New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

31 January, 2008

Whose democracy is it anyway?

All too often we come across self-appointed spokespersons of an imaginary mainstream who believe that democracy, freedom of speech, human rights etc. are goodies that they will give to those whom they approve of. The Constitution may talk of these as rights available to all citizens, but don't you dare to claim them.

To understand whose democracy it is and how it works, Indians may journey back in time to August 14, 1947. You were probably not even born then. If you were, you were still too young to understand what was going on. I was 15 and in college in distant Travancore, the southernmost state. I sat before the radio in my house at Kollam and listened to Jawaharlal Nehru's words: as the world is asleep India awakes to freedom. Years later I asked myself how many people in this wide country were actually awake at the time. Radio was a rarity in those days. Unless you were in Delhi, where there were midnight celebrations, or had access to a radio, there was little point in keeping awake at 12.

In Takazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s epic Malayalam novel Kayar, there is a young man who roams the countryside that night. He sees some activity only at the police station, where the cops were making arrangements to hoist the flag. That was closer to reality than the romantic notions generated by the thought of freedom at midnight. Indians slept through the transition to freedom.

Now kindly make one short forward movement. It is the morning of August 15, 1947. What changes can you notice? The British Indian army is now free India's army. British Indian officials are now free India's officials. British Indian judiciary is now free India's judiciary. Even the laws in force were those that were enacted under the British dispensation. The only visible sign of change: there was now the Tricolour where the Union Jack had flown. Of course, there was a new government under Nehru in Delhi. But then he was already heading the administration since September 1946. What was the stake of the ordinary people, whether in distant Travancore (where I was) or in nearby Uttar Pradesh in the new state?

Please don't jump to conclusions. I am not trotting out the Soviet theory of that period, propagated by undivided CPI, that transfer of power was a fraud, a conspiratorial arrangement worked out by Anglo-American imperialism and the Indian bourgeoisie. Nor am I trying to make you believe that nothing has changed.

With the promulgation of the Constitution we embarked upon our democratic experiment. All that I want you to note is that all limbs of the Indian state are extensions of the limbs of the colonial state. It is now more than 60 years since Independence, which means all those who are running the machinery now are people who were born and grew up in a free country. But the institutions they are running have feudal-colonial traditions that go back 200 years. The process of rebuilding them to meet the needs of a free, democratic nation is far from complete.

To make things worse, we have a society, which has an even longer tradition of 1,000 odd years of social exclusion. Incidentally, I don't subscribe to the view that this social exclusion was there in all of India's history of 5,000 odd years.
I don't want to hazard a guess on how long it will take to wipe out the vestiges of colonialism and feudalism and establish new, democratic traditions. The authors of the US Constitution wrote that "all men are created equal" but blacks did not qualify to be counted as men until two centuries later.

28 January, 2008

The shape of things to come: an Indian American's book

The following is a message reeived from Sreenath Sreenivasan of Columbia University Journalism School on Sunday:

Today's New York Times Magazine has a provocative cover image and essay by Parag Khanna, a SAJA lister and senior fellow at the New America Foundation (headed by Steve Coll, former WashPost managing editor and South Asia expert).

"Who Shrank the Superpower" says: Just a few years ago, America's hold on global power seemed unshakeable. But a lot has changed while we've been Iraq - and the next president is going to be dealing with not only triumphant China and a retooled Europe but also the quiet rise of a "second world." [Am trying to recall the last South Asian byline on the cover of this magazine - anyone know? saja@columbia.edu, please)

The essay is adapted from Khanna's book, "The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order," to be published by Random House in March. Read it at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/magazine/27world-t.html and post your comments at http://www.sajaforum.org/2008/01/world-affairs-p.html

Khanna is director of the New America Foundation's Global Governance Initiative, leading "an effort to find innovative strategies for governmental, corporate, and civil society collaboration to resolve pressing global problems and redefine diplomacy for the 21st century."

Other details from his bio: Parag Khanna is an expert on geopolitics, global governance, and Asian and European affairs, and was most recently the Global Governance Fellow at The Brookings Institution. He has worked at the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, where he specialized in scenario and risk planning, and at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he conducted research on terrorism and conflict resolution. He holds bachelors and masters degrees from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and is completing his PhD at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He speaks German, Hindi, French, Spanish, and basic Arabic. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, The Financial Times, Harper's Magazine, Policy Review, Foreign Policy, Prospect (U.K.), Slate, and Survival (U.K.), and he has been featured on CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera International, National Public Radio, and Doordarshan.

Some highlights that have South Asia connections in Khanna's piece, which opens with a future scenario: It is 2016, and the Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama administration is nearing the end of its second term. America has pulled out of Iraq but has about 20,000 troops in the independent state of Kurdistan, as well as warships anchored at Bahrain and an Air Force presence in Qatar. Afghanistan is stable; Iran is nuclear. China has absorbed Taiwan and is steadily increasing its naval presence around the Pacific Rim and, from the Pakistani port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea. The European Union has expanded to well over 30 members and has secure oil and gas flows from North Africa, Russia and the Caspian Sea, as well as substantial nuclear energy. America's standing in the world remains in steady decline.

This is geopolitics in the 21st century: the new Big Three. Not Russia, an increasingly depopulated expanse run by Gazprom.gov; not an incoherent Islam embroiled in internal wars; and not India, lagging decades behind China in both development and strategic appetite. The Big Three make the rules - their own rules - without any one of them dominating. And the others are left to choose their suitors in this post-American world.

Read the rest of the highlights, see a photo of Khanna, his contact info and post your comments - at http://www.sajaforum.org/2008/01/world-affairs-p.html

26 January, 2008

Release P. Govindankutty unconditionally

Please see and sign Online petition for unconditional release of P. Govindankutty, Editor of People's March, who has been in jail for more than a month.
http://keralaletter.blogspot.com/2008/01/online-petition-for-govindankuttys.html

Please also see K A Shaji's report in Tehelka on the case against him. http://www.tehelka.com/story_main37.asp?filename=Ne020208code_red.asp

25 January, 2008

Day of reckoning has come for America, says Joseph Stiglitz

The day of reckoning has come, says Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate and professor of economics at Columbia University, in an article published in the New York Times.

"This time we need a stimulus that stimulates," he adds. "The question is, will the president and Congress put aside politics to get the job done?"

See article "How To Stop The Downturn" by Joseph E. Stiglitz, reproduced at countercurrents.org site.

24 January, 2008

Global media giants’ inroads continue, but there is no reverse traffic

World media giants are strengthening their hold on the Indian media. The latest entrant is NBC Universal, which has bought a 26 per cent stake in NDTV for $150 million.

According to Sreenath Sreenivasan, Profession at the Columbia Journalism School, news of the NBC investment in NDTV was first broken on January 2 by Rafat Ali on ContentSutra.com. (He describes it as “a must-read blog about the Indian media scene”. Rafat Ali also has “a must-read US blog”, named PaidContent.org, he says.)

According to The Hindu BusinessLine, announcing the strategic partnership with NDTV, Jeff Zucker, President and CEO, NBC Universal, told presspersons that NBC's goal to grow its business outside the US, and in particular India."India is one of the most important markets in the world and I think it will become more important in the months and years to come. This was another sign of our parent company, General Electric's commitment to India," said Zucker.

According to GE India's President and CEO, Mr Tejpreet Singh Chopra, the company was virtually evaluating all areas in the media space, and media would play a significant role in the company's growth plans for the country.
NDTV, which has a news channel (NDTV 24x7) and business channel (NDTV Profit), recently launched a general entertainment channel, NDTV Imagine.

Sreenath Sreenivasan notes that a day after the launch of Imagine, Prannoy Roy said, "India is a vibrant economy, alive and kicking, with a media scene that is way ahead of that of many developed countries."
Sreenivasan also quotes Peter Smith, President, NBC Universal International, as saying the $5-billion Indian TV market is growing at 16 per cent, and is expected to reach $9 billion in the next few years.

NBC’s deal with NDTV includes an option, exercisable in two years’ time, for it to increase its stake to 50 per cent in the joint venture company through which it will be investing.Other foreign media giants who have established presence on the Indian television scene are Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (through the Star network, which includes a news channel and entertainment channels in English, Hindi and Tamil), CNBC (through TV 18, with channels in English and Hindi) and CNN through (through TV 18 and Indian Broadcast Network).

Sreenath Sreenivasan, who once worked as NDTV correspondent in New York, views NBC’s NDTV deal as “yet another sign how much interest there is in India and Indian media”. Says he: “I remember how difficult it was for me to get TV interviews for NDTV with political and business leaders in the early 90s. Few people cared about the media in India. That, of course, has changed a lot.”

Globalization permits two-way traffic, at least to a limited extent, and India happens to be one of the few countries equipped to ensure that traffic is not limited to one way. Indeed, several Indian businesses have taken advantage of the situation and established presence abroad. However, despite Prannoy Roy’s assertion about the strength of the Indian media scene, no domestic major has tried to establish even a toehold abroad.

Curiously, the only Indian newspapers that have ventured abroad are those rooted in some Indian language. Malayalam newspapers like Madhyamam and Malayala Manorama publish editions from more than one centre in the Gulf States. They are, of course, catering to migrant populations.

23 January, 2008

A chance to put UNI back on the path of progress

The Company Law Board’s order which blocks the Essel group’s bid to take over the United News of India is a welcome development. It presents the news agency’s shareholders and employees with a chance to save the organization.

In September 2006, the UNI Board of Directors had allotted 10,208 shares of the company to Media West Private Limited, which belongs to the Essel group, promoted by Zee TV founder Subhash Chandra. Some nominees of MWPL were named members of the board.

UNI was launched by a group of newspapers in 1961 as a Section 25 (non-profit) company. As in the case of the older Press Trust of India news agency, the right to own shares was restricted to newspaper organizations. The deal the Board entered into with MWPL was in clear violation of the news agency’s mandate and traditions.

The UNI Employees Federation vigorously campaigned against the takeover bid. Later a group of shareholders moved the Company Law Board against the Board’s decision.

The petitioners included ABP Private Limited, Kolkata, publishers of the Anand Bazar Patrika group, Kasturi and Sons Limited, Chennai, publishers of The Hindu group, the Printers (Mysore) Limited, Bangalore, publishers of the Deccan Herald group, and Manipal Media network, of Manipal, publishers of Udayavani group.

The Company Law Board, in an order passed on Monday, said the Board’s decision to allot shares to MWPL was illegal. MWPL, not being owner of a newspaper published inin India, was not eligible or competent to acquire shares in the company. It declared that MWPL had ceased to be a shareholder and its nominees would cease to be members of the Board with immediate effect.

The CLB decision has saved the news agency from a rank outsider who attempted to seize control of it with apparently dubious motives, taking advantage of its financial problems.. There is now a chance to put it back on the path of healthy growth in tune with the traditions of the journalistic profession and the news agency itself.

As the CLB has pointed out, it is the responsibility of the UNI Board, more particularly the petitioners, to find ways and means to mobilize funds either by way of subscribing to the shares, if offered or by way of long-term loans, or in any other manner. There is the rub. If the petitioners, three of whom have been shareholders of the company from the very outset, had taken adequate interest in the working of the news agency, it might never have come to the sorry pass of being stalked by predators.

For a detailed report on the Company Law Board decision, please see The Hindu of January 23

21 January, 2008

Opposition to proposed Special Economic Zone in Andhra Pradesh

The Nandigram story is being repeaed in Andhra Pradesh. As in Nandigram and nearby villages of West Bengal, there is strong opposition in villages around Kakinada in AP to the proposal to set up a special economic zone. And the auithorities are resorting to repression to overcome the people's resistance.

According to information provided by a credible human rights organization, the U Kothapalli and Thongdangi Mandals of East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh have witnessed state terrorism during the past three days. Revenue authorities, assisted by the police and goons mobilized by estate agents who hasve been buying land on behalf of the proposed SEZ authorities, have been trying to erect fences there.

The authorities are said to be threatening pr using force against the people and spreading false information among them to compel them to sell their lands. Farmers have been opposing attempts to take over their lands.

In September 2007, the farmers were able to foil a similar effort. They succeeded then in getting an order from the State Human Rights Commission asking the government not to use coercive methods to acquire land. The order was issued after 110 farmers filed affidavits before the SHRC. Their petition is due to come up for hearing again on February 7, 2008.

The people removed the stones and pillars put up by the authorities to fence the area claiming that those lands had already been bought for the SEZ. Newspapers, apparently under the influence of the authorities, have carried exaggerated accounts of damage to property caused by opponents of the SEZ. The police have registered cases against farmers' leaders Surya Narayana Murthi, Narayana Swami and Ganga Dhar under sections 147, 148, 447, 427, 506, 149 of IPC.
Police personnel went to their houses at 4 in the morning and arrested them.

Rajendra, who organized protest meetings against the SEZ earlier, was also arrested. He has been remanded in judicial custody till January 31.

In all, about 150 farmers are reported to have been arrested. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 CrPC hasve been promulgated in the villages.

Police is seen everywhere, creating an atmosphere of terror. Fencing work is proceeding and no automobiles from outside are being allowed into the area.

It was in 2005 that the State government decided upon the setting up of an SEZ in Kakinada. The District Collector says the SHRC has not said the government should not go ahead with work on the SEZ. According to him, when he is peacefully carrying out the work of erecting a fence, the people are resorting to violence!

Those who wish to express their support for the cause of the peasants may convey their protest against the high-handed action of the State government in writing to Mr. Justice Subhashan Reddy, Chairman, State Human Rights Commission, Hyderabad (Fax No. 040 24601573), the Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad (Fax: 040 23453700) and/or Mr. Y. S. Rajashekhar Reddy,Chief Minister, Hyderabad (Fax: 040 23452498, 23410555). Protest letters may also be sent to the District Collector, East Godavari, Rajahmundry (Fax: 0844 2353480, e-mail: collector_eg@ap.gov.in)

19 January, 2008

Hooligans ransack NDTV office at Ahmedabad

A group of 15-20 people calling themselves the Hindu Samrajya Sena ransacked NDTV's office in Ahmedabad on Saturday for airing an SMS poll on Bharat Ratna with famous painter M F Husain as a contender.

See report at NDTV website.

18 January, 2008

AHRC seeks services of Indian doctors for project to help TB patients in Varanasi

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has invited applications from qualified Indian doctors for full-time field work in a project to help the identification and treatment of tuberculosis patients in and around Varanasi, India.

The initial phase of the contract will be for a period of six months, preferably starting from the 1st week of February 2008.

The AHRC is concerned about widespread tuberculosis infection, in the area, particularly among the weaver community in Varanasi. In the recent past, the AHRC has repeatedly called upon the state government to take immediate steps to address this issue. For further information, please see AHRC-OL-036-2007.

The AHRC is worried about the inadequacies of the public health services provided by the state government in addressing this issue. The intention of the AHRC initiative is to continue the voluntary health services for tuberculosis patients in and around Varanasi until the state government takes appropriate action to address this issue and provide necessary services for those who require immediate medical assistance.

There are large numbers of persons infected with tuberculosis in Varanasi who are unable to get even basic facilities for treating tuberculosis, like x-rays or other medication for treating the disease. The state government on the contrary has claimed that it has allocated funds and made other arrangements to treat tuberculosis patients. This claim, has however, is not felt among the people. For example, in Lohta village of Varanasi District, there are large numbers of persons suffering from tuberculosis who have been even denied proper diagnosis by the state government-run public health centre.

The voluntary project by the AHRC would involve free consultations and develop programmes to provide the patients with appropriate medication. This project is to prevent further deterioration of the health conditions of the people who have already been identified as being infected with tuberculosis.

Remuneration and other service conditions will not be an impediment for the right candidate and are negotiable. The ideal candidate will be a doctor from Uttar Pradesh state who could also read and write Hindi and Bhojpuri. Please mail your application with a covering letter and a resume with the expected remuneration to the address provided below to reach Hong Kong by 30 January 2008.

Applications can be sent to:
South Asia Desk
The Asian Human Rights Commission
19/F Go-Up Commercial Bldg
998 Canton Road
Mongkok, Kowloon
Hong Kong SAR.

Fax: (852) 26986367
# # #
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

No end to Binayak Sen's ordeal in sight

The authorities are going ahead with the prosecution of Dr. Binayak Sen, eminent doctor and human rights activist of Chhattisgarh, ignoring the worldwide protest.

Dr. Sen, arrested in May has been in jail since then, having been refused bail. (See earlier posting)

Ranjana Padhi (ranjanapadhi@yahoo.co.uk) has circulated the following message about the latest court proceedings on the basis of an email received from Dr. Sen's wife, Ilina.

In the hearing yesterday (Thursday) at Raipur, it became clear that Binayak and others were not being produced for formal framing of charges. However, upon query from lawyers, the judge revealed that he had actually written out the order sheet in which he was proceeding for trial retaining the entire gamut of charges on all three of the accused. This means as far as Binayak (or anyone else is concerned), no charge was being dropped, and no discharge petition was being entertained. Therefore, all charges such as the waging war on the state etc stand.

The judge wanted to know whether we wished to go for a review, or whether we were willing to proceed for trial. After a quick consultation with lawyers, Ilina and others decided not to lose more time by going into any review process. Then, the judge ordered all three accused to be produced in court on Feb.ruary 2 for the formal framing of charges, ie for charges read out individually to each person, giving them the option of pleading guilty or not guilty, and then ordering that the trial begin.

The jail authorities filed their medical report on Binayak claiming a long list of days on which he was medically examined, which is all LIES, and say his weight is the ideal weight for his age and height though Binayak has lost over 17 kg in the last few months. They have also done assorted x-rays and blood tests, and report that all is normal.

The prosecution has asked the court for the case diary to be returned to them for some so that they may add a supplementary chargesheet.

Friends, it is very clear that it is going to be a long haul – the legal group needs to push with the trial and keep up the pressure on the prosecution. One cannot think of bail just now.

Meanwhile the imperative to gear up the campaign for his release is very urgent. In Delhi, we have come up with a parcha and a sticker that we shall be sending out very soon.

17 January, 2008

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch demand independent probe of Nandigram violence

The West Bengal government should immediately create an independent and impartial inquiry into serious acts of violence in Nandigram since early 2007, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

The state government should prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses and examine both the social-political origins of the violence and the failure of state authorities to provide effective protection to the community.

A fact-finding team—comprised of Justice (Retd) S.N. Bhargava, former Chief Justice, High Court of Sikkim; Vrinda Grover, advocate; Meenakshi Ganguly, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch; and Mukul Sharma, director of Amnesty International India —visited Nandigram and Kolkata from 28 to 30 November. The team travelled to affected villages, relief camps, and met with the victims of the violence in Nandigram, as well as government officials and rights activists.

"It was obvious during our visit to Nandigram that state authorities had not acted in an impartial manner," said Meenakshi Ganguly, senior South Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch. "The political nature of this violence, involving the ruling party of West Bengal, means there must be an independent inquiry to prevent impunity for the perpetrators. "

Throughout 2007, tensions over control of land in Nandigram led to a series of violent incidents between supporters of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and farmers belonging to the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC). Protesting villagers blockaded the Nandigram area to oppose a government plan to acquire land for industry. Instead of responding appropriately to violations of the law by protesters, the authorities appeared to treat the protest as a challenge to the CPI-M and used excessive force against the protestors. BUPC members were also responsible for acts of violence. At least 25 people were killed, hundreds injured and thousands displaced from their homes.

In November, CPI-M supporters and armed thugs forcibly ended the blockade. In retribution for the protest, they attacked villagers supporting the BUPC, burned down their homes, threatened further violence if villagers went to the authorities, and humiliated them by compelling them to join CPI-M rallies. The state administration removed police posts before CPI-M supporters advanced into the area, strongly suggesting governmental complicity in the abuses.

Villagers in affected areas reported to the fact-finding team that CPI-M supporters frequently subjected women to violent attacks, including rape and beatings, as well as to threats and harassment. There is no evidence that the police have sought to arrest those named in police complaints. Victims, particularly women who risk social censure by reporting rape, remained vulnerable to threats and further attacks from perpetrators who roam free.

"The tragedy of the reported rapes at Nandigram has been compounded by the failure of the police to seriously investigate these cases, keeping the victims at grave risk," said Ganguly.
Based on the team's findings, Amnesty International has produced a report titled, " Urgent need to address large scale human rights abuses during Nandigram "recapture.' " The report concludes that the inaction of the West Bengal state government, including tacit acceptance of the violent operations of the armed supporters of the CPI-M, resulted in serious human rights abuses, including unlawful killings, abductions, sexual assault of women and forced eviction and displacement of thousands of people in 2007.

It is disturbing that the West Bengal authorities failed to prevent the violence at Nandigram and failed to arrest the perpetrators, " said Mukul Sharma, director of Amnesty International, India, "Weeks after peace had supposedly been restored, we learned that the perpetrators were still roaming free, celebrating their victory by threatening and beating up local residents."
The impunity enjoyed by those perpetrating abuses in Nandigram since the violence began in early 2007 fuelled the widespread abuses committed later in the year. The Chief Minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, contributed to the violence in November by saying that the protesters had been "paid back in the same coin," a comment which he retracted three weeks later, admitting the events were a "political and administrative failure."

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said access to justice for the victims of the violence went beyond the successful prosecution of those responsible. The West Bengal government has an obligation to protect the rights of all those displaced by ensuring they can safely return to their homes and places of habitual residence and providing restitution for all damage suffered. Women who suffered abuse must receive proper protection and an effective remedy.

"The authorities must show clear political will to end the climate of violence in Nandigram," Sharma said. "For lasting peace, all those responsible for the violence must be prosecuted and the victims must receive redress."

16 January, 2008

Kiran Bedi extends a helping hand

Kiran Bedi, the first woman IPS officer, who recently took voluntary retirement after her claim to be Delhi's Police Commissionerwas overlooked, has set up a website to help people who are unable to get the police to act on their complaints.

You can go to this site and log your complaint regarding any crime if the police at your place is not accepting your complaint.

The non-governmental organization, Safe India, which she has set up, will mail your complaint to the DGP of your area. You can use this mail as the legal document.

The site is directly administered by Kiran Bedi . All mails directly go to her.

The URL of the website is: http://www.saferindia.com/

15 January, 2008

Pakistan government blocks critical blogs

Two weeks after the Pakistan government passed a new law with tough punishment for cyber crimes, hundreds of anti-establishment blogs have been blocked, says rediff.com, quoting bloggers.

Read on.

Wishing for crash of growth-based economic system

Given widespread failure to pursue policies sufficient to reverse deterioration of the biosphere and avoid ecological collapse, the best we can hope for may be that the growth-based economic system crashes sooner rather than later, says Dr. Glen Barry in an article contributed to Earth Meanders.

The article can be seen at the countercurrents.org site.

13 January, 2008

CPI (M)’s ambivalent attitude towards the state

I was wrong again. Or is it that the CPI (M) is in a state of confusion? Jyoti Basu has said he is not in the run for Bharat Ratna. The Hindu has quoted party sources as saying, “It is not a practice of our leaders to accept state awards.”

According to the newspaper, the sources recalled that when P. V. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister, the government offered Padma Vibhushan to former party general secretary E. M. S. Namboodiripad rejected the proposal.
(I was wrong in stating earlier that Namboodiripad was considered for an award when V. P. Singh was the Prime Minister.)

Isn’t there a contradiction between the party’s willingness to exercise state power as a player of electoral politics, and its unwillingness to accept state awards? State governments run by the party are known to recommended candidates for various Central awards. Writers and artists close to the party have been among persons so recommended.

12 January, 2008

Jyoti Basu is CPI (M) nominee for Bharat Ratna award

When I commented upon L. K. Advani’s letter to the Prime Minister seeking the award of Bharat Ratna to A. B. Vajpayee, I did not envisage the possibility of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) advancing claims on behalf of one of its leaders. (See post below)

I had assumed that the Communists would not want to see one of their leaders to accept an honour from a bourgeois government. I guess I was influenced by a story that was in circulation some years ago. It appears the V. P. Singh government considered E. M. S. Namboodiripad, former CPI (M) Chief Minister of Kerala, for an award but dropped the idea after he conveyed his inability to accept any honour.

I was mistaken. Or CPI (M) leaders’ attitude has changed. According to media reports, Politburo member Biman Bose has said that if Jyoti Basu met the criteria for award of Bharat Ratna he could be given the award.

11 January, 2008

What does Tata's Nano portend?

It's either the start of a people's revolution or the trigger for social and environmental headaches across the globe, says Andrew Buncombe, writing in The Independent about the unveiling of the world's cheapest car by Tatas yesterday.

The report is available at the countercurrents.org site.

Advani sets a bad precedent in seeking Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee

The Bharatiya Janata Party has set a bad precedent by formally asking the Prime Minister to confer the Bharat Ratna award on its leader, Atal Behari Vajpayee.

BJP president L. K. Advani not only wrote to the government a letter making out a case for honouring Vajpayee but also released it to the media. Evidently the intention was to exert public pressure on the government to concede the demand.

Vajpayee is the only politician thrown up by the Hindutva movement who has demonstrated qualities of statesmanship. As such, he deserves to be considered for the nation's highest award. But by taking up the issue in a partisan manner, Advani has done injustice to his stature as a statesman: in effect, he has cut him down to the size of a politician.

If the BJP bid to wrest an award from the government for its leader succeeds, other political parties may feel tempted to employ the same tactics. Mayawati, for instance, may want Bharat Ratna for her mentor, Kanshi Ram, if not for herself N. Chandrababu Naidu may find it convenient to rekindle Telugu gaurav by demanding that N. T. Rama Rao be made Bharat Ratna. The Janata Dal (S) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam cannot be faulted if they consider H. D. Deva Gowda and M. Karunanidhi deserving candidates for the same honour.

A public campaign of the kind Advani has launched can only devalue the prestige associated with the Bharat Ratna award.

There are already several instances of the award being conferred on political considerations. K. Kamaraj and M. G. Ramachandran were honoured immediately after their death, evidently in the hope that it will yield political dividends to the party ruling at the Centre. Such considerations probably played a part also in the conferment of the honour on B. R. Ambedkar decades after his demise. Assamese leader Gopinath Bardoloi, who died in 1950, was given the Bharat Ratna in 1999.



10 January, 2008

Three perspectives on US presidential election

New American Media has three interesting pieces on the US presidential election. One discusses the likely impact of mcCain's New Hampshire victory on Latini voter, another the extent to which youth votes influenced the New Hampshire outcome and the third warns against writing off the Republicans too early.

Here are the links:

McCain Win Puts Latino Vote Back In Play New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Jan 09, 2008
As a GOP candidate whose name has been closely tied to immigration reform in the past two years, Arizona Senator John McCain could have a chance of swaying the ever-fluid Latino vote away from the Democrats. More »

Youth Alone Can’t Take It New America Media, Commentary, Russell Morse, Jan 09, 2008
The results of the New Hampshire primary proved that the 2008 presidential election can't be pegged on the youth vote, or "hope and change," or Christian evangelicals -- and that's what makes it so exciting. More »

Don’t Dismiss Republicans Too Quickly New America Media, News Analysis, Earl Ofari Hutchinson , Jan 09, 2008
While New Hampshire shows that the Democrats' race for a candidate is still largely undecided, a look at the past few elections informs us not to dismiss the Republicans. More »

Articles on economic developments

The oil price boom and signs of recession in the United States are matters of great import to people everywhere. Here are a few pieces with a bearing on the economy circulated by countercurrents.org.

Has Recession Arrived In USA?
By BBC
http://www.countercurrents.org/bbc090108.htm

No Jobs For The New Economy Or The Old
By Paul Craig
http://www.countercurrents.org/roberts090108.htm

The Price Per Barrel Is $100!
By Dr Marwan Asmar
http://www.countercurrents.org/asmar090108.htm

The $100 Barrel Of Oil vs. The Global War On Terror
By Tom Engelhardt
http://www.countercurrents.org/engelhardt090108.htm

China: Slipping On High Oil Prices
By Antoneta Bezlova
http://www.countercurrents.org/bezlova090108.htm

09 January, 2008

What to expect from an Obama White House

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson , Posted: Jan 08, 2008

Editor's Note: For all his hope and change rhetoric, a closer look at Obama's voting record in the Illinois legislature and his history of deal-making with Republicans gives a closer look to what he'll really be like as President. Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is "The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House" (Middle Passage Press, February, 2007).

President Barack Obama will be the most scrutinized president since Abraham Lincoln. Ironically, the reason for this has less to do with race, though that will loom large in the lens of many, as it has to do with him. He’s lifted public passions and expectations to the clouds with his soaring rhetoric about hope and change; the man who can repair the shambles of Bush’s domestic and foreign policies.That’s quite a cross for a Senator barely two years into his first term, with a wafer-thin voting record, little experience with foreign policy matters, and whose still fuzzy -- or to put it more charitably -- with a still work-in-progress program on affordable health care, education, criminal justice system reform, tax policy, and the housing crisis.

A man who needs to pound consistency into his pronouncements that at times seem at odds with the other pronouncements he’s made on winding down the Iraq war and the terrorism fight.The jury is still way out on just how many of those inflated expectations that he can fulfill.

But there are glaring clues as to how much change he can or will even try to make. One is his record in the Illinois state legislature. At first glance, his votes and views during his days in the Illinois Senate on taxes, abortion, civil liberties, civil rights, law enforcement and on capital punishment give much comfort to those who crave for him to make the change he hints at.

His stance on tax hikes marked him with some business and taxpayer interest groups as another tax and spend Democrat, and his views on social issues, marked him as an unabashed liberal. He’s anything but that, and that’s another clue as to what to expect from an Obama White House.

He’s a centrist Democrat who is fast replacing the Clintons with the Democratic Party’s shot callers as the consummate party insider; their new go to guy. Corporate donors, Hollywood moguls -- and through the back door -- fat cat lobbyists have dumped millions into his campaign. They don’t shower money, favors, and promotional praise on a candidate unless they are comfortable that the candidate will not stray too far off the beaten political path and abandon the moderate, respectable approach to policy making.

In the White House, Obama will move cautiously and do everything he can to ensure that the tag “liberal” won’t be slapped on him. The majority of Congressional Democrats and Republicans are centrist to conservative to even ultra-conservative. They would instantly draw their line in the sand against him if he makes a quick push for big tax hikes for education and health care or a push for a quick withdrawal from Iraq, which Obama does not favor.He will do everything he can to escape the fate that befell Bill Clinton the instant he touched a toe in the White House.

Republicans waged a gutter-wallowing personal and political stealth, and at times, open war against him and his policies, and Clinton made no pretense of being a liberal Democrat. Their attack arsenal included everything from personal slander to stonewalling his judicial appointments and his stab at health care reform. That forced Clinton to tip toe even further to the right on the death penalty, beefing up police power, gay rights, welfare reform, and reining in bloated military spending, while assuring that the Democratic Party would not pander to minorities and the poor.

Obama’s pro choice and abortion rights defense in the Illinois legislature earned him a perfect rating from the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council. And he was a major backer of legislation limiting police interrogations and requiring police to keep racial stats on unwarranted traffic stops, and he supported strict gun control. These are three hyper sensitive issues for conservatives.

If Obama puts White House muscle into big reform fights on these issues, he will draw instant fire from right to life groups nationally, police unions, and the NRA.It’s not likely he’ll risk that, it’s not his style anyway. He got high marks from Illinois Senate Republicans precisely for his willingness to horse trade, deal make, and compromise on the touchiest of issues for conservatives. They praised him as a flexible politician and consensus builder who listened to the views of his Republican opponents.American politics demands that, especially of moderate Democrats.

With Obama, corporations and lobbyists will be even more hawklike in guarding the legislative door to protect their interests, conservatives will tighter their perennial gate keeping against any effort to push abortion rights, and the defense industry will be even more vigilant against any effort at deep military slashes.Any president that bucks these dominant special interests risks being branded anti-police, anti-business, pro-abortion, pro-labor, pro-gun control, and a dreaded tax and spend liberal Democrat. That fear more often than not translates into even the best intentioned president caving in when the battle is on for crucial political and social reforms. That will include even one who has made hope and change his ticket to the White House.

07 January, 2008

Riots in Orissa: investigators say violence was preplanned

by Angana Chatterji
07 January, 2008 The Asian Age

December 25 2007: Seven churches, Catholic, Protestant, Pentacostal, Independent ... burned in Barakhama village, Kandhamal district, central Orissa.

December 23, 2007: Hindutva (Hindu supremacist ideology) affiliated Adivasi (tribal) organisations organised a march, rallying, "Stop Christianity. Kill Christians." A Dalit (formerly "untouchable" groups) Christian leader testified, "We went to the local police and informed them of the situation. They assured us that things would be under control.

On December 24, in the daytime, we heard voices of Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shiv Sena people, chanting, ‘Hindu, Hindu, Bhai, Bhai’; ‘RSS Zindabad’; ‘Lakshmanananda Zindabad.’ They shut down shops. That night they felled trees to block roads, severed power and phone lines. On the 25th, we went to the inspector-in-charge of police again. On the 25th, at 2.30, about 200 of us sat down to Christmas prayer at our church, and around 4 p.m. we heard the mob approach."

The mob, about 4,000 persons, many bearing symbolic tilaks (religious mark on forehead), belonged to various Sangh Parivar (Hindu nationalist, militant) groups, named above, inciting local Hindus into rioting. Estimates state 20 per cent of the mob comprised people from Barkahama, 80 per cent from surrounding Baliguda, Raikia, Phulbani, as far away as Beherampur. "They broke the door to our church. We ran. We fell and kept running." Women and men were intimidated and assaulted. Cries rent the air. "Christians must become Hindu or die. Kill them. Kill them. Kill them. Gita not Bible. Destroy their faith."

The crowd carried rods, trishuls, swords. They used guns, a first in Orissa. Predominantly middle class caste Hindus participated in looting, destroying and torching property. Handmade bombs started the fires. Breakage was systematic. Women and men hid for days in forests, later seeking shelter in Baliguda town relief camp, returning to decimated Barakhama on January 2. Engulfed in soot and sorrow, people attempted to function amid charred remnants. A woman said, "Everything burns down and we are left with nothing. How little our lives are made (of).
How alone we are, so far away from everything."

In Baliguda, in one church, furniture was dragged out, lit into a grotesque sculpture. The private violated in public, made spectacle. A Catholic church burnt, opposite the street the fire station witnessed the incident, but did not intervene. A cow, dragged from a shed, set afire, was beaten to death, identified as "Christian."

Targeted: Bammunigaon, Bodagan, Daringbari, Goborkutty, Jhinjirguda, Kamapada, Kulpakia, Mandipanka, Nuagaon, Phulbani, Pobingia, Sindrigaon, Ulipadaro villages. Convents, presbytery, hostels, a minor seminary, vocational training centre. Organisational offices, as that of World Vision. Two churches in Chakapad. Christian religious services were not permitted in Phulbani. A Hindutva mob surrounded Tikabali police station, two jeeps were torched.

Independent investigators charge that the violence was planned, that the police had prior knowledge of Hindutva groups’ intent to riot. The pertinent district collector and superintendent of police have been transferred, not discharged. A Judicial Review Commission (JRC) chaired by a former (not sitting) judge has been appointed by the government of Orissa to investigate the riots. Its power or legitimacy is in question. The Central government did not appoint an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation, even as it is apparent that the very administration that failed to contain the riots and delayed deploying adequate forces, and whose officials at the district level may have been involved in its execution, cannot administer justice.

Hindutva activists have lobbied the JRC to organise its terms of reference premised on the claim that an attack on Lakshmanananda Saraswati, a Hindu proselytiser, by Christians in Bammunigaon started the riots. This timeline is falsified. Sources state Hindutva groups planned Christmas day strikes, organised vandalism of Christmas symbols, and incited rioting. Christians in one area responded with reciprocal, not proportionate, violence. Dominant rationale reduces this to majority vs minority communalism. Rather than focus on systematic targeting of Christians, their overwhelmingly peaceful submission to Hindutva’s violence, and vast structural injustices and differences in relations of power between majority and minority, the scrutiny appears to be focused on the failure of all Christian groups to simply submit to dominance.

The Kandhamal riots were not unexpected. Saraswati has been overseeing Hinduisation there since 1969. Adivasis, Dalits, Christians, Muslims are targeted through social and economic boycotts, forced conversions to Hinduism, and other violences. The Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960, deployed against Muslims; Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967, against Christians. In 1999, Mayurbhanj Catholic priest Arul Das was murdered, followed by destruction of Kandhamal churches. In 2004, Raikia Catholic Church was vandalised, eight Christian homes burnt. In 2005, converting 200 Adivasi Christians to Hinduism in Malkangiri, Saraswati stated, "How will we ... make India a completely Hindu country? This is our aim and this is what we want to do." In 2006, celebrating RSS architect Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar’s centenary, presided by Saraswati, seven yagnas (sacrifices) were held, culminating at Chakapad in Kandhamal, attended by 30,000 Adivasis. Between July-December 2007, Hindutva rallies across Kandhamal raised anti-Christian sentiments.

Hindutva leaders rumour, "Phulbani-Kandhamal is a most important Christian area in Orissa with rampant and forced conversions." The Christian population in Kandhamal district is 117,950, Hindus number 527,757. Sangh leaders claim, "By VHP data there are 927 churches in Phulbani district built on illegally taken land." Church leaders respond there are 521 churches. Orissa Christians number 897,861, 2.4 percent of the state’s population. Constitutionally authorised, the Hindu Right inflates conversions to Christianity. This circulates in retaliatory capacity even among progressive communities, who fixate on conversions as contributing to the communalisation of society, debilitating to the majority status of Hindus. Muslims are seen as "infiltrating" from Bangladesh, looting livelihood opportunities, dislocating the "Oriya/Indian nation," non-Hinduised Adivasis and Dalits as "unruly."

Hindutva legitimates violence as patriotic response. The Sangh uses local militarism (Kandhamal) as consort to state controlled militarization (Kashipur, Kalinganagar). Hindu cultural dominance organises Hindu nationalism. Orissa amalgamated as a Hindu state between 1866-1936. The absence of structural reforms and assertion of Hindu elites define post-colonial governance. The Sangh has proliferated into 10,000-14,000 villages, operating 35-40 major organisations, with a massive base of a few million. A Balasore district Shiv Sena unit formed the first Hindu "suicide squad." The Hindu nationalist BJP-BJD coalition yields power. The Hindu Suraksha Samiti organises against Muslims. Revolting slogans, "Mussalman ka ek hi sthan, Pakistan ya kabristan (For Muslims there is one place, Pakistan or the grave)," perforate neighbourhoods.

In Kandhamal, Hindu militant groups, neighbours, police, chief minister, Central government acted with egregious impunity. People remain missing, death counts inaccurate. The police refuses Christians seeking to file first information reports. The Baliguda relief camp is skeletal. Despite continuing tensions, police presence has abated. Confidence building steps are absent. Relief, compensation, reparation are incommensurate with the extent of social, psychological, and economic losses of communities. Political parties, focused on politicking the issue, fail to respond to immediate and long-term needs of people.

Angana Chatterji is associate professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at California Institute of Integral Studies.

06 January, 2008

American democracy uses fascist methods against critics

Cold War-era files declassified last week reveal that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover repeatedly advised President Harry Truman to arrest "all individuals potentially dangerous" to national security, jail them in military prisons and try them before kangaroo tribunals that "will not be bound by the rules of evidence."

This prompts Ted Rall, author of the book "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?," to make this observation: "In a country whose legal framework authorizes the government to kidnap, torture and murder them, opponents of U.S. policy must decide whether getting out of line--anything from a letter to the editor to direct action--is worth the risk of getting kidnapped, tortured and murdered."

Ted Rall's essay "An Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove" is at countercurrents.org

05 January, 2008

Asian Americans and the US presidential poll

South Asian American volunteers played an active and important role in canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts that led to Senator Barack Obama's (D-IL) decisive and historic victory in last night's Democratic presidential caucus in Iowa, according to South Asians for Obama.

The record turnout of over 230,000 people in the Democratic caucus included many first-time caucus-goers from the South Asian American community, SAO said in a release.

The text of the release is available at http://www.sajaforum.org/2008/01/prez-race-iowa.html

It is, of course, not as if all South Asians are behind any one candidate. They are dvided between Demorats and Republicans. And they have their favourites among the contenders in the rival parties.

Here are the links to the groups backing the Democratic Party aspirants:
South Asians for Hillary
South Asians For Obama
Asian Americans for John Edwards

The South Asian Journalists Forum is keeping track of developments, keeping in view the South Asian interest. Visit http://www.sajaforum.org/2008race.html

03 January, 2008

Solidarity and Equality: Something to Believe in

By Gaither Stewart
03 January, 2008 Countercurrents.org

Social solidarity is contradicted by the class structure of society. The idea of solidarity is annihilated by the existence of war. It is inconceivable that a war government can lay claim to principles of social solidarity.

“When it is authentic believing is uncertain like existence.”(Nicola Chiaromonte, Credere E Non Credere)

Solidarity is the fundamental link that unites human beings. In every time and every place. A tsunami strikes Asia, and other humans rally to help. A hurricane hits the Gulf peoples, and solidary nations rush to their aid. The instinct for solidarity is in the nature of the human race. Solidarity departs from the concept that all men are brothers, of a common origin. On the most basic level solidarity is the sense of participation in the difficulties and bad luck of others.

On a political and social level, solidarity expresses the concordance of many in aspirations to help each other. Solidarity is a fundamental word among progressives that differentiates them from the Right. In a world intent on economic and scientific progress at the cost of a widening gap between rich and poor, the survival of the human instinct for solidarity has never been more essential. In this respect, solidarity is not an abstract ideal. That four-fifths of the world consists of have-nots is a fact.

Therefore solidarity is a cornerstone of moral conduct. It reflects a desire to be a good man. Solidarism is an ethical-social doctrine founded on the principle that the human being, though remaining an individual, realizes himself in a natural society—for example of family and nation and today of the universe—whose members are linked by solidarity. Solidarism also claims a historic-judicial base in that each human benefits from the patrimony handed down to him by past generations; he is indebted to the past and should compensate by helping his contemporaries.

Yet, after these definitions, we recognize that in practice social solidarity is contradicted by the class structure of society and its resulting conflicts. Above all, as anyone can see today, the idea of solidarity is annihilated by the existence of war. It’s inconceivable that a war government can lay claim to principles of social solidarity.

WHY SPEAK OF SOLIDARITY?

Industrial society has made a fetish—no! not simply a fetish, but a god—of scientific progress. Political elections show that the most successful political movements are those that best promote the vague concept of economic progress. Yet the very nature of progress is elusive. Though in theory progress guarantees happiness for the greatest number of people, it is contradictory because it ignores what is best for the neglected minority that needs more solidarity.

Anyway, we don’t know exactly what happiness is or even how to measure it. Perhaps it means only a state free of suffering, or of not suffering too much. Something close to well-being! On the other hand it is disputable that that kind of happiness is the ultimate aim of human life at all. It is worth remembering that Protestant culture started with Martin Luther who rejected the whole idea of happiness, pronouncing his gloomy theology and Weltanschauung of ‘leiden, leiden, Kreuz, Kreuz’ which means suffering and the cross.

Once ruling classes found it advantageous to keep the working class on the verge of starvation to keep them obedient. Today they know it is better to give them enough to make them complacent— in industrialized societies, a house, a car and a TV set—while ignoring the poverty of the rest. The god-Progress promises us the maximum happiness by changing the material conditions of life.

Yet it has an undesirable collateral effect: it infects the mind with an expensive disease called no-think. As a result the individual doesn’t know if he is happy or not. That is the reason political leaders devote so much effort to assuring their people that they are well off. And that is why we need agitators: to tell people they are not happy. That it’s stupid to be happy in their situation. For the truth is most people just exist. If you don’t resist and rebel it means you are blind. For anyone would admit that it’s stupid to be content with a life of a house, a car and a TV set.

That is to say that the price of progress is high for the individual. Moreover—and something to consider—progress at any cost is not consonant with democracy. The greater the impulse toward material progress, the less space remains for solidarity, the less for democracy, and, in the extreme, the nearer totalitarianism.

The paradox is that the god-Progress is the only acceptable universal god that allows people to continue to act loyal to their traditional gods, obliged “to want to believe.” Let the old God remain, build altars to Him, worship Him at the rites on traditional days, recite prayers to the heavens, include Him in the Constitution, name Him in the classrooms and in speeches to the nation, even go to war for Him. But everyday worship and veneration and recognition are reserved for the pragmatic undemocratic god of Progress.Philosophers tell us that our era is not an era of faith. That it’s rather an era of bad-faith. One reason is that the god-Progress has little room for real values like solidarity. That means that ours is an era of beliefs maintained by force, in want of real ones. “Flag” and “our values” and “our way of life” cannot be enough.

In democratic societies diverse and tolerated opinion and interest groups coexist. Though in opposition one to the other, the interest groups are marked by multiple convergences. Let’s say as in the Democratic and Republican parties in the USA—though there are prevailing tendencies in each party, each contains a bit of everything so that once in power they are more convergent than divergent.

Therefore extremists inside modern societies like to speak of the mediocrity of democracy. Weaklings! Sissies! No guts to take a stand! Democratic mediocrity, they call it. Away with the mediocracy! For example, National Health Care and welfare is the stuff of sissies who can’t make their way. The real success story, they preach, is the man capable of lifting himself by his own bootstraps.

Yet solidarity concerns every human being. Social solidarity and justice go hand in hand—charity-solidarity and a sense of justice united against social injustice. Justice is the application of charity-solidarity. And justice has true moral value only if executed for the benefit of the poor and oppressed.

There can be no justice without solidarity. In this sense slogans like “America first” is not only unjust; it is immoral.

Solidarity is morality at work. It is a truism that the more powerful a person is, the less he needs from others and as a corollary the weaker is his morality. If you are powerful enough you can do without morality, like the rich man who can permit himself the luxury of not carrying money in his pockets and acting as if he were poor while wallowing in wealth. That is the way of the world.

LEFT AND RIGHT

At play here are some of the basic values that separate Left and Right forever. As said above, alliances occur in society, groups and movements merge, sometimes for tactical reasons, sometimes for strategic reasons. Some theorists, usually reactionaries, claim that ideologies are dead which means the disappearance of humanistic aspirations. I disagree. I agree with Harvard Professor Michael Walzer that such talk would mean “closing down of the possibilities for public intellectual and emotional commitment.” A premature announcement, he writes, “that lingers in our minds as disturbing predictions.”

I think we should be clear on one thing: Left and Right can never be the same. Many factors distinguish Left and Right: opposing positions regarding the roles of religion, traditions, race, family, nation, freedom, democracy, peace and war. The most frequent criterion to distinguish one from the other is the position on the ideal of equality. Equality concerns an enormous number of aspects of life: race, class, education, work, opportunities, suffrage. When we speak of equality, certain questions must be answered: Equality for whom? Equality in what? Equality based on what criterion?

Egalitarians favor in general whatever makes men more equal. That is, helping the weak. That is, solidarity. That is, if necessary, welfare and charity.

Since man is man and not God and although each is aware of himself as one among six billion others, he is also aware that because of his mortality he is in the end alone in the universe. Because of his solitude you might expect that his natural inclination would be toward solidarity. But that’s not the case. His consciousness of himself as an individual has made him also the cruelest of all beings. When that side of man predominates, he rejects solidarity, detests other men and, in his folly, tries to raise himself above others.

SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN

Here we might pose the underrated question: What do we really believe in? Actually no one has an acceptable answer to the basic question of how to live and what to do for one’s salvation. It’s easy to claim to believe in things in which we no longer really believe but continue to believe we believe. For many it’s not that only-on-Sunday God. Each individual must seek his own belief, in the realization that he will never know for sure in what he believes, or to what degree.

“Authentic belief,” as the Italian essayist Nicola Chiaromonte wrote in To Believe and Not to Believe, “is uncertain like existence, and like existence it is already present before one is even aware of it. Explicit beliefs instead concern generally a fictitious world in which real and authentic beliefs are confused with those maintained in form as articles of faith, or perhaps as fanaticism, but are no longer alive. Therefore it is easier to say in what one does not believe than to formulate what one truly believes. And this is also the reason that one who sees and denounces the falseness concealed behind official professions of faith can be so easily accused of not believing in anything.”

In a time when authentic belief has declined, the ideal of Equality is, I suggest, worth consideration. Cynics scoff at the idea of the equality of human beings. I don’t know if a majority agrees with that view but certainly many are content to let Equality lie quietly and undisturbed in the Constitution. The difficulty of achieving redistributive political policies for the defense of the unprotected is confirmation of the low esteem for equality.Egalitarian policies are those that at least tend to remove obstacles that make men less equal. That characteristic distinguishes the political Left from the Right: the Left aims at greater equality; the Right at less. (I can’t consider these old terms outdated! On the contrary.) This can be deduced from the survival of the utopian theme of the removal of what has been considered the chief obstacle to equality since ancient Greece: private property. It’s easy to conclude that the world is what it is and that we have to live in it as best we can. But I believe we can imagine it better than it is. Since 1968 youth movements of the world have marched under the slogan that a different world is possible. And what’s wrong with the idea of Utopia as a guide? As Oscar Wilde wrote, “a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at ….” Otherwise we might as well accept that we are what we were destined to be, to do the miserable things we do, and that our lives as they are, are a necessary part of the order of things.

Gaither Stewart left journalism four years ago in order to write fiction full-time. Originally from Asheville, North Carolina, he has lived most of his life in Europe, chiefly in Germany and Italy. For many years he was the Italian correspondent of the Rotterdam daily newspaper, ALGEMEEN DAGBLAD. His has been a varied life: from university studies in Slavistics and political science in the United States and Germany, to intelligence officer in Europe, to correspondent for European and American radios, to public relations for Italian corporations, to full correspondent for a major European newspaper. His journalistic stories have appeared in the press of West and East Europe. During the last two years his fiction has appeared in a number of English language literary publications.
Today he lives in the hills of north Rome with his wife, Milena.