May-June 2009

Table of Contents

  1. 15th Lok Sabha Elections and Beyond

  2. Indian Government Must Stop Intervention in Nepal

  3. Sri Lanka: Playing Games with a Crisis

  4. Stop Supporting the Genocidal War Against Tamils in Sri Lanka!

  5. May Day Reports from India

  6. Dr Binayak Sen: Punishment by Trial

  7. Appropriating Ambedkar

  8. World at the Crossroads Conference

  9. Adieu Iqbal Bano!

Indian Elections

15th Lok Sabha Elections and Beyond

– ML Update, 5-11 May, 2009.

In vain were the galaxy of film stars and other celebrities pressed into service for encouraging citizens to pay ballot tributes to the great Indian democracy. The third phase of polling — which the Election Commission described as”extremely satisfactory” — saw a voter turnout of just about 50%, down from 55 per cent in phase II and 60% in phase I. The EC blamed it on “heat conditions”, but the argument does not sound convincing. West Bengal for example is witnessing an almost unprecedented heat wave this year, but polling has been relatively better at 64%. Behind this lies a combination of two factors: the people’s eagerness to teach the CPI(M) another lesson after the punishment meted out in last year’s panchayat polls and the ruling party’s desperate attempt to minimise the inevitable decline in its MP tally.

However, the general picture in the country as a whole (a degree of regional variations notwithstanding) is that today the major national and regional parties do not find themselves in a position to mobilise the dominant social groups and powerbrokers to ‘manage’ the polling the way they have done in the past. Here lies the most important political reason behind the very low voter turnout in the 15th Lok Sabha elections. The mainstream parties’ track records while in office have been extremely poor and they have no credible future plans for redressing the economic and other woes of the masses. As for the different alliances they belong to, these are either shattered by centrifugal forces or remain too amorphous to carry conviction with the voters. In a word, politically they are very much on the defensive.

On the other side of the same coin we see, most notably in large parts of the Hindi heartland, a correspondingly higher assertion of popular forces in the election process. Hopefully, this may also get translated into the emergence of a revolutionary opposition in Parliament — a genuine people’s opposition to consistently fight for the downtrodden. Even otherwise, the gains made by the revolutionary Left during the campaign will not be lost. The militant activism of the people unleashed during the campaign has already opened up broader avenues for further development of mass movements after the elections and for us this is the main thing, the permanent core agenda of left politics.

In sharp contrast to our perception and priorities, the national leadership of CPI(M) is zealously pursuing “politics as the art of the possible” in the meanest and most vulgar sense of the phrase. A very prominent Politburo member of the party was recently in Patna openly inviting the RJD, the JD (U) and the LJP — the very forces against which his party is currently locked in a pitched battle in alliance with the CPI (ML) and CPI — to help form a “secular government” at the centre. Even as resentment against this act of sabotaging the fledgling left unity in Bihar ran high in Left circles in the State, the senior leader reiterated his party’s position in subsequent interviews/press meets in Delhi and Kolkata. He had personally met Sharad and Nitish to advance the cause of this alliance, he added. (Curiously enough, Rahul Gandhi also has since called upon Nitish, Jaylalita and Chandrababu — the main opponents of the Congress in the States concerned — to help form a Congress-led government.) In Kolkata he also reaffirmed the Biman Basu- Budhhadev Bhattacharya line that on the question of supporting a Congress-led government the party will take a decision only after the election results are out. Clearly, this contradicts in no uncertain terms Parkash Karat’s previous statement that his party would rather sit in the opposition than support the Congress.

The political implication of all these overtures is clear. The leading party of the Left Front/Third Front as well as the leader of the UPA are both keeping all doors and windows open and bracing for a nasty post-poll game of numbers where anything can happen and everything can be justified in the holy cause of cobbling up a so-called secular government. Naturally the BJP too will be playing all its cards. For a time the pragmatic power politics of the ruling elite will thus dominate the Indian scene. But there is yet another kind, a very different kind of politics — the turbulent politics of the masses on the move demanding urgent solutions to the economic crisis they have been thrown into and the plethora of other unresolved problems. Sooner rather than later this kind of politics will come to predominate, the more so because none of the existing political formations will get a clear mandate to rule and instability will be haunting the assembled government of assorted opportunists from the very start. To redouble our efforts to lead this people’s politics of resistance remains the absolute priority and responsibility of all genuine left forces in the country.

South Asia

Indian Government Must Stop Intervention in Nepal

– ML Update, 5-11 May, 2009.

The fledgling republic of Nepal seems to be standing on the verge of a new phase of civil war. Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) Rookmangud Katawal had been asked by the civilian government to explain why he had continued military recruitment despite the government’s halt order and reinstated eight brigadier-generals who had been retired by the defence ministry. Backed by its foreign patrons and right-wing parties in the country, the military high command openly defied the authority of the elected government. The government responded by removing General Katawal, who refused to accept this and the government’s decision was then illegally overturned by President Ram Baran Yadav of Nepalese Congress. With their coalition partners in government refusing to support the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [UCPN(M)], Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) announced that he had no choice but to resign.

Both New Delhi and Washington had been mounting a strong pressure on the sovereign Nepali government not to remove their trusted CoAS who was doggedly resisting the integration of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with the national army as agreed in the peace accord. Senior Maoist leader and Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai was perfectly right in his sarcastic comment that “The so-called democratic forces specially headed by the so-called democrats in New Delhi have been dictating their patrons in Kathmandu to side with the army and fight against the democratic forces”. We denounce in strongest possible terms the brazen foreign intervention and demand that it must be stopped immediately and for good.

We believe the abolition of the monarchy requires not just the removal of the King but a thorough restructuring of all organs of the state including the army, judiciary and bureaucracy. In this context we consider it very unfortunate that the UCPN (M) and Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) [CPN (UML)] could not arrive at an understanding on sacking the most powerful remnant of the monarchial order. Only a firm political unity of the main left forces on such matters could provide a solid core around which the required consensus in the coalition government could be built up. As things stand now, the fragile consensus has broken down and the apparent process of a peaceful transition to People’s Power has proved deceptive. From a Marxist viewpoint this was not unexpected and we are confident that, led by the communists of Nepal, the brave people will once again rise to the occasion and overcome all obstacles to carry the democratic revolution through to the end.

Meanwhile, progressive and left organisations around the world have condemned the Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav’s actions and foreign intervention while noting that the Nepalese Army is infamous for its human rights abuses, including murder, torture and rape and has a history of coups against civilian governments. The top ranks of the army recently admitted to planning a fresh coup against the current elected government! These organisations have demanded upholding of the peace accord and democracy for which the majority of the Nepalese people and poor people in particular had voted for the CPN(M).

The Democratic Socialist Perspective (from Australia) has said in a statement posted on its website (www.dsp.org.au) –”The removal of the Maoists from government is nothing less than a coup. It reveals the real situation in Nepal — that despite its democratic mandate for change, the Maoist-led government is being prevented by the old elite from implementing such change.” It further stated that the “…military high command, backed by right-wing parties tied to the country’s elite, has openly defied the authority of the elected civilian government, led by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M)” and “the UCPN-M’s proposals for a peaceful and democratic pro-poor transformation of Nepal that were endorsed at the ballot box have been frustrated by opposition within the parliament, the state and even the coalition government.” There is nothing more terrifying to the ruling classes globally than the sight of a people winning power. The right-wing forces in Nepal are counting on the support of foreign powers, especially the United States and the right-wing forces in India.

The Progressive Nepali Forum in Americas (PNEFA) has urged the Supreme Court to nullify the President Yadav’s unconstitutional action and restore civilian supremacy.

South Asia

Sri Lanka: Playing Games with a Crisis

– S. Sivasegaram.

Introduction: The number of Sri Lankan national flags on public display since early this year exceeds many fold that on any previous occasion including Independence Day, 1948. It is significant since President Rajapaksha recently said that the country will soon celebrate its second independence after defeating terrorism. Undoubtedly, there is enthusiasm among the Sinhalese for the military successes of the Sri Lankan armed forces against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The consequent surge in support for the government has been evident in the outcome of the four Provincial Council elections held since mid-2008, amid a visibly weakening economy, rising cost of living, unemployment, poverty, and an impending economic collapse, which the government hopes to avert with a massive IMF loan with stringent conditions that are sure to make life a bigger misery for the low income groups.

The war-induced popularity the government is supplemented by the preoccupation of the media and the main political parties with military gains in the North and will, at least for some months, divert attention from the crises faced by the country on various fronts.

Resumption of War and the Humanitarian Crisis: The scale of the human tragedy was large when the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) recaptured LTTE-held territory in the East. Bombing of public places, hunger and disease displaced around 200,000; civilian deaths were in the lower hundreds. Taking the war to the Vanni, the vast stretch in the North under LTTE control then, was certain to kill thousands and displace several hundred thousands.

Although supplies to the Jaffna peninsula by road ceased after August 2006 when the GoSL closed the A-9 highway, limited supplies went to the Vanni. As hostilities escalated, the GoSL and the armed forces restricted the supply of essential goods to the Vanni, including food, fuel and medical supplies. This was followed by the restriction of Non Governmental Organization (NGO) and media presence there, and around mid-2008 all media personnel and NGOs were ordered out. This to many was a sign that the GoSL was planning indiscriminate aerial and missile attacks. While the GoSL insisted, as always, that only identified military targets were being attacked, survivors of bombing and shelling told a different story. But in the absence of local and foreign media and NGOs, except for the limited presence of the Red Cross (ICRC), it has been hard to verify the number and nature of the casualties.

Whenever international organisations accused the GoSL of serious violations of human and fundamental rights, its spokespersons responded with vigorous denial, often in abusive language. A few European governments reacted with suspension of aid programmes, with no visible impact on GoSL attitude. The LTTE was accused too, mainly with conscription of children, and also of murderous attacks on innocent Sinhalese civilians.

What seemed a strategic retreat by the LTTE early this year with the fall of Kilinochchi, the civil administrative centre of the LTTE, turned out to be a prelude to defeat. By late March the area under LTTE control reduced to less than 100 square kilometres, and following a major blow suffered in early April the LTTE is confined to a 12 km long strip of land designated a “Safety Zone”. Without immediate ceasefire, that area too could fall to the GoSL forces before long, but with severe civilian casualties. It should be noted that a large section of the Vanni population opted to follow the LTTE as it retreated, so that through March, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 were in the fast shrinking area under LTTE control. The GoSL claimed that they were held against their wishes as human shields, while the LTTE has denied the charge. It has, however, been reported that the LTTE had forcibly recruited people including children and that its cadres had fired at escaping civilians.

The GoSL, amid its intense aerial and artillery attacks, had declared Safety Zones for the people in LTTE-held areas; but charges have persisted that hundreds of civilians had been killed and many more wounded by attacks on these zones. Again, independent verification of eye witness account and photographic evidence available on Tamil nationalist web-sites is not possible. The Sri Lankan media, polarised and intimidated as it is, publishes little, but for comments by international bodies of some repute.

The casualty rate rose sharply in the past few months, and victims were mostly from the Safety Zone. To illustrate the high casualty rate: UN figures for minimum number of civilian casualties from 20th January to 7th March 2009 in the conflict area of Mullaitthivu (the last bit of territory held by the LTTE) was 2,683 deaths and 7,241 injuries. Strangely, the information was withheld by the UN until internal documentation leaked in the latter part of March. The GoSL rejected the figures and accused the UN of relying on hostile sources.

International Concern: When undeclared war came to the East in 2006 amid efforts to revive the stalled peace process, international concern seemed to be about getting the parties to abide by the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of 2002 and reactivating negotiations. Attitudes shifted as the GoSL won control of the East in 2007 and launched its offensive to capture the LTTE-held region in the North. India and the ‘international community’, meaning imperialist powers with interests in Sri Lanka, always paid lip service to restoring peace but did little to persuade either party, the GoSL especially, to end hostilities. Declared concerns drifted with the progress of war: calls for a negotiated settlement and an end to hostilities became calls for a ceasefire in 2008, and early this year concern for the safety of civilians entrapped in LTTE controlled areas. The way the concern manifested itself has been hypocritical if not cynical.

The tragedy of Tamil nationalism, its leadership and the Tamil Diaspora is their misplaced faith in the UK, US, EU, UN, as well as India, since the birth of Bangladesh. Despite evidence to the contrary, many hoped that one or several of them would come to the rescue of the Tamils. The hope still lingers on, in the light of GoSL disregard for ‘international opinion’. But lobbying has so far achieved little more than empty assurances.

India provided the biggest disappointment if not shock. What was seen as Indian indifference not long ago has now been found to be encouragement of the war effort of the GoSL and active political and military collaboration, including on-ground logistic support. Protests in Tamilnadu have thus far failed to make a serious impact on Delhi, where there is no love for the LTTE. The forthcoming Indian parliamentary elections are, however, a factor in the shifting stands of the various political parties of Tamilnadu; and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Congress are desperate to keep the Sri Lankan Tamil tragedy out of the electoral arithmetic.

In whatever form the LTTE may emerge from its present plight, it cannot return to its earlier claim to be the ‘sole representative’ of the Tamils or its politics by command or its purely militaristic line. On the other hand, even if the LTTE is thoroughly humbled or eliminated as a military force, the struggle of the Tamils will go on as long as the underlying issues remain. The approach of the GoSL hitherto gives little room to hope that it will address the issues. What is most likely is that national oppression will intensify with the blessings of imperialist and hegemonic patrons. That is a bad thing. But it could be changed into its opposite by Tamils learning from past mistakes of not just the LTTE but Tamil nationalism as a whole.

The struggle for Tamil national rights will soon need to link itself with the struggle in the rest of the country for democratic, human and fundamental rights, and against globalisation, imperialism and hegemony; and with anti-imperialist and progressive liberation struggles internationally. The impending economic and political disaster throws the challenge at the genuine left among the Sinhalese to take the initiative towards building a broad united front.

South Asia

Indian Government: Stop Supporting the Genocidal War Against Tamils in Sri Lanka!

– ML Update, 28 April – 04 May, 2009.

A shameful spectacle of opportunism is being played out in Indian politics even as Sri Lanka is waging a chilling ‘final solution’ to its Tamil national question. In the name of a war to eliminate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime in Sri Lanka is waging war on the Tamil people. Independent observers, international rights groups and even journalists have been prohibited from covering the reality of the war. Conservative estimates, trickling through, put civilian deaths at a minimum of 5000, including at least 500 children, since January. At least 100,000 civilians are estimated wounded. The Sri Lankan army (SLA) is using cluster bombs and chemical warfare in blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions. Tens of thousands of innocent Tamils are caught up in the war zone, starved of food, water and medicine. Some 100,000 others, fleeing in desperation are being rounded up behind barbed wire fences in ‘camps’, where by all accounts they will be kept under detention for three years. Sri Lankan journalists questioning their government’s brutal policy have been silenced by assassination and arrest. International journalists reporting on the detention camps for Tamil civilians have been detained and deported.

Herding the Tamil population into detention camps after slaughtering thousands cannot end the question of Tamil nationality in Sri Lanka. It cannot wipe out the fact that it was bloody pogroms in the 1980s that catapulted the Tamil protests against systematic discrimination into a full-blown insurgency. The Sri Lankan Government is trying to justify its massacre in the name of fighting the LTTE. But there can be no getting away from the fact that it is the Sri Lankan Government’s brutal suppression of the right to self-determination of its Tamil population that is the biggest obstacle to peace.

The SLA’s gains are largely due to aid from imperialist powers. Israel has supplied Kfir jets to the Sri Lankan air force, which has used them to bomb Tamil areas. India’s role is the most dubious. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and its constituents like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), under pressure from emotions running high in Tamil Nadu, have taken the posture of pressurizing the Sri Lankan Government to call a ceasefire. Opposition parties like the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu, seeking to reap a rich harvest of votes from the resentment, have suddenly woken to the need for a ‘Tamil Eelam’ or separate Tamil state for Sri Lankan Tamils. DMK leader and TN Chief Minister Karunanidhi went on a ‘fast’ for a few hours, and claimed that Sri Lanka had in fact called a ceasefire as a result. The facts are otherwise: Sri Lanka, far from calling a ceasefire, has merely promised to avoid the use of ‘heavy artillery’ as far as possible – but has made it clear that the war will continue. The promise, in any case, carries little weight – coming as it does from a regime that has had no compunctions about using even chemical weapons against civilians, and that is in any case planning to treat all surviving Tamil civilians as potential terrorists.

The reality behind the Indian Government’s rhetoric of concern for Tamil civilians is exposed when one looks at a shockingly candid statement by the Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in the Parliament on 23 October 2008: “We have a very comprehensive relationship with Sri Lanka. In our anxiety to protect the civilians, we should not forget the strategic importance of this island to India’s interests… especially in view of attempts by countries like Pakistan and China to gain a strategic foothold in the island nation…Colombo had been told that India would ‘look after your security requirements, provided you do not look around’. We cannot have a playground of international players in our backyard…” While the Indian Government has consistently denied providing military support to the Sri Lankan Army, one wonders what shape the promise of “looking after security requirements” of Sri Lanka has actually taken.

The Congress party and UPA Government has also been suggesting that the ongoing war on Tamils is just punishment for Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. How can Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka be held responsible for that assassination? The Congress party and the Indian State cannot deny the fact that the assassination was a fallout of the disastrously opportunist Indian policy of first extending support to the Tamil insurgency, and then sending in Indian ‘peace-keeping’ forces to help crush the militancy. J N Dixit, who was National Security Adviser to the Indian Prime Minister in 2004-05, and was Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka between 1985-89, has candidly admitted that “Tamil militancy received (India’s) support…as a response to (Sri Lanka’s)…concrete and expanded military and intelligence cooperation with the United States, Israel and Pakistan,” justifying this and the volte face of sending in the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) on the grounds that “Inter-state relations are not governed by the logic of morality. They were and they remain an amoral phenomenon…” It is shameful that a Government and a party that has in such an ‘amoral’ way played with the lives of millions of Tamil people, is today trying to offer the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi as ‘moral’ justification for the bloody end-game being played out against innocent civilians in Sri Lanka today.

The silence of the international community and the complicity of India on the ongoing slaughter and repression in Sri Lanka deserves the highest condemnation. It is urgent that democratic forces in India and the international community demand prosecution of the highest functionaries of the Sri Lankan state and the Government of the countries that supplied these bombs for commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Working Class Struggles

May Day Reports from India

– Rajiv Dimri.

May Day 2009 was organized by All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) independently as well as jointly with other left central trade unions (CTUs) and state/sectoral level fraternal trade unions. As May Day was being organized in the midst of India’s general elections, on this occasion the AICCTU called upon the working masses to reject and defeat the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), in power before elections, and communal-fascist BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and ensure the victory of struggling and fighting left. Some of the preliminary reports are as follows:

Delhi: Amidst preparations for elections in Delhi (on 7th May) the workers under the banner of AICCTU offered their Red Salute to the martyrs of May Day in an industrial area of Narela by hoisting the red flag and organizing a rally. This area falls under the parliamentary constituency- North West Delhi- from which Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) [CPI-ML] has fielded a workers’ leader for the elections. Apart from this, a joint rally and mass meeting of left CTUs including our union – AICCTU and CPM led Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and CPI led All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) – was held which was led by, among others, our leaders Coms. Santosh Roy and NM Thomas. Addressing the gathering, Com. Santosh Roy called upon the workers to vote for all left candidates including ours in the elections and reject Congress and BJP. The gathering released declaration demanding Rs. 8500 as minimum wages in Delhi, strict implementation of labour laws, benefits of employee state insurance (ESI) and provident fund (PF) to all workers, stop Foreign investment in Retail sector and bringing all unorganized workers under the social security net, among others.

Tamil Nadu (TN): Amidst election preparations, May Day Rallies were held in Chennai and Tirunelveli. In Chennai more than 500 workers participated in the rally led by Com.G.Radhakrishnan, State Vice President of AICCTU. Com. S. Kumarasami, president of AICCTU addressing the gathering called upon the workers to rise as real opposition as any formation at the center after elections would only be anti- people and anti-workers. Comrades S. Sekar, K. Palanivel, S. Eraniappan, State Secretaries, AICCTU addressed the gathering. Com. Bharathi, Sriperumbudur candidate of the Party claimed that no party other than CPI-ML, in the country can mobilize people for their election meetings without giving them money and biriyani and those assembled here are the real forces who will change the course of anti-people, anti-worker policies in the country. He called for the workers to take pledge on May Day to throw away the opportunist UPA and NDA combines and the so-called third front in TN and vote for change, vote for CPI ML.

In Tirunelveli, a rally of over 200 workers was held in the town area. Com T. Sankarapandian, state state committee member (SCM) and Tirunelveli candidate of the Party addressed the gathering. Com. N. K. Natarajan, State General Secretary, AICCTU also attended the rally and the public meeting.

In Perianaickenpalayam, Pricol factory workers hoisted AICCTU flags in 6 points around Pricol. In Coimbatore, in another 6 points flags were hoisted. Other than this all over the state, in over 35 points workers participated enthusiastically in May Day flag hoisting programs in Trichy, Kanchipuram, Tiruvallore, Villupuram, Mayiladudurai, Tanjore, Kanyakumari, Madurai, Dindugal, Pudukottai districts and vowed to teach a lesson to ruling Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) and opposition All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in the forthcoming elections.

Punjab: Amidst the preparations for elections, rallies were held under the banner of AICCTU and CPI-ML in districts like Mansa, Bhatinda and Sangrur. In Mansa a big rally was held with the participation of around four thousand workers (4,000) which was addressed by AICCTU general secretary Com. Swapan Mukherjee.

Assam: In Guwahati rallies were held in various districts. In Tinsukia town of this district a big rally with the participation of around 2000 workers was held under the banner of May Day Celebration Committee which includes AICCTU and various fraternal and close sectoral TUs. National Secretary, Com. Subhash Sen addressed the rally on behalf of AICCTU.

Patna (Bihar): A joint rally and a mass meeting of left CTUs was held in Patna, the capital of Bihar state. On behalf of AICCTU, national secretary Com. RN Thakur addressed the meeting. Besides, flag hoisting took place in the various factories and institutions in which AICCTU has its unions.

Apart from these states and areas, May Day was organized in Pondicherry led by National Secretary Com. S. Balasubramanian, in Bangalore led by vice president Com. Shankar, in Mumbai led by National Secretary Uday Bhatt and Haldwani (Uttarakhand) led by KK Bora.

Struggles in India

Dr Binayak Sen: Punishment by Trial

– Satya Sagar.

Every Monday, since 16 March this year, a group of between 50 to 100 protestors have been marching down the streets of Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh province, demanding the release of well-known paediatrician and human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen.

They are part of the Raipur Satyagraha campaign that involves courting arrest while marching to high security Raipur jail where Dr Sen has been incarcerated for the past nearly two years now on false charges of being an accomplice to the banned Maoist insurgency in the state. The campaign, which brings activists from around the country to Raipur every week, plans to go on indefinitely till Dr Sen is finally released. Till now hundreds have been arrested and released as part of the satyagraha.

While such classical Gandhian methods are not likely to melt the hearts of the BJP run regime of Chief Minister Raman Singh the campaign is having a positive impact by helping change the climate of fear that has enveloped the entire state for several years now. At last the local media and civil society is mustering the courage to take a critical look at the state’s brutal response to the Maoist insurgency instead of blindly toeing the official ‘war on terror’ rhetoric .

Since 2005 the government sponsored Salwa Judum operations, which pit paramilitaries armed by the state police against Maoist guerrillas and their supporters have claimed hundreds of lives and displaced thousands from their homes in what is a virtual civil war like situation. The draconian ‘anti-terorrist’ laws that the Chhattisgarh authorities have promulgated ensures there is hardly any discussion or dissent allowed on the subject with all opponents- like Dr Sen- themselves branded as Maoists.

State prosecutors claim Binayak, who was arrested on 14 May 2007, passed on a set of letters from Narayan Sanyal, a senior Maoist leader in Raipur jail to Piyush Guha, a local businessman with allegedly close links to the left-wing extremists. He was supposed to have done this while visiting Sanyal in prison both in his capacity as a human rights activist and as a doctor treating him for various medical ailments.

The trial of Dr Sen , which began in a Raipur sessions court late April 2008, has however not thrown up even a shred of evidence to justify any of these charges against him. By end 2008, of the 83 witnesses listed for deposition by the prosecution 16 were dropped by the prosecutors themselves, 6 declared ‘hostile’, while 30 others have deposed without corroborating any of the accusations against Dr Sen.

Dr Sen has never denied meeting Sanyal, which he did with prior permission and in the presence of jail authorities. To prove there was a ‘conspiracy’ the prosecutors for example have to establish that apart from meeting Sanyal in prison, Dr Sen also met Piyush Guha in person some time or the other, in order to pass on the letters. So far not a single prosecution witness has confirmed this charge and without the thread connecting him to Guha however there is no connection at all between Dr Sen and the cases against the other two defendants, Sanyal and Guha.

With the floor falling out of the entire case against Dr Sen, a desperate prosecution, during the course of the trial, has even been caught red handed by defence lawyers, trying to plant forged evidence of his ‘links’ with the Maoists. A number of witnesses too, under obvious tutelage from the police, have been found trying to ‘improve’ their original written statements presented to the court.

Even more disturbingly, in their attempt to keep Dr Sen in prison for as long as possible the court hearings themselves are being dragged on with breaks of up to a month or more at times thus making the trial itself a punishment. Several neutral observers following the case, including from the Commonwealth and the European Union, have expressed concern at the denial of Dr Sen’s right to an open and speedy trial.

Given the weakness of the prosecution’s position Dr Sen should have been given bail by now but mysteriously this has not happened as yet. Normally bail is refused only in cases where the courts believe the accused can tamper with evidence, prejudice witnesses or run away. In Dr Sen’s case none of these apply as shown by the simple fact that at the time of his arrest last year he chose to come to the Chhattisgarh police voluntarily and made no attempt to abscond despite apprehensions of his possible detainment.

Instead of taking all this into account, on 2nd December 2008, a High Court judge in Bilaspur summarily rejected a bail application filed by Dr Sen, confounding all known principles of law, fair play and justice. As if that were not enough a few days later the provincial police authorities, taking their political vendetta further, filed supplementary charges against him, adding on another 47 witnesses to the 83 already listed in the case.

In September 2007 too the same Bilaspur court had rejected a similar bail application after which on 10 December, the Indian Supreme Court in Delhi too had refused to admit a Special Leave Petition to consider bail. The Supreme Court bench initially heard the petition and even asked the Chhattisgarh government to file a reply but strangely dismissed the same petition at its next hearing without any explanation.

The real ‘crime’ for which Dr Sen is being punished for is his courageous work exposing the human rights violations carried out by police forces in Chhattisgarh. As national vice president of the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties, one of India’s oldest human rights groups, Dr Sen produced several reports criticising the Chhattisgarh government’s ‘Salwa Judum’ campaign.

The Salwa Judum campaign, according to many of its critics, is a thinly veiled attempt to relocate villagers – in the name of ‘protecting’ them from Maoists- while in fact plotting the handover of their land to corporations eyeing mineral wealth in the area. By focusing national attention on the brutalities accompanying this campaign Dr Sen obviously seems to have stepped on some powerful and sensitive toes somewhere.

Dalit Issues

Appropriating Ambedkar

– Kavita Krishnan.

Around 14 April, the 118th Birth Anniversary of Babasaheb Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Prime

Ministerial candidate L K Advani accused the Congress of having mistreated Dr. Ambedkar, referring among other things to his resignation from the Congress Cabinet in 1951, and said it was the BJP-backed V P Singh government which bestowed the Bharat Ratna on him in 1990 and not a Congress Government.

Once again, the BJP and Advani have made a bid to appropriate Ambedkar – based, as usual, on deliberate distortion and suppression of facts and shameless duplicity. Ambedkar did indeed resign from the Congress cabinet in 1951 in protest over the dilution of the Hindu Code Bill – a legislation intended to do away with gender discrimination in Hindu marriage and property laws. It is also perfectly true that the legislation was opposed by a powerful conservative section within the Congress itself, including leaders of the stature of Dr. Rajendra Prasad. But the opposition to the Hindu Code Bill was undoubtedly led by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee – founder of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, and Advani’s hero. Mookerjee said the Bill would “shatter the magnificent structure of Hindu culture”, as Dhananjay Keer recorded in his book Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (1962, page 429, cited by A G Noorani in ‘Power Drive’, Frontline Volume 26 – Issue 08: Apr. 11-24, 2009). Advani’s mentor Guru Golwalkar also led the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (of which Advani is a proud member) in opposing the Hindu Code Bill, claiming that granting of rights to women would “cause great psychological upheaval” to men and “lead to mental disease and distress.” (Paula Bacchetta, Gender in the Hindu Nation: RSS Women as Ideologues, p.124). Ambedkar drafted the Constitution, while Golwalkar suggested that the Manusmriti, which is abhorrent and discriminatory towards women and deprived castes, should be the Constitution of Independent India, declaring that Manu was the “first and greatest lawgiver of the world.” Clearly, for Mookerjee, as for the BJP-Sangh Parivar-Ram Sene etc…today the subordination of women (and preservation of caste hierarchy) is essential to maintain what they proclaim is the ‘magnificent structure of Hindu culture’ – while for Ambedkar, caste and gender discrimination were abhorrent and had no place in a democratic India.

Advani’s brethren in the Sangh Parivar recently launched a campaign of massacre, rape and arson in Kandhamal – targeting Dalits who had converted to Christianity. It is well known that Ambedkar had seen conversion as a gesture of ‘opting out’, in protest, of the caste order justified by Hindu religion. Advani is a man of great gumption to attempt to appropriate Ambedkar, after endorsing such murderous assaults on poor Dalits for the ‘crime’ of conversion.

Ambedkar has faced the maximum vilification and distortion at the hands of BJP ideologue Arun Shourie (Worshipping False Gods, 1997). At the time, Advani spoke not a word in condemnation of this vicious and slanderous attack, and Shourie continues to be an apologist for the BJP. It is interesting that neither Manmohan nor Mayawati nor any of the self-proclaimed ‘social justice’ leaders challenged Advani’s claims with any of the above facts.

The BJP is undoubtedly the party that is most fundamentally opposed – both in self-avowed programme as well as practice – to Ambedkar’s social vision. But what of the Congress? And of parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which claim to espouse Ambedkar’s agenda and revere Ambedkar? Of course, the first thing that strikes one is that anti-Dalit atrocities like Khairlanji and the assault on Bant Singh occur in Congress-ruled states of Maharashtra and Punjab. And it is a BSP candidate who is responsible for the heinous murder of a Dalit candidate Vijay Bahadur Sonkar in Mayawati-ruled Uttar Pradesh.

But these parties have an even more fundamental discomfort with Ambedkar’s socio-economic vision. Ambedkar championed social dignity for dalits – but he believed that such dignity did not fall from the sky when written into the Constitution, but rather must be underwritten and set into motion by economic rights generated by a radical programme for economic democracy.

Ambedkar’s anti-feudal vision led him to propose nationalization of land. Ambedkar had actively backed the Mumbai textile workers’ strike in protest against the British Government’s draconian Bill against workers’ strikes, asserting that the right to strike was “simply another name for the right to freedom.”

Ambedkar held that the State’s role is to protect workers’ rights, not privileges of private capital, “Anyone who studies the working of the system of social economy based on private enterprise and pursuit of personal gain will realize how it undermines, if it does not actually violate, the last two premises on which democracy rests…Ask those who are unemployed whether what are called Fundamental Rights are of any value to them. If a person who is unemployed is offered a choice between a job of some sort, with some sort of wages, with no fixed hours of labour and with an indirect restriction on joining a union and the exercise of his right to freedom of speech, association, religion etc can there be any doubt as to what his choice will be? How can it be otherwise? …What about those who are employed? Constitutional lawyers assume that the enactment of Fundamental Rights is enough to safeguard their liberty, and that nothing more is called for. They argue that where the state refrains from intervention in private affairs, economic and social, the residue is liberty. What is necessary is to make the residue as large as possible and state intervention as small as possible. It is true that that where the state refrains from intervention what remains is liberty. …To whom and for whom is this liberty? Obviously, this liberty is liberty to the landlords to increase rents, to the capitalists to increase the hours of work and reduce the rate of wages. … Liberty from the control of the state is another name for the dictatorship of the private employer.” What a contrast these words are to the programmes of liberalization-privatization-globalisation espoused overtly by the Congress and covertly by the BSP!

To quote Comrade Vinod Mishra, from the 6th Party Congress Document of the CPI(ML), “A calculated move has been witnessed in recent times to denigrate Ambedkar and project him as having been opposed to Indian freedom….Meanwhile the BJP is seeking to appropriate Ambedkar for its communal ends. We must oppose these moves. In socio-economic terms, Ambedkar was much more radical than Gandhi, and even Nehru. Politically too, he was more conscious of the complexities of nation-building in India. Rather than trying to project himself as a national leader at the expense of everything else, he made a strong plea for making dalit emancipation an integral part of the freedom movement. And this is a question which India is struggling with even fifty years after independence.”

International

World at the Crossroads Conference

– Kavita Krishnan.

(A ‘World at the Crossroads Conference’ was organized by the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP), Resistance and Green Left Weekly at Sydney on 10-13 April. Kavita Krishnan, who represented CPI(ML) at the Conference, reports.)

As the world reels from a severe recession, as wars, occupation and repression scar the entire globe, and as climate change threatens the very future of humanity, it is widely acknowledged that the world is in a crisis. But the nearly 500 people from six continents gathered at Sydney on 10-12 April weren’t there for a mere academic discussion of the crisis. They were there to say the world has a choice. The same choice that Rosa Luxembourg spoke of so long ago: a choice between socialism and barbarism – one could say today, socialism and devastation. The theme of the Conference – “World at a Crossroads” – expressed this choice, and its slogan – “fighting for socialism in the 21st century” – declared the determination to struggle to make the world turn left at the crossroads!

At the Conference, more than 70 activists representing a range of countries, movements and revolutionary parties, addressed 42 workshops and several plenary sessions, sharing experiences and strategies, and engaging in debates on issues ranging from climate change and meltdown to nationality struggles, cultural resistance and struggles and revolutions taking place across the world.

The Conference opened with an ‘Acknowledgement of Aboriginal Land’ by Aboriginal activist Jenny Munro, who reminded a packed hall that the conference was being held on land stolen from the indigenous Gadigal people of the Eora nation.

Capitalism’s Crises and Our Solutions

The opening session was on ‘Capitalism’s Crises and Our Solutions’ – addressed by Reihana Mohideen, leader of the newly formed Party of Labouring Masses in the Philippines, David Spratt, co-author of Climate Code Red, and Michael Lebowitz, renowned Marxist economist, now at the Centro Internacional Miranda, Venezuela, and author of Build it now: Socialism For the 21st Century.

Speaking at the session, Michael Lebowitz, said that the crisis notwithstanding, capitalism would not collapse by itself; it could restructure itself to ride over the crisis. To prevent this, it was important to educate people regarding the crisis. Struggles of the working class and the people in themselves were not enough – but these struggles are important because people change in the course of struggles. The task for revolutionaries is “to make the crisis in capitalism become a crisis of capitalism”, he said.

US Imperialism and the “War on Terror”

The next session featured a discussion on the “war on terror” in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world, assessing the situation after the election of US President Obama and his promises of ‘change’. Speaking at this session, DSP leader Pip Hinman confronted the lie peddled by US and Australian governments that the war in Afghanistan is the “good war”. Pointing out that Obama had intensified the US offensive in Afghanistan, she called for “all Australian troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan now.” Salim Vally, spokesperson for Palestine Solidarity Committee (South Africa), spoke of how there were photographs of Obama, as Illinois Senator, attending Arab fund-raising dinners with Palestinian academic Edward Said. This is marked contrast to his silence on Israel’s genocide in Gaza, and his declaration that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and must remain undivided.” He reminded of the racist remark that the father of Rahm Emanuel had made on his son’s appointment as Obama’s new Chief of Staff: “Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.” Vally concluded that “Martin Luther King spoke the truth to power, Obama spoke lies to get into power.”

Two young medical doctors from the Australian Tamil community, Arun Murali and Pramod Devendra, held the hall captive with a quietly moving talk on the Sri Lankan government’s war on Tamils. Sri Lanka spends 45% of its gross domestic product on the war against the Tamils, they said. They said that after the Holocaust, the world said ‘Never again’ – and yet, at Palestine, at the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, the genocide continues, and “the world continues not just to ignore it but continues to fund it.”

Change the System, not the Climate”

Addressing another major session on ‘Confronting the climate change crisis: an eco-socialist perspective,’ Ian Angus, founder of the Eco-socialist International Network and editor of Climate and Capitalism, said that the ‘worst-case scenarios’ painted by the IPCC on climate change had proved too optimistic. ‘Green’ capitalists, he said, could offer nothing more than ‘greenwash.’ Now, increasingly, even those like James Gustave Speth, called the “ultimate insider” within the environmental movement, once part of the Carter and Clinton administrations, has penned a searing critique of capitalism. In his 2008 book Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, he concluded that thanks to capitalism’s built-in tendency to unbridled growth, “Capitalism as we know it today is incapable of sustaining the environment.”

Angus fervently advocated the espousal of ‘eco-socialism’ as a kind of socialism that embraced and expanded the legacy of ecological views embedded in socialism. Stressing that only such a socialism could save the planet, he quoted Walter Benjamin’s remark (in the context of Marx’s description of revolutions as the locomotives of history) that “Perhaps revolutions are not the train ride, but the human race grabbing for the emergency brake.”

Socialism: For a Full Development Human Potential

In a lucid and energetic talk that provoked much discussion and debate, Michael Lebowitz outlined the contours of what socialism really was. It’s easy to say what socialism is not, he said; but socialism is much more than the mere opposite of capitalism. Socialism is nothing less than society that creates conditions for the “fullest possible development of human beings.” In this context, he discussed the experience of building the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.

Revolt and Revolutions in Latin America

One of the sessions which generated the maximum enthusiasm was the one discussing the tumultuous developments in Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia. Representing Cuba here was Abelardo Curbelo, no ordinary Cuban ambassador to Australia, because he is also a veteran of the Cuban revolution and central committee member of the Cuban Communist Party. He asked his audience to closely watch the developments at the impending Summit of the Americas at Port of Spain on April 17-19, from which Cuba was excluded, warning that Obama might be confronted by a remarkable display of solidarity for Cuba from the very countries which the US had taken to be pliant pawns. For decades, he said, the USA had isolated Cuba in Latin America – but now, among all the nations of the Americas and the world, the only country to have no relations with Cuba is the USA!

Nelson Davila, founding member of Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement (MBR-200), and head of Venezuela’s diplomatic mission to Australia reiterated that ‘US hegemony in the region is finished!’

Luis Bilbao, Argentinean Marxist and participant in the construction of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, comprehensively analysed the spectre of Latin American solidarity that haunted US imperialism. The revolutionary assertion of indigenous nationalism in Bolivia was also discussed.

The conference celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, the 10th anniversary of the Venezuelan revolution, and the electoral victory of the FMLN at El Salvador. Slogans of ‘Uh! Ah! Chavez No Se Va’ (Chavez isn’t going anywhere) rent the air, and toasts were raised the revolutions. Representatives of the Communist Party of Vietnam also addressed the Conference and were greeted enthusiastically.

Resistance to Neo-liberalism in the Global South

Another session, on the growing resistance to neoliberalism in the global South was addressed by representatives from East Timor, Zimbabwe and India. Addressing the session, Kavita Krishnan, of the CPI(ML) spoke of movements in India against the economic and foreign policies imposed by the Indian ruling class committed to remaining in the US’ strategic embrace. Challenging the myth of India’s ‘neoliberal success story,’ she spoke of the reality of farmers’ suicides – but also of peasants’ resistance to corporate land grab, and the struggles of agricultural labourers and unorganized workers led by CPI(ML) for employment and food security. Condemning the denial of visa to the comrade of Labour Party Pakistan who was to attend the Conference, she hailed the victory of Pakistani people on the street as an assertion of democratic spirit, and said CPI(ML) had mobilized students and youth against the anti-Pakistan hysteria whipped up by India’s ruling class. She also expressed solidarity with the aspirations of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka for self-determination, and condemned India’s ruling class for its support to the Sri Lankan war on Tamil people.

At the final session of the conference, Canadian socialist Ian Angus, M. Saraswathy, deputy chairperson of the Socialist Party of Malaysia, Daphne Lawless, central committee member of Socialist Worker (New Zealand), and Peter Boyle, DSP national secretary, spoke of the future of socialist struggles and stressed the need for unity among socialist forces.

Throughout the Conference, a series of workshops took place, with lively discussions. A sample: ‘Why be a Marxist today’, the French Left and the remarkable people’s struggles and workers’ strikes in France, cultural resistance, and detailed discussions of the struggles and debates on the left in a range of countries. Kavita Krishnan addressed two such workshops: one on ‘Sexism and the System,’ along with Reihana Moideen (Philippines) and Jay Fletcher (Green Left Weekly), and another on ‘Young socialists’ fighting back’ – where she discussed AISA’s experience along with a Resistance activist Jess Moore. And last but not least was the music, poetry and performances by cultural groups which made the Conference a celebration of the spirit of resistance.

The final session of the Conference passed two resolutions – demanding that the US Government immediately and unconditionally release the five Cubans imprisoned in the US since 1998 as alleged spies, but whose only ‘crime’ was to dare to resist the denial of the rights of Cuban people to determine their own social system and future; and expressing solidarity with the people and President of Bolivia (who was on hunger strike at the time of the Conference) in the struggle to have their democratic will respected and to advance the process of changing Bolivia in the interests of its majority.

Culture

Adieu Iqbal Bano!

– Liberation, May, 2009.

Adieu Iqbal Bano! You will live on as the sub-continent’s voice of defiance against tyranny

Iqbal Bano, the sub-continent’s beloved ghazal singer, born in India and trained in the Dilli Gharana by the legendary Ustad Chand Khan, passed away on April 21 2009 in Lahore at the age of 74.

In the hearts of all who knew and loved her music is the memory of that day: when, in protest against the jailing of the subcontinent’s foremost Left poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz by General Zia-ul Haq, she sang Faiz’s immortal song ‘Hum Dekhenge’ (We shall witness) at a Lahore stadium full of 50, 000 people, wearing a black sari in defiance of Zia’s ban on the sari. As her liquid voice reached the crescendo – declaring ‘Certainly we, too, shall witness that day … When these high mountains/Of tyranny and oppression turn to fluff and evaporate/And we oppressed/ Beneath our feet will this earth shiver, shake and beat/And heads of rulers will be struck/With crackling lightening and thunder roars/When crowns will be flung in the air — and thrones will be overturned….,” people joined with slogans of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (Long Live Revolution!). In future years, Faiz would be requested, “Please recite that song of Iqbal Bano’s” – because she had made it her own. Smug Indian commentators like to contrast the supposedly superior democratic culture of India’s people with the supposed passivity of Pakistan’s people – but it is Pakistan that gave us that immortal moment of democratic culture – where thousands of people sang in defence of a jailed atheist and communist poet – who had drawn upon progressive traditions within Islam to confront the zealot Zia.

Iqbal Bano – As the people of the sub-continent confront the tyrannies of their governments, of imperialism and of jingoistic hate-mongering, yours will be the voice that will reflect their unity, their defiance, their confidence that one day, tyranny will be defeated and the people will triumph…

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