Begusarai – Has BJP made it a prestige issue?

A thirty two year old is pitched against a senior, seasoned politician in an otherwise non-descript constituency called Begusarai. But it does not seem non-descript at all. Initially, it was RJD’s insistence to not have CPI on its alliance (largely because of this candidate) and now it is because of an interesting battle on cards. The BJP national president had to campaign in this constituency on 24th April. He does not go to each and every constituency and the speakers at the function had to bring back their favourite past time – nation, nationalism, religion – albeit in a hidden tenor but could not refrain from it. Some other star speakers who specialise in the same narrative might follow on. Nobody talked of unemployment, infrastructure, minimum wages, violence again women and so on. Quite naturally, they cannot.

Kanhaiya had other kind of star campaigners – students from nook and corner of India, Javed Akhter, Prakash Raj, Swara Bhaskar and so on. They did not come due to party allegiance but due to the battle that is being waged by Kanhaiya Kumar. He has been made into a symbol of sorts in this fight against the way nation has been run, politics from WhatsApp has been practiced and welfarist institutions have been decimated. One does not know who will win (amidst reports of EVM malfunctions from across country and the effectiveness with which hatred is spread) but it is definitely proving to be a grave concern for BJP for it fears that its candidate may lose to a young turk. BJP is not so concerned at CPI sending another MP to the Parliament but it is concerned at this young man sitting there and blowing apart the rhetoric of the right in the Parliament.

Giriraj Singh did not want to contest from here and had to reluctantly come here – an issue that didn’t make locals very happy. Kanhaiya Kumar, on the other hand, was already in fray for last few months, awaiting a final decision from the party (CPI). The third candidate, Tanvir Hasan, has never won from here and has been a MLC, known to be a quiet person. Begusarai is a prestige seat not so much for Tanvir Hasan or RJD because they do not have to contribute much to the fight against BJP, otherwise they would have not made this a triangular contest putting a candidate without any credentials of anti-right wing struggle against Kanhaiya Kumar who has become a symbol of anti-right struggle today.

The right would go to any extent to ensure that any symbol of resistance against its politics is subdued. The fight for Kanhaiya Kumar is going to be a long one, beyond these elections. The reaction that one gets in Begusarai from the masses cutting across caste and religion is that they would like Kanhaiya Kumar to win and, thereby, shows that the BJP’s prestige seat is not a prestige for the locals. And RJD’s advisors and leaders will never be forgiven for fragmenting a consensus against the right wing politics.

Afghanistan: Can it emerge out of its Darkness with External Assistance?

Wars have been fought historically to control territories in physical sense as well as in non-physical economic sense. In contemporary times these wars are not doing anything different. They have only acquired different weapons – from military stockpiles to the power of media, which presents to the world what the powers that be want to project. The reality and truth have to be dealt with sceptically because the way media presents it to us has been question many a times. They are constructed; they are partisan; and they are part of a larger project. I was a school going child when the television channels and print media had declared that the whole world in unison wanted a war against Saddam Hussain after he trampled Kuwait under his tanks. It left me thinking if the whole world really wanted the western imperialists to wage this war. I know I did not want and I know many more people did not want this. I also know that a survey was not done across world to ask people what they thought about this invasion by the Western forces. A war, which began with the farcical agenda of restoring democracy, could not do much to that effect even after thousands and thousands died over a period of time. America could neither achieve control over natural resources in Iraq nor could it win the war. It created one after the other new ghosts with missiles, grenades and automatic rifles, which came from nowhere else but from USA itself.

When ISIS took over it began using the same arms, manufactured by 24 countries, that it captured from the Iraqi and other forces[i]. A report by Conflict Armament Research (CAR) said that some weapons bought by the U.S. military in 2015 ended up in the hands of Islamic State fighters within two months. “Under at least two different programs, the U.S. government has supplied weapons to Syrian armed groups, first to fight the Assad regime and then to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against the Islamic State. Some of ISIS’ weapons are also thought to have been pilfered from military stockpiles while others were purchased illicitly”[ii]. We very well know what has happened in case of Afghanistan and who armed whom in its history. Those ghosts from the past are the ones haunting today. Politically, Afghanistan seems to be moving in a direction where the forces that wanted Taliban out and considered it as their enemy have now accepted its presence and inevitability. Taliban is being legitimised or has forced powers to recognise itself[iii]. Obviously, a country like India says it is doing this to promote democracy in Afghanistan as its spokesperson said: “India’s consistent policy has been that such efforts should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled and with participation of the Government of Afghanistan”[iv]. When Gen. Austin Miller, the head of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, said that “this is not going to be won militarily… This is going to a political solution” he was only reinforcing the fact that USA and others had failed to secure even their economic interests and had murdered thousands of people in vain. It was also a reiteration that they must get out of Afghanistan. However, it seems difficult and after the mess that they created over 16 years or so it will become extremely difficult for Afghanistan to come back to any kind of normalcy in near future.

War today, as in past, revolves around economy and economic benefits. Unfortunately, for likes of USA or UK they cannot go today and militarily occupy some country as they ran their colonial dreams. Hence, they develop new methods to retain and expand their control. While they spend a lot on military their interest lies in unilaterally deciding how to lead a nation without colonising them in the classic sense. They are colonised today in newer ways – through indirect and direct management of the local democracies and playing a role in the national policy-making and so on.

War means Business: It is not about democracy at all

If one looks at statistics s/he will be tell the amount of money that comes to Afghanistan as foreign aid and the amount that is spent on military operations or towards militarisation of the Afghan society. USA is supposed to have spent a total of around $45 billion in 2018, which is supposed to include “$5 billion for Afghan forces and $13 billion for U.S. forces inside Afghanistan. Much of the rest is for logistical support. Some $780 million goes toward economic aid”[v]. When it comes to spendings, we must not be mistaken that it is being spent on safeguarding people. The weaponry that is used is produced somewhere and wherever it is produced it generates a huge profit there. In other words, a missile, a bomb, a rifle or a tank that is fired or dropped in Afghanistan augments riches of private capital in United states.

The biggest beneficiaries of Pentagon largesse will, as always, be the major defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, which received more than $36 billion in defense-related contracts in fiscal 2015 (the most recent year for which full statistics are available). To put that figure in perspective, Lockheed Martin’s federal contracts are now larger than the budgets of 22 of the 50 states. The top 100 defense contractors received $175 billion from the Pentagon in fiscal year 2015, nearly one-third of the Department of Defense’s entire budget. These numbers will only grow if Trump gets the money he wants to build more ships, planes, tanks, and nuclear weapons[vi].

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) Report of 2018 says that an aid agency like USAID, which has undertaken a project for women in Afghanistan worth $216 million for Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs (Promote), after spending $89.7 million over three years (from 2013 when it was launched) “has not fully assessed the extent to which Promote has improved the status of women in Afghanistan”. Its aim was to improve status of more than 75000 women. Over all, SIGAR’s financial audits have identified more than $414.6 million in questioned costs.

Regarding the anti-narcotics programme of USA SIGAR says that “no counterdrug program undertaken [between 2002–2017] by the United States, its coalition partners, or the Afghan government resulted in lasting reductions in poppy cultivation or opium production.”[vii] One often wonders where does all this money lands, which comes into Afghanistan or is spent on its security (ranging from the purchase of arms and ammunition to employing soldiers or its economic well being).

Creating a New Corrupt Class: Ruling through Proxy

The story of someone like Hikmatullah Shadman, an Afghan trucking-company owner, who earned more than $ 160 million dollars while contracting for the United States military is an example of how an elite formation within the Afghani society has taken place in course of war. His story was that from rags to riches. A person, who went on to become an interpreter for the western forces, got into trucking business as his contacts with them ripened[viii]. The story of Fahim Hashimy, the English language teacher who owned only a bicycle, but after he became interpreter to the American military went on to become a millionaire is only another instance. He went on to own a television company, logistics and construction companies as well as a low-cost domestic airline.[ix]

After the 9/11 attacks, it has been argued that USA was looking for local allies and many of the ex-warlords became obvious choices. The warlords have developed “a mafia-like control of jobs, security services, money, contracts and land”[x]. For instance, Somebody like “Gul Agha Sherzai, the warlord who had retaken the province with the help of the C.I.A. and Special Forces” became the Governor of Kandahar. “…His brother Abdul Raziq was a general in the Afghan Army, in charge of the airport. The Sherzai also controlled lucrative contracts to supply gravel to the American base, and Raziq’s company, Sherzai Construction and Supply, provided trucks to the Americans.” Americans had built an economy on sub-contracting and “Between 2007 and 2014, the U.S. spent eighty-nine billion dollars on contracting in Afghanistan”[xi].

It is interesting that a discourse has also been built by think tanks about how good Gul Agha Sherzai is as a governor/administrator. A Carnegie paper argues that Governor Gul Agha Sherzai

adopted a newcomer’s strategy of co-opting the tribal leadership at the district and village level through regular consultations and the provision of gifts and favors. He has leveraged these relationships, as well as ties to the U.S. military ground forces, to affirm his authority. In so doing, Sherzai has successfully delivered on a variety of priorities, from counternarcotics and reconstruction to provincial security, without necessarily advancing the cultivation of formal institutions of provincial governance[xii].

He is shown to be a person committed to democracy and allowed popular ideas to be included in his governance. The paper says that

In a democracy, people’s ideas should be collected and this is what the governor is doing. If he had started to implement all projects without considering the priorities of the people, it would have distressed people. It would not have received a positive response. He is not a dictator—he has collected people’s ideas and involved people in the decision-making process.

This runs counter to the way he promoted his own interests as shown above. Some other reports have mentioned that when he was “governor of Kandahar, Sherzai allegedly extorted large amounts of money from civilians at police checkpoints, embezzled reconstruction money, and ran protection rackets for opium traffickers. U.S. officials estimate he has a net worth of $300 million after running Kandahar. He has also been accused of murdering and torturing rivals[xiii].

The informal ways in which American capital was pumping in its money was accompanied by the development of highly corrupt formal institutions. Kabul Bank, which became symbol of “progress and modernisation in the country and held the salaries of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, policemen and government staff paid by international donors including America and Japan” nearly collapsed when a fraud scheme of over $861 million was detected. This money was diverted from the bank to “a clique of beneficiaries including the president’s brother”, a British-funded audit by Kroll found out. With a modus operandi that included 10 airline pilots on the payroll to smuggle vast sums of cash out of the country to Dubai via Kabul airport it made most of its loans to 12 individuals. It is said that “Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s brother, received $30.5 million… Haseen Fahim, a brother of the vice president, also received millions. Both men used loans to buy large shareholdings in the bank. The audit found the chairman, Sher Khan Farnood, and chief executive, Khalilullah Frozi, profited most by keeping two sets of books and fabricating loans to divert money to themselves and their other shareholders”. A lot of money was invested in Dubai’s property bubble[xiv].

How the Picture Emerges

As part of its modern day conquest the Western powers invade Afghanistan, obviously with the rhetoric of saving democracy from the hands of forces they themselves had created. The same powers had created the Frankenstein’s monster that went beyond their control. In fact, America built this monster bit by bit – from training in arm combat to bomb making.

American officials estimate that, from 1985 to 1992, 12,500 foreigners were trained in bomb-making, sabotage and urban guerrilla warfare in Afghan camps the CIA helped to set up[xv].

It was a great day for the guerrillas in 1986 when USA gave them Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and provided an overall support to the Afghan “guerrillas” worth $2 billion. Saudi Arabia matched the American money in a joint account in Washington for missiles. Some Saudi princes on their own also funded these guerrillas. Americans went to the extent of exporting around 700 mules from Tennessee to Afghanistan. China supplied rocket launchers[xvi]. The arms that were supplied to the Mujahideens to fight a left government were subsequently used against the suppliers. Now more arms were to be produced, bought and transported to fight those forces that America had created. Hence, the only contented partner in this whole exercise has been the arms lobby, which never ceased producing bombs and weapons whether to be supplied to the Mujahideens or to the Coalition Forces. The clear winners are the arms manufacturer.

What this whole process in Afghanistan from day one did was to not allow Afghanis decide what they wanted their polity to be like. The photographic documentation of life in Afghanistan in 1960s by Dr William Podlich, a faculty of Arizona State University, revealed it to be a completely different world, at least the urban centres. From there to a situation where death dances everywhere is a world apart. And it is important that we think about whom this dance of death entertains, who foments it and who wants it to continue.

A peculiar economy, which survives on aid has come into existence. This economy is extremely hierarchized along class lines with widening gap between those who have pocketed benefits from the foreign money and those who have been not been able to do so. The wide gap is also on account of absence of any other vocation that could expand the service sector or for that matter manufacturing in the country. One often wonders if there is an intentional design on account of those who have pocketed benefits out of war in Afghanistan to let the economy be as it is. This way it will serve the armament industry and would allow the few to remain in power to do things that they want to.

What is of concern amidst all this is that innocent people get caught in this design of the western powers and local entrenched interests, which according to some are also ethnic in nature. The recent instances of Hazara villages being attacked by the Taliban is a point in the case[xvii]. Some scholars are of the view that Ashraf Ghani has very intentionally cracked down on the non-pashtun militias which have been trying to protect themselves against the Taliban because he intends to “legitimize the Taliban as a Pashtun nationalist force through ethnonationalist politics” in order to “expand his base among the radical Pashtuns” so as to muster “more votes in the next election”[xviii]. No doubt Hazaras have been at the receiving end in this conflict but the ethnic question will have to be understood in its complexity and not simply as a conflict between different ethnicities. The recent offensive against the Hazaras has been seen as an effort by Taliban to wrest those regions and put them under their control[xix] and given the past history of how Taliban thinks and what it did to them during 1996-2001 rule it will be disastrous for this community. There have been efforts to construct some idea of a Afghan nation-state and the consistent rhetoric regarding the same laced with some cocktail of democratic practices such as elections and so on are proving contradictory to what is happening on the ground. A democratic politics ought to shun away warlords, contractors and middlemen from the playground and make it an egalitarian, equal opportunity system in the best possible way so that each and every ethnicity, class and gender could participate in the building of a democratic nation. The recognition of Taliban as a political force to negotiate with is a major hurdle in that direction because such a political force feeds on conservative, sectarian and narrow vision of a world, where others (such as particular ethnicities, women in general and subversive ideas) must remain subservient to their vision and practice. Such a politics rather than being democratic would foster aggression, violence and intolerance and that would impede the process of making of the new nation. The nation cannot shun its history, it cannot teach historical amnesia but that is what Afghanistan of today is doing by manipulating their textbooks, which are funded by Americans and Indians alike. You cannot hide Hitler from children, rather tell them what historical conditions produce a Hitler and teach them to work towards not creating those conditions. That is how you shun such a tendency. Afghanistan seems to doing the opposite. It is a massive pedagogical and intellectual failure supported by those powers that believe that the nation should never get out of the peril in which it is trapped.

Endnotes

[i] https://www.amnesty.org.uk/how-isis-islamic-state-isil-got-its-weapons-iraq-syria

[ii] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/isis-weapons-arsenal-included-some-purchased-u-s-government-n829201

[iii] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/india-russia-support-afghan-led-afghan-owned-peace-process-deputy-nsa/articleshow/66621195.cms

[iv] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/11/afghan-peace-conference-india-shares-table-taliban-181109092419577.html

[v] https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2018/02/07/pentagon-afghan-war-costing-us-45-billion-per-year/

[vi] https://www.thenation.com/article/we-are-spending-a-trillion-on-war-and-we-need-to-own-up-to-it/

[vii] https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2018-10-30qr.pdf

[viii] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/03/07/the-man-who-made-millions-off-the-afghan-war

[ix] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32008567

[x] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/the-warlords-casting-a-shadow-over-afghanistan-1682660.html

[xi] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/03/07/the-man-who-made-millions-off-the-afghan-war

[xii] https://carnegieendowment.org/files/warlords_as_bureaucrats.pdf

[xiii]https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/news/2009/10/26/6734/profiles-of-afghan-power-brokers/

[xiv] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/9706093/Kabul-Bank-diverted-540-million-to-group-of-12-in-massive-fraud.html

[xv] https://www.theguardian.com/world/1999/jan/17/yemen.islam

[xvi] https://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/18/world/arming-afghan-guerrillas-a-huge-effort-led-by-us.html

[xvii] https://thediplomat.com/2018/11/a-new-turn-in-the-talibans-war-hazarajat-under-siege/

[xviii] ibid

[xix] https://www.rferl.org/a/afghan-taliban-wants-what-it-hasn-t-been-able-to-hold-hazara-regions/29598848.html

The University Administrators

अजीब हैवानियत है इसमें
कहता है अपने आप को
प्रशासन
हमे सिखाता है कैसे पढ़ाया जाए
कैसे किया जाए रिसर्च
जैसे हम है नादान

खुद नहीं पढ़ता कुछ
खुद नहीं लिखता कुछ
लेकिन शिक्षा की
बागडोर है उसके हाथ में

प्रशासन के नाम पर
छात्रों की छात्रवृत्ति बंद कर दे
मजदूरों की तनख्वाह रख ले
बीमारों को छूट्टी न दे

प्रशासनिक शिक्षको को मिला है जिम्मा
कैसे बनाए बेहतर
इस निर्मम व्यवस्था को
तैयार करें इंसानी मशीनों को

एहसास है मुझे
तेरी संगत ने हैवान बनाया है
दूर रहूं यही बेहतर है

———-

Punjab, Goa and Delhi Elections: Scripting a Requiem for AAP

The municipal election results of Delhi have been of special interest this time not so much because one wanted to see whether the BJP-RSS wave (a combination of corporate capital and cadre based politics) sweeps it or not but more because it would give a mid-term appraisal of AAP’s hold over the city. First it was AAP’s humiliating defeat at the Rajouri Garden constituency in an assembly bypoll and now it’s drubbing in the MCD elections. The party would have its usual naïve and implausible explanation – such as after the assembly bypoll Arvind Kejriwal’s comment that people in Rajouri Garden constituency were unhappy because their sitting MLA was sent to Punjab – and then after MCD elections it is obviously the EVM’s fault. Those who are blaming the will have to ensure that when paper trail will be introduced in 2019 General Elections they must win to prove that BJP wins only because it manipulates the machines because they don’t they would be further discredited. The opposition in general and AAP in particular are still not seriously analyzing the reasons of BJP’s victory and therefore have no plan to counter its surge.

However, this is the right time to reflect upon the ‘phenomena’ called AAP. When it won the landslide victory in assembly elections in 2015 analysts and activists felt that a new political force had descended on India’s political horizon. Remember that when it won it was not a chance victory but a concerted work by ‘volunteers’ from across the country and it was a victory of ‘hope’ that AAP would cleanse the system and allow an ideal and clean model of governance. You would have sat in a rickshaw two years back and heard words of praise for ‘Kejriwal’. Going around Delhi talking to people then one felt an excitement about this new political force. The frustration of the middle class with the existing parties and governments and its search for an ‘ideal-type’ governance found an echo with AAP while the poor of the city saw promise of a better life in its rhetoric. The contractual teachers, the temporary DTC staff, the health employees and more importantly the youth had hope from the new dispensation. These hopes, two years down the line, have been shattered and the support base among youth, middle class and the precariously working population has declined drastically.

It all started when a few people within AAP felt insecure and started purging it of others who might have challenged them as objections were raised to the way tickets were distributed among many other things. Given that some of the MLAs have been forced out of the party has partially proven those objections to be true. On another front the party started appointing its public faces to different state bodies, which could have been given to others from outside the party to expand the organisational reach and the public faces could have been assigned important organisational role. For instance, it could have started identifying intellectuals with expertise to head bodies and it would have sent a different message. Along with this its experiments in student’s politics in Delhi University failed miserably and it could neither make inroads into the vast mass of unorganised workers who have been suffering from extremely precarious existence. Like other non-BJP political forces it failed to organisationally capitalise on the demonetisation issue as well. Many of these things were difficult to manage because of the high rhetoric that AAP engaged in during elections. It lacked the basic understanding and foresight that once in state power it would have to follow the rules of the game like going back to a welfare state when the national economy is being aggressively neoliberal was an impossibility. It also needed to realize that within the given framework there are limitations imposed by countervailing political and bureaucratic forces.

It has undertaken significant initiatives in the field of education and health as one could see infrastructural developments such as construction of school buildings and improving health facilities. However, it failed when it came to regularizing teachers in their jobs and undertaking qualitative changes in curriculum and pedagogy. It made a historical decision to implement the idea of neighbourhood school which was recommended as early as 1966 by Kothari Commission and it would have set in motion a lot of changes in schooling system but it could not foresee the High Court’s rejection of the notification at private school’s plea. A step like this could have been made use of if there was an organisational set up to follow it up and take it to the larger public. The idea that private systems of education or health care are not the affordable solutions to the education and health needs of masses and that there can be alternative models as Scandinavian countries or British or French systems demonstrated prior to their dismantling by neoliberal state could not be taken to public. The reason was AAP has lost its network and it never had a robust cadre base.

If AAP needs to save itself from a wipe-out in 2020 it will have to understand two things – that it’s rhetoric and promises of 2015 cannot be achieved fully on account of many political and economic reasons and, secondly, to survive Congress is not the opposition it is the BJP, which has a huge cadre support base through RSS and financial support through corporate funding. In order to sustain itself it will have to expand itself and get out of an oligarchic organisational set up and try to build organisations across the sections that it considers its long term support base. During the MCD elections in a constituency like Greater Kailash or Chitranjan Park one could see that it did not have volunteers, leaflets, public meetings, hoardings or any local mohalla faces. The others had all these. If they do not realise right now and start acting on it even after Punjab, Goa, Rajouri Garden and MCD fiascos this might be a requiem for a political trend that appeared briefly only to get lost in what seems to becoming an unipolar Indian politics.

Challenges of New Unionisation – Do we pay sufficient attention to Changed Situation

I was urgently required to get my bank passbook updated and when I asked somebody I was told that it may not be possible the the trade unions from Left and Centre had given a call for All India Strike. It had slipped out of mind and it tells a lot about where I stand politically vis-a-vis the whole issue and within the system. As a student one had fought physical battle on streets with right wing groups and police to ensure that the All India Strike was made successful at the site where we worked as students. As a faculty that was not there. It needs to be thought over.

Coming back to my passbook updating business (which is generally done by machines nowadays as banks have been replacing humans with these electronic equipment) I thought of giving it a try and went to one of nationalised banks and saw that the staff was there and it was working as usual. The difference from last time I visited was that instead of senior staff all counters had youngsters sitting. And it struck me whether it is the casualised/contractualised work force which is hired nowadays so that the threats of strikes etc., are minimised. I can see that happening in universities where the staff has been increasingly contractualised and have lost the right to strike work in a situation of hire and fire through contractors of different kinds. In such a situation it does a significant challenge to unionise and bring these people out on streets.

On the other hand, it also pushed me think about the extent to which the traditional unions have been able to integrate themselves with the employees/unions of the private banks where there have been cases of harassment by management for participation in strikes etc. If the demands are against privatisation will it be possible for the private bank employees to become part of the call, unless the demand is for nationalisation of the private banks? There are many more questions concerning the conditions in which the traditional employees and, therefore, unions have worked and the way the new private sector employees in the given situation work. It will be challenge to bring on board the traditionally established unions and the new kinds of workers that have emerged post liberalisation of economy. Only this is the way out to ensure that the capital is challenged in unison because then only will it face the sense of crisis generated by strikes etc.

Greece: People Reject the Obstinacy of Capital

Despite the efforts by the Corporate Capital directly as well as indirectly the Greeks have stood up against the bullying by European powers. Veiled and open threats, that would nowhere be termed democratic, unless bourgeois democracy would mean in its ultimate run a rule by corporate capital, failed to diminish the spirit of Greeks against the austerity. It is not the victory of political coalition as much as it is an assertion by people – the pauperised masses – against the brutality of capital. It has also proven that there is no disconnection between being radical in thought and action. The idea of brutality and callousness of capital translates into a rebellion irrespective of what lies in future. This is also not so much to ponder over what future holds except that the popular won’t tolerate suffering beyond a point. It would, however, pose a challenge to how Left consolidates this upheaval and how it fights, in a non-sectarian way, the monster of capitalism. And this is what makes Merkel and her likes nervous. As the solidarity protestor on streets of Portugal said: “we were not so courageous as the Greeks when the same happened to us”. What if courage extends to the suffering masses in Spain and Portugal?

This may or may not trigger a similar rebuttal of austerity measures – basically another name to compel people to suffer to ensure that private capital continues its insatiable run to devour the labour of masses. But this would definitely force the people around the world the possibility to stand against the bullying by banks, states and their patrons – the private capital. The imagination of another world is alive in the In the minds of people vis-a-vis the TINA syndrome forced upon us. The times for a global solidarity are most urgently needed.

An open letter to Aam Admi Party (AAP) on educational issues

Dear Mr. Arvind Kejriwal,

I write this without knowing whether your party will win the elections in Delhi. I seek to draw your attention to the pathetic state of education in Delhi due to mindless privatization which has taken away the basic right of poor and other marginalized section to be educated and be at par with anybody else irrespective of whether the person comes from public or private education system.

The education system needs a complete overhauling. The farcical Right to Education Act would never make education a fundamental right and anybody with even a bit of critical mind can realise how farcical the act has been. In fact, it was an act that the ruling classes needed to get through due to pressure from the so-called civil society organisations. It also makes evident the skewed vision of education of even non-state actors and educationists who whole-heatedly supported this Act.

No doubt the enrolment figures have gone up and many new schools have also been opened but it is clear that the inaccessibility is still a major issue along with high drop out. And these are issues for those sections who cannot purchase education of good quality. What is also evident is a stark distinction between the education that the poor and deprived population gets compared to the classes which can buy education. The condition of government schools has been pathetic though in past many “progressive” academics and activists were part of the machinery that runs these schools during earlier regimes. Their vision was always dictated by subservience to the business classes because like the state they could not think of improving the condition of government schools because it would bring them at par with or make them much better than the private schools. At least whatever happened on the ground reflects this and has led me to this conclusion.

I realise that if your government comes to power it would not be able to radically control the private schools because of many factors but there will be still possibility to work towards certain things that can improve the condition of government schools. Globally, there has been a history of high quality public education coexisting with private schooling till neoliberalism completely destroyed public education system in those places as well. You must be aware that though the number of private schools has been increasing but the public education system is still the dominant one. And if your government works towards improving the condition of these schools it will have far reaching impacts. I believe the following areas need to be prioritised in education to start with if your party comes to power:

  1. Improve the infrastructure of public schools and bring them at par with Kendriya Vidyalayas of pre-contractualisation stage
  2. Ensure that there is a government school within one km radius of each habitation
  3. The schools must hire regular teachers instead of contractual teachers
  4. Class sizes must be cut
  5. Any traits of communalization of education system must be dealt with strictly by the government
  6. All schools – private or public – must have Parent-Teacher-School Administration councils to check undue things happening at the school and to control the whimsical nature of school management
  7. The teachers must undergo rigorous training after the teacher training institutes are overhauled in terms of their content unlike now when the teacher training is not a priority
  8. Education must try to impart critical education and it is important to define what is ‘critical education’
  9. Critical education must aim at preparing citizens which believe in democracy, social justice, secularism and equality. This needs to be done across the curriculum. Children should be taught to question the world in front of them and the curriculum needs to address this.
  10. Critical education must constitute basis of education and not the uncritical skill based education which the corporate houses want so that uncritical people are produced to serve them
  11. The public education can be strengthened to an extent that it can offer better education than private education system but the governments in past have always aimed at destroying and delegitimising public education system so that the corporate houses can spread their business
  12. In higher education all state managed institutions must be made more transparent, less authoritarian, freed of contractualisation
  13. The government must ensure that there are teacher and student unions in higher education institutions that would ensure the above mentioned aspects
  14. The institutions must not be brought under unnecessary pressure to provide only skill-based education because this would subsequently destroy social sciences and humanities and any space for critical thinking

While I am writing counting of votes is still to happen and one does not know who would win the elections. I would not have written such a letter if your party would have had a history like that of other parties who have made it clear that their interest is no longer in improving public education system or public health system. I do not need to tell you how desperate the corporate capital is to take over the two primary social sectors as indicated through their numerous calculations about how much profit can be earned if the state opens up these two sectors. Education and health are two crucial needs of the poor in an economy where the income and wealth gap between rich and poor has been growing.

I hope that if a new government comes it will act towards improving the education system and not become another instrument of private capital.

Best of luck

Left and General Elections 2014: Crisis and Possibilities for Working Class Politics

Parliamentary Left seems to have lost steam – organizationally as well as electorally. CPI(M) was prudent enough to admit well in advance that it would not do well. The results only a testimony to where CPI as well as CPI(M) stand today. It is not only the decline in number of seats in provincial Assemblies and Parliament but also its strength across different sectors where it organized peasants, agricultural labourers, students and workers in industry. This becomes a matter of concern when the politics is based on cadres. The other kind of politics which is cadre based is that of RSS and it has scored victory for BJP in collaboration with/for corporate capital. It implies that the floor is gradually slipping from under the feet.

Ajoy Bhawan, the CPI headquarters, does not look the same today. Once bustling with cadres it wears a desolate look with a few leaders around carrying the burden of a party, which seems to be dying a slow death. The situation seems further grim when one looks at the near alarming absence of a second line of leadership. For instance, the student mass fronts in the past years have not contributed to party leadership. Both CPI and CPI(M) face this crisis. The new leadership, which would take reins of the Party once the current batch of leadership is gone is either lacking or has dismal training in Marxism leave aside their experience of mass politics. Also these parties have failed to grow beyond the geographical areas, which used to be their strongholds. Even in those places they are already on decline. CPI(M) in West Bengal or Kerala or CPI and CPI(ML) in Bihar are examples of this trend.

The death like silence at Ajoy Bhawan tells the story of where Communist Party of India stands today. On the other hand, last year CPI and CPI (ML) Liberation, organised rallies in the state of Bihar, which was marked by huge attendance. In fact, observers stated that the number far exceeded expectation of the leadership raising questions of disconnect that is happening between the situation on the ground and the leadership. There are many issues that have culminated into this decline – ranging from gradual dissipation of political distinctness that the Left earlier stood for to the way internal culture of the Left has resulted in disgruntlement within the parties. The politics of alliance hollowed its mass base across states while its failure to distinguish between Party and the Government in places like West Bengal generated all sorts of deviations.

It is no surprise that the spaces vacated by them have been usurped by political formations such as Aam Admi Party (AAP). An example of these trends are not only found in CPI(M) where a section of active members left the party on the issue of supporting Pranab Mukherjee’s presidential candidature but also in CPI where its students wing, AISF, which revived a near death in Bihar and went on to win Patna University students union elections, is witnessing demoralising effect due to the recent developments in the state party. The way recent revival of the AISF brought new exuberance among the students had been historic. However, their spirit watered down due to internal squabbles within Party over candidature issues as well as over the issue of alliance with the ruling JD (U). The parliamentary Left, for many reasons, cannot read the signs of popular disenchantment with the ruling class politics expressed through different political parties. The space which has been created in recent past by crisis of capitalism and the unabashed looting of public money by corporate houses with active direct and indirect support of political parties have not been used by this Left. For instance, in a situation of high food inflation, growing costs of health and education and what stopped Left from taking to people issues such as how state does not mind doling out lakhs of crores to corporate houses as bad loans or tax waivers but when it comes to providing basic facilities it talks of resource crunch. A development paradigm that is starkly distinct from those of the other political formations would have touched the cords even though the past history might have created some hurdles.

When the media under dictat of the corporate capital created what BJP calls the ‘Modi wave’ it also become amply clear that people looked for an alternative to the Congress regime, which pauperised the masses. Along with this the opportunist alliances of regional political parties is also loosing its credibility. They sustain on the national scene because of the decline of the two national parties and absence of an alternative to BJP and Congress. What India, in its electoral history, is yet to see is a national alliance of Left forces in this situation. There is an obvious situation of a two-party system with the regional formations ultimately making a choice to be party to either of the two ideological positions (UPA or NDA), which are not very different except in how they pitch the class politics of private capital. An credible alternative to this political situation can come only from an alliance of the Left front, which bases itself on a concrete political and economic discourse counterposed to that of UPA and NDA and is driven by the strength of the cadres vis-à-vis that of the corporate capital. Third front patched up through temporary conglomerate of ideologically diverse forces cannot be a viable alternative in long term. An electoral experiment as seen in the case of De Linke in Germany or Antarsya or Syriza in Greece do open up possibilities of left front with CPI, CPI(M) and CPI (ML) coming together. Setting aside the sectarian politics and keeping mind the common political goal they may think towards a common platform.

As a micro-level case – Bihar shows how the decline of the Left has been quite prominent and how, finally, only political forces with a cadre base are able to sustain their base. The General elections of 2014 showed how forces like RJD or JD (U) fight battles of electoral survival because their history has been of inconsistent politics and political allegiance. They get compelled to become part of bigger/national political formations – either BJP or Congress. BJP remains a potent force because it’s political rhetoric of being pro-corporate under garb of ‘development’ is effectively supported by the strong cadre base on the ground. As far as the regional forces like JD(U) or RJD are concerned they do have a concept of cadre based organisation but flourish on allegiances to a political satrap. In this battle for political survival social identities become an important tool to mobilise the voters diverting attention from the issues of everyday struggles. The role of the Left ought to be different in such a situation – to bring to fore the contradictions of this politico-economic order, which it has failed miserably to do at the cost of its waning influence. Third front is not the alternative as shown by the post-1989 politics in the country. This was the time when the right wing assertion driven by corporate capital could have been effectively countered by the working class politics of the left had they not faltered along way.

Vote for ‘Change’ is after all not a vote for change

This is historic not because BJP has won the General Elections 2014 but because it decimated Gandhis, Samajwadi Party, Mayawati, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav and the Left. Jayalalitha, Mamta Banerjee and Navin Pattnaik have somehow held onto their grounds. The Facebook, at least whose posts were visible to me, went silent once it became evident that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will win the General Elections. Maybe gradually they would reappear after introspecting into their arguments. The calculations and counter-calculations about how difficult it was for BJP to win also stopped. Maybe those who were claiming to having their ears to the ground need to concede that they did not have an inkling about the electoral battleground. This is a clean sweep with decimation of all political forces. The Left has been further marginalized and needs to do some serious introspection. As per the logic of representative democracy the nation wants Narendra Modi as Prime Minister and the ‘past’ did not really matter to people who voted. However, it may be argued that the candidate who wins an election, in fact, gets less votes than the combined will of others who do not want him/her to win. Hence, there is a substantial mass which did not want BJP to come to power. But that is all in the realm of speculation.

The vote is no doubt for change, as BJP says. However, what is tricky here is the idea of ‘change’ itself. The need for change appears in any situation when the existing conditions of existence are not satisfactory; when the status quo needs to be altered. Change in electoral democracy is conveyed in many ways – when drains are overflowing and political party in power does nothing people want a change; when farmers commit suicide due to agrarian crisis and the issue remains unaddressed people want change; when industry is not allowed freedom to do what they want to do they want change and so on and so forth. ‘Change’ as an idea, in other words, is used by different people located in different situations and it emerges out of where they locate themselves vis-a-vis the others as well. Hence, there is a movement for radical social change and there is momentary hullabaloo for change; there is a clamor to change the government which stifles the business and there are voices for change against those who take over people’s lands, mountains, forests and rivers. In the representative democracy when RSS or BJP say that it is a vote for change they are not mistaken. People did not vote for others for a reason – they thought BJP will bring about ‘change’ in their lives. Congress and its allies of different kind had led to devastation of people’s lives – their everyday affair was in shambles, from food inflation, to corruption, to unemployment to shamelessness of telling people that they can survive a day with Rs.32 or have food for Rs.12. But then why did BJP become the only alternative for people is something which needs serious rethinking.

Here, notably, what bourgeois politics and its version of democracy represented through electoral exercise does is that it modifies the idea of ‘change’ to not necessarily changing of status quo but to changing of the facade of the existing forms of governance. In other words, like the Parsonian framework they argue that the problems of hunger, poverty, corruption, violence against women, etc., can be resolved by tinkering with the different instruments/units of the system. The system is not wrong or responsible for all these problems but may be a new party or a new Prime Minister will resolve the problems. The effort is always to convince people that the problem is largely because of some mismanagement of the system, it is not because a few want to accumulate as much wealth as possible at the cost of others.

It is important to highlight that if an analysis of representative democracy continues to be done with reference to the cosmetic changes it would always yield erroneous analysis. What has to be understood is the fact that there is discontent with the existing order of things. And this discontent is due to the way the existing system through its aggressive and persistent focus ensures that a few keep getting rich at the cost of most. It is essentially because of how a farmer’s loan if unpaid is a crime but a corporate loan of over Rs.70,000 crore becomes an act of celebration. The discontent is because the system facilitates an easy life for the owners of capital at the cost of others. This discontent is not so much about secularism and communalism, which some political forces treat as if devoid of any politico-economic content. It is the fallacious understanding of ideas of secularism and social justice that has allowed under different garbs the basic questions to be scuttled by the electoral politics. It has failed to bring forth the idea that the oppressed communities need ultimately a politics that radically alters the nature of the existing system; that addresses the profound reasons for the discontent rather than its superficial textures.

It is amply clear that the misdeeds of a regime (Congress in this case) carried the potential of generating sufficient discontent. A situation had to be avoided by the corporate capital wherein an ‘unstable’ government is formed which may not accede to its demands and whimsical desires. Hence, the only option was to supplant Congress with BJP. It is this logic which saw money and resources being pumped into the election campaigns of the BJP and a little less into that of Congress. There is a fear of ‘instability’ because it would upset the existing arrangements whether it is about pricing of natural resources or taking away the benefit of tax waivers or subsidies to corporates. Though, this would also mean ‘change’ but that change has to be avoided in the interests of the corporate capital. Therefore, the vote for ‘change’ would continue to remain a farce. In fact, it is another means to ensure that the corporate capital has a way in dictating how the economy and politics of the nation should be. What this election has done is given a strong hand to the capitalist class to do what they would like to. This is the meaning of a ‘strong and stable’ government.

The Charge of the Neoliberal Brigade and Higher Education in India

This paper looks at the state of higher education in India – in terms of policies and the trajectory that it has taken in the aftermath of neoliberalisation of the economy. Through studying the discourses that construct the edifice of the educational complex in the country, it unravels the dynamics of how economy, politics and education interact. Lastly, it explores the possibilities of countering the neoliberal offensive of capital and create a more egalitarian higher education system.

Full paper at The Journal of Education Policy Studies