Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Chinese bloggers rise in defence of the country

Here is a lesson in nationalism, from China.

While the Olympic torch lit the way for international anti-China protests, it also became the catalyst for Chinese nationalists to develop their voice – especially on the Internet. Chinese cyber nationalists are flexing their power as a nation of consumers by calling for a series of boycotts – proving that the issues might be more about economics than Democracy, says New America Media editor Jun Wang.

See News Analysis by Jun Wang at NAM site

Monday, April 28, 2008

Kerala CPI (M) prepares trade unions to turn a new leaf

COMMUNIST Party of India (Marxist) State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan's public denunciation of extortionist and corrupt practices of trade unions can be seen as part of a conscious bid to turn a new leaf and put Kerala firmly on the right path.

Speaking at a seminar to mark the golden jubilee of the State Assembly on Friday, Vijayan made a pointed reference to what is generally known as nokkukooli (which literally means "wages for looking on)." Without mincing words, he said collecting wages without working was robbery. Only those who worked were entitled to wages, he added.

Like bandh (forced work stoppage) and gherao (blockade), nokkukooli came into vogue as the CPI (M)-led Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) resorted to strong-arm tactics in the 1970s.

Head-load workers, organised under CITU unions, asserted that they alone had the right to carry loads and they should get wages even if an employer engaged others for loading and unloading work. Today the practice of paying nokkukooli is prevalent in many commercial centres.

Besides CITU members, workers belonging to unions affiliated to other parties, like the Indian National Trade Union Congress and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, also collect unearned wages where they are able to do so.

Even as Pinarayi Vijayan was speaking against nokkukooli in Thiruvananthapuram, CITU and BMS workers at Thrissur were holding up road repair work because a contractor had refused to pay nokkukooli.

So long as nokkukooli was confined to industries and marketplaces, the general public was not very concerned about it. When the unions extended it to cover even ordinary citizens who took help for loading and unloading public opinion rose against it, but the people could do little.

During the Emergency, K Karunakaran, as the Home Minister, kept the militant trade unions under check using the police. When anti-Emergency sentiments swept the Congress out of power in most States, Karunakaran was able to lead it to power in Kerala in 1977. Many people attributed his electoral victory to middle class citizens' appreciation of the government's role in keeping the extortionist practices of workers in check.

The last United Democratic Front government had brought forward legislation to regulate the work of head-load workers with a view to saving ordinary citizens from exploitation. The CPI (M) vehemently opposed the measure.

In his speech, Pinarayi Vijayan also referred to the need for the Left Democratic Front and UDF to adopt a constructive approach to developmental problems. "The impression that if Oommen Chandy says something, Pinarayi Vijayan has to oppose it must go," he said.

UDF leaders' immediate response to Pinarayi Vijayan's speech was along familiar lines. Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy described it as a case of delayed wisdom. If the CPI (M) had taken this position ten years ago the State would have attracted much investment by now, he remarked.

LDF Convener Vaikom Viswan and Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac quickly joined issue with them. Oommen Chandy's thinking was a century behind, Viswan quipped.

The exchanges showed that the traditional rivals would not find it easy to change their ways. After all, habits die hard.

Pinarayi Vijayan took up another issue, too, in his speech on Friday: the problems faced by ordinary citizens in government offices. He said it reflected poorly on the administration that even a small thing would not get done unless there was high-level recommendation.

People who approach government offices for certificates of any kind often have to pay bribes. However, Pinarayi Vijayan did not make any direct reference to such corruption.

The CPI (M) is the party which commands the widest following among both the working class and government employees. A determined effort by it to fight unhealthy trends can, therefore, go a long way in putting an end to evil practices.

Pinarayi Vijayan, who convincingly demonstrated his grip over the party machinery at the recent State conference, is in a position to bring about beneficial changes in the working of the State party as well as the mass organisations under its control.

Following Pinarayi Vijayan's speech, CITU State chief KN Ravindranath said the organisation was opposed to nokkukooli. He added that it would act firmly to put an end to it. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 28, 2008.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A peal of spring thunder over the Himalayas

It was 41 years ago that China, hearing a peal of thunder from Naxalbari, proclaimed the arrival of spring in India. That sound quickly subsided. The hopes that it raised dimmed. Now the sound of thunder is being heard even louder from atop the Himalayas. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is getting ready to assume office and write a new Constitution for the country. But China is not showing the kind of enthusiasm that Naxalbari had aroused. China has changed.

What has happened in Nepal is an event that is far greater than the one India witnessed in 1957. When the undivided Communist Party of India came to power in Kerala through the ballot, there was change of government in a state that which did not enjoy sovereignty. There was above it a regime that could control it. When CPN (M) comes to power, a sovereign state is coming under Communist rule through the ballot. More precisely, under rather tougher Maoist rule. Yet, so far, it has not aroused in imperialist quarters the kind of reaction that Communist rule in Kerala evoked. The world, too, has changed.

Nepal is almost four times the size of Kerala. But its population is only 25 million. The CPN (M) is a party that waged an armed struggle for 10 years. About 13,000 people were killed in that war. After that the party decided to experiment with carrying forward the revolution through peaceful means. It was the mass agitation that it conducted demanding abolition of monarchy that led to the election of a Constituent Assembly. Under Maoist pressure the administration brought about several changes even before a new constitution was drawn up. For instance, the world’s only Hindu kingdom became a secular state.

There were beneficial interventions from abroad to resolve the crisis in Nepal precipitated by the mass agitation. From India, the government and the CPI (Marxist) played a part in the process. Former US President Jimmy Carter was among the foreign observers who arrived to ensure that the Constituent Assembly elections were free and fair.

A total of 240 members were elected to the Constituent Assembly from territorial constituencies. Just over half of them are Maoists. But they will not be in a majority in the house. This is because 335 more members are to be elected on the basis of party lists. Each party will be allotted seats in proportion to the votes polled by it. The NPN (M) polled about 30% of the votes. So it will only get as many seats. In the circumstances, even though the other major parties are way behind it, the party can only create a set-up that is acceptable to them too.

CPN (M) leader Prachanda has stated that there will be coalition government and that he will head it. Even Nepalese know very little about this 54-year-old, who was underground for long. Prachanda is the nom de guerre taken by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who began life as a teacher, when he went underground. In a BBC interview, he revealed that his wife too was an office-bearer of the party and that they have three children.
According to those who have known him, he is really not a fierce character, as suggested by the assumed name, but is a mild-manner person, as suggested by his real name. (Prachanda means fierce one, Pushpa means flower and Kamal means lotus). But he has no hesitation to take tough action as party leader. A few years ago, he had expelled Baburam Bhattarai, who is No. 2 in the party, and his wife from the party for saying he was ‘power-hungry’. A few months later he took them back.

Prachanda is coming to power at a time when the Congress, which heads the Central government, and the Bharatiya Janata Party and the CPI (M), which head some State governments, are showing up India’s Maoist parties as a major threat. Like Maoists all over the world, the CPN (M) draws inspiration from Mao Thought. Although during the ‘people’s war’ against the royal administration, Prachanda often spent time in India, it was to China that he looked for help. The CPN (M) had formed a coordination committee with 10 other Maoist parties of South Asia. Of these, five were in India. As a result of the merger of some groups, the Indian membership of the coordination committee has now come down. According to a document prepared by the committee, the common enemy of the people of the region is “Indian expansionism, backed by world imperialism, particularly US imperialism”. These are words copied from old Chinese literature.

Like the Communist Party of China, the CPN (M) too has changed in the recent past. Now the ideological base of the CPC is not ‘Marxism-Leninism, Mai Thought’ but ‘Marxism-Leninism, Mao Thought, Deng Theory’. The Nepal party has defined its ideology as “Marxism-Leninism, Mao Thought, Prachanda Path’. The content of Prachanda Path is not clear. An anti-communist commentator wrote mockingly: “Mao Theory plus Swiss Model equals Prachanda Path.” Prachanda, who visited Switzerland last year, sees it as a model for Nepal. Like Nepal, Switzerland is land-locked and inhabited by different peoples. Although it follows the capitalist system, Prachanda and his colleagues had decided even during the revolutionary phase that Nepal could adopt its federal structure.

Prachanda realizes that although the CPN (M) has the people’s mandate, it cannot fulfil its mission without the cooperation of other parties. Even as the results of the elections started coming in, he made it clear that he would continue to work together with the other parties and the international community. His declaration that all previous agreements would be respected is indicative of his desire to go forward without rocking the boat. The attempt to harmonize Communist ideas and democratic ways through the Prachanda Path desires to be watched with interest.
Based on column "Nerkkazhcha" appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated April 24, 2008

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Techies make ‘The Myth’ real

Bijoy, Prasanth and seven others working at the SunTec Business Solutions at Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram, have made a 75-minute movie on Travancore’s history, titled ‘The Myth,’ reports The Hindu.

The paper quotes Bijoy as saying, “The movie tries to highlight the greatness of our ancestors. It is a tribute to their foresight in planning and developing the city.”

Over to the Hindu report.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Kerala's high vulnerability on food front exposed

WITH food pieces rising sharply all over the country and the long-established public distribution system collapsing, Kerala stands exposed as highly vulnerable in the matter of food security.

The worst sufferers are the large sections of people who remain outside the channels through which remittances from abroad, which sustain the State's economy, flow.

The State needs about four million tonnes of rice a year. In the 1970s, production was around 1.35 million tones. Since then it has shrunk. Last year it touched a new low of 635,000 tonnes.

The outlook for the current year is dismal, summer rain having caused heavy production loss in Kuttanad and Thrissur. At the same time, supplies from Andhra Pradesh, traditionally the State's main source of rice, have fallen drastically due to heavy local procurements.

While other States abandoned or curtailed the public distribution system (PDS) built up in the country during World War II, Kerala retained it, providing universal coverage. This helped the State to tide over food shortages with the least hardship. Ten years ago, the PDS outlets were selling 185,000 tonnes of food grains a month.

In 1999, as part of the economic reforms, the Centre asked the State to limit the sale of subsidised grains to the needy. The two governments could not agree on the number of people who were below the poverty line (BPL) and therefore entitled to support. While the Centre puts the BPL population at 25 per cent the State claims it is 40 per cent.

In August 2006, there were 6.86 million families with ration cards. Of these, 4.77 million (69.5 per cent) were listed as above the poverty line (APL). A large number of card holders have not been buying grains from PDS outlets during the past few years as they can buy good quality rice in the open market at comparable prices.

Official figures show that distribution through PDS declined continuously until 2002. The off-take that year was 461,000 tonnes of rice and 81,000 tonnes of wheat. Subsequently, the off-take started rising, and stood at 575,000 tonnes of rice and 346,000 tonnes of wheat in 2005.

The Economic Review, which cites these figures, does not offer any explanation for the shift in trend. There is reason to believe that shopkeepers have been turning over their unsold stocks to rice mills. The State government overlooks the illegal transactions to prevent the shops from being uneconomic and closing down.

Aware of the fall in off-take of grains, the Centre started cutting the State's grains quota. As grain shortages developed and prices shot up, the State government said this was the result of continuous reduction in Central allocations. Appeals to the Centre to restore the quota did not yield immediate results.

The problem quickly became one of contention among the political parties. The ruling Left Democratic Front blamed the price rise on the Congress-led government at the Centre. The Congress-led United Democratic Front held the State government responsible. The Bharatiya Janata Party said both Central and State governments had failed.

Last week Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan led a delegation, which included leaders of the UDF too, to New Delhi to press the State's demand for urgent help. The two Fronts usually keep the BJP, which has no member in the State Assembly, out of such teams.

This time, the National Congress Party, which is not in either Front, was also excluded, even though it has two members in the Assembly. Disappointed with the response of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who is the leader of the NCP, to the State's plea, Achuthanandan accused him of playing politics. State NCP leader K Muraleedharan retorted that it was the Chief Minister who was playing politics.

The developments brought into sharp focus two maladies that afflict Kerala. One is the readiness of the political leaders to resort to partisan warfare even in a time of crisis. The other is the failure of the administration to ensure that the State produces enough grains to ensure food security.

The first Communist government had talked of augmenting food production. Addressing the State Assembly in 1959, the Governor said, "The food crisis cannot be solved permanently unless the production of rice in Kerala is doubled or tripled. I am glad that my government has realised the necessity for this and has taken steps to increase food production." Half a century later, those words sound like a cruel joke. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 21, 2008.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Electronic media dictates reality

A new trend in which the electronic world dictates our reality has begun, says New America Media editor Andrew Lam in an article titled “Ten minutes of Fame”.

Lam's piece has relevance to Kerala in view of its own experience of reality shows.

Andrew Lam writes:

Future historians may very well look back at the beginning of the 21st century as an era in which the human mind developed into a split screen, with one eye on real space and the other ogling the electronic mirror. MORE

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Poverty amidst plenty -- the Kerala experience

“Our biggest problem is that we do not get our due share from the Centre,” Kerala’s Finance Minister, Dr. T. M. Thomas Isaac, said while addressing a seminar on the State’s development a few months ago. To prove the point he pointed out that while the tenth Finance Commission allotted the State 3.4% of the Central tax revenues the eleventh Finance Commission had reduced it to 2.54%. Considering that the State’s population had fallen from 3.36% of the country’s population to 31.1% and that the State is way ahead of the other States in many spheres, there is no need to see this cut as a grave injustice. The Finance Minister’s unhappiness stems from the realization that the State would have received Rs.20 billion more if the old rate was retained. Since the State could not spend the money received from the Centre for several projects there is really no need to nurture any great sense of loss on this account.

Our real problem is not that we are not getting our due share from the Centre. Nor is it that we are not able to make use of the money we get from the Centre. The real problem is that we do not have mechanisms to utilize properly the large sums of money flowing into the State. As with water, so with money, it is the lot of this land to suffer shortages amidst plenty. If we use our resources wisely we can manage without depending upon anyone’s kindness.

We are still led by the mindset that we developed in the past when Kerala was indeed poor. The only option before us then was to depend upon the Centre for everything. As remittances from expatriates started pouring in, the situation started changing. In 1978 I had made an attempt to find out how much money was coming in from the Malayalees in the Gulf States. The State government had no information on the subject. Based on information provided by majors, I estimated that about Rs.3 billion was received that year. Thanks to studies conducted with the help of the World Bank, we now know that during the past 30 years the inflow steadily rose to reach Rs.245.25 billion in 2007. According to figures provided by the Finance Minister in the Budget presented this year, the State’s revenue receipts last year was about Rs.214.87 billion. From this we can gather that the immigrants’ families scattered across the State together receive more than what the government gets.

In recent years, living costs have gone up in the Gulf States. But remittances from there have not fallen. Migration to the Gulf region recorded an increase of only five per cent during 2003 and 2007 but remittances from there rose by about 20% during that period. From this we cannot conclude that every expatriate is sending more money than before now. An increase of this kind can happen even if a small number of persons with very high incomes send more money. In the early stages, Gulf migration helped reduce inequality. Studies suggest that it is now increasing inequality.

Hundreds of billions of rupees flowed into the State in the last three decades. If at least a part of this money was used well, Kerala would have been in much better shape today. The emphasis is on “well”. The earliest migrants spent huge amounts to build palatial buildings. Lately there has been a fall in expenditure of that kind. According to the latest statistics, only 11% of expatriate families spend money to buy or build houses. But even now their money is not reaching activities that will yield benefit to the wider society. Less than two per cent ventured into businesses using remittances from abroad.

Many emigrate spending huge sums to get jobs and visas. Half the expatriate families use remittances to liquidate debts incurred in the process. About 84% families depend upon remittances for day-to-day expenses and about 64% for the education of children. These figures do not tell the whole story. Even after meeting all this expenditure, there is money left. That is why bank deposits have been growing continuously. Even now they are growing, but there has been a fall in the rate of growth. Taking this as a warning signal, Kerala must consider how it can build mechanisms that can fruitfully use the money that flows in. This is not something the government can do on its own. That is why I have written ‘Kerala must consider’, and not ‘the government must consider’.

Basically we need mechanisms built on professional foundations. Our political parties are particular that everything must be under their patronage or control. All existing mechanisms in the State have been built on that basis. The white elephants of the public sector are the best examples. The vast majority of the people are willing to remain happily in the shade provided by political patrons. This is not a situation conducive to building of mechanisms with sound professional bases. Yet a few such institutions have come up. They teach us that professional institutions which are not under political or bureaucratic control can earn people’s trust. The leaders who are engaged in ideological shadow fighting must study their working objectively. It may help them to find a way to strike out a new path with the help of good professionals.
Based on column "Nerkkazhcha" appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated April 17, 2008

Monday, April 14, 2008

Changing grammar of protest stumps political establishment

The wretched of the earth are standing up in Kerala and re-defining the politics of agitation. Their young middle class supporters are rewriting the grammar of protest. All this has stumped the political establishment, of which the traditional Left is now the dominant element.

It all started when CK Janu marched into Thiruvananthapuram with hundreds of her tribal followers in 2001 demanding restoration of their alienated forest lands. Breaking with the tradition of staging rallies or holding meetings, they erected makeshift hutments in front of the State Secretariat and camped there.

At first, the authorities ignored the agitation. But by the 48th day Janu was able to extract from Chief Minister AK Antony a promise to allot alternative lands to all landless Adivasis.

As the government failed to honour the commitment, Janu launched another agitation. This time the Adivasis squatted in the Muthanga forest. They were driven out in February 2003 in a police action, which resulted in the death of one Adivasi and one constable.

Despite the Muthanga brutality, squatting soon became the landless Adivasis’ favoured mode of agitation. In the biggest such agitation, more than 21,000 people have been camping in a plantation at Chengara in Pathanamthitta district for the last eight months, seeking allotment of land.

The Sadhujana Vimochana Samyuktavedi (united front for liberation of poor people), which has organized the movement, is led by Laha Gopalan, a retired government employee. All the squatters are not Adivasis or Dalit, but they are all are landless, he says.

A private firm, which claims ownership of the plantation, has obtained a court order for eviction of the squatters. The order contains an express directive to avoid bloodshed. This stands in the way of police action a la Muthanga.

Recently the government sent a police party to evict the squatters. It beat a hasty retreat when some of the agitators clambered up trees with ropes and threatened to hang themselves. The suicide threat can be seen as a measure of the despair of the landless.

Although the United Democratic Front has not taken a definite stand on the Chengara agitation, prominent Congress leaders like VM Sudheeran have made gestures of support.

Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan convened a meeting of Samyuktavedi representatives and leaders of different parties recently to discuss the Chengara issue. He asked the agitators to file applications for land individually and await the government’s decision. Laha Gopalan rejected the suggestion.

Nothing positive could have emerged from the meeting as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had taken a strong position against the agitation. It accused the Samyuktavedi of luring landless people with false promises.

The party also alleged that extremists and non-government organisations receiving funds from abroad were behind the agitation. Detractors had made similar allegations against Janu’s agitation too.

Early last month a group of young men and women from different parts of the State gathered outside the Secretariat for a ‘night vigil’ in solidarity with the Adivasis. Late at night, as the protestors were relaxing, a television camera stealthily recorded scenes showing them chatting, smoking and frolicking.

The CPI (M)-controlled Kairali channel aired the visuals with a commentary that suggested that the youth had violated the norms of public conduct. The party newspaper Deshabhimani also took up the issue.

Apparently the voyeuristic visuals were offered to other channels also, but none of them evinced interest in them.

The CPI (M) followed up the propaganda campaign with a demonstration of its own. It deputed leaders of the State unit of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association, which is affiliated to the party, for ritual cleansing of the area dirtied by the protesting youth.

The AIDWA campaign drew a derisive response from Anitha Thampi, a well-known poet. She wrote:

Don't laugh, dance or even smile!

Life is too serious a business;

Revolution is not laughter and merry making--

Stand up with reverence for the "second coming":

Don't speak, don't smoke, don't hug, and don't laugh--

Such heresies are injurious to the health of the revolution.

Media activist CS Venkiteswaran, writing in Paadhabhedam, deplored the snooping on the protestors and said, “This moral police must not be allowed to control our agitations and determine our morality.”

On Saturday the young people whose unconventional protest had angered the ruling party gathered again in Thiruvananthapuram. At a day-long conclave, they asserted their right to reject the establishment’s code and evolve their own forms of protest.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 14, 2008.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Retail traders' problems vs consumers’ interests

The traders’ organizations are agitating against the entry of retail giants. There are many contradictions in the government’s approach to retail chains. There have been incidents in which CPI (M) warriors destroyed stores which were opened with the permission of civic bodies controlled by the party. While one institution is able to function without hassles in some places it faces ban in some other places. One institution which now encounters hostility has been actually functioning in the State for 80 years. To begin with, its customers were white folks and natives with high incomes. Later it attracted the upper middle class. Now it is attracting even more people and facing opposition of a kind it did not encounter earlier.

Pinarayi Vijayan outlined the policy of the State party and government while addressing traders demonstrating outside Raj Bhavan in February. He declared that no domestic or foreign giant would be allowed. He revealed that the Left Democratic Front had decided that local self-government institutions should not give them permission. The Corporation of Kochi decided later not to allow retail monopolies to open supermarkets. It did not cancel licences issued earlier. However, it decided to raise the licence fees payable by supermarkets and to impose a development surcharge on them. Since the additional expenditure on this account can be transferred to the customers, the decision is unlikely to upset the giants.

The stand of the government of Kerala, which is led from inside by two Politburo members and from outside by a third one, are not in keeping with the proposals framed by the CPI (M)’s central leadership last year. That document says the party is opposed to the entry of multinational corporations in the retail sector. It does not oppose the entry to domestic companies. However, since they may pose a danger to small traders, the party feels there must be severe restrictions on them. It outlines the kind of restrictions that are called for. Licences must be made compulsory for shops whose area exceeds a prescribed limit. The number of shops most be fixed in proportion to the population. There must be a ceiling on the number of shops a company can open in a town or in a State.

The party stipulates that municipal bodies must constitute committees with representation for street vendors and traders’ organizations to decide on grant of licences. It does not ask that consumers be given representation.

There are other contradictions, too, in the approach of the authorities. They are opposed to private companies starting hypermarkets. But the State-owned Civil Supplies Corporation has announced plans to set up hypermarkets at Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kottayam with an outlay of Rs.1.40 billion. The government, which does not want foreigners to come here, is now looking for franchisees for Supplyco in the Gulf States.

The CPI (M) formulated its proposals after detailed studies. It says the retail sector provides employment to 40 million people in the country and contributes 10 or 11 per cent of the gross domestic product. Small unorganized traders make up 97 per cent of the total. The conclusions the party draws from the material it has gathered may not all be correct. For instance, it points out that in India there are 11 shops for 1,000 people and this is higher than in Europe and the rest of Asia. The area of 95 per cent of the shops is less than 500 square feet. According to National Sample Survey reports, between 1999-2000 and 2004-2005 there was a fall of 1.2 million in the number of self-employed urban traders. On the basis of these figures, the party concludes that if the organized retail trade is allowed to grow further the plight of the small traders will get worse.

What these figures show is that an average trader has only 91 customers. That is to say, his shop serves the needs of only about 15 families. A giant is not needed to fell one with so weak a base. He is doomed to be washed away by the tide of time. Kerala is undergoing rapid urbanization. As people move from small houses to big mansions and luxury apartments their lifestyle changes. They will seek shopping facilities in keeping with their new style. They will give up the shopkeeper who cannot meet their need. It is foolish to imagine that a shopkeeper who fails because he does not change with the times can be maintained like the ‘protected’ teacher.

It was the liberalization policy, initiated by the Centre 17 years ago, that paved the way for the entry of big players in the retail sector. How many people remember that the Kerala government had entered the sector 17 years earlier than that? The Civil Supplies Corporation, which is under the government, and the Consumer Federation, which is under its control, have been active in the retail sector since 1974. But the small traders do not view Supplyco, which has 1,200 retail outlets, or Consumerfed, which runs supermarkets in the cities, as threats. When we inquire into the reasons for this, we find that what they fear is not merely the size and financial clout of the private companies but also their higher efficiency.

Government spokesmen have indicated that there are plans to enact legislation to prevent the giants gobbling up the small traders. The government certainly has a duty to help them. What it should do is to provide them help to make the changes that the present time demands. It should not try to conserve them the way it seeks to protect species that face the threat of extinction. That will be against the interests of the consumers.
Based on column "Nerkkazhcha" appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated April 10, 2008

Monday, April 7, 2008

CPI (M) State leadership comes under new pressures

BARELY a month after the State leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) demonstrated its grip over the party apparatus, new pressures are building up on it to mend its questionable ways.

In the elections held in advance of last week's triennial party congress at Coimbatore, State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan had firmly established control over party units at all levels, circumscribing Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan's influence within the organisation. He was able to pack the State contingent to the congress with his supporters.

The few Achuthanandan followers who were listed to speak were allotted subjects that provided little scope to air views on inner-party issues. The leadership's strategy prevented the manifestation of any signs of sectarianism at the congress.

However, the central leadership was not convinced that sectarianism had ended, as claimed by Pinarayi Vijayan.

It said efforts to eliminate sectarianism must continue. The elevation of State Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan to the Politburo, the party's highest policy-making body, can be seen as yet another step taken by the central leadership to contain sectarianism, which has been the bane of the party for several years.

Media reports had indicated that either Paloli Mohammed Kutty or MA Baby would be included in the Politburo in the vacancy created by the retirement of some elderly members.

However, the central leadership's choice fell on Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who was junior to them in the party hierarchy, as he became a Central Committee member after them.

Paloli, Baby and Kodiyeri all belong to the official faction and have stood with Pinarayi Vijayan in the sectarian war.

Observers believe the central leadership bypassed Paloli and Baby and promoted Kodiyeri since it considered him a better instrument to further its anti-sectarian initiative.

Political observers feel that the arrival of yet another Politburo member in the arena can change the equations within the State party. Should the need arise to find a new Chief Minister or State party secretary, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan will be a strong contender, thanks to his new status.

According to insiders, although a member of the Pinarayi faction, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has made conscious efforts in the recent past to create the impression that he was not a blind camp-follower.

They also claim that Kodiyeri, conscious of his responsibilities as home minister and local legislator, sought to distance himself from the vengeful approach of the party's Kannur district leadership during the recent clashes between CPI-M and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activists at Thalasseri.

Pressure is building up on the leadership from outside the party, too, to maintain peace in Kannur. The National Human Rights Commission has called for a report from the State government on the political murders in the district.

The High Court has sought a comprehensive report from the police on the progress in the investigation of the murder cases.

Last month, while referring to the Central Bureau of Investigation a murder case from Kannur, in which a CPI-M activist is the main accused, Justice V Ramkumar of the High Court referred to the recurring violence in the district and said Central forces, which were not amenable to the influence of the State government, must be deployed to restore peace. Pinarayi Vijayan immediately called a press conference to deplore the judge's remarks as unwarranted.

The Chief Minister told the State Assembly that the judge's comments were unconstitutional and most inappropriate. He also said the government would move an appeal to get them expunged.

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said the judge had made observations on matters which were not before the court. He asserted there was no need to deploy Central forces as the State police was capable of controlling the violence.

Last week, while disposing of the bail application of a murder case accused from the district, Justice R Basant directed the Director-General of Police to submit within 45 days an exhaustive report on the progress in the investigation of all murder cases involving CPI-M and RSS activists.

The judge asked that steps be taken for speedy, proper and efficient disposal of all cases. He indicated that if the government's response was not satisfactory the court might go beyond the scope of the bail application and initiate action on its own to bring all similar cases under its ambit.

Advocate General CP Sudhakar Prasad said the government would challenge the directive in a higher judicial forum. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 7, 2008.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Recession hits migrants in US

Jagwinder Singh, who migrated to the United States 10 years ago, has been barely able to send any money back home for the last two months because he’s just not able to save any money.

Using Jagwinder Singh’s experience as a peg, New America Media reporter Viji Sundaram tells the story of how the slowdown in the U.S. economy is affecting the lives of migrants in the country.

See report “Weak Dollar Drives Remittance Surge”.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Indians in Saudi Arabia set up forum to help the poor

Expatriate Indians in Saudi Arabia have set up a body, named Association for Humanitarian Services and Solidarity (AHSAS), to help the poor and the underprivileged in India, particularly in Bihar and Jharkhand.

AHSAS appears to have been promoted by persons of Bihari origin. There are over 1.7 million Indians in Saudi Arabia. Of them, over 100,000 are from Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

The Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) quoted AHSAS president Wakil Ahmed as saying the organization “is committed to serve the underprivileged people in India in general and people living in the eastern States of Bihar and Jharkhand in particular.

To begin with AHSAS has taken up three projects. The first is to sponsor teachers in a school. The scheme may be extended later to cover other schools. The second project is to sponsor needy and underprivileged students in Bihar and Jharkhand. The third is to provide scholarships to meritorious students in the rural areas of Bihar.

AHSAS’s Mission Statement says: “Education is the key to a meaningful life but is often denied in our society. Whatever the gender, caste, creed or religion, we at AHSAS are committed to raise awareness, help eradicate illiteracy, spread education and to provide support to the needy.”

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Covering economic distress: an example from the New America Media file

“When I got out of jail, it wasn’t long before I realized I was fresh meat feeling the heat waves of a struggling economy sweating through a recession.”

These are the words of a young man in San Francisco, who, on coming out of prison, is confronted with the reality of a failing economy through the struggles of his family. They are the opening words of a feature distributed by New America Media.

The words are Eric Phillips’s. The story comes with a video by Cliff Parker.
See NAM feature “Getting Out to Recession: Hard Times in America