“Statues of liberty” – Shobhaa De

05/11/2011
SHOBHAA.JPG

Shobhaa De

I swear I am not joking. After a vroom vroom visit to Mayaland to watch India’s virgin Formula One at the world-class Buddh International Circuit (BIC), I am ready to personally carve a brand new, larger-than-lifesize statue of Mayawati and erect it at a prominent junction in Mumbai. That lady is something else!

Ms Mayawati is my babe-of-the-moment. After pulling off that coup (F1), Ms Mayawati’s stock has zoomed at a speed faster than Sebastian Vettel’s mean machine could rev up. Suddenly, all those snotty F1 fans from Delhi, Mumbai and other cities have had to suck in their breaths and say, “Wow! How did she do it? How?” Mind you, no matter who else was involved (yes, Shri Jaiprakash Gaur, we know it’s you!), it was Ms Mayawati who walked away with all the credit. And hello! Nobody wants to get into the nitty-gritty. A few legal eagles, in on the myriad contracts, whispered not everything was all that kosher and that there were several wheels within wheels and deals within deals, with a whole lot of “black in the lentils”. Does anybody really care? Naah! With stories galore about Ms Mayawati’s family members allegedly getting pretty juicy prime cuts on virtually every brick and bag of cement used, nobody blinked or minded. The reaction has been cool and blasé. “Let them also make money, yaar. But at least India delivered big time for a change. Look at what happened with Commonwealth Games. Paisa khaaya aur kuch bhi nahin kiya. It was such a disgrace.” Point.

We are very sweet and considerate that way. We expect our leaders to keep their family members khush. It’s a given. If Asif Ali Zardari was known in Pakistan as Mr 10 Per Cent, Ms Mayawati’s gang falls into the Messrs 30 Per Cent. Janey do. At least Ms Mayawati fixed the Doubting Thomases who had predicted she’d fall flat on her face with the F1. Advantage Behenji. As anybody who made a pit stop at the Buddh Circuit will readily confirm, this was an absolute coup. And the response (even from sceptics) has been an unconditional thumbs up. Let’s not get ethics and values into the picture. Nor the staggering cost of getting the track and infrastructure off the ground. Point is, Buddh took fans by surprise. But more importantly, it took the motor-racing world’s breath away.
The most interesting aspect of attending the historic Indian F1 was the long drive to the distant venue. A drive that took people past the famous `3,000 crore park with “those” statues that have generated so much criticism and scorn. I passed the park four times. At one point our car was stuck right opposite the notorious elephants, lining the gigantic Dalit Prerna Hall. The first reaction to the elephants and the imposing Stupa-style structure was very positive. The design was pleasing, aesthetic and wonderfully conceived. What had I expected? I’ll be candid and tell you — I had imagined the much-discussed park to be a totally hideous complex crammed with ugly statues. Instead, what I saw was a magnificent ground dotted with handsome monuments made out of local stone and built in a holistic style devoid of any ostentation. Ms Mayawati certainly got this right, as well! As to why she is “wasting” so much money on those statues. Because she is smart! She has vision. What she has cleverly invested in (the park) reflects the aspirations and hopes of dalits. It’s a beautiful space dalits can finally call their own. A space they have never had. Never! A space that provides a strong sense of identity… that they can feel proud of. Intuitively and instinctively, Ms Mayawati must have known that if she wants to leave behind a worthwhile, memorable legacy for future generations to enjoy, it had to be on this scale and on these terms. Good for her.

When one looks around India (a country obsessed by symbols of power in the form of statues), whose figures do we see? Here’s a rough checklist: topping it is, of course, Mahatma Gandhi. Followed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Netaji, Shivaji and the odd Maharaja. You may find a Jhansi Ki Rani, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Rabindranath Tagore and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. B.R. Ambedkar stands tall in more and more cities these days. Then on to countless Indira and Rajiv Gandhi representations. Nearly every important, modern landmark is named after one or the other member of the Gandhi family — the mother, son or grandfather. Airports and other public buildings are all taken by the trio. What about Mumbai’s Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link, which should have legitimately been named after Ambedkar, who was born in Worli, where it is located… but wasn’t? What about the acres and acres of land in Delhi devoted to various “sthals”? How come nobody finds all of this “wasteful, extravagant, meaningless”?

Ms Mayawati is no fool. It is all about those numbers. She is looking ahead at the big picture, and what she’s seeing is obviously good. She is not waiting for anyone to erect her statues… she’s doing the job herself. She is shrewd enough to realise the power of the statue-politics. The more you erect, the stronger the positioning. Why wait till you are dead and gone for followers to get those statues up?

Ms Mayawati is assiduously building her own personality cult. Let’s just hope her statues don’t suffer the same fate as those of others who did the same. Till then, let her bask in her international fame, posing with the handsome and young F1 champions. She’s finally in the fast track… who can stop her now?

Readers can send feedback to http://www.shobhaade.blogspot.com

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Ambedkar: A Radical Economist

07/09/2011

A new resonance

In his views on crucial issues pertaining to economic development, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar comes across as a radical economist who would have staunchly opposed the neoliberal reforms being carried out in India since the 1990s.

VENKATESH ATHREYA

DR. BABASAHEB AMBEDKAR was among the most outstanding intellectuals of India in the 20th century in the best sense of the word. Paul Baran, an eminent Marxist economist, had made a distinction in one of his essays between an “intellect worker” and an intellectual. The former, according to him, is one who uses his intellect for making a living whereas the latter is one who uses it for critical analysis and social transformation. Dr. Ambedkar fits Baran’s definition of an intellectual very well. Dr. Ambedkar is also an outstanding example of what Antonio Gramsci called an organic intellectual, that is, one who represents and articulates the interests of an entire social class.

While Dr. Ambedkar is justly famous for being the architect of India’s Constitution and for being a doughty champion of the interests of the Scheduled Castes, his views on a number of crucial issues pertaining to economic development are not so well known. Dr. Ambedkar was a strong proponent of land reforms and of a prominent role for the state in economic development. He recognised the inequities in an unfettered capitalist economy. His views on these issues are found scattered in several writings; of these the most important ones are his essay, “Small Holdings in India and Their Remedies” and an article, “States and Minorities”. In these writings, Dr. Ambedkar elaborates his views on land reforms and on the kind of economic order that is best suited to the needs of the people.

Dr. Ambedkar stresses the need for thoroughgoing land reforms, noting that smallness or largeness of an agricultural holding is not determined by its physical extent alone but by the intensity of cultivation as reflected in the amounts of productive investment made on the land and the amounts of all other inputs used, including labour. He also stresses the need for industrialisation so as to move surplus labour from agriculture to other productive occupations, accompanied by large capital investments in agriculture to raise yields. He sees an extremely important role for the state in such transformation of agriculture and advocates the nationalisation of land and the leasing out of land to groups of cultivators, who are to be encouraged to form cooperatives in order to promote agriculture.

Intervening in a discussion in the Bombay Legislative Council on October 10, 1927, Dr. Ambedkar argued that the solution to the agrarian question “lies not in increasing the size of farms, but in having intensive cultivation that is employing more capital and more labour on the farms such as we have.” (These and all subsequent quotations are taken from the collection of Dr. Ambedkar’s writings, published by the Government of Maharashtra in 1979). Further on, he says: “The better method is to introduce cooperative agriculture and to compel owners of small strips to join in cultivation.”

During the process of framing the Constitution of the Republic of India, Dr. Ambedkar proposed to include certain provisions on fundamental rights, specifically a clause to the effect that the state shall provide protection against economic exploitation. Among other things, this clause proposed that:

* Key industries shall be owned and run by the state;

* Basic but non-key industries shall be owned by the state and run by the state or by corporations established by it;

* Agriculture shall be a state industry, and be organised by the state taking over all land and letting it out for cultivation in suitable standard sizes to residents of villages; these shall be cultivated as collective farms by groups of families.

As part of his proposals, Dr. Ambedkar provided detailed explanatory notes on the measures to protect the citizen against economic exploitation. He stated: “The main purpose behind the clause is to put an obligation on the state to plan the economic life of the people on lines which would lead to highest point of productivity without closing every avenue to private enterprise, and also provide for the equitable distribution of wealth. The plan set out in the clause proposes state ownership in agriculture with a collectivised method of cultivation and a modified form of state socialism in the field of industry. It places squarely on the shoulders of the state the obligation to supply the capital necessary for agriculture as well as for industry.”

Dr. Ambedkar recognises the importance of insurance in providing the state with “the resources necessary for financing its economic planning, in the absence of which it would have to resort to borrowing from the money market at high rates of interest” and proposes the nationalisation of insurance. He categorically stated: “State socialism is essential for the rapid industrialisation of India. Private enterprise cannot do it and if it did, it would produce those inequalities of wealth which private capitalism has produced in Europe and which should be a warning to Indians.”

ANTICIPATING criticism against his proposals that they went too far, Dr.. Ambedkar argues that political democracy implied that “the individual should not be required to relinquish any of his constitutional rights as a condition precedent to the receipt of a privilege” and that “the state shall not delegate powers to private persons to govern others”. He points out that “the system of social economy based on private enterprise and pursuit of personal gain violates these requirements”.

Responding to the libertarian argument that where the state refrains from intervention in private affairs – economic and social – the residue is liberty, Dr. Ambedkar says: “It is true that where the state refrains from intervention what remains is liberty. To whom and for whom is this liberty? Obviously this liberty is liberty to the landlords to increase rents, for capitalists to increase hours of work and reduce rate of wages.” Further, he says: “In an economic system employing armies of workers, producing goods en masse at regular intervals, someone must make rules so that workers will work and the wheels of industry run on. If the state does not do it, the private employer will. In other words, what is called liberty from the control of the state is another name for the dictatorship of the private employer.”

India’s experience with neoliberal reforms since 1990 shows that Dr. Ambedkar’s apprehensions regarding the implications of the unfettered operation of monopoly capital, both domestic and foreign, were far from misplaced. As has been documented and written about extensively, during this period of neoliberal reforms, there has been no breakthrough in the rate of economic growth. At the same time, there has been a distinct slowing down of the rate of growth of employment and practically no decline in the proportion of people below the poverty line. Agriculture has been in a crisis for some time now and the rate of growth of industry has also been declining for several years now. At the same time, despite a slower growth of foodgrains output, the government is saddled with huge excess stocks, which it seeks to sell abroad or to domestic private trade at very low prices.

The government and its economists, instead of recognising that the crisis is the product in large part of the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, propose a set of so-called second-generation reforms. At the centre of these reforms is the complete elimination of employment security. The war cry of the liberalisers is: “Away with all controls and the state, and let the market rule.”

In this context, one cannot but recall Dr. Ambedkar’s words that liberty from state control is another name for the dictatorship of the private employer. Whether on labour reforms or on agrarian policy or on the question of the insurance sector or the role of the public sector in the context of development, Dr. Ambedkar’s views are in direct opposition to those of neoliberal policies.

It is indeed a pity that self-styled leaders of Dalit movements, who invoke Dr. Ambedkar’s name day in and day out, do not examine carefully his views on key issues of economic policy and their contemporary relevance for the struggles of the oppressed. One may not expect much from those Dalit-based political forces which think nothing of cohabiting with the Sangh Parivar, but even many sections of the Dalit movement which proclaim a radical stance on social (and sometimes economic) issues do not raise the question of land or of the role of the state in the sharp manner in which Dr. Ambedkar does.

Dr. Venkatesh Athreya is Professor and Head of the Department of Economics, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchi.

Courtesy: http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl1915/19151150.htm

Volume 19 – Issue 15, July 20 – August 02, 2002


Gandhian lookalike good for the messiah business, bad for democracy

28/08/2011

Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare walks away from the stage on the 11th day of his hunger strike at Ram Lila grounds in New Delhi on August 26, 2011.

  Aug 26, 2011 – 5:43 PM ET

Full Comment’s Araminta Wordsworth brings you a daily round-up of quality punditry from across the globe. Today: Few people would disagree with the need to root out corruption in modern India. That’s why Anna Hazare’s campaign has struck such a chord across the world’s largest democracy.

The Hindu conservative Anna Hazare, who’s often compared with the liberation hero Mahatma Gandhi, has said he will fast until death unless the government adopts his suggestions in toto. Enthusiastic crowds have rallied around the 74-year-old, chanting, “Anna is India, India is Anna.”

Now cooler heads are making their views know — they fear democracy is being washed away by a messianic cult-like leader.

Hazare’s proposals to end corruption by setting up an independent agency — Lokpal — would heap another layer of bureaucracy on a country already tied up in red tape, they argue. These people would be unelected and appointed by Hazare and his high-caste associates, a completely undemocratic process. At Northern Voices Online, Gail Omvedt asks,

Why are such masses of people following Anna Hazare, when it is now clear that his Lokpal bill is an authoritarian, centralized and undemocratically pushed proposal?

The Lokpal Bill itself is very authoritarian, in putting non-elected people of high class-caste background over elected officials and government bureaucrats (but not, as people have noted, over corporations!). “Pal” means “guardian,” and in many ways the proposal recalls Plato’s Guardians —The philosopher-kings who would rule the State.

The movement wants to keep the state, in an even more centralized form, but replace its current rulers with a new set.

An editorial in The Hindu picks up on the authoritarian nature of Hazare’s proposals:

While his means may be Gandhian, Anna Hazare’s demands are certainly not. Contrary to Gandhiji’s ideas about the decentralization of power, the Jan Lokpal Bill is a draconian, anti-corruption law, in which a panel of carefully chosen people will administer a giant bureaucracy, with thousands of employees, with the power to police everybody from the Prime Minister, the judiciary, members of Parliament, and all of the bureaucracy, down to the lowest government official. The Lokpal will have the powers of investigation, surveillance, and prosecution. Except for the fact that it won’t have its own prisons, it will function as an independent administration, meant to counter the bloated, unaccountable, corrupt one that we already have. Two oligarchies, instead of just one.

The British news magazine The Economist is worried by what it sees as Hazare’s messianic tendencies:

To craft a campaign against corruption into a movement around a single figure is faintly troubling. The claim that “Anna is India, India is Anna” sounds close to cult-speak. As it happens, the Supreme Court, the auditor-general, a panoply of civil activists and a more assertive press have all helped to hold the corrupt to account this year. Several powerful figures have been jailed.

Other doubts exist about Mr Hazare. Some Muslim leaders are suspicious of the nationalist, and what they see as at times Hindu-dominated, tone and imagery of his campaign. Low-caste Dalits … also question his stand …

The most revered Dalit leader, the late B.R. Ambedkar, chief draftsman of India’s constitution, has been much quoted this week for an early warning about the “grammar of anarchy,” by which he meant using Gandhi-style fasts to impose your will on a democratic government. Hunger strikes, a form of blackmail, might have been justified against the British, but not against elected leaders.

Descendants of Gandhi himself agree, reports Anjana Pasricha for the Voice of America:

Gandhi’s great grandson, Tushar Gandhi, says there are crucial differences in the way the two leaders have used fasting as an instrument of protest. Mahatma Gandhi is also known in India as “bapu” or father.

“With Anna it is more of an attempt to browbeat the government into absolute surrender and submission. It definitely is an attempt to arm twist.,” Gandhi said. “With Bapu it was in his own words he said that my fast is an act of love to bring a friend back on the straight and narrow and not an attempt to vanquish an enemy.”

In an opinion piece in The Hindu, Prabhat Patnaik points out Hazare has become increasingly hardline as his campaign gathered steam:

[His demands have moved] from “we have a democratic right to protest and place our views in public,” which is an unexceptionable proposition, to “Anna will keep fasting until his bill is adopted or amended with his permission,” which amounts to holding a gun to the head of the [government], and by implication of Parliament, and dictating that the bill it has produced must be passed, or else mayhem will follow.

The government’s flip-flops are indicative of incompetence; the Anna group’s flip-flops arise because of the compulsions of a particular style of politics on which it is embarked, which can be called “messianism” and which is fundamentally anti-democratic. The fact that it is striking a chord among the people, if at all it is (one cannot entirely trust the media on this), should be a source of serious concern, for it underscores the pre-modernity of our society and the shallowness of the roots of our democracy.

National Post

compiled by Araminta Wordsworth
awordsworth@nationalpost.com

Posted in: Full Comment, World Politics  Tags: Araminta Wordsworth, Full Comment Abroad, corruption, India, democracy, Anna Hazare, messianism, Mahatma Gandhi, Lokpal Bill

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Fight against Corruption: Are we Serious?

03/07/2011

<abbr title=" by Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Those were the years when the people in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar thought that now the change was about to come. The crowd at his gathering was increasing regularly. The speeches were laced with new adjectives of ‘future of India’. Rajiv’s clean image had taken a beating. The exposé had jolted his government. As the Finance Minister, he ordered that the corruption charges against prominent industrialists be probed. Many of them had to go to jail. He selected his officers on the basis of their probity and personal strength. They gave him results. Soon, the ‘best Finance Minister’ was shunted out of the Ministry to ‘defend’ the country. The industrialists wanted him out. He ordered an inquiry against corrupt politicians too and they also wanted his exit. No industrial house in India can survive without corruption. Tax evasions were rampant and he was trying to find out the big fishes without understanding that these sharks would connive together and throw him out.

He was sent to the Defence Ministry ignoring the big public opinion against his ouster. The govern-ment of that the day was habitual of such things. Rajiv was surrounded by the coterie and completely ignored saner advices. As he moved to the Defence Ministry, he found that there was a commission paid in the HDW Howitzer deal ordered from Germany. The Bofors report also came out and it became difficult for the Congress to hide its face. This ‘he’ that time was V.P. Singh whom we all love to hate despite his personal integrity and honesty in political life.

Yes, V.P. Singh was dismissed from the primary membership of the Congress Party for his fight against corruption. Yet, the successful thing was that he became the symbol of the fight against corruption in India in the late eighties. The students, middle classes jumped up and joined hands. His personal image remained clean all the time. The government of the day started a personal vendetta and fictitious reports were planted. Editors were hired to write in papers. Some of the biggest names of the Indian media jumped into the fray and allowed themselves to be used in a vicious propaganda against Singh. A fake account was opened under his son Ajeya Singh’s name in St. Kitts Island which later turned out to be fictitious. His ancestral property issue also cropped up. Yet, V.P. Singh could survive because he was simply a man of integrity and his life was open for probe.

The upper-caste middle classes were first to jump on his bandwagon when they realise that he was now ready to overthrow the government. The Brahmins of Varanasi anointed him with title ‘Rajarshi’ and he developed tremendous goodwill of the people, that is, the upper castes.

V.P. Singh came to power in 1989. He ensured that people with integrity take charge of the Ministry. The government was functioning well. It started allowing freedom to Doordarshan and All India Radio. It was refreshing to see news that time. It was working on labour and election reforms. A lot of other issues, including the Lokpal, was under consideration then. That apart, the Janata Dal as a political party had promised to fulfil 27 per cent quota for the OBCs.

On August 7, 1990, V.P. Singh announced the acceptance of the Mandal Commission recommen-dations in Parliament. For one month nothing happened and slowly the upper castes realised that their control over power is slipping and unless a slanderous campaign is started, they will be completely out of power. So, not only slander but everything that was available in the dictionary was used to defame the Dalits and OBCs. The middle class Hindus were in the streets against the OBC quota. V.P. Singh became one of the most hated politicians of our time. So much that none of the Hindu journalists ever want to say good things about him. Today, when we are fighting against corruption, none of these leaders bother to even mention his name. Why?

The answer lies in the upper-caste hatred against anything that provides connection of power to the Dalits and marginalised. V.P. Singh was the greatest person as long as he was talking about corruption and but he became the worst man once he started talking about the Dalits and OBCs. His government not only ensured the OBC quota but it also provided reservation for neo-Buddhists at the centenary celebrations of Babasaheb Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar and honoured him with Bharat Ratna. Similarly, Mayawati is not corrupt as long as she placates the upper castes but as soon as she erected those monuments of the Dalit Bahujan icons in the city of Lucknow, we are angry because we feel that the natural inheritor of our roundabouts in the city centre are the Gandhis, Nehrus, and our so many gods and goddesses. The upper caste-middle class feeling is that the Dalit Bahujan icons should remain in the bastis and dalitwadas.

WHEN we talk about corruption, how can we ignore the illicit land deals in our country? How can Anna and his team just feel that corruption is only in terms of money? The biggest corruption in today’s India is the sale of our natural resources, our land, forest and water. What is their stand on it? What will they do that powerful and well-connected people do not buy land just because they have money? Will we put a ceiling on land in India despite the people’s purchasing power? When the civil society wants to judge everyone, who will judge the civil society? What is this civil society? Did Anna and his team follow any principle of democracy in forming his team? How does democracy survive with such black-mailing tactics of Gandhi who used it to foil the separate electorate of Dalits?’

The issue of corruption is not a minor one but then those who want to fight against it should also remain clean. Yes, for people like us, they should not only be clean but also have faith in our secular pluralistic values and cannot be hate-preachers. How are these multi-billionaires, who have acquired their property in each State and even outside India, interested in the fight against corruption? Doesn’t Anna and his team know about the Baba and his games, his property and money? Is it a fight among those who say you have grabbed over one hundred million rupees and it is now our term to do so? How are we going to talk about individuals? Democracy will have to come out of such individualism and work. Yes, corruption affects us all. So why not we start to work developing a movement from the ground involving those whose lands have been grabbed by the local elites who may be donating huge sums to these anti-corruption crusaders? Should we not see who these forces we want to project as alternative are?

Just because there is a crowd does not mean that it has the right to do anything. Crowd does not provide legitimacy. Many of our friends actually feel that anyone who brings out the crowd is great. Yes, the Baba’s crowd was not a crowd for social justice. Anna’s crowd is similar. The stupidity of the Sangh’s propaganda is that the Ramlila Ground incident is being portrayed as Jalianwalla Bagh massacre. And see their gleeful faces at Rajghat. Sushma was dancing while Advani was comparing this incident to Jalianwalla Bagh. None ever questioned about the fictitious land deals of Ram Dev and other Babas. If we ignore the vital corruption in terms of land in the name of mutts, temples, gurudwaras and mosques, we cannot fight against corruption. In fact, we provide legitimacy. We cannot start a movement in which a majority of the population feels isolated, and fearful. The concern of 20 per cent Indian Muslims and other minorities are important and cannot be ignored. It is not just corruption but also their place in India and partnership in decision-making. How do we allow Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and others partnership in our movement if we allow the entire reactionary forces in our decision-making? Just because you want to eliminate the Congress Party does not mean you can ally with anyone.

Yes, if the government and those who claim to work for us, are serious, then they must talk about corruption of all kinds, in all forms, anywhere. And not talk what is suitable to the middle classes who started corruption and want to lead the movement against it too. We want the government to release all the land papers of temples, mutts, gurudwaras, churches and mosques. Let the people know how much money is lying there and who is using that for what purpose. Anna Hazare and his team would do great harm if they do not consider this as corruption. Will they speak on it? Will they take on the religious thugs sitting on our land and water and preaching of austerity to us?

The Hindutva forces are working overnight on their agenda. They will use all the platforms which bring back power to the bramanical social order. After Ramdev, they want to bring back Uma Bharati to fight against Mayawati. While the Congress is shamelessly sticking to the Brahmin elite in Uttar Pradesh, the Hindutva forces are busy experimenting and who else can they use better than the Shudras? It is time we understand the dangers of such a fight against corruption and expose them tooth and nail. None can be a bigger threat to India than the ascendancy of the Hindutva forces to power. Let us fight against corruption and expose the very source of it.

Original Article: http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article2867.html


The Untouchable Case for Indian Capitalism -Wall Street Journal

30/05/2011
 The Wall Street Journal, New York

The Indian left’s caste-related justifications for

 state intervention are dying.

The plight of the Dalits, those whom the Hindu caste system considers outcastes and hence Untouchables, was a rallying cry of Hindu reformers and Indian leftists for half a century. But today these victims of the caste system are finding that free markets and development bring advancement faster than government programs.

Historically, Dalits were left to do the most undignified work in society, and were denied education or job opportunities. After independence, not only was legal recognition of caste abolished, but Delhi also created affirmative action and welfare programs. Intellectuals who fought for the betterment of Dalits worked together with leftists to pass laws righting historical wrongs.

That alliance is now breaking down. India’s economic reforms have unleashed enormous opportunities to elevate Dalits—materially and socially. In research published last year, Devesh Kapur at the University of Pennsylvania and others show this transformation occurring in Uttar Pradesh state in the north, a region notorious for clinging to caste traditions.

Mr. Kapur found that Dalits now buy TVs, mobile phones and other goods very easily—at rates similar to any other caste; they have also been spending more money on family weddings. These factors and others point to practical benefits Untouchables receive from growth, the same benefits accruing to other Indians. There are more such cases in the south and west of the country.

More economic choices are changing Dalits’ own expectations and, in turn, changing social structures for the better. Dalits may have seats reserved for them in public schools, but parents now prefer to send their children to private schools. Urbanization is one trend hugely in favor of those thought to be Untouchables in the village economy. Commerce in cities doesn’t discriminate.

Dalits have also launched campaigns promoting the use of English, which has both helped them earn higher incomes and more dignity in society. One Dalit intellectual, Chandrabhan Prasad, thinks his community should worship “English” as a goddess.

This has the left, with its belief that only the modern state can repair social ills, in a quandary. One refrain common among Indian leftists is that 20 years of economic reform have benefited upper castes and left those at the bottom of this hierarchy worse off. But Dalits clearly don’t agree.

CHANDRASEKARAN
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Dalits pay tribute to a portrait of their leader, B.R. Ambedkar.

The only remaining argument for the Dalit cause to stay intertwined with statism is the fact that the Untouchables’ most respected leader, B.R. Ambedkar, supported affirmative-action laws. Because of this, he was long believed to have leftist leanings.

However, 50 years later, my research shows that Ambedkar was, in fact, one of the biggest proponents of classical liberalism in India’s 20th century history—not some proto-Marxist, as some have made him out to be. Last month’s 120th anniversary of his birth is a chance to reflect on how liberalization has helped and can further help Dalits.

It’s true that the Dalit leader often spoke in favor of affirmative-action measures for Dalits and, as the architect of India’s constitution, put some of these measures into the law. For instance, he feared that without a reservation provision for education, Dalits would not achieve social equality and freedom.

Seeing their leader support state intervention, Dalit intellectuals embraced Marxism. Mr. Prasad, a Marxist-turned-free-marketeer, notes, “The idea of Communism . . . seeped into the Dalit consciousness. Many claiming to be ardent Ambedkarites, including myself for a decade, spoke the Marxist language. A great amount of Dalits’ intellectual energy, time and resources was invested in Marxism.” That boosted India’s broader left movement.

But this whitewashes Ambedkar’s true legacy. Some economists and historians have pointed out that Ambedkar was no Marxist. My own research indicates that this man, born an Untouchable in 1891, anticipated a lot of what classical liberals like F.A. Hayek later said.

In the 1920s, Ambedkar was an early advocate of property rights. He also opposed central planning, writing as early as 1917 that it “must lead to inefficiency.” Under the 1950 constitution that he drafted, not only was there little hint of Soviet-style planning, but the right to property was enshrined as a “fundamental right”—the highest and most easily enforceable of civil rights in India’s legal framework. Politicians later amended the constitution to enable economic engineering.

Ambedkar was also one of few Indians to think seriously about monetary matters. He has left behind writings from the 1920s supporting the gold standard. Like the Austrian School of Economics after him, he defended private banks’ ability to issue competing currencies and decried the state’s monopoly over legal tender.

Ambedkar may have supported reserving seats for Dalits in public education, but he actually favored a review of the provision after a decade, so as to not make it permanent. All this was forgotten after his death in 1956.

It’s important to tell the real story about Ambedkar. For one thing, it could further invigorate the Dalit community in favor of free-market ideas. His influence among Dalits remains unparalleled to this day. That, in turn, will undermine the linkage of the caste system to leftist ideas. Policy makers often invoke freedom fighters and founding fathers for their cause. Ambedkar should no longer be a pretext for statist policies.

Reform-minded policy makers can press Ambedkar’s insights into service, though. In contrast to leaders who reckoned the English language was imperialist, Ambedkar once called English the “milk of lionesses.” Unlike Mohandas Gandhi, who saw the village as the basis for economic activity, Ambedkar considered the “individual” to be the ultimate economic unit.

Ambedkar isn’t the only classical liberal in modern India’s history; nor is caste the only pretext for leftism. But if someone as influential as Ambedkar believed that classical liberal ideas could help India’s most downtrodden, and if these ideas are starting to help in practice, then the political case for them only becomes stronger.

—Mr. Chandrasekaran works in public policy in New Delhi.

The Wall Street Journal American English- international daily newspaper



Detroit Diary: Detroit Red and the Untouchables

02/04/2011

By Desiree Cooper

This year marks the 85th birthday of Detroit Red, the man the world knows as Malcolm X. The Muslim civil rights activist spent his younger years in Lansing and Detroit, Michigan. In 1953, he became assistant minister of the Nation of Islam’s Temple Number One in Detroit.

I’ve noticed that the mainstream media still talks about Malcolm X as “controversial,” although he seems to be embraced more widely today than he was when he was living. But it wasn’t until I met Meena Kandasamy that I realized just how broadly Malcolm X not only influenced the course of civil rights in the United States, but the worldwide struggle for equality as well.

Meena is slightly built, with a mane of dark hair and a disarming smile. Underneath, she is a fireball poet-revolutionary, full of an indignation reminiscent of the young Malcolm X. A resident of Chennai, India, Meena was born a Dalit, or Untouchable.

The word “Dalit” means crushed, broken down, torn apart. There are more than 160 million Untouchables in India, a group that is reviled as the lowest rung of the caste system, much like African Americans before the Civil Rights Era.

“The Dalit struggle for the last two centuries has sought for the right to use public roads, public transport (recently, a Dalit was beaten up for daring to sit next to an upper caste man), enter public places of worship, and so on,” Meena said.

It’s interesting that while the black Civil Rights Movement looked to Gandhi as a model of social change, Dalits look to African-American militant movements.

“For us, Malcolm X is iconic,” she said. “The Dalits also borrowed from the Black Panther Movement when they realized that they had to deal not only with a discriminatory society, but with ruthless state terror in the form of police atrocities. The crimes against Dalits were seldom taken care of by the state, and in most instances, the worst hit were the women.”

The lack of police protection led the Dalit people to escalate their violent discourse: “They said, if you touch our sister, you will not have that hand,” said Meena, who is an English lecturer in Anna University in Chennai.

The early Dalit militant movement, which began in the state of Maharashtra, even called itself the Dalit Panthers. Dalit activists translated black poets like Langston Hughes.

When will the caste structure finally be decimated? Despite her commitment to the cause, Meena is not optimistic.

“The system operates through distrust: and a preconceived notion that we are not only low, but also evil,” she wrote in the Himal Southasian, in April 2010. “Demonizing us, and dehumanizing us, allows caste Hindus the luxury of having an argument to defend their case, and to gloss over all the social injustices with which the system has been permeated.”

Which is why, she wrote further, that the quest for equality is too often seen by the “upper” castes as a movement to “humanize,” “civilize” and educate the Dalits.

Sound familiar?

Here’s another connection between African Americans and Dalits—it turns out that the culture of segregation is not only about law, but about mindset. Meena told the story about a fellow Tamil Dalit who was driving through Denver with another caste Hindu.

“Seeing the poor African Americans there, the rundown neighborhoods and obvious poverty, the caste Hindu, said, ‘Namba ooru cheri maadiriyae irukku illa?’ (It is exactly like the Dalit settlements in our village, isn’t it?),” Meena wrote. “That is the problem with the caste-Hindu mind: it is trained to recognize caste everywhere, and to replicate its order.”

That’s why, she continued, an Indian living in the United States will perpetuate the caste distinctions, imposing them on the African-American culture. He might wonder, “‘How do I face my relatives and family back in the village if my daughter marries a kallu (black)?’” wrote Meena. “His fear is as heartfelt as that of a 15th-century Brahmin facing excommunication for transgressing caste boundaries.”

She added that President Barack Obama might be astonished that his black brothers and sisters are not only seen through a racial perspective, but also in a casteist manner—a point of view that hampers African-American—Indian relationships. “Until there is a change in this mindset,” she wrote, “wishing away caste is going to be a pointless pastime.”

But at the most basic level, there may still be more to connect Dalits and African Americans than what separates them.

“I believe that a lot of common work is possible,” said Meena. “Discrimination on the basis of race and on the basis of caste are basically signs of xenophobia and birth-based discrimination. When society fails to treat people with dignity, deprives them of equal opportunity, makes them victims of violence and unduly criminalizes these communities and denies them access to the best education, there is a lot to be shared—not just in terms of solidarity and support, but also in terms of dialogue and engagement and lessons from each other’s experiences of resistance.”

Desiree Cooper is a contributing author to the anthology Other People’s Skin: Four Novellas. A former columnist with the Detroit Free Press and co-host of public radio’s Weekend America, she is now a freelance writer, BBC correspondent and novelist.


Separate OBC count from June to Sept

04/03/2011

NEW DELHI: A separate caste census exercise will begin in June, and be completed within four months, by September.

Announcing the timeframe during his Budget speech, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, said, “In response to the overwhelming demand for enumeration of castes other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Census 2011, it has been decided to canvass caste as a separate time-bound exercise.”

Funds in the Budget for census surveys and statistics, therefore, saw a substantial increase — from Rs 2,793.62 crore in 2010-11 to Rs 4,123.62 crore in the next fiscal year. It is meant for both the ongoing census as well as the separate caste census later. At present, the 15th Census exercise is being conducted. Enumerators across the country completed the headcount on Monday. Compilation of statistical data on different socio-economic parameters will be done over the next few months.

Read more: Separate OBC count from June to Sept – The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Separate-OBC-count-from-June-to-Sept/articleshow/7598700.cms#ixzz1FaoTKf9w