atheists, are against abortion; hence, regardless of the strong affiliation to a religion, people generally tend to live by the religious values and thereby deciding against their choice to abort the fœtus.

The previous few sections described how the observations regarding abortion spanned a large number of wider aspects such as religion, economic situation, values, lifestyles etc. However, that only represents some possible reasons why abortion rates vary across regions and the factors influencing that difference. The main debate of this article between pro-life and pro-choice camps. So, what can be observed from the pro-life and pro-choice campaigns across the countries and various places?

One fact is very clear that neither of the sides are very accommodating to the views of the other nor are willing to lose any ground. The pro-choice campaign obviously gathered momentum with more number of women becoming independent in the patriarchal society and growing number of liberal voices in favour of leaving the decision to the woman, who is actually going to carry the child. The pro-choice supporters however, at times, go beyond their primary objective of letting the mother choose whether to keep the baby, and meddle with branding the pro-life activists as primitive, oppressive and authoritative. With such adversity and acrimony, the purpose of the pro-choice movement is often lost. Often the pro-choice movement appears as a reactionary pressure group against the provocative pro-life campaign. On the other hand, the pro-life campaign has held the moral high ground since the religious texts existed. The life was treated as a gift of almighty God that humankind cannot refuse. Certain texts define the time when the fœtus transforms to life and be considered as containing a soul, thereby prohibiting it to be terminated. Since then, the rhetoric has kept being evolved and the tactics adopted by the pro-life campaigns on present day still are passively coercive, and abominable. Apart from making the women feel continuously guilty by reiterating the “life” and “feeling” of the fœtus in various contexts — be it the pædiatrician telling what the baby can and can’t feel at different stages, or the numerous pregnancy books charting the fœtus’ progress from first week, or the sensationalist media heralding every celebrity childbirth as cover story. The inherent message is quite succinctly delivered as though motherhood is the pinnacle of a woman’s identity. Apart from such implicit anti-choice messages, there are direct actions to discourage abortions, such as legislations for doctors to make women listen to the fœtus’ heartbeat before termination, banning entities supporting abortions from public schools, or in case of recent Planned Parenthood clinic, a reduction in state funding. Whilst writing this article, I came across an article how thousands of women travel from Ireland to England to have abortions, as abortion is illegal in the republic and punishable offence in the Northern Ireland. The political bias is in most cases conservative — irrespective of the parties implementing the policies, to avoid losing public support as the majority in Western Europe are still pro-life. The pro-life campaign had successfully stigmatised the abortion through such connotative and explicit actions. And since this process has been going on across generations, children grow up accepting that is the only version truth, not following the norm is tantamount seceding being a model person.

As the voices against such organised brainwashing became louder, the pro-life line of attack changed its subtlety and started direct threats to the activists supporting for pro-choice or the clinics carrying out abortions. There has been incidents of violence against pro-choice such as mob raids, arson and bombing at abortion centres in the past with the authority turning a blind eye on the perpetrators. On 27th November, a man entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, and opened fire killing three people and injuring many more. After a long stand-off with the police, a certain Robert Dear was arrested, yet he is only referred as a suspect. Where police shoots innocents in other parts of the USA on the basis of their colour or ethnicity, it was surprising how Dear was arrested without any injury despite the gravity of the attack, and the police is still very silent about convicting him. During his interview, it was rumoured that he mentioned “no more baby parts”, exactly the same words shown in the media coverage on a series of sting operations at Planned Parenthood Colorado Springs centre, allegedly giving body parts to the research laboratories after the abortion. Although Planned Parenthood categorically denied the claims, the link between these sensationalist media coverages and the shootings cannot be denied. The aftermath of the shooting was even more shocking and only proves what significance do women’s rights hold in the USA. Rather than passing stricter gun control laws or providing extra security for other clinics, the state authorities defunding for the Planned Parenthood clinic, citing a legislation that abortion is not family planning! Each year governments pass numerous legislations, debated by male dominant parliaments and committees, and the majority of such legislations are anti-choice, taking funding away from clinics, discussing parenting and prenatal developments to women undergoing elective abortions, and many other small measures that are seemingly insignificant but collectively undermine the pro-choice rights and options.

I have mentioned at the beginning that going through my wife’s pregnancy for our first child was an amazing experience and it moderated my views on abortion from hard pro-choice to pro-choice with some appreciation for the fœtus that develops at a phenomenal rate. Whilst sex-selective abortions should be banned as legislated in India, taking a point from the pro-life campaign, never mind the soul, but the fœtus should only be terminated up to a period when it does not experience pain. On the other hand, is there any medical research that can unequivocally say when it starts having feelings? Aren’t most of the existing literature regarding childbirth focus on how wonderful the phenomenon of birth is? Don’t they almost emotionally blackmail a pregnant woman about choosing to continue with the childbirth? The answers aren’t probably straightforward, and in the end, abortion could be a stressful procedure, both mentally and physically. How I interpret it is, that the pro-choice argument, contrary to how it is portrayed as anti-life campaign, is not about preaching the killing of fœtus at all, but merely presenting a choice to women whether they would want to continue with their pregnancy. It’s all about removing the social stigma of abortion and as a result passively force women to continue with the pregnancy. Pro-choice is about the way of life, where one always has the two options unanimously and chooses to take the path as desired by their plans for the future. Abortion should be a natural questions and scenario to be discussed with the paediatrician where they could ask the woman if she wants to keep the child, as well as the women should expect the question and not be offended by the suggestion of termination being an option for the pregnancy.

Pro-choice is still an utopia in this present world. Whilst pro-life campaigners turning more violent with time, and the governments bringing more legislations that are anti-choice, the pro-choice movement does not have the momentum to effect the change in public psychology nor the legal side of the matter. It will need more campaigns, more people speaking out about abortion rather than treating it shameful and taboo. People like Jex Blackmore, who, through her Unmother diaries, shared experiences undergoing an abortion and the stereotyping she experienced. The campaign needs to be loud enough to be heard beyond the closed doors of the parliaments, so one must be vociferous about their support to the pro-choice campaign, but at the same time, hostilities towards pro-lifers would not help achieve the objective. However, I hope that with time and more liberalisation of the society, a pro-choice society will not be a far-fetched dream but a reality of tomorrow, despite the trials and tribulations and demonisations of today…

PS: I believe abortion and pro-choice campaign is a feminist agenda at present, rather than humanist, and I am unsure how and where a man like me, with their own prejudices, should stand. Reading from various contemporary newspaper articles and blogs, it appears that one arm of feminism is completely anarchic – it treats even men supporting feminism to be patronising, and thus consciously or unconsciously emboldening their patriarchal nature. I cannot argue against that school of thought, as not being sure what a man’s position should be on issues such as this. The other line of thought is more classical feminism, where women fight for equality and earn it rather than the male-dominant society divesting the powers to women as they pleased. With that line of though, I could identify myself as a feminist or a humanist supporting equality on all fronts. From that aspect, I would treat this as a feminist blog, but if this does appear patronising, I apologise in advance for my ignorance.
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Education, India, Politics

The Guardian article on Vyapam scam in India: A tale of greed, corruption and lies

Last night I had a dream. It was about an unknown suburbia in India, with its crowded and bustling roads full of old buses, vans and rickshaws. I was with one of my colleagues but had no idea what we were doing there, and we were lost, away from the city we were meant to be. The incessant din, multicoloured two storey houses, political graffiti on the walls and the web of power, telephone and cable TV lines above our heads were reminiscent of an India that was evolving in the new millennium, yet far away from the shiny edifices of Gurgaon and Bangalore, or the super fast highways in Bombay. We ended up in a train station, but the name of the station was nowhere to be seen. A train trundled in to the station, and we boarded the train without knowing where it’s heading to. We were meant to be looking for the first or second class cabins, but just rushed into the general class. Inside the compartment was dark, despite a bright day outside, and it was crowded like any other passenger train in India. I was desperate to find out where we were, to know which way to go. In the vapid heat inside the train, people giving us a little more room seeing my colleague struggle in the crowd, I made a last ditch attempt to read the station name – leaning over the barred windows, as the train started to speed up, leaving the platform. The first time I read a name, it did not make any sense, and even in my dream it felt absurd. I looked again, and it read like “Coal Nagar”. I know this does not exist, but in my dream, that name brought back all the information we needed. Coal Nagar was a suburb of a big city called “Anjar”, another imaginary place, but situated in Madhya Pradesh, and the city map flashed in my mind. As the train lazily chugged along the busy suburban landscape of houses, bazaars and scooters, we knew that Anjar is only a few miles away, and we will soon be in Anjar, then find a mode to get to Delhi and then back to UK. The sepia themed dream ended there, as we headed off towards Anjar leaving the unknown flurry of vibrant imageries, rapidly transforming in front of the barred windows, yet leaving an indelible stamp in my heart of an India I had never experienced.

I have not been to many places in Madhya Pradesh, yet that dream immediately connected the imageries to the central Indian state. The images in the sepia background instantly reminded of the film “Manorama six feet under”, both telling the tales of a forlorn India — far away from the new open market era image projected to the world, but still the epicentre of the present identity of India. A busy town, with strong connection to the rural surrounds, yet brimming with dreams and aspirations to escape the confines of the place to move forward to the bigger cities, inviting them with all their allures of 2BHK apartments and urban myths transgressed through hearsay of the people, who made it to the big cities.

It was an interesting coincidence, when I came across this article shared in The Guardian this morning. As I started reading the article, wonderfully narrated in a crime thriller pace of storytelling, the same images, still vivid from my last night’s dream, immediately struck my mind. It was a déjà vu of the “Manorama…”, a web of crime unfurling in a sedate township and the sandy sepia coloured background. Anjar in my dream is not Indore, but there is no reason why it can’t be. Yet, in the dream, whilst there was a life awaiting me outside the small township, this article instead divulge a sordid story of power, greed, corruption and shallow political exploitation of the Indian rural and suburban youth aspiring to break free the shackles of caste, class, religion and life long struggle. A vortex that consumed the futures of hundreds and thousands of youth coming from rural background.

Vyapam scam unfolded in the summer of 2015, when I was barely coping with tremendous pressure at work, and hence, most of the developments around the investigation past me by. This report may appear a bit long, but the narrative keeps the reader interested throughout and tries to analyse the findings from a number of different perspectives. Although the memories, left in the sepia tinted past, would evoke a sense of nostalgia, as the story unfurled, it divulged the primitive tooth and claw sides of the Indian politics and the web of corruption spanning not just a vast state but the entire central India.

I believe in the boundless possibilities and talent in India, and want to see the potentials fully utilised to thrive, not just as a country, but benefit the entire world. Yet, I wonder when that day would come, when scams such as this will be buried as the skeletons of past in that new shining India…

A sculpted pencil by the Russian miniature artist Salavat Fidai. Photograph: WENN Source: The Guardian

A sculpted pencil by the Russian miniature artist Salavat Fidai. Photograph: WENN
Source: The Guardian

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Intolerance in society, Politics, religion

Aamir Khan controversy – growing intolerance in society through the mirror of Lord’s Prayer ban

“Yes, I am a traitor, if you are a patriot, if you are a defender of our homeland, I am a traitor to my homeland; I am a traitor to my country… if patriotism is the claws of your village lords, … if patriotism is the police club, if your allocations and your salaries are patriotism,… if patriotism is not escaping from our stinking black-minded ignorance, then I am a traitor” – Nazim Hikmet

There are two pieces of news circulated in the media, at two different corners of the world, last week. In India, the famous actor, producer and director Aamir Khan stated in an interview that his wife Kiran was scared of the future of their children due to growing intolerance in the country. On the other corner of the world, cinemas in the UK refused to broadcast Lord’s Prayer before the films, for the period building up to Christmas festivities. Both these news caused uproar and debates in social spheres and the media flared the gravity of the incidents beyond proportion, creating national headlines. Although the two pieces of stories are seemingly unrelated, they are intertwined by the concept of intolerance, and social vigilantism. This is an attempt to analyse first incident using the latter to demonstrate that intolerance is not only limited to the confines of a region, religion or country. 

Aamir Khan is one of the most gifted mainstream actors of Indian film industry. After featuring in films with resounding success, Aamir moved into directing his own films and made films on contemporary issues in the Indian society. One of his recent films, PK, based in the religious vaingloriousness of the humans, became a big hit in India, despite the ultra right-wing Hindu groups threatened closure of the film and vandalised the cinemas in a number of cities. With a huge fan base, gained since his first film around 1989, Aamir is also one of the most successful Bollywood actors. Despite being nominated for the national awards a number of times, Aamir refrained from attending as he had no faith in selection procedure for the awards. In a recent interview, he admitted that despite living all is life in India, it’s the first time he is concerned about the future of his children as there appears to be a growing unrest and intolerance in the country. I only came across the news the next morning by the tempest in the teacup, as the Facebook was found flooded with condemnation and criticism, mostly personal attacks on his ethnicity and religion. Aamir instantly became the target of social media witch hunt, a traitor and a Muslim sympathiser of terrorism. It wasn’t only limited to the overzealous public venting off their feelings, but other celebrities weighed in as well. This affair culminated in Aamir releasing a public statement. The statement was more of a clarification of his interview rather than a reconciliation to the growing media pressure, expecting a public apology. The nation is still enraged, and the abuses are continued as observed in social media. 

Poster for the film PK, which became the biggest grossing film in India

Poster for the film PK, which became the biggest grossing film in India
Source: UTV

I may have heard the Lord’s Prayer before, but wouldn’t recognise it. Some of the words are like this-“…Give us this day our daily bread,and forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors.And lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil…”Church of England made an ad on Lord’s Prayer and wanted to broadcast it in cinemas before the films started. Majority of the cinemas including Odeon, Cineworld, Showcase have refused to play the short film due to their policy. A public uproar ensued in the island nation, with a dismayed portrait of Archbishop of Canterbury featuring front pages of nations newspapers, BBC tirelessly garbling out angry reaction from public to celebrities. A public petition started on the official parliament website to overthrow the decision by the cinemas, whilst the conservative media and politicians launched a scathing attack on the cinemas management policy. The petition gathered momentum throughout the weekend and by Monday it received enough signature to be debated in the parliament. Three days later, as I’m writing this, the petition has been officially rejected citing that forcing the cinemas to play the ad does not come in the jurisdiction of the parliament, it falls under the Digital Cinema Media, so all disgruntled Christians should write to the DCM, if they wanted the decision overturned.

Church of England Lord's Prayer and #JustPray Ad (Source: YouTube)

Two separate incidents, two geographically contrasted locations, yet one inference could be drawn from both is the growing social vigilantism and the intolerance of the public. Starting with Aamir’s interview, it lasted about half an hour, where many constructive points were discussed regarding Indian society and its progress, and after he mentioned about the heightened intolerance in India, the journalists asked him a number of questions regarding his views on double standards of politicians as well as his views of terrorism incited by Islam. Aamir aptly clarified that he criticised the extremist mentality that is in the rise, regardless of the community, and the terrorists carrying Quran, did not legitimise their Muslim belief. However, the sensationalist Indian media only scooped the section that would produce the most uproar, and they succeeded brilliantly. Overnight Aamir became victim to a nationwide hate campaign, with the most lenient ones blaming him of heresy and betraying the country he built his career on, whilst the more vociferous ones went way further, from proposing to throw him out of the country to declaring 100,000 Rupees for someone to slap him in public. Even after Aamir released his statement people are maintaining their stance that he did an about turn facing such a strong public reaction and he insulted the country and de facto, its 1.25 billion people. The debates continued, and people promptly responded to the call for unsubscribing the android app Snapdeal, which Aamir is a brand ambassador of. However, this is neither the beginning, not the end of the debate around growing intolerance in Indian society. 

The right-wing parties such as the present ruling party BJP and its ultra right sections such as Shiv Sena, Visva Hindu parishad, Bajrang Dal as well as BJP’s youth corps Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha or RSS, took over the role of protectors of the interests, culture and heritage of India’s Hindu population, and any attempt to criticise, satirise, question any of the centuries old practices and custom was met with severe and at times violent reactions. Apart from being the self proclaimed harbingers of Hindu identity, their stance was severely anti-Muslim, the second largest ethnic group in India. Not much later than the Rushdie affair involving Satanic Verses, the renowned Indian painter Maqbool Fida Hussain was criticised for his depiction of Hindu deities in nude, especially his painting of Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, similar as Minerva of Athena in Roman and Greek mythology. The death threats, court petitions for defamation, ransacking his art exhibitions hounded Hussain until his death, and after, although the paintings were done in ’70s. The fact that Hussain was a Muslim helped the right wing hooligans in their anti-Muslim agenda provoking racial hatred in the spheres of art and creativity. The next incident, where the Hindu fundamentalists felt their feet trampled, was not so straightforward when it came to apportioning the blame. In 1996 a film was released by Deepa Mehta, “Fire” that portrayed a married woman’s lesbian extramarital relationship. Adultery and homosexuality, both were deemed damaging to the fabric of Hindu ideology and was vehemently criticised by the BJP and its extremist factions, calling for public apology from the director and instant ban on the film. The next film on the sequel, “Earth” in the partition of India and the ensuing communal violence also attracted cries for shutting down the film. The third film, “Water” featuring an affair of a widowed Hindu woman in the holy city of Benares, was met with vehement opposition from the right wing Hindu nationalists citing defamation of the sacred city as well as tainting the characters of widows, who, regardless of their age, are expected to lead life if a recluse. The production of the film was halted several times, as the mob attacked the film sets. The release was much delayed than the planned release around 2000-01. The then cultural minister of West Bengal offered Deepa to have the film shot in Bengal. However, the double standards of the communist government came to light as they offered Deepa Mehta to shoot Water in Bengal to snub right wing parties, trying to prove that the left is progressive, but in case of Taslima Nasreen, the exiled author from Bangladesh. Despite providing asylum to her in Calcutta, the government stance soon did an about turn, in face of growing protests from the Muslim communities in Bengal, harbouring the blasphemous author. The hypocrisy of various governments’ at various times in order to protect the free speech always affected the Indian societies. In recent past, the right wing factions began to promote a Hindu lead actor in Bollywood such as Hrithik Roshan, in order to diminish most of the public support divided amongst the three Khans, Aamir, Shahrukh and Salman. Incidentally, all three of them being Muslim, caused ire of the right wing Hindu supremacists.

Apart from the creative media, the propensity to disfigure the truth has never been so blatant than what was used by the BJP and the other right wing Hindu factions. The 1992 Babri masjid demolition was a first demonstration of the blind malicious side of the right wing nationalist parties to a republic. They also tried to stop celebrations of the Valentine’s Day as the true celebration of love was expected to be the birthday of Shri Krishna, a Hindu god with 16000 wives. BJP and their crony bunch of intelligentsia have been and still is instrumental in claiming the invention of numerous modern day best practices in medicine, science, astronomy, politics to be rooted in ancient Indian civilisation, which they proclaimed to be world’s oldest at 5500 BC, contrary to the archaeological findings and most factual historical findings of around 2000 BC. The latest addition to the hilarious claims was made in 2014, when the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that the full head transplant was invented in ancient India deriving from tales in ancient Indian mythologies. BJP also tried to manipulate the educational system and the history by portraying Shivaji as a national hero because of his Hindu origin, and also introducing Saraswati Vandana, a prayer dedicated to Hindu goddess of wisdom Saraswati, to be recited in every school, rather than the national anthem. In 2007, a major sea canal project between India and Sri Lanka was permanently stopped, due to relentless disruptions by the right wing Hindu activists claiming the sand shoal in the shallow waters spreading between the two countries was in fact made by Lord Rama, another mythical character, purported to be a true person. The assassination of the renowned Karnatik author and free-thinker M.M Kalburgi in recent times, only proved the fact that the BJP and its other right-wing Hindu extremist factions would go to any length to promote their version of Indian history and culture and pulverise, not by logic and information, but by brutality, any voice of reason contradicting them.

As I said before, Aamir’s case did not start with his interview last week, but is rooted far deeper. Whilst Indian market opened to the world in late nineties, bringing the much needed deregulation, it was at that time, when the Hindu radicalism was on the rise. As exemplified above, along with state sponsored violence observed in riots in ’92, Gujarat riots on ’02 and many other individual attacks spreading communal violence, BJP and its cronies used their propaganda to promote Hindu nationalism, and any view that questions their superiority would be criticised and castigated. Their agenda also included the idea of Hindu supremacy, and hence by side-lining the Muslim population, apart from the one trump card they used to gain Muslim votes, by supporting Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam for the role of the president. With the rise of social media, apart from the right wing mouthpieces like newspaper, party pogroms etc, BJP also had another platform to permeate its agenda of nationalism. It was evident from the election campaign in 2014, which shared numerous photoshopped images of PM candidate Narendra Modi, as well as denigrating the free thinkers like Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore. With such a background, it was expected that the general public would refuse to bring a tyrant like Modi, who has blood on his hands, to power. Yet, no other opponent proved to be strong enough to stop the NaMo juggernaut, as public voted by the glamorous election campaign, and exasperated by the fading Congress’ nepotism, corruption and sycophancy to the old Nehru empire. After BJP was elected with absolute majority, it was clear that the  propaganda machinery will be in full motion, promoting Hindu supremacy from day one. Aamir’s statement about growing intolerance in last 6 months, therefore, riled the BJP, and the media reported the case to the Indian population portraying Aamir as a heinous character, that he is ungrateful that all his films are made in India. Aamir was an easy target, his surname is Khan, and his fear of the growing intolerance in his surroundings is something that could be presented in a manner making him an unpatriotic person.

Having lived by first 30 years of my life in India, the only way I could summarise it is chaos. Chaos – not in a negative way, but the country is in a state of chaotic equilibrium. Nothing is perfect, yet everything works. Trains run late, yet the Indian Railways, world’s second largest public office, runs like a clockwork to make the unimaginably complicated system work. The dabbawalas in Mumbai deliver packed lunches to millions of people without a complicated IT system, and so does the dhobiwalas cleaning the laundries for millions of people, yet achieve a remarkably high accuracy. India is a curious place, a conundrum for the outsiders, a quest to the ones who know the country, how are we so different, yet there is a common emergence of a unique national character? This is why I revered India, but never fell into the glorious trap of patriotism. India was, and still is, my country, but never my mother, the bharatmata. India is also a land of contrasts — not just two, but many different contrasts at various degrees intermingle at every instant, and hence, stereotyping India is a difficult task. Indians are driven by boundless aspirations, trying to keep abreast to the tides of change modern time is bringing, yet in adherence to the archaic custom and cultures which has no place for coexistence. It’s not a dilemma between old and new, but instead of progress against regress.

This conflict between the two has always existed and still does, and it shapes our thought process and logic. When we speak about unity in diversity, that diversity mainly focusses upon the regional, cultural, linguistic diversity; although the religious orientation of all such diverse constituents is still Hindu. Despite a large number of non-Hindu communities residing in India, Hindus still make nearly 80% of the population, and therefore, any image projected of India largely constitutes portraits of a country for the Hindus, and as the second largest minority, Muslims. Other minorities, although they are part of an incredible India, their stories often go unheard. The Muslim fishermen on Kerala, or the Chinese shoemakers in Calcutta, or the Jewish and Parsi communities in Bombay, or a Gurkha tea plantation worker in Darjeeling – they remain away from the limelight of the Incredible India vision. As do the multitude of tribes spread all across India – from the central plateaux to the North-Eastern provinces to the Andaman & Nicobar islands. A majority Hindu population creates in public mind vision of a state with Hinduism at the centre of its raison d’etre.  Impaired with this vision, anything that contradicts the key dogma of Hindu faith, the disagreement is often seen as the blasphemy, and denouncing the Hindu identity is tantamount denouncing India. Majority of the Indian population are reactionary, and therefore, easily manipulated. The right wing parties, irrespective of Hindu or Muslim, capitalise on this mob tendencies, along with a lack of clear thinking and decision making abilities. The lack of analytical thinking causes the mind to be easily led, to believe anything they read or listen or see, and whether that image fits to the preconceived notion of a Hindu India. With such warped concepts, a Hindu is also seen as an Indian, whereas a Muslim Indian is still a Muslim, a Hindu Bengali is a Bengali, but a Muslim Bengali is just a Muslim. The borderlines between nationality, regional identity and religion are blurred and intersect with each other – making a complex maze of identities. This fuzzy identity lies at the centre of the Aamir Khan scandal, which was started as a question on growing societal intolerance in India, but flared up as saying India is not tolerant, and that statement coming from a Muslim actor, his Indian identity is promptly ignored, and the debate is portrayed as a muslim insulting India.

The biggest pride I have in India is that since early days of independence, it is a republic and remained a republic state. A republic gives every citizen to express his/her opinion without fear, hesitation and discrimination. In Tagore’s words, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high/ Where knowledge is free/ Where the world has not been broken up into fragments/ By narrow domestic walls”—the vision of India portrayed in his poem is far from the reality as observed in the twenty-first century India. What Aamir alluded to in his interview, about growing intolerance in the society, was only a fear, for the lives of his children.  Yet, the following few days, and the mob witch hunt that was witnessed since then, only strengthens the truth in Aamir’s statement. The public reaction claiming Aamir’s statement as an act of insult to the country, heresy and treason, is no different than Saudi states — the intolerance of free speech is still the same. The concept of constructive criticism is of course non-existent in the sub-continent, where parliament session means the ruling parties and opposition shouting at each other, throwing abuses, often breaking into fights, and the smaller insignificant parties walking out. Many circulations and re-posts are going around in social media since Aamir’s statement, yet I have not seen a single person come up with simple logical facts to refute his claims. The biggest criticism was, what if Aamir said something about Islam? If India was intolerant, can he think what would have happened to him if he was in Saudi Arabia? The answer to these questions are, may be a lot worse, but that is an absolute ludicrous way of dealing with a criticism. It’s as silly as explaining why you failed a test to your parents saying ten other students failed as well. We call India a democracy, we say it’s a diverse country, but of course it’s easy to state that being the majority, of course Hindus can claim to the world that they live in harmony with Muslims, Christians, Jews, Jains, but can those minorities say the same with equal ease? Can they say that they enjoy equal opportunities and are not marginalised? Can they boast of the unity in diversity? They can’t, because the moment they do, they will be branded unpatriotic, be subjected to the harassment Aamir has been through in last one week. As a republic, we have a lot to learn, a long way to go before we can truly boast of our diversity which does not depend on numbers but everyone believes in it.

This brings the discussion back to the Lord’s Prayer debate. Like India. Britain is a democracy, and it is a country with majority white Christian population, although, unlike India, a large number of Christian born population do not identify with Christianity any more, they are confirmed atheists. Christianity has been and is part of the main fabric of the country; although Britain can boast of a widely diverse demography in present days, Christianity is an undeniable part in forming the popular custom, language and festivities. Christianity shaped the UK in its present form as we know it. So the public may celebrate Yom Kippur or Chinese New Year with equal excitement, Christmas and Easter is still the biggest festivals of the season. Considering the vast majority of the confirmed Christian individuals are not church goers, and don’t live their lives by the Ten Commandments, it is surprising how a refusal to pray Lord’s Prayer before the cinema made it to the national news! The numerous public figures blaming the decision to be shambolic, right wing parties licking their lips finding a topic to win supports on their white supremacy agenda, the petition seeing an avalanche of supports to overturn the decision — what we saw is a reactive intolerance, from a large number of the public in one of the epitomes of democracy and multiculturalism. The British public, who cried out loud “bring our country back”, never cared what Church of England was doing, but with that refusal, they are all united in protest again, against policymakers implementing  multiculturalism, against a harmonious society. Whilst in India, general public is too blasé about the feelings of the other minorities, in Britain, the general public is, although more liberal, too uncomfortable to be seen of having any prejudices. However, instances like this present a rare glimpse of the undercurrent of the prejudices that run deep in people’s psyche, and the outcome is not the finest example of tolerance. That Britain is a democracy and irrespective of the background, the common sense that playing Lord’s Prayer in the cinema is plainly unacceptable — it hasn’t permeated through the minds of the people crying wolf. To them, this is a sacrilege that the country isn’t a Christian country any more, the country is being taken over by the immigrants, who dictate how the country should be run. Britain has never been a Christian country, when it became a democracy and brought in the immigrants to run the country better. But of course only a logical mind would think this. For the rest, if you are not born British and Christian, you are expected to show allegiance to the country in every step — revere the Royal family, celebrate Christmas, wear the poppy. The allegiance to the gimmicks became synonymous to adherence to the values.

As I started this discussion to analyse the incident of Aamir khan’s statement about intolerance and the reaction of the Indian population in light of the Lord’s Prayer ban in cinemas in the UK — both these incidents show us an undercurrent of intolerance, of different degree and manifestation, but identical in its concept. The boundaries between religion, ethnicity, language and nationality is blurred and all is brought under the same canopy of patriotism, the almighty word that tells you if you love your country. You must be a patriot, support your country in every deeds to make your existence in this universe meaningful! What’s the life worth it doesn’t want to sacrifice itself for the country? The tales of heroes and martyrs emerge, tales of great heritage, but wasn’t it how a Mein Kampf was born?! The intolerance that exists in the society is omnipresent, as does the tolerance. One cannot exist without the other, otherwise “to err is human” would have no relevance in our lives. Intolerance is not limited to the boundaries of a country, or religion, or ethnicity. It is our inherent fear and tendency of distrust the others. Being intolerant does not mean that people are not tolerant at all, it only alludes to the fact that they are not 100% tolerant. What needs to happen is acceptance of the intolerance and to address the issues constructively, not by declaring sums to slap a person who raised some concerns, nor by saying the country is taken over by immigrants.

This brings to two other factors that are vitally important for the discourse related to intolerance in the society. First, the role of the media. In these two incidents, apart from people’s shortsightedness about tolerance and its meaning, media is the next biggest culpable factor. In their rat race to increase ratings, media twist the facts in such a manner that it creates a headline, unconcerned of whether the facts are true, semi-true or blatant lies. The hype Aamir’s story received is completely due to the fact that they repeatedly broadcasted only two minutes of an interview that lasted half an hour, where a number of other social issues were discussed. Just in the same way BBC and ITV telecasted repeatedly the same news of CoE ad ban for next few days. Especially for India, with lower literacy rate that hinders the analytical reasoning, media needs to play a more responsible role than fuelling mass hysteria. The majority of Indian and british working class and uneducated sections don’t have the time nor luxury to delve into arguments and counter arguments, and perhaps draw an informed conclusion analysing all the facts. They probably take every news on its face value as seen of heard in the media. The flippancy of media observed in both these cases only made a much detrimental effect in maintaining a diverse society. The other factor is of course the role of the minorities in eradicating the intolerance from the society. Just by saying that the ethnic majority is intolerant, it doesn’t mask the fact that it runs in the minorities as well — illustrated by a gathering of thousands of radical Muslims in protest when a captured terrorist in India was hanged or people seen celebrating Paris attacks. Like BJP and its Hindu supremacist cronies, undeniably there are radical Islamist groups in India as well, as does separatist mujahideen outfits fighting for independent Kashmir, or militants in the north east. By being a free thinker, a voice of reason, one doesn’t have to stand up for minorities in every occasion, right or wrong. The question of right and wrong, good or evil eluded us since the early days of civilisations. We still form our opinions based on our understanding of the social filaments, our views towards life. It is a continuous struggle against ourself as well, where we need to break the stereotypes and paradigms layered over the years. If the reaction to Aamir khan’s statement was termed intolerant, my analysis is intolerant as well, as it represents intolerance of such intolerances.

A photo shared on Facebook on everyone becoming moral guardians of the society

A photo shared on Facebook about increasing vigilantism in social spheres
Source: 9GAG.com

So, what does the balance sheet look like, of the Aamir Khan controversy last week? Media gained, of course, with their heightened TRP and circulation of extra newspapers. Aamir lost a few dedicated fans and may not have his Snapdeal contract renewed. But he also won, although a handful, of admirers for speaking out the truth while the others shied away. Aamir’s wife Kiran has suffered the full brunt of public wrath, for having no opportunity to defend herself as Aamir did. Snapdeal, the company Aamir was brand ambassador for, despite losing nearly 100,000 memberships, gained in rating due to increased interest on their website for the controversy. But the biggest winner, from this debate is BJP and the PM Modi, as no official reprimand was issued through government of India. This is a surreptitious way BJP let its far right factions do the dirty work for them, such as maligning Aamir, his achievements and personal life; yet officially kept a safe distance from them to project an image of neutrality. Of all the involved sides, Modi’s image emerged as a leader who is calm and stoic, unperturbed by the scandal, his incredible India and swachh Bharat remained untarnished — much to the dismay and disconcert of any liberal person, as sycophantic praises poured in all over the media and Internet. In few weeks all will be forgotten, but this controversy will hush all the voices willing to ask questions, or point fingers at the government. The returning of national awards by scholars has already been much politically polarised, and their protests were degraded by the predatory right wing activists and Modi sympathisers. With Aamir added to this list of quarantined personalities, this paves the path for an unrivalled Hindu indoctrination of the country. The brooms of swachh Bharat movement will swiftly brush away the voices of criticism. India will be promoted as a country for its space programme, IT and manufacturing prowess, but the dark sides of caste system and discriminations, sectarian violence and intolerance, honour killings and female foeticides will be neatly tucked away. One may even ask at this juncture that if an actor is worth three billion rupees, is there really a concern for his children regarding social intolerance? If he is rich enough to possibly buy an entire security company, was there any ulterior motive? Will Modi go to the media with grand gestures of pardoning Aamir as part of Indian tradition and other similar nonsense, boosting his image up as the results don’t show the achchhe din or the good days he promised is imminent? We’ll never know this…

It’s been over a week now, since both these scandals broke out. People have now gone back to their daily humdrum life away from the uproar. Perhaps the nerves are still a bit raw in India, as the Aamir story still dominates internet and social media. In Britain people have forgotten about Lord’s Prayer already and engrossed in Christmas shopping spree. The guise is back, in both worlds, until the time something else flares up, when the fangs and talons will lash out again, baring our primitive instincts. Until then, we are all back to our pretentious social harmony, back in our sheep’s skin. 

Full interview of AAmir Khan at RNG Excellence Award
(Source: YouTube/Indian Express Online)

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Labour, Politics

Labour leadership election 2015: A haplessly optimistic prediction of Labour resurgence

Courtesy: The Guardian
 
In 2010 after the resignation of Gordon Brown, I was first aware of the pandemonium that followed that was the election of the next Labour leader. There was drama, family feud, vilification, public display of underlying fragmentation in the Labour Party, which finally resulted in a disheartened brother leaving mainstream politics and moving to the USA, the other disgruntled opponent losing the plot and ending up losing his seat, and the victor was the least suitable candidate to win the public mandate. However, the theatrics that ensued Labour’s loss in 2010 election proved that there are emotions running high, and all the candidates were trying to convince the Labour supporters and unions that they can turn the tide in the next election.  The election process is not a clinical nodding or ayes of the cunning politicians, who are actually protecting the interests of their peers and businesses that represent top 1% echelon of the socio-economic strata. A Tory process of selection — although apparently sleek and efficient, it accentuates the disregard of the democratic process and the leader almost emerges when the former has served his time. However, coming to 2015, the landslide loss for Labour necessitated selection of a phenomenal leader; yet, the party hurled itself into a state of uproar, revolt and public mockery. An utter farce — that’s how the 2015 leadership election can be described as.

 
2015 will be marked as the darkest hours of Labour’s existence. During previous five years, the then leader Ed Miliband failed to steer the party to a coherent goal and set up an election strategy from his ascension to the helm. Mr. Miliband has been very sporadic in his policy making — in the beginning he was a staunch supporter of unionism, then he distanced himself from them, then around the end of 2013, he finally started to shape a common goal which was radical, but it left no time to reach out to public and show the results. Labour has been decimated due to the dichotomy in its policy. Always a Labour stronghold, Scotland, coming to terms with the referendum and a consensus on the need for a nationalistic decentralised governance, saw SNP as a much suitable party to represent Scottish interests in Westminster. On the other hand, England, with its inherently supercilious and royalist conservative majority, saw nothing offered by Labour that the Conservatives didn’t, and Tories were better placed to protect their wealth, as well as present a robust leadership that promotes sense of security and stability to the unsure voters. Labour, on the other hand, could not take the bait from SNP to ally with them in Scotland in fear of losing English votes; yet they could not be bold enough to swing the party towards left, offering British public some tangible benefits away from the clasps of capitalist consumerist vision that Tories have projected. By the time Ed Miliband stood on the election debates, Labour had already reduced to a party offering toned down version of the Tory manifesto. Late radical changes were brought in but that was too late to prove to general public how they are going to deliver what they promised.
 
After the humiliating defeat in 2015 general election, whilst the Tories recorded the biggest singular majority in many decades, Labour was looking at being completely wiped out of Midlands and South of England, as shown in the image below:

Courtesy: The Telegraph 


The party lost all Scottish seats as well, but in this game of dominos, it is all about English votes, the reason will be explained in latter sections. To win the English votes back, Labour needed a recovery programme focussed towards regaining people’s faith in the party and demonstrate through various council elections, a successful illustration of their proposals being implemented. In sports, after a heavy loss, teams are known to regroup, reshuffle, reflect on the negatives as well as things that went well. A similar SWOT analysis was necessary for the party, to rebuild the party’s credibility to the general public. To make it all happen, Labour needed a charismatic character on the top, who would steer the party to this long-term goal. What actually happened in reality — would questions Labour’s credibility to its staunchest supporters. 
 
Following Ed Miliband’s departure the first person to throw his hat into the fray was Chuka Umunna, a young energetic upshot, who I once met at a local Labour Party meeting, but soon as he expressed his intention to run for the top spot, the Tory led media went on a frenzy trying to delve into his private life. Although a committed Blairite, whose views are not much different from the Conservative party anyway, Mr Umunna could have been an ideal choice for Labour leader as he seemed to have the potential and the necessary leadership skills to run the party. However, under the media scrutiny of his private life including his partner, he shied away from the leadership election. In one way, one might have respect for him to prioritise the privacy of his family over career; on the other hand, living in Britain, under the focus of an obnoxiously interfering media, if that was the choice he would make every time, perhaps it was time to rethink his future as politician. During the early days leading towards the election, this series of events around Chuka Umunna showed that he is still not ready to pick up the leadership baton yet, but he certainly possesses the qualities of an innate leader, so this will not be the last time we saw of him. 
 
The next two candidates who showed their willingness for the Labour leadership was not unexpected. Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper both registered their names about the same time. After Ed Miliband resigned, and Ed Balls lost his seat, Andy Burnham was the next most senior leadership figure in the Labour Party after Harriet Harman, who, it seems, is happy to spend rest of her political career as the deputy chief after every election, when Labour has lost and the leaders elected. Andy stood in the 2010 leadership election as well but under the heavyweights like the Miliband brothers and Mr. Balls, he was deemed as a minnow. 2015, on the contrary, saw a complete turnaround of events, where he would be considered the frontrunner for the position. Yvette Copper, the next candidate, has also been serving Labour for a long time including cabinet roles in power as well as in the shadow cabinet. If Mr. Burnham is the most obvious male candidate for the role, Ms. Cooper would have been the natural first choice to be the first woman leader of the Labour Party. The inclusion of Liz Kendall was, in a way, surprising, as like Mr. Umunna, she is a young candidate and not been in the highlight much. These three candidates seemed to be the trio running for the Labour leadership, who the millions of Labour Party and union members needed to choose from. Then all on a sudden, a sixty something gentleman entered the stage, very late during the leadership discussions, and took Britain in a storm.  Jeremy Corbyn changed power equations in the Labour headquarters and laid bare the internal fissures within the Party. 
 
Before Jeremy came to the equation, looking at the candidates, contesting to be running the party, showed one commonality. All three of them, running for election, share the same background, which one is accustomed to seeing in a Tory candidate. All of them are educated at Oxford or Cambridge, all of them are neo-Thatcherites and with no union background. I used to be a Labour supporter myself and during the days of Miliband’s directionless strategies, I cancelled my membership with a view that the £5 membership money could be better spent given to a charity. However, if I were to choose a leader for the party in the election amongst these three, I would probably have chosen none. I have expressed this view many times and strongly believe that Labour has lost its appeal to the public as they are too concerned about what the Conservatives are doing and decided not to propose anything drastically different. In this process, not only are they alienating the hard working bottom 50% of the population, they have not been able to swing votes from Tory voters either. This is a result of the present Labour policy, which at best, is sitting on the fence between the two categorically distinct strata of society and hence does not appeal to neither. To prevent Labour lose its identity and electability forever, they needed a complete policy reshuffle, in a way, a “Robin Hood” government, that would finally put the priority to most of working class population, not the 1% on the top, whose life doesn’t depend on the election anyway. It needed more spending in infrastructure, NHS and social housing, raise tax rates for higher earners and the corporates, reduce spends on defence and in the end, stop funding the Royal family to cut down on deficits. Burnham, Cooper and Kendall cannot certainly make this happen as they have not been accustomed to the fiery Labour leadership following the footsteps of Late Tony Benn and Michael Foot. Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, have seen them from close, and heading towards the end of his political career, he will not be limited by myopic personal career aspirations, as the other three would. Jeremy Corbyn, as he entered the leadership arena at a later stage, was best poised to pick up the baton and sort the party straight. Some rejoiced at the idea, including myself, but many others saw red. 
 
And indeed they saw red, metaphorically, as the political views of Mr Corbyn in reshaping Labour is much radical, and the media was not late branding him left wing. Jeremy Corbyn’s pledges so far, if he were to win the leadership race, are groundbreaking, not just for the Labour Party, but looking forward towards 2020, for Britain. From repealing the decentralisation clauses to proposal of reopening closed mines, to a cap in maximum wage for higher earners, Jeremy Corbyn’s strategies have been seen as anti-market; but it has been hailed by many for the same reason as well. Scathing attack has ensued, not just from the Conservative media, but also from the Media mainly backing Labour such as The Mirror, Guardian and Independent, since Mr Corbyn’s policies don’t belong to any school of political thought known to british public in recent era. The Labour backing media branded him a Commie, and refrain from voting him as it would reduce Labour to a pressure group rather than a political party. Mr Corbyn’s image was projected as an activist than a political leader. However, media’s closeness with the Blairite faction of the Labour Party is well known, and one can remember how the majority of the Labour frontbenchers were ordered by Harriet Herman not to oppose the Tory budget, and most of them followed the order. SNP opposed the bill vociferously and demanded after such a callous show by Labour that SNP should be allowed to sit at the opposition. Remembering that incident, Labour would soon cease to exist as a political party with such dismal performance and utter disregard to people’s trust who voted the MPs in power. 
 
However, a lot of people were able to read between the lines how media represented Jeremy Corbyn and what he truly stood for. Also, media launching an all out attack on Mr Corbyn also clarified another fact — the opposition don’t want him in power as they are afraid of him. Corbyn became a phenomenon over time. Labour Party have seen an unprecedented rise in the leadership applications and affiliations; the numbers were so high that they had to scrutinise the applicants’ profiles to assess if they are real or just joining to vote Jeremy Corbyn with a more sinister intent. Watching the news reports showed an interesting observation, whilst Burnham, Cooper, Kendall trio managed to gather middle to old aged die-hard section of the population, Mr Corbyn on the contrary, attracted masses of youth — his platform for popularity could aptly be attributed to social media, as the rest failed to delve into social media. Opinion polls showed Jeremy Corbyn winning the race by a long way, even if considering the alternative vote system. 
 
It’s not just the young people — termed by the likes of The Mirror, as the Tory trolls or anarchists, but the supports from unions that added a new dimension to Jeremy Corbyn’s chances to win the election. At the time of writing this article, Unison, Britain’s largest union endorsed Mr Corbyn as the next leader.  Considering Labour election is voted by the party as well as the union members, this backing will sway a large number of voters towards Jeremy Corbyn, who previously saw himself as a mere outsider. The union has long had a disagreement with the Labour leadership, since the party policy distanced itself from the interests of the unions such as pay rise, job security etc. Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper has no good relations with the unions either. Therefore, even if Mr Corbyn does not win the election in September against all odds, the new elected leader will have a difficult time negotiating terms with unions, as Labour’s biggest source of revenue, and hence its working capital, is the unions they are backed by. 
 
From an unknown nobody to the front runner for the Labour leadership role — the journey for Jeremy Corbyn has not been very easy, especially when the likes of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling weighed in their opinion against election of Mr Corbyn. It is shameful and shambolic how the senior Labour frontbenchers jumped on the bandwagon criticising Jeremy Corbyn and vowed to oppose in case he was elected. During its desperate existential struggle, what Labour could not afford to do is show its internal differences and feud to general public, and they have just done that —perhaps losing more potential voters. With his political career only spanning London, it made even harder to win support of the rest of England due to obvious public indignation against London in all spheres of British life. Some MPs already vowing rebellion from the day he was elected as the Labour leader, if it were to happen. The Daily Mirror correspondent Paul Routledge suggested Andy Burnham should be voted for he wears a tie and white shirt, is clean shaven and telegenic. The sensationalist reporting which was a characteristic of the right wing media has infiltrated and contaminated the reporting on the liberal spectrum of British news reporting as well. Labour opponent,s in their bid to stop Mr Corbyn, tried to put far stricter acceptance criteria for the unprecedented wave of new applications. Guardian and Independent, on the contrary, reported views for and against the future of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn regime. With the time of the election fast approaching, the attacks are becoming fiercer, such as the anti-Semitism charges/links which are the additional distractions Mr Corbyn is presently having to defend. 
 
With my wholehearted wishes to Jeremy Corbyn, let’s go back to the first principle of Communist government, which the harbingers, the Soviets union, have flouted more time than anyone else — and it’s about the fact that no person is greater than the party. Whoever wins the election on the 12th September, all supporters can claim in unison, that Labour needed a complete makeover — what it stands for, which part of the population they are representing. However, to identify the problem with Labour today, we need to delve into the British psyche, which has been evolving since the Norman invasion. During the industrial revolution and Colonial expansion, the phenomenal growth seen by the country placed it to one of the most influential countries in the world. Since the Second World War, Britain remained one of the permanent members of the G5, and one of the countries synonymous with soft power in recent times, but the world geopolitics changed shift from the barrel of the gun to the banks and economies. Britain still remained one of the biggest military powers but swing of global economical vortex have already shifted to the East.  Nevertheless, British psyche still believes that they are part of the empire where the sun never sets. Blighted with this misconception, the majority of the British public is still an avid Royalist and seemingly possess, perhaps inadvertently in cases, a selfish vainglorious conservative mindset. From the onset of the Whigs to present Labour, a larger number of supporters are still perhaps disgruntled Conservatives. Also, there are the second category of people, who likes to think they are Labour, as having a benevolent socialist image makes them feel good about life in general, but their social, political, governance views rest at the opposite spectrum from an ideal Labour perspective.
 
The question of ideal Labour itself is dubious. Where do the Labour party stand in the political spectrum? Are they right at the centre, centre left or centre right? How much could the party push itself towards left to attain the optimum balance for maximum votes? These questions are hard to answer but one thing is obvious — making the party a replica of moderated Tory policies would make the party look like a bunch of Tory Zombies, regurgitating Conservative policies in a pretty humanitarian wrapper. It is absolutely unlikely that by doing so, Labour will swing back enough Conservative votes to win the next election. Sadly enough, this vacuous premise is exactly what all three Labour leaders hopefuls but Jeremy Corbyn, are basing their proposed recovery on.  It is even childish to see that these three are talking about selective voting to members in order to eliminate Mr Corbyn. The Labour Party that saw phenomenal leaders over the ages and and play a strong opposition, is now truly reduced to rubble of an undemocratic collection of factions. 
 
However, amid the fan frenzy for Jeremy Corbyn, one still needs to ask questions on his credibility as the future Labour leader. Mr Corbyn has been a vociferous member of parliament involved in a plethora of activities that are more of activism, such as nuclear disarmament, recognition of Palestine etc.  One begs the question, what suddenly inspired Mr Corbyn to stand in for Labour leadership. Is there an ulterior motive behind the decision to stand for the top spot? Once elected, Mr Corbyn will still have to prove to the British public that what he spoke of, will be transformed into action. It needs a different set of skills to lead a country of nearly 70 million from leading an opposition with fiery criticism of the ruling party. Jeremy Corbyn is ideal for the latter, but will he be effective enough for the PM? Does this mean he will have to forego some of his genuine flair or on the other side of the scale, withstand tremendous capitalist market forces — as recently observed for Greece — if he decides to take British economy a left twist? Also, the Tory biased media, apart from a few sporadic reports, have been very quiet on Labour, on the way to be led by a pro-left politician. So is the Conservative Party spokespersons, they are very reticent on this issue. Perhaps they are quietly rejoicing the dogfight at Labour camp and perhaps secretly selecting the cabinet for the 2020, assuming a Corbyn win will push the quasi-conservative British population farther away from Labour, and Tories might even widen their lead. The same could be said about the hundreds of thousands of membership applicants — are they all passionate Labour supporters or just activists voting for Corbyn or worse, Tory trolls thinking of sabotaging Labour, thinking a Corbyn win would deliver a coup de grace to a Labour doom. On the contrary, trying to be over-cautious, would alienate thousands of genuine potential future Party workers/ volunteers/ leaders with an alternative view on how the party would shape in future. 
 
With an eye to the 2020 election, Labour have  mountains to climb. It’s not easy to predict what Mr Corbyn will do as the leader, nor prescribe a policy that would please all. The first step would be to set the pace for the party and the boundary conditions — extremities for the extent of policies. To simplify, if Labour wants to take a lurch towards left, keeping abreast with the ground realities, such as a Bolshevik Revolution will not take the party anywhere, so develop the party strategy to what extent they will be pro-Left. At the same time, on some issues like spending cuts, if the Party had to take some stand, set up limits towards right as well — how much the government would make the working class lose out. The first step would then spell out the cluster of population the Party will stand up for. A left bias will mean the working class people will benefit more from the economy than the large market Giants and conglomerates. Considering 50% of the population belongs to this category, there should be no doubt about rewarding the poor and hard-done public by taxing the rich. Maintaining my stand that British, predominantly English population is pro-Conservative, this is the section of the public, where left wing policies will be challenged most. At the beginning I mentioned that effect of Scottish votes will be discussed later. The proposition of adopting policies more towards left — as much they might be abhorred in England; at Scotland, the same policies will imply more power to Scottish people, less governance from Westminster. Labour may need to assess having a coalition with the SNP rather than fighting them in Scotland. 
 
The next stage would be to create a vision, a set of core policies that a Labour government will be able to deliver, if they won the election in 2020. Defence spending will need to be cut down, and the Trident programme, which has proven so far as the holy grail of the defence ministry with no specific outcome yet, will need to be abandoned. More social housings are needed to be built, which was put to a stop by Thatcher. In infrastructure, promises to open mines may seem a bit far fetched, but if feasible, that will produce more local resources. Projects like HS2 and third runway at Heathrow will all need to be pursued as started by the Tories, though keeping in mind the environmental concerns. Reducing the national debt will be a sour point as everybody will be interested to see the proposal coming out from the Corbyn camp. It is difficult to explain to a person that a reduction in this debt will have no significant impact on their life or the country in general regardless of the measures adopted. In terms of achieving some degree of budget surplus to meet the debts, the revenue will have to come from the businesses and rich 1% of the population, who amass the majority of national wealth. A cap on highest salary and bonus, higher tax rate for the rich, a more stratified tax regime for the public and introduction of mansion tax — these will all result in wiping out the stark differences in people’s lifestyles. If elected, Labour should legislate the living wage in all areas in the UK to become the minimum wage. The above measures, although seemingly helping the bottom 50% of the population immensely, will face fierce criticism from the Tories as well as the market. UK will still continue to be one of the biggest business hubs in Europe, but there will be a heightened mistrust between the government and the businesses, making businesses to look for other tax havens like Gibraltar, Cayman Islands. Privatisation of the government sectors will need to be prevented, at the same time bringing the ones already privatised back under the aegis of the nationalised industry would tantamount turning the clock backwards and may prove retrogressive. From the farce caused by the east coast mainline tender, it is clear that benefits of privatising the railways have not outweighed the drawbacks. The party will have to be more lenient on immigration as well, moving away from tainting all migrants in the same colour. On one hand, admittedly the immigration rules will have to be more flexible for applicants from all countries, Britain should also do more to take migrants coming from war torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — rather than the shameful stance taken by Teresa May and the Tory government in general. Unrest in the world, after all, can be traced back to Cold War, and colonialism before that. Another aspect that Labour failed to grasp in recent times is the multiculturalism — the minorities do not want to be patronised, they understand the differences in custom, culture and values in present British society and keen to lead their lives acknowledging the differences and enrich the country along the process. Labour’s laughable and fake championing of minorities has not only failed to convince the minorities but also alienated the White British working class voters. There are many more ideas that Labour can project as a progressive political party, but this essay is not intended to become a Labour Party manifesto. However, one thing the newly elected leader will need to improve upon is its relationship with unions. In recent years, the more the neo-Thatcherite leaders ascended to the leadership role, the relationship between the party and the unions soured. If Mr Corbyn is elected, under his leadership, the party will have to be more understanding of the issues pursued by unions and back them up more rather than show the present tendency of disowning them yet enjoy running big campaigns with union donations, who are biggest contributor to Labour’s funds. 
 
Based on the foundation formed with these multitude of visions, that need to be radically different from the shadow Tory manifesto the party seems to be working to, it will then be up to all Labour MPs/Councillors/Party workers to adhere to that vision and work as one party towards achieving that target of winning the 2020 election. Although councillors do not have much power these days, small positive steps will definitely have a lasting effect on people’s minds. At the same time, being too ambitious with the socialist agenda will prove difficult to achieve, and this will only result in further public despair. We can refer SMART targets — Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound — all these targets will need to be achieved before the election campaigns begin. This is where the emotion will have to give way to logic, and realise that in this day and age, it is not possible to change a country overnight. 
 
Looking from a socialism perspective, communism is not the only way to achieve an equal society, and the old model is now proven dysfunctional. Also, to make communism work, all countries will need to implement it at the same time, which is absolutely impossible. In today’s world of Interconnected markets, where the market forces are unfortunately more dominant than the governments, a move too radical would destroy the government as well as the party, as seen to have happened for Syriza in Greece. It’s a question of having a radical curriculum spanning much longer than five year spurts but effecting small but positive changes, staying within the vices of the Capitalism, yet using the market to benefit the people left behind.
 
To conclude, 2015 has been the most harrowing year for the Labour Party and the ordeal is not over yet. Following the biggest election defeat, when it seemed that things couldn’t get any worse, the party headed to a precipitous low with the most divisive leader election so far. At least, the party supporters could thank Mr Corbyn, who helped bring this internal feud out in the open. So, when the leadership election is over, the Labour will need to regroup and act as one party, trying to bring the entire Britain together, creating a fair living standard for the poorest and make the richest realise, that if their wealth was built on exploitation of the rest, it becomes a social responsibility to share their wealth to uplift the lives explored. To make this happen, Labour will have to be more upcoming than the Fabian society counterparts would want to, as the Capitalism is moving at a much faster pace. Jeremy Corbyn instilled a fresh breath of new air into the stifling bureaucratic outfit that Labour has become. Remembering an unforgettable line from V for vendetta “Anarchy wears two faces-both creator and destroyer, thus destroyers topple empires, make a canvas of clean rubble where creators can then build a better world. Rubble, once achieved, makes further ruin’s means irrelevant. Away with our destroyers! They have no place in our better world. But let us raise a toast to all our bombers, all our bastards, most unlovely and most unforgivable. Let’s drink their health and then meet with them no more”. This is why Labour needs someone like Mr Corbyn today, to shake the party up, clear up the clutter—the impasse Labour have hit, to show the party it’s true North following footsteps of Michael Foot, Tony Benn or Eric Hobbsbawm. A win in 2020 is still a far-fetched dream, but a Corbyn win will certainly set Labour in the right path…
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