Immigration, Migration

Global refugee crisis: catalysts, stereotypes and challenges for rehabilitation

Prologue: As I am near finishing writing this article, France witnessed the worst ever terrorist attack on its soil. As an immediate reaction, the borders have been shut and there is a public outcry in Europe – not only in the nationalist parties, but amongst general public, to stop Syrian immigrants entering Europe. Rallies held in numerous Eastern European countries as well as in France and the UK, for sending back the refugees waiting to be resettled. The Italian speaking province in Switzerland banned the burqa or niqab. Donald Trump in the US spoke about creating a database for Muslims in the country. Several states in the US revoked the pledge to accept refugees. Greek coastguards were witnessed to be trying to sink boats filled with refugees. The abject discrimination against the Syrian refugees is just one of many examples of the persecutions of the refugees in today’s apparently modern world…

An obituary to Aylan Kurdi

Aylan Kurdi. The entire world now knows the name of this child. His limp innocent body on the seashore of Turkey made us all realise what the refugees are going through, and what losses they are suffering just to give a safe life to their offspring and families. Aylan’s death brought our world to a standstill, and it dawned on us how insensitive our values have become, when it took death of a three year old boy, whose last words to his dad was “Papa, don’t die”, for the world to empathise with the miseries of the refugees and react to the crisis. After a few days of online philanthropy, Aylan’s little body will fade away from our memory, the world will become an indifferent, fragmented place again, where we don’t know and don’t care how lives of other human beings are constantly put under threat in other corners of the world. But I won’t forget you little Aylan Kurdi, your angelic smile, and every time I’ll think of you, I will have tears in my eyes, for your death that was so unnecessary, so cruel, and I will be angry at the world, who watched by as your little hands lost the grip of your father, until the waves carried you to the shore. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but I will say rest in peace little Aylan, you are finally safe, to eternity…

Aylan

Aylan Kurdi’s body found on the Turkish cost Source: WSJ

I am fascinated by anthropology and a recent visit to the Natural History Museum in London opened my eyes to time — the most important dimension we never have the full appreciation of, and the scale of it. When we think that our planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old with geological periods lasting millions of years, during which, dinosaurs have ruled the world and became extinct, and the first human beings only appeared one million years ago — putting that time into perspective, the earliest discovered human civilisation around 8000 years ago means we humans are only a microscopic part of a jigsaw that is our universe. Since the first human beings appeared in Africa, they were eternal ramblers, always looking to voyage for great unknowns and finding pastures green. Driven by the carnal desire for a better habitat, abundance of food or simply evading the conflicts of leadership, these early humans dispersed from Africa to Central Asia, Americas then through Bering Strait into Far East. The stories of migration and exploration of our ancestors fascinate us and make us marvel at the phenomenal progress of the human civilisation since time unknown. Yet, standing in the 21st century, where mankind achieved exponentially since those prehistoric times and pushed the boundaries of human capabilities beyond belief, on the humanitarian front it is shameful that we have not extricated ourselves from the vices and superstitions characteristic of those ancient times. The shameful manifestation of anti-migration views in world’s most advanced countries is a stark example, whereby with these malicious feelings, people are denouncing the very existence of their evolution. Rather than wonder and encourage it, migration has become a stigma of our time. 

Writing about migration is quite contentious as the public opinion seems to be bifurcated — half the population is usually against it and nearly the other half does not know much about it — only leaving a small fraction of people, who actually understand the situation and care about crises. The definition of migration is the first stumbling block. There are so many different words used in the media — migrant, immigrant, refugee, émigré. Without trying to open Oxford dictionary, the broad definition of immigrant denotes a generic term referring anyone living in a foreign country; it does not depend on the reason. On the other hand, popular connotations of an émigré exude a sense of superiority, belonging to the upper echelon of the social tiers of a country, but in real terms they are opposite of immigrants, citizens of a country emigrated abroad mainly for career prospects. The remainder two — migrants and refugees, are the most widely used terms in the context of migration. They both refer to the people leaving a country or region, mainly the places where they were born, in order to live in another country. Although both of these terms can be classified by the noun Migration, the fundamental differences between these two terms have been largely overlooked or purposefully misused by the world media. Whilst migrants are affected by the present situation of their country, the catalyst to move to another country or another part of the world is mainly economical, driven by their ambitions to achieve something for themselves or provide a better future for their future generations. Refugees, on the contrary, are forced to abandon their habitat and move to another country for a safe haven, that their country cannot provide. Migrants are driven by an aspirational issue, whilst refugee or asylum seeking is existential — the survival depends on escaping the habitat — be it from genocide, autocracy, religion, famine, endemic or militias. The burning example of the purposed or erratic misuse of terms referring migration is the context of the Syrian crisis, where the refugees are often referred as migrants. The bias of right wing press is obvious, but the liberal media often followed the bandwagon quoting the millions of homeless victims of religious crossfire between the Assad regime and ISIL as migrants, not refugees. 

Migration and asylum is an issue very close to my heart as my entire life has circled around listening to stories of migration — forced and consensual, or witness the post-migration impacts on refugees’ lives. Both my parents were born in the Indian provinces in post-partition East Pakistan, to be later called Bangladesh. Threatened by the religious genocide between 1947 and 1971, like millions of other Hindu families, my parents fled their troubled homes to India, then struggled all their life to make lives of our generation better. Thus, the stories of their struggle and sufferings made one detest the factors that incited the migration, but on the other hand kindled hope and optimism, provided us a raison d’être to give a meaning to their fight. My parents risked their lives to flee a region becoming exponentially volatile for the sake of their lives and subsequently sacrificed rest of their lives — trying to make our lives free of such trauma, once they found a safe livelihood in India. HOME became a sacred word; my father always wanted to have a house of his own that he could say is home — a sense of belonging to a piece of earth, a dream that has eluded him all his life, and now that I have migrated to the UK pursuing my aspirations, he always asks me to have a home of my own. Like him, I have uprooted myself from the place where I was born, leaving behind everything and everyone known. However, I am a migrant, whilst my father was a refugee, and our account of moving from our country is completely different — I can reminisce the past days through rose-tinted glasses, but for my father, it probably was a time he rather forgot or wished never happened to him. This essay is therefore like a lens, looking through my entire life and building up the hypotheses based on anecdotes, information and experiences gathered along the journey so far.

Refugees from Bangladesh leaving for India Source: muktijoddha.org

Refugees from Bangladesh leaving for India
Source: muktijoddha.org

From time immemorial human migration has been taking place, as our ancestors continuously strived for better living conditions. The modern civilisation in its current form would not exist, had the primordial men and women not migrated. However, limiting our focus only on twentieth century would show what factors instigated migrations and socio-political unbalance. The biggest contributor to the social unrest are two — politics and religion. In most cases these two factors are intertwined, perhaps politics of religion could aptly include the two causes. Regardless of the semantics, politics and religion, the invasive nature of both these factors are incited by wealth. Looking at the single biggest incident that destabilised the entire world — from Middle-East to Americas and Far-East, is Communism. But at the heart of the Communism debate and the Cold War lies the capitalist world’s fear of mass movement of the oppressed to demand their share of the profit. It is Wealth what incited the Cold War and the resultant arms race, that contributed the complete destabilisation of the political system in the Middle-East, the home of the biggest refugee crisis in recent times or the breeding ground for the cause of it — religious fanaticism — through obliteration of any working liberal governance in the region. On the other hand, fall of Soviet Union saw collapse of entire Eastern Bloc countries especially the complete dissolution of the Yugoslavia, creating religious factions all trying to have a land they can claim their own. 

The other biggest component is of course Colonialism — its spectre plagued the entire world. Like politics and religion, colonialism is also fuelled by wealth, perhaps with a more overt correlation. Starting with the Spanish and Portuguese, the hunger for power and wealth soon spread to the rest of the Western Europe during the middle ages. In the modern post-Renaissance era, the worst perpetrators are still the British, but not far behind will be the French, Dutch, Flemish/Belgians, Germans. Whilst many scholars recently argue about the benefits of colonialism to the developing countries, it is without doubt that any such supposed benefits came at a much heftier cost the countries didn’t deserve or choose to pay. There has been mass exodus during these colonial regimes with people trying to flee the atrocities and famines. After WWII, with the cost of running the colonies skyrocketing, the resources thoroughly exploited and depleted and finally the ghost of two great wars haunting the developed world, the rulers left the colonies in ruins having plundered all the resources over hundreds of years. The colonised countries, with the skeleton of infrastructure from their exploited past, became breeding grounds for class division, corruption, nepotism and racial/religious fission. Africa was one of the worst hit continents picking up pieces together to form countries, but managed to be embroiled in bloody tribal wars that has possibly seen the most number of mass migration. Famine, endemics followed suite as a result of unsustainable exploitation of natural and human resources. The Middle-East, already waged into turbulent sectarian conflicts amongst member states were further destabilised by formation of Israel, and the west’s pledge to sponsor its atrocities later on. On the other hand, the sub-continent was scarred forever with religious conflicts. The wave of religious hatred even engulfed the far reaches of Myanmar, where the Bangladeshi Rohingya tribes are forced to migrate to as far as Malaysia to avoid the violence. The Divide and Rule ploy not only split countries, neighbourhoods and families into pieces, but also fuelled the conflict amongst them, in order to profit from the arms deals. It is the biggest mockery of our times that the G8 countries are purported as harbingers of world peace, yet all of them are the biggest arms dealers in the world, responsible for most of the armed conflicts in one way or another!

These are some of the underlying factors that coerce people to move out of their homeland, abandoning their habitat and familiar surroundings for hundreds and thousands of years. Looking at the other side of the spectrum on the refugee crises — regarding the rehabilitation and integration of refugees in the countries they seek shelter in — the situation is much worse. Although not for the reasons we see in today’s world, human migration is an undeniable and unavoidable phenomenon — it will never stop, as the end of it will mean people stopped dreaming and aspiring. It will mean that we have become a defeated race on earth and a superior species will rise to throw us down the precipice of anthropological oblivion. Hence, considering human migration is an unequivocal fact, it would be a completely different story, if people at different corners of the world wanted/was forced to move at another region and their exodus did not encounter any resistance. Looking at the legendary settlers, they moved to barren lands and built civilisations. The nomadic nature of our ancestors is completely undermined in the present society, more so in the so called developed world than the other parts. In an ideal situation, these people need not flee their habitat, but if that can’t be prevented, the next best scenario would be that they all found a safe refuge, and if the countries in the developed world can boast about their social infrastructure, they should be the forerunners in providing shelters for these refugees. 

 Instead, the refugee crises across the world paints picture completely in contrast with what should have happened. The biggest instigators of the migration crises are the ones who are most vociferous against immigration on their land. The hypocrisy of the US, UK and Saudi Arabia in mitigating the Syrian refugee crises are at best shocking, at worst abhorrent. Considering US is not directly affected by the Syrian migration as is Europe, and their pledge to receive some of the Syrian refugees is commendable, the US foreign policy in the Middle East especially backing Israel in the Palestine conflict has long destabilised the balance of the region. UK, the sidekick in the US affairs, has become a myopic xenophobic state under the Tory regime, but the roots go much deeper. Against what is commonly purported as quintessential British values, the public psyche has done a complete volte-face and suddenly became nationalist, utterly intolerant and devoid of any compassion or empathy. The Syrian migration crisis was a perfect platform for the government to prove that it there is still a voice of reason within the party whip, but the decision to take a paltry 20,000 refugees over five years simply quashed that expectation. When millions of Syrian refugees fled the country — being caught on the crossfire between autocratic Assad regime and the ISIL terrorists, the gulf nations played silent bystanders sitting on their petro-dollars. On the other hand, rather than taking refugees or at least sending aides, the astounding decision by Saudi Arabia to build mosques in Germany defeats all reasons. Australia, on the other hand puts any asylum seekers or refugees to other oceanic countries to make them receive financial aid from Australia. With an enormous, albeit not entirely habitable landmass, passing the responsibility to another country is equally brazen.

What the refugees are facing, especially trying to move to a country in the developed world e.g. Europe, US, Australia etc, is extremely inhuman. Their fate is met with the cold calculating political impasse by the countries they seek refuge in or use as an entrepôt en route their final destination. These governments believe in the economy of war, and the politics of fear. Keeping people misinformed and fearful of the refugee situation would then justify armed action, thriving the economy of war. This is why, accepting 20,000 refugees took Britain to think about it for a week, whilst the decision will probably be taken in unison about sending troops in Syria, which will cost millions of taxpayer money. Helping the refugees settle could have made lives of thousands more refugees waiting to be accepted more bearable after the horrific spell they have been through. During the temporary phase of public outcry to support Syrian refugees, there was one banner that became much circulated — you don’t put your children in water if the land was safer. The desperate situation these people are put into, caught in a complicated web of power, politics, religion and wealth; yet, other than countries like Germany and Sweden, with reference to Syrian crisis, what the other developed nations are doing can be termed as tumbleweed.

However, there is a more sinister twist in the situation that will need unveiling more urgently. Governments, and on much wider terms, all mainstream political parties, are the mirrors to the public psyche, and they hardly take a stance for the greater good, when the majority of the population is either unaware or misinformed about the actual situation and are against the policy. Looking at the reluctance of the governments to provide help to the refugees, it is merely a replication of the unwillingness or even the antipathy of the public against the migrants. The rising levels of nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment is not only witnessed in my present residence in the UK, but it is observed everywhere else, where there is a migrant influx in the country. In the UK, it has become a very clichéd practice now, to blame the eastern European migrants as root cause for all problems. Treatment of Syrian refugees in Eastern European countries in recent times was absolutely diabolical. How the men were separated from women and children is a stark reminder of the biggest genocide against migrants in Europe since WWII — Srebrenica — a lesson in history that was pledged never to be repeated. In India, there is a growing voice against people fleeing communalism and religious persecution from neighbouring Bangladesh. Even within the country itself, migrant workers from other states are often targeted by the right-wing local hooligan parties. A common trend emerges from all these snapshots from a wide geographical span — that it is the common working class people, the majority of the population, who are against the refugees migrating to their country. This makes one wonder, why are so many hard working people, who are often characterised by the brother’s keeper mindset, antagonise their counterparts from another part of the country?

The answer lies in the panic-mongering of the political parties and migrants often prove to be the perfect red herring, a scapegoat to divert people’s attention from real issues. In very few societies across the world would one find working class keeping abreast of the current affairs and form their opinion on those issues. In absence of an alternative voice of reason, the capitalist led media diabolically steered the attention to all the crises their economies faced, to migrants. Housing, education, employment, economy — migrants are portrayed as bloodsuckers on all facets, purportedly depriving the citizens of the benefits. This antagonism is served with a twist of past glory — jingoistic nationalism, where everything was hunky dory when the countries/regions were made of indigenous people of same colour, language and religion. With a barrage of such twisted media representation, the working class begins to think that their predicament is somehow attributable to the migrants, not the actual perpetrators in their high citadels. These reportings are bolstered by statistics to make them appear more authentic, whereas the figures are at best misrepresentative at worst fraudulent.  Duped by these statistical figures, the general public saw the data in front of their eyes, and in absence of critically analysing the information or the lack of time for it, a different and alternative image of the refugees starts to build in the eyes of the working class of the country. Refugees are demonised to let the political parties and their cronies in the high echelon of the society continue to carry out more sinister plots to rob the poor. 

There are more to blame than just the media and the politicians. The working class people in any country tend to show tendency of prejudices — be it racial, sexual, cultural or lingual. It is the prejudice of the common people of a country — people the refugees are most likely to interact with — that makes the integration of the immigrants into the society much difficult. And here, the difference between an migrant and a refugee becomes starkly visible. Migrants often possess skills to offer to the host country, and with an income source, although social ostracism couldn’t be avoided, they can ignore it and lead a normal life. On the other hand, refugees — although depending on the crisis they can be from any class in the society — consist of mainly the working class to unskilled class of the population. They are expected to re-educate, retrain and all at the same time whilst they try to resettle in a completely alien land and culture. Remembering tales heard from my dad, to the story of a Hungarian cleaner in London or story of the first Romanian arriving in Britain or the harrowing mistreatment a of the Syrian refugees in Eastern Europe — they all spell the same story of mistrust, vilification and discrimination of the migrant/refugees by the common people in the host country. Apart from being discriminated for being different from the country’s indigenous population, there is also a pressure on the refugees to become like one of the model citizens of the adoptive country — prove their allegiance to the host country at every instant. This is why a Muslim is expected in western world to constantly denounce and castigate any acts of Muslim extremism, whereas no one no one heard a similar plea from every Christian during the Anders Breivik massacre. Likewise, all migrants are expected to don a poppy on Remembrance Day, a Bangladeshi refugee in India is expected to say jal instead of paani for water, a Romanian migrant has to declare to the camera that he is there to work and not to live on benefits.

Also there is another dimension in this conundrum regarding the refugee crisis, which is the racial bias of people — direct or subconscious. The sad and cruel demise of little Aylan Kurdi can never be included for a political justification, but the arrival of Syrian refugees in the doorstep of Europe posed another challenge for the local authorities. In one side there was religion, where communities that are not coherent with people from different religion and cultural background. On the other side there is a preference for race. This is why Syrian refugees have received a much warmer welcome than the ones still waiting in Calais.  One would not fail to notice that despite the threat of extremism, Syrians lack a stereotype image, as opposed to the black African migrants from war torn east Africa. The fact, that the refugees in Calais have been waiting for asylum much longer in inhabitable living conditions, has been completely overlooked by the populist media and politicians alike, due to stereotyping and character profiling of African immigrants. A similar approach was observed during the last Indian general election when the would be prime minister Modi proclaimed that the Hindus in neighbouring Bangladesh are more than welcome to rehabilitate in India if they faced communal violence, but the Muslims won’t be allowed in, despite India being a republic. Even in Europe, the discrimination against Roma tribes are well observed and the lack of media/social uproar exemplifies that the media only broadcasts sensationalist news. The undercurrent of racism against migrants became blatantly obvious during shameful veto in EU by the Eastern European countries, during the discussion of the quota of refugees each member state will need to take. Statements coming from Slovak prime minister that they (Muslims) won’t be welcome in Slovakia because there are no mosques or the Hungarian right wing photographer kicking and trying to trip a Syrian refugee, to Daily Mail likening the refugees to rats as did the Nazi campaigns in 1939, to David Cameron referring refugees to swarms — the hostility of the recipient nations became clear either through action or the choice of words in the context. 
Refugee camp in Calais "Jungle" Source: Independent

Refugee camp in Calais “Jungle”
Source: Independent

There is a counter-argument by various countries against immigration. Why would a country accept refugees? A country has limited resource, living space and social infrastructure that cannot be widely altered within a short time span. Based on the resource constraints, a country cannot take more refugees beyond a sustainable number. However, this needs to be measured as a direct difference between the people arriving in the country and the citizens emigrating — not the net value of the immigration. “We are full, there is no more space” may be a compelling argument for the UK for the limited habitable landmass, but certainly not for the US or mainland Europe or the subcontinent. But answering why a country should provide refuge to the immigrants, the focus cannot be the based on just geography and economy. The first question to be asked is whether any recipient country is directly or indirectly responsible for causing or aggravating the situation. If the answer is yes then it becomes a direct responsibility of that country to help out the refugees sacrificing their entire life. For example it becomes a direct responsibility of the US to support the Palestine refugees caused by Israel, empowered by a divisive US foreign policy. Or in case of Syria, although Turkey is involved indirectly, they are also the home for the biggest refugees with the numbers surpassing 1.5 million. However, beyond such examples, all countries should reach out for helping the refugees on humanitarian grounds alone. Without being directly involved, Germany will accept close to a million refugees being a responsible member of the EU to stop innocent people die. Sweden’s pledge to receive hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees also demonstrates that despite the dismal turn of events the refugees went through, thanks to countries like Germany, Sweden, Turkey or Jordan, a large number of displaced immigrants have found rehabilitation and a new beginning to regain the rhythm of life back. On the contrary, the gross ignorance of the governments of UK and Eastern Europe as well as the mistreatments by the authorities in Greece and Hungary paints a dire picture, where countries either not taking up the responsibility or totally indifferent to the trauma and persecutions faced by these refugees. 

However, as mentioned above, there are silver linings in this dreary situation, by looking at the positive message portrayed by actions of various countries. Apart from Germany and Scandinavia, whilst the government reaction was otherwise abysmal, general public welcomed the Syrian refugees with a lot more generosity. Despite a large part of the population in every country being sceptical about migrants, a considerably large part of the population in every country in Western Europe welcomed the refugees with open arms, and went to great lengths to help them. Starting from a welcome message of solidarity across football stadiums to people sending essential necessity goods to the refugees in their van driving thousand kilometres — the extent of help received was spellbinding. Apart from general public, the charities and non-profit organisations have been tirelessly working to provide the basic necessities such as water, tents, warm clothes, medicines. In the UK, wherever the right wing groups attempted to convene a rally opposing the intake of refugees, their malicious voices were doused by considerably large contingents of the liberal members of the society, the #refugeeswelcome movement filled in the entire Trafalgar square with equal spontaneity as it did in the social media. Whilst the western Europe is still ignorant on other refugees waiting for months, even years, in the camps in Calais, the aids extended to the Syrian refugees will certainly provide more impetus on other countries around the world. Despite being in a much weaker economic situation, a parallel could be observed in the subcontinent during past few decades, where the Bengali society in the Indian part of Bengal has long been supporting all the refugees coming from eastern part presently known as Bangladesh. As I witnessed throughout my life, despite the cultural dissimilarities, the members of the society created a space common to all, making everyone equally welcome.

So, what will happen to the millions of refugees, uprooting themselves from the land of their origin, setting off to a far flung place? Will our ever expanding horizon of knowledge and humanity eradicate the utterly unfair marginalisation of the unfortunate refugees? Will the precursors to the forced human movement across the globe be eliminated, so the existential migration become an antiquated phenomenon? Part of the answer is held in the history. Looking back in history, it paints the most optimistic picture on the crisis. History is a greatest leveller. In essence, it proved the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest, whilst creating a human race superior to the previous generations. Human race, since time immemorial has fought many battles for survival and it became stronger with every conquest. Old civilizations perish away whilst the new ones flourish. The melting pot of the Syrian refugee crisis  — the Middle-East, has once been the prosperous place where the entire western and Indic population originated from – Assyria, Persia, Mesopotamia, Sumer – these places have been decimated to rubbles. Past glory of Roman and Greek empire faded away over thousands of years. Now, Greece is a state asking for handouts from the IMF whilst Italy is not far behind. On the other hand, the rise of the East in the recent past was phenomenal, after a long hiatus. And during all these periods, human civilisation never stalled, and it survived. There is already a tendency for the skilled workforce to be emigrating to the East from the western world, contrary to the trend observed previously. Although this is not overwhelming, the movement is palpable. As for the refugees, who are forced to migrate influenced by other determinants, the biggest obstacle amongst their way is religion and illiteracy. And the lack of wealth. Even in the 21st century, we are divided as we have been 2000 years ago. Unless UN plays a big part in bringing all countries under one umbrella and have a holistic plan on how to tackle the problems globally, the situation will take a long time to stabilise. The UN motion in recent past to eradicate ISIL was a landmark step forward to reinstate some balance and equilibrium in the Middle-East and North Africa, the source of the biggest refugee crisis. The answer lies with us, the rest of the world. If we play a role of mere spectators, this will take decades if not centuries to stabilise and elevate the living standards of millions of refugees. Those who survived the perilous passage to a safe abode, their life  has just began after passing through the numerous barbed wire fences we call borders, overcoming the threats of sea, deserts and mountains. Their new life perhaps consists of a suitcase full of clothes and a heart full of hope — hope to make a new beginning. 

Human migration is a tour de force, an unavoidable phenomenon. This is how the world is shaped to the world we live in — a connected entity from pockets of civilisations sprouting at different corners of earth since prehistoric times. Migration has taught us to be resilient against all adversities — natural or human. It taught us to be adaptive, to innovate and evolve. We pushed our boundaries with every voyage made, every new land found, every civilisations formed. Remembering a  documentary about the Sentinelese people, bolstered the fact that if the first humans did not migrate, we would still be living in Stone Age— being hunter gatherers. Not blinkered by countries or religions – these tales of eternal explorative nature of the human race makes us proud of our lineage. Although the persecutions suffered by the refugees are inhuman, their stories are not short of a modern day version of the fairy tales, exemplifying their grit and sacrifice, their courage under fire. As much as their sufferings make us angry, and helpless, their tales rekindle our hope on humanity. It reinforced a belief that the humans will progress, eradicating all evils. Like Huns or Nazis, ISIL will be history, intolerance will be history, boundaries will be history, as will our language and religion  following the path of human development. We will not witness any more lifeless Aylan Kurdi’s floating ashore. This fills us with hope for a better tomorrow, for we are the perpetual nomads. We can stand together for the refugees, as we are the migrants ourselves. Ignoring this would be tantamount to abnegating our human existence.

Post Script: If one ever wonders how they could support refugees in their locality or remotely, the options are limitless. Perhaps the short list below would provide some ideas how they can be helped and showed solidarity and compassion.

•  They need essential supplies – food, clothes, sanitation. Send money or buy items they require. 
•  Preferably use charities or non-profit organisations for sending money, and GiftAid it to make the contributions bigger.
•  Send used clothes through charities.
•  If possible, do volunteering work in shelters.
•  Donate books for children, and toys.
•  Share the spare room to house a refugee until they are offered asylum.
•  Sign petitions for the governments to act on them and spread awareness on social media.
•  The last but not the least, if you cannot do any of the above, at least show solidarity towards the refugees as fellow human beings. They might not be aware of cultures and custom of your country yet, and with the trauma of being uprooted, it takes a long time to acclimatise. Be courteous to them at social surroundings when you come across the refugees, and be patient. A smile can make a massive difference on how welcome they feel to your society.

Further reads:

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calcutta, History

কলকাতার একাল সেকাল — অন্তিম পর্ব ১৯০০-১৯৮০

লেখাটা শুরু করেছিলাম কলকাতা নিয়ে আমার যা যা স্মৃতি আছে সেগুলো বয়ান করার জন্য। দেখতে দেখতে সেই লেখা হয়ে দাঁড়ালো কলকাতার তিনশ বছরের ইতিহাসে। ইতিহাসে কোনো আগ্রহ স্কুলে থাকার সময় একদম ছিলনা, পরে ইতিহাস জানার ইচ্ছে হলেও দেখলাম ইতিহাস আসলে হলো যে যেরকম করে বলতে চায় তার বলা গল্প। আগের দুটো পরিচ্ছদে কলকাতা নিয়ে যা লিখলাম সেটা আমার ভার্সন বলা যেতেই পারে, বিভিন্ন বিচ্ছিন্ন ঘটনা আর তথ্যের সঙ্কলন। যা শুরু করেছি তা শেষ অবধি চালিয়ে যাব বলেই মনস্থির করলাম, তাই এই লেখাটা কলকাতার আধুনিক যুগ নিয়ে, তবে রেঞ্জটা ১৯৮০ তেই শেষ করব।  বাকি অংশটা অন্য আরেক লেখায় লিখব, আমার নিজের স্মৃতি থেকে, বেদের মত চর্বিতচর্বন করে নয়।  

বিংশ শতকের গোড়ার কলকাতা বলতে গেলে অতীতের কঙ্কাল, ইস্ট ইন্ডিয়া কোম্পানির কলকাতাকে ঘিরে গড়ে তোলা সাম্রাজ্য তখন শেষের দিকে। আঠার শতকের সেই লন্ডনকে টেক্কা দেয়া বিত্ত বৈভব তখন প্রায় লুপ্ত, উত্তর কলকাতার বাবুসমাজও তখন অবক্ষয়ের পথে।  কোম্পানিকে ভর করে সঞ্চিত সম্পদ অপব্যয় করে তাদের অবস্থা পড়তির দিকে। বরং সমাজে চালকের জায়গা করে নিয়েছে উচ্চবংশের উচ্চশিক্ষিত মানুষজন, তবে আগের দুই শতকে যা খুব কম দেখা গেছে সেই সাধারণ ঘরের অতি মেধাবী মানুষেরাও তখন একাসনে অবস্থান করে নিয়েছে। ১৮৮৫ সালে গড়ে ওঠা কংগ্রেসের হাত ধরে জাতীয়তাবাদী আন্দোলনও শুরু হয় উনিশ শতকের শেষের দিকে। ১৯০৫ সালে লর্ড কার্জন ঠিক করলেন বাংলার এই জাতীয়তাবাদী চিন্তার উত্থান বন্ধ করার জন্যে বাঙলা-বিহার-উড়িষ্যা কে দুই ভাগে ভাগ করা হবে।  সারা ভারত তার প্রতিবাদে সোচ্চার হয়ে উঠল, যার প্রধান বিরোধিতা হলো কলকাতাকে কেন্দ্র করেই। বহু প্রতিবাদ বিরোধ জনআন্দোলনের পর ব্রিটিশ সরকার বঙ্গভঙ্গ রদ করে।  কিন্তু সেই Divide  and Rule এর যে বিষ ছড়িয়ে দিয়ে গেল ব্রিটিশ সরকার সেই ছ বছরে, তার জের এখনো হাজার হাজার হিন্দু মুসলমান পরিবার ভোগ করে চলেছে। ১৯১১ সালে বঙ্গভঙ্গ রদ করার সাথে সাথে ব্রিটিশরা তাদের রাজধানী সরিয়ে নিয়ে গেল দিল্লিতে, স্বাধীনতা সংগ্রামের আঁচ যাতে সরকারের গায়ে না লাগে।  দুশ বছরেরও বেশিকাল ধরে যে কলকাতাকে ব্রিটিশরা গড়ে তুলেছিল বানিজ্যিক স্বার্থসিদ্ধির জন্যে, বাংলা বিহার উড়িষ্যা অসমের কাঁচামাল হরণের পর তার প্রয়োজন তখন ফুরিয়েছে, আর কলকাতার সেই তিলোত্তমা রূপও তখন আর নেই – কলকাতা মানে তখন এক পূতিগন্ধময় অস্বাস্থ্যকর Black Hole।

কলকাতার গল্প তো এখানেই শেষ হতে পারত, অতীতের সেই সোনার দিনগুলো পেরিয়ে সে তখন কাতারে কাতারে মানুষের ভারে ন্যুব্জ এক শহর, যার তুলনা হতে পারতো মেসোপটেমিয়ার ব্যাবিলন বা উর। না, কলকাতা সেখানে থেমে যায়নি, বরং রাজধানী খেতাব থেকে মুক্তি পেয়ে বোধহয় আপন খেয়ালে নিজের গতিতে এগিয়ে চলেছে।  তার প্রধান কারণ অবশ্যই যে ব্রিটিশ রাজধানী হবার সূত্রে যে পরিকাঠামো গত দুই শতকে তৈরী হয়ে ছিল, তার প্রভাব বিন্দুমাত্রও ক্ষুণ্ণ হয়নি, অন্তত রাজধানী বদলের সাথে সাথে তো নয়ই।  কলকাতা তখন বেঙ্গল প্রেসিডেন্সির রাজধানী, তাই তার রাজনৈতিক প্রভাব বা তাৎপর্য ব্রিটিশদের কাছে তখনও অশেষ। তার সাথে যোগ হবে কলকাতার রাজনৈতিক সাংস্কৃতিক বিজ্ঞান ইত্যাদি ক্ষেত্রে সাফল্যের তুঙ্গে উত্তরণ। রবীন্দ্রনাথ আশুতোষ জগদীশচন্দ্র প্রফুল্লচন্দ্র সি ভি রমন বিবেকানন্দ প্রমুখ মানুষের  অবদানের পথ ধরে কলকাতার উনিশ শতক থেকে কুড়ির শতকে পা রাখা। ১৯০৫ সালে বঙ্গভঙ্গের পর স্বদেশী আন্দোলনের জোয়ারে প্রফুল্লচন্দ্র গড়লেন বেঙ্গল কেমিকেল যা এখনো বাঙালির ঘরে ঘরে।  ১৯০৮ অলিম্পিক এ শোভাবাজার এর নর্মান প্রিচার্ড  সোনা পেলেন, ১৯১৩য় রবীন্দ্রনাথ পেলেন প্রথম এশীয় নোবেল। ১৯১১ সালে মোহনবাগান ইতিহাস সৃষ্টি করলো প্রথম ভারতীয় ফুটবল দল যারা ব্রিটিশদের বিরুদ্ধে জয়লাভ করে।  এসব তথ্য এখন হয়ত কেবলই পরিসংখ্যান অথবা কুইজের প্রশ্ন কিন্তু সেই সময়ে ফিরে গেলে কলকাতার যে আমূল পরিবর্তন ঘটছিল দুশ বছর পুরনো এক ঔপনিবেশিক সত্ত্বার প্রভাব কাটিয়ে দেশীয় স্বাধীন চিন্তা এবং মেধার উন্মেষে তা এককথায় অভূতপূর্ব আর বিস্ময়কর। 

প্রথম বিশ্বযুদ্ধের পর থেকে ভারত স্বাধীন হওয়া অবধি কলকাতার ইতিহাসের ঘটনাপ্রবাহ মূলত স্বাধীনতা আন্দোলনকে ভিত্তি করে।  ক্ষুদিরাম প্রাফুল্ল চাকি থেকে শুরু করে সেই বিপ্লবী প্রতিবাদ জারি রয়ে গেল বারীন ঘোষ, চিত্তরঞ্জন, অরবিন্দ, নেতাজি সুভাষ যতীন দাস বিনয় বাদল দীনেশ এঁদের মধ্যে। গোটা ভারতের মত কলকাতাও সেই জ্বালাময়ী সময়ের সাক্ষী বিশেষ করে স্বাধীনতা আন্দোলনের পুরোধা হিসেবে চিহ্ণিত হয়ে থাকবে সারা বাংলা। এই স্বাধীনতা সংগ্রামীদের সবার দান অশেষ আর প্রত্যেকের অবদান নিয়েই এক একটা গোটা অধ্যায় লিখে ফেলা যায় কাজেই স্বাধীনতা আন্দোলনের ভূমিকা কলকাতার পরবর্তীকালের ইতিহাসের পক্ষে অপরিসীম হলেও সে বিষয়ে আর গভীর আলোচনায় জড়ালাম না।

এরই মাঝে মাঝে কিছু বিক্ষিপ্ত কিন্তু গুরুত্বপূর্ণ ঘটনা যা আজকের কলকাতার উত্থানের সাথে নিবিড় ভাবে জড়িয়ে সেগুলো তুলে ধরলাম। ১৯২৪ সালে কলকাতা অবশেষে পেল সেই অপূর্ব মর্মর সৌধ যার ভিত্তিপ্রস্তর ইংলন্ডের রাজা ষষ্ঠ জর্জ করে গিয়েছিলেন ১৯০৬ সালে – ভিক্টোরিয়া মেমোরিয়াল। কলকাতায় এখনো কেউ আসলে যদি জিগ্গেস করে কি কি দ্রষ্টব্য ছাড়া চলবেনা, ভিক্টোরিয়া সেই তালিকায় একদম প্রথমে থাকবে। প্রায় একশ বছর পেরিয়েও এই সৌন্দর্য আর লাবন্যে বিন্দুমাত্র ভাঁটা পড়েনি। এই ১৯২৪ সালেই কলকাতা কর্পোরেসানের প্রথম মেয়র হলেন চিত্তরঞ্জন দাশ।  এর কিছুদিন পরেই এসে উপস্থিত হলেন এক যুগোস্লাভিয় সেবিকা, যাঁর নাম এখন কলকাতার পরিচয়ের সাথে সমার্থক। সুদুর লাতিন আমেরিকার, দূর প্রাচ্যের ক্যাথোলিক দেশগুলিতেও কলকাতার নাম ছড়িয়ে দেয়ার পেছনে এই মহিয়সী মহিলার আত্মদান অনস্বীকার্য —  মাদার টেরেসা। ১৯৪৩ সালে দ্বিতীয় বিশ্বযুদ্ধের মাঝে গঙ্গার দুকুল বাঁধা পড়ল কারিগরী বিদ্যার এক অসাধারণ উদাহরণে। হাওড়া ব্রিজ আজও মানুষের মনে বিস্ময় জাগায় কোন নাটবল্টু ছাড়া কেবলমাত্র রিভেট দিয়ে গড়া এই সেতু কেমন করে আজও এই বিপুল পরিমান যানবাহন বহন করে চলেছে। এই সময়ের কলকাতা যেমন দেখেছে প্রগতি আর সাফল্য তেমনই ক্ষণেক্ষণে ঢেকে গিয়েছে দুঃশঙ্কার মেঘে। বিদেশীদের divide and rule নীতির কবলে পরে হিন্দু মুসলমানের মধ্যে যে বিভেদের বিষ ছড়িয়ে গেল, তার সাক্ষ্য বহন করবে একের পর এক সাম্প্রদায়িক দাঙ্গা, ১৯৪৬ সালের দাঙ্গার বলি হলো সবচেয়ে বেশি মানুষ। কলকাতার পুরনো কিছু ছবিতে দেখেছি রাস্তায় রাস্তায় ছড়িয়ে থাকা লাশ হিংস্র ধর্মান্ধতার আর সাম্রাজ্যবাদের শিকার। বিশ্বযুদ্ধের সময় গোঁড়া সাম্রাজ্যবাদী ঔপনিবেশিক ব্রিটিশ প্রধানমন্ত্রী চার্চিলের উপহার কলকাতার মন্বন্তর যেখানে লাখে লাখে মানুষ অনাহারে প্রাণ হারায় খাদ্যের যোগান থাকা সত্তেও। ১৯৪১ এ ২২শে শ্রাবণ চলে গেলেন কবিগুরু, কলকাতা তথা বাংলার সাহিত্য জগতে এক বিশাল শুন্যতার সৃষ্টি করে।  আর কিছু বছর পর, ১৯৪৫ য়ে জাপান যাবার পথে অন্তর্ধান হয়ে গেলেন ভারতীয় সশস্ত্র স্বাধীনতা সংগ্রামের পুরোধা নেতাহী সুভাষ যাঁর অন্তর্ধান আজও এক রহস্য।  এই সব টানাপোড়েনের মাঝে ১৯৪৭ সালে এল সেই দিন, যার জন্যে সারা ভারতের মাতা কলকাতাও অপেক্ষা করে ছিল অনন্ত কাল, নতুন ভারতের পটভূমিতে সূচনা হল কলকাতার নতুন রূপান্তরের।  ঔপনিবেশিক অতীতকে ভিত্তি করে, এক স্বাধীন দেশের স্বাধীন মানুষের উদ্দেশ্যে সেই রূপান্তর।

স্বাধীনতা পরবর্তী কলকাতা যে রাতারাতি এক সম্পূর্ণ পরিবর্তীত মহানগরে পরিনত  হবে সেই আশা কেউই করেনি। তখনকার কলকাতা প্রাণে ভারতীয় হলেও প্রাতিষ্ঠানিক সরকারি কার্যকলাপে তখনও বিদেশী, ব্রিটিশ শাসকরা চলে গেলেও অধিকাংশ শিল্প বানিজ্য প্রতিষ্ঠান তখনও চালাচ্ছে ব্রিটিশরা। এছাড়া স্বাধীনতার পরে দেশভাগের সাথে সাথে কাতারে কাতারে হিন্দু পরিবার পূর্ব পাকিস্তান থেকে চলে আসে পশ্চিমবঙ্গে, আর স্বভাবতই রোজগারের আশায় বেশির ভাগই হাজির হয় কলকাতায়। কলকাতার তখনকার নগর পরিকাঠামো এই জনসংখ্যা বিস্ফোরণের জন্যে বিন্দুমাত্রও প্রস্তুত ছিলনা, কিন্তু তখনকার কলকাতায় সম্প্রসারণের জায়গা ছিল প্রচুর। হাজার হাজার উদ্বাস্তু মানুষের ঠাঁই হলো কলকাতার দক্ষিনে যোধপুর যাদবপুর টালিগঞ্জ বেহালা বেলেঘাটা ইত্যাদি এলাকায়। এই বিপুল পরিমান মানুষের মাথা গোঁজার জায়গা করে দেয়ার জন্যে সরকার অনেক ফ্ল্যাট তৈরির কাজে হাত লাগলেও, বেশির ভাগই তৈরী করে নিল নিজেদের আশ্রয় জমি দখল করে বস্তি বানিয়ে। তুলনামূলক ভাবে অবস্থাপন্ন বাঙালরা গেল আর একটু উত্তরে, বালিগঞ্জ কালিঘাট ভবানীপুরের দিকে, প্রধানত এপার বাংলার মানুষদের এলাকার সীমানায়। পূর্বের বাঙাল আর পশ্চিমের ঘটি এই দুই বিপরীত সংস্কৃতির মানুষের এই প্রথম বিপুল হারে সংমিশ্রন। ভাষা আচার জীবনযাপনের যে চরম বৈষম্য ছিল প্রথমের দিকে, সেটা সম্পূর্ণ দূর হতে লেগেছে আরো কয়েক দশক, কিন্তু এই দুই সংস্কৃতির মিশ্রনে কলকাতার বাঙালি সমাজ এক নতুন এবং অনন্য মাত্রা পেল।  স্বাধীনতার পর থেকে বাংলাদেশ স্বাধীন হওয়া এবং আরো বেশ কিছু বছর পর অবধি আরো প্রচুর মানুষ প্রানের ভয়ে বা জীবিকার সন্ধানে পূর্ব বাংলা থেকে বাসা গুটিয়ে এসে উপস্থিত হয়েছে কলকাতায়, আর এই শহর তাদের গ্রহণ করেছে সানন্দে। নিউ ইয়র্ককে লোকে বলে big apple কিন্তু কলকাতা যে পরিমান মানুষের খাদ্য বস্ত্র বাসস্থানের উপায় করে দিয়েছে সে হিসেব খুঁজে পাওয়া দুস্কর। তার পরিবর্তে এই শহর পেয়েছে তার অনন্য পরিচয়। এ শহর ঘটির নয়, বাঙালের নয়, দেশ স্বাধীনের পর রয়ে যাওয়া হাজার হাজার অ্যাংলো ইন্ডিয়ানের নয়, চিনে দর্জি, ইহুদি পারসী আর্মেনীয় ব্যবসায়ীদের নয় নয় জীবিকার খোঁজে আশা বিহারী ঠেলাওয়ালা উড়ে ঠাকুর মারোয়ারী ব্যবসায়ীর — এ শহর এদের সবার সম্মেলনে গড়ে ওঠা এক অনবদ্য সৃষ্টি, যার ইতিহাস হাজার হাজার বছরের পুরনো নয় কিন্তু ভাষা ধর্ম জাতির বৈচিত্রে কলকাতার সমগোত্রের মহানগরী ভারতে কেন সারা পৃথিবীতে বিরল। 

এই বিপুল সংখ্যক জনগণ কলকাতায় আসার পরিপ্রেক্ষিতে আরো একটা ঘটনা ঘটছিল স্বাধীনতার আগে থেকেই কিন্তু ১৯৪৭ এর পরে তার হার অনেকগুণ বেড়ে গেল। ভারতবর্ষে কম্যুনিস্ট মার্ক্সবাদী দর্শন এবং রাজনীতির পথিকৃৎ বলতে গেলে মানবেন্দ্রনাথ রায়।  জমিদার সামন্ততন্ত্রের অবসান ঘটিয়ে সাধারণ খেটে খাওয়া মানুষের অধিকার দাবি করার প্রস্তাব বিশেষ করে ভারতবর্ষের মত বৈষম্যমূলক দেশে সাধারণ মানুষের কাছে প্রবল সমর্থন পেতে লাগলো। বিশেষ করে দেশভাগের পর যখন ভারতে রাজনৈতিক দল বলতে কংগ্রেস ছাড়া আর কারো নাম করা যায়না আর কংগ্রেস তখন কুলীন জনগনের পার্টি আম জনতার নয়।  এই পটভূমিতে কলকাতায় বামপন্থী আন্দোলনের সূত্রপাত হয় স্বাধীনতার পর পরই যার চূড়ান্ত পরিনতি হলো বামপন্থী দলের ১৯৭৮ সালে পশ্চিমবঙ্গে ক্ষমতায় আসীন হওয়া। ষাটের দশকে গোটা বিশ্বের বামপন্থী আন্দোলনের হাওয়া কলকাতাতেও চরম ভাবে প্রতিফলিত হয় যার হাত ধরে এলো কলকাতার দ্বিতীয় সাংস্কৃতিক রেনেসাঁস ও উদারনৈতিক দৃষ্টিভঙ্গির বিকাশ। সাহিত্যে সুনীল সমরেশ শীর্ষেন্দু শক্তি চলচ্চিত্রে সত্যজিত ঋত্ত্বিক মৃনাল সেন অভিনয়ে উত্তম সুচিত্রা সৌমিত্র উৎপল দত্ত সঙ্গীতে মান্না দে সলিল চৌধুরী এঁদের হাত ধরে বাঙালির যে চরম বুদ্ধিগত উত্তরণ ঘটে এই সময় তার মূলে ছিল বামপন্থী আন্দোলন এবং উদারিকরনের আহ্বান। সেই আন্দোলনের সাংস্কৃতিক বিস্তারে কলকাতার অবদান অনস্বীকার্য। ধর্মতলা কলেজ স্ট্রীট পার্ক স্ট্রীট এককথায় সমগ্র মধ্য এবং দক্ষিন কলকাতা এই নতুন সীমানাহীন জীবনের হাতছানিকে বাস্তবে রুপান্তরের অভিযানের কেন্দ্রে।

বামপন্থী আন্দোলনের তাত্ত্বিক এবং সাংস্কৃতিক আন্দোলনে কলকাতার তরুণ প্রতিভারা নেতৃত্বে থাকলেও আসল লড়াইটা চলছিল সমস্ত বাংলায়, কৃষক শ্রমিক মজুরদের হাত ধরে।  একই ভাবে কলকাতার শহরতলীতেও সেই প্রতিবাদী বামপন্থী আন্দোলনের কৃতিত্ত্ব লেখক শিল্পীদের সাথে সাথে সেই অগুন্তি অদৃশ্য মানুষদের যাদের এতদিন কোনো ভাষা ছিলনা।  মিছিল ধর্মঘট অবস্থান ঘেরাও সব বিভাগে কম্যুনিস্ট আন্দোলনের যে জোয়ার কলকাতাকে ভাসিয়ে নিয়ে গিয়েছিল ষাটের দশকে সেখানে বড় ভূমিকা ছিল কলকাতার সেই উদ্বাস্তু পূর্ববঙ্গীয় সম্প্রদায়ের।  যাদবপুর বিজয়্গড় লেক গার্ডেন্স টালিগঞ্জ বালিগঞ্জ ইত্যাদি এলাকায় উদ্বাস্তু মানুষদের কলোনিগুলো হয়ে উঠলো সেই প্রতিবাদ আন্দোলনের মূল কেন্দ্র। পূর্ববঙ্গ থেকে আসা এই মানুষরা ভারতে এসেছিল সবকিছু খুইয়ে, কলকাতায় তাদের আশ্রয় বলতে অস্বাস্থ্যকর একচালা ঘর, জীবনধারনের জন্য প্রত্যেকদিন লড়াই।  এই অবস্থায় তৎকালীন সোভিয়েত রাশিয়ার সাম্যবাদ এই মানুষদের আবার স্বপ্ন দেখতে শিখিয়েছিল বৈষম্যমুক্ত এক সমাজের। 

এই ছবিটা আমূল পাল্টে গেল সত্তরের দশকে। বাংলাদেশের মুক্তিযুদ্ধ ও স্বাধীনতা বাধ্য করলো লাখে লাখে হিন্দু পরিবারকে বাংলাদেশ থেকে ভারতে চলে আসতে। সবাই যে আসতে পেরেছিল তা নয়, তবু কলকাতার জনসংখ্যা এই সময় যেমন হঠাত এক লাফে অনেকগুণ বেড়ে গেল, তেমনি বিশ্বজুড়ে বামপন্থী আন্দোলনের নুতন ভাঙাগড়ার প্রভাব এসে পৌছালো কলকাতার অলিগলিতেও। এক শ্রেণী চাইছিল সশস্ত্র সংগ্রাম বলশেভিক বিপ্লবের মত বা মাওয়ের পথ অনুসরণ করে।  অন্য দল ছিল তখনও রাশিয়াবাদী, তাত্ত্বিক বামপন্থাকে প্রশ্ন করা মানেই প্রতিক্রিয়াশীল ছাপ পড়ে যাওয়া। এই টানাপোড়েনের মাঝে শুরু হলো নকশালবাড়ি আন্দোলন, যার আঁচ কলকাতাকেও গ্রাস করে নিল সাথে সাথে। শুরু হয়ে গেল প্রবল গোষ্ঠীদ্বন্ধ, ছেচল্লিশয়ের দাঙ্গার পর আবার এক রক্তাক্ত অধ্যায়। ১৯৭২ সালে মুখ্যমন্ত্রী হলেন সিদ্ধার্থশঙ্কর রায়।  নকশাল বিপ্লব দমন করতে তিনি তাদের চেয়েও ক্রুর ভূমিকা নিলেন যেটা উদ্দেশ্যপ্রণোদিত ছিল কিনা জানা নেই। শুরু হয়ে গেল পুলিশের তত্ত্বাবধানে রাজনৈতিক হত্যা, গুপ্ত হত্যা, নকশালদের হাতে পুলিশ আর সিপিএম খুন, সিপিএমের হাতে নকশাল খুন, কংগ্রেস আর পুলিশের হাতে নকশাল আর সিপিএম খুন। অবশেষে এসবের অবসান ঘটিয়ে ১৯৭৭ সালে সেই প্রায় কুড়ি বছরের আন্দোলনের ফল হিসেবে সিপিএম এলো ক্ষমতায় — তবে নকশাল পিরিয়ড চলেছিল আরও অনেক বছর ধরে, সিপিএম ক্ষমতায় আসার পরেও।

কলকাতার স্বাধীনতা পরবর্তী ইতিহাস লিখতে গিয়ে সেটা দাঁড়াল রাজনৈতিক ইতিহাসে কিন্তু কলকাতার নিঃশ্বাস প্রশ্বাসে জড়িয়ে আছে রাজনীতি তাই এর চেয়ে সহজভাবে এই তিরিশ বছরের  ঘটনাবলী লেখা যেতনা। রাজনীতি ছাড়া অন্যান্য ক্ষেত্রে কলকাতার গতিবিধি নজর করে নেয়া যাক এক ঝলকে। স্বাধীনতার পর থেকে বিপুল পরিমান মানুষের সমাগম কলকাতার নগর পরিকাঠামোর উপর অসীম চাপ সৃষ্টি করে।  বিধান রায়ের স্বপ্নের প্রকল্প সল্টলেক এলাকায় নির্মান কাজ শুরু হয় ১৯৫৮ সালে। জলাজমি ভরিয়ে গড়ে ওঠা সেই উপনগরিতে তখন মানুষ যাবার কোন আগ্রহই দেখায়নি, তবু দুই দশক পরে যখন কলকাতার পথব্যবস্থা প্রায় অচল, প্রচুর পরিকল্পনা করে গড়ে তোলা এই উপনগরী তখন ধরাছোঁয়ার বাইরে। তবু যারা সল্টলেকে থাকার সিদ্ধান্ত নিয়েছিলেন বেশির ভাগই প্রতিষ্ঠিত মানুষ জমি এবং বাড়ি তৈরির মূলধন তাদের তখন ছিল।  তবে সল্টলেকে সরকারি কিছু ফ্ল্যাটও তৈরী হয় সাধারন নিম্নবিত্ত মানুষদের জন্য। একইভাবে বলা যেতে পারে দক্ষিণ কলকাতার বিস্তৃতি। বালিগঞ্জ ছাড়িয়ে গোলপার্ক ঢাকুরিয়া যাদবপুর সেই সময়ে প্রচুর সম্প্রসারিত হয়, বিশেষ করে রিফিউজি মানুষদের সংস্থানের জন্য। একের পর এক গড়ে ওঠে সরকারি চারতলা ফ্ল্যাটবাড়ি ন্যুনতম ভাড়ায়। আরেক দিকে কলকাতা বেড়ে উঠছিল দক্ষিন পশ্চিমে বেহালায় যা স্বাধীনতার আগে ছিল মূলত জলাঞ্জলি আর শিল্পাঞ্চল। কলকাতার পরিবহন পরিষেবা গড়ে ওঠে ষাটের দশকের গোড়ায় মূলত সরকারি CSTC বাস দিয়ে, তার পর একে একে যুক্ত হয় প্রাইভেট বাস মিনিবাস ইত্যাদি। ১৯৭১ সালে তৈরী হয় মেট্রো রেলের মাস্টার প্ল্যান যার পরিনতি ১৯৮৪ সালে ভারতবর্ষের প্রথম ভূতল পরিবহম ব্যবস্থা যা আজও কলকাতার গর্ব। ষাটের দশকে গড়ে ওঠে রবীন্দ্র সদন।  জীবনযাত্রার দিক দিয়ে দেখতে গেলে কলকাতা তখন শিক্ষা সংস্কৃতি পান্ডিত্যে ভারত সেরা যার নমুনা চলচ্চিত্রে সংগীতে লেখায় শিল্পে অগুন্তি।  মানুষ বামপন্থী আন্দোলনের আবেগে অনুপ্রানিত হয়ে প্রতিবাদী চিন্তাধারার প্রতিভূ যেখানে expressionয়ের গুরুত্ব অপরিসীম। তাই কলকাতায় তখন পাড়ায় পাড়ায় গান নাচ আবৃত্তি আঁকা ইত্যাদির ছড়াছড়ি। সেখানে খেলার স্থান তবে শুন্য। কলকাতার তিন প্রধান ছাড়াও প্রথম ডিভিসন ফুটবল লিগের দলগুলো অসাধারণ ফর্মে থাকলেও, কলকাতা থেকে খুব কম ফুটবলারই উঠে এসেছে সেই সময়। তবু তখনো ভারতে ফুটবল মানেই কলকাতা। 

আশির দিকে কলকাতায় এলেন ফরাসী লেখক দমিনিক লাপিয়ের। শহর তাঁর মন জয় করে নিল, কলকাতাকে তিনি বললেন City of Joy. এ শহরে দারিদ্র্য প্রবল, পরিকাঠামো অচল তবু মানুষের মুখে হাসি আছে, আছে জীবনকে উপভোগ করার আত্মবিশ্বাস। একাধারে কলকাতা যেখানে যাত্রা শুরু করেছিল কুড়ির শতকের গোড়ায়, সেই একই প্রগতি বজায় থেকেছিল আশির দশকের গোড়া অবধি। আশির পরের কলকাতায় প্রগতি থেমে যায়নি বরং বেড়েছে, শুধু পরবর্তী সময়কালের লেখাটা নিজের স্মৃতির ওপর ভরসা করে লিখব বলেই আশিতে এই লেখা থামানোর পরিকল্পনা। কলকাতা এই সময় অবধিও ভারতের সাংস্কৃতিক রাজধানী। প্রায় তিনশ বছরের ইতিহাসে কলকাতার যে হার না মেনে নেয়ার ক্ষমতা দেখা গেছে, সেখান থেকেই বলা যেতে পারে যে কলকাতা এখনো মৃতনগরী নয়, কলকাতা আছে কলকাতাতেই। আমার শহর আমার গর্ব আমার City of Joy.

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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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Economics, Politics

Greek debt crisis: A mockery of European policies

In one of her recent speeches, the youngest MP in Britain Mhairi Black referred the Labour Legend Tony Benn, who once said that in politics there are always weathercocks and signposts. Weathercocks spin incessantly, no matter what direction the wind in blowing. On the contrary, signposts are always pointing to the right direction they are meant to represent. We all talk about politics is a game of charades and in our time this has become a fait accompli. During my postgraduate year there was a lecture on the session for organisational behaviour and how one should never deviate from their true north, which are the core ethos for their very existence – their raison d’être. During recent times, no worse event demonstrated the bigotry of the political powers in today’s world, than the debacle of the Greek austerity drama and the Grexit paradigm. 

 
To the rest of the world, Europe appears to be the shining beacon of socialism, equality, culture, diversity — the land of prosperity and fairness. It was difficult to conceive that any European economy would be on the brink of disaster. I was first aware of the problem with the Greek economy in around 2000 when IOC expressed serious concerns of the ability of the Greek government to host the 2004 Athens summer Olympics. They finally did put on a great show but it was beyond possible to mask the fact that the country was struggling financially. In recent time, the state of disrepair and dilapidation of the Olympics sites around Athens are shown as evidence of Greece on the verge of bankruptcy — the state the world is much indebted to as the forerunner of modern philosophy, science and governance. The juggernaut of time has brought a state that ruled the entire known world to a penniless desperation. Beyond Greece’s penury, this begs an even more pertinent question to the rest if the world — this is happening in Europe, within the Eurozone, and how did this ever allowed to happen? 
 
The aim of this essay is not a quantitative analysis of the Greek economy and its decline, nor of the Eurozone, but an assessment of the situation from a wider subjective angle, asking more basic questions of economics and the underlying political dogma. This will also view EU in a different light, where the benevolent champion of humanism and societal excellence will appear as the autocratic Tsarist state threatening any doubters or dissidents to subjugation. To great believers in the EU and Eurozone project, including myself, this is an affair ringing a wake-up call on whether the EU has become a Frankenstein of our time, as has in recent past the likes of Al-Qaeda or ISIL. 
 
In simpleton terms, it perhaps all began in late twentieth century, when Greece joined the Eurozone and changed their currency to Euro from Drachma. This cannot be assumed that everything was impeccable before joining EU, and at the early stage this must have helped the Greek economy massively due to the reduced borrowing risk as well as exporting merchandise outside the Eurozone. The fissures started to show after introducing the Euro to Greek economy, whereby the labour costs suddenly soared making the Greek businesses less lucrative to the outside world as well as the profit margin decreased, and hence the shrinkage of the GDP. It can be imagined that in 2008, when big European economic powerhouses like Germany and France were trying to put their house in order, all excessive funding Greece have been receiving must have dried out. At this crucial juncture, Greece faced the hardest time for its economy as the jobs were lost, unemployment risen the a record high and all European finance aid stopped. As a result the government failed to pay the loan payment to the likes of IMF. It turned out that failing to pay the loan is partly Greek government’s fault as they continuously published lower trade and budget deficits than actual. The other issue was tax evasion, where the economy was badly affected. One colleague would tell me an anecdote how people leave the steel rebars out of the roof of the buildings showing it as incomplete, so they pay less tax on properties. It was at this desolate time when the Greek government had failed a number of repayments, the moral of the citizen at the rock bottom that the people of Greece chose the communist party Syriza, to take a different line of approach on governance, corruption and the European big brother dominance. At the helm of the party — a young leader Alexis Tsipras and in charge of getting the economy back on track was an economic professor at the university of Athens, Yannis Varoufakis. 
 
Syriza’s ascension to power came at a time when Greece was going to be hit by more stringent austerity measures, while it was already teetering on the edge. Syriza promised a massive shuffle up in the governance as well as reject any austerity measures that put Greek people in further misery. They tried to do as they stated, and thwart back to the lenders and the EU superpowers like Germany, and instantly became the bad boys of the EU, the cowboys playing with the harmonious European existence with their cavalier economic theory and political polarisation. Since then, the Syriza party leadership has been through enormous threats and arm-twisting, which Yannis Varoufakis quite aptly put “closed door mental waterboarding”. The Grexit as we know it, was a possible outcome of this period of contest between Syriza and the European lenders, more commonly known as troika. The Greek economy went into a state of frenzy as people withdrew money in fear of a possible exit from EU, banks ran out of money and the troika refused to issue any more money to allow liquidity in Greek economy.  Syriza, to show that they are not a conglomeration of quixotic Cowboys, and that they actually express the opinion of the Greek populace, have conducted a referendum where the Greek people said a resounding No to accepting the austerity measures proposed by the troika. The outcome only exasperated the EU leaders and they threatened Greece and Syriza with an ultimatum to accept the conditions put forth by the ECB, IMF and the European banks. This resulted in the resignation of Yannis Varoufakis and the marathon meeting by Alexis Tsipras with EU leaders, at the end of which Greece capitulated to the conditions and even sturdier austerity measures in order to stay in the EU. The dream that Syriza painted to the Greek people were nipped in the bud by the harsh reality of belonging to the European brotherhood. 
 
In short, this could explain what went on in the long standing drama that unfurled in 2015. Perhaps this allows us to look back in the past and analyse what has driven this fracas and the aftermath to Europe and Greek people. The beginning of this problem happened many years back, at the time of introducing a common currency across all European countries. In the world of economics, a struggling economy can overcome the recession by either fiscal expansion or monetary adjustments. Monetary policy measures include quantitative easing, which basically means printing more money to introduce more liquidity in the system. In order to retain the value of the Euro, ECB retains the sole right to issue more cash to any country. Had this not be the case, struggling Greek economy could have adopted the quantitative easing and infused more cash in the system. Not having this ability made ECB hold Greece random to their demands of the austerity measures. Many economists including Paul Krugman suggested that Greece would be better off exiting the EU and switch back to Drachmas, and sort the economy out. This was prevented by the complicit and protectionist nature of the European leaders, who threatened implicitly or explicitly that exiting EU, Greece will shut the door to having trade relationship with any of the member states. Some likened the Syriza going to negotiations with EU without any back up plan to playing pokers but this postulate would not stand against the fact that the leadership has tried to prevent accepting the austerity measures and had to succumb the extreme duress put on by the troika. 
 
Although the IMF and ECB have been most vociferous and unyielding to the remedial measures put together by Alexis Tsipras and Yannis Varoufakis, the real impediment came from the counterparts of these two men — the leaders and finance ministers/chancellors of various member states. This perspective on the Grexit brings to front another crisis the Europe is facing at the moment, which is lack of credible leadership across the continent. Angela Merkel and François Hollande are the most drab and dispassionate leaders one came come across. They belong to the designer suit clad-extremely vacuous-circumlocutory-monotonous army of people, who do not have any charisma or passion for doing their job, and hide behind tenuous, long-winded speeches for their lack of appreciation of any economic matters. It is astounding to realise that these leaders who had no concept of economic policies and ideas were at the forefront of the talks on economic reforms of a country! The worst example was Wolfgang Schauble, who perhaps was more concerned about what the Greek leaders wore to the meeting than the content of their negotiation offerings. Both Angela Merkel and Hollande are losing credibility to their population, let alone be respected everywhere else in Europe. Then there were the minnows David Cameron and his sidekick George Osborne, who still believes Britain has any say in how EU decisions are made, and delivered pompous speeches how they are very concerned about the Greek situation and won’t give any British taxpayers’ money to bail Greece out. Surprisingly enough, during the last stages of the negotiations, it was the smaller peripheral states that were more scathing in criticising Greek premiere and Syriza. In a way, it appeared that all European leaders weighed in unison against the Greek contingent because they chose to be different, in their appearance and in their negotiations. The mass loathing will have a component of the common notion that Greek people are lazy and want a free lunch at the expense of other EU countries sharing the burden, but the main  thorn on the leaders’ flesh was one person — Yannis Varoufakis. 
 
Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Communist economists are hard to come by, and finding one who is not corrupt or deluded, and has a strategy to practically implement them is a rarity. Yannis Varoufakis belongs to this rare category of economists and it is a rarity itself having an economist as the finance minister of a country, which is usually fulfilled by ex-bankers and finance directors and other fat cats. Varoufakis went to the negotiations from the time Syriza gained power in Athens with one argument — austerity does not work. Critics may point otherwise as the statistics shows Greece has cut down the deficit immensely during first years of austerity, but the human price paid for the same was enormous. Squeezing the people even further when the country is on the brink of disaster could only have meant one thing — the powers-to-be in Brussels did not want to know about wellbeing of Greek people, all their interest was money. Being an economist, Varoufakis could pick holes in the argument for the austerity. This has riled the cast of European leaders as they stood in the meeting red faced having their notion of Eurozone shred into pieces by a Greek economist, and he did it in his casual manner, in simple words and not hiding behind jargons. His whole persona and lifestyle of riding a bike to the parliament, arriving to negotiations in leather jackets set him stand out amongst a bunch of automatons, and they were quick to attack him about his lifestyle, his approach to negotiations as they were left clueless when he defeated them in their own game, and laid bare the ineptitude of their proposal from the charade of verbosity that these leaders often resort to. As a result, Yannis Varoufakis failed to make friends with Brussels as he was seen as a pariah, who could put the European brethren to jeopardy by not being like one of them. When the referendum results were declared, Varoufakis had to go as the European leaders won’t deal with him anymore, and within 48 hours, Syriza was forced to sign on to the austerity. It’s true that part of Syriza was not in favour of Varoufakis’ reform measures as they seemed too reactionary, but the fact cannot be denied that he stole the sleep of the European leaders during his tenure as the finance minister of the Greek government. 
 
The folly of the Eurozone became more apparent in the unified vilification of Greece especially by the smaller states. During the crisis this was more than clear that Eurozone is nothing but a German project, and the small peripheral states are just ‘tagging along’ in fear of losing the favour and hence the funding from the ECB. Speaking to a friend from Slovakia, they felt it was unfair that their country has to pay for bailing out Greece so their pensioners get €160 pensions whilst Slovakia’s pensioners only get €140. This is a fair argument, but it makes it clear that, despite sharing a common currency, the standard of life is not the same amongst the member states and this itself is the biggest fault of the EU. It is expected that by introducing monetary controls, all the countries should have same value for the Euro and the standard of living will not be a stark dissimilarity amongst the countries. With time, this means that the Eurozone will also have limited mobility within the working population for economic benefits only. However, the purchasing power of a Euro is still different by a large extent in the core members and the smaller nations who joined the currency union later on. Due to this imbalance, there is still a large amount of migrant population within EU member states only, raising concerns over radical nationalism and right wing politics. 
 
One factor greatly contributed implicitly to the ostracism of Greek government in the corridors of Brussels, but it was hardly ever brought into the fray by the media— its the elephant in the room, Syriza is a Communist outfit. Some friends suggested that this did not contribute to the Greek austerity, it cannot be denied that there is a massive animosity towards the communist parties. The history of Europe’s past will prove that more lives were lost by the expansive imperialist movements than by Communism. People often wrongly associate communism as synonymous to Stalin/Trotsky/ Khrushchev/Mao/Castro. Syriza therefore started the negotiations in the back foot, already being tarnished with the same brush. Modern day Europe, although a melting pot of breakthrough ideas, innovations, thoughts and philosophy, in certain instances like this, is still blinkered, Machiavellian. Also, it cannot be denied that troika is influenced by large multinational conglomerates, whose main ideal is to maximise wealth by punishing the working poor. Marx’s theory of class divide has never been diminished, instead the gap has got wider in recent times. The wage for the working class has increased but never at par with the inflation and media is so focussed on bottom 20% that they never reported what the top 1% doing and how their growing wealth is going unnoticed. These conglomerates, for their own interest, did not want a communist party in power and dictate terms with them. Marxist views are branded anti-trade by these big corporates and their media, and hence the egalitarian socialist aspect is lost forever. Had Syriza been a party purported to express any other political ethos, the outcome of the negotiations might well have been, if not significantly enough, different than the more austere measures Greece was subjected to. The main aim of the corporate run EU was to maintain the hard stand against Greece so Tsipras has no choice but to capitulate, and then as an aftermath, that might break Syriza into factions based in political views of the party members. 
 
As of now, the Greek debt crisis situation is finished, or that’s how the media tends to present to the general public. The liquidity is reinstated, although there is a daily withdraw limit, people have cash in hand, no more sensationalist picture of dejected pensioners sitting by the pavement — that picture is replaced by migrants breaking though the fence at Eurotunnel. However, the problem is far from over. Greece will pay off the first tranche of the loans owed to IMF, but the picture is not so rose-tinted for future payments. Will there be another layer of austerity burdened on Greek people? The ramifications of the aftermath of this debt crisis are many, but this is the most important lesson to be taken away from this experience by the world. 
 
The biggest effect this will have on Greek economy is the likelihood of another payment failure and further austerity measures. This brings back the spectre of the housing bubble in 2007-08, where people were allowed to borrow much more than what they can afford to repay. If Greece has failed to pay the loans, burdening them with further loans and more austerity will not provide enough economic rent to the people to be motivated to work. What Greece needed is a debt write-off, exactly what Greece supported for the Post-WWII Germany to adopt. Also, as seen after the 2008 recession, it’s hard to gain people’s confidence in the economy, hence all the extra Euros injected in the market will be drawn out by people who had their savings in the banks and had to wait for weeks to draw money out and they certainly would not put the money back to the back and would rather save it inside tin boxes on kitchen cupboards. To them, if Greece ever goes out of the EU, the Drachmas will be worth next to nothing, whereas Euros will retain the same high value. The Liquidity will still ensue but not immediately as expected. As for Syriza, they might suffer a slow annihilation as the more belligerent faction of the party will cause a revolt against Alexis Tsipras blaming no resilience against the European politicians. This austerity also sends a strong message to all other struggling states such as Italy, Spain, Portugal that any ideas on exiting the Eurozone will be severely castigated, and as Greece is set as an example, a bad one, there will be no recourse to any funding. Rather than helping the struggling countries and their industry, the banks will be set out to pilfer the wealth from the poorer countries to benefit the more powerful members such as Germany. 
 
The other possible consequence of the Greece debacle is far worse than all the above effects together. In recent times, Greece has already seen the rise of far right-wing politics in the form of Golden dawn. The entire Europe has seen a surge in right-wing politics and advent of newer fascist groups. Oddly enough, these parties and factions do have a lot of public backing as well, who mainly hail from the working class. Failure of Syriza to resolve the debt crisis to a more humane solution will mean further austerity and as people tend to get worse off, in order to apportion blame, they tend to pick up an enemy, and that’s how nationalist radical parties thrive. Also, if Syriza loses its credibility, there will be no mouthpiece for the left-liberal parties in Greek political environment, which is a frightening possibility. On a wider scale, by discriminating against communist parties and ideologies, the banks and other transnational organisations as well as the powerful capitalist economies are trying to create a world full of their automatons, devoid of any humanity. This will pave the path for far right parties to reach out and influence people, and gain popularity as they did in the form of Jobbik in Hungary, Marine le Pen in France, EDL and UKIP in UK, PEGIDA in Germany. It is surprising how the rise of fascist right-wing has not been met with such vehement criticism from Europe’s leaders as did Syriza. These outfits spreading hatred will gradually push the harmonious equilibrium that was achieved over years of conflicts and negotiations since WWII into a complete disarray. And that, will bring a definitive end to the EU thanks to the cataclysmic policies adopted by its leaders since the introduction of Euro. 
 
Perhaps, to draw a conclusion to this debate, the last area to be looked at is what needs to happen to avoid this downward spiral of austerity. The first requirement is an unequivocally simple solution of writing off part of the debts Greece owed. This will let the governments treat the situation as turning a fresh page and start from scratch building the country. ECB could devolve its powers so in situations like this, member states will have the ability to print money in order to maintain the liquidity. It could be argued the benefit of this, but Euro in EU has failed to bring a balance to the purchasing parity anyway. What Syriza should do is use the popularity it presently has and bring mechanisms to leave a long term legacy such as tighter taxation regulations, pay more wage at par with Western Europe. When it comes to paying next tranche of the debt, Greece should stay firm about further austerity unless that squeezes the top 1% rather than the working poor. Also, rather than being browbeaten by the European superpowers, Greece should make a back up plan to leave Eurozone. There will be heavy opposition, but after the initial setback the situation will improve. 
 
In terms of future of Europe where the member states are not in a perfectly synergistic situation, there is an audacious proposal, which can reinstate the balance and purchase power parity. Rather than struggling economies like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland leaving the EU failing to accept austerity terms, it should be the economic powerhouses that will need to move out of the EU. Germany exiting alone will have made significant changes. Eurozone will be struggling without Germany but they will recuperate faster as the economies will have a degree of autonomy rather than being dragged along to the German utopia. On the other hand, leaving EU will not affect Germany as much as it would have to Greece or Spain. 
 
To conclude, the Greek debt crisis is an eye opener to the European policy makers that forcing countries to accept further stringent terms and condition will only increase the rift amongst the member states. This time will be remembered as the time when Europe failed its member states. EU is a brilliant project and it has produced excellent synergies so far, but instance such as Greek crisis will stick out like a sore finger and a constant reminder that there is a dark side of the European integration which need to be curbed at all times in order to keep the Eurozone a successful programme to bring harmony to the lives of millions of people. 
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Film review, Wer wenn nicht uns

A Review on Wer, Wenn nicht Wir and a parallel into revolutionary socialism in 70s

Recreated from a Facebook post in February 2013

Yesterday watched a film, “Wer, wenn nicht wir”(who, if not us) that focussed on the earlier years of the Baader-Meinhof gang. Looking up on the net about their uprising and the end, it reminds me of a very similar movement much closer at home, the naxalite movement and specially of a book by Subhas Basu “Gol Ruti, Neel Chand” (Round bread and blue moon) that depicted how the fraction distanced themselves from the Communist party and right up to their disillusionment and dissolution. Just branding similar movements as terrorist activities, as some sites do, will be a gross simplification and misrepresentation of the world history of the time. One cannot condone the violence they started, and replace the losses the families suffered, but these are the tales of a lost youth, utterly brilliant and motivated – they were philosophers, writers, artists, journalists – yet lost in the tumultuous period the world was going through, and were fighting an enemy they couldn’t have overthrown, for it didn’t really exist. Forty years on since Vietnam, the youth movement calmed down a lot, the only violence you see is either by right-wing fundamentalists or state-sanctioned “peace-keeping missions” (or domestic); the terms Fascist and Capitalist aren’t synonymous any more as aren’t Socialist and Left-wing. Perhaps we are converging towards a de-polarised world that will see a harmonious coexistence of both theories, and will benefit all strata of people. Making it happen within a country – quite possible. Making it happen worldwide – Not!
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