Sunday, April 21, 2019

Arguments for Proportional Representation

Radical Socialist has issued an election stand that is online and will also be available in slightly condensed form in Bangla as a printed booklet. I propose to write briefly about many of our demands, and put them up as blogs and Facebook posts. .
As we say, these are demands we will raise before, during and after the elections.
The first of these calls for proportional representation. Such a demand faces two criticisms. One from the liberal and right, another from the left.
The liberal and right opposition says that proportional representation weakens the government. To this our response is, bourgeois democracy claims it stands for accountability of government and MPs to the people. In that case, the First Past The Post System [FPTP] we have is bad. It ensures that big parties get disproportionate seats. It also ensures skewed representation.

First Past The Post: A Route to Marginalising Smaller Parties
In the 1962 Parliament, the undivided CPI had just under 10 % votes, but 29 out of 494 seats. It should have had 49 if seats were proportionally given. In the 2014 Parliament, the BSP had just over 4% votes but not a single seat. Yes. 0 seats. If there had been proportional representation the BSP would have got about 21-22 seats.
On the other hand, the UPA-II in 2009 got above 37% votes and 262 seats out of 543. That is 48% of the seats. The NDA in 2014 did even better. It got just over 38% votes but a clear majority with 336 seats.
For the rich therefore, there is a clear focus. Build up two principal parties. Or, if they have been built, take them under your wings as far as possible. So the RSS has its own agenda, but it is only due to big bourgeois support that the BJP got such massive funding and electoral advantage in 2014.
So are we saying that proportional representation is good? Yes. Are we saying that it will move India to socialism? No. Then why are we bothered?

What Can PR Achieve?
Proportional representation is a means to polarizing political views around alternative programmes and class approaches, of clarifying the fundamental contradictions within capitalism and exposing the class nature of this society, but not in any way a magic tool that will deliver class power to workers. 

As India votes in 2019, we have a grim economic situation. This is the result of policies pursued by BJP and Congress. The Global Wealth Report 2018 of Credit Suisse, an investment bank, says India now has 343,000 persons owning over one million US dollars, or about 7 crores of Indian rupees as wealth.  
According to the World Inequality Database, the income of the top 1% of Indian population was Rs 33. lakh per adult or Rs 275,000 per month, while the income of the bottom 50% of the population was Rs. 45,000 per year per adult, that is Rs. 3750 per month. The Congress and the BJP when in power have both contributed to this. 
 The logic of the system encourages parties to frame their policies and messages in order to appeal to this critical minority of voters – whilst the concerns of ‘core’ supporters (particularly where they are concentrated in safe heartland areas) do not carry equivalent weight.
Voters increasingly complain that all the parties are the same and bemoan the lack of choice at elections. In 2029, due to the naked fascistic campaign of the BJP, some may decide otherwise. But event here, the votes are skewed. Anyone on Facebook can see the more sophisticated TMC supporters campaigning, asking people not to waste their votes by voting left, but to vote the TMC to stop the BJP. As we know, the TMC has twice allied with the BJP. Mamata Banerjee was a minister in the NDA government. And she gave Narendra Modi a clean chit after Gujarat 2002. But there will indeed be some voters (I have talked with some myself) who traditionally vote for the left, but feel that this time the best thing to do is vote TMC.
FPTP means that the thresholds needed to get a candidate are very high, and requires support to be strongly localised. It is entirely possible for a party to receive over a million votes in a General Election without getting a single MP elected if that support is spread fairly evenly. The desire not to cast a ‘wasted’ vote is understandable, and frequently leads people to cast their vote ‘tactically’ to keep their least preferred party out.

For there to be truly democratic elections,the class power of the capitalists has to be broken. New institutions of popular representation, including forms of direct democracy need to be built to replace the corrupt institutions that assist in maintaining the entrenched capitalist system. But that does not mean abstract goals to be ushered in one morning. It means putting up demands and fighting for them here and now as well. It means moving through campaign, and arguing for the kind of structure we feel would be relevant under working class rule. A society in transition from the current capitalist society to a classless association of producers would start from the current situation. There would be caste oppression and hierarchy. There would be communalism and minority self-defence. There would be gender differences. And even workers and poor peasants would hardly be free of these problems. So there would be different forces among the oppressed and exploited. And no one force can claim to be THE leading force, supposedly because its leaders have patted themselves on the back and said that they have the proper understanding of the correct theory. Therefore, there would exist numerous parties even among the masses in alliance for a better world. How would we collaborate? The experience of the twentieth century shows that one-party dictatorships are recipes for disaster. So we advocate a proportional representation for the future.
And if so, why should our stance be different for the present? In bourgeois parliaments, PR, by allowing toiling masses to vote for preferred parties, even if small, would make them feel their vote is not a wasted vote. This would strengthen forces fighting for radical change and social justice. 
In the FPTP system, a party and policies that do not clearly have majority support in the country, can get a majority in parliament. It was possible for the Congress under Narasimha Rao as well as the BJP under Modi to go in for large scale privatization, even though neither enjoyed such a mandate form the people. Will the Proportional Representation stop it? No. But it will compel governments to negotiate with a range of parties and voices.

Responding to an Argument Against PR
Opponents of the PR from a liberal and right position argue that PR leads to hijacking of Parliament by small parties. What they mean is, small parties should be irrelevant in the country. So in the elections of  2014, voters cast 52,240,648 votes to parties who did not get a single seat. So the votes of 8.97% voters counted for zero. This excluding those who voted for various independent candidates and those who pressed the NOTA button. If the 8.97 % votes are translated into seats what do we get? 48.7. Even chopping out the fraction that is 48 seats.
So we call for proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. What does it mean? It means that if Radical Socialist puts up  candidates and there are some 1,50,000 people willing to vote Radical Socialist, they put 1 against the Radical Socialist symbol. But according to preference they can vote CPI(ML), RSP, or BSP, or whoever else, as the number 2. This means that if Radical Socialist crosses the threshold set by the PR (say 1% votes in parliamentary elections) the top names from the RS list of candidates are sent into parliament. If RS fails to get that threshold vote, those ballots are not torn up. Instead, they are assigned to the second preference party. As a result, it could be that RSP gets past 2% and gets 10 MPs, or CPI(ML) gets five MPs.
So proportional representation reduces voter apathy by making voters feel as if their vote actually counts towards something, particularly if they are voting for a party which is unpopular in their area.
We are not supposing that proportional representation will get rid of bourgeois control over the state, that it is only the FORM of election that holds the workers and poor peasants back. Marxism has however a much more complex history than a simple counter-position of denouncing elections and contesting elections in the hope of winning a majority of seats.
In his March 1850 "Address to the Communist League," Marx recommended that in the future course of the revolution, the workers' party "'march with' the petty-bourgeois democrats against the faction which it aims at overthrowing," but that it oppose "them in everything whereby they seek to consolidate their position in their own interests." The strategies Marx advocated did not talk only about elections. But what he said about elections bears looking at.
Even when there is no prospect whatsoever of their being elected, the workers must put up their own candidates in order to preserve their independence, to count their forces, and to bring before the public their revolutionary attitude and party standpoint. In this connection they must not allow themselves to be seduced by such arguments of the democrats as, for example, that by so doing they are splitting the democratic party and making it possible for the reactionaries to win. The ultimate intention of all such phrases is to dupe the proletariat. The advance which the proletarian party is bound to make by such independent action is indefinitely more important than the disadvantage that might be incurred by the presence of a few reactionaries in the representative body.
Revolutionaries, like Rosa Luxemburg, knew this would not mean triumph of the proletariat even if they won. The ruling class would rally around its most trusted state institutions--the police, the army, the state bureaucracy and corrupted party politicians--against parliament if necessary:
In this society, the representative institutions, democratic in form, are in content the instruments of the interests of the ruling class. This manifests itself in a tangible fashion in the fact that as soon as democracy shows the tendency to negate its class character and become transformed into an instrument of the real interests of the population, the democratic forms are sacrificed by the bourgeoisie and by its state representatives.
Proportional representation will help the struggles of the working people. This demand will also show what the left wants when there is a working class seizure of power.
This of course leads to a series of other questions which I have not even raised, let alone answered here. I hope to do so in further blogs.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Kashmir Blog of Kunal Chattopadhyay: 1 – Article 370

For decades, nationalist official propaganda and media mythmaking have created a completely false impression about the situation in Kashmir among the minds of average middle class Indians. The aim of this series of notes is to take up many of the propaganda issues, both long term and short term. But two or three core issues will come up repeatedly. One of these is Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and the supposedly privileged position of Jammu and Kashmir State.

This note will deal mainly with the Instrument of Accession and the origin and transformation of Article 370.

When the British left India, their erstwhile colony was divided into two states, India and Pakistan. There were also a large number of princely states, ranging from handkerchief sized territories to large ones. These had different histories, and the question of what would happen to them was uncertain. It is easy to get into digressions, but still, a few points need to be made. The British Empire in India, and the wider sphere of influence they sought to build, did not fit with the map of any previous empire. Thus, through a series of wars in the East and North East, Burma, and a number of other territories were defeated. Territories were added to the empire ruled first from Calcutta and then from Delhi, which had never belonged to the Mughals, or the Turks. On the other hand, attempts to conquer Afghanistan failed due to Afghan opposition. So did attempts to conquer Nepal. Not that Nepal had ever been part of India, but I write this because a silly map is doing the rounds where it is claimed that till a certain date Nepal was part of India.

Two large princely states had different positions. The Deccan, ruled by the Nizam, had been very much a part of India in any sense. One of the most systematic bootlickers of the British, the Nizam had made immense wealth by ruling a territory that he was permitted to exploit because he stood by his masters. As a result, there was both nationalist and class struggle in his territory, and when the Indian government carried out what it called its police action there was much support. The subsequent struggle between CPI-led peasants and the Indian regime is a separate story, but unification in India was not opposed by any save the Nizam and his immediate circle.

Different was the case of Jammu and Kashmir. We need to discuss, in a separate post, why Kashmir valley and the whole princely state were not one and the same. Here, I will provide a very short comment. The Mughals conquered Kashmir in 1586, and saw it as a pleasure area. From the Mughals Kashmir passed to the Afghan empire of Ahmad Shah Abdali, and then to the rising Sikh empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was Ranjit who gave Jammu as a jaigir to his nobleman, the Dogra Rajput chieftain Gulab Singh. After the death of Ranjit, during the turbulent times in the Lahore court, Gulab Singh played a two-faced game, ultimately helping the British through his activities. As a result, the British imperialists rewarded him with Kashmir in the Treaty of Amritsar (1846). For this, Gulab Singh paid a one-time sum of 75 lakh rupees, and a token yearly tribute – a dozen pashmina goats, one horse and three pairs of Kashmiri shawls. Kashmiri nationalists were subsequently to call this a bill of sale, not a treaty. Hunza and Gilgit were added much later. In the case of Ladakh, it was a territory that Tibet and the Mughals both sought to control. More often controlled by Tibet but with an autonomous Ladakhi ruler, Ladakh was conquered to Ranjit Singh’s empire by Zorawar Singh. Ladakh too went to Gulab Singh, and after the crushing of a rebellion it was incorporated into his territory of Jammu and Kashmir.      

So most of J&K had fairly limited relations with the British. Some parts had very limited relations even with the Mughals. While Pakistan has religiously (pun intended) claimed that Kashmir belongs to Pakistan because its population was majority Muslim, Muslim Kashmiris did not see themselves as happily belonging to the Mughal empire and saw the Mughal conquest as their loss of freedom, amnd as we will see below in 1947 most Kashmiri Muslims were hardly convinced they should go to Pakistan.

In 1935, when the Government of India Act was passed, creating a central legislature with some amount of power (compared to what had existed in the past), in order to offset the weight of nationalists, a plan was made to bring in the princes. So, princely states like Kashmir were neither fully in nor out of India. What was important, though, was that the Indian National Congress was formally restricted to British India. So, for that matter, were other parties. The princes were semi-feudal autocrats under British protection, and they alone claimed to speak for their states when at least a restricted (13%) franchise was used to elect the Constituent Assembly of India.  On the other hand, the princes could not simply ignore the fact of independence, though a few tried to.
Dogra rule had been every bit as exploitative and brutal as Mughal or Afghan rule. In addition, Dogra rule had been marked by community-linked sectarianism. Apart from a small class of Muslim jaigirdars, Muslims had been deprived of all opportunities. Even a moderate and a British loyalist like Sir Albion Bannerjee found it difficult to stomach the treatment meted out to the Muslims, and in an article in 1929, he condemned the role of the Maharaja of Jams and Kashmir, saying that he treated Muslims like dumb cattle. When upper class elements loyal to the Maharaja wrote in defence of his rule, one young teacher supported Bannerjee by a letter to an editor. This was Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah.

A firing in 1931 gave rise to serious turmoil. Out of this there emerged the organisation Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference. Despite the name, its leaders, notably Sheikh Abdullah, explained from the beginning that their organization would not be a communal or a sectarian organization, but a national one. The early demands of the Muslim Conference included a representative government, and an end to the discriminatory attitude to Muslims in matters of education and jobs. After several years of agitation, Maharaja Hari Singh proposed to set up a Praja Sabha (House of the Subjects), but with 70% nominated members and with very limited powers. The Muslim Conference denounced this as a sham assembly, but decided to take part in the elections nonetheless. Meanwhile, a conflict between orthodox Muslim currents and the current headed by Abdullah resulted in the departure of the conservatives and the formation of the Azad Muslim Conference. In the elections, the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference defeated its opponents and thereby proved the popularity of its political line.  In 1938 the leaders of the J & K Muslim Conference held discussions with the poet Iqbal, as well as with Jawaharlal Nehru. These discussions led them to propose a change in the name of the organisation to the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference. This was a conscious attempt to combat both the orthodox Muslim trend and Hindu communalism. The National Conference developed a fairly radical programme, much to the left of the Congress, and was staunchly disliked by Hindu communal forces.

In 1946, the National Conference launched the “Quit Kashmir” movement against the Maharaja. The future of India was at that time still uncertain – i.e., whether there would be partition or not, and what the relationship between the princely states and the post-colonial state/s would be. The National Conference wanted the people of Kashmir, rather than the autocratic Maharaja, to have the power to determine Kashmir's future. As late as 2nd October 1947, this was the position taken in public by Sheikh Abdullah. Interestingly, in the period between the independence of India and Pakistan and the Pakistan-backed tribal raids in Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh did not want to join either country. He was trying to manoeuvre himself into the position of an independent ruler. At that time, too, Hindu communalists encouraged him, for they did not want a Hindu ruler to accede to secular India.

The question of accession and the legal issues:

So the Hindu communal organisation J&K Hindu Sabha strongly campaigned that a Hindu ruler should not join secular India. The Muslim communal Muslim Conference, formed by a minority from the National Conference, demanded an independent Kashmir and a separate constitution, but had a definite pro-Pakistan tilt. The National Conference, the most popular organisation, was not consulted by the Maharaja. In the event, Pakistan, India and the Maharaja were all agreed in affirming that the people need not be directly consulted at all. This has major implications for subsequent developments and the claims made about them.

Under Section 7(i) (b) of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, the suzerainty of the British Crown over the Indian princely states lapsed with effect from 15 August 1947. On November 1, 1947, Mountbatten, in his capacity as Governor General of India, wrote to his counterpart, M. A. Jinnah, Governor General of Pakistan, suggesting that when the ruler and the majority of subjects belonged to different communities, and where the state had not acceded to the Dominion whose majority community was the state’s own, the final decision of accession should be decided by an impartial reference to the will of the people.[i]

Meanwhile, however, certain practical developments had occurred. Fierce communal riots wracked the northern part of India in the second half of 1947, as Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims set upon each other. Muslims in India and the other two communities in Pakistan were violently attacked. There was a historically unprecedented transfer of populations. And the impact spilled over porous borders into the princely states. Many Muslims were attacked and harmed in the Jammu region. In response, Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, a member of the Praja Sabha, led an uprising of Muslims of the Poonch area. On 24th October 1947, Pakistan started aiding them in a massive way, and Major General Akbar Khan led a large contingent of Pathan troops. By all contemporary accounts, the Pathan tribesmen were extremely brutal, and there was a widespread revulsion against them. It was in this situation, in order to salvage something, that Hari Singh decided to accede to India. Meanwhile, displaying his typical concern for the subjects, he and his entire administration left Kashmir for the safer Jammu area, and it was the National Conference that took up the twin tasks of administration as well as resistance. Both the memoirs of Abdullah, and contemporary news-reports and eyewitness accounts testify to this. The claim, in recent years, by Hindu communalist elements like Jagmohan, about how the RSS volunteers aided the Indian army, can only be branded as contemptible lies or laughable jokes. But what did happen was that the accession brought the Indian army into the picture, and when it began to push the Pathans out, the Pakistan army formally entered the scene. By the time the war ended, Pakistan was occupying the Mirpur division, contiguous with Jammu, the Muzaffarabad division close to the Kashmir valley, and Gilgit in the far north, while India was in occupation of Jammu, the Kashmir valley, and Ladakh.

While every power – India, Pakistan and on occasion the son of the former Maharaja, has mentioned the people of Kashmir, in fact for all of them; these people did not matter. The independent Kashmir that Hari Singh desired was a Kashmir of the semi-feudal landlords. When he thought that Pakistan-backed aggression might lead to a loss of the independence of Kashmir, he did not turn to the people of Kashmir. Indeed, it would have been impossible for him to do so, given the hatred in which the people held the Dogra rulers. Instead, he turned to India, in order to save his own interests. The Government of India, too, began acting hypocritically from the beginning. In the period before the tribal invasion, when both Pakistan and India had been trying to get Kashmir to accede to their side, Pakistan had been willing to sign a standstill agreement with Hari Singh, but the Indian government wanted further negotiations even before this simple agreement to continue the existing situation would be signed. Ultimately, no agreement was signed at all. When the invasion began, it was made clear to Hari Singh that unless he signed the Instrument of Accession he would get no help. Indian scholars who defend the Indian action, like Jyoti Bhusan Dasgupta, assert that this did not indicate any bad faith on India’s part.[ii] Subsequent history shows otherwise. The new rulers of India were determined to bring Jammu and Kashmir within India, but at the same time to preserve the fiction that this was the will of the people of the state, expressed democratically. The Indian position, from 27 October 1947 onward for a considerable time, as long as it was a matter of public utterances at international fora, was that: “To remove the misconception that the Indian Government is using the prevailing situation in J & K to reap political profit, the Government of India wants to make it very clear that as soon as the raiders are driven out and normalcy is restored, the people of the State will freely decide their fate, and that decision will be taken according to the universally accepted democratic means of plebiscite or referendum. To ensure free and fair plebiscite, the supervision of the United Nations will be necessary.”[iii]

Mountbatten’s letter to Jinnah was part of this ploy. By then, Hari Singh had signed the Instrument of Accession. So the Head of State of India was offering a seeming democratic solution. At that date, it seemed to Pakistan that such a democratic solution was inimical to Pakistan’s goal of gobbling up Jammu and Kashmir, while it seemed to India that it was something that would favour India. In fact, at that date, it might have been the case. But the idea of a plebiscite was a dangerous one, for that could create a precedent in many other princely states, for example in Manipur, where the people were fighting for a democratic constitution in an independent Manipur (the Maharaja of Mnipur was forced to sign the Instrument of Accession and the Constitution of Manipur was summarily dismissed in 1949). So plebiscite was eventually watered down till it was totally lost.

So the Instrument of Accession in Jammu and Kashmir was signed when Hari Singh found that his options were: to be overwhelmed by Pakistani invasion, to align with radical nationalists, who, if they managed to halt the Pakistanis, would throw him out next, or to line up with India.

The day after the signing of the Instrument, Indian troops were airlifted to Srinagar, the capital. An undeclared war began. On 2 November 1947, Indian Prime Minister Nehru in a radio broadcast reiterated that the accession of Kashmir should be settled by a reference to the people.[iv] Thus, Mountbatten was not acting against his Prime Minister. The two had similar stands, and this seems to have been based on an understanding, probably correct if we consider that particular moment, that if in a referendum the choice was posed between democratic India with some scope for autonomy and a landlord dominated Pakistan, the majority, including the then most powerful nationalist Kashmiri organization, the National Conference, would opt for India. But the formal position is, India did make this offer, but never kept faith.

The Instrument of Accession signed by Hari Singh had certain important points:
1.      He acceded to India only in respect of defence, external affairs and communications.
2.      The terms of accession were not to be changed without the ruler’s consent.
3.      The Instrument did not commit the sovereign to acceptance of any future Constitution of India.
4.      All powers except those specifically acceded remained the powers of the ruler of Kashmir.[v]

The state of Jammu and Kashmir was then governed by the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution Act of 1939. As Dr. A.S. Anand, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, pointed out in his Ph.D thesis, the instrument thus clearly indicated that the state was to be governed by the old Constitution Act till the people of Kashmir formed their own constitution. The state had voluntarily surrendered three powers only and the government of India could not enlarge the space of its jurisdiction at its own discretion. [vi]

As noted, on 2nd November, 1947, Nehru in a radio speech stated that the accession of Kashmir should be settled by a reference to the peoples. But when the UN Security Council adopted a resolution in favour of a plebiscite,  the Indian Government was caught on a the wrong foot. Formally, India accepted the UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP)’s 13th August, 1948 resolution on a plebiscite, but by 12 January 1949, Nehru was writing to Sheikh Abdullah that the plebiscite would perhaps never be held.
From 21st April, 1948 to 2nd December, 1957 there have been a series of UN proposals for a referendum. The early democratic claims notwithstanding, India clearly rejected these proposals – on each occasion, due to plausible reasons, but making it clear that the Kashmir accession was becoming a non-negotiable issue.
Internally, the same contradiction between democratic claims and the reality were visible. On 27th May, 1947 Sir N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar proposed the nomination of four members from Kashmir to the Constituent Assembly of India. When objections were raised, he responded that if as a result of a plebiscite Kashmir left India, India would not stand in the way of Kashmir’s separation.[vii] On 16th June, 1947, Sheikh Abdullah, Mirza Mohammed Agzal Beg, Maulana Mohammaed Syed Masoodi and Moti Ram Bagha took the pledge and signed the register of members of the Constituent Assembly of India.[viii]  

By then negotiations had began on the terms of Kashmir’s membership of the Indian Union. It was agreed that Kashmir was to have its own constitution and the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir was to determine in respect of what other subjects the state would accede.[ix]

Already both the Government of India and the Kashmiri nationalist leadership were moving away from a democratic principle, though a case has been made out that Abdullah tried to stick as close to the principle as possible.[x]  Instead of first organizing elections, they were negotiating among themselves. Yet in October 1947, Abdullah had asserted that the establishment of democracy should come first, and any question of accession should be discussed later.

According to even scholars critical of India, like Alastair Lamb, a plebiscite at that stage would have resulted in the state according to India, because Abdullah, finding full independence impossible, preferred India. In that case, why did Indian leaders demur? It is only possible to speculate. But perhaps the supposition that this might lead to complications elsewhere would not be very fanciful. So they opted for support to Abdullah as someone, in Nehru’s words, “who would deliver the goods to India”. So, in March 1948, Abdullah became Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, but the elections to the Constituent Assembly were held only in 1951. And these elections were typical of elections in Kashmir. The National Conference won all 75 seats uncontested, as every opposition candidates’ papers were rejected.

It is likely that the National Conference would have won a majority of sets in a fair election. But these suppositions –- that India could have won a plebiscite, that Abdullah could have won in fair polls – are simply hypothetical conjectures and they do not negate the fact that in neither case were democratic means used.

Meanwhile article 306A of the Indian Constitution had been drafted by Ayyangar (this was, with modification, the future article 370). But after Abdullah and his fellow Kashmir delegates had accepted one version, a different version was moved and passed. One consequence of this change was that in the earlier version, Abdullah’s dismissal would have been a constitutional impossibility.

The article provided that the power of the Indian Parliament to make laws for Kashmir would be limited to those matters which corresponded to the Instrument of Accession, and those which were accepted by the Government of the state, this last being defined as “the person for the time being recognized by the president as the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir acting on the advice of the council of Ministers for the time being in office under the Maharaja’s proclamation dated the fifth day of March, 1948”.

The Article further provided that even this concurrence was temporary, and had to be ratified by the state’s Constituent Assembly. The authority of the Government to give concurrence was to last only till the Constituent Assembly of the state was convened. If this means what it says, the power of concurrence disappeared the moment, in 1951, the Constituent Assembly met. Yet, successive state governments, put into office through rigged elections, have continued to give “concurrence” even after 1956, when the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir ceased to exist. Till 1986, Article 370 has been repeatedly amended. Even Article 356 of the Indian Constitution, by which an elected state government can be dismissed by the Central Government at the report of the Governor (who is always a stooge of the Central Government) has been applied.

In 1968, in the Sampat Prakash case, the Indian Supreme Court delivered an outrageous judgment. It brushed aside Art. 370, and ruled that the President of India called go on adding to the Union’s powers with the concurrence of the State Government.[xi]

Despite Abdullah’s conditional preference for India, he had never accepted the accession as final. He had hoped that with the help of the Indian Constitution, a secular, democratic polity could be built up in Jammu and Kashmir, and a neutral state, patterned somewhat after Switzerland, could eventually emerge.  When it became clear that on the core issue of accession he could not be budged, he was removed. From 9th August, 1953 to 8th January, 1958, from 30th April, 1958 – 6th April, 1964, and from 8th May, 1965 to 2nd January 1968, he was in prison. At no stage was he tried and convicted. A whole series of Indian scholars and journalists have spilled quarts of ink trying to prove that he took advice from Moscow, from the US, etc .[xii]  The simple reality seems to be, in refusing to be a stooge of Delhi, he left India’s rulers no option but to incarcerate him. The subsequent ministries of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, G.M. Sadiq, Syed Mir Quasim, were formed by blatant rigging.[xiii]  Using such pliant agents, by 1964, Jammu – Kashmir was made a simple province. Formally, Article 370 was retained. But the democratic aspirations of the people of Kashmir were totally thwarted.

[i] Durga Das, Ed, Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, 1945-50, Ahmadabad, 1971, p. 73.
[ii] See J.B. Dasgupta, Jammu and Kashmir, The Hague, 1968.
[iii] Quoted in Blood in the Valley: Kashmir Behind the Propaganda Curtain, Bombay 1995(?), p.29.
[iv] S. N. Dhar, International Relations and World Politics Since 1919,  New Delhi, 1982, p.612.
[v] Government of India, White Paper on Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, 1948, p. 17.
[vi] A.S. Anand, The Development of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and Jammu, 1980, P.121.
[vii] Constitutent Assembly Debates, Vol. VIII, P. 373
[viii] Ibid, p.95.
[ix] Durga Das, Ed, Sardar Patel’s Correspondence,, p.276.
[x] See A. G. Noorani, ‘Myths and Reality’, in Frontline, Volume 27 - Issue 03 :: Jan. 30-Feb. 12, 2010, (accessed on 22 November 2010)
[xi] AIR 1970, SC, 1118.
[xii] Prof. Jyoti Bhusan Das Gupta in a remarkable feat, supposes both kinds of influence. J.B Das Gupta, Jammu and Kashmir,  Ch. 7
[xiii] In 1957 Bakshi’s party polled 96% votes. In 1962 Nehru wrote to Bakshi advising him to lose a few seats in the future (cited in M.J. Akbar, India – The Siege within, Harmondsworth, 1985, P 258). In 1972, by Mir Quasim’s admission fair polls would have meant a victory for the Plebiscite Front, Formed by Afzal Beg. (Mir Qasim : My life and times, Delhi, 1991, p106)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The JNU election : A Wake Up Call but Will the Left Pay Heed?

The JNU students union elections, hard on the heels of the Delhi University  Students’ Union election, have considerable significance. Unfortunately, it is rather different from how much of the Indian left has been reading these elections. For ages, the JNU elections and the JNU students’ union has been a stamping ground and a promoting ground for the major left parties at the all India level, just as, at a smaller scale, Presidency College and Jadavpur University have been so, for left and far left alike, in West Bengal.
As a result, sectarian existence, targeting opponent left organisations, all these have been very important elements of JNU student politics.  So we saw four left student organisations contesting the JNUSU elections – the AISF (CPI), SFI (CPI-M), AISA (CPI_ML Liberation) and the DSF (breakaway from SFI). Ask any of them and they will tell you that the BJP is fascist. Look at their parent parties and you will find that for parliamentary/assembly elections they are in alliances somewhere or the other (the DSF does not, strictly speaking, have a parent body so I omit it in this and similar comments).
But getting JNU is a matter of prestige nowadays. So it is better to risk, evidently, losing some seats to the BJP/ABVP, than losing them due to seat sharing. And that is precisely what happened. The AISF got two of the four office bearers, the AISA got one, and the ABVP got one.

If there is a real need for united front, it has to be from these levels. A so called UF that looks only at Bihar Assembly polls is a mostly futile one. The left has to recognise the massive threat that has already emerged and build real united front struggles.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Speech in Solidarity with the People of Gaza --21st July 2014

[I spoke for the first time in my life in a meeting organized by the SFI. I had gone to listen, not to speak. Because it was a protest over Gaza. But some of the students requested me to speak. So I did. Below is an edited version of what I said.]
This was posted on Facebook a few days after the speech was delivered. Reposting it here. 
Thank you for inviting me to speak. I had not come at all prepared, so I may be less than fully coherent. I want you to excuse me if that happens. 

My first and crucial point is, such protests need to recognise that we live in a different world than the one I inhabited when I was a student in this very University. In those days the left was stronger, anti-imperialism and anti-racism were stronger. Today, the Right is stronger by far. As a result, its ideology has reached out to vaster masses and confused them. When we protest over Palestine, as I have been doing, we must pay heed to this reality and respond to false issues and non issues that they raise, because not everyone spouting those arguments is a diehard Hindu communalist, Zionist, or imperialist agent. Rather, a great many are reeling as a result of the huge rightwing ideological offensive.

A standard argument is so called humanist pacifism. We are attacked, and told that all violence is violence, so why are we not condemning Hamas and its violence. This calls for a response at several levels. First, it is untrue that Hamas has started the violence. I am not talking like children, about who hit first. I am saying this for a deeper reason. As long as you cannot prove, in a court of law, who killed the three Israeli youth, it is fraudulent to blame Hamas. It is being done simply because Hamas and Fatah were about to come to an agreement, and Israel wanted to block that. 

Second, there is a clear difference between Israeli violence and anything any Palestinian is doing. Israel has adopted a policy that is called collective punishment. This is a policy we know too well. After the revolt of 1857, the British killed youth by the entire village in Awadh and other areas, not because they were convicted of anything, but because they were young people of target regions. For Israel, the most important parallel does not come from India though. It is a shameful and tragic thing, that those who say they are Jews, are adopting the policy adopted by Hitler. In retaliation for the killing of the Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazis carried out collective punishments in Czechoslovakia. One village wiped out was Lidice. On 10 June 1942, all 173 men over 15 years of age from the village were executed. A further 11 men were killed a few days later. 184 women and 88 children were deported to concentration camps. At the end of the war, only 17 of the children and 153 women returned alive.

Third, to reduce the debate to yesterday, to forget at least the whole post 1948 situation, is criminal. Israel was created through a UN intervention. But why? If it is because Jews needed a homeland, why here? The only claim the Jews had to Israel was that it is their biblical homeland, and supposedly one that God (Yahweh or the Tetragrammaton) had promised to Moses. As a firm atheist, I accept this no more than I accept any fable of promises made by Vishnu or others in the Hindu pantheon, or the promises of Allah. 

The historical record says Jews were thrown out of this area by the Romans, not the Arabs. The first significant Jewish resistance was stamped out with ferocious brutality in 66-73 CE. Simon Bar Kokhba’s rebellion was also defeated. As a result, Roman violence was considerable. This only increased when the Roman emperors became Christian. It was only after the conquest of the regions where the Jews lived by the Arabs that things changed for the better. When the Christians in the middle ages wanted to conquer the “Holy Lands’, that was not for the benefit of the Jews, but of Christians. Jews were mercilessly treated by them.

From the First Century CE, Jews had been driven out in large numbers from Israel, and till 1948, the bulk of Jews lived outside their so-called homeland. 
Jews had been systematically repressed in Christian Europe. The nature of repression changed. In the middle ages it was based on religion. Modern racism, where a descendant of a Jew was considered a Jew even if the person was not a practicing Jew, has links with the past, but is distinct. If you want to check who was more hostile to Jews in the middle ages/ early modern times, remember, Jews lived under Moorish protection in Spain. After the reconquista, 200,000 Jews were thrown out of Spain, and 50,000 or more forced to become Christians. A few years later, Torquemada would torture and murder some 2000 of them for real or assumed crypto-Judaism. The climax came with Hitler and the Nazis, who killed six million Jews during the Shoah. Partly to put an end to the guilt feelings of Europeans, partly to keep West Asia under control by installing a colonial-settler state, imperialists agreed to the Zionist demand for creating a Jewish state of Israel. While it is supposed to be a democratic state, in fact it is a religious state where Jews have priority, proved above all by the so-called Law of Return, by which anyone who is a Jew or is married to a Jew has the right to return (ha) to Israel.

Even the 1947 UN proposal called for handing over 55% of the land to the Jews (bad enough as at that time they owned only 7%). But by the end of one round of wars by Zionist armed forces, they captured 77%, and eliminated at least 418 Arab villages. After the 1967 war, most of Palestine was controlled by them and even more Palestinians were refugees.
So if, after moderate agitations failed, the Palestinians did become violent occasionally, it cannot be compared at all with the systematic Zionist violence on the Palestinians.

I will not speak at much greater length. But I want you to think about a few other issues raised. Where were you when the Boko Haram was killing people? Where were you when Bangladeshi Hindus were being tortured and driven out? Where were you over the ISIS? these questions keep coming. We need to understand that these are red herrings, but explain it carefully. Some of us have protested. For example, when under Khaleda Zia Hindus were persecuted, it was raised in the Indian Parliament not by a BJP leader, but by CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta. The real issue is, why are these questions being asked NOW? Because, this is an attempt to attack the mobilizations over Israel’s attacks on Gaza. I have no objection to someone organising a protest over Syria, for example, or Bangladesh and ill treatment of Hindus by Zia. But I will look at the nature and slogans of the protest. Even over Israel-Arab conflict I will look at the language of protest. I will not oppose and condemn all Jews, but only Zionism and the Zionist state. I am anti-Zionist, not anti-Jew.

Finally, I want to stress – we often belong to organisations and I see no objections to that. I am myself a member of a political organisation and those who know my politics will know it is far distant from the politics of those who have arranged today’s meeting. I came because of the issue, not the banner. So I appeal to students – if there is a possibility of similar positions, keep your banners separate, but mobilise forces jointly. The people of Gaza need such united protests. And in India, where pro-Israel forces are welcomed and pro-Palestine demonstrations are brutally attacked by the police, united, mass shows of resistance are essential.

Thank you

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Rant for an Alternative Press

One of the major ways in which the politics of India has shifted is the total restructuring of the mainstream media. This is what makes serious alternative media so urgently necessary. And by that, I do not mean just a series of websites and blogs and facebook groups. I am quite aware of the value of these, and have often quarreled with friends who reject these. But their rejection, erroneous though it is, has some real basis. Websites and blogs and Facebook groups are mostly in English. Even when they are in the Indian bhashas, they are available only if you have enough time to sit in front of a computer, enough money to have a computer and internet or at least access regularly to net connected computers, and so forth. That is why an alternative media also, and above all, means serious journals and newspapers. Not that such have not been attempted. In Bangla, I can think of efforts like Manthan etc in recent times. But the fragmentation of the radical left, the zero sum game most of them play, trying to prise away a handful of cadres  from each other – A to B – B to C, C to X, X to Q, and Q to A, means there cannot be any united effort at supporting an alternative media. What does it mean? It means that issues that are important for the lives of ordinary toiling people are not reported, or are reported in such a terrible manner that the real points are neither brought out nor discussed at length. Think of the Bangla and the English media for the past days. The Bangla media was poring over the diary of a man who is allegedly mentally unsound. Does being mentally unsound result in a total loss of privacy? Did anyone remark on the fact that while the police can look at his diary it is not the right of every cut and paste pseudo-analyst to read it and write pseudo-learned commentaries? If mental problems had to be really seriously taken up, people should have been informed about the conditions of mental hospitals, the issues of post-recovery rehabilitation, the fact that families are often reluctant to take those people back and the social reasons for that. All that of course does not make for salivating reading material, and can therefore be left out, or at best a small space can be given for one article after a dozen to a score providing gory details.

This note was sparked off by an article in The Telegraph. It is by Ruchir Joshi, not the worst of The Telegraph’s commentators. He is not as insufferable (and as  anti-communist, for that matter), as Ramachandra Guha. But his long essay today, 30th June, caught my eye. It is a polite grumble about how backward Calcutta is still, compared to New Delhi and Mumbai. And what exactly is the yardstick by which such backwardness is measured? The fact that middle class people who are not too poor, not too rich, cannot afford 5 Star places, do not have decent open air bars where men and women can jointly sit down for a few drinks and some convivial talk. I am not anti drinking. I have no objection to men and women sitting and drinking together. But my point is, Mr. Joshi thought this was an important issue on which to hang an entire article, and so did the editor of The Telegraph, so that the article saw the light of day.  

There are plenty of other reasons why one may have problems with Kolkata/Calcutta. But most of them do not affect the English educated middle class so tragically. Outstation friends, especially from Delhi and Mumbai, have expectations, and we cannot take them out to a decent pub which is within our means.  Oh Gods.  Greatest tragedy since the partition, possibly. Meanwhile there is another piece of news, not to be found in newspapers.
In the public imagination, caste and caste oppression is to be found only in rurasl settings, with nasty khap panchayats and the like. In cities we are all human beings. In fact, for the English educated middle class, caste means undue favour to Dalits and adivasis. “Poor but meritorious” Brahmin boys (always boys) suffer, while underqualified “sonar chands” and “sonar tukros” (derogatory way of referring to SC and ST) get plum jobs. This ignores the two and a half thousand year long quota privileging a handful of members of the elite, and says in effect, forget the 2500 years. Tell me why in 70 years the SC/STs have not become equal. It is argued that scrapping reservations is essential for progress.

Meanwhile, in this progressive West Bengal, in this progressive Kolkata, there are other problems than the lack of middle class watering holes open to men and women.  The latest ward level census data shows that caste rules in the most populous cities of India. Among them, Kolkata, the site of bhadralok progressivism, comes out on top. Out of a total 141 wards, SC/STs, who make up about 5.6% of the city population, dominate 12 wards, where live over 40% of them. In terms of such a basic thing as access to in-house water, these wards are far worse off than the rest. 43% of households of these wards go without water supply in their homes, compared to 27% overall in the city. 
But here is an eminent Liberal Intellectual (capitalised since I see liberals standing up whenever he is mentioned), Andre Beteille, once again (inevitably?) in The Telegraph, some years back, debunking the caste-based census. What he wrote was: "The decision to include caste as a part of the census of 2011 will be viewed as a turning point by future students of society and politics in India....Some social scientists have tried to make a virtue of a necessity and argued that the more data we have the better it will be for research. This is a shallow argument that ignores the political uses to which census data are put everywhere. ...Nobody can deny the reality of caste divisions or the consciousness of those divisions in contemporary Indian society. The reality and the consciousness are both present and reinforce each other. That is not the question before us today. The question is whether we should act so as to weaken or to reinforce the role of caste in public life." 

In other words, Beteille was arguing, that using caste as a marker when collecting census data increases casteism. It is also worth noting that Beteille was one of the eminent Liberals who turned into ardent supporters of the fascists. (see 

Casteism is thus not increased by upper castes continuing to dominate social structures and processes, but only by lower castes putting their opposition on public spaces. But the starting point, to which I want to return, was the absence of alternative media. I have not seen Beteille apologising (and did not expect it). But I have not seen any of the intellectuals who write for The Telegraph (excluding Dr. Ashok Mitra, who writes sense) take up this or any other matter relating to toiling people. Why should they? The Telegraph is the ruling class and its immediate servants in conversation with each other. Unless there is a monster Dalit-OBC united rising, why should they worry about the insanitary ways in which dalits live in Kolkata? Why should they worry about working class, when they are only bothered about citizens? So, when the Asongothito Kshetro Sangrami Sramik Mancha organised a three day dharna in 2011 in Kolkata, demanding such mundane things as minimum wages, all The Telegraph had to report was how “citizens” had faced difficulties. The starving toilers are modern slaves after all, not citizens. So Mr. Joshi will rue the paucity of decent pubs. Beteille will explain off and on that it is the Dalit politician who is responsible for the increase in casteism in India. And this is why, a burning need is a leftist newspaper in every province, in at least one major bhasha spoken in the province, from an alternative viewpoint, that is, the viewpoint of the working masses. And the experience of, inter alia, Ganashakti, shows that it has to be an independent newspaper, not one tied to a Stalinist party.