Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gorby the Traitor and Battles in a Communist Wonderland

Achuthanandan calls Gorbachev a traitor, cautions against local Gorbys lurking around: news

I LIKE Gorby. He was the last general secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU), and today neither the party nor the country exists on the face of mother earth.

In a way, Mikhail Gorbachev was a very unfortunate man. He was catapulted to the helm of a relic of party and a country that was terminally ill, and still he made heroic efforts to keep it going and even revitalise it. I have heard Jesus made Lazarus, the dead man, rise but inGorby's case he had no such miraculous powers and as a Communist with no belief in God, perhaps he had no illusions he could bring back the dead to life once again.

But the historic days in late eighties and early nineties are still fresh in my memory because along with Soviet Union, what was crashing down had been our own childhood hopes and illusions. We thought socialism was almost round the corner, that a world where no exploitation, class distinctions would become possible.

And what a socialism they had built up? When Gorby came to power after the death of a number of derelict old men who succeeded Brezhnev, he appears to have been nursing hopes that through his steps like glasnost and perestroika, he could still save the day. That was not to be, and looking back it was good the collapse came then as otherwise, the world would have been subjected to much more deadly and catastrophic experiences with a slow and even violent departure of a system that was dead in in its body and soul. With the collapse of all those countries, we had fewer tyrants left in the world.

So I was saying Gorby's fate was not his own making. It was kind of destiny that he was placed in the general secretary's post at the time of death and collapse. Perhaps we need to write the history of these times with a sense of detachment, with a balanced and historical perspective that time and distance will only provide us.

Yesterday, when I saw our own last of the Communist race in Kerala, comrade V S Achuthanandan, speak about Gorby the traitor I was thinking about this period and its lasting impressions. For us, who were young then, those experiences gave us a new world view, the need to think out of box, to face the uncertainties with no illusions and I think our generation was much less romantic about the empty slogans, frankly.

But those of Achuthanandan's generation seem to still live in the world of magical realism, which was not to be. He spoke yesterday about Gorby the traitor who drained even a country like Soviet Union, which I think is an unfortunate accusation against a man put in a hopeless situation in history.

But Achuthanandan was actually shadow-boxing. He was hitting out at his own comrades, party's state and perhaps national secretaries, who had put him in a difficult spot the other day. I feel sorry for him because it is possible his words could prove to be prophetic. ComradesPrakash Karat and Pinarayi Vijayan could be holding positions in a different communist party in times which remind us of that of Gorbry in 1991.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Budgets as Literary Pieces: Creative Imagination in an Accountant's Profession

Kerala Finance Minister Dr Thomas Isaac invokes Thakazhi's novel, Kayar, in his new budget speech: news

They call it Mararikkulam rope trick...!

I AM not sure how effective are the budgets presented by Dr Thomas Isaac, our present finance minister, in promoting the economy of Kerala. And for that matter, any budget presented by any finance minister. For me, it appears the economy goes on its own way, the people find their own ways to survive, whether there is a budget or not. Frankly, the less meddling from the government, the better for the people and economy.

But in Dr Issac's case, at least he could lay claim to be a very effective literary agent. In his last budget he put his hands on Vaikom Muhammed Basheer's Pathummayude Aadu, to conclude his speech where he said like Pathumma with scarce resources managing her household, it was his duty to provide whatever little he had for all people who clamoured for his attention.

This time, he started his speech with a reference to the novel, Kayar of Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, which gives us a wonderful picture of the class divisions emerging in Kuttanadu, and how the place changed over a period of time. Kayar has not only history, but it has an economy too, Dr Isaac discovers this time and he effectively uses the images in the novel to describe a crisis hit economy and society trying to come to grips and asserts the need for search for a new approach to move ahead, to make the difficulties into an opportunity for change.

That was a masterful interpretation of a piece of a literature to describe the present day Kerala society. Now who says the budgets are simply a sheet of accounting and calculations with some receipts and a lot of expenditures? I think we should read the budget speeches for their literary merit, as documents of creative imagination, even if we might not find anything worthwhile in them from an accountant's point of view.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Talk with Sultan Ebrahim Rasool: ANC leader from South Africa

SULTAN EBRAHIM Rasool is a middle-aged, mild mannered person from South Africa. An influential leader of the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party in South Africa, he is also an advisor to the president of the Republic of South Africa.

Ebrahim Rasool was in Kozhikode this week, as the chief guest at the public rally at the national political conference of the Popular Front of India on Sunday. On his return to the airport on Monday evening, he spent some time with us at Thejas, chatting with the senior editorial staff on various things related to South Africa and indeed the world.

Enjoying cashew nuts and fresh coconut water that we offered him, he breezily talked about the experiences of national reconciliation in South Africa, where they had a tough time burying the ghosts from the apartheid past. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission did a very important work, giving amnesty to those who confessed their crimes, heinous crimes committed with impunity in the apartheid days.

He said it was a great healing experience, a process of seeking and giving pardon that helped the new nation to come to grips with other more pressing problems that it faced. And in a post-apartheid phase, they did have a tremendous lot of such work to do as it was a country totally and completely divided and segregated into separate and mutually exclusive and even antagonistic areas that were the prerogative of whites, blacks, coloured people, etc, living in water-tight compartments.

"It is not like the caste system in India, where in each village you have people belonging to different castes though there is segregation," he said pointing out that in South Africa things were quite different. In apartheid, each community had been living in separate areas which had no contact with other. They were different nations, which needed to be integrated into a common South African nation. It is a process which would take a long time and it is now slowly moving ahead, he said.

He said in apartheid, even the churches and places of worship were segregated. For blacks and whites belonging to the same faith, there were different churches, except in the case of Muslims. Muslim community defied this racist segregation and remained together opening its mosques to all people, whether they be white, black or people of any other race.

And it was not an easy task. He remembered his experiences in the seventies when he was very young: The Government decided to occupy the areas where they were living, mostly Muslim families. Most of his family shifted out as also others and the bulldozers came o raze down the structures. But then the community gave a call that if the government touched upon their mosques, which are wakf and hence sacred, then the members of the community would march in defend them and seek martyrdom allowing themselves to be buried alive along with their mosques.

“You know the government could not touch even one mosque and now you can see vast areas where houses are destroyed but the mosques still remain there,” he said.

He also said that is why in spite of their small numerical strength, as the Muslims are just three percent of the population, they are a highly respected community in south Africa.

He spoke about the problems his part of the world is facing, especially about the land question and the crisis in Zimbabwe. He said if Zimbabwe fails to reconcile its internal difficulties, it would pose serious difficulties to all its neighbours, especially South Africa. If a civil war erupts, then South African borders would be full of refugees and it would be a humanitarian crisis which would prove to be really Herculean. Already the Zimbabwean economy is in doldrums with its agriculture in a shambles, with nothing by way of industries to support people and inflation rates sky-rocketing.

Hence the South African efforts to bring a rapprochement between the two major power groups led by Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsavangiri in Zimbabwe and he said these efforts did pay off, and they are hopeful the peace would hold.

Laughing Gas

Defence gets a massive hike in budget allocations in the Indian interim budget: news

War on hunger? No, we have other ideas...!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

In Search of Media Alternatives: An Address to a National Seminar

Here is my address at the national seminar on media alternatives, organised in Kozhikode on Sunday, Februray 15, as part of the first national political conference of the Popular Front of India:

I AM really honoured by this invitation to address the national seminar on media alternatives, because I think it is time for us to think about alternatives instead of continuing to harp on the media terrorism being practised on the people of this country by our mainstream media.

When I say that it is useless to keep complaining about the media’s step-motherly attitude and its partisan positions, blatant lies and prejudices when it comes to matters relating to the Indian minorities, dalits and other subaltern sections in our society, I do not mean that it is a meaningless exercise. The criticism is valid and it is very important too, and it is also possible that such criticism carried on for long, with consistency and objectivity, could bring some results and some soul-searching on the part of the practitioners of our mainstream media. In fact, the secular-minded media practitioners in India did play a major role in exposing the massive and heinous crimes committed on the people of India by the right-wing Hindutva forces or the trigger happy police or violent troops whether it be in the Gujarat genocide, the killings in Kashmir or the murderous spree on Christians and other minorities in places like Orissa and Karnataka or the inhuman assaults on the tribal populations in various parts of north, central and south India.

But such efforts, howsoever much sincere or important they may be, can have only a cosmetic effect. Such media expose's that come once in a while, like a manna dropping from heaven, like a sudden rain in a desert land of scorching sun, can provide only a temporary relief. It could even prove to be, as Marx had said in a different context, the opium for the masses actually preventing them from taking definite steps for real and tangible remedial measures. In fact the mainstream capitalist media is adept at making such occasions of grave public anger, mass frustration and terrible experiences of injustice, flagrant violations of human rights, etc, into a public relations exercise, painting itself as the real custodian of human rights, minority rights, and the real watchdog of a genuine people's democracy, while in fact what they are doing is to keep thousands of such incidents under the carpet, going to town with all fanfare focusing only on one or two incidents that actually serve their own purpose.

Hence it is very important for us to remember that we cannot rely on the mainstream, commercial media to find a solution to the problems we, the majority of Indian people, are facing in our lives today. What we have in India is an urban-centric, middle class controlled, elitist media which cannot ignore its class interests. In the age of globalization and global media market, we must also realize that the problems go much deeper: Our media is solely dependent on the massive resources pumped in by the global market forces, and their ideology and politics is dictated by the global capitalist and imperialist forces who are the real forces who keep us down, who are denying us our democratic space, who are using the tactics of shock and owe to browbeat us and our brothers and sisters in every part of the world. The mainstream politics is now part and parcel of this global political evangelical force, who are keen to export democracy to pagan lands and willing to recruit our leaders into their global campaign as foot-soldiers with strategic alliances like the recent Indo-American nuclear deal which made some of our leaders very happy, made them feel very important… This is an imperialist stranglehold that envelops the entire world, and the struggle for liberation today is a global struggle because in a world of global finance capital and global communication and media networks, we cannot hope to fight alone, we cannot hope to liberate ourselves without joining forces with our brothers and sisters fighting elsewhere.

Let us now examine what has happened to our own media in the past decade or so, when it joined as a junior partner of this global forces of finance capital. We have seen a new kind of media alliances, with major western media organizations taking the leading role in running our own national media networks. We have today such groups in television like the CNN-IBN, the CNBC-TV18, Times Now, etc, which are highly influential and massive news organizations which are directly linked to such western media groups like the CNN, CNBC or Reuters with financial and editorial control. Our Government is now more and more willing to water down the strict rules with regard to media ownership and control, abandoning the idea that the media should serve our national interests.

The recent Mumbai terror attacks proved how seriously destructive and pernicious could be the consequences of such foreign controlled journalism, with irresponsible and jingoistic people running our news organizations. There has been a big public outcry about the way some of these channels covered the incidents and at least one major TV channel was demanding an immediate military attack on our neighbouring country, Pakistan, declaring it was that country and its leadership who were responsible for the attack. One channel even declared that Enough is Enough, and reminded the country about the Israeli forces pounding the poor people of Gaza as a model for retaliatory action! We should remember with great concern that in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, the country had been taken almost to the brink of a military encounter with Pakistan simply because of this irresponsible 24-hour journalism and the jingoistic nationalism that was the staple feed of these poison pills of mass communications.

It is also to be remembered that those who run such massive media organizations have lost all their contact with the people of India. Some of these people used to be the finest journalists this country has seen in the post-Independence days, but today we should know that they are nothing but the stooges of a global finance capital, doing whatever the interests of their masters dictate, because it is their purse-strings that control them.

I am not making a false allegation against anyone here. Just look at the exorbitant salaries that many of those top persons in Indian mainstream media enjoy today: They even run into crores of rupees and how could an independent media group, with limited resources, pay such stratospheric salaries to these people? Where does the money come from? They do not generate even a fraction of this money, but they are bank-rolled by global forces, forces inimical to us, forces that would want this country weak and divided, forces that are at the centre of a neo-colonial aggression.

Hence the need for a search for effective and meaningful alternatives in media. We need to work hard for alternatives because this is the need of the hour, this is essential for the protection of the freedom of this country, for the preservation of the unity of the people of our motherland, to prevent this country falling into the trap of the imperialist global strategy with the help of an all powerful and all-too-willing mainstream media.

However, it is easy to speak about media alternatives, but when we approach it from a practical point of view things get really tough. We do have many models today, from the celebrated Al Jazeera which gives a counter point to the western media, to London's Independent, which emerged out of the efforts of a group of conscientious media-persons in Fleet Street who resisted the Murdochisation of the mainstream English media. Here in India, we do have many such models, the most important being Tehelka, which came out of the resistance put up by sensible sections of our middle class people who opposed the bulldozing of the organization by the right-wing Hindutva politicians who ruled this country.

But we need to think hard and deep about it. Is it possible for us to develop alternative media organizations simply on the goodwill of some well-meaning people? Can such organizations be truly independent, because afterall they do depend on charity? I do feel such organizations can only be ephemeral, they may be useful but in the final analysis they would wither away under pressure, because they are really establishments with clay feet.

Hence the need to explore whether we can find a model which can ensure true independence, truly dedicated to the people, developed with resources and intellectual capital of the most organic variety, that will withstand and fight on, come what may.

Let me, with great humility, say that in Kerala we have been able to build a daily newspaper with genuine public participation, with its roots deep among the people it serves and represents.

In the past three years our daily, Thejas, has emerged as a powerful newspaper which commands respect and credibility among its readers and the general public, and opinion-makers and those who hold power do listen to us because we speak objectively and truthfully, without mincing our words even as we refuse to accept the line of sensationalism and spicing up of news and views. We know that sensationalism helps to sell and make waves, but we also know that ultimately it could prove to be our undoing.

The first thing we did, when we planned this newspaper, was to identify our strengths and weaknesses. We knew we had a mass of people who support us, who looked upto us to deliver a newspaper of their own. We also knew we had no big names, no media celebrities, none with star value with us to make us look big and glamourous in the media world. But as I said elsewhere in an article, we turned our weaknesses into our strength and our deficiencies into our core competency. We had none with professional or technical training, we had very few people who could guide us in this complex operations and it was beyond our means to hire the best and the well known. So we decided to train a batch of young people in all departments of media operations and within a few months of rigorous work, we were ready with a band of young people who could take on these tasks. We had a few people who could guide them and give them a sense of purpose and direction, but the main idea was to empower them to take upon themselves these difficult and historic tasks.

It invovled huge risks because with such an inexperienced team you could end up in deep troubles, you could commit big mistakes. But we knew eternal vigilance was the price to pay for such an adventurous course and looking back I can tell you, it paid off. Today we have a team of professionals who have won many awards in the past three years, and can match the best in the profession. What we have done in these years is to demystify media activities and make them accessible to the young boys and girls from the subaltern sections of our society who had no prior experience in these elite professions.

But Kerala remains a small part of this huge nation. Elsewhere in this country, things are bad beyond belief, and we need to seriously think of developing such models at the national level, so that our people can come together, they can dream together and perhaps they can put up a resistance against the atrocities they face every day, evey hour of their lives. For this to happen, we must give shape to their own media organizations that are genuinely independent, receive sustenance from the people, run by young men and women who are organically linked to the masses unlike those rootless gentlemen we see in our mainstream media who even as they live in India, think and feel and act like the descendants of those who once came to colonize this country.

I hope this conference will help us put our energies and resources together to build something bold, something refreshingly original that would serve the dispossessed sections of our society.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Note on My New Book on Society, Culture and Globalization

MY NEW book, a collection of essays on culture, media and the process of globalization and its impact, was released in Kozhikode this evening by poet and friend Civic Chandran.

The book is called Charithranubhavangalude Koodumattom: Aagoleekaranam, Samooham, Samskaram and it is published by Thejas Publications, Kozhikode. I am indebted to Prof P Koya, editor of Thejas, and K P Kamal, publications manager, for making this possible.

The book contains 16 essays that I wrote in several publications and journals like Samakalika Malayalam varika, Madhyamam weekly, Patabhedam and other small magazines during the period from 1997 to 2007. This is a period in which I underwent a series of transformations in my intellectual and political life, my firm conviction that the Marxist politics that I upheld from the seventies would eventually succeed in building a new, egalitarian and secular India slowly eroded and in its place the explorations for a new politics slowly emerged. I do feel these essays would provide a graphic picture of this transformation and the search for something new, something which is more deeply embedded in our social and cultural history. Perhaps it is now taking the shape of a politics based on identity and its socio-cultural and economic aspects.

But even as I think identity could be the new marker for our political associations for empowerment of the dispossesed sections, I do believe the fundamental Marxist principles of the economic base of a society and social divisions would still remain valid. What we do need is the integration of these two aspects which would held us evolve a new politics that would be truly people-oriented, and would ensure a more egalitarian and truly secular society for all of us.

I try to give a broad outline of such a society and its culture in the making and I do feel in the coming years we will see it much more clearly as the new forces now slowly emerging would become much more assertive and influential.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Pinarayi with Bow and Arrow: New Ram Avatar in Politics ?

IN POLITICS and society symbolism is very important. Symbols signify the message and the masses identify with the party, its ideology and politics through their readings of these symbols and slogans.

That is why we have hammer and sickle signifying the working class base of the Communist party, the crescent that reminds of the Islamic traditions, the crucifix that tells us of Christ and his sacrifice...

And it was Lal Krishna Advani in his Rath Yatra days who made the bow and arrow of Lord Ram into a symbol of an aggressive, exclusive and violent Hindutva which culminated in the destruction of Babri Masjid at the end of his march from Somnath to Ayodhya. Ever since the rise of aggressive Hindutva politics in India, Ram and his war-like figure had been made its principal symbol aided by the television serials in the mid-eighties that provided a cultural ambiance for such a transformation.

The BJP reaped rich harvest out of this politics of culture, winning many seats in the Hindu heartland, though in the process they did incalculable damage to the age-old image of Ram in the Indian psyche. Lord Ram was the maryada purushotham, but today he is more of a Rambo in Indian context.

The transformation of Ram into such an aggressive, violent figure in the post-Rath Yatra days is a matter of great sadness. Because Lord Ram's has been an image etched in Indian mind in a different way when Gandhiji described his ideal nation as Ram Rajya. It was unfortunate that Gandhiji decided to use religious terms that appealed only to the Hindu society to describe the Indian nation, but still it was a nation that was sober, tolerant, inclusive and receptive. Its ethos and principles were based on love and acceptance, not hatred and exclusion.

When Advani converted Lord Ram into such a figure of hatred and violence, he was negating Gandhiji and his Ram in a fundamental way. True, Gandhiji had been shot down by one of his ideological gurus half a century ago, but it was only a physical annihilation, and ever since they were preparing the ground for his spiritual elimination and the installation of the new Ram to lord over our country. With devastating results, now we know.

I started thinking about the symbolism and their meanings when I saw the picture Pinarayi Vijayan, the CPM leader in Kerala, holding an arrow and bow with a flowery headgear presented to him by his enthusiastic supporters in Kannur the other day. His New Kerala March is now on its way and before it reaches the State capital later this month we should expect more exhibitions of these symbols of a changing political party.

But I was confused about what the party supporters in Kannur wanted to convey by donning their leader with the bow and arrow, with a headgear of flowers? Was it the image of Lord Ram on his triumphant march to power, a la Lal Krishna Advani? Was it the declaration of the Rambo-like politics in store for us, which, by the way, should cause worry to all of us?

Or was it the other way? The Cupid or our beloved Kamadeva on his way to make a conquest? If indeed this was a message of the party turning a bit romantic during these times of Valentine's day when in our country cultural cops are already on the prowl, I am all for it. Let Comrade Vijayan don the mantle of Kerala Cupid.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Laughing Gas

The New Kerala March led by Pinarayi Vijayan begins its journey from Kasargode; the Kerala High Court issues notice to Pinarayi Vijayan in the SNC Lavalin corruption case: news

Comrades, march ahead for a new Kerala...!