Friday, January 20, 2017

Anu Kumar - The stories behind the story of Albert Camus’s ‘The Stranger’

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 novelistic one.

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:

see also
Download a copy of Camus' famous essay: Reflections on the Guillotine

Bálint Magyar: Systemic characteristics of the post-communist mafia state

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. 

More than 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.

First, Magyar 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 details.

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.

Magyar distinguishes 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 activities.

Another sub-category 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.


See also: 
On Post-Fascism: How citizenship is becoming an exclusive privilege by G. M. Tamás

Maria Popova - Hannah Arendt on Loneliness as the Common Ground for Terror and How Tyrannical Regimes Use Isolation as a Weapon of Oppression

“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.”

“Loneliness is 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).

Arendt paints 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 exist.

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.

This is why our insistence on belonging, community, and human connection is one of the greatest acts of courage and resistance in the face of oppression — for, in the words of the beloved Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue, “the ancient and eternal values of human life — truth, unity, goodness, justice, beauty, and love — are all statements of true belonging.”

Global warning ‘What should be pristine white is littered with blue’ – Timo Lieber’s Arctic photography

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:

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hannah Arendt: Born in conflict, Israel will degenerate into Sparta, and American Jews will need to back away

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.

Zionism Reconsidered, 1944:
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 their neighbors…

[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.

Under such 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 problem.

Also see: 
Pariah: can Hannah Arendt help us rethink our global refugee crisis? by Jeremy Adelman
Jon Nixon - Hannah Arendt: thinking versus evil

Rabindranath Tagore's four-part essay on Nationalism (1917)

Nitin Sethi - How the NDA Diluted Tribal Rights to ‘Save’ Mining Companies From Losing Mines to Fresh Auction

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.

Javed Iqbal's photo essays on India's workers, their lives and struggles

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.”

Defying capitalism and socialism, Kumarappa and Gandhi had imagined a decentralised Indian economy - Venu Madhav Govindu & Deepak Malghan

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 village industries.

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.

Gandhi’s Maganvadi 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!”

Gandhi’s experiments 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:

Chelsea Manning did the right thing. Finally, Barack Obama has too - Trevor Timm

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 Obama.” 
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 suicide.

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 press freedom.

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 fundamentally unjust?

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. Seriously.

Apoorvanand - The real problem with Jaipur Lit Fest is not the participation of RSS ideologues – it's the sponsor

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.

Journalist Shekhar 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.

Moreover, in 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 West Bengal.

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.

Naveen Nair - Suicide of engineering student blows the lid off the rot in Kerala’s private colleges

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 media.

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.

Several complaints
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 their directors-cum-owners.

“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 further action.”

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.”

Jishnu’s death: 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:

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sushil Aaron: Why Donald Trump will not win his battle with US intelligence agencies

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 bureaucracy. 

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.”.. read more:

Bombay High Court Grants Bail To 3 Men, Saying They Were 'Provoked To Kill In The Name Of Religion'

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, that in 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 under treatment.
The assailants, 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".
The Supreme Court, Gandhi and the RSS
The BJP and Justice, Chapter 2
Julio Ribeiro - Burying Karkare: I cannot let these forces go unchallenged

Very short list of examples of rule of law in India