'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
This blog is a source for intellectual exploration. It includes a list of alternative resources and a source of free books. The placement of an article does not imply that I agree with it, merely that I found it thought-provoking. There are also poems and book reviews. Texts written by me are labelled. Readers are free to re-post anything they like.
Albert Camus and the Making of a Literary Classic Alice Kaplan
Reviewed by Anu Kumar
When Albert Camus’s L’Etranger was
published in France in early 1942, no one, least of all its 29-year-old author,
could have guessed the impact the book would have, then and in the future. The
Outsider / The Stranger (Stuart Gilbert’s English
translation, published in 1946, had different titles in different countries)
wasn’t exactly a best-seller in its early years. It came to have a life of its
own, but oftentimes, there was no separating the book from its writer.
It wasn’t just how the
book came to be written, or the fact that Camus wrote it as the Second World
War broke out, but because of the aura that surrounded Camus soon after the
book’s publication. It coincided with the recognition of Camus as a key figure
of the French resistance.
The Stranger continues to have a vivid afterlife. It
became synonymous with existentialism, to Camus’s own chagrin, and it won its
author fame and notoriety in equal measure. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photos of
Camus – the most enduring one with Camus in a trench coat, looking sideways at the camera, a
cigarette dangling from his lips – were all taken between 1944 and 1945, after
the War, and after the book was published (when Camus’s favoured Gauloises were
once again available).
Intriguing in its
contradictions: The Stranger, that sparest of novels, retains its ambiguity
75 years after its publication. It’s a novel born of its times and yet
enduring. It has been analysed at various levels: for its characters and the
motives – baffling and intriguing – that drive them. What drives Meursault in
his life, and what makes him commit the act that condemns him; the disbelief on
the part of the magistrate and the chaplain, their (absurd) entreaties in the
name of religion; its unidimensional female characters, not just Marie, but
even Meursault’s dead mother; and then, the silent Arab in the novel, whose
passivity has, however, in recent times, evoked a reaction, especially a
In her book on The
Stranger, Alice Kaplan doesn’t attempt to answer every question. It
can, almost like the very book it seeks to unravel, be read in many ways. As a
biography of a book, and of its author during the time of its writing. It’s
also a primer on what makes a great classic, or what makes a writer, write a
great classic. It is also about how a book comes into being. As Kaplan
demonstrates, a classic is never created in isolation; it is propped up by its
admirers, its supporters and an entire team of adherents. Camus, in this sense
was fortunate. It was fortune, hard-earned, and richly deserved.
In mid-1940, when
Camus finally completed the manuscript in a lonely hotel room in Paris, it was
the book he just had to write. The Stranger “was a book he
found in himself, rather than writing a book about himself.” It was fiction
that was in him, Kaplan writes, waiting to be discovered.
The Stranger was not a straightforward book by any
measure. It came out of Camus’s heartbreak and disappointments, within himself,
and his own creative life. Both his lungs had already been affected by
tuberculosis, his first marriage to Simone Hie had failed, and he faced a life
without the prospect of a steady job. Camus had been published twice already, but
he was an Algerian writer and this made him somewhat “provincial”. Paris was
the scene of literary activity and recognition, but Paris seemed farther away
than ever at that time.
Despair and hope: For all this, in early
1939, Camus set out to write an oeuvre; to fashion a literary legacy for
himself. The Stranger would form the first of his writings:
part of a trilogy that included the play Caligula and the long
essay, The Myth of Sisyphus. These emerged out of Camus’s concerns
with the philosophy of the absurd – that freedom is meaningless, and doesn’t
signify anything for the universe remains essentially indifferent, his interest
in writing “negative fiction”, and his own life, growing up in a working-class
neighbourhood, Belcourt, in Algiers. Algeria was a French colony till its
independence in 1962.
Kaplan maps out the
influences on Camus – literal and personal. His childhood was largely “silent”,
and spent with his mother and uncle, both deaf, and so language was reduced to
a minimum, largely referencing objects, never abstractions. But it was
precisely this period of disappointments that gave him reason for hope. A
lifelong idol, Andre Malraux, writer, activist, spoke against the growing
threats of Fascism while on a visit to Algeria. Camus’s mentors, besides his
teacher of philosophy, Jean Grenier, also included Pascal Pia, a radical
journalist and editor. Camus went to work for Pia’s leftist newspaper, Alger-Republicain;
and this was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between them.
Camus reported and
wrote of the criminal trials he witnessed in court, a couple of which Kaplan
details, such as the trial following the murder of a conservative Islamic
theologian. The trials and the courtroom scenes gave Camus several insights
into ethnic tensions that prevailed in Algeria, and the absurdity of the
justice system; French justice only appeared to heighten the injustices of
colonialism… read more:
Earlier I published
several reports on Bálint Magyar’s theory of the mafia state. In fact, I
devoted three consecutive posts, the first
of which appeared on June 18, 2013, to his description of Orbán’s
system of government as a new kind of autocratic regime. Magyar’s analysis of
the current Hungarian political system elicited widespread attention in Hungary
as well as hundreds of comments on Hungarian Spectrum.
A few months later
(November 2013) Bálint Magyar and Júlia Vásárhelyi published an edited volume
of essays written by twenty-two scholars from different disciplines who
embrace the theoretical framework Bálint Magyar worked out in the first decade
of the century. Its title was Hungarian Octopus: The Post-Communist
Mafia State. The book became an instant bestseller.
11,000 copies were sold within a few months. It had to be reprinted four times.
I wrote a
review of it on Hungarian Spectrum. Again the review
prompted a lively discussion, some people finding Magyar’s argument compelling
while others disagreed with him. In any case, since the appearance of Hungarian
Octopus, the concept has been widely accepted by scholars as well as
by the left-leaning Hungarian public. Those who are familiar with the workings
of the Orbán regime find Magyar’s description of it a perfect fit.
The second volume of Hungarian
Octopus has just been published, and it is fascinating. In his
introduction Magyar takes into consideration some of the criticisms and
additional observations he received during discussions of the contents of the
first volume. This introductory essay is so full of information and novel observations
that I will most likely have to devote another post to it. But let’s start.
describes the key actors of the mafia state. He begins with the
economic-political actors whom Magyar calls “poligarchs” whose ranks
include several subcategories: the oligarchs, the front men (in
Hungarian stróman/ok), corruption brokers, the family guard/the secret
service, and the family privatization of databases. Let me go into some of the
Who belong to the
class of poligarchs? These are people who attained illegitimate
wealth by being members of the political family. Their political power is
known but their economic power, their wealth is hidden. They use
front men; their money is often hidden in foundations. The chief poligarch is the
Godfather–in our case, the prime minister.
Beneath the poligarchs
comes the class of oligarchs who began their careers with
legitimate business activities and who, as a result of their
economic power, acquired political might. In ordinary post-communist states
their economic activities are legal, but the way in which they acquire business
opportunities often is not. They acquire advantages over their competitors by
illegal means. They are, however, more or less autonomous actors. But in
Hungary, Magyar argues, the mafia state makes these oligarchs’ autonomy
impossible or very limited. As he puts it, “it domesticates” them. They
are partly or wholly dependent on the good will of the state.
several type of oligarchs. There are the inner circle oligarchs. They
have been close to Fidesz from the early 1990s on, and in part they have
accumulated their wealth through their political connections. Currently, they
don’t have any political roles but they belong to the small circle of people
who are able to formulate policy. A good example of this sub-type is Lajos
Simicska. Of course, any of these oligarchs can lose their positions if the
Godfather finds their activities objectionable. A couple of the original
oligarchs actually ended up in jail when they got involved in illicit
of the oligarchic class is the adopted oligarchs. These people
made their wealth during the early murky days of mass privatization, and it was
only later that they were adopted by the political family. Their connection to
politics now enhances their financial position. Examples of this type
are Gábor Széles, owner of the extreme right-wing Magyar
Hírlap and Echo TV, and László Baldauf, owner of
the CBA chain of supermarkets. These people only serve the policies of the
Family; they can’t influence them.
The next category is
the capitulated oligarchs who earlier were quite independent;
some were even associated with the other political side. Their
capitulation is due to their dependence on state orders. Since they were not
considered to be affiliated with the Family in any way, they fell on hard
times after 2010. In addition to the lack of orders, the state has all sorts of
instruments to make them surrender: the internal revenue service, prosecutor’s
office, police. A typical representative of this group is Tamás
Leisztinger, who suffered economic hardship already during the first Orbán
administration and who by now is the willing or unwilling financier of the
prime minister’s hobby, football.
Then there are the fellow
traveler oligarchs. These men were the greatest economic
beneficiaries of the first twenty-year period after the change of regime.
They were sought after by both the left and the right, and they kept an equal
distance or equal friendship with both groups. After 2006 the equilibrium
between the two political sides shifted toward Fidesz, which forced them to be
fellow travelers unless they wanted to lose their preeminent economic
positions. Sándor Csányi of OTP and Sandor Demján of Trigánit are perfect
examples of this category.
The last two
sub-categories are the autonomous and the rival
oligarchs. Their numbers are rapidly decreasing. Some of these people
are so afraid of the chief poligarch that they dare not support liberal
causes at all. Although I thought I
would be able to describe the other key actors of the mafia state today,
the story is so intriguing that I don’t want to shortchange you by not covering
the details properly. We will continue tomorrow.
“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
personal, and it is also political,” Olivia Laing wrote in The
Lonely City, one of the finest books
of the year. Half a century earlier, Hannah Arendt (October 14,
1906–December 4, 1975) examined those peculiar parallel dimensions of
loneliness as a profoundly personal anguish and an indispensable currency of
our political life in her intellectual debut, the incisive and astonishingly
timely 1951 classic The Origins of Totalitarianism (public library).
loneliness as “the common ground for terror” and explores its function as both
the chief weapon and the chief damage of oppressive political regimes. Exactly
twenty years before her piercing treatise on lying
in politics, she writes:
Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely
tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of
ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has
succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men* as
well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the
capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule
is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the
distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the
distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer
What perpetuates such
tyrannical regimes, Arendt argues, is manipulation by isolation — something
most effectively accomplished by the divisiveness of “us
vs. them” narratives. She writes:
Terror can rule absolutely only over men who
are isolated against each other… Therefore, one of the primary concerns of all
tyrannical government is to bring this isolation about. Isolation may be the
beginning of terror; it certainly is its most fertile ground; it always is its
result. This isolation is, as it were, pretotalitarian; its hallmark is
impotence insofar as power always comes from men acting together…; isolated men
are powerless by definition.
Although isolation is not necessarily the same
as loneliness, Arendt notes that loneliness can become both the seedbed and the
perilous consequence of the isolation effected by tyrannical regimes:
In isolation, man remains in contact with the
world as the human artifice; only when the most elementary form of human
creativity, which is the capacity to add something of one’s own to the common
world, is destroyed, isolation becomes altogether unbearable… Isolation then
becomes loneliness. […]
While isolation concerns
only the political realm of life, loneliness concerns human life as a whole.
Totalitarian government, like all tyrannies, certainly could not exist without
destroying the public realm of life, that is, without destroying, by isolating
men, their political capacities. But totalitarian domination as a form of
government is new in that it is not content with this isolation and destroys
private life as well. It bases itself on loneliness, on the experience of not
belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate
experiences of man.
I’ve always had a passion for the ice. I’d been to Iceland seven or eight times,
to Arctic Norway and to Greenland. Greenland’s contribution to global sea-level
rise is about three times that of Antarctica. I saw how fast the landscape was
changing and wanted to put it into a body of work.
I teamed up with the Scott Polar Research
Institute in Cambridge. They told me these deep blue lakes were appearing every
summer in increasing numbers, higher and higher up on the ice cap. They
provided me with satellite images highlighting where they tend to be. But
frankly, the second I got up there I could have thrown all the maps away: there
are so many lakes, it’s scary. A landscape you’d expect to be pristine white is
just littered with blue.
I was on the ice cap for about a week last
summer, and I flew whenever the weather permitted. You get massive storms, fog
cover – and then suddenly it’s clear again. But at that time of year the sun
never really sets, so you can go flying at three or four in the morning and the
light is perfect.
Imagine sitting in a helicopter without any
doors, strapped into a harness and leaning out over the Arctic ice cap. It’s
not particularly comfortable. The helicopter also costs around £2,000 an hour
to fly, so I ended up shooting mostly from a twin-engine plane, which only had
a tiny hole in the window. That meant the pilot needed to tilt the plane at an
almost 60-degree angle for me to be able to shoot vertically down. He was
swearing at me a lot.
The images are deliberately abstract. I
didn’t want them to be documentary photographs. You have to get close to find
the small, hidden details that help you to understand what you’re seeing.
They’re beautiful, but what you’re looking at is climate change at its worst.
My favourite is the one that looks like an eye. It’s a half-circle of
concentric blues at the top of the image – it’s almost as if global warming is
looking right back at you... see photos:
For the new year, here
are some prophetic excerpts from two essays of Hannah Arendt’s, collected in The
Jewish Writings (2007). Please note her predictions of the Nakba, of
unending conflict, of Zionist dependence on the American Jewish community, of
ultimate conflict with that American Jewish community, and the contribution of
political Zionism to world anti-semitism. Just what Howard Gutman said recently.
For which he was denounced by– Zionists.
Nationalism is bad
enough when it trusts in nothing but the rude force of the nation. A
nationalism that necessarily and admittedly depends upon the force of a foreign
nation is certainly worse. This is the threatened state of Jewish nationalism
and of the proposed Jewish state, surrounded inevitably by Arab states and Arab
people. Even a Jewish majority in Palestine–nay even a transfer of all
Palestine’s Arabs, which is openly demanded by the revisionists–would not
substantially change a situation in which Jews must either ask protection from
an outside power against their neighbors or come to a working agreement with
[T]he Zionists, if
they continue to ignore the Mediterranean people and watch out only for the big
faraway powers, will appear only as their tools, the agents of foreign and
hostile interests. Jews who know their own history should be aware that such a
state of affairs will inevitably lead to a new wave of Jew-hatred; the
antisemitism of tomorrow will assert that Jews not only profiteered from the
presence of foreign big powers in that region but had actually plotted it and
hence are guilty of the consequences…
[T]he sole new piece
of historical philosophy which the Zionists contributed out of their own new
experiences [was] “A nation is a group of people… held together by a
common enemy” (Herzl)–an absurd doctrine…
To such [political]
independence, it was believed, the Jewish nation could arrive under the
protecting wings of any great power strong enough to shelter its growth…. the
Zionists ended by making the Jewish national emancipation entirely dependent
upon the material intersts of another nation.
The actual result was
a return of the new movement to the traditional methods of shtadlonus [court
Jews], which the Zionists once had so bitterly despised and violently
denounced. Now Zionists too knew no better place politically than the lobbies
of the powerful, and no sounder basis for agreements than their good services
as agents of foreign interests…
[O]nly folly could
dictate a policy which trusts a distant imperial power for protection, while
alienating the goodwill of neighbors. What then, one is prompted to ask, will
be the future policy of Zionism with respect to big powers, and what program
will Zionists have to offer for a solution of the Arab-Jewish conflict?…
If a Jewish
commonwealth is obtained in the near future–with or without partition–it will
be due to the political influence of American Jews…. But if the Jewish
commonwealth is proclaimed against the will of the Arabs and without the
support of the Mediterranean peoples, not only financial help but political
support will be necessary for a long time to come. And that may turn out to be
very troublesome indeed for Jews in this country [the U.S.], who after all have
no power to direct the political destinies of the Near East. It may eventually
be far more of a responsibility than today they imagine or tomorrow can make good.
To Save the Jewish
Homeland, 1948 [on the occasion of war in Palestine]
And even if the Jews
were to win the war, its end would find the unique possibilities and the unique
achievements of Zionism in Palestine destroyed. The land that would come into
being would be something quite other than the dream of world Jewry, Zionist and
non-Zionist. The ‘victorious’ Jews would live surrounded by an entirely hostile
Arab population, secluded into ever-threatened borders, absorbed with physical
self-defense to a degree that would submerge all other interests and
acitvities. The growth of a Jewish culture would cease to be the concern of the
whole people; social experiments would have to be discarded as impractical
luxuries; political thought would center around military strategy…. And all
this would be the fate of a nation that — no matter how many immigrants it
could still absorb and how far it extended its boundaries (the whole of
Palestine and Transjordan is the insane Revisionist demand)–would still remain
a very small people greatly outnumbered by hostile neighbors.
circumstances… the Palestinian Jews would degenerate into one of those small
warrior tribes about whose possibilities and importance history has amply
informed us since the days of Sparta. Their relations with world Jewry would
become problematical, since their defense interests might clash at any moment
with those of other countries where large number of Jews lived. Palestine Jewry
would eventually separate itself from the larger body of world Jewry and in its
isolation develop into an entirely new people. Thus it becomes plain that at
this moment and under present circumstances a Jewish state can only be erected
at the price of the Jewish homeland…
One grim addendum. In
the heyday of the special relationship between the US and Israel, American
Jewry felt itself to be one with the Israeli people. We Are One! declared
Melvin Urofsky’s book of 1978. That unity is today being dissolved. The
haredi-secular conflict in Israel that is getting so much attention here is one
means of that dissolution. And the aim, unconsciously, may be a desire by
American Jews to distance themselves from Israeli Jews so that when the Arab
Spring at last brings a democratic movement to Israel and Palestine, and bloody
conflict ensues, and the Israeli gov’t is cast as the bad guys, American Jews
are emotionally prepared to regard the bloodshed as inevitable and not their
Data compiled by the mines ministry notes several thousand hectares of mineable area has potentially been prevented from being auctioned, saving the companies that own them money and costing the exchequer in terms of revenue foregone.
The Narendra Modi government changed regulations meant for protection of tribal rights, forests and environment in order to ensure that more than 130 mines do not face fresh auctions and are instead retained by existing miners. The changes were made to several regulations in a coordinated manner by the environment ministry, the tribal affairs ministry and the mines ministry over a period of more than one year, documents show.
The NDA government had passed an amendment to the Mines and Mineral Development and Regulation Act, 2015 in order to facilitate auctioning of mines that would generate revenue for the state exchequer. Earlier, mines were merely allocated denying a higher accrual of value to the state coffers from the exploitation of natural resources by mining companies. But even in the amended law, the government created an exception. Under section 10(2) of the amended law, it provided that anybody who had already got a license to prospect or to carryout reconnaissance and had begun operations would get the mining license too.
The miner had to make sure that it had met all the requisite permissions within two years of the amended MMDR Act – by January 12, 2017. The mines ministry calculated in October 2016 that about 317 mines across 12 states could potentially be ‘saved’ from auction under this exceptional provision. Of these, the ministry observed, 97 mine owners had not taken any action to process their licenses and stood to be rejected and 138 were requiring environment, forests and tribal clearances.
These 138 mines add upto several thousand hectares of mineable area potentially prevented from being auctioned, data compiled by the ministry shows. A formal mining lease is predicated on securing the mandatory forest and environmental clearances. Besides meeting other criteria, the forest clearance itself is predicated on the affected tribal village councils giving consent to their traditional forests being cut down for the mining and all claims of tribals and other forest dwellers being settled on the land under the Forest Rights Act.
The miners with prospecting and reconnaissance license had to, therefore, ensure they had got the requisite forest clearance, the tribal community’s consent and the environmental clearance in the two years before the deadline of January 12, 2017. But records show that on April 1, 2015 itself, the environment ministry altered its regulations to facilitate mines being retained against the threat of auction. It passed an order to ‘assign’ forests to these miners on lease as a general rule without going through the rigour of a full-fledged forest clearance.
In its order, the ministry said that while the general order would ‘assign’ the forest to all such miners, mining could only begin when the miners later secured full-fledged forest clearance. For fresh mining too, it noted that now leases could be signed based on mere ‘assigning’ of forest land instead of a detailed clearance. It also noted that assigning land to miners did not automatically mean that they would later also get the full clearance to cutdown the forests. But the environment ministry asked the miners to pay up the levy – Net Present Value – for the forest area regardless.
This levy was previously collected only when it was firmly concluded that the forests would be cut down for mining. It was not clarified how the government would return the levy if the mining was not permitted despite assigning the land to the miners. This helped the miners circumvent the deadline of securing a full forest clearance before the January deadline. But, even this short-cut version continued to be predicated on the miners securing the consent of tribals under the Forest Rights Act for use of their traditional forest lands.
This was, in fact, reiterated in November 2016 by the environment ministry. It ordered, “The provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, must be complied,” when seeking forestland on lease under the short-cut route. This meant settling the claims of all tribals and other forest dwellers and then getting consent from all those affected village councils which had got claims approved for the land to be mined.
But by January 2017, this provision was diluted as well. In a letter dated January 5, 2017 the ministry of tribal affairs noted that the “matter was taken up with the ministry of tribal affairs for not insisting upon FRA compliance for grant of lease in such cases in view of the limited time available”. In contrast to its earlier position on the mandatory need for consent and settlement of rights of tribals before leasing or assigning the forest even through the short-cut route, the ministry concluded that the consent of tribals was only required before the mining begins based on the stage 2 forest clearance.
It asserted this in the January 5 letter and stated that under no circumstances would the rights of tribals and other forest dwellers be infringed until the FRA provisions are addressed later. It said if rights over part of the forest land were assigned to tribals later under the FRA then that part would get excluded from the lease area. In a parallel move the mines ministry also did away with the need for environmental clearance before signing the lease for these particular mines.
On January 4, the mines ministry said it had consulted the law and environment ministries and decided that the mandatory environmental clearance was not required for this set of mines before the signing of the lease agreement. The clearance could be sought at a later stage by the miners before actual mining begins. On January 5, listing down all the changes it had helped make to ‘save’ these 300 odd mines from auction, the mines ministry wrote, “In this way, such pending cases, where mining plan was sanctioned but cases were pending because of environment clearance, forest clearance and tribal rights, the states have been facilitated by the Central government to be able to grant the lease expeditiously.” https://thewire.in/100722/nda-tribal-rights-forest-mining-environment-auction/
In November 1933,
following his fast against a separate electorate on caste lines and the
subsequent political settlement known as the Poona Pact, (Mohandas Karamchand)
Gandhi embarked on a year-long nationwide campaign against untouchability.
Thanks to his extensive travels across the country, he got a first-hand sense
of the state of affairs across India. The countryside had not yet recovered
from the severe economic dislocation caused by the combined effects of the
Great Depression and Britain’s 1931 decision to get off the gold standard.
While the agrarian
economy was crying for immediate redress, Gandhi was also confronted with
evidence that khadi had its limitations as a means of economic sustenance.
Thus, at a time when the urban leadership was keen on rapid industrialisation,
Gandhi concluded that the needs of rural India could wait no more. He decided
to widen the message of self-sufficiency and self-reliance by reviving other
The challenge was to
enable ordinary people with limited assets, skills, and education to become
meaningful economic actors. This, Gandhi argued, was only feasible with a
revival and scientific rationalisation of India’s many village industries. Such
a move would enable the village to make the best use of its resources and
thereby stem the flight of economic surplus from the village to the city. The
development of the village economy was meant to be an appropriate answer to the
debate between the prevalent economic ideologies of capitalism and communism.
However, Gandhi could
neither carry Congress opinion with his political convictions nor generate
enthusiasm for constructive work. Therefore, desiring “complete detachment and
absolute freedom of action”, in October 1934, at the Bombay session, he
resigned from primary membership of the Congress. At the Bombay session, the
Congress politely rejected many of Gandhi’s proposals but agreed to put into
effect the agenda of the revival and improvement of village industries with
(JC) Kumarappa being chosen to lead the effort. On 28 October 1934, the Andhra
leader Pattabhi Sitaramayya moved a resolution proposing the formation of the
All-India Village Industries Association (AIVIA), also known in Hindustani as
the Akhil Bharat Gram Udyog Sangh.
In the early days,
Kumarappa occupied one corner of the spacious accommodation and tried to avoid
the nuisance created by some of the other inmates of Maganvadi. However, it was
scarcely possible for Kumarappa and others to avoid being experimented upon by
the food faddist in Gandhi, who dictated the meals in the common kitchen.
experiments with nutritious but unappetising soya beans have been remarked upon
by many writers. If the unappetising lumps of boiled beans could somehow be
tolerated, both Kumarappa and his brother Bharatan seem to have been
particularly affected by Gandhi’s experiments with a chutney of neem leaves!
Writing many years later, both brothers recalled Gandhi’s paternal indulgence
towards them which took the form of additional doses of this culinary delicacy.
Bharatan was a new
arrival into the Gandhian fold having chosen to follow his brother into public
service. As a result, he was regularly seated next to Gandhi, who plied his
ward with extra helpings of goodies like boiled soya beans, orange-skin
marmalade, raw garlic, and “bitter as quinine” neem chutney. On one occasion,
Kumarappa himself was a recipient of similar munificence when Gandhi placed a
spoonful of the chutney on his thali. This act of love was witnessed by
Vallabhbhai Patel who wryly remarked, “You see, Kumarappa, Bapu started with
drinking goat’s milk, and now he has come to goat’s food!”
might have led to some humour, but the intent behind them was serious. When he
wrote to many scientists asking for scientific information on common Indian
foods, Gandhi drew a blank. No such information was available, which led him to
wonder: “Is it not a tragedy that no scientist should be able to give me the
chemical analysis of such a simple article as gur?”
It was precisely this
lack of attention towards the needs of the agrarian economy that the AIVIA was
meant to address. But, as is the case today, during his lifetime Gandhi’s
agenda of constructive work was deeply misunderstood. Thus, the widening of the
constructive agenda to encompass village industries invited great ridicule.
Echoing the socialist
critique of Gandhi’s economic programme, his old acquaintance VS Srinivasa
Sastri characterised the newly formed association as part of Gandhi’s “endless
and quixotic war against modern civilisation”. Gandhi, in turn, pointed out to
his critics that the cry of “back to the village” was not meant to be a setback
to progress but was merely a demand “to render unto the villagers what is due
to them”. If all the needs for raw materials were to be met by the village,
Gandhi wondered why the villagers should not be taught to work on it themselves
instead of being exploited by the more resourceful city-dwellers.
Much of Kumarappa’s
time as the prime mover of the AIVIA was spent in applying his philosophical
ideas to everyday practical problems. Keenly aware that philosophers in dealing
with the higher aspects of life tend to forget “mundane applications”, he
argued that a clear conception of the eternal principles of satya and ahimsa
can only be had by “watching them in everyday action”. As a result, he forged a
distinct and perceptive understanding of the “economic question” and its
relationship to individual and social well-being… read more:
There is no one who
has suffered more under the US government’s crackdown on leakers and
whistleblowers than Chelsea Manning. But now, after President
Obama commuted her unjust 35 year jail sentence on Tuesday, she will,
amazingly, soon be able to walk free. Manning, who provided
journalists a historic trove of documents and the public an unparalleled window
into world diplomacy, will no longer have to spend the rest of her life behind
bars. She will be released from prison on 17 May instead of the unconscionable
2045. It’s a cause for celebration, but also a time for reflection – not just
about what she has gone through but what her case represents.
At the time of her
revelations, she was the most important whistleblower since Daniel Ellsberg.
Upon hearing the news today, Ellsberg said this: “Once in a while, someone does
what they ought to do. Some go to prison for it, for seven years; some accept
exile for life. But sometimes even a president does it. And today, it was
Many publications have
tried to list the many stories her revelations have contributed to over the
years, but almost all have fallen short. The State and Defense documents that
were leaked by Manning – originally to Wikileaks and published by the Guardian,
New York Times and others – are to this day cited regularly in the nation’s
largest newspapers. They provided historians and the public a view inside the
US government’s machinations that we’ve never seen before. They even helped end
the Iraq War.
In response, the
government quite literally tried to destroy her. Despite admitting that no one
was harmed because of her disclosures, Chelsea suffered beyond what is
imaginable for most people.
She was held
incommunicado during pre-trial confinement, so that the American people could
not hear her voice and the explanation for what she did. She was then, according to
the UN special rapporteur on torture, treated in a “cruel, inhumane and
degrading way” before her trial by the US military.
After that, she was
given a heartbreakingly long 35 year sentence, longer than most actual spies,
and, for that matter, rapists and murderers. She faced the prospect of spending
the rest of her life behind bars, where she was continually and harshly
punished for trivial violations. Recently, she had been put
in solitary confinement – a macabre punishment for attempting
No matter your
political leanings or views on the role of leaks in our democracy, the
treatment Chelsea has suffered over the last 10 years is shameful. With a
stroke of his pen, President Obama not only did the right thing, but quite
literally may have saved Chelsea’s life. That said, the
commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence cannot be looked at in a vacuum.
President Obama, while commendably showing her mercy, also oversaw a Justice
Department that prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations
combined, while casting an unmistakable chill over investigative reporting and
In the coming days
many will ask why President Obama chose to commute Chelsea’s sentence. Was he
looking to the history books, knowing he would go down as the president who
went after whistleblowers? Was he secretly
appalled by the treatment Manning received in both pre-trial confinement and
then later, after she was convicted? (He did, after all, condemn solitary
confinement in the Washington
Post last year.) Was he worried about what type of retribution the Trump
administration would take once in office? Or did he just realize that Manning’s
sentence was orders of vastly higher than any other leaker in history and
Only the president
knows why. But we do know this: he made the right decision, one that he didn’t
have to. It won’t erase his tragic legacy of cracking down on leakers and
journalists’ sources, but he should be commended for it. So: thanks, Obama.
It's time for writers
and intellectuals to be reminded about Zee's recent campaigns against people
they have branded 'anti-national'.
Perhaps some of the finest minds from India and abroad who are attending the event should be reminded that they will avail of hospitality paid for by people who were instrumental in vehemently mobilising and instigating lynch mobs against some of their peers
Should we criticise
the organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival for inviting two functionaries
of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to this year’s edition of the annual
festival? Murmurs in the literary circles seem to suggest that the organisers
of JLF succumbed to pressure from the Right Wing. A glance at the list of
speakers and programmes makes it clear that there are a fair number of liberal
and Left-leaning people among the speakers. Even the general secretary of the
Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sita Ram Yechuri, is in that list. So a
balance appears to have been struck.
Gupta was right when he lambasted those who oppose the idea of giving Right
Wingers space. By doing so, he argued, it is the liberal space that gets
shrunk. That idea was even upheld by the man who is much hated by the Right
Wing, Jawaharlal Nehru. When he was prime minister, he rejected a suggestion by
the editor of the weekly Blitz, RK Karanjia, to proscribe the RSS
as it was opposed to the constitutional values of India. Banning ideological
groups would only drive them underground where they could assume a dangerously
subversive power, Nehru said. Even a majoritarian ideology like that of the RSS
needs to be fought out in the open.
present-day India, it is not the prerogative of Liberals or the Left to decide
whether to have a dialogue with the Right. It is the Right Wing, now in the
ascendant, that is in the position to choose whether Liberals should be allowed
access to prestigious forums. Keeping in mind the sensitivity of the Right-Wing
masters of the day, even people who previously championed liberal democratic
values have started to examine what they say.
We see it being done
in the universities where positions should actually depend on the recognition
of an individual’s work by their peers in academia. But increasingly, heads of
academic institutions are creating occasions to give platform to the so-called
intellectuals of the RSS. So one should not be surprised or upset that the JLF
is inviting intellectuals belonging to the RSS.
Of course, Right Wing
voices need to be made part of a civil dialogue or conversation. One is only
struck by the timing of this realisation by the organisers of the JLF. The RSS
has been around for a long time, but it has only recently qualified as a
potential participant of the JLF. The real problem with this festival is not
the presence of the RSS ideologues but the main sponsor of the JLF, whose name
is prefixed to that of the festival. Perhaps some of the finest minds from
India and abroad who are attending the event should be reminded that they will
avail of hospitality paid for by people who were instrumental in vehemently
mobilising and instigating lynch mobs against some of their peers.
Concerted campaigns: Let us not forget the
concerted campaign last January against young student activists at the
Jawaharlal Nehru University. So effective was the vilification that Kanhaiya
Kumar, who was president of the university students union, was brutally
assaulted by a group of lawyers in Delhi. In fact, so pervasive were the hate-campaigns,
led by the very television news channel whose name is prefixed to the JLF, that
they have made Kanhaiya Kumar and other student leaders permanently vulnerable
to attack by people who have been persuaded by the propaganda that these young
students are “anti-national”.
It didn’t stop there.
Nivedita Menon, a respected professor and feminist writer, was targeted by the
same news channel, inciting
violence against her. Gauhar Raza, an Urdu poet and scientist at the
government-funded Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, was declared a
member of the “Afzal-lover
gang”, a reference to Afzal Guru, the convict hanged for his role in the
2001 Parliament attacks. These were not isolated attacks. The tirade against
these writers and scholars continued on the channel for many days .
People who have not
been targeted in this way would perhaps say that such attacks need not be taken
seriously. They fail to realise that for those whose faces have been displayed
prominently on television for days, and described as friends of terrorists or
anti-nationals, it is matter of life and death. They are under mortal threat.
It is nobody’s
argument that merely attending the event will turn visitors into advocates of
hate-ideology. But they do legitimise their efforts. The channel has also
been at the forefront of a propaganda war against Muslims. Its blatantly false
reporting about Kairana in
Western Utter Pradesh is only one such example. It has portrayed Muslims as a threatening
presence for Hindus in Kairana and in Dhulagargh in
Or consider how this
channel handled the 2015 case in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, when 50-year-old
Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched by a mob because it was rumoured that his family
had been eating beef. Writers, artists and scientists protested the killing and
the rise of intolerance, which embarrassed the government and the party in
power. But these very writers were attacked as being anti-national by the
channel, which is the patron of the celebration of creativity in Jaipur.
Unfreedom and fear: It has been reported
that JLF’s organisers did try to look for other sponsors but failed. It is
being argued that the JLF, having evolved into a unique institution, could not
have afforded any discontinuity. This school of opinion says that it is vital
to understand the compulsions of the organisers who, it is claimed, want to
build a literary culture in this country where literature is rarely celebrated
publicly. But do we need such a
massive celebration? It is the gigantic scale that necessitates the participation
of corporations, the head of one of India’s top management institutions told
this writer. The ethical universe of these corporations, he said, is defined by
a very old and simple word: profit. They cannot be expected to be proponents of
freedom and democracy.
The last two and half
years have been difficult for many of India’s minorities. We, in universities
and elsewhere, too have lived with a feeling of unfreedom and fear. This
feeling has brought us closer to understanding what minorities face. We are being
made part of a zombie culture. Therefore, it is difficult to miss the strategic
mind behind the theme of the JLF: Bhakti. Bhakti sounds sublime. The selection
of the theme brings to mind something Bertolt Brecht wrote: “Times of extreme
oppression are usually times when there is much talk about high and lofty
matters. At such times it takes courage to write of low and ignoble matters.” In India 2017, we need
this courage as badly as oxygen.
The alleged suicide of
Jishnu Pranoy, a first-year engineering student in Kerala on January 6, has
opened a can of worms in the state’s self-financing private college sector. A campaign against the
18-year-old’s death has snowballed into a statewide campaign against private
self-financing engineering colleges, encouraging several students from private
colleges to come out with horrific accounts of physical, mental and sexual
harassment by college managements that are being widely circulated on social
Pranoy was a student
at Nehru College of Engineering in Thrissur district. According to the college,
Pranoy hanged himself inside his room after he was allegedly caught cheating
during an examination. However, his classmates and senior batch mates are
unanimous in saying that the boy was badly beaten by the college management for
questioning why the examination was being conducted by a private agency instead
of by the college itself.
Kerala has 156
engineering colleges of which 119 are run by various private trusts and
individuals. The self-financing colleges have mushroomed across the state in
the last decade or so. Set up in 2014, the APJ Abdul Kalam Technological
University, oversees the functioning of all these colleges.
Following the Pranoy
case, several complaints from other private colleges have been made to the
university, which has since ordered a review of these colleges, and also
appointed an ombudsman to look into complaints. The complaints
indicate that some private colleges seem to be run like personal fiefdoms of
“From the complaints
we have now received from parents and students we understand that some colleges
were engaged in physically and mentally harassing students in the name of
discipline, which is not acceptable,” said Professor Abdul Rahman, pro
vice-chancellor, APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University. “So we have set out
a fact-finding mission and will submit a report to the state government for
The State Youth
Commission, a quasi-judicial body, which is also in the process of gathering
evidence and statements from students and parents of private colleges, is also
expected to step in with stringent recommendations. “We have come across
some shocking evidence of harassment while making visits to colleges following
complaints,” said Chintha Jerome, chairperson State Youth Commission. “At the
moment we have officially registered complaints against three colleges,
although with every passing day students and parents are calling us from many
places. So the commission has decided to issue strict guidelines and recommend
that the government enact a new law to prevent this harassment.”
Suicide or murder?
Students at the Nehru
College of Engineering say that Jishnu Pranoy was beaten up by staff members at
the behest of the college management for questioning why a private agency was
conducting the examination… read more:
It is astonishing to
watch the current confrontation between US intelligence agencies and Donald
Trump. The president-elect has finally conceded that Russia may have meddled in
the US presidential election but is incensed that a report by a former MI6
officer about the Trump team’s alleged contacts with the Kremlin and his lurid
escapades in Russia were leaked to the media. Trump blamed the intelligence
agencies for the leaks. The agencies are not backing down. On January 15, John
Brennan, the outgoing CIA director, termed Trump’s comments equating the
intelligence community with Nazi Germany as “outrageous” and mentioned that he
didn’t think Trump “has a full appreciation of Russian capabilities, Russian
intentions, and actions.”
Trump is carrying on
blissfully unmindful of the inner dynamics of the United States government. He
seems to think that presidents can easily tame structures of the government,
such as intelligence agencies. He talks as though his job were that of a CEO,
whereby his main task is to get the best people in important positions and that
as the new boss in town things will turn around in the government as they did
in his overrated business empire.
Nothing could be
further from reality, particularly when dealing with the national security
establishment, owing to their power and influence which are capable of
containing and shaping elected institutions, including the presidency. Trump
is, in effect, taking on the American ‘deep state’ – a fight he’s bound to lose
unless he compromises.
One way to think
through such tensions in Washington is the work of Michael J Glennon, professor
of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, who offered
great insight into the workings of the US national security institutions in his
2014 book National Security and Double Government. He draws on Walter Bagehot’s
thesis of “double government” in the book The English Constitution that
described the dual power set-up in Britain in the 19th century wherein
“dignified institutions” like the monarchy and the House of Lords had the
regalia of power but the real work of governing was done by concealed “efficient
institutions” like the Prime Minister, Cabinet and the House of Commons.
Glennon applies this
theory to the US and points to two set of institutions that wield power
unevenly in Washington. One is the “Madisonian” institutions like the
presidency, Congress and the courts, named after James Madison, the “principal
architect of the American constitutional design”, who favoured the separation
of powers between the three pillars in order to safeguard liberty. These are
America’s dignified institutions where the public believes power rests. But
there is another set of institutions called the “Trumanite network” that gets
its name from National Security Act of 1947, which restructured the government
to give the executive more flexibility to meet security threats. The act
“unified the military under a new secretary of defense, set up the CIA, created
the modern Joint Chiefs of Staff and established the National Security Council
(NSC).” Truman also set up the National Security Agency and now the network
consists of several hundred executive officials who “manage the military,
intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement agencies” that deal with
international and internal security.
Over the decades, the
power of the Trumanite network has grown at the expense of the Madisonians.
Trumanite officials deal with threats and so seek greater power and capability,
extending the reach of the State in ways that makes civil libertarians
uncomfortable. In 2011, the Washington Post identified 46 federal departments
and agencies “engaged in classified national security work.” In Glennon’s
narration, “Their missions range from intelligence gathering and analysis to
war-fighting, cyber operations and weapons development. Almost 2,000 private
companies support this work, which occurs at over 10,000 locations across
America.” The size of their budgets is classified “but it is clearly that those
numbers are enormous – total annual outlay of around $1 trillion and millions
of employees.” Presidents usually choose only around 4,000 individuals of the
2.8 million non-military federal employees that they are in charge of – and
several hundred policymakers needed for national security are drawn from the
At the apex of this is the most powerful of the lot, the
professional staff of the National Security Council which has nearly “400
aides” but needs to now reduce to 200 owing to recent legislation. The wider
group of several hundred policymakers includes professional staff, political
appointees, academics, think-tankers, military figures and officials seconded
from executive agencies – and this according to Glennon constitutes America’s
Trumanite network which sits at the pinnacle of what Harvard professor Jack
Goldsmith has called “Washington’s tight-knit national security culture.”..
NB: This decision is a travesty of justice and juridical reasoning. It is a declaration that communal motivations attenuate criminal acts of violence and murder. I had made precisely this point in a comment on the Supreme Court's judgement in the Graham Staines murder case in 2011; viz, thatin the minds of the two concerned judges, communal animus reduces the gravity of homicide. This is a perversion of the very idea of justice; especially as India is prone to deliberately instigated communal violence; and criminals and communal politicians are known to raise the banner of 'hurt sentiment' as a justification for hooliganism and murder. This decision provides legal support to communal politics and will cause further confusion in the minds of law-abiding and peace-loving citizens. Persons in the judiciary, police and legal profession may kindly consider the arguments I placed here 5 years ago, and which I have re-iterated over the years - alas to no avail. This decision bears out the dangerous logic of the Staines judgement and proves my point - DS High Court Grants Bail To 3 Men, Saying They Were 'Provoked To Kill In The Name Of Religion' The Bombay High Court
has granted bail to three men who were arrested for attacking a Muslim man in
Pune after attending a meeting of the Hindu Rashtra Sena (HRS). According to reports, Justice Mridula Bhatkar of Bombay
High Court reversed the ruling of a sessions court in Pune, which had denied
bail to the accused. "The fact that the deceased belonged to another religion
is in favour of the accused, who were provoked in the name of the religion and
seem to have committed the murder," she said, effectively saying murder
due to communal incitement was fair deal.
Section 304 of the
Indian Penal Code (IPC) terms culpable homicide not amount to murder a criminal
offence, incurring penalties and a prison term of up to ten years, while the
Code of Criminal Procedure says it is a non-bailable offence. On 2 June 2014, the
three accused, Vijay Gambhire, Ranjeet Yadav, and Ajay Lalge had attended a
meeting organised by HRS, a fringe rightwing group, in Hadaspur in Pune. During
the meeting, the group's leader Dhananjay Desai made provocative remarks
involving Emperor Shivaji, the late Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray and Hindu
gods. His speech, allegedly, incited the people gathered to go on a rampage.
Gambhire, Yadav and
Lalge, along with Desai, went around the area on two-wheelers, carrying
weapons, looking to target possible victims. When they spotted the deceased Shaikh
Mohsin, his elder brother Riyaz and colleague Wasim, they attacked them. Mohsin, who was
wearing a green shirt and had a beard, was allegedly hit with hockey sticks,
bats and stones for being Muslim. Riyaz and Wasim managed to escape, but
returned later to take Mohsin to the hospital. He later died from his injuries
arrested on charges of murder and causing riot, were denied bail in the lower
court. Their prosecutor argued that others held on similar charges had been
released on bail and the same should also be granted to the three accused. Hearing the case in
the Bombay High Court, Justice Bhatkar reportedly said that there was no
motivation of personal enmity behind the attack and killing of the deceased.
The only fault of the deceased, as the court clarified, was that he belonged to
another religion. "I consider this
factor in favour of the accused," Justice Bhatkar said in her ruling,
adding that "the accused do not have any criminal record and it appears
that they were provoked in the name of the religion and have committed
murder". The court, however,
rejected the bail plea for Desai, saying his speech was "sufficient to
incite the feelings of religious discrimination in the crowd".