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, http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2703/stories/20100212270308900.htm (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 https://www.facebook.com/notes/kunal-chattopadhyay/the-defection-of-the-liberals-to-fascism/10152320392485202?pnref=lhc). 

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. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Right Wing Politics and attacks on Academic Freedom and Democratic Rights

Professor Sugata Marjit has written an article in the Times of India, attacking students' participation in politics. Having started with a disclaimer that since the issue is sub-judice it would not be right to comment about the specifics of the Jadavpur case, he goes on to make ample innuendos, and while the article heading talks about banning gheraos, in fact goes much further to demand: “first strategy will be to ban politics among the teachers, officials and non-teaching staff with exemplary punishment in case of violation”. (ToI, Sept. 27, 2014).

Professor Marjit has been quite well known as a right wing scholar, a supporter of all the standard neo-liberal positions, and given his stature (former Director, CSSSC, editor of academic journals, a wikipedia article on him which is basically his publication list), one of the more well known academic faces of the current Trinamul Congress regime in West Bengal. Having served as a chair of the State Higher Education Council, and having been in the search committee that created a short list of names for the next Vice Chancellor of Jadavpur University, his involvement with West Bengal's academic politics is extensive. It is therefore interesting that this consummate politician wants a ban on politics – obviously because it is politics of the wrong kind. And is it not interesting, too, that while Marjit writes in sophisticated languages, the Trina Mul Chhatra Paridhad has actually demanded a ban on the Jadavpur University Teachers Association? Is it also not interesting that the JU administration has been issuing orders (later described as appeals) that appear as first steps in the direction of a show cause notice to the President and Secretary of the Jadavpur University Teachers' Association?

So it is necessary to go beyond the perfunctory disclaimers and read Professor Marjit's essay as an “intellectual” component of a multi-pronged war on democratic rights. With the subtlety of a rampaging hippo, the article is titled Gherao a criminal act, it should be banned. Professor Supriya Chaudhuri has responded to it in her own way. I differ from her in some respects. Professor Chaudhuri has begun by looking at the significant academic achievements of Jadavpur University, and wants her readers to understand that all this is under attack. I too have had a long association with this University (student 1976-1981, working at my PhD from 1982, a teacher since 1984 with experience of teaching in the Departments of History and Comparative Literature as well as the School of Women's Studies) and therefore feel proud of how JU students, scholars and faculty have achieved excellence. But I believe that the response to attacks on democratic rights must focus on the wider communities, and not on special cases. Marjit attacks JU, at times in a vicious and utterly unproved manner. But he uses the current JU agitation to launch an attack on academic freedom and democracy itself. The #hokkolorob movement has generated support and solidarity from across West Bengal, because people in educational institutions across the state have been under attack.

I would like to draw attention to the ease and complete lack of rationality of any kind other than rightwing politics that enables Professor Marjit to move from gherao as a specific weapon of struggle to the right to political agitation itself. I doubt people would think it an ad hominem if I reported that back in 1978, long before our learned doctor had picked up his degrees and obtained the position of Chairperson of the State Higher Education Council that he held for some time under the current dispensation, he had been a Chhatra Parishad candidate at Presidency College, where he was defeated by Supriyo Chatterjee contesting for the post of Union Secretary. So I submit that the antipathy to democracy has roots in the reality that open advocacy of far right elitist politics does not garner adequate support. But one would also be keen to know, whether it was in an introspective and autobiographical mode that Marjit wrote: “students are naturally vulnerable to political and under-the-table manipulations”.

Marjit goes on to make the following propositions:
a. Student politics is akin to herd behaviour.
b. JU students are substance abusers.
c. Teachers get paid by the government and therefore they must be banned from doing politics.

Substance Abusers as Agitators?

To take up the complete manufacture first – the issue of JU being a hotbed of substance abuse. I would advise all students (and indeed have always advised them), that when making sweeping claims, one needs to document one's assertions. Marjit simply says, “It is also well-known that various academic spots and surely the JU campus have become a hotbed of drug addicts”. Had someone made a similar accusation about, say, the West Bengal cabinet, they would have faced a lawsuit. So why should Marjit not face the same? How may cases of substance abuse have been registered against JU students over the last five years? By using terms like “well-known” and “surely”, Marjit gives an impression of confidence, when the truth is, he has absolutely no hard data. One is tempted to digress and re-tell a story about economists one heard many years back – an ancient box that could not be opened, was found in an Indus Valley site. The archaeologist talked about its dating, the art historian about the skills that had gone into its making, while the economist commented – assume the box is open. Marjit makes a slanderous comment, and urges us (not openly, but by implication) to look at his status, printed beneath the article, and assume that whatever he is saying must be true. In the last 38 years, I have seen some students who take alcohol, many more who smoke, some who use other substance – in JU, in Presidency, in St. Xaviers' College, in Scottish Church College where I taught for a while, as well as in other sections of the population. I have never found that it is monopolised by one institution, location, age, or any other category. Surely Marjit could have provided us with the data base. His failure to do so is evidence that he is presenting his readers with what may be called a falsifiction (fiction, uttered as if it is reality). And even if JU had indeed been haunted by substance abusers, can he show any logical link between that and the agitation? Suppose we found that in Stockholm the incidence of storks and the incidence of births had a correlation of almost 1. would he agree, without looking at anything else, that babies in Stockholm are delivered by storks?

Democracy, and the Right to Political Space

So we move on to the more substantial issue – democracy and the right to politics. Marjit is effectively pushing a line that people have only one political right – to periodically take part in elections. Once a government is put in place, all political rights pass to it. This was also the argument of Partha Chatterjee, the Education Minister, who said that students cannot choose who will be the Vice Chancellor. The students were of course not demanding the right to select the VC. They had been demanding the right to assert that someone who sees students as slaves to be roughed up cannot be a VC. Behind this lies extremely divergent conceptions of democracy.

Democracy was created in ancient Greece – in the city-state of Athens. It had major limitations – slaves (of both the sexes) and all women, were deprived of political, and even most civil rights. But what was significant about ancient democracy was that those who were considered citizens did not simply cast their votes and push off to watch the tragedies of Aeschylus being performed. Law making, execution of decisions, and judicial functions, all saw a wide range of public participation. Laws could only be passed by the Popular Assembly, which met at least 40 days in a year, with a quorum of 6000. Drafts of laws could be proposed by anyone at Assembly meetings, or at meetings of the Boule or Council of 500 by members of the Council. Trials were heard by dikasteries (the dikasts were both judge and jury) of between 200 and 1000 persons. All this was in a place where the size of the citizen population was 30,000 or perhaps a little more. Right-wing historians and philosophers, ever since Plato, have condemned this democracy. And they too have talked about herd mentality. Yet it must be understood that this democracy, once created by a revolution (508), was strong enough to survive for nearly two centuries, till an immensely more powerful Macedon defeated Athens. It is the student movement, which started in late August, took on mass dimensions from the second week of September, and has been based on sustained democratic general body meetings since then, that exemplifies real democratic practices as well as an understanding of what democracy means in theory. The movement has received support from students outside Jadavpur, and in an absolutely correct widening, the students have insisted that such so-called outsiders must be allowed their voices. 

In modern times, liberalism resisted democracy. John Locke was absolutely clear on this issue – only those who owned property, those who did not sell their labour power, were to be considered politically fully authorised. Even so, they were to create the government. Thereafter unless government violated its pact with the propertied, it alone acted. When votes had to be given to the poor, as in the USA after independence, democracy was radically redefined, so that casting one's vote periodically seemed to be the be-all and end-all. It is this, highly watered down “democracy” that Marjit or Chatterjee favour. What the JU students movement has shown is something that major social upheavals over the last few centuries have repeatedly done – namely, breaking the barriers between the representers and the represented, creating new structures of democracy. There have been mass meetings, called General Body meetings – GBs by the separate faculty, GBs of the entire student community of JU, and yes, conventions that have allowed the so-called bohiragotos to come and speak as well.


Before going on to Marjit's strictures about teachers, I would also like to address the question of gherao. All political battles are, at one level, attempts by opposed or differing groups to gather power, use power. It would certainly be more humane if one could exchange opinions and take decisions. But if one ignores the facts in the name of not discussing a sub-judice matter, and then makes sweeping comments about criminal actions and the need to ban them, then one is also playing politics – of a dirty kind.

So let us again recapitulate some events. A young woman alleged she had been sexually harassed. She went to the Vice Chancellor to complain. According to her version, the University response was tardy. She also claimed improper behaviour by certain members of the Internal complaints Committee. These were matters that the University administration, led by the VC, should have sorted out very quickly. When a student agitation began to form, they were alternately ignored and threatened. Marjit sweeps the events under the carpet with a misleading comment about how a mob mentality led students to demand that the same person should lodge a complaint, investigate, and punish the “guilty”. The use of the quotation marks round the word 'guilty' suggests Marjit opines there was no sexual harassment at all.

Then, a month ago, on the night of 16-17 September, the gherao did develop. There have been dozens of gheraos. Without looking at the specific context in which a gherao has developed, without looking at the demands, a how far students had attempted sincere negotiations and other forms of agitations, to simply make a sweeping comment that gheraos are criminal actions show that one is taking a formal stance,but hardly one that investigates social realities. For about 150 hours before this, students had been on a peaceful sit-in. There had been ample opportunity to call them in and negotiate. Has the VC produced even the merest shred of evidence that he tried to do so?

During my brief stint as a member of the JU EC, I was among the EC members once gherao-ed – by the TMCP. The then VC, Souvik Bhattacharyya, took the position that he was willing to talk with anyone who was his student, regardless of party colour, or even regardless of whether they were official leaders of the Union, but he would not talk with Professor Shonku. The gherao petered out with no further consequence and no further agitation, because it had no significant base among the students. The current agitation is going on even after one month, and despite the vacation in between. I do not believe that any agitation should begin with a gherao. Nor do I believe that even if there is a mass support, a gherao, for any demand, is necessarily right. Yes, there can be mob violence. But that is why it is necessary to look at what the JU students were demanding and how they were behaving. They were demanding, for example, a reconstitution of the ICC. If their specific demand was wrong, one could have explained to them where they were wrong in law, and sought to come to an agreement. They were demanding prompt action from the University. If today there is some police action, why did it require a march by anything between 50,000 to 1,00,000 people on the streets of Kolkata and a province, country and world-wide solidarity action before the police finally did something, whatever ? Anyone reading Avishek De Biswas' article in Ebela, or the FETSU's very first statement on Facebook, would have known that students took quite a careful position. FETSU, for example, wanted proper investigation. By quoting truncated passages, one newspaper has even managed to portray the FETSU as pro-sexual harassment. So when students did come out in a gherao this time, it was after exploring other avenues over a long period of time and meeting with total opposition from the VC.

Ban all Campus Politics?

So why are we supposed to ban all politics? Marjit provides no rational (or even irrational) argument about why student politics should be banned. He makes sounds about how herd mentality is the cause of wars, riots and economic crises. Oh really? I will come back to this. But why does he want the ban?

Here is the passage from Marjit: “Academic institutions are only for academic activities. First strategy will be to ban politics among the teachers, officials and non-teaching staff with exemplary punishment in case of violation.

They accept public money and must not indulge in political activities on the campus. Students are not public servants, but to make sure that the willing students are allowed to attend lectures and those inside or outside the campus who physically and through campaign prevent such action must be apprehended and prosecuted. "Gherao" by any group must be identified as a criminal act. These are necessary steps to make ourselves civilized and care for public money and society at large. This wish list is so politically incorrect that it must be pursued at all costs”.

Note the construction of sentences. He calls for a ban on all politics by paid employees. Now, what is politics? If we are talking about parties, historically, universities have provided freedom of thought and expression, and all party viewpoints have been expressed. So is it because Marjit's party is totally marginalised, despite the thunderings of so many Vice Chancellors, that ban is now seen as necessary? Second, while governments pay the money for our salaries, we are not defined as public servants. Third, of course, is so what even if we were? It is a hang over of the colonial era, when people who drew salaries from the colonial government were not allowed to express themselves politically. We are given a set of instructions here, not any argument about WHY they are necessary.

Academic spaces are for academic work, says the professor. So what does academic work mean? Would we teach Socrates, or the French Revolution to the students, and tell them, but do understand, all this is purely hypothetical. You may not question received wisdom like Socrates, for that would be politics. You may not demand equal rights, for that would be politics.

Leaving such things aside, for I suspect that anyone capable of writing the passage I have quoted will not have the capacity to understand the interconnections I am trying to make, let me move down to concrete issues. The academic excellence of institutions depend on autonomy of teachers, scholars, and students. Ever since the TMC government started passing new University Acts and the like, these have been curtailed in a number of ways. In the very specific case of Jadavpur University, the JUTA is engaged in compiling a White Paper, showing how the current VC has harmed the academic work in JU by unwarranted interference, some using the law, some going beyond what the law permits. By the strictures of Marjit, such an act of JUTA is politics, not academics, and so we will perhaps see one more missive from the Registrar to the President and Secretary of JUTA.

Then there is the sentence about students. I quote it again. “Students are not public servants, but to make sure that the willing students are allowed to attend lectures and those inside or outside the campus who physically and through campaign prevent such action must be apprehended and prosecuted”.

Willing students – yes? Who are they? Where are the willing students who were prevented? If Marjit, writing on 27 September, had even one concrete case, he would have documented it. The absence of documentation is evidence that all talk about stopping willing students is a bunch of lies.

Moreover, Marjit wants action not only against those who physically prevent “willing students” but also those who campaign. In other words, any poster, calling for a complete strike, can be treated as proof, and the person writing, or putting up the poster, can be punished – including if such persons were acting outside the campus. With such rapidity and skilled (!!) writing does our professor move from the campus to the entire province. Even Mussolini would have found little to quibble with Marjitian democracy after this.

A few more comments on herds and history:

I want to remark briefly on the ig-nobel award winning discovery of professor Marjit. He tells his readers, “there has been considerable research on this topic” [herd behaviour]. We learn that herd behaviour is the root cause of “riot, financial crisis, war”. Oh, wow!!. Where are the citations? 

Having taught History, including histories of wars, revolutions, crises, between 1982 and 2009, I never came across these researches, and would have benefited. There have been massive studies on the causes of wars, both fundamental causes and immediate ones, and “herd behaviour” figures in marginally. Personally, I have taught Thucydides for a quarter cetury, along with commentators on Thucydides, and did not find this explanation figuring. Among other examples, one can talk of William Mulligan's 2010 book on The Origins of the First World War, which looks at historiographic debates. Ernest Mandel's book, The Meaning of the Second World War, presents a wide-ranging summary. The same author wrote The Second Slump, dealing with the crisis of 1974. One could read, agree, disagree, argue, with them. But one would not find the simple explanation that herd behaviour was at the base. 

So the claims of scholarship through the author identification at the bottom of Marjit's essay only serve to assist the presentation of false claims to buttress ultra-reactionary conclusions. And yes, we know all too well the means by which they can be pursued. Students are being called a herd, so that mass action, the exemplary democratic means employed, can be portrayed as manipulations by alleged outsiders, supposed party interests. This must be known for what it is – a deep right wing attack on democracy.