Failure of Democracy in India-Say no to use of Army and Air Force against our own people

How many times can a man turn his head,

And pretend that he just doesn’t see

-Bob Dylan

A spectre is haunting the Indian ruling class-the spectre of Maoism. All powers have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: P. Chidambram and Mohan Bhagwat, Manmohan Singh and Raman Singh, Budhhadev Bhattacharya and Tarun Vijay, N. Ram and Arnab Goswami. On various platforms, both national and international, our prime minister and home minister have been telling the world how it is the ‘biggest internal

Police atrocities in Lalgarh

threat’ facing the Indian nation. Corporate backed mainstream media houses have been penning down stories telling us about the trigger happy ways of the Maoists. What is surely left out quite intentionally in these stories is the context, or the socio-economic roots of the movement or even the innumerable atrocities committed by state backed militias in different parts of the country. Hundreds of villages have been evacuated in Chattisgarh alone and the mainstream media (barring a few exceptions) never found time to document it. Women of Chattisgarh are alleging rape by Salwa Judum men, but the courts in India refuse to listen. Only recently in September in Chattisgarh, the state personnel stabbed 19 people to death, raped the women, cut off the breasts of a 70 year old woman, cut off the fingers and tongue of a 2 year old kid. And precisely when the people retaliate on these forces, these mercenaries become national heroes overnight for the government. Police atrocities in Lalgarh crossed all limits, and the Central or the State Governement never found time to even acknowledge it. And the moment people rose up in rebellion, the Central Government wasted no time in cooperating with the state government in West Bengal to crush the movement. And who was it these forces crushing-its very own citizens, in fact the most impoverished ones, fighting against deprivation, destitution and for a life of dignity. However we have been told is that this is a fight against terrorism, and surely when it comes to terrorism it is blasphemous in our country to ask for any more details, it doesn’t matter if poverty is equated with terrorism.

War against ‘Terror’

In the last few days, the Indian government has deployed 100,000 troops in parts of central India, including Chattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand. Forces are being withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast to join battalions of CRPF commandos, the ITBP, the CoBRA and the BSF. There is also talk of bringing in the Rashtriya Rifles – a battalion created specially for counter-insurgency work – and the purchase of bomb trucks, bomb blankets, bomb baskets, and sophisticated new weaponry. The Air Force has already been deployed and a full scale air operation is in the offing. There are reports that the operation in Jharkand has already started. There are also reports that the police and paramilitary forces have tortured people in Hardali village in Girdih district and Fatehpur village in Ranchi district. Indiscriminate arrests have also taken place. In short the Indian state has declared war against its most oppressed population. It is not a mere coincidence that the same region of Central India is highly rich in minerals, which can be sold to the highest bidders once the region is evacuated in the name of fighting the Maoists. Hundred of MoU’s have already been signed. All that stands between the politicians and this wealth are the tribals.

India was the one of the first countries to extend its hand of friendship to Sri Lanka in its recent genocidal war against Tamils. It also supported the rejection of a UN intervention by the Sri Lankan government this war. Home Minister P. Chidambram (former lawyer for Enron-the corporate involved in the biggest scam in the country and member of the board of directors of Vedanta, the multinational that is devastating the Niyamgari hills in Orissa) told us this was the perfect model to be adopted in India to fight the ‘Red menace’.  The reasons now seem pretty clear. The 5th the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution grants tribals complete rights over their traditional land and forests and prohibits private companies from mining on their land. Once the area is evacuated, like the Sri Lankan model, which by the way Salwa Judum has already been doing for the past few years in Chattisgarh, the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution will not apply, and the land can easily be handed over to the multi-nationals. And we were told only the Maoists didn’t respect the Indian constitution!

The NEP and its Consequences

Under Manmohan Singh as the finance minister in the year 1991, India opened up its markets to corporate globalization under the guise of making the economy more ‘efficient’. The consequences have been disastrous to say the least. Foreign capital, collaborating with and dominating over Indian capital, has acquired a strategic role hold over the economy. More Indians are below the poverty line than ever before. Malnutrition around the country is worse than at the time of Independence. The Arjun Sengupta report revealed that 77% of the population lives under Rs. 20 a day. The new economic policy has attacked whatever little access the poor had to forests, lands, water resources, etc.  Lakhs of farmers have committed suicide, over a lakh in the small district of Vidarbha alone.

Farmer suicides in Andhra-Around 25 farmers committed suicide within a period of 50 days around August 2009

The state is pulling out of its responsibilities even in sectors like education, health care, etc. The country’s healthcare sector is one of the most privatized ones in the world, even worse than that of the US. The problem of displacement has intensified to a great level in this era of privatization and free market. However, at the same time through the non-payment of taxes, through a variety of subsidies and transfers, and through lucrative state support, corporate fortunes have been built up. This period has also seen the rise of a burgeoning middle class, more indifferent and insensitive than ever and aesthetically, culturally, socially, politically at an all time low, making the situation even more depressing. What we are witnessing in our country, to quote Arundhati Roy is the ‘most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in independent India — the secession of the middle and upper classes from the rest of the country.’ It is not a big surprise that our films, books and news channels also no longer speak about such issues. The priorities seem to have changed. In fact most of these purveyors of public opinion are funded by the same corporates who have brought the country to the brink of a civil war.

The apologists of the ruling class who point to the 9% growth rate as an indicator of the benefits of the 1991 ‘reforms’ should realize that the only meaningful criteria of economic progress is whether increased national incomes are available to the people. When the efforts of the working people produce wealth for a non-working minority, when the working people are deprived of their rightful share in the increased national income, what takes place is not progress but more exploitation and deterioration of the people’s living conditions. In fact, absorption into the imperialist sector does not mean that there will be no growth or development, only that it would be highly exclusionary and uneven and would mean intensified exploitation and greater misery for the vast majority. Therefore the way forward is not continued development, but a revolutionary break with the entire capitalist system. As imperialism always consists of unequal and uneven development, revolution is not only a possibility but a must.

P.Chidambram who insists upon only a military solution to the entire ‘problem’, recently came up with a wider developmental plan. According to him, once the entire Maoist presence is ‘wiped/flushed’ out, he will go ahead with his ‘developmental’ plan which, he says, will bring employment to the area. However, the fact of the matter is that the entire fight is against such a development model-one that is undertaken by multinationals, is exclusionary and displaces ten times more people than it employs. What he is offering is not the solution, but the problem itself.

Mode of Struggle

A lot of intellectuals, activists opposed to concept of armed struggle have pointed out that such a strategy has no place in a democracy. However there is an important need to question how democratic is ‘Indian democracy’? More than 90% of all independent candidates lost the current Lok Sabha elections, only underlining the fact that it is impossible to win an election without party support (which once again is funded by certain corporates). A democracy survives on certain institutions. However in the case of Indian society, in this era of free market, all these institutions, be it the press, judiciary, administration or even the civil society have been reduced to commodities to be sold to highest bidders. The class bias of Indian judiciary has also been quite well documented. The courts remain virtually inaccessible to a vast majority of is citizens. Even when they have been approached, the poor have got an unfavorable response, while at the same time powerful corporates have got highly favorable verdicts.  To cite a recent example in a case regarding urban slum dwellers the courts have gone to the extent of passing judgments which say “rewarding an encroacher on public land with a free alternate site is like giving a reward to a pickpocket.” At the same time a recent Supreme Court judgement, allowing the Vasant Kunj Mall to resume construction though it didn’t have the requisite clearances, said that the questions of corporations indulging in malpractice does not arise! According to Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan part of the reason for this “lies in the class structure of the Indian judiciary. The higher judiciary in India comes from the elite section of the society and has become a self appointing and self perpetuating oligarchy.” The state has also ignored virtually all non-violent resistance movements in the past be it in Bhopal or the ‘Narmada Bachao’ movement. The movement launched by the PCPA in Lalgarh against police atrocities, asking police forces to apologize for molesting women, was ruthlessly crushed. Various human rights activists who have spoken out against such policies have also been time and again targeted by the state. The case of Binayak Sen is well known who spent almost 2 years in prison only because the state felt it important to silence him for sometime to go ahead with its genocidal policies. Extra-judicial killings of political workers in some of these struggles are also a known phenomenon. The West Bengal government only last month arrested political activists who had been vocal in their ciriticism of the government. As economist Paul Sweezy points out ‘Third World countries that ally with the advanced capitalist countries are characterized by military or police state of one kind or another.’ India, under the garb of being the ‘world’s largest democracy’ is a police state in large parts of the country and is fast turning more authoritarian state with every passing day. The government uses draconian laws like AFSPA, UAPA, MCOCA, Official Secrets Act, Chattisgarh Public Security Act to silence all voices of dissent and to suppress people’s movements. It is impossible for the dominant classes to maintain high rates of exploitation without such coercion. At such a moment if people decide to pick up arms just because every other option has ended in despair, it is important on our part to realize the conditions that has led to such a situation. To sit in urban citadels and discredit the entire movement as a ‘terrorist movement’ will not just be wrong but also unethical. It will not only amount to supporting the status quo but will also legitimize the violence that is entrenched in the very structure of our so called ‘democracy’.

What we are witnessing is a failure of democracy. A democracy is known by how it treats its most vulnerable sections. If the most vulnerable sections of the country look up to the Maoists and not the Indian state for help, does it not mean that the Maoists are democratic in their outlook and worldview than the Indian state. It is important to realize that the Maoist movement has certain socio-economic roots and has highlighted certain genuine people’s issues. The current counter-insurgency strategy planned by the Indian state will only lead to death of thousands. This war is being fought in our name and against our own people. It is important to resist this and to let the Manmohan-Chidambram-Budhhadev fascist clique know that this war might satisfy the interests of their corporate lobbies, bit is certainly not in the national interest.

(This article was  published in Radiance Viewsweekly dated 14 November 2009 and Towards a New Dawn– November-December 2009)


Empire’s New Emperor

Umar Khalid

It has always been those few who can see through the political correctness and hypocrisy of popular attitudes who are considered the most dangerous. — Robin Davis

Many Muslim leaders across India and the world have hailed US President Barack Obama’s speech to the Muslim world as “historic” and “a major breakthrough”. This response is not just premature but also flawed.

The speech was full of rhetoric and riddled with contradictions suited to safeguard American strategic interests. He begins his speech by asserting that “the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalisation led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam”. This is quite reminiscent of the famous George Bush speech: “Why do they hate us? Because they hate our freedoms!”

No, Dear President, there are other reasons for what fuels anti-Americanism among many Arab nations and in other parts of the world. It concerns what the American State has been doing in these nations for the past 50 years (either militarily or through economic sanctions). Things like the UN sanctions in Iraq which resulted in the death of half a million Iraqi children after the Kuwait invasion by Saddam Hussain), a US-backed coup to topple the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953 in Iran (incidently he accepts this in the latter part of the speech!), are just a few of the many instances.

He terms the American occupation of Afghanistan a “humanitarian intervention” and “a war of necessity”. Well, the war in Afghanistan is part of the imperialist drive of the US to dominate the world’s two most important sources of oil and gas, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Basin. The American invasion of Afghanistan has resulted in the death of more than 80,000 Afghan civilians. That’s quite a large number of human casualties which, rather than challenging the extremists, has further strengthened them because they represent the only section challenging the occupation. Also, the secular sections of the Afghan society have either been bought by the empire or roped into the NGO business. Besides, wasn’t it the Reagan administration that really backed the same “stirred up mullahs” to fight the Soviets during the late 1980’s in what was termed as a holy war? As Arundhati Roy asserts, “Justifying imperialism is like justifying something as bad as child abuse or rape.”

Coming to the Iraq invasion, Obama informs us that while America seeks no basis in Iraq, Iraqi society is better off without the tyranny of  Saddam Hussain. This is once again quite similar to another famous remark made by George W. Bush that “the world is a safer place without Saddam Hussain”. Obama makes no mention of the destruction caused by the American invasion– death of 1.2 million civilians, devastation of infrastructure, and millions being brought to the brink of starvation. Ironically, when Hussain was conducting his worst atrocities, he had the full support of the US (and the CIA) both financially and politically, both overtly and covertly.

On the Palestinian issue, he justifies the creation of Israel on account of the massacre of 6 million Jews during the first few decades
of the 20th century due to the barbaric wave of anti-Semitism. But then 12 million Congolese were also killed by the Belgian occupiers and America never demanded a separate state to ensure their safety. The creation of Israel was not because America was concerned about the treatment meted out to the Jews in Europe. In fact, it had shut its doors to the Jews when they were being massacred by Hitler’s troops.

The creation of Israel was to ensure the presence of an ally in the Middle East which has 2/3rds of the world’s oil reserves. Not a single Palestinian was responsible for what happened to the Jews in Europe, but still thousands of them were evicted, massacred to make way for Jewish settlers in 1948 in the bloodbath that followed the UN mandate for the creation of Israel when illogically and unfairly 55 per cent of the Palestinian land was given away to them. Hundreds of Palestinians were either wiped out or driven away, in one of the most cruel instances of ethnic cleansing of our times.

Israel has gone on to occupy more land through wars far exceeding the UN mandate on account of its superior military strength. International laws, previous agreements and accords have been set aside as Israel has been waging a virtual genocide against people struggling to protect their lands. And every form of resistance to this illegal grabbing of land has been termed as terrorism or anti-Semitism by the Israeli and even more so by the western media.

Two State Solution: I do not call for the destruction of Israel and withdrawal of complete land to Palestine. What is needed is a two-state solution, something Obama also mentioned in his speech. Noam Chomsky has called it the only substantive thing in the entire speech. As Chomsky observes, “Obama while asking both sides to not see the conflict from only one side or the other has quite intelligently omitted the role of the third side in the conflict — that of the US. He did not even acknowledge its role let alone indicating that it should change.”  The US government has blocked along with Israel almost every UN resolution that sought a peaceful, equitable solution to the conflict.

While asking Hamas to abandon violence in its fight against Israel, he makes no mention of Israeli violence. The massacre in Gaza last December, that left 1,300 dead — half of them women and children, a massacre in which banned chemical substances like white phosphorous which induce genetic mutations and deformities were used, UN run schools were bombed — were not mentioned by the American president.

In fact, after this naked display of State terror by Israel, Hamas has succeeded in convincing the Palestinians and sensible people across the world that armed resistance is not a choice but the only legitimate political option.

Obama and Middle East: Obama does not seem to support the idea of Iran developing nuclear weapons unless it confers to the responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But is that not what Iran has been saying all along?

Coming to the question of a nuclear arms race, Chomsky once quipped that the US along with Israel has barred all attempts to prevent a nuclear arms race. The US remains the only country to have actually used nuclear weapons against civilians when it dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Another key issue Obama mentioned was that of democracy. To quote him, “We welcome all elected, peaceful governments, provided they govern with respect for all their people.” But, as it turns out, the US has always had a key role in suppressing the democratic aspirations of  many Middle East nations. The most notorious and unpopular of rulers in these countries have always had the complete support of US, be it the monarchs of Saudi Arabia, the Shahs of Iran or the sheikhs of Kuwait . The problem is that if you allow democracy to emerge in these countries they might elect governments that the US does not like.

As Tariq Ali points out, the only regimes Americans like working with are the ones that can guarantee the flow of oil at affordable rates.

Taking this rhetoric about human rights and democracy. Further, Obama informs us that America has always been the arch
defender of human rights in every part of the world. The United States, which Obama wants us to believe is the harbinger of peace in
the world, has been at war with one country or another since the last 50 years! South American countries like Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba, etc have been avenues for covert and overt operations by the CIA. Besides, there is another set of countries which have had to suffer military interventions by the US like Vietnam which caused millions of human casualties, Somalia, Korea, Indonesia, Iraq.

We should also not forget the countries that have suffered due to the IMF and World Bank policies and UN sanctions – thousands of children died in Africa due to World Bank policies. Martin Luther King once called the American government as the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world”.  Out of all of the things said by the American president this one surely has the least basis in history.

Gobalisation and the US: Another issue he talks about is globalisation and informs us that the face of globalisation is contradictory. This is perfectly  true but rather than talking about the real contradictions of the ‘development model’ under a globalised economy he intelligently moves on to other unimportant ones. By starting the whole modernity vs tradition debate he hides the real problems of globalization — the neo-liberal policies which privilege the rich and crush the working class, the peasantry and the poor. Besides, how did globalisation stop the massive crash of world capitalism? Or was it due to globalisation itself?

However, there are certain things on which I do agree with the American president. It is when he says that America was never at
war with Islam. This is completely true. These are wars for oil, wars for American strategic interests and wars for the ultimate
supremacy of the American empire. Islam as it turns out is just one of  the many instruments used effectively and cunningly in the war. I hope Barrack “Hussain” Obama does the least by acknowledging it.

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