Friday, February 29, 2008

From Prude to Lewd: China's Sexual Revolution

A new cultural revolution is underway in China, and it’s all about sex, says Andrew Lam in a New American Media news analysis.

Lam is the author of "Perfume Dreams:Relections on the Vietnamese Diaspora" (Heyday Books 2005).

See From Prude to Lewd: China’s New Sexual Revolution

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Schemes that sprout in political heads

G. Sudhakaran has certified that Elamaram Kareem is the best Industries Minister Kerala has seen in 60 years. He has discovered something no one else who handled the Industries department could discover: industries cannot be established on the top of the coconut palm!

It takes a genius to recognize another genius. We needed Sudhakaran to recognize Kareem’s greatness. He is like the publishers of the Guinness Book of Records. If someone sets a record, they recognize it and issue a certificate. When someone’s greatness is noticed, Sudhakaran recognizes it and issues a certificate. Pinarayi Vijayan (No.1 in the party, the greatest organizer Kerala has seen), T. M. Thomas Isaac (the greatest economist), V.S. Achuthanandan (No. 1 in government), C.K. Gupthan (the greatest Devaswom Board chairman) are the lucky ones who have already received certificates from him. The greatest Home Minister, the greatest Local Self-government Minister, the greatest Education Minister, the greatest Health Minister and the greatest Electricity Minister are all awaiting their turn to get certificates. It takes time to issue certificates because ‘available’ geniuses are too many.

There are people here who have been familiar with the top of coconuts for centuries. They know what are all there and what are they good for. But they did not know that industries cannot be established there, that you need land for that. We had to wait till Kareem incarnated to know that.

Talk of the top of the coconut brings to mind an incident of my school days. The Malayalam class was in progress. There was more than the usual noise from the back, and the teacher found that the students in the last row were eating something. He asked what they were eating. Pat came the answer: “top of the coconut.” An explanation also followed. A coconut palm had been felled in the neighbourhood. A student, who got its top, brought it to class and shared it with friends. “Good,” said the teacher. “You need it. Doctors recommend soup made with lamb’s legs to give strength to the limbs. The top of the coconut will help to strengthen your top.”

Our ministers don’t have to eat the top of the coconut. Schemes are sprouting in their heads even without it. But if you look closely you will find reasons to believe that many of the schemes did not sprout there but were transplanted there. In Travancore’s history there is a Maharaja known as ‘garbhasreeman’ (the term may be conveniently rendered into English as ‘pregnant genius’). He got the title as he had earned the status of Maharaja even before he was born. By the same token, some of our ministers may also be referred to as ‘pregnancy genius’. They had qualified for ministership before they were appointed ministers. What is more, it was also decided in advance what each one should do.

The first item on the agenda of one pregnant genius was to get whatever loan he can from the Asian Development Bank. He invited the Chief Minister to play hide and seek. While the Chief Minister was looking for him, he sent an official to Delhi with the file and signed the loan agreement.

The leaders of some caste organizations recently said their policy was to help those who had helped them. This is a policy which the CPI (M) had adopted even earlier. The main task of one pregnant genius is to help those who had helped the party. Santiago Martin and Pharis Aboobaker, who had helped the party, have not complained of any lapse in the implementation of the policy.

From birth, the pregnant geniuses have been moving ahead well with diverse programmes like private self-financing, Cooperative self-financing, Pariyaram cooperation, aravana, Athirappalli. Who will not be inspired by the resoluteness of the pregnant genius who declares that neither Sugathakumari nor Sonia Gandhi can stop the Athirappalli project?

Elamaram Kareem learnt the tactics of industry from Saboo, the representative of Birla. But it is doubtful if he learnt all that could be learnt. Even as people were dying breathing air and drinking water polluted by the Mavoor factory and demanding that the plant be closed down, he had striven hard to keep it going. But Birla, who knows not only to start and run factories but also to close them down, abandoned it. Gradually the quality of the air and the water improved.

The Cyber City project helps us to understand a characteristic of schemes that grow in political heads. When 70 acres of HMT land reached the hands of a real estate company in the name of IT industry, 30 acres reached the hands of political intermediaries in the name of workers. Even before officials and legal authorities examined the records and pronounced on the validity of the transaction, the party conference, through a resolution, declared that everything was in order.

Kerala’s problem is not that the people are not investor-friendly, but that leaders who were not investor-friendly earlier are now too investor-friendly. The investors they find also have a weakness. They are too politician-friendly.
Based on “Nerkkazhcha” column appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated February 28, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

Positive measures needed to ensure social justice in Kerala

CAN the administration implement with a sense of commitment the Paloli Mohammed Kutty Committee's proposals to improve the condition of Kerala's Muslims? The question needs to be raised as both the Centre and the State have a record of indifferent handling of matters of social justice.

Since 1951, the Constitution has included a clause which empowers the authorities to make special provisions for socially and educationally backward classes of people. Yet, it was only in 1990 that the Centre granted the benefit of job reservation to these sections. In 1996, a Planning Commission sub-group reported that the representation of minorities, especially Muslims, in the all-India and State services "is very low and bears no relation to their population, and there has been no purposeful action to remedy this imbalance."

In Kerala, Muslims are a recognised backward class and have enjoyed the benefits of reservation for decades. Yet, the Narendran Commission, set up in 2000 to study the working of the reservation system, found that they had received fewer jobs than they were entitled to by virtue of their population.

All this shows that those who are responsible for formulation and implementation of policies do not act with due diligence. Unless they take positive steps with a sense of commitment, social justice will remain an elusive goal.

The present effort to address the problem of Muslim backwardness began with the appointment of a committee, headed by former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajinder Sachar, by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to study the social, economic and educational status of the community and recommend measures for its advancement.

At the time of the 2001 Census, India's Muslim population stood at 138 million. While this was only about 11 per cent of the total, the country has almost as many Muslims as Pakistan and Bangladesh, which are the largest Muslim countries after Indonesia. Citing a wealth of data, the Sachar Committee, in the report submitted to the government in November 2006, said the "community exhibits deficits and deprivation in practically all dimensions of development." It added that mechanisms to ensure equity and equality of opportunity should be such that "diversity is achieved and at the same time the perception of discrimination is eliminated."

The Centre later announced a 15-point programme to promote the welfare of the minorities and to empower them. It seeks, among other things, to increase the educational opportunities open to them and provide them with an equitable share in employment and economic activities.

Muslims constitute 24.7 per cent of Kerala's population. Data gathered by the Sachar Committee show that the State's Muslims are better placed than their counterparts elsewhere in the country, but even they suffer from deficits and deprivation. It points out, for instance, that their share of government jobs is only 10.4 per cent. In the State's public sector undertakings, their share is just 9.5% at the higher levels and 11.1 per cent at the lower levels.

The committee headed by Local Self-government Minister Paloli Mohammed Kutty was set up by the State government last year to examine the Sachar Committee report and formulate specific proposals to address the problems of the Muslim community. The leading newspapers, Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi, editorially endorsed the committee's proposals.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is not represented in the State Assembly, was the only party to oppose them openly. Its State president, PK Krishnadas, called for rejection of the report, saying the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the government, was trying to appease the Muslims with an eye to the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The reaction of the BJP, which has been endeavouring since long to build a nationwide Hindu vote bank, was entirely predictable. The party had opposed the setting up of the Sachar Committee. It raised a furore when the committee sought from the government information on Muslim representation in the armed forces. When the committee's recommendations became known, it dismissed them as politically motivated.

Judging by the experience of the separate provisions made for the Dalits and the other backward classes, the proposals to create a Department of Minority Affairs and establish a separate development corporation for Muslims may not yield the desired results. They can at best help the political establishment by creating a couple of ministerial level offices with all the paraphernalia that goes with them. --Gulf Today, February 25, 2008.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Palliative care in Kerala

The Pain and Palliative Care Society, Thrissur, has completed 10 years of service.

The registered society came into being in November 1997. Its initiative resulted in the setting up of the Kerala chapter of the Indian Association of Palliative Care in 2001.

The Society brings out a quarterly publication, titled Reaching Out. To mark the 10th anniversary, a special number of the quarterly has been published.

Writing in the special number, Dr. Kumudam Unni, Editor, Reaching Out, says: “Quality doesn’t happen by accident. There needs to be careful planning to ensure consistent quality in PC (palliative care). For this both research and audit is essential”

Dr. Unni identifies six dimensions to illuminate quality in healthcare: appropriateness, accessibility, effectiveness, acceptability, efficiency and equity. She adds, “Research is concerned with discovering the right thing to do; audit with ensuring that it is done right.”

Pain and Palliative Care Society,
Old District Hospital,
Thrissur 680 001.

Chairman: Dr. A. K. Unnikrishnan,
Secretary: Dr. C. Sathishkumar

A charitable trust, which endeavours to reach palliative care to the needy as far as possible at their homes, is functioning at Thiruvananthapuram too.

It has set up an institution called Trivandrum Institute of Palliative Sciences (TIPS) to train healthcare professionals and volunteers in palliative care.

Pallium India,
Pothujanam Road,
Thiruvananthapuram 695 011.

Telephone: 91-471-325 7400
Fax: 91-471-255 1474

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Global network for promotion of human rights education launched

Ms. Felisa Tibbitts, Director, Human Rights Education Associates (HREA), Cambridge, MA., USA, has announced the formation of a global information and advocacy network that promotes learning and training in the field of human rights.

The following is the text of a communication she has sent to human rights organizations and activists:

Dear Colleagues,
HREA is pleased to announce the launch of a new network. The Global Human Rights Education Network is an information and advocacy network that promotes learning and training in the field of human rights. Membership is open to all organizations that support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and are involved in education and training activities promoting the human rights framework. The online application form for the Global HRE Network can be found at .

The Network was inspired by the vibrancy of the informal network of educators and trainers who participate in the Global Human Rights Education listserv as well as regional listservs of partners in Asia, Africa, Arab-speaking countries, Latin America and Russian-speaking countries. With the launch of the Global HRE Network, we intend to formalize this informal network, that is constituted by over 10,000 individuals and organizations engaged in human rights education worldwide, and thus strengthen the HRE movement.

The objectives of the Global HRE Network are:
- To promote information sharing among membership
- To support the sharing of good practice in carrying out education and training activities
- To advocate for human rights education and training in all sectors, as called for in the United Nations World Program for Human Rights Education.

In promoting these objectives, the Global HRE Network will ask members to commit to sharing resources and experiences, both on the Global HRE listserv as well as other fora. A public Directory of organizations that have joined the network will be made available on the Web. Members will receive annually an updated, electronic version of this Directory of the Global Human Rights Education Network.We encourage organizations to show their unity within the HRE movement by joining the Global HRE Network. Online submission forms can be found at http://www.hrea.%20org/hre-network

Also, we encourage your input on how we might use this Global HRE Network in order to promote our local and global efforts.
In solidarity,
------------ --------- --------- -------
Felisa Tibbitts,
Director Human Rights Education Associates (HREA)
- US office PO Box 382396, Cambridge, MA 02238 USA
Visiting address: 97 Lowell Road, Concord, MA 01742
(tel) +1 978 341 0200 (fax) +1 978 341 0201
(e-mail) mailto:ftibbitts@hrea.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Party Secretary emerges stronger but Chief Minister stays

The trial of strength in the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which heads the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), has ended in a decisive victory for state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, but he still has to live with his vanquished rival, VS Achuthanandan, as the Chief Minister.

The new State Committee, elected unanimously at the conference held at Kottayam last week, is more heavily weighted in Pinarayi Vijayan's favour than the outgoing one.
Of the 11 newly inducted members, only one belongs to the Achuthanandan faction, making it even more of a minority than before.

Immediately after his re-election as state secretary for the fourth time, Pinarayi Vijayan said it was the beginning of a new era. He added that the sectarianism that had gripped the party for several years was over. It was, in effect, a proclamation of victory.

The principle of "democratic centralism," which the CPI-M follows, enjoins upon the minority to surrender to the wishes of the majority. To drive home the point, Vijayan warned that no breach of discipline would be tolerated.

Achuthanandan listened silently as Vijayan's supporters attacked him in the delegates' session. At the public meeting that followed, he promised, as was expected of a party loyalist, that he would take into account the members' criticism. General Secretary Prakash Karat, who headed the national leaders present at the conference, endorsed Vijayan's observations about the end of sectarianism and maintenance of party discipline.
Karat also said the State party would forge ahead with Vijayan as secretary and Achuthanandan as Chief Minister.

These words signalled a message to the victorious faction that the central leadership did not favour a change of leadership at the governmental level.
Media reports interpreted Achuthanandan's reported silence at a Cabinet meeting when the controversial HMT land deal came up for consideration as evidence of his 'surrender' to the official faction.

Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem, a Pinarayi supporter, had played an active role in facilitating the sale of land by HMT to a Mumbai real estate firm.
Talking to reporters after the Cabinet meeting, Achuthanandan said that although sectarianism had ended ideological differences could surface from time to time. Pinarayi Vijayan dismissed his observation as a mere verbal exercise.

The remarks of the two leaders indicate that the media can continue to expect a bonanza of innuendoes and even public spat from them.

Karat announced at the conference that the party would draw up a set of guidelines with a view to improving co-ordination between the organisational and governmental wings.
Earlier the central leadership had constituted a five-member co-ordination committee, with equal representation for the two factions, for the same purpose. It failed as the state leadership did not give it a fair trial.

Apparently the central leadership has come up with the new formula, encouraged by its assessment that the guidelines it had provided for the conduct of the State conference had succeeded in checking sectarianism.

Whether or not sectarianism is over, the two factions will find it necessary to put aside their differences and pull together since bugle sounds for an election battle are already in the air.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who was in Kerala on Friday, accused the CPI-M-led LDF of misrule and said, "That we are together at the Centre does not mean they can do anything here." She drew pointed attention to attacks by the CPI-M on the judiciary and to its interventions in the education sphere.

On earlier visits to the State, Sonia Gandhi had avoided direct attack on the CPI-M, which is supporting the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre from outside.

The departure from this practice can be seen as part of the preparations for the inevitable confrontation between the two parties in the Lok Sabha elections, which are due next year but can come earlier.

Both Achuthanandan and Vijayan immediately joined issue with her. The Chief Minister termed her remarks "immature." The party secretary accused her of levelling false charges against his party with political motives.

It remains to be seen whether the proclaimed end of sectarianism and the truce dictated by electoral considerations will result in an improvement in the performance of the State government, which had been badly hit as the Chief Minister and ministers belonging to the opposite faction were working at cross purposes in several matters. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 18, 2008.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Appeal to UDF to give up planned hartal

Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, Dr. Sukumar Azhikode, M. T. Vasudevan Nair, O.N.V. Kurup and B.R.P. Bhaskar, in a joint statement issued today, appealed to the opposition United Democratic Front to abandon the planned hartal on February 19 and go in for an alternative programme which will not cause hardship to the people.

The statement also urged the State government to find urgent solution to the problem of price rise, taking the opposition also into confidence.

The text of the statement, in Malayalam, is available at വായന blog.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Online petition to protest against remarks of Karnataka CJ and SHRC chief

Arpita Joshi, Harminder Kaur, Gitanjali Mahanti, Bhargavi S Rao and Dolly Kalita, women activists of Karnataka have issued the following statement:

On the 9th of February 2008, the media reported remarks by two eminent judicial personalities, the Chief Justice of Karnataka, Cyriac Joseph and State Human Rights Commission Chairperson Justice S.R.Nayak, stating that immodest dressing was the cause of increasing crimes against women.

The Hon'ble Chief Justice further elaborated his statement by mentioning that "Nowadays, women wear such kind of dresses even in temples and churches that when we go to places of worship, instead of meditating on God, we end up meditating on the person before us" and that the "provocative dresses that women wear in buses" put the "men travelling in the buses" in awkward situations and hence "women must dress modestly." (Kindly see the report in The Hindu on the Chief Justice’s speech: “CJ has some 'modest' advice for women”)

The Chairperson, SHRC, speaking on 'Human Rights and the Lawyers Role’, gave his opinion on the Mumbai New Year’s eve molestation issue by saying “Yes, men are bad, but who asked them (the women) to venture out in the night? Women should not have gone out in the night and when they do,there is no point in complaining that men touched them and hit them. Youth are destroying our culture for momentary satisfaction.” Kindly see the New Indian Express report “Women were to blame: SHRC

Thousands of crimes like molestation, domestic violence, rape etc go unreported in the country because the patriarchal society we dwell in refuses women the space to report violence. Where it should be the prerogative of the seat of law to protect the privileges of the vulnerable and the victims of any violence, we have seen the perpetration of subjugative regressive ideology.

As people who believe in systems of Justice and the value of equity, please join us in raising a voice for the cause of women in the country and sign the petition below:

Do share the petition with as many people as possible.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why this hartal?

The United Democratic Front must give up the hartal it has called for February 19. Whatever the opposition front hopes to gain from it can be achieved without it.

It was on January 31 that the UDF high-power committee decoded on the hartal. Obviously its intention was not to give expression to emotions swelling up in the people’s minds on any particular issue. If it were, the committee would not have picked a day nearly three weeks hence for the hartal.

Only five days are left for the appointed day. Leaders may wonder how they can abandon the hartal at this late stage, disappointing the front workers who have toiled all these days to make it a success. Here they must demonstrate a sense of realism. What they can gain by giving up the hartal is much more than what they can gain by going ahead with it.
According to UDF Convener P. P. Thankachan, the hartal has been called to focus attention on the Left Democratic Front government’s failure on five issues. They are: price rise; stoppage of rice subsidy for those above and below the price line and abandonment of the health insurance scheme; delay in implementing the Centre’s old-age pension scheme; failure to help Supplyco to intervene effectively in the market; and faltering in implementation of the five-year plan.
Gandhiji, who conceived hartal as a mode of protest, showed an uncanny ability to pick subjects for agitation. But one cannot but say that what reflects in the decision of the Congress-led front is poverty of ideas. Faltering in plan implementation and failure to take advantage of Central schemes are certainly matters that deserve serious notice. But they are so common that they do not have the ability to attract and retain the people’s attention.

The only issue raised by the UDF which the people can easily identify as one that affects them directly is price rise. Immediately after it announced the hartal, the LDF and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) issued statements deploring it. Both argued that price rise is the result of the policies pursued by the Centre and therefore it is against the Centre, and not against the State government, that it should agitate. This is utter nonsense. The State government alone bears responsibility for imposing additional burden on the people on several items like milk price and electricity rates.

Last week the CPI (M) blocked roads in Tamil Nadu in protest against price rise. Whether you block roads in Chennai or stage a hartal in Kerala, it is the people who suffer, not the Central government or the State government.

The UDF says Supplyco has not been able to check price rise because of the Finance department’s failure to provide funds in time. Finance Minister Thomas Isaac has imposed much hardship on the people and provided equal relief to the likes of fake lottery operators. But it is unfair to lay the blame for the price rise entirely on him.
If the UDF, which comes to power at intervals of five years, does not know that the State government’s ability to hold the price line by offering subsidies is limited, who does? The LDF government has done what it can. It is another matter that its efforts have not yielded sufficient results. Reduction of subsidies is the approved policy of the Congress-led government at the Centre. The LDF cannot, therefore, be blamed for lowering the subsidy. But the Kerala government was providing rice subsidy in the name of the poor and passing on the benefit to rice mill owners. Both the fronts have been parties to this fraud. If the State government had implemented the subsidy scheme truthfully and the Centre was convinced of it, the State probably would not have encountered the difficulty that it now experiences in obtaining timely help in exigent circumstances.

The State Assembly’s budget session begins next Wednesday. The debates on the Governor’s address and the demands for grants will provide members the opportunity to raise any issue of interest to them. Is it then necessary to have a hartal on Tuesday to draw people’s attention to any particular issue?

From demonstrations by village committees to a day’s fast by the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president, the Congress has already organized many agitations to highlight the LDF government’s failures. They provided ample opportunity to demonstrate the feelings of the Congress party and the other constituents of the UDF. There is only one thing that the hartal can do beyond what these agitations have done: cause hardship to the people. The UDF must consider whether it should do that. More particularly, the Congress.
This request is addressed especially to the Congress because it is the largest democratic party of the country and of Kerala too. Unlike most other parties, it not only participates in the democratic process but sincerely believes in the present democratic dispensation. Although there are many things in its history that do not accord with democracy, like the Emergency and the dismissal of the Communist government that came to power through the ballot box, the credit for the continuance of the democratic dispensation also belongs to it.

Hartal is a mode of agitation that has lost its relevance due to excessive use. What it demonstrates today is not the people’s feelings but the parties’ ability to frighten them. Civil society in Kerala has been demanding for some time that this political obscenity must be ended. The Congress, which has an obligation to uphold democratic values, must respect public opinion and, instead of staging hartal on February 19, organize programmes that do not cause hardship to the people. The Muslim League’s decision to organize padayatras on a day as a token of protest is a good example. If the Congress takes the initiative, the other UDF constituents may not insist on going ahead with the hartal.
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi edition dated February 14, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

Education reform proposals invite strong opposition

WITH a state-appointed committee proposing certain changes in the Kerala Education Rules, the stage has been set for a confrontation between the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government and the powerful institutions that control the bulk of the private schools.

There are more than 13,200 schools in Kerala. A little over half of them are lower primary schools, with Classes I to IV. Upper primary (Classes V to VII), secondary (Classes VIII to X) and higher secondary (Classes XI and XII) schools account for 22 per cent, 19 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.

The private sector dominates throughout. But its dominance is most pronounced at the lower levels. At the primary level, 64 per cent of the schools are privately owned and only 36 per cent are under the government.

At the secondary level, the private sector's share is 62 per cent and the government's 38 per cent. A majority of the private schools are under the control of powerful religious and caste organizations.

For more than a century Christian missions have been active in the educational field, and they constitute the largest single element. Muslims, who entered the field comparatively late, come next.

As religious minorities, both Christians and Muslims have a constitutional right to administer educational institutions of their own. On several occasions, courts have struck down governmental efforts to regulate the affairs of schools and colleges run by them/ From the time the LDF took office in 2006, there were reports that the government proposed to take steps to rein in private managements.

Even as the committee, appointed by it under the chairmanship of CP Nair, a retired Chief Secretary to the Government, was proceeding with its work, there was intense speculation on its recommendations. Some steps, which were reportedly under consideration, like a change in the school hours, are not in the report.

Apparently the committee dropped the proposal for a change in school timings in view of the strong opposition voiced by Muslim organizations, which feared it would interfere with the working of the community's madrasas.

The Christian churches have come down heavily against two proposals of the committee. One envisages the creation of a school service commission, on the lines of the Public Service Commission (PSC), to draw up list of persons eligible for appointment as teachers. The other seeks to extend the system of reservation to cover the posts of teachers.

The Inter-Church Council for Education (ICCE), an umbrella organisation of Christian school managements, has accused the government of attempting to "politicise and appropriate" the education sector. It rejects the official claim that the changes are meant to improve the standards of education. The PSC selects teachers for government schools.

The committee had before it a proposal that since the government pays the salaries of private school teachers the PSC must be entrusted with their selection too.

It mooted the idea of a separate agency with a view to mollifying the private managements who are against giving the PSC any role in the selection process.
It is widely believed that many private managements, including the Christian missions, appoint teachers after collecting money from the candidates. Public opinion, therefore, favours placing some restrictions on them.

According to the ICCE, there is no need to interfere with the managements' right to appoint teachers since they are already under an obligation to pick only those who possess such qualifications as are prescribed by the government. It points out that even if the managements are required to choose candidates from a list prepared by an external agency, there will be room for corruption.

The stage for confrontation having been set, the million dollars question is whether the government will actually go in for a showdown or merely use the committee's recommendations as bargaining chips.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist, which heads the ruling coalition, had used its last State conference, held in the Muslim stronghold of Malappuram three years ago, as an opportunity to improve its support base among that religious group.

Ways to widen the party's base among the Christians is uppermost in the minds of its leadership as it holds its conference in their bastion of Kottayam this week. It is well aware that any confrontation with the minorities will upset its calculations.

Besides, if there is a showdown, the Christian managements can count on the support of the Nair Service Society, a powerful Hindu organisation, besides the Congress and the other constituents of the opposition United Democratic Front. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 11, 2008

Friday, February 8, 2008

Good Water, Bad Cola?

A TERI reports says water used to make Coke is free of pesticides.

CR BIJOY puts the report under the scanner

Thursday, February 7, 2008

HMT land deal: dark shadows tell a tale

The HMT land deal is different from the scams of the past. This is not a tale of corruption by one individual, one party or one institution. It is possible to believe that the state has the ability to deal with such corruption. The instruments of the state may not use that ability. Even then it is possible to sustain belief in it. It is, however, doubtful if the state can truthfully investigate the irregularities in this deal. The doubts arise not from the allegations of political opponents but from the explanations offered by ruling party spokespersons.

Lots of files landed on the tables and in front of the cameras of media syndicates last week. As rival factions vied with each other and brought out documents relating to the HMT land deal, dwarfing Shahjehan, who had been enthroned as the emperor of media leaks, one thing became clear. HMT had sold land to a private company with the prior knowledge of the major elements of Kerala’s power structure. Among them are ministers, party leaders, trade union leaders and bureaucrats.

It was to establish that Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan was aware of the deal that the CPI (M)’s Ernakulam district secretary revealed that there had been discussions on it at party and government levels for months. As the main ruling party, the CPI (M) has the right to instruct the government on what policy to adopt. For the present let us overlook the technical argument that since a front is in power, this right actually belongs to the front and not to any single party. But the public is entitled to know what all were discussed for months.

The role of the trade union leaders in this matter is as suspicious as that of the party leaders. A union had played a decisive role in facilitating the deal between Sevi Mano Mathew and ISRO. It was at a meeting convened by the Labour Minister to discuss an issue raised by the union that the decision to remove the obstacles in the way of the deal was taken. Here we see evidence of a strategy of advancing capitalist interests under cover of labour interests. Union leaders are politically impotent. If they allow themselves to be used as a cover, it is reasonable to assume that they have set a price for it and those concerned are paying it. The public is entitled to know what that price is.

The HMT deal became a topic of controversy when the Chief Minister stayed away from the foundation stone laying ceremony at the land Blue Star Realtors Private Limited acquired from it. After laying the stone, Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem said his department had nothing to do with the deal. He added that Kinfra had all information at its disposal. Kinfra is a public sector undertaking directly under the Industries department. Pinarayi Vijayan was quick to realize that if would be difficult for the Industries Minister to escape blame if Kinfra was in the picture. Without losing a minute, he offered an alternative explanation. Since HMT is a Central undertaking, it is the Centre that has to answer the charges about the deal, he said. Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan immediately repeated it. Pinarayi has constituted a committee to look into the deal. It is headed by Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. Now we don’t have to wait for its report to know its finding. Why did the party appoint an inquiry committee if it is for the Centre to answer the charges? That, too, after the State government had ordered an inquiry?

According to HMT’s explanation, its deal was transparent. But why it placed the advertisement offering land for sale only in Mumbai papers is a matter worth looking into. Available information about Blue Star Realtors Private Limited, which struck the deal with it, is far from satisfactory. The name itself makes clear that it is a real estate company. HMT and Kareem are saying that it is a subsidiary of a company named HDIL. Kareem claims it acquired the land for HDIL to set up Cyber City, an information technology project. Anyone planning to set up an IT project must approach the IT department. But neither HDIL nor Blue Star got in touch with it. Their contacts are all with Kareem.

When we try to find out what HDIL is, we find that behind those four letters stands Housing Development and Infrastructure Limited. All that it says about itself at its website is that it is one of India’s large real estate developers. Here some questions arise, such as why does a public limited company engaged in real estate developments needs a private limited subsidiary to do the same thing.

When the Kerala government sought to resume 400 acres of excess land in HMT’s possession, it had sought permission to retain 100 acres for its future developmental activities, and this was agreed to. It is from out of these 100 acres that the company has sold 70 acres to ward off financial problems. To get the complete story of the talks at party and government levels which went on for months we have to inquire what happened to the remaining 30 acres also.

The attempt to find out who all knew how much about the deal is no longer quite relevant. For it has been established beyond doubt that people at different levels of the administration were involved in the deal. We should now be considering how the deal can be undone and we can recover the state’s asset that was alienated. It is difficult to believe that the minds and hands of those who are trying to validate the deal, instead of undoing it, are clean.
Based on "Nerkkazhcha" column appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated February 7, 2008

Monday, February 4, 2008

Party factionalism casts its shadow on government

It is clear as daylight that State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan will emerge with increased strength from the conference of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), scheduled to be held at Kottayam. It is equally clear that the sectarian feud, which has been raging in the party for some years, will continue.

The party conferences from the branch level upwards had seen intense warfare between the rival factions. Now the battleground has shifted to the government. The General Administration department, which is directly under Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, issued last week a circular naming the Information Technology department, which is also under him, as the nodal agency for all IT projects.

The official notification in effect denies Industry Minister Elamaram Karim, who belongs to the Pinarayi Vijayan faction, the power to clear IT projects without reference to the Chief Minister. It is a direct sequel to the differences between Achuthanandan and Karim over the Cyber City project, which is supposed to come up on the land which HMT Limited, a Central government undertaking, sold to Blue Star Realtors, a Mumbai-based company. As was stated in this column last week, Karim had laid the foundation stone as Achuthanandan stayed away.

Alleging that the HMT land deal was illegal, the opposition United Democratic Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party have called for a judicial inquiry.
They have also demanded the resignation of Karim as well as Revenue Minister KP Rajendran. The two ministers had intervened to speed up completion of the land deal.

Material which has become public in the last few days make it clear that the CPI-M leaders and its trade union leaders had participated in the prolonged negotiations between the HMT and the Mumbai firm which resulted in the deal.

According to Gopi Kottamurickal, secretary of the CPI-M Ernakulam district committee, there were months of negotiations in which party and government representatives were involved. Although he was with Achuthanandan in the factional war, he has now distanced himself from the Chief Minister and thrown his weight behind Karim. Responding to his statement, Achuthanandan said Kottamurickal was talking without knowing all the facts.

When suspicions about the land deal arose, Karim had sought to extricate himself by saying the government was not involved in the deal and its only interest was to ensure that the State did not lose an IT project.
He, however, acknowledged that the Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (Kinfra) was fully aware of the transaction.

Pinarayi Vijayan, realizing that since Kinfra came under the Industries department, public acknowledgment of its role would implicate Karim, changed tack. He said the deal was between a Central undertaking and a private company, and the State government did not come into the picture. What began as a dispute between the two factions of the CPI (M) soon turned into an issue between the government and the party.

After the State Cabinet decided to ask a committee of officials, headed by the Chief Secretary, to go into the legality of the land deal, the party's State Committee decided ordered an inquiry by Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac. Neither the official probe nor the party probe is likely to carry conviction with the public.

The UDF has pointed out that an inquiry by officials in a matter involving ministers was only eyewash. Since the two ministers conducting the party probe are strong supporters of Pinarayi Vijayan, its outcome cannot be any different.

Last week the rival factions flooded the media with information designed to discredit each other's claims. Industries Ministry sources leaked material to establish that Achuthanandan was in the know of the developments. The Mumbai company had written to the Chief Minister seeking help to complete the transaction, and his office had passed it on to the Industries Minister for processing.

Material leaked by the rival camp showed that the Industries department intervened to facilitate the completion of the transaction ignoring notes from the Law department and the Collector of Ernakulam which said HMT was not entitled to sell the land.

Although the Revenue Minister acted in aid of the Industries Minister and helped to push the land deal, his party, the CPI, which is the second biggest constituent of the ruling front, has directed him to cancel the deal and resume the land. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, Februay 4, 2008.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Caste and gender in Urban Kerala

The report of a study on caste and gender in urban Kerala, undertaken in the context of the experience of Chithra Lekha, a women who sought to make a living as an auto driver, is now available.

The study was conducted by two Hyderabad-based feminist researchers, P. Jenny Rowena and Carmel Christy, under a 2007 Sarai-CSDS Independent Fellowship Project.

Sarai: the New Media Initiative and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies are based at 29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110 054.

Rowena and Christy write: “We have been trained in working with texts, to produce newtexts. However, our caste/gender locations always placed us outside and beyond the scope of most given academic texts. Therefore the need to create new tools, new questions and new theory has been very much part of our research lives.

“We knew that going to the field and gathering data about facts and facets that does not enter theuniversity discourse would prove important for us. This project has helped us a great deal in moving in this direction. We had started with three important theoretical questions. One about sexualharassment, one the Left organization in North Kerala and about the OBC Dalit relationship,

“This project has helped us gain enough data, insight and material for working further on all these levels. Most probably in our coming works we would be building on the knowledge we have gained from this and move on to newer areas."

Those interested may see Chithra Lekha.doc

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Remembering R. K. Karanjia

A personal tribute to R. K. Karanjia, Editor of Blitz newsmagazine, who passed away yesterday, is at BHASKAR blog.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Communist party conference: the Chinese parallel

Kerala views the State conference of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), due to be held at Kottayam in the next few days, as the last item of a long process. Actually an even more important event is to follow: the all-India party congress, to be held at Coimbatore.
That event is not receiving much attention for two reasons. One is that there is no power struggle at the national level, as there is in the State. The other is that the leaders and rank and file of the party in the State have developed the mentality of a regional party.

From its birth, the CPI (M) has followed the system of democratic centralism, evolved by the world communist movement. The Kerala conferences revealed both its strength and weakness. For the first time in the party’s history, the central leadership had provided guidelines for the conduct of conferences with a view to checking the sectarianism that has been raging in the State party for a few years. Yet there was sectarian trial of strength at all levels.

CPI (M) conferences are held once in three years. The ‘democratic centralist’ style is to accept by acclamation the official panel prepared by the outgoing office-bearers in consultation with the leadership of higher councils. But members have the freedom to contest against the official panel. Both factions used this freedom. Quite naturally it did more good to the official faction than to the other one. The centre could only look on helplessly as its guidelines were violated with impunity at the lowest levels. But when such violations were repeated at the district level, it could not pretend it had not seen them. When it sought to intervene, the State leadership showed its strength. It refused to part with the district committees it had captured from the rival faction. At the same time it offered the centre a consolation prize. It agreed to reconvene the Thiruvananthapuram district conference and approve by acclamation the State conference delegates belonging to the V. S. Achuthanandan faction who had been defeated in contested elections.

State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan’s demonstration of his hold in the party through contests and compromises can be seen as a triumph of inner-party democracy (of non-centralist variety). But then the question arises how he gained the upper hand. M.V. Raghavan has said that Pinarayi Vijayan used all the tactics normally employed in a general election except impersonation of voters. Raghavan is not an impartial observer where CPI (M) is concerned. But no one else is likely to be better informed than him on what is going on in the party.

The conferences at various levels give the members the opportunity to review the party’s working during the previous three years and chalk out programmes for the coming years. There is nothing in the media reports to indicate that this happened at the lower levels. They only speak of the Pinarayi faction attacking the VS faction and vice versa. All that now remains to be seen is whether participants in the Kottayam deliberations will be able to evaluate properly the performances of the party and its government and remedy the weaknesses evident in them, without being subjugated to sectarianism. To put it differently, the question is whether the central leaders present there will be able to facilitate this. In the democratic centralist set-up, the General Secretary ought to be able to do so. But there is a snag. As Pinarayi Vijayan recently said, he is not a leader who was dropped into A. K. G. Centre through the roof. The General Secretary is a leader who was so dropped.

The activities of the past three years have brought the party assets as well as allegations. The assets have come from vested interests like fake lottery operators and the land mafia. (Let us avoid the old term bourgeoisie.) So great is their enthusiasm that when the party asks for one million they are ready to give six. Allegations have come from an assortment of people like Vinitha Kottayi of Kannur against whom the local party leader has imposed sanctions, Chithralekha of Payyannur who insists on driving autos to earn a living even after smart CITU men burnt her auto, and Jayasree of Erayamkudi, Thrissur, who will not let a brick maker whom the party favours carry on his business peaceably. Maybe the delegates must consider how the CPI (M) has become a party that commits atrocities against women. Also how the party which had taken the lead in land reforms has been reduced to a state where its ministers act as intermediaries who are obliged to remove any obstacles encountered by land grabbers.

The Communist Party of China holds its conferences once in five years. While visiting the country at conference time, I saw a lot of reports about corruption in the newspapers. All of them emanated from the official news agency. It is an organization with two Central Committee members at the top. When I had the opportunity to meet one of them I expressed appreciation of the agency’s frank coverage of corruption. “You haven’t seen everything,” he told me. “Only the Politburo sees everything that we report.”

At that time Deng’s reforms were only ten years old. According to tales that were doing the rounds, all doors will open before the entrepreneur if he deposits enough money for the local party leader’s son or daughter to study in the US for five years and hands it over the passbook to him. But the party had already started moving against corruption.

According to a report presented to China’s parliament by the president of the Supreme People’s Court in 2000, in the previous year 15,700 persons were punished for corruption-related offences. Two of them were working at the ministerial level. The deputy governor of a province was hanged for taking bribes. The Chinese National Conditions Research Centre, a unit of the Academy of Sciences, the country’s highest academic body, and Tsinghua University jointly undertook a study of corruption cases involving persons of the level of vice-minister and upwards, which were reported between 1978, the year in which the Deng reforms began, and 2002. Their report said that during 1978-1992, there were investigations against 110 persons who were working at provincial and ministerial levels. The party took severe action against some of them. Cases against 31 persons were referred to courts. All of them were punished.

Self-building of ant-corruption personnel is one of the important items on the programme for the next five years adopted by the Chinese party congress held last year. How lucky we are! Do we have any such problem?
Based on "Nerkkazhcha" column which appeared in Kerala Kaumudi dated January 31, 2008