Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Indian State’s Killing Squads

In the familiar pattern, within hours of the Mecca Masjid blasts, the police miraculously tell us which militant groups are involved. Almost every day our media obediently beams out images of ‘terrorists’ triumphantly displayed by their captors. For years since 2002, IPS officer Vanzara similarly displayed his trophies – young men and women (Sameerkhan Pathan, Ishrat Jehan, Javed from Kerala, Sohrabuddin Sheikh…) killed in supposed attempts to target Modi or other top Sangh Parivar leaders. Now we have an admission that one of those killings was staged (and linked to it, a trail of other murders of Sheikh’s wife and another eyewitness). Vanzara has defended all the killings as an act of ‘deshbhakti’ – a sentiment well in line with the notion of patriotism that scripted the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat.
But the issue goes beyond the one-dimensional tales of good cop-bad cop, and far deeper than the question of communalization of the State machinery by BJP Governments.
To refresh our memory:
The first recorded fake encounter is said to date back to the repression on the Telengana peasant movement. In the 60s and 70s, custodial and extra judicial killings of Naxalites became standard police practice. In the days of insurgency in Punjab, thousands of youth were similarly butchered.
In counter-insurgency operations in all the states of the North East and Kashmir, in the anti-naxal operations in Andhra Pradesh, fake encounters became routine. In a rare candid moment, ex DG, BSF EN Rammohan has admitted that …”In Kashmir, only a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (of the sort South Africa set up after apartheid ended) will enable India to make peace with the Kashmiri people.” (HT, May 4, 07)
The recent massacre of tribals in Chhattisgarh who, according to the police, were ‘naxal sympathisers’ recalls to mind the Bhawanipur massacre of March 9, 2000, after which the DIG (Mirzapur) told the PUDR/APDR team that ‘it is justified if they die or get killed. They are criminals’. The 16 agrarian labourers shot dead at Bhawanipur were not even charged with any crime, let alone convicted; they were ‘criminals’ because they dared to organize for their wages and rights. These are examples of the familiar phenomenon of the police policy of “shoot and label the corpse posthumously as naxalite”. And lest we think Left-ruled states to be better off – the Left Front-ruled Tripura Government (which implements that excellent cover for killers in uniform - AFSPA) faces allegations of 103 tribals killed in fake encounters since 1993. (Zee News, May 16)
Given the long history of encounter killings in India, naturally an entire discourse has developed to defend summary executions by the police and armed forces. Some of its pet positions are as follows:
“Do it but don’t talk about it”
On December 30, 1991, VG Vaidya, director, IB, wrote a letter to the then Punjab DGP KPS Gill regarding some press interviews in which police officers had defended and given detailed accounts of staged encounters to the international press.
“Their professional compulsions in executive action should not get reflected in their public utterances, which should be correct and responsible,” Vaidya wrote. (HT, May 4, 07) In other words, he was saying murder is a ‘professional compulsion’, but the killers must be discreet rather than boastful.
“If we insist on human rights for terrorists, the police cannot fight terror or organized crime”
There are many who argue that Kauser Bi’s killing was somehow worse than that of Sohrabuddin’s; and many media reports have harped on the fact that Sohrabuddin was a ‘criminal’ who extorted money from marble dealers, not an ‘innocent man’, and that therefore the police was justified in killing him. BJP’s deputy leader V K Malhotra said that Sohrabuddin and others gunned down by police were not “innocent” and should not be “glorified” so. (HT, April 27) One wonders: would it be ok by Malhotra if Babubhai Katara, caught red-handed committing crime, was gunned down? Why bother with fair trial and proof and the right to appeal and benefit of doubt, Mr. Malhotra – we know he’s guilty, let’s just execute him. Ok, we can make a concession and torture him first to make him confess to trafficking and a sex racket and rape to boot – and then shoot him. We can always say he was escaping, or that he attacked the police.
Torture and murder in uniform, and the convenient habit of branding dissenters as ‘terrorists’, gets legal sanction through a host of laws past and present – TADA, POTA, AFSPA, MCOCA, et al. Take the case of the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act – which has been deployed recently to arrest the veteran civil liberties activist, PUCL Vice President Dr. Vinayak Sen, who had been exposing the fake encounters and state terror in the wake of the ‘Salwa Judum’ in Chhattisgarh. In a recent interview KPS Gill suggests that to tackle insurgency and terrorism, the police can’t afford to have their hands tied by considerations like human rights. So, he laments that laws like TADA and POTA are opposed – forcing the police to opt for staged encounters. In other words, according to Gill, we need laws that can brand people as criminals/terrorists and execute them…so that the police can keep things legal! (Outlook, May 14, 07)
This sentiment is echoed by none less than West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya who chose World Human Rights Day to declare that “human rights need not apply for terrorists”. (Indian Express Kolkata Newsline, December 11, 2006) Without custodial torture and the special licence to kill, how would convenient confessions be extracted and culprits punished? It helps when you know in advance that an entire social section or ideological group is by definition “terrorist” and “anti-national” – then you can draft confessions in advance and pin them onto likely candidates picked at random. It helps if courts are not too fussy about things like ‘evidence’ and ‘human rights’ where terrorism cases are concerned.
In a recent instance, a young man Arun Ferreira, a bright graduate of St. Xavier’s College Mumbai, was picked up from a meeting at Deekshabhoomi in Maharashtra. According to the police, literature relating to SEZs and Khairlanji, as well as ‘pamphlets carrying excerpts of an interview of Arundhati Roy’ were found on his pen drive and person – clear indication that he is a Maoist with malafide intentions! A raid on his wife’s home revealed – horror of horrors- 24 sociology textbooks – further proof of guilt no doubt. When he was produced in court in Nagpur, there were lacerations on his body and he complained that the police placed ice on his genitals. The Magistrate took no notice of this, and gave permission for him to be subjected to the dubious method of ‘narco-analysis’. This latter form of torture allows the police to suggest things to the victim in a sub conscious state, and then rest their investigation, quite literally, on whatever the subject dreams up. Of course, the police can do the dreaming too, and edit or sex up the dreams to suit their needs. Once a person is branded as ‘guilty’, prior to any investigation, based on political beliefs, or social identity, our system, including in most cases the courts, gives an almost unlimited free hand to the police to extract confessions and concoct criminals to fit crimes. Small wonder if this extends to a license to indulge in staged ‘encounters’.
“Encounters are a form of vigilante justice, filling the vacuum caused by the failure of judicial justice”
“Extra-judicial killings are akin to murder,” says former Punjab and Mumbai police Chief Julio Rebeiro. (HT, May 4, 07)
But in the same interview, Ribeiro suggests that extra-judicial killings get public and political support because of judicial delays in justice, and that if speedy justice were possible there would be no extra-judicial killings. KPS Gill, master of encounter murders in Punjab, elaborates this position without any apologetic note: “When the conduct of judges themselves is questionable, the police officers begin to think, who will implement the laws, who will protect society.... “And in this noble mission of “protecting society, “in fighting militancy and organised crime, mistakes are bound to happen. Take the (May 1997) shootout case in Delhi’s Connaught Place where two businessmen were mistakenly killed by the police; the cops are still facing trial for it. A similar thing happened in London after the 7/7 bombings, when an innocent Brazilian immigrant, Jean Charles de Menezes, was shot by the police. Nobody raised a hue and cry over that incident, and the officers responsible have subsequently received promotions and there is no stigma attached to their action. It’s important that the intentions and motives of the officers are correctly assessed in such cases.” (Outlook, May 14, 07)
Well, in this view, what better “intentions and motives” could Vanzara have – it was “deshbhakti”, after all, that spurred him to eliminate potential terrorists. And if one “innocent” anti-national got killed …what’s one Muslim more or less?
But the nature of the killings does not support this thesis of a few excusable ‘mistakes’ in a well-intentioned quest for justice. Despite all the propaganda, ‘encounters’ are not a form of vigilante justice spawned by righteous frustration of the failure of speedy judicial justice. They are not comparable to a vigilante hero taking law into his hands and eliminating a threat to society because ‘the system’ will not deliver. Rather, fake encounters, custodial torture and branding of dissent as “terrorism” in order to justify violation of rights – these are the system. After all, if frustration with legal delays and failures are a justification for vigilante justice, who has better right to it than the victims of the massacres by police at Arwal or Hashimpura, for whom justice has either been delayed for twenty years or denied? The judicial enquiry into the Kalinganagar firing has now been dissolved midway – on the pretext that the Supreme Court forbids sitting Judges from heading commissions of enquiry. The court has backed out from its promise of justice for the victims of Nandigram. Would Gill and Co. support, or at least excuse, the people of these areas if they lost faith in the legal process and decided to become agents of justice?

It just isn’t enough to nail a stray police officer in Ganderbal or Gujarat and pat ourselves on the back for justice done. Not police officers alone but political forces that rule must be held accountable for every police or army murder. At the very least, we need a comprehensive National Truth and Reconciliation Commission – to acknowledge and investigate each and every act of torture, murder, massacre by the state machinery.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Beleaguered Bush: Heightened Opposition at Home and Abroad

The death sentence for Saddam was meant to be an orchestrated high point in the War on Terror for the Bush Administration – but instead it has invited widespread global outrage and coalesced with a range of shocks for the Bush regime. The electoral blow to the Republicans in the recent mid-term polls was widely seen as an indictment of the US policy in Iraq, while the election of Ortega in Nicaragua and the build-up of a militant and popular uprising in Mexico all served to deepen the crisis for the Bush regime. In this feature, we have articles analysing the implications of these developments not only for Bush but also for the anti-imperialist struggle.

2006 US Mid-Term Elections: Blow for Bush Administration

THE Democratic Party in the 2006 US elections won a comfortable majority in the House and a narrow majority in the Senate. They also secured a majority of the state governorships. The mid-term elections take place every two years in November to elect representatives to both the House and the Senate. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, was elected to the Senate from Vermont - the first self-described socialist to do so.
Even if the Democrat victory cannot be expected to usher in serious changes in imperialist policies and even domestic policies, the elections have been a major setback to the section of the ruling elite led by the Bush/Cheney administration.
Crisis of Imperialism
This election year Iraq was the main reason that the US electorate voted against the Republicans. Since the Democratic Party did not have an alternative peace plan either, it was largely a negative vote. The cumulative effect of lies about weapons of mass destruction, torture at Abu Ghraib, detention at Guantanamo Bay, secret CIA prisons, no bid contracts to Halliburton and Bechtel, billions of dollars of missing cash and latest attack on habeas corpus became too difficult to manage.
According to recent estimates, more than 655, 000 Iraqi people and 3000 US soldiers have died and more than 20000 US soldiers have been wounded. General Maples testified that in Iraq, the attacks on occupation troops have increased from 70 per day in January to 170 per day in September to 180 per day in October [1]. This made 2006 October one of the deadliest months since the occupation started. The forecast for 2007 is worse for not just Iraq but also Afghanistan.
Drawing parallels with the Vietnam War right wing columnist Tom Freidman of the New York Times said “what we’re seeing in Iraq seems like the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive.” General John Abizaid, top American military commander for the Middle East, has warned of the possibility of occupation going out of control. The incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee accused the Bush administration of ignoring the reality that ‘‘we’re getting deeper and deeper into a hole’’ in Iraq. As the Iraqi resistance and anti-war movement intensify, the imperial crisis deepens and the occupation becomes untenable.
The US ruling elite is now hard at work in an endeavour to formulate a strategy for ‘success in Iraq.’ Several potential presidential candidates including Republican John McCain and Democratic Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have called for more troop deployment. Despite massive public opinion against the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, before the elections, the Senate passed (100-0 vote) the record $447 billion US military budget along with a supplemental $70 billion bridge fund for the next six months of occupation. The entire ruling class establishment is in it together.
The first casualty of the elections was Defense Secretary “shock and awe” Rumsfeld. Bush chose his father’s CIA director Robert Gates as the replacement. Before his appointment, he was also a member of the Iraq Study Group (ISG), the ‘bipartisan commission’ co-chaired by Republican James Baker, former Secretary of State, and Democrat Lee Hamilton, former Chairman of House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Both Republican and Democratic leadership are working closely with the ISG. It has been meeting with numerous political and military leaders, including George Bush, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. The ISG is slated to release its ‘policy recommendations’ to prevent the US Empire from sinking in the Iraqi quicksand.
The unpopularity of the Iraqi occupation in the US and the anti-imperial resistance of the Iraqi people have forced the ruling class to rethink its Iraq strategy. This pressure is also being felt by elected politicians who are part of the Democratic Party’s Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) with about 71 members. They have introduced the “End the War in Iraq Act of 2005” that would prohibit further use of Defense Department funds to deploy United States Armed Forces to Iraq. Since both the Republican and Democratic parties are not interested this bill is gathering dust.
Jobs and Scandals
Iraq was however not the only issue. Although gay marriage was banned in several states but in South Dakota a referendum to ban virtually all abortions was easily defeated. After Enron, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal maligned the Republican elite in a major way. The Center for Public Integrity reports that lobbyists spent $4 billion in 2004. The organic relationship between big business, lobbyists and politicians was exposed. Most politicians connected with the scandal either resigned or were defeated in this election. Flooding after Hurricane Katrina was on everybody’s mind too, especially people of colour.
The economy was also an important issue. Millions of jobs have been lost in the last few years. In Ohio alone 200,000 manufacturing jobs were lost since Bush came to power; it was the decisive factor there. Nationally, with people spending $1.1 trillion more than they earned, the negative personal savings rate is unprecedented since the Great Depression. This when the total 2005 US debt was nearly three and a half times the US’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that is close to world’s GDP of $44 trillion [2].
Even though the official unemployment rate in July 2006 was 4.8 percent it is estimated that more than 8 percent of the potential labour force is underemployed or unemployed [2]. The minimum wage of $5.15 an hour has not been increased for more than 10 years. Six states that had a referendum to raise the minimum wage overwhelmingly voted to raise it. The main labour unions played a major part in this. They spent more than $100 million and had 100,000 volunteers to increase voter turnout in the election for the Democratic Party [3]. This nexus with a party of the ruling class has been an impediment in building a more militant labour movement.
Challenging the System
History informs us that progressive legislations, in a capitalist political system, are the fruits of a vigorous movement. They have never been a gift. Now is the time to connect the struggles against exploitation in the US with the occupations abroad to re-energize this movement. These will include the struggles of workers, people of colour, undocumented immigrants, gays and women for an egalitarian and just society.
Progressive forces have called for anti-war marches on Washington in January and March. Momentum is building to demand universal health coverage, minimum wage increase, investigation of war crimes, impeachment of Bush, worker’s right to organize, Katrina victims’ right to return and ending the occupation from Iraq to Palestine. Active duty soldiers are also resisting the occupation by becoming conscientious objectors. This should also be the time for the anti-imperialist struggles to introspect on protest tactics and movement strategies to intensify the struggle.
It is clear that the invasion of any country, corruption of politicians, reign of big business and attack on the working class will not end with this election. These problems are endemic to the capitalistic political system. It cannot be reformed. A new society has to rise from the ashes of imperialism and capitalism. Building a movement which does just that is the challenge.
End Notes
1. Michael Gordon and Mark Mazzetti, General Warns of Risks in Iraq if G.I.’s Are Cut, New York Times, November 16, 2006.
2. Fred Magdoff, The Explosion of Debt and Speculation, Monthly Review, November 2006.
3. Steven Greenhouse, Labor Movement Dusts Off Agenda as Power Shifts in Congress, New York Times, November 11, 2006.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

2007: A Time to Reclaim Our Country, Our History, Our Freedom, Our Rights

The year 2007 marks the 150th anniversary of India’s First War of Independence. It is also the centenary year of Bhagat Singh’s birth, and the fortieth anniversary of the Naxalbari rebellion. The Central Committee of the CPI(ML) has called for celebrating the confluence of these three great anniversaries with a countrywide “Our Country, Our History – Our Freedom, Our Rights” campaign. A big Inquilab rally has been planned in Delhi on 23 March, the day Bhagat Singh and his comrades Sukhdev and Rajguru embraced martyrdom seventy-six years ago with the clarion call “Inquilab Zindabad! Samrajyavad Murdabad!” (Long Live Revolution! Down with Imperialism!). The campaign will be aimed at rekindling this spirit of history in the midst of the ongoing popular struggles of the present and for this purpose the campaign will highlight a ten-point people’s charter comprising the key demands of these struggles.
Why is it important for us to celebrate this history? The current Indian ruling elite is afraid of, and at any rate uncomfortable with, this history and this is why they want us to forget this history or know it only in a distorted and mutilated manner. So celebrating this history is not just remembering the past but waging a struggle against the present-day rulers who have a different historical inheritance and who want our history to remain subordinated to their history.
British colonialists had dubbed 1857 as a case of ‘sepoy mutiny’ when fanatic Indian soldiers driven by blind religious passion and hatred had attacked their European officers and other British civilians. They would like us to believe that the mutineers had no sense of what they were doing and were just a bunch of killers who had to be and were brought under control by the superior military and ‘civilisational’ might of British colonialism. Western historians today are also tempted to see 1857 as a case of ‘Islamic jehad’ against Christianity and Western civilisation. The official Indian history today does recognise 1857 as the First War of India’s Independence, but it does its best to try and suppress the distinguishing features – the militant anti-colonial spirit, the popular participation and the emerging national character – that made the war of 1857 so greatly remarkable.
The insurrection of 1857 had certainly been initiated by the soldiers from the barracks of Bengal, but in no time it had spread not only among armed regiments across the country but most importantly among peasants, small traders and other sections of the Indian people. It was not a revolt of a few disgruntled kings and feudal rulers – rather many kings and feudal rulers collaborated with the British and helped them put down the rebellion. It was not an attempt to restore Muslim rule in India, much less was it an Islamic jehad against Christianity. The majority of the soldiers and the peasants and traders backing them up were Hindus and it was they who got an old and reluctant Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal ruler, to provide a symbolic leadership to the revolt. And the revolt was characterised by its conscious and concrete expressions of unity between the two communities with the rebels defining themselves as ‘Hindus and Muslims of Hindustan. In fact, an integral aspect of the new strategy of control forged by the colonialists in response to 1857 was the deliberate fomenting of communal hostilities.
The revolt did not succeed in its goal of overthrowing the British rulers, the mutineers obviously did not have the kind of organisation and preparation needed for that kind of victory, and the objective conditions too were not ripe enough. But the fact that they succeeded in holding on for nearly two years in different parts of the country clearly shows that the revolt was far from being just a sporadic or accidental outburst of mass anger. History tells us that the mutineers had their own committees which issued directives for the people, they had their own song which emphasised people’s unity and the goal of freeing the country from British plunder. The soldiers most of whom were essentially peasants in uniform struck a chord of ready resonance with the peasantry and this gave the whole revolt a powerful peasant content and ensured popular participation on a significant scale. Even militarily the war of 1857 moved on from regular warfare to guerrilla warfare with the British Army holding in large parts of the country “nothing but the towns” while the insurgent armies gradually dissolved into “smaller bodies of from two to six or eight thousand men, acting to a certain degree, independently of each other, but always ready to unite for a short expedition against any British detachment” (Frederick Engels, July 6, 1858). 1857 thus went much farther than being merely a reaction of pre-modern India to British occupation and plunder, it gave us the first glimpse of a modern India in its embryonic stage.
Let us not forget that we are here talking about a period that was indeed quite early for the kind of powerful national liberation struggles that eventually ended the colonial era in the 20th century or the revolutionary battles of the working people that the world saw in the form of the Paris Commune in 1871, or the workers’ and peasants’ soviets that appeared in the course of the Russian Revolution in February-November 1917. For colonial India in the mid-19th century, the revolt of 1857 had indeed reached an extraordinary height and given the British rulers their first major shock. Benjamin Disraeli who went on to become Prime Minister of Britain in the 1870s told the British parliament on July 27, 1857 that what had been happening in India was far more than a military mutiny, it had all the signs of a national revolt prompting him to deliver a long speech on his “considerations on the decline of the Anglo-Indian Empire.”
The British rulers were quick to learn their lessons from the shock of 1857. The East India Company was abolished, changes were made in the mode and method of British rule in India, and in the form of the Indian National Congress the British developed a safety valve mechanism so that India did not explode ever again. From the high of armed insurrection, India had been brought down to the lowest political level of petitioning for petty relief and reforms. For sections of the Indian elite, political awakening may have its genesis in the art of petitioning taught by the British, but the great majority of the Indian people had already made a political beginning with the national revolt of 1857 and all the local revolts that preceded and followed it. In subsequent years, this difference between these two trajectories grew often into sharp contrasts between the revolutionary and reformist schools within the freedom movement.
The difference was not confined to the question of methods of movement, it pervaded the entire understanding of the vision of India, the definition of India’s national identity. While the insurgents of 1857 rose against the colonial plunder of India, the Congress essentially saw British colonialism as the harbinger of modernity in India. It saw the plunderer as nurturer and Manmohan Singh acknowledged as much during one of his recent speeches at Oxford University. The ideological predecessors and founders of the Sangh Parivar went one step further and they saw British occupation in terms of liberation of so-called Hindu India from centuries of perceived Islamic domination. This is why the RSS kept aloof from the entire quest for India’s independence. This umbilical cord of dependence, this craving for imperialist blessings, continues to define the Congress-BJP attitude to today’s American empire-builders, they cannot think of an Indian future beyond the strategic umbrella of American domination, let alone throwing up any kind of resistance or challenge to US imperialism’s campaign of global war and global plunder.
The insurgents of 1857 would never brook such bankruptcy that equated independence with a shameless surrender to and collaboration with imperialist powers. It would have never allowed communal division to determine the history, geography or politics of the country. Bhagat Singh and his comrades resurrected the spirit of 1857 and gave it a firm socialist, anti-imperialist orientation, completing the conceptual transition from Gadar to Inquilab (revolt to revolution). They visualised independence as a combination or convergence of political liberty and social emancipation and when they saw the dominant Congress leadership waver and betray on both scores, they warned us against the consequence of the bhure Angrez or the brown sahibs usurping power and monopolising the fruits of freedom for a few robbing the majority of their resources and rights. Today the brown sahibs in power are naturally mortally afraid of the memories of 1857 and the trail blazed by Bhagat Singh and his comrades. It is not surprising that a police official in Maharashtra should see even the act of selling the books of Bhagat Singh as a criminal offence and act of sedition.
Neither the British nor the Indian rulers could however ever destroy the spirit of 1857 or the legacy of Bhagat Singh. Following Gandhi’s withdrawal of the movement after the Chaurichaura incident, peasants have repeatedly organised and revolted under the communist banner. From Tebhaga in Bengal, Telengana in Andhra to Punnapra-Vayalar in Kerala, the history of India’s freedom movement was full of glorious instances of peasant power and militancy. The people also never forgot the military tradition of 1857 and just before the British left they were once again confronted with the great naval mutiny of Bombay and the heroic campaign of the Azad Hind Fauj or the Indian National Army. The tragic communal bloodbath and partition of 1947 and the consolidation of a pro-imperialist bourgeois-landlord rule in post-colonial India did mark a setback for the quest for real freedom and democracy, but powered by the relentless and determined struggles of the peasants and workers, the Indian people did not allow the rulers to dictate terms and kept up the revolutionary banner of anti-imperialist resistance and radical social transformation. Forty years ago, Naxalbari signified the most concentrated and courageous expression of this revolutionary quest in post-colonial India.
Like 1857, Naxalbari too did not succeed in winning ultimate victory in the revolutionary campaign it had unleashed, but the fire lit by Naxalbari has definitely turned into a new light for the Indian people to challenge the darkness in which the rulers want to drown the country. It was Naxalbari which taught us to look at the oppressed people not as victims but as fighters and heroes, and rediscover the history of the people by rejecting the history of the rulers.
Today when the rulers have teamed up with the US imperialists and are waging a desperate joint war on our resources and rights, it is surely time for us to rediscover our glorious history and rekindle the great spirit of people’s resistance against loot and oppression, injustice and imperialism, Let the imperialists and our rulers tremble before our history, we are here to reclaim our country and our history, secure our freedom and win all our rights. Let us welcome 2007 in all its glory.
Ten-Point Campaign Charter
The people’s charter to be highlighted in the course of the campaign will comprise the following major points:

(i) scrapping of SEZ policy and defence of peasants’ inalienable right to cultivable land;
(ii) stopping peasant suicides and starvation deaths (iii) strict implementation of NREGA, and its extension to the whole of the country on improved terms;
(iv) legal guarantee for right to education, right to work and right to health;
(v) restoration of alienated tribal land and rehabilitation of all project-displaced people;
(vi) embargo on indiscriminate entry of foreign investment, especially in sectors like education and retail trade;
(vii) regularisation of unorganised workers and guaranteeing their basic rights;
(viii) end to violence and discrimination against dalits, adivasis, women and minorities and ensuring greater opportunities for all disadvantaged sections;
(ix) scrapping of black laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act and end to state-sponsored violence against the people like Salwa Judum in Chhatisgarh;
(x) scrapping of Indo-US nuclear deal and reversal of pro-US foreign policy.

Opposing US Designs on South Asia is the Best Way to Tackle Terrorism

There is a growing clamour among US policy-makers these days for a stronger American role in South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular. The latest US National Intelligence Estimate report released in July 2007 talks of an Al Qaeda safe haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. In a press conference following the release of the NIE document, Frances Townsend, homeland security adviser in the Bush administration went on to say that the US could well consider unilateral strikes against suspected Al Qaeda or Taliban targets inside Pakistan. This has also been echoed by Nicholas Burns, US Under Secretary of State: “We want to respect the sovereignty of the Pakistani government. … If we have … certainty of knowledge, then of course the US would always have the option of taking action on its own, but we prefer to work with the Pakistani forces…”

Only last year, the Rand Corporation had released a document entitled “War and Escalation in South Asia”. The study, commissioned by the US Air Force, suggested “how and where the U.S. military might play an expanded, influential role” in South Asia. It advised the US Department of Defense to create “a new combatant command for South Asia” and go in for intensified security cooperation with India and Pakistan and increased intelligence production on the region. In short, the report called for intensified involvement of Washington in the region, devoting “the resources necessary to become more influential with the governments within the region.” The study also recommended that a part of the U.S. military be shaped in a way it could “meet the potential crises emanating from South Asia, just as the United States once shaped its military presence in Western Europe for the contingencies of the Cold War.”

Along with heightened military operation, the US intelligence community is also calling for assigning a greater role for the CIA. “Bring in the CIA” ran the caption of an article published in the Times of India on July 25 – the article was originally written for the New York Times by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, two former members of the US National Security Council. They argue that the US military planning has failed to destroy Al Qaida or even prevent it from acquiring safe havens and so it was now time to bring in the CIA and develop the paramilitary capacity needed for “highly mobile, lethal counterterrorism operations.”

Whichever way the US design may exactly unfold, it clearly spells great danger for the internal security of South Asia and sovereignty of South Asian nations. The Indo-US nuclear deal can only be seen in the context of the US vision for an expanding American role in the region. Even in the limited context of the economics and politics of atomic programmes and energy generation, experts have warned against the serious adverse implications of the nuclear deal. But the main danger emanates from the larger context of India’s strategic integration with – and hence dependence on, and vulnerability to – the American geo-political agenda.

The question of terrorism too cannot be delinked from this dominant context. If the US resorts to unilateral strikes against ‘suspected targets’ in Pakistan, India could not possibly remain insulated from such strikes. The next NIE could well be talking about safe havens in India followed by threats of unilateral or joint strikes against ‘suspected targets’ in India. Already so much is being said about the so-called Indian links in the chain of international terrorism. Even as the case of Dr. Haneef has shown beyond doubt that the accusations of ‘terrorist connection’ are often based on stupid conjectures, imperialist arrogance and racist prejudices, political opinion-makers in India are loosely talking about the proliferation of terrorism in India. It seems the CPI(M) too has begun competing with the BJP and the Congress on this subject.

The July 15 issue of People’s Democracy, the CPI(M)’s weekly central organ editorially called upon the Government of India to “extend all cooperation to the British and International authorities in cracking down on terrorism.” It expressed grave concern over the fact that until recently “the country was mistakenly led to believe that India does not harbour any Al Qaeda jehadis thanks to the famous so-called introduction of prime minister Manmohan Singh by US president George Bush to his wife saying that, “He is prime minister of a country of nearly 200 million Muslims and not one is with the Al Qaeda.”.” It is indeed heartening and instructive to note that when the PD editorial was taking great pains to convince its readers how Indian doctors and engineers were turning into terrorists, many in Australia were challenging and condemning the racist treatment being meted out to Dr. Haneef by the Australian government.

The PD editorial endorsed Dr. Manmohan Singh’s call for creating an environment where terror could not possibly take root and mentioned the need to erase “oppression and associated perceptions of injustice”, but it failed to identify the biggest factor that is fuelling terrorism the world over – the US-led war on terror. Consequently instead of calling for delinking Indian foreign policy from the US-led global war, it actually called for extending all cooperation to “the British and International authorities” (what about the ‘supreme’ power among all these ‘authorities’?) to combat terrorism. It is this misguided common sense that Washington seeks to consolidate in its bid to sell its global war to the Indian public. The PD editorial displays a shocking innocence of the real international environment that is breeding terrorism on such a huge scale.

The Global Opinion Trends Survey 2002-2007 released recently gives us an interesting insight into the threat perceptions of the South Asian people. It showed that while three-quarters of Indians express concerns about Pakistan, 64 percent of the Pakistani public views the US as the greatest threat. 46 percent Indians on the other hand appeared to look to the US as the most dependable ally – the highest rating for the US among all the 47 countries covered in the survey. The more India walks into the strategic trap laid by the US, the greater will be the distrust between India and Pakistan. Contrarily, the more India and Pakistan are able to delink their domestic and foreign policies from American interests and calculations, the closer they can move towards bilateral and regional cooperation and that can indeed be the best antidote against terrorism in the whole of South Asia.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Corporate media outraged: Venezuela expands free speech

- Stuart Munckton

On May 27, the 20-year concession to broadcast over the state-owned Channel 2 airwave, which had been granted to multi-millionaire Marcel Granier’s RCTV, expired. The Chavez government made the decision, in accordance with laws established by a pre-Chavez government, not to renew RCTV’s concession, but instead to use the channel to establish a new public TV station, Venezuelan Social Television (TVes).

The new channel, which began broadcasting just after midnight on May 27, has been set up via a loan from a state-run bank. However it will quickly be required to become self-funded. The government will have no say over the content of the new station, which will purchase programs made by independent producers.

RCTV will be able to continue broadcasting via satellite or cable, and station heads have indicated they intend to do so. In case the station uses the non-renewal of its concession as an excuse to lay off workers, the Venezuelan government has guaranteed all of RCTV’s work force jobs at the newly created station.

The government has explained that its decision is a direct result of RCTV’s repeated violations of the law. RCTV has been responsible for more than 600 violations of Venezuela’s broadcasting law, including regularly broadcasting pornography, and has refused to pay fines for such infractions. It has also been accused of non-payment of taxes. The station has been strongly criticised for rarely allowing on air Venezuelans of indigenous or African heritage, even though they are the majority of Venezuela’s population.

The government has singled out RCTV’s role in helping organise the April 2002 US-backed military coup that overthrew the elected Chavez government, which was subsequently restored by a popular uprising of the poor, as the key factor behind the non-renewal. During their time in power, the coup leaders publicly thanked RCTV for its assistance.

These facts have become twisted beyond recognition in a campaign by the corporate media that is part of a drive to paint the Chavez government as moving towards a dictatorship, even though pro-Chavez forces have won 11 straight national elections and Chavez was re-elected in December with the largest number of votes in Venezuelan history.

The corporate media have ignored the fact that 79 out of 81 TV stations, 706 out of 708 radio stations and all newspapers in Venezuela are privately owned, and that the majority of the private media are virulently anti-Chavez. Since Chavez was elected in 1998, only two TV stations have been closed: the state-run Channel 8 during the coup by the coup leaders, and community TV station Catia TV in July 2002 by then-Caracas mayor and coup leader Alfredo Pena.

Freedom of speech has been extended under the Chavez government. Just after Chavez came to power, he passed a law that allowed the entire population the right to use the nation’s airwaves. This legalised a large number of previously illegal “pirate” radio stations, the type of stations that are still illegal in the US. The government has actively promoted community media, especially radio, which has blossomed in recent years. TVes aims to provide a space to the growing movement of independent media producers.

What none of the critics have been able to answer is: which other government in the world would renew the licence of a station that actively participated in a coup against the legitimate government? The tolerance of the Chavez government towards the private media involved in the coup is remarkable. The government has not attempted to shut down RCTV or jail its owners, or even cancel its licence, although it had a strong legal case to do so. Instead, it allowed the licence to run out its term, then chose to grant the concession to someone else.

The government says it is seeking to “democratise” the media, so that those who were previously excluded can have a voice. An article by George Ciccariello Maher posted on on May 29 pointed out that 80% of all messages, information and media content produced in Venezuela are controlled by either Granier or billionaire Gustavo Cisneros, who owns Venevision. Both are married to granddaughters of William H. Phelps Jr. — the founder of 1BC corporation, which runs RCTV. Leading 1BC shareholders include direct descendants of Phelps. Cisneros is also one of the richest men in Latin America, owning a range of industries in Venezuela and across the region.

In light of these facts, the only possible justification for renewing RCTV’s concession is that Granier and his oligarchic mates who own 1BC have some sort of automatic right to use it forever, regardless of how they abuse the privilege. To renew the licence would have sent the message that the likes of Granier, by virtue of their extreme wealth, can break the law with impunity, work to overthrow elected governments and refuse to pay taxes, and they will be rewarded with a renewal of their concession. And by implication, that the majority of Venezuelans, whose access to media is being increased, do not have the same right.

At the heart of the campaign over the media in Venezuela is the Bolivarian revolution being led by the Chavez government, which is redistributing the nation’s wealth and breaking the economic and political power of the oligarchy. This revolutionary process is increasingly empowering the working people and the poor through participatory democracy. The democratisation of the media is a crucial part of this campaign. In keeping with its profoundly democratic nature, the revolution has sought to break the media monopoly — not by silencing the rich minority who exercise the monopoly, but by countering it with an explosion of new media run by the previously voiceless.

All attempts to stop this peaceful and democratic revolution have failed, and the opposition is growing desperate. Having failed to mobilise significant numbers, the opposition then resorted to violence, with some among the protesters on May 26 opening fire on police without provocation, injuring 11 officers. In the days following the May 27 deadline, students from the wealthy universities, which remain strongholds of the elite, took to the streets, burning tires and garbage in order to block traffic, while attacking police with rocks. Yet the corporate media ignored students from the Bolivarian University — created by the Chavez government to provide free education to the poor excluded from the old universities — who marched off campus on May 29 according to a Bolivarian News Agency report, in a show of support for the RCTV decision. On June 2, reported that Avenida Bolivar in central Caracas was completely filled by a “red tide” of people from across the country who took part in a massive demonstration to reject opposition violence and support the govenrment’s stance.

The Venezuelan government believes that behind the RCTV campaign is a new plot to destablise the country in order to undermine the Chavez government, isolate it internationally, and lay the groundwork for its overthrow and for the reversal of the gains made by the revolution by whatever means possible.

The government is upset that a Spanish broadcast by CNN screened footage of a protest in Mexico while claiming it was a protest against the RCTV decision inside Venezuela, and that CNN recently showed an image of Chavez alongside an image of an assassinated al Qaeda leader. The government claims Globovision intended to potentially incite Chavez’s assassination when it followed an interview with Granier with the images of the failed assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II, while a song with the lyrics “Have faith, for it doesn’t end here” played over the top.

The much-vaunted “attack on freedom of expression” supposedly underway in Venezuela, in reality exists in the same places as Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction — inside the minds of the US State Department.

(From International News, Green Left Weekly issue #712 6 June 2007, slightly abridged.)

Right way ahead for France

The French electorate this week forwent an opportunity to pick a woman as the head of the state for the first time, opting instead, by a small but decisive margin, for a sharp turn to the right. It’s a decision quite a few of those who voted for Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday may come to regret before long.
For all his keenness to depict himself as an outsider, Sarkozy was very much a part of the establishment 18 months ago when economically depressed suburbs in cities across France exploded after two youths of Arab origin were electrocuted while being chased by the police. Two days earlier, Sarkozy, in his capacity as interior minister, had described petty offenders as “scum”; few months before that, he had vowed to clean out the Parisian suburb of La Corneuve with an industrial-strength power hose.
If soundbites of this variety, spiced up with a racist flavour, infuriated large numbers of people, they also served as a dog whistle that attracted the far right. The National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen received a smaller proportion of the vote in last month’s first round of the presidential election than he did five years ago because a section of his support base defected to Sarkozy, correctly viewing him as a more effective vehicle for the extremist agenda.
Not surprisingly, the next president’s perceptions of the present are coloured by his views of the past. Twelve years ago, Jacques Chirac admitted collective French responsibility for collaboration with the country’s Nazi occupiers. Sarkozy rejects all guilt on this account. Another favourite subject of his is the supposed falsification of history by those who find cause for shame in France’s colonial past. However, it isn’t very clear which colonial experience he fancies as a particular cause for pride: Algeria? Vietnam? Rwanda and Burundi?
He has been more ambiguous on the subject of the latter-day colonization of Iraq, describing the occupation of that country as a “historical mistake”, yet, during a visit to the US, chiding his own government for its “arrogance” on the matter, to the considerable annoyance of Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. The latter, while serving as foreign minister, responded eloquently to the Bush administration’s belligerent rhetoric at the UN. France played a vital role in ensuring that the US and Britain embarked on their aggression without the world body’s imprimatur.
This was unquestionably the Chirac government’s finest hour on the international stage, and its policy enjoyed an approval rating of 90 per cent among the French public. This helps to explain Sarkozy’s reluctance to diverge too sharply from the near consensus. But had he been ensconced in the Elysee Palace in 2002-03, it is likely that he would have followed in the footsteps of Spain’s Jose Maria Aznar and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi by massaging George W. Bush’s bloated ego with unstinting moral support and a limited military deployment.
Unlike some of its neighbours, postwar France has maintained a certain aloofness from the US. This tradition, established by the president-elect’s putative hero Charles de Gaulle, is likely to be discontinued by “Sarko the American”, which in turn could precipitate a diminution in Europe’s stature in world affairs - not least in the Middle East, where Sarkozy’s attitude towards Israel closely reflects that of the US.
It is on the domestic front, however, that Sarkozy’s progress will closely be analysed, and his campaign benefited from the fact that he brings to the project a clear vision, unpleasant as it may be.
In his victory speech, he vowed to “rehabilitate work, authority, morality, respect, merit”. Whether it was used deliberately or subconsciously, “rehabilitate” is an interesting choice of word, because it carries the implication of bringing back into vogue something that existed in the past. You will seldom find its proponents acknowledging that the neoliberal “reform” process falls squarely in that category, for it is based on the assumption that rapid “growth” and “wealth creation” are contingent on further empowering the owners and controllers of capital while wresting from workers many of the rights that were gained after long and arduous struggles.
This is, in other words, a regressive process, its primary aim being to take relations of production back to where they stood a hundred or so years ago. Small bribes often succeed in restricting resistance to the backsliding. Trade unions tend to sell out, or become so bloated and bureaucratized that they lose the respect and allegiance of their members. But those that continue to serve their historic purpose of agitating and bargaining for better conditions face the wrath of the entrepreneurial classes: they are dismissed as relics of the distant past and as hurdles to “progress”. From the capitalist point of view, the ideal solution to the nuisance posed by organized labour is legislation that strips it of its powers.
That, in part, is the sort of thing Sarkozy has in mind. His supporters hope, and his opponents fear, that his influence on the economic landscape of France will be as profound as the effect Margaret Thatcher produced in Britain. He has the unions in his sights, not least because they proved a year ago that they can still summon up the street power to resist retrograde proposals.
The bone of contention last spring was the de Villepin government’s contrat première embauche, which would have made it easier for employers to sack young workers. It was ostensibly intended to combat widespread youth unemployment, but millions of French workers and students didn’t see why job creation should entail job insecurity, and they poured into the streets in numbers not witnessed since May 1968, compelling Chirac to order a retreat.
Sarkozy has frequently underlined the need to “liquidate the legacy of May 1968”, offering the impression that the events of that tumultuous phase in French history were little more than a mass mobilization in defence of the right to strike. In fact, the radicals of ‘68 were determined to overturn the power structure, and very nearly succeeded in bringing down de Gaulle. They were let down, above all, by a Communist Party fearful of seriously challenging the status quo.
Among the more prominent leaders of the abortive revolution of ‘68 was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who now represents Germany’s Greens in the European Parliament. He recently advised Sarkozy’s presidential rival Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party candidate, to back away from left-wing policies. “If she tries to play it on the traditionally socialist card, she will lose,” he predicted, “because France has veered right.”
So much, then, for the legacy of May ‘68. It was, in fact, liquidated long ago. Sarkozy isn’t inheriting a socialist state any more than Royal would have sought to create one, had she won last Sunday’s election. France does, however, retain elements of the welfare state. As Tony Judt commented in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago: “The dysfunctional French social model, we are frequently assured, has failed. In that case there is much to be said for failure. French infants have a better chance of survival than American ones. The French live longer than Americans and they live healthier (at far lower cost). They are better educated and have first-rate public transportation. The gap between rich and poor is narrower than in the US or Britain, and there are fewer poor people.”
Much of this may no longer hold true once Sarkozy has had his way, but there can be little question that his campaign benefited enormously from the incoherence of the competing vision. Royal was unable to offer voters much more than a vague, unexciting continuity. It wasn’t entirely her fault: the fractious Socialist Party was never solidly behind her, and some socialist voters decided that a dose of Sarkozisme was likelier to reinvigorate the left than a bout of Royalisme. However, the risk is that five or 10 years of Sarkozy could drastically alter the shape of French politics, paving the way for a situation analogous to that of Britain, where the Thatcherite legacy found the ideal host in New Labour.
European social democracy has been in decline for decades: most of the parties associated with that label have convinced themselves that there is no alternative to neoliberal economics and, furthermore, that deviations from the capitalist path are indefensible on the electoral battlefield. No one exemplifies this trend better than Sarkozy’s friend and admirer Tony Blair. The centre has shifted, making it simpler for conservatism to slide towards extremist variants of the creed. Sarkozy, with his appeals to nationalist pride, is one of the consequences. If the drift continues, it is not inconceivable that the far right in Europe will before long acquire “respectability” of the sort it hasn’t enjoyed since the 1930s.
“I will be president of all the French people,” Sarkozy vowed in his victory speech. The diminutive, polarizing politician’s tall claim will severely be tested once he begins implementing his agenda after next month’s parliamentary elections. One of his first targets is likely to be the 35-hour working week. And a harsh crackdown on “delinquency” could reduce France’s unemployment problem the American way: by increasing the prison population, with disproportionate representation for non-whites.

There is a small possibility, of course, that the reality of power will moderate Sarkozy’s crypto-fascist tendencies. However, given that their new president appears to have little time for notions such as liberté, egalité and fraternité, it’s more likely that the plurality of French citizens will sooner or later find themselves rallying to defend not the legacy of 1968 but the spirit of 1789.

The mass movement in Pakistan - from nowhere to everywhere

(Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) General Secretary Farooq Tariq, along with more than 1000 others was arrested on May 4, and released from detention on May 7. Below is an abridged account by Farooq Tariq of the developing movement against the dictatorship in Pakistan.)
On March 8, no-one in Pakistan would have thought a mass movement would erupt in the near future with the potential to overthrow the regime of General Pervez Musharraf. A day later, Musharraf suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, with the illusion that nothing would happen and business would go on as usual.
Musharraf had done this in the past successfully, but it was different this time. Immediately after the suspension, the 80,000 strong advocates’ (lawyers’) community started agitating against the decision.
This peaked on May 14, when for the first time since Musharraf took power in October 1999, the whole of Pakistan shut down. It was the first political strike in seven years and the first political action during that time that was not initiated by the religious fundamentalist forces.
On that day, Pakistan was united against the military dictatorship and the gangsters of the MQM (the United National Movement, which shares power with Musharraf). From Karachi to Peshawar, all the shops were closed and there was little traffic on the streets. In Lahore, more than 15,000 people demonstrated.
Even traders associated with the military regime went on strike. Great anger was expressed against the killing of more than 40 political activists who had attended a reception for Chaudhry on May 12 in Karachi. More than 200 others were injured by the bullets of the MQM thugs.
This neo-fascist organisation, based on the Urdu-speaking immigrants of 1947, controls the local bodies and almost all the provincial and national seats in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. Several busloads of LPP activists were snatched by MQM gangsters, who dragged them inside with guns to their heads. A private TV channel, Aaj, attempted to show the firing live, so the gangsters went and shot at the TV station’s building for over six hours.
Advocates’ movement
The advocates’ movement was started by the bar associations across Pakistan after March 9. Historically, the advocates have been at the forefront of every democratic struggle in Pakistan. They were the main force behind the movement against General Ayub Khan’s dictatorship in the 1960s; they were also responsible for keeping the movement alive during the General Zia dictatorship of the ’80s.
There have been numerous hunger strike camps, protest camps and both small and big demonstrations, mainly by the advocates during the first 60 days of the movement. The movement was built up slowly but steadily, convincing many ordinary Pakistanis to pay it attention.
The first phase of repression against the movement was in the week after March 9. Many advocates were beaten up by police and arrested. That did not work. Then the regime’s strategy was to exhaust the movement by opening up and allowing the demonstrations to take place freely. That brought more people into the movement, including the activists of political parties including the Muslim League (Nawaz), the Pakistan People’s Party, parties associated with Awami Jamhoori Tehreek (the People’s Democratic Movement — a left alliance including the LPP), the Awami National Party, the Baluchistan National Party and the MMA.
The second phase of repression began on May 4, mainly against political activists. I was detained by Lahore police from May 4-7.
The Chief justice
Chaudhry was no different to the other judges who have helped sustain the military regime. But in his two years of office, he supported ordinary Pakistanis who were subject to human rights violations, and particularly helped women victims of rape and conservative, reactionary customary practices. Chaudhry also stopped the privatisation of the Pakistan Steel Mills in Karachi. Yet he has also made decisions against trade union rights and has banned some strikes in the public sector.
While not a worthy hero of ordinary people, Chaudhry earned respect when he refused to resign and was called to the Army House by Musharraf, in the presence of five military generals who immediately removed him from the post and put him under house arrest. This spurred the anger among the advocates, who labelled it an attack on the judiciary.
People were fed up with the regime, but had no trust in the main political parties. The MMA religious fundamentalists, who had the street power, used this to gain more and more concessions from the regime, including power in the North West Frontier Province and sharing power in Baluchistan. But they had come out to save the regime whenever it was in trouble.
Now the religious fundamentalist are trailing behind the advocates’ movement, hoping to hijack it. They have lent their support to the advocates but cannot be trusted to consistently oppose the regime.
Benazir Bhutto admitted last month that the Pakistan People’s Party is in contact with the military regime and is ready to share power with Musharraf as president. This sparked great anger among the advocates, who are mainly led by supporters of the PPP, and Bhutto no longer makes such statements.

How and when Musharraf will step down, who will take over, if there will be general elections or a transitional government of some alliances, are some of the questions being discussed in the movement. One thing is certain — that Musharraf is weaker to an extent never seen before. He cannot last long. Many have started counting the days. He is a general on his last leg.