29 May 1953 (on top of the world)

Many people have successfully climbed Mt Everest (OK, following S Anand- Cho-mo-lung-ma as it is called in Tibetan, and Sagar-Matha in Nepali) following in the footsteps of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hilary. It is a huge money earner for Nepal as well as an environmental disaster ready to strike any time. Indeed this year all climbing is sopped because of the death of 13 Sherpas.

banged out a brief message on my typewriter for a Sherpa to take down to
the Indian radio station first thing next morning.  SNOWCON DITION BAD . . .
Indian radiomen would not know, …that Everest had been
climbed on May 29 by Hillary and Ten-zing. 

There is one parochial
grievance (a familiar one). The Western (UK) Press really needs to make
more of a decent effort to give credit to the “”natives” and not grasp
it all for Queen and Country.
How many people know that it was
Rakhaldas  Bandopadhyay who discovered Mohen-jo-Daro and also Jagadish
Chandra Bose who invented the radio (not Marconi- it took IEEE-
Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers – about 100 years to
correct the record)? Similarly it was Radhanath Sikdar, (described in Wiki as an Indian mathematician and surveyor from Bengal), was the first to identify Everest as the world’s highest peak in 1852 (Sir George Everest was the Surveyor General of India, who preceded Andrew Waugh- the man who officially made the announcement). 

Finally, in March 1856 he announced his
findings in a letter to his deputy in Calcutta.
Kangchenjunga was declared to be 28,156 ft (8,582 m), while Peak XV was
given the height of 29,002 ft (8,840 m).
Waugh concluded that Peak XV
was “most probably the highest in the world”.
Peak XV (measured in feet) was calculated to be exactly 29,000 ft
(8,839.2 m) high, but was publicly declared to be 29,002 ft (8,839.8 m)
in order to avoid the impression that an exact height of 29,000 feet
(8,839.2 m) was nothing more than a rounded estimate.
Waugh is therefore wittily credited with being “the first person to put two feet on top of Mount Everest”.

A few more micro-details. Sir Edmund Hilary (20 July 1919 – 11 January 2008) is obviously the inspiration for Captain Keith Mallory, the hero of the Guns of Navarone authored by Alistair MacLean. His mate Tenzing Norgay (late May 1914 – 9 May 1986), was born Namgyal Wangdi, in Tengboche, Khumbu in the foot-hills of Everest. He was a Nepalese Buddhist [ref. Wiki]

many modern adventures, at least of the physical, peaceable kind, ever
achieve the status of allegory. One was, of course, that
ultimate feat of exploration, that giant step for all mankind, the
arrival of Apollo 11 upon the moon. The other was the first ascent of Mount Everest.

It was allegorical in many senses.
The mountain stood on one of the earth’s frontiers, where the Himalayan
range separates the Tibetan plateau from the vast Indian plains below.
The adventure was symbolically a last earthly adventure, before
humanity’s explorers went off into space. The expedition that first
climbed Everest was British, and a final flourish of the British Empire,
which had for so long been the world’s paramount power. And as it
happened, the news of its success reached London, the capital of that
empire, on the very morning a new British queen, Elizabeth II, was being
crowned in Westminster Abbey.
Almost everything meant more than it had a
right to mean, on Everest in 1953.

It did not always seem so at the
time. When those two men came down from the mountaintop, all one of them
said was: “Well, we’ve knocked the bastard off.”

The mountain was bang on the line
between Tibet and Nepal, two of the world’s most shuttered states, but
during the 19th century the British, then the rulers of India, had
regarded them as more or less buffer states of their own empire, and had
seldom encouraged exploration.  

Everest had first been identified and
measured from a distance, when a surveyor working far away in Dehra Dun,
in the Indian foothills, had realized it to be the highest of all
mountains, and in 1856 it had been named after Sir George Everest,
former surveyor general of British India.
It was known to be holy to the
people living around it, it looked celestial from afar, and so it became
an object of tantalizing mystery, an ultimate geographical presence.

Nobody tried to climb it—certainly
not the Sherpa people who lived at its foot—until 1921, when a first
British expedition was allowed to have a go. Between the two world wars
five other British attempts were made. All went to Everest via Tibet,
attacking the northern side of the mountain, but after World War II,
Tibet was closed to foreigners, and for the first time climbers
approached the mountain from the south, in Nepal. By then the British
Raj had abdicated, and in 1952 a Swiss expedition was the first to make a
full-scale attempt from the Nepali side. It failed (but only just). So
there arose, in the following year, a last chance for the British, as
their empire lost its vigor, its power and its purpose, to be the first
on top.

The empire was fading not in
despair, but in regret and impoverishment. The British no longer wished
to rule the world, but they were understandably sad to see their
national glory diminished. They hoped that by one means or another their
influence among the nations might survive—by the “special relationship”
with the United States, by the genial but somewhat flaccid device of
the Commonwealth, or simply by means of the prestige they had
accumulated in war as in peace during their generations of supremacy. 
When in 1952 the ailing King George VI died, they pinned their hopes of
revived fortunes upon his daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth II, who
would accede to the throne in June of the following year. All was not
lost! It might be the start, trumpeted the tabloids, of a New
Elizabethan Age to restore the dashing splendors of Drake, Raleigh and
the legendary British sea dogs.

With this fancy at least in the
backs of their minds, the elders of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS)
in London, who had organized all the previous British expeditions to
Everest, made their plans for a final grand-slam assault upon the
mountain. The British had long thought that if it was not exactly their
right to be the first on the top of the world, it was in a way their
duty. Everest wasn’t in the British Empire, but it had been within a
British sphere of influence, as the imperialists liked to say, and so
they considered it a quasi-imperial peak. As early as 1905, Lord Curzon,
the inimitably imperial viceroy of India, had declared it “a reproach”
that the British had made no attempt to reach that summit of summits;
nearly half a century later the British public at large would have been
ashamed if some damned foreigners had beaten them to it.

So it was an emblematically powerful
expedition that the RGS sponsored this time. It had a strong military
element—most of its climbers had served in the armed forces. Most had
been to one of the well-known English private schools; several were at
Oxford or Cambridge. Two were citizens of that most loyally British of
the British dominions, New Zealand. One was from Nepal, and therefore
seemed a sort of honorary Briton. 
Nearly all of them had previous
Himalayan experience, and professionally they included a doctor, a
physicist, a physiologist, a photographer, a beekeeper, an oil company
executive, a brain surgeon, an agricultural statistician and a
schoolmaster-poet—a poetic presence was essential to the traditional
ethos of British mountain climbing. Astalwart and practiced company of
Sherpa mountain porters, many of them veterans of previous British
climbing parties, was recruited in Nepal. The expedition was, in short,
an imperial paradigm in itself, and to complete it a reporter from the
LondonTimes, in those days almost the official organ of
Britishness in its loftiest measures, was invited to join the expedition
and chronicle its progress.

The leader of this neo-imperial
enterprise was Col. John Hunt, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, a distinguished
mountaineer, one of Montgomery’s staff officers in World War II, and an
old India hand. The reporter from The Times was me.

Three men, in the end, came to
dominate the exploit. Hunt himself was the very incarnation of a leader,
wiry, grizzled, often wry and utterly dedicated. Whatever he was asked
to do, it seemed to me, he would do it with earnest and unquenchable
zeal, and more than anyone else he saw this particular task as something
much grander than a sporting event. As something of a visionary, even a
mystic, he saw it as expressing a yearning for higher values, nobler
summits altogether. He might have agreed with an earlier patron of
Everest expeditions, Francis Younghusband of the RGS, who considered
them pilgrimages—“towards utter holiness, towards the most complete
truth.” Certainly when Hunt came to write a book about the adventure, he
declined to talk about a conquest of the mountain, and simply called it
The Ascent of Everest.

The second of the triumvirate was
Tenzing Norgay, the charismatic leader of the Sherpas with the
expedition, and a famously formidable climber—he had climbed high on the
northern flank of Everest in 1938, on the southern flank in 1952, and
knew the mountain as well as anyone. Tenzing could not at that time read
or write, but his personality was wonderfully polished. As elegant of
manner as of bearing, there was something princely to him. He had never
set foot in Europe or America then, but in London later that year I was
not at all surprised to hear a worldly man-about-town, eyeing Tenzing
across a banquet table, say how good it was to see that “Mr. Tenzing
knew a decent claret when he had one.” When the time came for Hunt to
select the final assault parties, the pairs of climbers who would make
or break the expedition, he chose Sherpa Tenzing for one of them partly,
I am sure, for postimperial political reasons, but chiefly because he
was, as anyone could see, the right man for the job.

His companion to the summit was one
of the New Zealanders, emphasizing that this was a British expedition in
the most pragmatic sense—for in those days New Zealanders, like
Australians and even most Canadians, thought themselves as British as
the islanders themselves. Edmund Hillary the beekeeper was a big, burly,
merry, down-to-earth fellow who had learned to climb in his own New
Zealand Alps but had climbed in Europe and in the Himalayas too. He was
an obvious winner—not reserved and analytical like Hunt, not
aristocratically balanced like Tenzing, but your proper good-humored,
impeturbable colonial boy. There was nobody, I used to think, that I
would rather have on my side in the battle of life, let alone on a climb
up a mountain.

The expedition went like clockwork.
It was rather like a military campaign. Hunt took few chances in his
organization, and tested everything first. He’d brought two kinds of
oxygen equipment to the mountain, for instance, and climbers tried them
both. Camps established on the mountain flanks enabled men to haul
equipment up in stages, and when they were sick or overtired during
those three months on the mountain, they went down to the valleys to
rest. Two pairs of climbers made final assaults. The first team, Thomas
Bourdillon and Charles Evans, turned back 285 feet from the top. It was
late in the day, and the exhausted climbers saw the final approach as
too risky. Nobody was killed or injured on the 1953 British Everest

Everest was not the most difficult
mountain in the world. Many were technically harder to climb. Once more
it was a matter of allegory that made its ascent so wonderful an event.
It was as though down all the years some ectoplasmic barrier had
surrounded its peak, and piercing it had released an indefinable glory.
It was Ed Hillary the New Zealander who said they’d knocked the bastard
off, but he meant it in no irreverent sense—more in affectionate
respect. For myself, cogitating these mysteries in the course of the
expedition, and gazing at the spiraling plume of snow that habitually
blew like a talisman from Everest’s summit, agnostic though I was I did
begin to fancy some supernatural presence up there. It was not the most
beautiful of mountains—several of its neighbors were shapelier—but
whether in the fact or simply in the mind, it did seem obscurely nobler
than any of them.

Everest 1953, I fear, did much to
corrupt all this. Nationalists squabbled with a vengeance for the honors
of success on the mountain, and Tenzing in particular was the subject
of their rivalries. He was Asian, was he not, so what right had the
imperialists to call it a British expedition? Why was it always Hillary
and Tenzing, never Tenzing and Hillary? Which of them got to the top
first, anyway? All this came as a shock to the climbers, and even more
to me. When it came to such matters I was the most amateurish of them
all, and it had never occurred to me to ask whether Hillary the
Antipodean or Tenzing the Asian had been the first to step upon that

I was not, however, an amateur at my
trade. Just as the physiologist had been busy all those months
recording people’s metabolisms, and the poet had been writing lyrics,
and the cameraman had been taking pictures, so I had been active sending
dispatches home to The Times. They went via a cable station in
Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. There was no road to Kathmandu from the
mountain. We had no long-distance radio transmitters, and certainly no
satellite telephones, so they went by the hands of Sherpa
runners—perhaps the very last time news dispatches were transmitted by

It was 180 miles from the mountain
to the capital, and the faster my men ran it, the more I paid them. The
journey was very hard. The best of them did it in five days—36 miles a
day in the heat of summer, including the crossing of three mountain
ranges more than 9,000 feet high. They very nearly broke the bank.

I kept a steady stream of dispatches
going, and I was not at all surprised to find that they were often
intercepted by rival papers and news organizations. I did not much care,
because they generally dealt more in description or surmise than in
hard fact, and were couched anyway in a fancy prose that no tabloid
would touch; but I did worry about the security of the final,
all-important message, the one that would report (or so we hoped) that
the mountain had actually been climbed. This I would most decidedly
prefer to get home without interference.

Fortunately, I had discovered that
some 30 miles from our base camp, at the foot of the mountain, the
Indian Army, keeping a watch on traffic out of Tibet, had established a
radio post in touch with Kathmandu. I arranged with its soldiers that
they would, if the need arose, send for me a brief message reporting
some important stage in the adventure. I resolved to keep this resource
in reserve for my final message. I could not, however, afford to let the
Indians know what such a message contained—it would be a secret hard to
keep, and they were only human—so I planned to present it to them in a
simple code that appeared not to be in code at all. A key to this
deceitful cipher I had sent home to The Times.

The time to use it came at the end
of May, and with it my own chance to contribute to the meanings of
Everest, 1953. On May 30 I had climbed up to Camp 4, at 22,000 feet in
the snow-ravine of the Western Cwm, a valley at the head of a glacier
that spills out of the mountain in a horrible morass of iceblocks and
crevasses called the Khumbu Icefall. Most of the expedition was
assembled there, and we were awaiting the return of Hillary and Tenzing
from their assault upon the summit. Nobody knew whether they had made it
or not.

As we waited chatting in the snowy
sunshine outside the tents, conversation turned to the forthcoming
coronation of the young queen, to happen on June 2—three days’ time; and
when Hillary and Tenzing strode down the Cwm, and gave us the thrilling
news of their success, I realized that my own moment of allegory had
arrived. If I could rush down the mountain that same afternoon, and get a
message to the Indian radio station, good God, with any luck my news
might get to London in time to coincide with that grand moment of
national hope, the coronation—the image of the dying empire, as it were,
merging romantically into the image of a New Elizabethan Age!

And so it happened. I did rush down
the mountain to base camp, at 18,000 feet, where my Sherpa runners were
waiting. I was tired already, having climbed up to the Cwm only that
morning, but Mike Westmacott (the agricultural statistician) volunteered
to come with me, and down we went into the gathering dusk—through that
ghastly icefall, with me slithering about all over the place, losing my
ice ax, slipping out of my crampons, repeatedly falling over and banging
my big toe so hard on an immovable ice block that from that day to this
its toenail has come off every five years.

It was perfectly dark when we
reached our tents, but before we collapsed into our sleeping bags I
banged out a brief message on my typewriter for a Sherpa to take down to
the Indian radio station first thing next morning. It was in my
skulldug code, and this is what it said: SNOWCON DITION BAD . . .

It meant, as the
Indian radiomen would not know, nor anyone else who might intercept the
message on its tortuous way back to London, that Everest had been
climbed on May 29 by Hillary and Ten-zing. I read it over a dozen times,
to save myself from humiliation, and decided in view of the
circumstances to add a final two words that were not in code: ALLWELL, I
wrote, and went to bed.

It went off at the crack of dawn,
and when my runner was disappearing down the glacier with it I packed up
my things, assembled my little team of Sherpas and left the mountain
myself. I had no idea if the Indians had got my message, had accepted it
at face value and sent it off to Kathmandu. There was nothing I could
do, except to hasten back to Kathmandu myself before any rivals learned
of the expedition’s success and beat me with my own story.

But two nights later I slept beside a
river somewhere in the foothills, and in the morning I switched on my
radio receiver to hear the news from the BBC in London. It was the very
day of the coronation, but the bulletin began with the news that Everest
had been climbed. The queen had been told on the eve of her crowning.
The crowds waiting in the streets for her procession to pass had cheered
and clapped to hear it. And the news had been sent, said that
delightful man on the radio, in an exclusive dispatch to The Times of London.


Where will “Sir Ed” celebrate the
ascent’s big anniversary? Not at the queen’s London gala. Hint: For
decades he has aided the Sherpas.

They call him Burra Sahib—big in stature, big in heart—and
they have it just right. Yes, he has had lucrative endorsement gigs
with Sears, Rolex and now Toyota (and has led expeditions to the South
Pole and the source of the Ganges). 
But 6-foot-2 Edmund Hillary has
mostly devoted himself to the Sherpas, a Tibetan word for the roughly
120,000 indigenous people of mountainous eastern Nepal and Sikkim,
India, since he and Tenzing Norgay, the most famous Sherpa of all,
summated Mount Everest 50 years ago. “I’ve reveled in great adventures,”
Sir Edmund, 83, says from his home in Auckland, New Zealand, “but the
projects with my friends in the Himalayas have been the most worthwhile,
the ones I’ll always remember.”

Hillary and the Himalayan Trust,
which he founded in 1961, have helped the Sherpas build 26 schools, two
hospitals, a dozen clinics, as well as water systems and bridges. He
also helped Nepal establish SagarmathaNational Park to protect the very
wilderness that his ascent has turned into the ultimate trekking and
climbing destination, attracting 30,000 people a year.

His love of the area is tinged with
sadness. In 1975, Hillary’s wife and youngest daughter were killed in a
plane crash while flying to one of the hospitals. “The only way I could
really have any ease of mind,” he now recalls, “was to go ahead with the
projects that I’d been doing with them.” (A grown son and daughter
survive; he remarried in 1989.)

History’s most acclaimed living
mountaineer grew up in rural New Zealand too “weedy,” he says, for
sports. But heavy labor in the family beekeeping business after high
school bulked him up for his new passion—climbing. Impressive ascents in
New Zealand and the Himalayas earned him a spot on the 1953 Everest
expedition. Hillary was knighted in 1953, and he graces New Zealand’s $5
note and the stamps of several nations. Yet he works hard to debunk his
heroic image. “I’m just an average bloke,” he says, albeit with “a lot
of determination.”

It’s of a piece with Hillary’s
modesty that he would rather talk about his partner Tenzing, a former
yak herder who died 17 years ago. “At first he could not read or write,
but he dictated several books and became a world ambassador for his
people.” What Hillary admires about the Sherpas, he adds, is their
“hardiness, cheerfulness and freedom from our civilized curse of

To hear him tell it, climbers are
ruining Everest. Since 1953, 10,000 have attempted ascents: nearly 2,000
have succeeded and nearly 200 have died. Hillary concedes that Nepal, a
very poor country, benefits from the permit fees—$70,000 per
expedition—that climbers pay the government. Still, he has lobbied
officials to limit the traffic.
“There are far too many expeditions,” he
says. “The mountain is covered with 60 to 70 aluminum ladders,
thousands of feet of fixed rope and footprints virtually all the way

Hillary plans to celebrate the
golden anniversary of the first ascent in Kathmandu, he says, with “the
most warmhearted people I know.”
Link: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/finally-the-top-of-the-world-81199251/#iO1YSDIthG9bJZVd.99



The banana republic strikes back

Robert Vadra, the ex- first son-in-law will now have to stand in queue at the airport, just like the rest of us. The first step towards a moral order has been restored.

RV is famous for having said that he was a mango man in a banana
Now that he is truly an Aam Admi, he should be also thoroughly
investigated for his sources of wealth. Let the witch hunt begin (we use the word advisedly). (For those who are not familiar with Hindi, we observe an teacher who is fed up with a troublesome student. Asked about his ambition in life, the student replies: I want to be a son-in-law)

Also there is a lot of push-back from Congress and elsewhere about the (educational) qualifications of the cabinet ministers. Here is one comparison the sycophant army may want to think about (Ashok Khemka has been the main man behind the effort to unearth corruption linked to Robert Vadra and his associates, he has been harshly treated just for doing his job):


With the Gandhi family out of power, son-in-law Robert Vadra may lose his exalted exempt-from-frisking-at-airports status.

After taking over as aviation minister of Friday, Ashok Gajapathi Raju
Pusapati said that “security should be meaningful not ornamental” in
reference to Vadra who is the only individual named in the list of
dignitaries exempt from security checks at airports. All others on that
list are high constitutional positions with Vadra being the only

“It is for the home ministry to see the threat
perception of individuals. But generally, by and large, Indians should
go through security checks,” Raju said.

The Bureau of Civil
Aviation Security has 30 positions on the exempt list which begins with
the President of India and goes upto special protection group
protectees. The only individual listed in that list (on number 31) is
Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law.

Last week, the Air
Passengers’ Association of India had written to aviation secretary Ashok
Lavasa why was Vadra getting this special privilege that is reserved
for Constitutional authorities only. 
The list of exempt people is
displayed prominently at all airports and the inclusion of Vadra’s name
in it led to many people writing to the Association, asking it to take
up the matter with the government.

Link: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/New-govt-may-strip-Robert-Vadra-of-special-status/articleshow/35740410.cms


Left must exit, stage left (says “real India”)

The Left in India has played many parts in the (political) play, sometimes a lion, never a lamb. It essentially slowed down the march of the Right. Even today the Right is missing in Kerala and Bengal, two states which have proud Hindu/Hindutva traditions. Shankar Acharya, the super-man who restored Hinduism to its original glory through the length and breadth of India was from Kerala. Vivekananda was from Bengal. The founder of Jana Sangh was Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of Bengal. But it will be a long, long time before the right is ascendant here (if ever).`And the Left gets credit for this extended vaccination program.

One may say that this is the key difference between India and Pakistan, where the Leftists could not get a strong enough foot-hold (there was a stronger faction in the East – Bangladesh – which faced the fury of the Army in 1971).

Strangely enough the Left also stopped the Far Left in its tracks. In the 1960-1970s when Bengal was being torn apart by violence, the Left fought off the Naxalites in collaboration with the infamous Siddhartha Shankar Ray of the Congress. (Ray would be later deputed to troubled Punjab and he teamed up with KPS Singh Gill to stop the Khalistani movement in its tracks). 

Even more strange was the action of the CPI (Communist Party of India, not to be confused with its evil twin, the CPIM) during the dark days of the Emergency. The Communists aligned with Mrs Gandhi, supposedly with the backing of Moscow.

Hartosh Singh Bal (in a write-up before the election results was announced) looks at the reason(s) why the Left has essentially faded from the Indian scene, when it was dominant even a decade ago (and occupied the principal king-maker role in the area of coalitions, even to the extent of co-supporting govts with the aid of the BJP).

IT WAS NOT THE FIRST TIME that Mamata Banerjee was aiming to disrupt the plans of the
Left, but by the time of her 6 March interview with Arnab Goswami on Times Now,
the third front that the Left parties had been working assiduously to cobble
together since June 2013 had already displayed enough evidence of falling apart
without any help from her. 

While the seat-sharing agreement with Jayalalithaa’s
All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had come apart at the last minute, Naveen
Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal in Orissa had paid no heed to the possibility of an
alliance, and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) in Bihar had agreed to a
tie-up only with the Communist Party of India, snubbing the principal Left
party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

The failure of the Left parties—the
CPI(M), the CPI, the All India Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist
Party—to partner with these regional leaders was made even more humiliating by
the fact that many of them had supported the BJP in the past.

Jayalalithaa, in
particular, shares a strong rapport with the party’s prime ministerial
candidate, Narendra Modi. Given that the regional parties could end up
supporting the BJP again after the election, the Left was in effect willing to
run the risk that its votes could eventually shore up Modi. 

But despite this
climbdown, most regional figures had come to the conclusion that, for the
present, what mattered was maximising their share of seats in parliament, and
that there was no need to oblige the Left, which is no longer in a position to
exert the kind of influence it once did in any alliance that involved the

Under these circumstances, soon after Mamata chose to tell Goswami
that she was willing to support Jayalalithaa as prime minister, Jayalalithaa
reciprocated with a phone call, opening up the possibility that if the
post-election scenario permits, a fourth front without the Left may have more
chances of taking shape than the third front being shaped by the Left.

For the Left this is as bad as it
gets—worse, even, than 2009, when the third front it had espoused alongside
Mayawati had been marginalised. In contrast, in 2004, the Left parties had
stitched together a series of tactical alliances that not only ensured the unexpected
defeat of the Vajpayee-led NDA, but also made them key players in the
subsequent UPA-I government. 

While a Marxist would undoubtedly claim that the
contrasting scenarios were but the product of a difference in material
conditions (if Mamata Banerjee can be so termed) it is difficult to avoid
examining the role of the respective individuals guiding the Left under these
different circumstances—Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Prakash Karat.

The Left’s 2004 success in stitching
together a workable alliance owed much to Surjeet, the then general secretary
of the CPI(M). One of the few communist leaders of significance from north of
the Vindhyas, Surjeet also had a personal rapport with almost every important
political leader outside the Hindu Right. The two failures, however, took place
under the guidance of Prakash Karat, a Marxist theoretician with little
experience of electoral politics, who does not even enjoy the goodwill of all
his colleagues within the CPI(M) politburo.

Writing about Surjeet in the weekly Mainstream
shortly after his death in 2008, his protégé Sitaram Yechury, who has always
harboured ambitions of becoming the party’s general secretary, chose to end a
piece, titled with some deliberation as ‘Comrade Surjeet—the True Marxist,’

the Deoli concentration camp in the 1930s, Surjeet was there along with other
legendary Communist figures like B.T. Ranadive, Dr G. Adhikari and P.C. Joshi.
To keep themselves amused, they would take bets with each other. Surjeet
boasted that he could consume a ser of ghee—a thought, which the others baulked
at—the ghee was somehow smuggled in and Surjeet consumed it in one go, only to
have the other three stay awake sitting by his side the whole night fearing
that he would now meet his end.

woke up in the morning, and with his lota went into the khet (field) and
returned to tell his comrades, that “urban Communists will have to work very
hard to understand real India”—a lesson that remains relevant even today.

Facetious though the anecdote may
seem, words are weighed with great care within the CPI(M). Yechury may have
included himself among the urban communists, but it was not lost on anyone
within the party who the actual target of this veiled barb was.

This indirect criticism of Surjeet’s
successor has considerable merit. The handover of power in the CPI(M) from
Surjeet to Karat in 2005 was not just a transfer of power across generations,
but also across attitudes. Karat enjoyed the support of the vast mass of the
cadre in the CPI(M), a party that has always emphasised adherence to Marxist
doctrine. But as subsequent events have shown, this doctrinaire approach is out
of step with the requirements of electoral politics, which had shaped Surjeet’s

Surjeet was largely able to force
the party in directions not amenable to its own cadre because he was among the
nine “navratanas” of the CPI(M), who formed the party’s politburo after
a split from the CPI in 1964. His entry into active politics dated back to
1930, when he joined Bhagat Singh’s Naujawan Bharat Sabha—which even then
required that its members not have anything to do with communal bodies, or
parties which disseminated communal ideas—and took part in the independence
movement. He subsequently fought and won two elections for the Punjab Assembly. 
By the time Indian politics began to fracture in the late 1980s, necessitating
the formation of coalitions and alliances, Surjeet had the stature of an elder
statesman both within the party and outside it. His worldview had been shaped
by the partition of Punjab, and he abhorred communal politics—whether of a
minority, such as the kind preached by the radical Sikh leader Bhindranwale, or
of a majority, as espoused by the BJP. In national politics, as far as he was
concerned, keeping the BJP out of power was the Left’s main objective.

In contrast, Karat was a
theoretician, a student of the Marxist academic Victor Kiernan in Edinburgh. He
returned to India in 1970 to join the party, where he became closely associated
with another “navaratna,” the then general secretary of the party P
Sundaraiyya, who resigned from his post in 1975 because of the CPI(M)’s
“revisionist” tendencies. Sundaraiyya was forced to go underground after the
CPI(M) split from the CPI in 1964, and then again in 1975 after the imposition
of the Emergency.

Tasked with setting up the party’s
Delhi unit in the early 1970s, Karat participated in student politics while
studying at Jawaharlal Nehru University, before being elected to the CPI(M)’s
Central Committee in 1985, and then to its politburo in 1992. These roles
confined him to working within the party, and he was mostly uninvolved with the
larger politics of the country till he took over from Surjeet in 2005. 
He had
inherited Sundaraiyya’s view that the party needed to maintain an equidistance
from the BJP and the Congress. This view had led him, in 1996, into marshalling
the party’s young guard to block Jyoti Basu’s ascension to prime ministership
when a coalition government came to power with outside support from the
Congress. First HD Deve Gowda and then IK Gujral took over as prime minister
for brief periods, before the BJP came to power in 1997.

Perhaps it is only the experience of
UPA-I that allows us to see what was lost in 1995 from the Left’s point of
view. In 2004, with Surjeet still in charge, while the CPI(M) and, to a lesser
extent, the CPI were considerably strengthened by strong showings in their home
turfs of West Bengal and Kerala, they also made a number of tactical alliances
with regional parties such as the DMK in Tamil Nadu, which added to their tally
of seats. The influence of the resulting Left Front on the UPA government was
visible in a number of ways, including the passing of the legislation that
resulted in the NREGA.

As in 1995, Karat did not pay much
heed to the practical necessities of politics after he took over as general
secretary of the CPI(M) in 2005. By the time the Left’s alliance with the
Congress broke down in 2008, over the Indo–American nuclear deal, personal
relations between Karat and the UPA leadership had deteriorated to the extent
that their only communication was taking place through newspaper interviews—a
situation that would have been inconceivable when Surjeet was in charge.
Equally inconceivable would have been the fact that the Left was eventually
marginalised because Mulayam Singh Yadav came to the rescue of UPA-I, something
he would have never done if Surjeet was in command, given their personal

Karat did not see the breakdown of
the alliance as a setback. For the 2009 elections the Left managed to stitch
together another alliance, which included Mayawati. This alliance seemed
certain of being an influential factor in any government that would be formed,
but the Left had not taken into account Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.
Her party won 19 seats and, in alliance with the Congress, was able to oust the
CPI(M) from West Bengal in the ensuing assembly polls in 2011.

Not only did the electoral defeat
leave Karat with no say in UPA-II, it also saddled him with fresh problems
within the party. Faced with economic challenges within the state, the Bengal
unit of the CPI(M), under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, had in the mid 2000s already
adopted an industrial policy that was far more pro-market than had ever been
envisaged before by the party. 
While Karat and the Left’s hardline elements,
which hail largely from Kerala, blamed those policies for the defeat, the
Bengal unit took the line that the doctrinaire stand over the nuclear deal had
pushed the Congress into an alliance with Mamata, which eventually led to the
Left’s defeat in the state. Unlike Surjeet, Karat was seen as an interested
party in this war, given his support within the Kerala unit. As a result of
this internal strife, the CPI(M) increasingly resembles two regional parties
with very different economic visions, held together by a central authority that
is getting weaker.

In this climate, keen to improve the
electoral tally of the Left parties, which together won 24 seats in 2009, the
CPI(M) and the CPI had sought state-specific alliances with several regional
parties. All of these alliances have come undone. In Tamil Nadu the Left asked
the AIADMK for two seats each for the CPI(M) and the CPI, a comedown from the
three each offered to them by the DMK in 2004. But given that there was little
the Left was bringing to the table, Jayalalithaa, much like Naveen Patnaik in
Orissa and Nitish Kumar in Bihar, seems to have calculated that the best
strategy for each party in the forthcoming elections is to fight for seats
independently and await the poll results, which could throw up any number of

Now, forced to fight these elections
on its own, the Left faces another unexpected challenge. In past elections, it
regularly picked up a number of isolated seats outside Kerala and West Bengal
through the very sort of tactical alliances that have now fallen through. In
these other states, the rise of the AAP provides an alternative choice for many
voters who desire a liberal, left-of-centre option. Unclear though the AAP’s
stance is on so many issues of concern to such voters, the party at least
brings with it new hope and the prospect of change.

Under such circumstances, many in
the CPI(M) expect that a debacle in the forthcoming polls, which seems
increasingly likely now, will pave the way for the party to elect a new general
secretary at its next congress, due in 2015. But the end of Karat’s term does
not mean his hold over the party will come to an end—in all likelihood his
successor will be someone who meets with his approval. 
Though they are much
weakened, the conditions that brought Karat to the fore still exist, given that
the Kerala unit still wields more support within the organisation than the West
Bengal unit. In some ways the very strength of doctrine that keeps the
organisation together is largely responsible for its decreasing electoral
relevance. As a result, if the party chooses another urban, doctrinaire leader
in the mould of Karat to be its next general secretary, as seems likely, there
will be no one happier than the BJP, which would then have truly put the ghost
of comrade Surjeet—and others like him who understood the “real India”—behind

‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo’

Khanum is one of the last of the Ghazal greats.
She grew up in
Kolkata and has great fondness for the city. The denizens of this city
are known for their musical taste, and they have (naturally) great love for Farida. A
beautiful love story that is reaching its end as the giants exit the stage one by one.

THE CONCERT WAS THE BRAINCHILD of Malavika Banerjee, who organises the annual Kolkata
Literary Meet. I met Banerjee—“Mala”—at last year’s KaLaM, and told her I was
making a documentary film about Farida Khanum. 

Our conversation took place one
night in a car; we were weaving past rotten old buildings somewhere near the
Victoria Memorial and I was telling Mala about Khanum’s Calcutta connection.

Her older sister, Mukhtar Begum, was a Punjabi gaanewali who had come to
the city in the 1920s to work for a Parsi-owned theatrical company. Within a
few years she had become a star of the Calcutta stage—
she was advertised on
flyers as the “Bulbul-e-Punjab” (the Punjabi bulbul)-—and had moved into
a house on Rippon Street. 

Khanum herself was born, sometime in the 1930s,
somewhere in these now-decrepit parts.

Mala was held: she asked if I could
bring Khanum to next year’s festival. She also asked, in a sort of polite
murmur, “She’s still singing and all?”

“Of course!” I said, mainly to serve
my own interests: I had been looking for a reason—a ruse, really—to bring
Khanum to Calcutta and film her in the locations where she had passed her

“Theek hai,” Mala said. “Let
me work on this.”

there was a power outage on Zahoor
Elahi Road, and Farida Khanum had finally woken up….I had come to prepare Khanum for a
concert she was to give in a week’s time in Calcutta, and was trying to engage
her, in this fragile early phase of her day, with innocuous-sounding questions:
which ghazals was she planning on singing there, and in what order?

“Do-tin cheezaan Agha Sahab diyan”
(Two-three items of Agha Sahib’s), she said in Punjabi, her voice cracking. She
was referring to the pre-Independence poet and playwright Agha Hashar Kashmiri.

“Daagh vi gaana jay” (You
must sing Daagh too), I said. “Othay sab Daagh de deewane ne” (Everyone
there is crazy about Daagh)—Daagh Dehlvi, the nineteenth-century poet.
“Aa!” she said, and stared at
me in appalled agreement, as if I had recognised an old vice of Calcutta’s citizens.

“Te do-tin cheezaan Faiz
Sahabdiyan vi gaadena” (And you can also sing two-three pieces from Faiz
Ahmad Faiz).

“Buss,” she said, meaning it
not as a termination (in the sense of “That’s enough”) but as a melancholy
deferral, something between “Alas” and “We’ll have to wait and see.”

I knew she was nervous about the
trip—the distance, the many flights, the high standards of Bengalis—and to
distract her I removed the lid of my harmonium and held down the Sa, Ga and Pa
of Bhairavi. I was chhero-ing the thumri ‘Baju band khul khul jaye.’

“Farida ji, ai kistaran ai?”
(How does it go, Farida ji?) I asked, all goading and familiar.
“Gaao na,” she said.
I screwed up my face and started the

“Aaaaaa…” Her mouth was a
cave, her palm was held out like a mendicant’s.
“Subhanallah,” I said, and
pumped the bellows.

Her singing filled up the room: she
climbed atop the chords, spread out on them, did somersaults.

“Wah wah, Farida ji! Mein
kehnavaan kamal ho jayega! Calcutta valey deewane ho jaangey” (Bravo, Farida
ji! It will be extraordinary! The people of Calcutta will go crazy), I said.
“Haan,” she said, looking
away and making a sideways moue that managed to convey deliberation,
disinterest and derision all at once.
Fehmeda was referring to Khanum’s
debility of the last three years, which has been accompanied by hospital
visits, physiotherapy and rounds of medication. (Khanum herself had described
it to me in terms of demonic sensations: her foot going numb, a tube entering
her throat, being forced to swallow strange pills and feeling a subsequent
whirling in her head.) 

But worse, I had sensed, was the gloom accompanying this
illness—an awareness of the body’s vulnerability that led constantly to thoughts
of mortality, wistful ones not unlike those expressed in Khanum’s most famous
song, ‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo’:

ki qaid mein zindagi hai magar
Chand ghariyan yehi hein jo azaad hain
time’s cage is life, but
Some moments now are free)

The song is set in Aiman Kalyan, also
called Yaman Kalyan, the evening raag prescribed for creating a mood of

Her ‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo’ is delivered in this
semi-free vein: her wilful, uneven pacing of the lyrics creates the illusion of
a chase, a constant fleeing of the words from the entrapments of beat. (This
technique, which has the mark of her teacher—the erratic and perennially
intoxicated Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan—bears its sweetest fruit in Khanum’s ghazals,
where strategic lags and compressions in the singing can enhance the pleasures
of a deferred rhyme.)

But what after these outlines have
been described? How to account for the slightly torn texture, the husky tone,
the maddening rass of the voice? And what to do about Khanum’s
devastating deployment of the word “haye” in the phrase “haye marr
jayeingey”? I once heard the Bollywood playback singer Rekha Bhardwaj say,
“Yeh gaana hai hee ‘haye’ pey” (This song is all about the ‘haye’).
I think she is right, in that Khanum’s transformation of that word—from a jerky
exclamation in the original to a dizzying upward glide, a veritable swoon, in
her own version—has made of it a mini-mauzu, or thematic locus, of the
There is, to be sure, an element of
truncation in Khanum’s musical trajectory: she has said many times that
Partition, which resulted in the loss of her Amritsar home, signaled the end
of her training and forced her to make compromises—personal as well as musical.
For a few years, while living in the alien city of Rawalpindi, Khanum travelled
regularly to Lahore to sing for radio and act in films. But she failed to make
an impact. Soon she was consumed by marriage,
and gave up singing at the
insistence of the industrialist who offered her the securities of a “settled
life.” Later, when she returned to music, she took up not khayal or thumri but
the accessible and mercifully “semi-classical” Urdu ghazal.

IN OCTOBER, three months before the concert in Calcutta, Farida Khanum
moved an audience in Lahore to tears.

This happened at the Khayal
Literature Festival. I was interviewing Khanum, in a session called “The Love
Song of Pakistan,” about her life in music. Adding star power to our panel was
the ghazal singer Ghulam Ali. I had spotted Ali—urbane in black kurta and
rimless glasses—in the audience at the start of the show and asked him to join
us with a spontaneous announcement.

“Farida ji,” I said, switching on
the shruti box I had placed before her. “Could you please, for just a little
bit, sing for us the bandish in Aiman that you learned as a child? Just
a little sample, please.”

This part was rehearsed. I had
suggested to Khanum earlier in the week that she present on stage a “thread” of
Aiman: she could start with a classical piece, then proceed to ghazals and
geets—including the crowd-pleasing ‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo’—all in her
favorite raag. This would give our session a musical coherence, I had said, and
make it easy to follow.

“Achcha?” she had replied. “Sirf
Aiman karna ai?” (Really? You want to dwell only on Aiman?) She pressed her
lips together, in her inscrutable way. Then, with a mildly warning look, she
said, “Theekai. Ay achcha sochya ai.” (Okay. This sounds like a good

Now, onstage, she ceded to my
request for the bandish with an indulging smile. What happened next surpassed
everyone’s expectations. Khanum’s voice, in contrast to her ailing frame, was
robust, full-throated, steady, flexible. Everything she sang glowed with
energy: she unfolded an aalaap, a bandish in teentaal, Faiz’s ghazal ‘Shaam-e-firaaq
ab na poochch,’ Sufi Tabassum’s ghazal ‘Woh mujhse huway humkalam’
and her signature ‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo.’ 

She was bringing out the
raag in different forms, showing its familiar movements, making it reveal its
secrets. But she was also compressing a century of cultural evolution:
interspersing the singing with anecdotes about her childhood in Calcutta, the riaz
with her ustad in Amritsar, her post-Partition collaborations with poets
and music directors at Lahore’s radio station, and the fortuitous way in which
she had come to sing ‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo’ (someone had asked her
to sing it at a mehfil). For the lay Lahore audience, the overall experience—one
of observing a constant or eternal thing (the raag) endure in ephemeral or
perishable forms—was eye-opening, cathartic and extra-musical.

In the case of a singer like Farida
Khanum, her role as a transmitter of djinns is magnified by social and
historical contexts. When she sings ‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo,’ she is
passing on the cumulus of centuries—the laws of Aiman, according to one legend,
were fixed by Amir Khusro in the thirteenth century—in an accessible,
contemporary form.
And the process is made poignant and ironic by our
ignorance: how many of the amateurs who upload videos of themselves singing ‘Aaj
jaane ki zid na karo’ on YouTube and Facebook know what they are really

On the night of the concert, a final
hurdle appeared. I had gone to the GD Birla Mandir, the venue of the show, for
a sound check. There I was told, an hour before the concert, that Khanum would
have to go down several flights of stairs in order to reach the auditorium.

“What are we going to do?” I asked
one of the organisers, a woman in a sari who looked back at me

Then she said, “Wait.”

Approximately twenty minutes later,
a little before 7 pm, a white car carrying Khanum pulled up to the GD Birla
Mandir. The legendary singer emerged in a pink-and-gold sari, and was led by
helpers and admirers into the foyer. Then the Mandir’s doors closed, and the
foyer emptied. 

Khanum, who had only just sat down in a chair, spent the next
few minutes in a state of airborne transport, gripping the chair’s arms and
muttering the lord’s name under her breath, until she found herself seated in
her usual, regal way on a stage decorated with flowers. “Ya Ali Madad”
(Help me, Ali), she said, invoking the prophet’s heir and fourth caliph of
Islam, before the curtain went up.

“Ek muddat ho gayi hai” (It
has been an age), Khanum said, shivering a little but looking serene before her
Calcutta audience, which was comprised of young and old alike. “Innhon ne
kaha aap chalein, buss thhora sa safar hai” (They said I should
go, the journey is not long).

She stuck to the rules: she sang two
ghazals from Daagh, two from Faiz, the thumri in Bhairavi and ‘Aaj jaane ki
zid na karo.’ I had the privilege of sitting next to her on the stage and
holding open the book that contained the words to the songs. I marvelled at her
composure—and, yes, at the soundness of her training—when I saw how she
conducted the audience, the accompanying musicians and the sound technicians
behind the curtain with just her hand-movements and facial expressions. And I
saw—a novice observing a master, a mortal observing a living legend—how she
managed her voice: the expansions in the middle octave, the careful narrowing
at the higher notes, the strategic truncation of words and notes when she was
running out of breath. Occasionally, when I feared she was going to skip a
beat, I found myself clenching the book in my hands and glancing at the
audience for signs of a crisis.

But there were none, because even
the odd anti-climax, when it did occur, was a pleasure.  

Najma Heptullah- Parsis need help (not Muslims)

Muslims just need a level playing field (how will that come about?).

Najma Heptullah is no Uncle Tom. However we get the feeling that her priorities (as stated) are quite misplaced. The only way to help Parsis (while respecting the stricter than Brahmin blood-line rules) is to clone more Parsis. Then again, with her medical/biology background she may be able to achieve just that. Bravo!!!

If you have six children it is always important to see what you can
do for the weakest of them. So far as my ministry is concerned, of the
six minority communities the weakest is clearly the Parsis.

Dr Heptullah hails from a distinguished family (grand-niece of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, cousin of Amir Khan). Heptullah has a Master’s degree in Zoology and a doctoral degree in
cardiac anatomy from the University of Colorado at Denver, in the USA. She has also been the Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha (upper house, Indian Parliament) for 16 years and she is now the Minister of Minority Affairs and the sole muslim member in the Modi cabinet.

What is clear from her comments is that while muslims may not be unfairly targeted by this govt, they will remain invisible, as far as handouts are concerned.  
The top demands from the community have been reservations in education and in jobs. These will not be implemented. To be fair, Congress has highlighted these demands many times (during elections), but has never made good on the promises. Also, efforts to introduce reservations for muslims at the state level (except in Tamil Nadu) have been stymied by the Courts.

The problem of reservations is a complex one. A reservation program for minorities will actually work out as a lose-lose proposition for muslims. The advanced minority communities (Christians, Jains, Sikhs) are likely to take disproportionate advantage of this provision. OTOH such a program would be vilified as a policy to appease the muslim vote-bank.

What is more promising (and legal) is a cut-out from the existing OBC reservation quota (4.5% was the Congress plank). Also, Dalit muslims (and Christians) can be made eligible for reservation benefits (this was first only for Hindus, later extended to Buddhists and Sikhs). However, to the extent the reservation pie is fixed, any quota for muslims will be fiercely opposed by the current Hindu beneficiaries.

Unfortunately, for the muslims, it looks like there are going to be only two viable coalitions going forward: (1) OBC + Forward caste team (and in select areas dalits as well) led by the BJP, and the (2) Dalit + Forward caste team led by Mayawati/BSP (which managed to secure the third highest vote percentage this elections (20%) but not a single seat). Neither group requires muslims, and will actually suffer if they are seen to be fishing for muslim votes (it will anger core supporters).

Due to H/M polarization, muslims at present have really no alternative but to vote for the Congress (A, B, C teams). There is also polarization within muslims, the BJP can expect to win the Shia and Bohra vote (these communities are relatively advanced and would not be seeking reservation benefits anyway). Since the “secular” parties do not have to earn the muslim votes, they will promise a lot and forget quickly (which is the case for the last 65 years). If anything, the track record of non-BJP governments in preventing riots is worse than that of the BJP governments.

Finally, as has happened already in Axom and in Kerala (and Hyderabad), there are viable right-wing muslim parties which have the advantage (from a muslim standpoint) of being  for, of and by muslims (conservatives). These parties may grow in strength in other parts of India as well (next stop West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh). If that happens, the secular parties will be wiped out (in a first past the post system) and BJP will win the mantle of the “natural ruling party” of India.

There are secular solutions to the above problems and a party like the Aam Admi Party should be able to champion such solutions and even win a mandate based on such a charter. A huge, diverse country like India is best represented by some modified form of proportional representation. Also the concept of reservations can be revisited and the targeting of communities can be in terms of economic backwardness.

Dalits and Muslims (the two most disadvantaged groups) are likely to benefit strongly from such arrangement(s). This is then the “social justice” gap that Indian democracy requires fixing (as fast as possible). It is important for the sake of the country that a left-secular organization like the AAP switches off the dramabazi and focuses on building bridges with the voters (which has been badly bruised by the 49-day tenure in Delhi)

It is surprising that Arundhati Roy (who was voted as the leading thinker in the world) has not proposed such (and other) practical measures which will move both secularism and democracy forward. But then as Omar says, it is not clear that the Pankajists will be happy if this actually happened by some miracle. They have found out that throwing stones from the outside is a hugely profitable business, thus it is unlikely that any help will be forthcoming from them any time soon.

Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptullah has said Muslims are too large
in number to call themselves a minority and that it is the Parsis who
need special attention, for they are a “minuscule minority”.

Referring to the issue of Muslim reservation in jobs, she said “there
is no provision in the Constitution for religion-based reservation”.
The matter is in the Supreme Court.

“If you have six children it is always important to see what you can
do for the weakest of them. So far as my ministry is concerned, of the
six minority communities the weakest is clearly the Parsis. They are a
minuscule minority that is so  ‘ Muslims too many to be called minority,
it’s Parsis who need special attention’ precariously placed that one
needs to take care of their survival. Muslims really are too large in
number to be called a minority community,” the minister told The Indian

She said the very concept of minority and majority is relative and
when talking about minorities it is imperative to understand that it is a
term that encompasses many parameters, including language, apart from
religion. Neither is there a ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula for the welfare
of minorities.

The Ministry of Minority Affairs was set up in 2006 in the wake of
the appointment of the Sachar Committee by the  then prime minister
Manmohan Singh to look into social, educational and economic conditions
of Muslims in India. Though it caters to all six minority communities —
the latest addition being Jains — Muslims have, since its inception,
been a special focus area for the ministry.

Heptullah is yet to get a full lowdown on the ministry’s programmes
and schemes, but one scheme that she is not inclined towards is the
Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for minority concentration areas.
“It was started by Indira Gandhi in 1980 and in these 34 years all that
has happened is that successive prime ministers have merely ‘inherited’
it without any real thrust on implementation. I will have to discuss
with Narendra Modiji whether he really wants to inherit it. It is
striking that it has remained at 15 points all this while without one
addition or deletion which should have happened if there was application
of mind,” she said.

Heptullah made no bones about her aversion to the idea of reservation,
maintaining that it cannot be a solution for anything. “I am not in
favour of reservation. I have come this far without reservation. What is
important is positive action to provide level playing field. Once we do
that politically, socially and educationally they will be able to
compete with the rest.”

Link: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/politics/muslims-too-many-to-be-called-minority-its-parsis-who-need-special-attention/99/


Irom Chanu Sharmila- (Hindu) Terrorist?

She is Gandhian no. 1 of the nation, the captain of a single-woman non-cooperation movement, without any support from any big name or big money.

I never voted as I had lost faith in democracy, but
the rise of the new anti-corruption party, Aam Aadmi Party, changed my

She has now expressed interest in meeting with PM Modi. She is very hopeful that her single point request: repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act will be granted (we are not hopeful at all, in simple terms the Army has a veto and will exercise it).

Najma Heptullah, the minorities minister and grand niece of freedom fighter Abdul Kalam Azad, has created a firestorm by saying that muslims in India are too large a population to be considered a minority (unlike Parsis). As long as we are in blunt talking mode, we should also acknowledge that Hindus are not one unified block either (unlike what the Hindutva movement would have us believe). 

Not only do we have Hindu minorities who face discrimination from the Hindu majority (Bihari migrants in Maharashtra, for example) but some Hindu groups are actually in a state of opposition to actions of the Indian state. Most of these groups are in the North-East and the most prominent amongst them is the United Liberation Front of Axom (ULFA).
An Indian activist who has been on hunger strike for over 13
years said on Wednesday she was pinning her hopes of finally leading a
normal life on new Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Sharmila, 42, who is force-fed by a drip through her nose, said she
wanted to meet Modi in hopes of ending the military’s alleged human
rights abuses in her northeastern home state of Manipur.

by more than a dozen police officers, Sharmila appeared in a court in
New Delhi in connection with long-running charges against her of
attempting to commit suicide, a crime in India.

Sharmila told a
judge that she wanted a “settled life as others do” but would not break
her fast until a controversial law that covers large parts of restive
northeastern India and Kashmir was repealed

[Ref. Wiki]

On 2
November 2000, in Malom, a town in the Imphal Valley of Manipur, ten civilians were
shot and killed while waiting at a bus stop. The incident, known as the
“Malom Massacre,” was allegedly committed by the Assam
Rifles, one of the Indian
Paramilitary forces operating in the state. The victims included Leisangbam
Ibetombi, a 62-year old woman, and 18-year old Sinam Chandramani, a 1988
National Child Bravery Award winner.

who was 28 at the time, began to fast in protest of the killings, taking
neither food nor water. As her brother Irom Singhajit Singh
recalled, “It was a Thursday. Sharmila used to fast on Thursdays since she
was a child. That day she was fasting too. She has just continued with her

days after she began her strike, she was arrested by the police and charged
with an “attempt to commit suicide”, which is unlawful under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and was later
transferred to judicial custody. Her health deteriorated rapidly, and nasogastric intubation
was forced on her in order to keep her alive while under arrest.

Sharmila has been regularly released and re-arrested every year since her
hunger strike began under IPC section 309. The law declares
that a person who “attempts to commit suicide … shall be punished with
simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year [or with fine, or
with both].”

primary demand to the Indian government is the complete repeal of the AFSPA which has been blamed for violence in
Manipur and other parts of northeast India.

By 2004,
Sharmila had become an “icon of public resistance.” Following her procedural release on 2
October 2006 Irom Sharmila Chanu
went to Raj Ghat, New Delhi, which she said was “to
pay floral tribute to my idol, Mahatma Gandhi.”

On 6
October, she was re-arrested by the Delhi police for attempting suicide and was
taken to the All
India Institute of Medical Sciences, where she wrote letters to the
Prime Minister, the President, and the Home Minister. At this time, she met and won the
support of Nobel-laureate Shirin Ebadi, the
Nobel Laureate and human rights activist, who promised to take up Sharmila’s
cause at the United
Nations Human Rights Council.

In 2011,
she invited anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare to visit Manipur, and Hazare sent two representatives to
meet with her.

In November, at the end of the
eleventh year of her fast, Sharmila again called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to repeal the law.

On 2
October 2013 Amnesty India issued a press release recognising Irom Sharmila as
a “‘Prisoner of Conscience’, who is being held solely for a peaceful
expression of her beliefs.”

She was
also offered to contest Lok Sabha polls by Aam Aadmi Party leader Prashant Bhushan from Inner
Manipur under his party’s banner through Just Peace Foundation (JPF), a
solidarity group supporting Sharmila’s struggle. 
But on 14 February, Sharmila
rejected Aam Aadmi Party’s offer to contest the Lok Sabha polls and said that
“Though I support AAP, I rejected the offer as I’m just a protester not a
politician.” She also showed her moral support to the party and said
“If I am allowed to vote, I will cast my vote in favour of the AAP which I
am confident will restore the rule of democracy.” 

On the
offers on contesting Lok Sabha polls ,a JPF trustee said that “Politics is
not a cup of her (Sharmila) tea and she even called politicians ‘shameless
people’ for failing to scrap AFSPA despite their countless promises.” 

On 2014,
she showed willingness to cast her vote and submitted an application
expressing her desire and she mentioned that “I never voted as I had lost
faith in democracy, but the rise of the new anti-corruption party, Aam Aadmi
Party, changed my thinking.” But she was not allowed to cast her vote as
per the law. An Election Commission official explained the reason stating that
under Section 62 (5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, a person
confined in jail cannot vote.

Link: http://www.dawn.com/news/1109200/13-year-long-hunger-striker-pins-hopes-on-modi


Apprehensively Optimistic

As Narendra Modi begins his tenure as Prime Minister of India, I find myself in the unaccustomed position of wishing a right-wing leader well. The stakes in South Asia
are simply too high for partisanship, and there are certain things that only someone
like Narendra Modi can do on the Indian side – just as only Nixon could go to
China and only Begin make peace with Egypt. I hope Mr. Modi has the wisdom to see this and the courage
to act. On the Pakistani side, Nawaz Sharif is probably better placed to act
towards rapprochement than the previous government of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party, but I’m not sure he has
enough freedom to act. Recent weeks have demonstrated that the strings of power
in Pakistan are still pulled by invisible actors who are ruthless, rigid and unburdened by conscience. However, there is a little
room for hope. Though the Nawaz government was not able to stand up fully to
the assault from the Deep State in the matter of Geo TV, it did not completely buckle
under either. Its surrogates pushed back forcefully – if only verbally – and a
degree of moral support for Geo was orchestrated from the chattering classes.
The clash is far from settled, but if the Nihari Caucus emerges from this with
some sort of settlement (the technical term in Pakistan is “muk-muka”), they
may find the guts to move on the infinitely more important issue of rationalizing
relations with India.
A lot will also depend on
whether the Modi government will have the fortitude to remain rational in the
face of provocations that will surely come their way from both the Pakistani
Deep State and their own right-wing. Only a strong government can resist the temptation to lash out, but
this is the strongest government India has had in decades. I, for one, actually
hope that, during their meeting, the two prime ministers hatched some secret
plots and set some hidden agendas, for in this age of screaming TV pundits, the
surest indication of serious ideas is that they cannot be revealed in public.

A friend asked me how I felt about the outcome of
the Indian elections. My answer was “apprehensively optimistic”.
That’s where we are today. May the apprehensions diminish and the optimism

“This is the heartland of Boko Haram”

Wise men tell us that we have to understand the enemy in order to defeat him. The only question is, do we have the fortitude to do what it takes, to take the fight to the bitter end?  So that schools are not bombed and ruined? So that girls can go to school in Chibok and elsewhere without fearing that they may be kidnapped and sold off as slaves?

We are fighting against a deadly ideology, but do we have any ideology to counter it (and vaccinate against it), or are we only offering shallow multi-culturalism to people not attuned to western sensibilities and encouraging third-world ghettos in the first-world?

“He told us we should never drive close to the cows,” Wadai
explained. “He said that the spirit of Boko Haram can enter the cows. So
we should always wait for the cow to cross the road.” He laughed. I was
puzzled. Wadai continued. “It’s a common belief here. They believe that
Boko Haram sends its spirit inside the cows.”


If this war has to be won we have to first face up to both liberal and conservative bigotry in the West. The liberals would prefer to let the tribals stay true to their tribal ways (and there is no one to fight when girls are stoned to death by their own family bang in front of a court-room in broad daylight), while the conservatives will be content with breaking a country with bombs but not putting in the effort to build it up again.

The lib-con consensus right now is that it is best if the nut-jobs are whacked off at a certain (less than ideal) rate using drones based on humint (spies on the ground).  And if somehow refugees escaping death and devastation manage to cross the many miles of sea to reach the safe havens (Italy, Australia, ….) they will be  thrown into open air prisons indefinitely. This lib-con consensus needs to be changed. It will be quite an impossible task since the voters are demanding to know: what is in it for us?

The best solution seems to be to empower local communities and give them the tools to fight back- create as many Kurdistan like safe havens as we can. We must not retreat and we must not abandon people to the forces of darkness.
On Monday morning, May 12, I sat in the backseat of a Toyota Corolla,
headed to Chibok. With a satin abaya draping my body in a sheath of
black, and my hair curled underneath a black chiffon hijab, my careful
effort to blend into northeastern Nigeria’s conservative, predominately
Muslim society appeared to be working. The soldiers who peered into the
backseat gave me casual glances, waving us past checkpoint after

“This is the heartland of Boko Haram,” said the governor of Borno
State when I visited him in the state capital of Maiduguri along the
way. A month earlier, militants from the radical Islamist group had
seized a secondary school in Chibok and kidnapped almost 300 female
students. The town had quickly become an emblem of a region in crisis,
where insurgents attack churches and mosques and kill children in their
sleep while shouting “Allahu akbar.”

When I set out for Chibok—a three-day journey from the Nigerian
capital of Abuja—I’d encountered children selling peanuts and sachets of
water along the road. Those who had nothing to sell simply held out
their palms. “Allah ya kiyaye, Allah ya kiyaye,” they’d said,
muttering prayers in the Hausa language for Allah to grant us a safe
journey. I’d been warned about the dangers of the trip: Boko Haram hide
in the bushes along the road to Chibok, waiting for lonely cars to pass
They cross the street to get from one end of the surrounding fields
to the other, and they shoot at cars as they go, before disappearing
into the Sambisa Forest. 

“From this point of the journey, everything from here is Sambisa,”
explained one of my companions, Daniel Wadai, a lawyer and Chibok native
I’d met in Abuja at one of the daily #BringBackOurGirls rallies. From
the passenger’s seat, he gestured to the left, just above our driver’s
head. I turned to look and saw small bushes stuck in the sand and a few
scattered trees. I had expected to see a dense grove of trees.

“This is not a forest,” I said. “No. It’s not the forest that the media is painting it to be,” Wadai replied.

Dogonyaro, acacia, and baobab trees flashed by in a blur, as the
Sahelian landscape grew drier and flatter. Yellow flowers broke the
monotony of the green and brown landscape. And then, suddenly, we were
surrounded by cows making their way across the road. One of them stopped
by my window. I looked into its big, moist eyes, admiring its shiny,
reddish brown coat. Our driver continued on undaunted, carefully weaving
the car through the horde. A battered blue station wagon drove up
alongside us, and its driver said something to us in Hausa before
speeding away.

“He told us we should never drive close to the cows,” Wadai
explained. “He said that the spirit of Boko Haram can enter the cows. So
we should always wait for the cow to cross the road.” He laughed. I was
puzzled. Wadai continued. “It’s a common belief here. They believe that
Boko Haram sends its spirit inside the cows.”

For people here grappling with a palpable fear of fighters with no
clear agenda and no set targets on their path of destruction, Boko Haram
had taken on supernatural qualities. The group had completely wiped out
villages like Bulabulin.
There, weeds grew freely in farm plots.
Cooking pots lay overturned in the dirt. On our way to Chibok, I counted
three telecom masts, but I couldn’t pick up a network signal on my
phone. Boko Haram had destroyed the area’s infrastructure, too.

We soon reached the town of Damboa, where a battalion headquarters
stood next to the abandoned construction site of a housing development.

Damboa had once been a hotspot for Boko Haram recruitment, explained a
stringer for an international news agency who was traveling with us,
and whom I’ll call “Dayo.” Now, many of the boys there, having renounced
their membership in the militant group, were trying to rid the town of
Boko Haram.

Monday is market day in Damboa, and the town was bustling. Vegetable
sellers congregated along the roadside. A butcher sliced meat on a
wooden plank as women waited for his cuts. Lean dogs scurried about. Men
stood languidly in line in the heat, as civilian fighters inspected the
men’s fingers for trigger marks—signs of heavy gun usage that could out
them as Boko Haram members.

We left Damboa, turning onto a pothole-ridden dirt path known as
Chibok road. Here, I came closer to Sambisa than I had ever been before.
Now there were no checkpoints in sight. We had clearly embarked on the
most dangerous leg of the journey. And then our car came to a halt.

We arrived in Chibok covered head to toe in sand from one of the
village’s fierce sandstorms. Amid the dust, a sign for the
government-run secondary school marked the site of Boko Haram mass
kidnapping. A guard let us through the school’s gate without much fuss,
and we made our way across the rubble through a series of burned-out

Nearby, three people were sitting under a mango tree
surrounded by charred debris: the school’s principal, Asabe Kwambura,
and two administrators, who were waiting for a government delegation to
arrive and investigate the incident.

Kwambura greeted me, lifting her purple veil and wiping tears from her
eyes. She projected confidence, though I sensed it was withering. “They
are our girls,” she told me. I asked if the Nigerian military had been
protecting the school on the night of the attack. Kwambura said no—the
school had its own watchmen, and one had been guarding the main gate
while the other was posted at the girls’ residence. I was stunned. A
government school in a state under emergency rule had been left with no
government-authorized security.
Young girls had been sleeping in their
rooms without any solid assurance of safety.

Two matrons led us to the girls’ residence, where I saw bare bed
frames and shards of glass on the floor. Standing in the bedrooms, I
imagined the girls’ screams as they were snatched away. I pictured them
disappearing with their kidnappers into the night.

In Chibok, I found a close-knit community in mourning—families
gathering together at dawn and then heading to a dozen or so churches
and a handful of mosques scattered around the village to pray for the
girls to return. 

At night, Esther Yakubu—a mother of five, including
15-year-old Dorcas Yakubu, who was among the kidnapped students—crouches
on her knees and clutches her Bible. 

“God is not dead. He is alive,”
she told me, and then prayed: “God bring her back.”

Esther misses her daughter’s presence. “I like her by my side
always,” she said. “Anytime I think about her, I bust out crying. That’s
all I do everyday.” Sitting with her husband in the family’s cozy
living room, as daylight beamed through two narrow windows, Esther told
me that she and Dorcas spoke either in person or on the phone every day,
and that Dorcas had been planning to take a course on how to sew

Ten-year-old Marvelous was sitting on the floor as we spoke. I
asked him about Dorcas, and he mumbled, “I am still crying and

Outside, on the patio, I met Dorcas’s younger sister, Happy, who was
carrying pails of fresh rainwater. Happy was angry. “I want to leave
[Nigeria] because they are not taking care of us,” she told me.
Residents here cannot feel the impact of the federal government’s
estimated $5 billion defense budget.

On my way to the home of Lawan Zanna—whose daughter, 18-year-old Aisha,
had been kidnapped by Boko Haram—I met a gang of giggling girls jumping
in shapes they had drawn in the sand. It looked like a game of
hopscotch. Wadai told me it was called elgalagala. The girls jumped and twirled and laughed with glee. I stopped to take pictures and they posed like fashion models.

At Zanna’s home, I sat cross-legged on a red straw mat on the patio
as he told me how he and the other parents had marched through Sambisa
in a fruitless search for their daughters. Hawa, 19, showed me the
bedroom she shared with Aisha. A large bed took up more than half of the
room; plastic suitcases and laundry baskets were piled along the walls.

In a low voice, Hawa described Aisha. “My junior sister has respect,” she said. “She is a very quiet girl.”

Back on the patio, Zanna, was on his knees, praying to Allah. I said my goodbyes, and left the family to mourn.

My last stop that day was at Lydia Pogu’s family compound. Lydia had
managed to run away from her abductors after the attack in April.
Sitting with Dayo and me on a wooden bench, she described how Boko Haram
fighters had stormed the school asking for food and dragging the girls
onto trucks. With a friend, Lydia had jumped out of her truck and landed
on her stomach, before fleeing the scene.
She told me she never wants
to go to school again. She wants to farm the land instead.

By this point, our driver had
returned from the mechanic’s shop in Damboa, and he drove us to Wadai’s
family home in Chibok, where we’d be spending the night. I sunk onto a
couch, weighed down by sadness. I thought about the principal and her
gutted school; about Lydia and her harrowing escape; about Happy’s
bitterness, Marvelous’s hope, and Esther’s continuous tears.

The next morning, we left Chibok, but not before stopping at the home
of the oldest man in the village, Bitrus Dawa Kulaha Abugar Woshanta
Umar Ibn Elkanemi, or Bitrus Dawa for short. He tells everyone he was
born in 1910. 

We spoke about the first time he saw white
people—Christian missionaries—in Chibok, in 1923; about the 1967-1970
Nigerian civil war, when he was working as a teacher; about how corrupt,
unethical Nigerian leaders had degraded the country. Raindrops
interrupted our conversation.

A soldier asked us where we were going, and where we were coming from.

“Maiduguri, Chibok.”

“Chibok! You people passed the night in Chibok?” He shook his head,
incredulous. “Someone like you is not supposed to pass there.”

“Why not?” said Wadai. “It’s my village. ……
Link: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/in-the-land-of-nigeria-s-kidnapped-girls/371357/


Europe faces a political crisis

Why are the “citizens” of Europe so unhappy and what can be done about that? It turns out that the problem is that the politicians do not trust the voters to vote for right-minded people (those same self-serving pols). Now the voters are in turn sick of unrepresentative politics.  

In other words this is a crisis of democracy whereby all political institutions will slowly (but surely) lose their legitimacy. If democracy is no longer seen to be working in prosperous Europe then the only system that will thrive globally is the authoritarian-capitalist one propounded by the Chicoms (and in certain places populated by devout people, the Islamist-Sharia model). That is a truly scary scenario.

We are not sure that the economic crisis has been avoided as is generally the claim, what did happen was  that the Central Bank said that it would go to any length to preserve the Euro (which stopped the speculators from..speculating about the currency), and oh yes, Greece and some other countries must have a perpetual austerity program in place (whereby jobs for young people have essentially vanished).

The political crisis simply is that the elections are attracting voters (and electing parliamentarians) who despise the EUSSR and have the deepest disdain possible for  the denizens of Brussels. Further, as the author (Peter Mair: Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy) argues, Western European politicians are ruling by proxy, and hiding behind the bureaucrats of Brussels. 

The above system thus represents another version of the Sonia Gandhi – Manmohan Singh combo model that was so revolting to Indian voters – we need to know who makes  the rules and the rulers should be fully accountable to the ruled. This is how democracy must work.

Mair’s conclusion
is that the EU is a house that party politicians built which has no room
for politics, while national governments are ever more likely to
pretend they are merely the branch office of Brussels. (After all, if
Brussels has already decided, you don’t take the blame; never mind that
you were there at the negotiating table.) In this situation, what Mair
calls the Tocqueville syndrome becomes acute: if political elites are
either inaccessible or impotent, why put up with them? Tocqueville was
writing about the fall of the aristocrats in the Ancien Régime, who
could no longer justify their privileges once they had lost power to a
centralised monarchy. The worst of the economic crisis might be over,
but the political crisis in Europe is only just beginning.

 The polls are saying we would love it for you to keep weight measures in pounds, but poor us, Brussels is demanding that we move to kilograms. And yes, you can extradite Abu Qatada only with the greatest difficulty (10 years and a few million pounds wasted in appeals), even though he came to Britain under false premises, and managed to live off the social state, AND brainwashed loyal citizens of the state who would then suddenly turn up in Afghanistan to fight against British troops. Another profound absurdity is the experience of British citizens with foreign (non-EU) spouses who now effectively live in exile because of tough conditions laid down by the Home Office (to reduce non-EU migrants).

A sample of the complaints:

(1) The government has squeezed non-EU immigration down in a pretty
brutal way – you can’t, for example, bring a spouse in unless you’re
earning around £18,000 a year
or have something like £64,000 in the bank
(in an instant-access account). You need more if you bring children in
as well. 

This means that a large number of British people with foreign
spouses are now in what amounts to exile abroad, or forcibly separated.

an EU citizen from outside the UK can bring a non-EU spouse in freely –
you don’t need a visa, you don’t need savings, you don’t need a salary;
you don’t even need to bring your suitcase…. That’s clearly unfair,

and, from a legal point of view, utterly illogical.

And yet the
government will press on regardless, trying to keep net immigration
down, but at the same time abiding by an open borders policy. The
government’s desperation has actually led to it forcing British people
out of the country; they know that if they refuse a visa to the spouse
of a British person, the British partner in that marriage and their
British children will have to go abroad, which will contribute to
lowering net migration figures.
This defies all logic.

I have to
admit that it annoys me greatly that it is easier for a European Union
resident with no ties to Britain to enter the country than it is my
Japanese husband,
who has a British wife, son and mother-in-law.

also happens that if a British person marries an Australian or a
Canadian whose grandparents were British citizens, they will find it
harder to get that spouse into the country than somebody from the EU
whose family has never had any links to Britain whatsoever.

(2) I’m in a similar situation – my partner is non-EEA, and as a
British citizen, I must earn £18,600 + £3,800 (1st child) + £2,400 (2nd
child) per year. As a family, we have zero recourse to public funds –
no child allowance, no housing benefits, no free use of NHS, no tax
credits etc. 

We pay taxes, NI contributions and council tax. Even worse,
we had settlement visa extensions refused earlier this year through a
gross error made by the Home Office. We had to appeal the error, which
cost us £4000 in legal fees. Result? The Home Office withdrew their
erroneous refusal decision the day before the tribunal and now we’re
back in limbo as the Home Office are still considering their decision on
visa extensions. The HO knew a tribunal judge would not only have
over-ruled their decision, but they would have been sternly rebuked for
creating such a needlessly stressful situation
for a law-abiding,
tax-paying, contributing-to-the-country family.

Worse still, the
Immigration Act of 2014 is removing the right to appeal! So if the Home
Office make a mistake (as was the case in our situation), you have no
right to appeal.
Your family are given 28 days notice to leave the
country, and you have to apply again from abroad (applications for
settlement visas and Indefinite Leave to Remain can take up to 6

The only mitigation here is if your family’s life is literally
in danger if you move to another country (and that is adjudicated by
the Home Office whether that’s the case or not),
then your human rights
are considered and you can appeal incountry. This Act just needs
commencement orders and it will be enforced.

On the day the Bastille was stormed in 1789, King Louis XVI wrote in his diary, “rien” (French for nothing, the King was referring to the fact that his hunting trip was not a success). Few European leaders will have typed “nothing” into their iPads today,
but there is a real danger that, in response to the revolutionary cry
across the continent, they will in effect do nothing. Today’s rien has a face and a name. The name’s Juncker. Jean-Claude Juncker.

disastrous “the same only more so” response from Europe’s leaders would
be signaled by taking Juncker – Spitzenkandidat of the largest party
grouping in the new European parliament,
the centre-right European
People’s party – and making him president of the European commission.
The canny Luxembourgeois was the longest-serving head of an EU national
government, and the chair of the Eurogroup through the worst of the
eurozone crisis. Although he has considerable skills as a politician and
deal-maker, he personifies everything protest voters from left to right
distrust about remote European elites. He is, so to speak, the Louis
XVI of the EU.


There is a compelling
case for thinking that something has gone badly wrong when we see
ourselves as being ruled by unaccountable, supposedly apolitical
experts, but the only prospect of rescue is afforded by populists who
promise to hand power back to the people. The former give us identical
policies everywhere and no politics; the latter, you might say, give us
politics and no policies.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the
European Union. As Mair makes clear, the purpose of European
integration was from the start to create a ‘protected sphere’ –
protected, that is, from the vagaries of representative democracy. After
the political catastrophes of the mid-20th century, Western European
elites (except in Britain) concluded that popular sovereignty should be
treated with deep distrust.

After all, how could one have any faith in
the people when the people had brought fascists to power or collaborated
with fascist occupiers? There were profound reservations even about the
idea of parliamentary sovereignty.
Hadn’t legitimate representative
assemblies handed power over to Hitler in 1933 and to Marshal Pétain in
1940? As a result, parliaments in postwar Europe were systematically
weakened, while non-elected institutions – constitutional courts are the
prime example – were given more power.

All this proved acceptable
so long as the elites were trusted – and so long as the decisions taken
in the ‘protected sphere’ didn’t have dramatic effects on people’s
everyday lives. Neither condition holds true any longer. As Mair points
out, it isn’t just individual politicians but the political class as a
whole that become a matter of contention in many parts of Europe. 

years of Eurocrisis have left us with technocracy on the one hand and
populism on the other.
The two positions seem completely opposed, but in
fact they have one attitude in common: the technocrats think there’s
only one rational solution to every policy issue, hence there’s no need
for debate; the populists believe there is an authentic popular will and
that they are the only ones who can discern it, hence there’s no need
for debate. Both sides are opposed to the pluralism that comes with
party democracy.
Occasionally, populism and ‘expertocracy’ unite in a
single person: Silvio Berlusconi and Austria’s Jörg Haider promised to
run their respective countries like a company.

A peculiar mismatch
has come about between the scope of elections and what is really at
stake in them. 

There are legitimate disagreements over the architecture
of the EU, and over the sorts of policy that should and should not be
devised in Brussels, but voters, according to Mair, choose the wrong
elections to make themselves heard on these issues. They voice their
dissatisfaction with the EU in European elections, although the European
Parliament plays no part at all in negotiating EU treaties, which
determine the shape of the Union as a whole. 

The 751 MEPs do have a say
in particular policies (some believe that the European Parliament, often
held up for ridicule, has a much stronger record of amending
legislation than national parliaments, which simply rubber-stamp
government policy), yet voters express preferences about policy in
national elections, even though national governments have steadily been
losing power to the EU – according to some estimates, far more than half
the legislation in EU member states now comes from Brussels.

has dropped at each successive European election since the first one in
1979. But there is a feeling that the upcoming election may buck the
trend. Few EU citizens would deny, in 2014, that Europe matters. 

And if
they are willing to come out of what Mair calls comprehensive
withdrawal, politicians seem ready to meet them halfway. The European
Parliament has felt it necessary to spend money on a lavish ad campaign
with the slogan ‘This time it’s different’ in an attempt to get people
to the polling booths. And the supranational ‘party families’ in the
Parliament have nominated ‘leading candidates’ for the presidency of the
European Commission, promising that the job will go to the person who
gathers most votes. 

The hope behind this proposal is that
politicisation, even at the cost of polarisation, will prove the royal
road to legitimacy.
As the Finnish EU Commissioner for Economic and
Monetary Affairs and the Euro, Olli Rehn (not a man known for mixing
passions and politics), said recently, European elections should be
Citizens might feel less resentful if they can put a
face to Brussels bureaucracy. 

But that isn’t the lesson from recent
history in the US, where elite-led polarisation and personalisation are
seen to have damaged the legitimacy of the political system as a whole,
leaving the impression that politics is about huge egos bickering.
it is far from clear that a choice of personnel really amounts to a
choice of policy, when the substance of EU policy is largely determined
by treaties which aren’t agreed by the European Commission or the
European Parliament, but by member states. 

Even putting aside the
question of treaties, the Eurozone is steadily narrowing the scope for
autonomous political choice. Take Germany’s insistence that all Euro
countries put ‘debt brakes’ into their constitutions, making deficit
spending virtually impossible.
The European Commission cannot alter any
of this; in fact, its task now is essentially to check that the rules
are being observed and where necessary to interfere with national
budgets. In these circumstances, getting to choose a president of the
Commission might seem merely a cosmetic change.


Link(1): http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n10/jan-werner-muller/the-partys-over

Link(2): http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/26/europe-unhappy-european-union


The truth will always out

…and even the worm will finally turn (no, we are not fond of  the emperor/clothes stuff).

TH Mustafa, a veteran Congressman from Kerala, is like a refreshing breath of air. There is definitely a tinge of sadness (for Congress supporters) about what could have been if only Mr Joker had the humility to remove himself as not fit for purpose.

This much is true. Priyanka can still save Congress by invoking her grand-mother’s spirit, but then she has to get her first love out of the way..the corrupt and arrogant first damad. She should talk to another princess on her way up- Maryam Nawaz Sharif. When dear Dad (PM Sharif) punished dear Hubby with an iron rod, MNS acknowledged that people must act in the best interests of the party and the nation or pay a heavy price.
Rahul Gandhi for the party’s electoral reverses in the Lok Sabha
election, a senior leader in Kerala on Wednesday termed the Congress
vice-president a “joker” and demanded he be removed from his posts if he
does not step down voluntarily.


T H Mustafa, a former minister, also demanded Gandhi’s sister Priyanka Gandhi be made the new party chief.

Addressing reporters here, Mustafa said that Gandhi should quit from his post and if he does not, he should be removed.
 “Rahul behaved like a joker and that’s the reason why the Congress
suffered a major reversal in the Lok Sabha polls. The role of a prime
minister is not child’s play and the people knew it and handed out the
worst defeat to the Congress party.

 “He should take responsibility
and quit and if not he should be removed and Priyanka Gandhi should be
made the new president of the party,” he said.

 “His (Rahul’s) mad
style of working using computer and internet and in the company of a
group of CWC members who only praise whatever he does has caused this
defeat. It’s unfortunate that even A K Antony belongs to this group,”
said Mustafa, a former minister in the K Karunakaran cabinet (1991-95)
and five-time legislator, known for openly attacking top leaders of his

Link: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Congress-leader-in-Kerala-calls-Rahul-joker/articleshow/35679312.cms


Brown Pundits