Updates

Articles

Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

To kill or not to kill—a twisted test of nationalism

To kill or not to kill—a twisted test of nationalism

Kolponashokti-r Doinyo

 

“There is no justice in killing in the name of justice.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The last week of July 2015 presented two tests of nationalism before Indians. The first was whether one mourned the passing away of former President APJ Abdul Kalam Azad, also known as the ‘Missile Man’ of India; the other was cheering for putting to death Yakub Memon, who was convicted and executed in relation to the Bombay blasts in 1993. In the case of Abdul Kalam, no arguments—however painstakingly made—that one who opposed hyper-militarism and came from an anti-war perspective need not consider Kalam a hero, were accepted. These arguments were quickly labelled naïve and unbefitting of the realities of the 21st century. Others, equally naïve, were preparing to commemorate 70 years of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Any arguments questioning the competence of Kalam as an engineer (he was not a scientist)[1], or the cynical nature of his political appointment in the wake of the 2002 Gujarat riots[2], when the BJP was in need of a Muslim face, who was ‘steeped in Hindu culture,[3]’ were met with charges of being anti-national.

Even though met with resistance, criticism of Kalam upon his death was still permissible; but not participating in the celebrations of the execution of Yakub Memon was considered beyond the pale. BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj, who is facing multiple charges of murder, rape and gang rape (with his two nephews), said that “[s]edition charges should be slapped against people sympathising with Yakub Memon and those who have no faith in the Indian Constitution should go to Pakistan.[4]” Yakub Memon was found guilty of conspiracy in the Bombay blasts of 1993, which killed 257 people, convicted and hanged to death in the early hours of July 30, 2015, which by a tragic coincidence also happened to be his birthday. The prime accused in the case—Tiger Memon, Yakub’s brother, and Dawood Ibrahim—are both absconding.

On display was a degrading spectacle of goading in front of television cameras, discussing the macabre details of the length of the rope that would hang Yakub, how and when he would be handed the Quran, when he would be given new clothes, what breakfast will be offered, and in one case “an officer who had been on the investigating team of the 26/11 attacks, excitedly showed how Yakub's hands would be tied at the back when he takes his last walk—from his cell to the phansi yard.[5]” These are the same people who are appalled at the barbarity of the Saudi Arabian state’s violent form of punishments, and loathe, rightfully, the practices of the Islamic State. Noting on the inhuman barbarity and immorality of death penalty, Albert Camus wrote:

“But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.”

Hundreds, according to some reports nearly 8000 Muslim, mourned the death of Yakub Memon. According to an Indian Express report dated July 31, 2015, Mushtaq Phoolwala, the lone florist inside Bada Qabrastan said that “I’ve worked here for 30 years. Aisa manzar pehle nahin dekha (never seen such a sight before).[6]” However, none of this was reported, as Sanjay Barkund, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations), issued a 13-hour gag order to the media prohibiting “photographing and videographing the funeral procession and the last rites of [the] hanged convict.[7]” In an intensely militarised atmosphere, with the presence of about “1,000 policemen, 125 Rapid Action Personnel (RAF) and riot control police,” family members and others who mourned were disallowed to see Yakub’s face, for one last time, citing concerns of law and order problems[8]. Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy tweeted that those who visited the funeral of Yakub Memon were potential terrorists. He defended his tweets and dismissed those who alleged his remarks reeked of communalism. Hours later, he tweeted: “An explosion of tweets on a hanged terrorist almost made me forget the most important tweet: GURU PURNIMA GREETINGS to all.[9]

Amidst the sickening display of blood lust for a man helplessly captive in jail, it was heartening to see that quite a few Indians voicing their concern against a culture of violence, and opposing death penalty in general. Aakar Patel, Executive Director, Amnesty International India said “[t]his morning, the Indian government essentially killed a man in cold blood to show that killing is wrong.” In a July 30, 2015, report titled Execution of Yakub Memon cruel and inhuman, Amnesty International went on to observe:

“The use of the death penalty in India has been repeatedly acknowledged by Indian courts to be arbitrary and inconsistent. There exists no credible evidence that the threat of execution is more of a deterrent to crime than a prison sentence. This fact has been confirmed in multiple studies carried out by the UN and in many regions around the world.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. It opposes it as a violation of the right to life as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.[10]

Many eminent personalities, including retired judges of Supreme Court and various High Courts signed a petition to stall the hanging of Yakub Memon, including but not limited to “Justice Panachand Jain (Retd), Justice H.S. Bedi (Retd), Justice P. B. Sawant (Retd), Justice H. Suresh (Retd), Justice K. P. Siva Subramaniam (Retd), Justice S. N. Bhargava (Retd), Justice K Chandru (Retd), Justice Nagmohan Das (Retd). Retired judges of the Supreme Court of India like Markandey Katju went on to say Yakub Memon’s hanging would be a gross travesty of justice.[11]” Professor AnupSurendranath, faculty at National Law University, Delhi (NLUD), and Director of Death Penalty Research Project, resigned from the post of Deputy Registrar (Research) in the Supreme Court of India. Such instances of protest from jurists and eminent individuals amongst a general atmosphere of call for violent retribution has reignited the question whether capital punishment is a legitimate form of punishment in liberal society.

The case against Yakub

Since the current discussion has been initiated around Yakub Memon’s involvement in the Bombay blasts, let us examine some of the facts of the case. Some people have claimed that Yakub Memon got a fair trial and all legal avenues were exhausted, and in fact they claim that the Supreme Court has shown unprecedented leniency in Yakub’s case—as an example they cite the late night hearing of the mercy petition by panel of Supreme Court judges at the CJI’s house. As Manisha Sethi, faculty at Jamia Millia Islamia, points out “there was nothing unprecedented about a late night sitting of the Supreme Court. In 2014, Chief Justice HL Dattu stayed Surinder Koli's imminent hanging through a late night order after his lawyers woke him up at 1 am,” and “… Yakub's death warrant was issued before he had exhausted his legal rights—a clear violation of the ‘procedure established by law’ to precede a death sentence;[12]” while senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan said that “[y]esterday the issue was of giving 14 days time, as per a Supreme court judgement, so that he can challenge the dismissal of his mercy petition in court and that he can settle his worldly affairs. But it (mercy petition) was dismissed late last night. No time was given to him. What was this unseemly hurry? What was the need for us to be so bloodthirsty?”

The charge brought against Yakub was that of conspiracy. Nowhere under the law does anyone deserve a death penalty for conspiracy. In this case he was guilty by association—he being the brother of the prime accused Tiger Memon. He was found guilty of transferring money and handling hawala transactions for Tiger Memon, a contemptible crime deserving of punishment for sure. But, the law is clear on the point, that one does not get a death penalty for conspiracy. As N. K. Bhupesh in a Tehelka article points out: “Now, compare this with how the law of the land was applied in the case of Mahatma Gandhi assassination case in which only NathuramGodse and Narayan Apte — two of the eight murder convicts — were hanged. “The others were not given the death penalty because they did not take part directly in the murder but only assisted in it.” But, that consideration was extended neither to Afzal nor to Yakub.[13]” Hence, while the real perpetrators Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim remain absconders, Tiger Memon’s brother is made a scape goat, and had to pay with his life.

There is no direct evidence against YakubMemon. The only evidence is the statement of an approver and confessional statements of a co-accused made to the police, which was later retracted. Former Supreme Court judge Justice (Retd) MarkandeyKatju upon studying the Supreme Court judgement said that the evidence is “very weak.” He observed that “[t]his evidence is retracted confession of the co-accused and alleged recoveries,” and added that “everyone knows how confessions are obtained by the police in our country by torture.” Prashant Bhushan said that a case mounted solely on the basis of confessional statement would not be admissible under normal law, but can only happen under TADA, which brings me to my next point.

YakubMemon was tried, and convicted under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, also known as TADA, a draconian law which was later scrapped for its misuse. As Manisha Sethi argues eloquently:

“Its appeal lay in its usefulness as a tool to quell dissent, suppress movements and torment minorities—all through a law legislated by the Parliament and sanctioned by the Supreme Court. By 1995, TADA had been in operation for over a decade. A mountain of evidence pointed to its inherent abuse and lawlessness. Its various sections enabled the police to detain suspects for long periods of time without charging them; simple suspicion became grounds for arrest, confessions before police became admissible – in contravention to the established law of evidence, which protects an accused from incriminating himself—and prosecution could produce secret witnesses against the accused. In early 1995, the incumbent Chairperson of the NHRC, Justice Ranganath Mishra, made an appeal to Parliamentarians to not renew the law, dubbing it “draconian in effect and character” and “incompatible with our cultural traditions, legal history and treaty obligations”. …

But it was TADA’s partisanship that was its most striking feature. It was invoked against striking workers and trade unionists in Gujarat, against Dalit landless labourers and Communist activists in Bihar (but never against upper caste private militias), against Muslims accused of perpetrating bomb blasts in Mumbai (though of course not against those who killed, looted and terrorized Muslims in the ghoulish violence that preceded the blasts).

In 1994, the National Commission for Minorities documented that 409 out of the 432 arrested under TADA in Rajasthan belonged to minority groups. In Punjab, thousands of Sikhs were rounded up, detained, incarcerated for years.[14]

The Supreme Court should definitely have taken into consideration mitigating circumstances associated with YakubMemon’s trial. There seems to be some debate as to whether he was actually arrested in Kathmandu or New Delhi, and whether a deal was actually struck by the CBI and Indian officials with Yakub, a speculation which gained currency after the posthumous publication of an article by B. Raman, who was a R&AW official. Even without discussing all these details, what can be said with absolute certainty is that the information provided by YakubMemon built a water tight case of Pakistan government’s complicity in the Bombay blasts. Yakub came back from Pakistan—and also made sure eight other family members of the Memon family came back to India—and provided Indian officials with very valuable information about Tiger Memon, TaufiqJaliawala and other ISI operatives and their direct involvement in the bomb blasts. While he was in Pakistan, Yakub started making audio and video recordings, with the intention of turning it over to Indian officials, which he eventually did. He provided three audio cassettes, recording conversations of Tiger Memon, TaufiqJaliawala and other ISI persons involved in the blast. He provided Indian authorities with videos of bungalows of Dawood Ibrahim, TaufiqJaliawala and Tiger Memon.

In view of the facts that a person who has provided crucial information on the involvement of the principal accused in the blast; direct complicity of the Pakistan government; against whom there is no direct evidence except confessional statements, some retracted; and who is tried and convicted in accordance to a law which the country has long scrapped deciding it to be draconian, the judgement of capital punishment seems exceedingly harsh and immoral. Even if one were to accept the premise that there are some criminals who deserve to be given capital punishment, Yakub Memon seems not to fit the bill.

Killing as Justice?

But, as I have indicated before, I am opposed to capital punishment in general. I will try to go over some of the most salient points on capital punishment.

(i) The most common argument put forward in favour of capital punishment says that it provides a deterrence. Leaving aside the point of how morally abhorrent the practice is, there is absolutely no evidence to buttress this claim in the first place. As Shashi Tharoor correctly points out (since we know he is not always right):

“The overwhelming evidence suggests that the death penalty cannot be justified as an effective instrument of the state. Look at the numbers: there's no statistical correlation between applying the death penalty and preventing murder. About 10 people were executed from 1980 to 1990 for the offence of murder under section 302 of the India Penal Code, but the incidence of murder increased from 22,149 to 35,045 during the same period. Similarly, during 1990-2000, even though about 8 people were executed, the incidence of murder increased from 35,045 to 37,399. However, during 2000-2010, only one person was executed and the incidence of murder decreased from 37,399 in 2000 to 33,335 in 2010. No correlation: QED.[15]

More than 100 countries have abolished capital punishment. The universal declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly considers right to life a most fundamental of human rights, and hence considers capital punishment one of its worst violations.

(ii) The power to put someone to death at the hands of the state is dangerous. The state and all its institutions reflect the biases and prejudices of the society we live in. Thus, the clause that an incident which is deemed to be the ‘rarest of the rare’ are eligible for capital punishment, makes it vulnerable to misuse because of prevailing prejudices of society which even the best amongst us are not immune to. No wonder research shows that it is the marginalised and the most vulnerable in our society who are at the receiving end of the death penalty. As N. K. Bhupesh observes:

“A recent report of the Death Penalty Research Project of the National Law University, New Delhi (NLUD), reveals that most of the death-row convicts are from the underprivileged sections of society and raises serious questions on the criteria courts adopt to classify certain cases as “rarest of rare”.

The NLUD report was not the first to make such an assertion about how the death penalty is given almost exclusively to people from the minorities, exploited castes and oppressed castes. Human rights activists have long maintained that political, religious and ethnic prejudice play a part in adjudication and sentencing. To drive home the point, late human rights activist KG Kannabiran cited the case of two Dalit peasants, Kishta Goud and Bhoomaiah, who were hanged during the Emergency. That was a time when militant agrarian struggles were raging in different parts of the country, including Andhra Pradesh, against the atrocities committed by feudal landlords and peasants, most of them landless, were demanding the constitutional promise of “land to the tiller” to be implemented. Kishta and Bhoomaiah were accused of killing a landlord and sentenced to death. …

Looking at the profile of Indian citizens hanged since then, Anup Surendranath of NLUD, who has done extensive research on death-row convicts, tells Tehelka that the death penalty is not imposed as a deterrent but to send a political message. Every execution reassures the State of its absolute power over citizens. Surendranath argues that if the death penalty was meant to be a deterrent, then most of those on death row would have been from the zones of conflict across the land. But that, he points out, is not the case because “in the conflict zones, the State doesn’t have the patience to go through the judicial process”. “There, extrajudicial murder is clearly the most favoured form of execution,” he says.”

(iii) What if there are mistakes made? Surely no one thinks that our judicial process is immune to human error. But capital punishment is irreversible. The principle that “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” cannot be safe guarded with capital punishment in vogue. Consider the death penalty of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, accused of sexually assaulting and brutally murdering 18 year old Hetal Parekh, who was executed on August 14, 2004. A People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) report reads:

“Almost 11 years later to date, a report released by two scholars of Indian Statistical Institute (Kolkata) exposing the shoddy and biased investigation and trial, provides evidence that points towards his innocence and wrongful execution. According to the report by DebashishSengupta and Prabal Chaudhury titled "Re-Analysis of the case of the murder of Hetal Parekh: And the Judicial Killing of Dhananjay Chatterjee" all the mainstays of the police and prosecution’s story are open to question …

The report makes clear that Dhananjoy Chatterjee is only the latest addition in the list of wrongful executions in India. In 2012, 14 eminent jurists including Justice PB Sawant, Justices A P Shah, B A Khan, B H Marlapalle, B G Kolse-Patil, Hosbet Suresh, PrabhaSridevan, K P Sivasubramaniam, RS Verma, and P C Jain had appealed for the commutation of death penalty in separate letters to the President in the cases of 13 persons on death row who they claimed were erroneously sentenced to death. They specifically drew attention to the grave miscarriage of justice in the case of Ravji Ram and Surja Ram who were hanged in the late 1990s and who according to the Supreme Court's own acknowledgement were wrongly executed.

While the possibility of miscarriage of justice is ever-present and no form of punishment is reversible, the death penalty forecloses any possibility of reversal.[16]

(iv) Last, but not least, is the moral argument. There is absolutely no justification to kill a person in captivity. I am no pacifist. I affirm the right of the oppressed to struggle and fight for their emancipation—to quote Malcom X—“by any means necessary.” But, killing a person, however wicked, proven guilty beyond any doubt, serves no purpose. It is not a reflection of justice delivered, but that of the society that carries out such a horror.

Why did this happen to Yakub?

Why then did the Indian judiciary carry out this murder state-sponsored murder? Many say it is for justice, for closure of the victims of the Bombay blasts. Really? The Srikrishna Commission report—comprising of 15,000 pages, containing depositions of more than 500 witnesses, and taking on record more than 2900 exhibits—provides details of the violence inflicted by Hindu fanatics, led by Shiv Sena, on the Muslim community, and provides evidence of police complicity in the violence. It claims that “[o]ne common link between the riots of December 1992 and January 1993 and bomb blasts of 12 March 1993 appear to be that the former appear to have been a causative factor for the latter. There does appear to be a cause and effect relationship between the two riots and the serial bomb blasts.”  

The Srikrishna Commission reports that mahaarti ritual held from December 26, 1992, “ostensibly to protest the namaz on the streets and the calling of azaans from mosques.” “Some of the mahaartis were later used as occasions for delivering communally inciting speeches; and the crowds dispersing from the mahaarti indulged in damage, looting and arson of Muslim establishments …[17]” R. Padmanabhan in a Frontline article extensively quotes from the Srikrishna Commission:

““From January 8, 1993 at least, there is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organising violent attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several leaders... from the level of shakhapramukh to... Bal Thackeray, who, like a veteran general, commanded... Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims.” Statements and acts of Sena leaders and Thackeray's writings and directives meanwhile kept building up communal tension, says the Commission. “The... rioting triggered off by the Shiv Sena was hijacked by local criminal elements, who saw... an opportunity to make quick gains. By the time the Shiv Sena realised that enough had been done by way of 'retaliation,' the... violence was beyond the control of its leaders...””

Just to give an example of one horrible incident: “On 12th January 1993, a Hindu mob surrounds, strips and assaults two Muslim women. The older woman manages to run away. The uncle of the younger woman, who comes to rescue the young girl of 19, and that girl are beaten and burnt alive by the violent mob. The names of the miscreants are disclosed to the police by a Hindu lady in the locality. Though the miscreants were arrested and tried, they were all acquitted.[18]” 

With clear evidence that Shiv Sena leaders were stoking communal violence, police and authorities made no endeavours to stop them, and made claims that any effort to stop them would result in a backlash and worsening of the law and order situation; which further increased the violence incitement from the leaders, now that they had proof that their actions will go with impunity. The commission provides painstaking evidence of the complicity of 26 police stations in the violence. A report published by The Citizen claims that:

The evidence collected was traumatic, recording instances of Shiv Sainiks and the Mumbai police going into houses and killing innocent inhabitants. Asked by the interviewer about the then well knownHari Masjid incident, Justice Srikrishna said that prima facie evidence established that the police had entered the mosque and opened fire on the unsuspecting congregation. He described this as “inhuman” and said that a police man was named as being the prime motivator, but clearly no action was taken against him. In his report he indicted 15 police officers including then joint commissioner of police R.D. Tyagi, and 16 police constables for their ‘delinquency’ during the riots.[19]

Three people have been so far been convicted from the Bombay riots, one of whom, the Shiv Sena MLA Madhukar Sarpotdar, died in 2010 without even serving a single day in prison. Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, who openly incited violence, on occasions challenged the police to arrest him threatening that the law and order situation will deteriorate in that event, was given a state funeral upon his death. That was closure for the Bombay riot victims.

What about another riot that we know of? The 2002 state-sponsored pogrom carried out by Hindu fanatics in cahoots with the administration[20]. The official estimates claim that 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus died, but the unofficial estimates claim that the death toll exceeded 2,000, of which the majority were Muslims. Communalism Combat, a journal edited by civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad, had issued prior warnings about the looming danger of communal violence. Eminent historian Tanika Sarkar points out:

Each individual feature of Gujarat has been anticipated and experimented with since the Ramjanmabhoomi (Birthplace of God Ram) movement began: in Meerut, Maliana, Bhagalpur, at Ayodhya, Mumbai, Surat, Bhopal, at Manoharpur in Orissa and at countless other places.[21]

The Hindu mobs had computer printouts of voter registration documents and knew addresses of Muslim-owned properties. Muslim-owned shops were looted and vandalized and shops partially owned by Muslims were also looted and damaged, indicating that preparation had started long before the Godhra incident. SmitaNarula, senior South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch and author of the report India: Gujarat Officials Took Part in Anti-Muslim Violence said:

“What happened in Gujarat was not a spontaneous uprising, it was a carefully orchestrated attack against Muslims. The attacks were planned in advance and organized with extensive participation of the police and state government officials.[22]

The police aided and abetted the mob in carrying out the violence. In some cases, they were silent spectators and did not interfere while the saffron-clad Hindu mobs proceeded to kill Muslims with swords and sticks. On other occasions, they abetted by masquerading as protectors, only to lead hapless Muslims straight toward a waiting mob.

Ambulances were allowed to pass once they yelled Jai Shri Ram (meaning Hail Ram, indicating the victim is a Hindu). First Information Reports (FIR), the initial complaint made about a crime, were often denied or not recorded. Sometimes the police entered FIRs collectively and did not allow individual names, despite the victims claiming to have recognized the perpetrators. The state tried to cover up its complicity and the role of the SanghParivar.

As Tanika Sarkar writes, words like “communal violence” and “massacre” have been too “domesticated,” to be used to describe the depravity of the violence. Women in particular were made targets of violence and revenge, according to philosopher Martha Nussbaum:

“Particularly striking were the mass rapes and mutilations of women. The typical tactic was first to rape or gang-rape the woman, then to torture her, and then to set her on fire and kill her. Although the fact that most of the dead were incinerated makes a precise sex count of the bodies impossible, one mass grave that was discovered contained more than half female bodies.[23]

According to the Human Rights Watch Report[24], “[i]n some cases, pregnant women had their bellies cut open and their fetuses pulled out and hacked or burned before the women were killed.”

These atrocities didn't stop Modi from declaring—even as the scale of violence was at its most intense—that the “people of Gujarat have shown remarkable restraint under grave provocation,” according to the HRW report. The then Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in April 2002:

“[W]herever Muslims are living, they don't want to live in harmony. They don't mix with the society. They are not interested in living in peace...We don't need lessons in secularism from anyone. India was secular even before the Muslims and Christians came.[25]

Atal Behari Vajpayee was given a Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour an Indian can get, on March 27, 2015. His birthday, December 25, is now declared to be “Good Governance Day.” No communalism here, if you are raising questions, you are probably not nationalistic enough, and would be well served if you relocated to Pakistan.

More than 200,000 people were internally displaced, in Gujarat in the aftermath of 2002 pogrom. Muslims fled riot-prone neighbourhoods in search of shelter from the unspeakable violence. The state turned a blind eye to survivors and the relief camps organized for them. Not only did the state provide inadequate relief, it refused to acknowledge the relief camps set up by international organizations and Indian nongovernmental organizations that did make efforts to address the humanitarian crisis. It has also been reported that in some cases, the relief camps were organized near graveyards, and some victims even had to sleep between graves.While the plight of Muslims in the country is such, BJP MP and current External Affairs Minister SushmaSwaraj has assured, on August 2, 2015, to help Hindus in Pakistan[26].

In a sting operation, Tehelka recorded a video where former Bajrang Dal leader Babubhai Patel, also known as Babu Bajrangi, said:

“We didn't spare a single Muslim shop, we set everything on fire … we hacked, burned, set on fire … we believe in setting them on fire because these bastards don't want to be cremated, they're afraid of it … I have just one last wish … let me be sentenced to death … I don't care if I'm hanged ... just give me two days before my hanging and I will go and have a field day in Juhapura where seven or eight lakhs [seven or eight hundred thousand] of these people stay ... I will finish them off … let a few more of them die ... at least 25,000 to 50,000 should die.[27]

In the video BabuBajrangi also claimed “that he had called the state Home Minister Gordhan Zadaphia and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad general secretary Jaideep Patel at the time, to inform them about the killings.” He has been given life imprisonment, but has been out on bail for more than 125 days, and was granted a bail six times—sometimes for niece’s wedding, sometimes for medical reasons—the last time on July 23, 2015.

The other person convicted for Gujarat 2002 was Maya Kodnani. She has been described by court rulings as ‘the kingpin of Naroda Patiya massacre.’ She has been given a sentence of 28 years in jail. The Gujarat government withdrew their appeal to seek death penalty for Kodnani. Here, so there is no misunderstanding, I would like to reiterate that even for criminals like Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, I vociferously oppose death penalty.

How can one expect closure of the Gujarat 2002 pogrom, when Himanshu Trivedi, who was a judge in the City Civil and Sessions Court from October 2002 to May 2003, in a recent facebook post came out saying that he quit judiciary because the State of Gujarat wanted the judges to act against the minority community?[28]

In the case of the Malegaon blasts of 2006, the initial suspicion was that Pakistan or Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed were involved in the blasts. Among those arrested were activists of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). After Hemant Karkare’s investigation found that the initial Muslim men suspected were innocent, the case was handed over to National Investigative Agency (NIA). When it was found that the accused are no longer Maoists, Muslims, or does not fit a description which can be used to declare them a national enemy or ‘greatest internal security threat,’ the situation became complicated. Special Public Prosecutor Rohini Salian has come out saying that after the change in the central government, there has been more pressure to favour the accused.

In the case of the grenade attack on a Friday prayer gathering at the Ahle Hadees mosque in Peer Mitha on January 9, 2004, which had left two J&K officials dead and 19 injured, the Jammu police initially blamed Tehreek-ul Mujahideen, and arrested 108 people. As reported in an Indian Express article:

“Seven years later, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had said Rajendra Chaudhary and Dhan Singh, arrested in connection with the 2007 Samjhauta Express attack and the 2008 Malegaon blasts, were behind the attack. In December 2012, an NIA team had questioned two youths from Kanachak in Jammu.

In the light of the NIA disclosures, a re-investigation was ordered, but it never took off because the J&K Police said that the original case file had been “stolen”...

As per the NIA, in a “disclosure statement”, Rajendra Chaudhary had said that in 2001 he had met Sunil Joshi, then a pracharak in Mhow, at Depalpur in Indore district of Madhya Pradesh...

“Dhan Singh told me he had come to the camp around two months ago. Sunilji left Jammu after dropping me there. We, three, stayed in that room at Purkhu camp for about three months… Patil showed us two hand grenades kept in his suitcase and asked us to explode them. Along with Dhan Singh and Patil, I went to the mosque at Peer Meetha (around 15 km from our place) by bus. They told me to wait at the local bus stop and went to the mosque. After hurling grenades (I heard the sound of explosion), they both came running to the bus stand. I later came to know that due to that explosion, two persons had been killed and a few injured. Along with Dhan Singh, I returned to Indore, leaving Patil in Jammu.[29]

This list can go on. There is no closure to the Babri Masjid case, despite the damning evidence provided by the Liberhan Commission report; no closure for the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots; no closure for the victims of the Kunan Poshpora in Kashmir, where according to human rights organizations like HRW about 100 women were gang raped by Indian army personnel; no closure for the Sopore massacre in Kashmir, where Indian army killed 55 civilians, and according to conservative estimates of the government 250 shops and 50 houses were burnt and so on.

The duplicity of the liberal defenders of Modi, BJP and Sanghparivar in general is pathetic. When one raise the question of Gujarat 2002, one is repeatedly accused of being stuck in the past, yet the Sangh Parivar go back thousands of years and search in mythical stories about temples built in particular places. There is a myth going around that Modi has been given a clean chit; well not exactly, as an article in India Resist points out[30]. How can you expect justice, when the perpetrators of Gujarat 2002 pogrom go unpunished, while Teesta Setalvad, whose untiring efforts have helped bring justice to the survivors of the pogrom, is being hounded?

There is another charge that activists only bring up the case of abolition of death penalty when a Muslim man is on death row. That is patently false. As I have mentioned before, I would be opposed to death penalty for Maya Kodnani, or even Henry Kissinger, who probably would be one of the biggest war criminals on earth if ever tried. Committed and principled activists have been fighting for the abolition of death penalty for a long time. We opposed the noose symbol in the Shahbagh movement; we have opposed the death sentence awarder to Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Morsi; the order of death penalty to 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt; and now we are opposed to the death penalty of Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam.

Reaction from the political parties

The Congress did not even raise the issue of principled opposition to capital punishment. Given that Sonia Gandhi had earlier forgiven the killer of her husband, she had some moral capital to at least start up a conversation on the issue of mercy and against retributive justice. Although individual Congress leaders, like Digvijay Singh, opposed the hanging of Yakub, the party was largely silent.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) opposed the death penalty of Yakub Memon. Veteran CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat wrote in The Citizen, “Yakub Memon’s fate underlines the need for the abolition of the death penalty, a demand which the CPI(M) has been making.[31]” The hypocrisy of this statement is palpable. Let us remind ourselves that the West Bengal CPI(M) government had taken an active role in hanging Dhanajoy Chatterjee, with the Meera Bhattacharya—the wife of the then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya—taking the lead role. As remarked upon earlier, new evidence has surfaced, which casts doubt on the role of Dhananjoy, and it might have been a wrongful execution. Upon the hanging of Afzal Guru, convicted for being involved in theparliament attack in 2001, SitaramYetchury, who is currently the General Secretary of CPI(M), had said “I think, the law of the land with all its provisions has finally been completed as far as the Afzal Guru case and the attack on the Indian Parliament is concerned. The issue which had been lingering for the past 11 years has finally completed its due course.[32]” Arundhati Roy noted then: “In a moment of rare unity the Nation, or at least its major political parties, the Congress, the BJP and the CPM came together as one (barring a few squabbles about ‘delay’ and ‘timing’) to celebrate the triumph of the Rule of Law.[33]” After the December 16 horrific incident of rape of a Delhi woman, Prakash Karat commented: “As per the present laws, capital punishment is prescribed for cases of murder and Supreme Court has defined it or interpreted it as the rarest of rare cases when death penalty can be given...of course, in the case of the brutal gangrape and murder of this young woman, that law would apply.[34]” Though, given what I noted earlier, CPI(M)’s deep historical commitment to fighting capital punishment is hard to find, I think it is a welcome development that at least now they have an official position of opposing death penalty as a legitimate means of punishment, and in the case of Yakub Memon had openly opposed it.

Conclusion

With the change in the central government, there is a process of Hinduization of institutions and society playing out, with a precipitous increase in communal disharmony. There is a spate of activity of “shuddhikaran”, “gharwapsi”, attacks on churches all of which barely receive any comments from Prime Minister Modi. In a report, which came out marking the 100 days of Narendra Modi’s government, John Dayal notes that there have been more than 600 incidents of communal violence since the new BJP government came into power[35]. From declaring the Gita to be the national book, to making political appointments of people with ties to the Sangh Parivar, the current BJP government—when not actively stoking communal tension—conveniently turns a blind eye to the atrocities. While we should take a principled position, not only questions of capital punishment, but also on questions of terrorism, and condemn the attack on innocent civilians, whether the victim is in India or a blogger in Bangladesh, we cannot forget that our main battle remains in our own country where we are based. We condemn horrific attacks everywhere else, and write statements of solidarity to groups fighting extremism and bigotry, but our task is to organize on the ground where we are based. It is important for us to fight islamophobia, because it is an important tool at the hands of Hindutva forces, which it will, as it has done in the past, use cynically to gain political power at the cost of innocent human lives from either sides of the religious line.

 



[1]Bidwai, Praful. (June 23, 2002.) ‘Missile Man’ as India’s President. Retrieved from http://original.antiwar.com/bidwai/2002/06/22/missile-man-as-indias-president/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[2] Deb, Swati. (July 29, 2015.) Post-Godhra riots, BJP used APJ Abdul Kalam's presidency to counter 'anti-Muslim' perception. Retrieved from http://www.firstpost.com/politics/post-godhra-riots-bjp-used-abdul-kalams-presidency-to-counter-anti-muslim-image-2368292.html (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[3]Shashi Tharoor in the wake of Kalam’s death tweeted “Abdul Kalam ignited minds, inspired young people, & embodied the potential in every Indian. A Muslim steeped in Hindu culture, a complete Indian.” A specific test of nationality for Muslims in India is their acceptance of Hindu culture, otherwise a Muslim makes an incomplete Indian. https://twitter.com/ShashiTharoor/status/625715457908051972 (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[4] (August 1, 2015.) Those mourning YakubMemon are anti-national, should go to Pakistan, says SakshiMaharaj. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/those-mourning-yakub-memon-are-anti-national-should-go-to-pakistan-sakshi-maharaj/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[5] (July 30, 2015.) Sethi, Manisha. Why YakubMemon's hanging should have been telecast live. Retrieved from http://www.catchnews.com/india-news/why-yakub-memon-s-hanging-should-have-been-telecast-live-1438261849.html (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[6] (July 31, 2015.) YakubMemon Hanging: In quiet grief, hundreds turn up, crowd chorus is naarebazinahin. The Indian Express. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/in-quiet-grief-hundreds-turn-up-crowd-chorus-is-naarebazi-nahin/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[7] (August 1, 2015) Thousands bid farewell to Memon; Media blacks out funeral after gag order. Caravan report. http://caravandaily.com/portal/thousands-bid-farewell-to-memon-media-blacks-out-funeral-after-gag-order/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[8] (July 31, 2015.) Thaver, Mohamed. Mourners wished to see YakubMemon’s face, police said no. The Indian Express. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/yakub-memon-hanging-mourners-wished-to-see-his-face-police-said-no/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[9] (July 31, 2015) Many YakubMemon Mourners Are Potential Terrorists: Tripura Governor. Tehelka Web Desk. http://www.tehelka.com/2015/07/many-who-attend-yakubs-funeral-are-potential-terrorists-tripura-governor/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[10] (July 30, 2015.) Execution of YakubMemon cruel and inhuman. Amnesty International India. https://www.amnesty.org.in/show/news/execution-of-yakub-memon-cruel-and-inhuman/  (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[11] (July 29, 2015.) Samar. Never Forget, Never Forgive Us YakubMemon. Countercurrents. http://www.countercurrents.org/samar290715.htm (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[12] (July 30, 2015.) Sethi, Manisha. Why YakubMemon's hanging should have been telecast live. Retrieved from http://www.catchnews.com/india-news/why-yakub-memon-s-hanging-should-have-been-telecast-live-1438261849.html (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[13]Bhupesh, N. K. Death By Collective Conscience. Tehelka. http://www.tehelka.com/2015/07/death-by-collective-conscience/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[14] (July 29, 2015.) Sethi, Manisha. TADA Is Dead, Will Memon Live? Countercurrents. http://www.countercurrents.org/sethi290715.htm (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[15] (July 30, 2015.) Tharoor, Shashi. Hanging YakubMemon Makes Us Murderers Too. Retrieved from http://www.ndtv.com/opinion/hanging-yakub-memon-makes-us-murderers-too-1202042?fb (Last accessed on August 6, 2015) 

[16] (July 13, 2015.) Bahl, Megha and Purkayastha, Sharmila. The Murderers of DhananjoyHazirHo! Abolish Death Penalty. People’s Union for Democratic Rights. http://www.pudr.org/?q=content%2Fmurderers-dhananjoy-hazir-ho-abolish-death-penalty (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[17]Quotes are from (August 15 - 28, 1998) Padmanabhan, R. The Shiv Sena indicted. Frontline. http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl1517/15170200.htm (Last accessed August 7, 2015.)

[18] (Srikrishna Commission Report, Volume I, Chapter II, 1.15) Quoted from (July 29, 2015.) Sukumaran, C. V. An Open Letter ToYakub Memon. Countercurrents. http://www.countercurrents.org/sukumaran290715.htm(Last accessed August 7, 2015.)

[19] (July 23, 2015.) There Is More To The Mumbai Violence Than YakubMemon. The Citizen. http://www.thecitizen.in/NewsDetail.aspx?Id=4485&There%2FIs%2FMore%2FTo%2FThe%2FMumbai%2FViolence%2FThan%2FYakub%2FMemon(Last accessed August 7, 2015.)

[20]The portion on Gujarat riots of 2002 heavily borrows from an article that I wrote for Socialist Worker. (April 15, 2013.) Doinyo, Kolponashokti-r and Wells, Dia B. Confronting a Hindu fascist. Socialist Workerhttp://socialistworker.org/2013/04/15/confronting-hindu-fascist (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[21] Sarkar, Tanika. Semiotics of terror: Muslim children and women in Hindu Rashtra. Economic and political weekly (2002): 2872-2876.

[22] (May 1, 2002.) India: Gujarat Officials Took Part in Anti-Muslim Violence. Human Rights Watch. http://www.hrw.org/news/2002/04/29/india-gujarat-officials-took-part-anti-muslim-violence (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[23] (June 01, 2004.) Nussbaum, Martha C. Body of the Nation--Why women were mutilated in Gujarat. Boston Review. http://www.bostonreview.net/martha-nussbaum-women-mutilated-gujarat(Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[24] (April 2002) "We Have No Orders to Save You" State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat. Human Rights Watch.http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/india/gujarat.pdf(Last accessed on August 7, 2015.)

[25] (March 1, 2012.) Jose, Vinod K. The Emperor Uncrowned. The Caravan Magazine. http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/emperor-uncrowned (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[26] (August 2, 2015.) SushmaSwaraj assures help to Pakistani Hindus. The Indian Express. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/sushma-swaraj-assures-welfare-of-pakistani-hindus/ (Last accessed August 7, 2015.)

[27]The transcript is from an article published in The Citizen. (July 31, 2015.) Memon's Execution Focuses Spotlight on Gujarat's NarodaPatiya. The Citizen. http://www.thecitizen.in/NewsDetail.aspx?Id=4589&MEMON%E2%80%99S%2FEXECUTION%2FFOCUSES%2FSPOTLIGHT%2FON%2FGUJARAT%E2%80%99S%2FNARODA%2FPATIYA%2FCONVICTS (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

The video for the sting operation can be found here: Compelling Evidence proves - Narendra Modi Ordered Gujarat Riots 2002. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFZBNUnG5pI

[28] (August 4, 2015.) Former Gujarat Judge Says He Quit Over Government’s Anti-Muslim Bias. The Wire. http://thewire.in/2015/08/04/former-gujarat-judge-says-he-quit-judiciary-over-governments-anti-muslim-bias-7822/?utm_content=buffer747f5&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[29] (July 27, 2015.) 2004 J&K mosque attack: A file goes missing, trail cold in attack by ‘Hindu extremists’. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/2004-jk-mosque-attack-a-file-goes-missing-trail-cold-in-attack-by-hindu-extremists/ (Last accessed August 7, 2015.)

[30] (August 5, 2015.) Did the SIT give clean chit to Modi? The answer is a big NO, here is why. India Resists. http://www.indiaresists.com/did-the-sit-give-clean-chit-to-modi-the-answer-is-a-big-no-here-is-why/ (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[31] (July 30, 2015.) Karat, Prakash. YakubMemon: Miscarriage of Justice. The Citizen. http://www.thecitizen.in/NewsDetail.aspx?Id=4567&YAKUB%2FMEMON%3A%2F%2FMISCARRIAGE%2FOF%2FJUSTICE (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[32] (February 10, 2013.) Afzal Guru hanging: voice of affirmation across political spectrum. The Hindu. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/afzal-guru-hanging-voice-of-affirmation-across-political-spectrum/article4397059.ece(Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[33] (February 11, 2013.) Roy, Arundhati. A perfect day for democracy. The Hindu. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/a-perfect-day-for-democracy/article4397705.ece (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[34] (January 05, 2013) CPM favours jail for life, not death for rapists: Karat. CNN IBN. http://www.ibnlive.com/news/others/oscars-2015-jk-simmons-wins-best-supporting-actor-for-whiplash-530064.html (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[35] (September 28, 2014.) India: 100 days Under the Modi Led Government: State of Minorities - A Report. South Asia Citizens Web. http://www.sacw.net/article9648.html(Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

CORBYN: A REMARKABLE CAMPAIGN

CORBYN: A REMARKABLE CAMPAIGN

The Corbyn campaign is a remarkable phenomenon. He actually stands a very good chance of winning the Labour leadership unless the Labour establishment can turn around the tide over the next six weeks.

As things stand, however, the tide remains with him. The Labour leadership are like rabbits in the headlights. Large numbers of people, young people in particular, are joining his campaign and people are flocking to his rallies and campaign events. Many are signing up to Labour as registered supporters or as affiliated supporters through their unions (According to Labour List in late June the figures were registered supporters: 9,115, affiliated supporters: 3,788 while the number of full members has also grown significantly since the general election. )

The support from inside major trade unions for Corbyn’s candidacy has been extraordinary.

Labour has always been different from many of its fellow social democratic parties in having the direct affiliation of trade unions. Fourteen unions are affiliated and historically they have tended to act as a force against the left and to support the leadership establishment of the party. But the two largest trade unions affiliated to the party – Unite and Unison – have now both endorsed Corbyn.

Unite, led by Len McCluskey, was not a particular surprise as the union had been following a more left wing line in recent years, but the nomination of Corbyn by Unison is a major change in the situation. Unison is a major public sector union that has talked a lot against austerity and cuts to benefits and services, but has rarely organised action. At one time in the recent past Unison had the largest affiliated membership of the Labour Party and over one third of its million plus members are on its ‘Labour Link’ mailing list. A consultation exercise over the leadership election of Unison’s 12 regions showed that nine of them wanted Corbyn nominating.

The Communication Workers Union is also a major national union with over 200,000 members. It not only nominated Corbyn, but General Secretary, Dave Ward, took to YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_b3Vh-EkSg&feature=youtu.be) to motivate its members to register to vote for Corbyn on the grounds of his policies and to signal a move to the left and against austerity in the party.

Corbyn also has the nominations of several smaller unions, such as the Bakers Union, transport union the TSSA and train drivers union ASLEF, while the other large affiliate, the general union GMB, has declined to nominate any of the four candidates – a blow for the right.

Following the Collins’ review of 2014, trade unions no longer have the say they used to have in the Labour leadership election, but any member of an affiliated Corbyn also has the nominations of several smaller unions, such as the Bakers Union, transport union the TSSA and train drivers union ASLEF, while the other large affiliate, the general union GMB, has declined to nominate any of the four candidates – a blow for the right.

As we near the closing date for supporting nominations, Corbyn also has a massive lead in nominations over his rivals from local party branches (Constituency Labour Parties – CLPs) with over 130 nominations (from 600+) compared to around 100 for other challengers.

Corbyn’s campaign has made major inroads into three areas – traditional party members organised in constituencies, affiliated trade unionists and new, overwhelmingly young, members and supporters of the party. This is a profoundly radicalising development, whichever way the vote goes.

If Corbyn wins and sets off in an anti-austerity direction major new possibilities will open up including a probable split by the Blairites. If he loses he will have encouraged and radicalised a lot of young people and trade union activists, strengthened the left in the Labour Party, and exerted leftward pressure on whoever does win.

Tony Benn failed to win the deputy leadership of the Labour Party in 1981 (albeit by a tiny margin) after a massive campaign with a big and vibrant Labour Left and a large and militant trade union movement in a period of industrial militancy. Now Corbyn is on the cusp of winning the Labour leadership with a (more or less) non-existent organised Labour left, a very weak trade union movement and historically low strike levels.

Some of the factors involved are clear. Labour lost an election that it clearly could and should have won—and the reason it lost was because it tail ended the Tory cuts agenda. This was followed by Harriet Harman’s appalling decision not to oppose Osborne’s budget (which ended up with her position outflanked to the left by the Lib Dems and unionist parties). All the other contenders for the Labour Leadership not only supported her in that but further collapsed into the Tory agenda by toeing the line that Labour had lost the election because the campaign had been too far to the left and that the progressive policies that it did adopt should now be dropped.

Conviction politics is playing a role in this. People inside the Labour Party and outside find it a breath of fresh air to find someone in the Labour leadership contest who says what they mean and means what they says in a non-egotistic way.

Corbyn rally in Bristol

Corbyn rally in Bristol

It is also clear that Scottish politics are also a part of this development, not just the radicalising influence of the independence referendum, and the rise of the SNP, but also the role of the SNP MPs in Parliament since the election. They have been in effect the real opposition for the Tories as shown in the vote against benefit cuts where the SNP’s 55 votes outnumbered the votes of 47 Labour MPs, led by Corbyn, who defied the leadership.

The recent ‘maiden’ speech in parliament by new SNP MP Mhairi Black, at 20 years of age the youngest MP for centuries, challenged Labour to oppose the Tory benefit cuts and declared Tony Benn one of her heroes. The YouTube video of that speech became one of the most watched parliamentary speeches in Britain ever, as it clocked up millions of hits online, many from young people.

A few months ago it seemed unlikely that Corbyn would even get on the ballot paper. He only secured the necessary 35 nominations of MPs with two minutes to spare and after a number of right wing MPs agreed to nominate him, ostensibly to give the opportunity for Andy Burnham to appear as a middle-of-the-road candidate rather than the most leftwing person in the race.

Of Corbyn’s nominators only 18 followed him in voting against the benefit cuts. The gulf between the parliamentary party and the base of the membership in the trade unions and the party at large is massive. A Corbyn leadership would struggle to fill the Shadow Cabinet meeting room with his handful of MP supporters and there is a danger that he would become a hostage to the parliamentary party if he did not organise more extensively his supporters in the party at large.

While the left in the Labour Party have created a strong united challenge, the right wing is in disarray, with allegations against each other descending into puerile abuse such as calling each other ‘morons’ in public. Right wing MPs are openly talking about a ‘coup’, overturning a Corbyn leadership by the parliamentary party alone, or even a split modelled on the creation of the short-lived Social Democratic Party (SDP) of the 1980s (not a glorious example to emulate).

This is not to say that everything Jeremy Corbyn is saying is right. He seems to have nothing to say on the environment or on electoral reform—which are massive issues since the last election.

A Corbyn victory, however, or indeed a close second, would be a victory for the whole of the left. It would open up the political situation in Britain and radicalise a lot of people—particularly young people. Whether it split the Labour Party or not it would create completely new conditions for anti-austerity politics in England.

Left Unity has rightly welcomed Corbyn’s campaign from the beginning understanding its significance and its progressive dynamic.

The conditions for the creation of a new left wing alternative in Britain exist now more than ever. A key task of the coming period will be to unite all those forces that believe in challenging austerity, climate change and resisting the Tory government and its implementation of the neo-liberal consensus. A change in the Labour Party leadership would have a massive effect, but in order to become really significant and sustainable it also needs to reach out and link up with the millions of people who voted Green or SNP or Plaid Cymru (or the smaller socialist groups) in the general election, those who support Left Unity and especially the millions of young people resisting austerity.

The struggle against the effects of climate change and for solidarity

The struggle against the effects of climate change and for solidarity

Badrul Alam, Pierre Rousset

 

Badrul Alam, a representative of the BKF-BKS movement in Bangladesh, was in France in June 2015 and was interviewed by Pierre Rousset.

(from http://internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article4153) 

 

You came to France at the invitation of the Confederation paysanne to participate in the mobilization in Amiens on June 17, in defence of peasant activists on trial for their action against the “farm of a thousand cows”.

 

We wanted to affirm an international solidarity with the Confederation and its members dragged before the courts for a struggle - in the face of giant industrial farms - which we fully support. Like the Confederation, we are a member of La Via Campesina. I represented in Amiens our twin associations, the BKF-BKS comprising some two million peasants in Bangladesh, half men (in the BKF) and half women (in the BKS). Having two parallel organizations has facilitated the integration of peasant women, it being understood that the husbands cannot join the BKF unless they accept that their wives should do the same with the BKS. Agro-industry imposes its law at the international level and it is very important that our solidarity is stated at this level. Via Campesina has sections both in the North (as in France) and the South (as in Bangladesh).

 

Before Amiens, you participated, in Montreuil, in the international meeting preparing the actions during the conference on climate change to be held in Paris next December.

 

We do not trust the governments and global institutions to curb global warming. However, Bangladesh is one of the countries most immediately affected by the effects of global warming. It is situated on a flat and low delta, at the confluence of the Jamuna (Ganges), Padma (Brahmaputra) and Meghna rivers. It is a region with very fertile soils through the deposits of alluvium, but threatened by floods: the major part of the territory is at least 12 meters in height – of which 10% is located below sea level, under the protection of dykes. In addition, the population density is especially high: we are the 94th biggest country by surface, but the 8th biggest by population. By and large we have a population density more than twice that of the Netherlands - for a population of approximately 160 million! So any rise in the ocean level and any extreme climatic phenomenon has dramatic consequences. We are truly on the front line in terms of climate!

 

To the overall effects of the contemporary capitalist mode of development on climate change, we must add its local effects. Let us take the example of the large-scale production, in the south-west of Bangladesh, of shrimp destined, inter alia, to the European market. The dikes in the polders have been opened and the very rich land where poor peasants were working has been drowned under sea water to create pools for breeding.

 

In the short term, the villagers have benefited from an attractive income through aquaculture; but this industry has destroyed coastal vegetation (mangroves and so on) as well as the biodiversity which was a refuge and a natural protection against the assaults of the ocean. It caused salinization of surrounding lands and their desertification, rendering it unfit for cultivation. As for the shrimp, they are now victims of infectious diseases. The “market” doesn’t care: if necessary, capital will bring destruction elsewhere. But the local population is sunk into poverty.

 

This problem is in fact not recent, it dates back to the early 1990s. In a region where shrimp aquaculture has been developed, nine villages resisted, under the impetus of a woman who was murdered by the police. These villages have become an island of greenery, biodiversity, an example of food sovereignty, a living condemnation of the agro-industry. It is this type of struggle in which we are engaged for the defence of the peasantry, but also precarious workers, street vendors and the urban poor or indigenous peoples (Adivasis).

 

We have provided aid to the textile workers who were victims of the collapse in Dhaka of the Rana Plaza industrial building in 2013 (aid to the hospitalized first, and then the purchase of sewing machines for women workers with lifetime disabilities), or to villages affected by floods or exceptional cold in the north. We have been able to carry out these actions, particularly thanks to the financial assistance that the association Europe solidaire sans frontières (in France) has been able to send us. Aid to the victims of humanitarian disaster - industrial, climatic - has become more and more a part of the tasks of the BKF-BKS.

 

As in many other countries of the South, we are also helping occupations of land left in fallow by big landowners (or whose ownership is disputed). A special feature in Bangladesh is that these lands occupied by the poor peasants are often big strips of sands appearing in the meanders of the rivers and can change location with time.

 

Can you tell us about the “caravans” that you have organized in the past few years?

 

For four years, we have organized Caravans for climate justice, food sovereignty and the rights of women, gender equality, in order to emphasize the interaction between all these areas. On November 14, 2014, the caravan first went through a good part of Bangladesh before travelling to India, and then back up to Nepal to participate in a regional people’s summit. Our caravans have always included foreign delegations from, in particular, other Asian countries (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia and the Philippines), but also Europe and elsewhere (this year the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, the United States and Australia). We have expanded our links including through participation in the sessions of the International Institute for Research and Education (IIRE) in Manila, in the Philippines.

 

At each of the twelve stages of our caravan, we organize debates and seminars with the local population, so as to multiply exchanges and awareness of the importance of climate change issues and the role played by agro-industry, such as the dissemination of GMOs. We have promoted local varieties of seeds and smallholder agriculture, studied the use of solar energy (and other sources of renewable energy), fertilizers and organic pesticides, or the organic production of pineapples and taken into account the claims of agricultural labourers. In Calcutta, in India, we have met with associations of the urban poor. In Katmandu, Nepal, the movements met to present their alternatives and responses to the climate crisis.

 

Over the exchanges, our common problems have emerged, faced with the hoarding of land in the hands of the rich, the consequences of the industrialization of agriculture, indebtedness, sexual discrimination (with particularly the double working day, in the fields and at home), the disruption of the climate.

 

Being in India and Nepal was particularly important. There is a growing cooperation, under the current Prime Minister of India, Modi, between the ruling circles in India and Bangladesh. There is a need to strengthen the cooperation of the popular movements and, in particular, between member associations of La Via Campesina. In addition, the border between our two countries is the subject of tensions, exacerbated by migration due to climate disorder; we must combat the rise of xenophobia, reinforce feelings of solidarity, the belief that we must unite in the face of adversity. To do this, we must meet.

 

We are confronted by a hardening of regimes that restrict freedom of movement. Thus, a visa has been required by the Indian authorities of Bangladeshis to let them go to Nepal, which was not possible and some of the members of the Caravan were not able to participate in the final stage. It was a great frustration, after such a path!

 

We will not organize the next caravan this year, but in 2016. We have also proposed a mobilization against the construction of a nuclear power plant planned by the government in collaboration with Russia.

 

In all these areas, the coordination of popular movements at the international level is we believe essential.

 

Pierre Rousset

Pierre Rousset is a member of the leadership of the Fourth International particularly involved in solidarity with Asia. He is a member of the NPA in France.

Badrul Alam

Badrul Alam is President of the Bangladesh Krishak Federation.

The US Elections and the Sanders Campaign

The US Elections and the Sanders Campaign


Introduction


Something unusual is happening in the United States of America. Bernie Sanders, a US Senator, who calls himself a Socialist, is campaigning to be nominated as the Democratic Party candidate for the next US Presidential election. The Democratic Party is one of the two parties of the US imperialist bourgeoisie. In the 19th century, it had a big pro-slavery wing, so that the Republicans under Lincoln appeared as the more progressive party. In the twentieth century, especially since Franklin Roosevelt and the “New Deal”, the Democrats have presented themselves as the party of the left, usually getting some kind of support from the CPUSA, even though this party has been an equal partner in all the imperialist wars and internal reactionary policies. 

From the 1980s, there have been movements that have argued that it is possible to “recapture’ the Democratic Party from the “plutocrats” or the “right”, and give it back to the people. Reverend Jesse Jackson organised his “Rainbow Coalition”. And there was even a great elation when Obama was elected president. But the Sanders campaign goes beyond that, while remaining wedded to that strategy. Sanders, after all, calls himself a socialist. In the USA, this was unheard of. And he has some support among the union bureaucracy, not so much that he could become a real force, but enough to give his campaigners delusions of grandeur. 


In reality, the politics of Sanders is not very radical. But the campaign clearly aims to mobilize and at the same time take out the fangs of the revived popular movements of the last few years, by getting people lined up behind the Democratic Party instead of for independent political action, not just electoral action, but also militant mass movements. Yet, even in India, there have appeared comments hailing Sanders. Sanders has been equated with Jeremy Corbyn and his challenge to the Blairite labour leaders in UK. We do not wish to bring in the British issue, but only to remark that in one case there is an actual labour party, which of course, ever since Neil Kinnock, has been moving against workers, where a challenge has been mounted to take it back to a leftward stance; while in the other case, Sanders is committed to remaining in the imperialist bourgeois party, and even, in advance, to supporting Clinton (or another Democrat) if (really, when) he loses in the primaries. Indeed, Jill Stein, declaring she will run again on the Green Party ticket, is seeking to tap into the left vote that she hopes will be disgusted when Sanders will endorse the mainstream Democratic candidate. Nor is it just a matter of some formal adherence to Democratic Party structures. In the ongoing mass movements, Sanders has a track record that is much questioned. Notably, in the anti-racist campaign Black Lives Matter, Sanders has a poor record. Asked about his views on Baltimore, where White racists used great violence, Sanders responded by saying that “It's primarily a local and state issue”, and went on to talk about job creation. It would be like a supposed communist in India, being asked about increasing violence on Dalits, including regular murders, was to respond by talking about further steps to implement the reservation of jobs, ignoring the killings because that is a state not a centre issue. 


We publish below, four articles of four US organisations – Solidarity, International Socialist Organisation, Socialist Alternative, and Socialist Action, with different views on how to respond to the Sanders campaign and the popular enthusiasm it has been generating. 


Radical Socialist


 

Connecting Sanders’ Audience’s Aspirations to Clear Working Class Political Alternatives

Sunday 2 August 2015, by Traven and Joanna (from Against the Current)


The following document was discussed at Solidarity’s 2015 Convention last weekend and approved by a majority vote, with the addendum that our organization also has many members engaged in the Green Party and that we support their work and the Jill Stein campaign. This resolution is intended to outline an approach to the Sanders campaign and his supporters, and not as an evaluation as Sanders himself or his political views.


Solidarity understands the strategic imperative of organizing a mass base for independent working class political action that unites working people, the independent social movements, and organizations of the oppressed in a battle for their common interests against capitalism and its political representatives. Unlike those on the left who continue to see the Democratic Party as a lesser evil that can be influenced from within, we regard the Democratic Party as unreformable, committed to imposing capital’s neoliberal project. History has shown all too many times that the Democratic Party remains the graveyard of social movements. We reject being drawn into the slippery slope of Democratic Party politics.


Nevertheless, any significant advance in independent working class politics requires a fracturing away of the Democratic Party’s mass base. As an austerity-first party, Democratic lesser-evilism has lost much of its allure. We strongly disagree with Bernie Sanders’ approach of running in the Democratic primary and his pledge to support the Party nominee. However, it would be a mistake for the left not to recognize the enormous significance and potential inherent in the millions of people rallying around his campaign looking to fight against corporate America and what they perceive as the highjacking of the democratic process. Despite Sanders running as a Democrat, we appreciate the significance of the mass support he is receiving for his basic message. It is the message of Occupy—the 99% versus the 1%—proving that eight years into the devastating recession and deepened neoliberal austerity presided over by the Obama administration it is very much alive and embedded in the consciousness of big layers of the US population. This is particularly true of young people who are just entering national electoral politics inspired by Sanders’ message.


We should welcome this outpouring of fight back spirit, and seek to work together on the issues they raise while emphasizing that a Democratic Party orientation is a dead end; and instead win them over to the need for independent politics and building movements that can change society. We urge Solidarity members, those we can influence, as well as other revolutionary socialists to find ways to connect with the millions of people who are being drawn to the Sanders campaign, most of whom will have no patience for the Democratic Party establishment, much less see themselves in an ongoing fight to take the leadership of the Party. This is a key audience to connect with and make inroads into if we are to accomplish any sort of breakthrough for independent left politics. Many Sanders supporters are already involved in, or can be won to, organizing ongoing independent anti-austerity and other social movements, to local independent electoral campaigns, and to the Green Party’s fledgling effort to build a national independent party/movement.


We are supportive of the rank and file rebellions within labor, such as the independent, grassroots Labor for Bernie formation, that are developing around this election. They provide an opportunity to discuss what program and objectives should drive labor’s political choices. The rebellion and disgust with bureaucrat driven, transactional, business as usual politics poses the need, and possibility, to build rank and file networks within labor that demand a real democratic process of endorsements, and that fight to hold the bureaucrats accountable to supporting only candidates that actually support union policies. Political endorsements will not "save" our unions or the working class. But a struggle over internal democracy inside our unions such as the one that has erupted in the AFT can build rank and file power.


Our job as socialists in the labor movement includes a strategy of fostering cracks in labor’s slavish alignment with the Democratic Party establishment. A fissure in terms of a Sanders endorsement is a good thing. We are not indifferent to this fight. A mass, independent working class party will not be created in this country without the activity of the labor militants who are supporting the Sanders campaign. This is also the milieu of labor activists that grasp the necessary task of building the political capacities of workers—something far beyond the scope of any electoral insurgency.


We should embrace movements and mobilizing efforts around specific demands that grow out of the Sanders campaign. There is now a call by young people activated by the campaign for a million student march on Washington this fall, building on Sanders’ call to make public universities and colleges tuition free.


We have yet to see the emergence of a large-scale challenge to austerity and a clear working class political alternative at the national level. An effective left politics, one that can win and implement a left program, requires an organizational infrastructure and political culture that does not exist right now. With a lack of ongoing, successful independent left politics, we have to contend with the reality that anger at the corporate control of politics reflects itself in vague populism and often within the Democratic Party.


We recognize that electoral initiatives like those of Kshama Sawant in Seattle, the late Chokwe Lumumba in Mississippi, the Vermont Progressive Party, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, United Working Families in Chicago, Howie Hawkins Green Party campaign, and others, while they have their limitations and problems, represent a challenge to the hold of the Democratic Party establishment. We support efforts to run pro-worker and labor candidates as independents or on the ballot line of non-corporate parties.


We are interested in working with people who are attracted to a campaign that warns that, “The best president in the history of the world …will not be able to address the major crises that we face unless there is a mass political movement, unless there’s a political revolution in this country.” We should emphasize Sanders’ call for building an ongoing movement beyond this election cycle. Yes, we do not expect the Sanders campaign itself to build lasting grassroots organization. The ball is in our, broadly defined, court. We should seize this potential organizing opportunity, reaching out to people excited by the Sanders campaign with the message, “Let’s not waste this moment where folks are coming together around an anti-corporate, anti-austerity program by ending with the whimper of voting for Hillary and calling it a day. Let’s build up our power.” The tragedy would not be so much people pulling the lever for Clinton, but dissipating and disbanding this mass outcry, having nothing to show for our bottom up efforts.


Jesse Jackson, despite winning 8 million votes in 1988, chose to demobilize the ostensibly independent Rainbow Coalition organization after losing the Democratic nomination so no ongoing coalition went on to continue working around issues of economic and racial justice after the campaign ended. This time, the left should urge Sanders supporters to keep the fight going through joining anti-austerity struggles, social movements or building local, multi-racial coalitions, including independent electoral infrastructures, that live on well after the presidential campaign.


We agree with Howie Hawkins when he says: “We should talk about why independent politics is the best way to build progressive power, about the Democratic Party as the historic graveyard of progressive movements, and about the need in 2016 for a progressive alternative when Sanders folds and endorses Clinton. I don’t expect many will be persuaded to quit the Sanders campaign before the primaries. But I do expect that many of them will want a Plan B, a progressive alternative to Clinton, after the primaries.”

July 29, 2015


What should the left say about Sanders?

May 20, 2015 (From Socialist Worker – online edition)


Promising a "political revolution" against the "billionaires and oligarchs" who have hijacked the political system, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has launched a campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. The announcement generated a lot of enthusiasm--and a lot of debate about the character of the Sanders campaign and how the left should relate to it.

SocialistWorker.org's publisher, the International Socialist Organization, agreed to an exchange of views on the Sanders campaign. Below, we present commentaries by Todd Chretien, writing for the ISO, and Philip Locker, writing for Socialist Alternative. For expanded articles from the two groups, see "The problem with Bernie Sanders" by Ashley Smith for the ISO and "Bernie Sanders calls for political revolution against billionaires" by Philip Locker.


Todd Chretien

For the International Socialist Organization


BERNIE SANDERS' campaign will stand out from the status quo of U.S. politics. He has promised to support a trillion-dollar green jobs program for renewable energy. He defends Social Security and advocates for a single-payer health system. Faced with an intramural battle between the Clinton and Bush wings of the 1 Percent, he calls for a "political revolution." On top of that, he identifies himself as a socialist and says his hero is Eugene V. Debs. It's no wonder many people on the left are excited.


But there's one way that Sanders' campaign doesn't stand out, and it's decisive for socialists. He is running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, and he has ruled out in advance an independent campaign in 2016. "No matter what I do," he said earlier this year, "I will not be a spoiler. I will not play that role in helping to elect some right-wing Republican as president of the United States."


There is no reason socialists shouldn't take Sanders at his word. He promises to confine his "political revolution" to the role of loyal opposition within the Democratic Party, and to support Hillary Clinton if she rides her billion-dollar campaign to the nomination.


As Bruce Dixon, former Black Panther and Georgia Green Party chair, put it, Sanders will serve as the sheepdog for the Democratic Party--his bark may cause a stir, but his job is to bring discontented voters back into the Democratic flock.

This was the result of Dennis Kucinich's primary campaigns in the 2000s and Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition runs in the 1980s. The hopes of some on the left that, for example, the Rainbow Coalition would break with the Democrats were dashed when Jackson did exactly what Sanders is promising to do in 2016--endorse the mainstream Democrat who gets the nomination.


As a U.S. senator, Sanders calls himself an independent, not a Democrat--but his record should lead socialists to question that label. He caucuses with the Senate Democrats, and left-wing activists in Sanders' home state of Vermont are critical of his support for Democrats like budget-cutting Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin.


And like the increasingly neoliberal social democratic and labor parties in Europe on which Sanders models his socialism, he takes positions on critical questions that aren't radical at all. He voted in favor of the U.S. war on Afghanistan and the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, and, more recently, a Senate resolution supporting Israel's 2014 massacre in Gaza. Asked about the mass protests in Baltimore after the police murder of Freddie Gray, Sanders said that "being a cop is a hard job," before backing tame policy proposals that were no more radical than Hillary Clinton's.


Sanders' announcement comes amid widespread political discontent and the spread of young movements such as Black Lives Matter, Fight for 15, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in solidarity with Palestine, and more. Socialists have a responsibility to discuss the real record of the Democrats, including their liberal wing, with these new movements. We can't shy away from the hard lessons of past attempts to reform the Democratic Party.


Does that mean we are stuck on the sidelines? Not at all. The Sanders' campaign gives us an opportunity to debate socialist politics. If Sanders wants to bring movement and union activists into the Democratic Party through its left entrance, we should try to get them back out that door and into the streets. We can engage on political issues with People for Bernie groups and encourage them to take part in activism outside the electoral arena. And since Sanders' version of "revolution" doesn't challenge the boundaries of one of the richest capitalist parties in the world, we can introduce Debs' socialism to a new generation.


What socialists should not do is follow Sanders into the Democratic Party and organize for his primary campaign, even on a temporary basis. History teaches us that this will make it harder, not easier, to build an independent left-wing alternative to the two-party system.


As Kshama Sawant in Seattle and Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones in New York demonstrated with their independent campaigns, we don't have to wait to begin building that alternative. We can begin our discussion with Sanders supporters by stressing our common aims for radical change--but we have to tell it to them straight: To win that change, the left can't follow Sanders into a corporate party, but must help organize the new movements, while building an independent political challenge outside the Democratic Party.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Philip Locker

For Socialist Alternative


Bernie Sanders' campaign has a fundamental built-in contradiction. On the one side, it stands out as a credible national presidential campaign, giving voice to the seething anger against inequality and the war on working people. Despite significant shortcomings--for example, his failure to speak out clearly in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and his support for key aspects of U.S. foreign policy--his platform has the potential to mobilize hundreds of thousands against corporate politics.

On the other side, Sanders has decided not to run independently, as we have consistently argued he should. Limiting his campaign to the corporate-dominated Democratic Party primaries--that he will not win--is a dead end for building the kind of powerful grassroots movement that is needed. Calling on people to mobilize against Wall Street and at the same time saying you will support the eventual corporate-endorsed Democratic nominee, is like trying to start a fire and announcing your intention to pour water on it as soon as it really heats up.


But Sanders' inspiration to hundreds of thousands could lay the basis--and provide the experience--for many people to leave the orbit of the Democratic Party. Socialists can play a key role in this process by intervening in a skillful but determined way.

For those moving into action around Sanders' campaign, we can provide the link to building mass movements and structures independent of the Democratic Party. We can make the case for a real challenge, arguing that Sanders should run all the way to November 2016 as an independent and, if he doesn't, striving to involve those attracted by Sanders' policies to support the strongest independent left campaign in the 2016 presidential election.


Some of Sanders' supporters have a conscious strategy of working within the Democratic party. But the majority are looking for a political alternative to big business politics.


If Sanders endorses the pro-business Democratic nominee, as is most likely, there will be a section of his supporters who will want to continue fighting and will split off to support the strongest independent left candidate for president. In 2004, when Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean endorsed the Democratic nominee, John Kerry, an important minority of their supporters ended up joining Ralph Nader's independent campaign.


Given the weakness of the forces for independent politics, Sanders' campaign is most likely to be the largest arena over the next year for discussion on fighting corporate politics, and will provide the largest audience for proponents of independent politics to build support.


By boldly intervening in the Sanders campaign--supporting its call for a determined fight against big business while arguing for independent politics--we can most effectively advance the project of independent politics under the current circumstances.

Socialist Alternative will at each stage politically explain the role of the Democratic party as a big business party and argue for building a movement that can create a real alternative for working class people. We will not help to sign people up for the Democratic Party. Instead, we will work with those drawn to Sanders' campaign to fight for $15, single-payer health care, and to take on the billionaire class.


Sanders' campaign will be an arena for debate on the role of the Democratic Party. Sanders believes his platform is compatible with working within the Democrats. We disagree. Many energized by Sanders have not yet thought this through fully, but are instead pragmatically looking to find a way to fight back. But the experience of Sanders' campaign could be part of the process of clarifying for tens of thousands the necessity of building a completely new political force for working people, especially if socialists are actively involved.


The real mistake for those who want to build an alternative to corporate politics is to abstain, or simply criticize from the sidelines. If we are absent from the Sanders campaign, the concrete effect will be to help to facilitate the corralling of Sanders' left-wing supporters behind the eventual Democratic nominee.


We need a correct political understanding and critique of Bernie Sanders politics. But we also need to actively engage with the genuine workers and youth being drawn to Sanders' campaign by his fierce denunciations of the political establishment. Socialists need to go through this experience with them, helping to speed up the process of drawing the conclusion that an independent political alternative to the Democrats is needed.



Bernie Sanders & oppositional criticism

Published June 21, 2015 | By Socialist Action

By JOE AUCIELLO


“… the oppositional criticism is nothing more than a safety valve for mass dissatisfaction, a condition of the stability of the social structure.” — Leon Trotsky in his preface to “The History of the Russian Revolution.”


In early June, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told a conference organized by Service Employees International Union members that she backed the $15-an-hour national minimum wage campaign. She praised the union activists and supporters “for marching in the streets to get a living wage” and added, “I want to be your champion. I want to fight with you every day.”


She didn’t really mean it, of course. Within 24 hours her campaign issued a clarification explaining that in general Clinton favors higher wages for low-income workers, but she does not specifically endorse the demand for a $15 hourly minimum. So, union members and activists heard their hoped-for message; big business and Democratic Party officials heard the more honest message.


Clinton’s cautious centrism permits her only a flirtation with leftist causes, thereby yielding the left-of-center space to another candidate. Thus, the stage is set for the entrance of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whose campaign website boldly asks: “Ready to Start a Political Revolution?”


Sanders certainly intends to become the voice of “oppositional criticism” in the 2016 election. Thus far, the efforts of this sometime “socialist,” the independent in the Senate who typically votes with the Democrats, have been more successful than those of former Democratic governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

Sanders has been drawing increasingly large crowds in the primary states for his campaign events, and in those states his poll levels are sharply rising. Clearly, Sanders is saying something different—which energizes Democratic and independent voters. The promise of radical change resonates with many whose lives have seen little benefit during the tepid years of the Obama administration.


At this stage in the primaries, the Sanders platform gives a public hearing to many progressive ideas. Most notably, the Sanders campaign directs a spotlight on the obscene levels of income inequality in America. Sanders speaks out for a national, single-payer health care system and pledges to pursue efforts to create sustainable energy to reduce global warming.

He would remove tuition fees from state colleges and universities. He supports the $15 minimum wage, argues for breaking up the mega-banks, and promotes a jobs package that would put people to work by rebuilding the highways and bridges that are deteriorating throughout America. These are reforms that, if enacted, would benefit the lives of millions. No wonder Sanders’ poll numbers have risen dramatically.


Still, Bernie Sanders is hardly an unknown. Given his “socialist-light” political history and voting record, which is virtually indistinguishable from that of a typical liberal Democrat and includes support to funding Israel and the war in Afghanistan, it is fair to ask: Is Sanders really the voice of dissent? Is he really the figure who can galvanize the poor, the working class, women, racial minorities, and youth to lead the political fightback that is so sorely needed?


Though audiences at rallies may be stirred by soaring speeches, high-flown words accomplish little. What’s more, a geyser of popular rhetoric tends to erupt every four years around election time.


A socialist writer has noted that while the Democrats proclaim themselves “as champions of the poor, their ‘soak the rich’ rhetoric is largely a misrepresentation. They and their Republican counterparts use such rhetoric only to appeal to voters. Both parties, over the last decade in particular, have rushed to find tax breaks for the rich and lower the real income of working people. Today even two-income families are having a difficult time paying for basic necessities.”


This observation was made 25 years ago. The article, written by Hayden Perry, was entitled: “Congress approves new budget: Higher taxes and fewer services,” which certainly has a present-day ring to it. Though it was published in the November 1990 issue of Socialist Action, it could be reprinted today with little change.


Bernie Sanders is this year’s model of the token “leftist” who will make oppositional criticism as a safety valve for mass dissatisfaction. His commitment to his causes appears real enough, but it goes no further than the margins of the Democratic Party. Those margins cannot and have never sustained a popular movement that would give real meaning to democracy.

Some fifteen years ago, Ralph Nader launched his bid as the Green Party candidate for the president of the United States. Although Socialist Action gave no support to the Green Party’s electoral campaigns, which only proposed reforms to capitalism, Nader at least argued with a boldness and insight thoroughly lacking in Bernie Sanders today. In his 2000 announcement speech, Nader said that the foundation of his efforts would be “to focus on active citizenship, to create fresh political movements that will displace the control of the Democratic and Republican parties, two apparently distinct political entities that feed at the same corporate trough. They are in fact simply the two heads of one political duopoly, the DemRep Party.”

How did Bernie Sanders, the socialist who asks if we are ready for revolution, respond to the Nader campaign? In his political memoir, Nader explains: “Bernie had told me that while he sympathized and agreed with our pro-democracy agenda, he could not come out officially for us. The reason was that his modus vivendi with the House Democrats would be ruptured and he would lose much of his influence, including a possible subcommittee chair” (“Crashing the Party,” pp. 125-126). Nader was discreet enough not to inquire about the actual results of Sanders’ supposed influence.


Little has changed. The fix is still in. The Democratic National Committee has essentially offered Sanders a simple deal in words approximately like these: “We’ll let you speak out and give you a place in the six Democratic primary debates if you affirm your place as a Democrat. You get to say whatever you want in the state primaries as long as you support whoever we want in the national election.”


It is not a very good deal, but it is the only one on offer, and though Sanders will haggle, pushing for more debates, he will accept what he is given. It’s what Bernie does. In fact, Sanders has built a career as the fighting socialist who takes a dive for the Democrats.


Sanders does not lead and does not intend to. He follows. His vision of the future is restricted to what has been made popular in the recent past. The ideas Sanders offers, the program of his campaign, go no further than the demands raised by the significant social struggles of the last several years: the Occupy movement and the environmental movement, especially.

The lesson for activists working for Sanders is quite clear: Do better work and be more effective by building social protest movements at the grassroots and national levels. The opportunities are many and varied. The Ferguson National Response Network is a good source of information for protest actions taking place in cities all across the United States. The approximately 100 organizations that attended the United National Antiwar Coalition conference would eagerly welcome new supporters.


Whether it is 15 Now, Black Lives Matter, local campaigns against nuclear power plants, struggles for environmental issues, women’s rights, and more, important causes need the time, energy, and money that is being poured into the Sanders for President Campaign.


The biggest flaw with Bernie Sanders is not his failure to condemn capitalism as a system and call for its overturn. It may even be asking too much to expect Sanders to fight for the structural reform of capitalism, to demand the nationalization of basic industries, as the British Labor Party did after World War II, in a platform that won a national election. The Sanders team will say the times are not right for such bold measures, that it is enough if Bernie only wants to soften some of the system’s worst excesses.


But the time has come—in fact, the time is long overdue—to show a new generation of activists just what the Democratic Party is and why it is necessary to move past it. Bernie Sanders fails to take that decisive step. His campaign by its very nature misleads activists by asserting that the Democratic Party is a fit instrument for the kind of social change that is needed to transform America.


A socialist who truly merits the term “independent” once said, “Capitalism rules and exploits the working people through its control of the government. … And capitalism controls the government through the medium of its class political parties. … The unconditional break away from capitalist politics and capitalist parties is the first act of socialist consciousness, and the first test of socialist seriousness and sincerity” (James P. Cannon, “Speeches for Socialism,” pp. 339-340, emphasis added).

Sanders has been compared to a “sheep-dog” who herds people into the Democratic Party. A better analogy might be drawn from the world of sports. In the preparation for a championship bout, boxers hire sparring partners to help them train and get into shape for the real match. That opponent is there to fight but not fight too much. Though putting on a lively show before losing, the sparring partner should not cause the real boxer any serious injury, much less draw blood.

This type of dynamic is underway now in the Democratic Party primaries. Bernie Sanders is primarily a sparring partner for Hillary Clinton.

 

We are supportive of the rank and file rebellions within labor, such as the independent, grassroots Labor for Bernie formation, that are developing around this election. They provide an opportunity to discuss what program and objectives should drive labor’s political choices. The rebellion and disgust with bureaucrat driven, transactional, business as usual politics poses the need, and possibility, to build rank and file networks within labor that demand a real democratic process of endorsements, and that fight to hold the bureaucrats accountable to supporting only candidates that actually support union policies. Political endorsements will not "save" our unions or the working class. But a struggle over internal democracy inside our unions such as the one that has erupted in the AFT can build rank and file power.


Our job as socialists in the labor movement includes a strategy of fostering cracks in labor’s slavish alignment with the Democratic Party establishment. A fissure in terms of a Sanders endorsement is a good thing. We are not indifferent to this fight. A mass, independent working class party will not be created in this country without the activity of the labor militants who are supporting the Sanders campaign. This is also the milieu of labor activists that grasp the necessary task of building the political capacities of workers—something far beyond the scope of any electoral insurgency.


We should embrace movements and mobilizing efforts around specific demands that grow out of the Sanders campaign. There is now a call by young people activated by the campaign for a million student march on Washington this fall, building on Sanders’ call to make public universities and colleges tuition free.


We have yet to see the emergence of a large-scale challenge to austerity and a clear working class political alternative at the national level. An effective left politics, one that can win and implement a left program, requires an organizational infrastructure and political culture that does not exist right now. With a lack of ongoing, successful independent left politics, we have to contend with the reality that anger at the corporate control of politics reflects itself in vague populism and often within the Democratic Party.


We recognize that electoral initiatives like those of Kshama Sawant in Seattle, the late Chokwe Lumumba in Mississippi, the Vermont Progressive Party, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, United Working Families in Chicago, Howie Hawkins Green Party campaign, and others, while they have their limitations and problems, represent a challenge to the hold of the Democratic Party establishment. We support efforts to run pro-worker and labor candidates as independents or on the ballot line of non-corporate parties.


We are interested in working with people who are attracted to a campaign that warns that, “The best president in the history of the world …will not be able to address the major crises that we face unless there is a mass political movement, unless there’s a political revolution in this country.” We should emphasize Sanders’ call for building an ongoing movement beyond this election cycle. Yes, we do not expect the Sanders campaign itself to build lasting grassroots organization. The ball is in our, broadly defined, court. We should seize this potential organizing opportunity, reaching out to people excited by the Sanders campaign with the message, “Let’s not waste this moment where folks are coming together around an anti-corporate, anti-austerity program by ending with the whimper of voting for Hillary and calling it a day. Let’s build up our power.” The tragedy would not be so much people pulling the lever for Clinton, but dissipating and disbanding this mass outcry, having nothing to show for our bottom up efforts.


Jesse Jackson, despite winning 8 million votes in 1988, chose to demobilize the ostensibly independent Rainbow Coalition organization after losing the Democratic nomination so no ongoing coalition went on to continue working around issues of economic and racial justice after the campaign ended. This time, the left should urge Sanders supporters to keep the fight going through joining anti-austerity struggles, social movements or building local, multi-racial coalitions, including independent electoral infrastructures, that live on well after the presidential campaign.


We agree with Howie Hawkins when he says: “We should talk about why independent politics is the best way to build progressive power, about the Democratic Party as the historic graveyard of progressive movements, and about the need in 2016 for a progressive alternative when Sanders folds and endorses Clinton. I don’t expect many will be persuaded to quit the Sanders campaign before the primaries. But I do expect that many of them will want a Plan B, a progressive alternative to Clinton, after the primaries.”

 

 

Corruptions, Scandals and the Charade of Indian Parliamentary Politics

Corruptions, Scandals and the Charade of Indian Parliamentary Politics

(Radical Socialist statement)

Recent events in the monsoon parliament session gives lie to the charade of the political democracy in India. Slogans and stunts from the opposition parties have been raining, demanding resignation of the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia for their involvement in corruption scams. Sushma Swaraj purportedly acted in a ‘humanitarian’ interest to help Lalit Modi. All this seems straight out of a comedy skit, but the tragic part is, this is the reality of Indian politics.

The Congress (and some other parties), creating hullabaloo with their demands of investigation into the charges of corruption,and resignations of the people named in them, is itself mired in a number of scams involving crores of rupees. How credible is it going to be to the masses, if Congress raises its voice against corruption and scams?

It needs to be acknowledged that corruption is a real issue that plagues the country, and there is real anger and frustration amongst people concerning the issue. Looking at the meteoric rise of AAP, it should not be hard for us to discern that anyone who tries to tap in to people’s issues, albeit in a populist fashion, will have real purchase amongst the electorate, because the traditional left has ceded space to the right wing parties, by being in alliance with capitalist parties and embracing neoliberal policies wherever they have been in power.

But, we should never lose sight of the fact that the real problems facing Indian society is not corruption or scams—they are symptoms of larger underlying structural issues endemic to capitalism. Congress and BJP have more in common when it comes to corruption, scams or economic policies, than one is led to believe from the acrimonious proceedings in the parliament session. When welfare and social security schemes are cut, farmer’s debt are not pardoned, and indirect taxes hitting the toiling masses far more than the super rich are introduced or raised from their present levels to meet up the budget deficit; capitalists like Adani get loans from nationalised banks to the tune of 5,000 crore, and labour laws to land acquisition laws are all changed to suit the needs of the richest of the rich, all these parties play the same role when in power. In other words, there are battles among the political elite for spoils of the loaves and fishes, but they are united in their basic duty to the ruling class, in exploiting and assisting in the exploitation of the toilers.

Corruption is no more an aberration but an inseparable rule of the game, where swindling of thousands of crores is in the offing every season. May, it be self-styled cricket tournaments like IPL, violation of tender rules by the BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra, allocation of natural resources like coal, allocating telecom bandwidth, no avenues are wasted in this game of profit. Here, Lalit Modi and Rajeev Shukla, both former IPL chairman’s embezzle money and undue favours and reprieves from governments, establish the clique. Meanwhile, the governments in power try to settle scores with activists like Teesta Setalvad aiding Gujarat pogrom victims get justice, unduly implicating them for receiving foreign funds for running their organisations. Repression is unleashed with sinister motives to muzzle any dissent against the central government.           

Revolutionaries fight for every legitimate reform. We welcome real struggles against corruption and scams. But we should not be blind or overlook the spurious nature of such endeavours of the capitalist parties. As the TMC has shown in Parliament, well aware of its own precarious position over the Saradha Scam, its MPs will “agitate” with the other opposition parties, but will not demand resignations, for that demand can come home to roost in West Bengal as well. We therefore cannot present before people the issue as if fighting corruption is in itself enough. For example, we cannot fight merely against corruption in BPL cards, we need to demand the restoration of the full Public Distribution System. When we look at repeated corruption scandals in the finance market, from the 1980s to the present, we need to make toiling people aware that this is also a way in which capital accumulation occurs in the less developed world.

 Not only do we demand the resignation of the ruling corrupt ministers, and due punishment to the perpetrators who have embezzled crores of money; we demand the same of the corrupt politicians who today are in the opposition. We stress the need to build working class struggles with a rainbow of worker’s collective, peasants’ union, oppressed castes, and gender against the depredations of capitalism which exploit the toiling masses. Corruption is all but a symptom of the capitalist society we live in, and breaking the hegemony of capitalism and replacing it with a just and humane order free of any form of exploitation can only be a viable alternative.

 

 

27 July 2015 

Oxi to Capitulation: What Road Ahead for Greece?

Oxi to Capitulation: What Road Ahead for Greece?
Sushovan Dhar

If the Greeks want to get out of this imprisonment, they have to adopt radically different measures -- fiscal, financial, economic and of course, political. They must also be prepared to leave the Eurozone voluntarily

  •  Anti-austerity protesters may face a tough road ahead  
    Photo- REUTERS

The Nobel laureate Jose Saramago, speaking about the Venezuelan opposition once said: “It is difficult to understand these people who democratically take part in elections and a referendum, but are then incapable of democratically accepting the will of the people.” Meanwhile, a little more than a decade later, the Greeks could not believe that not only the opposition, but their prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who called for a referendum to challenge the Troika’s absolutism -- found it difficult to accept this “will of the people.”

True, there was no lack of apprehension that Tsipras and his close collaborators intended to utilise the Greek refusal of the reprehensible austerity to get the crumbs earlier refused to them. As morally “good negotiators,” they wanted to return to the tables and the green rooms on the shoulders of a resounding NO vote. However, very few -- both in Greece and outside -- could believe that Tsipras could capitulate with such ruthless “efficiency.” The euphoria and the hope surrounding the referendum turned into shockwaves, and that too, barely within a week.

Tsipras accepted a deal that 61% of the Greek voters rejected. Not only the new “accord” is worse than what creditors offered earlier, the new memorandum exacted much more from this Hellenic government than its pro-austerity predecessors. The creditors are resolute on demanding more than “one pound of flesh.”

It is indeed hard to believe that this historic victory for the Greeks and its democratic accountability was sold so cheaply, and that even, sans resistance or confrontation. None were prepared to see their government imploring, beseeching, begging on its knees for a “deal.” The Greek people were once again defeated, let down, sold out, betrayed, double-crossed, stabbed in the back, and cheated, by a government they considered their own.

Syriza came to power in January, riding on the crests of mass movements calling for a NO to the Troika’s failed policies and an end to austerity. Once in power, the leadership decided to solve matters through “better negotiations,” and disband the masses.

There were already signs of despair and frustrations. Hopes were rekindled the moment Tsipras announced the referendum. The mass movement was genuinely revived, but all that Tsipras and his trusted aides were prepared to do was to fight for the best possible terms of their continuing enslavement. They badly coiled up with even harsher terms than that were originally offered.

The erstwhile finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, resigned (under the creditors’ pressure) to be replaced by the Oxford educated Euclid Tsakalotos, who, from the first minute started acting as the creditors’ finance manager. His German counterpart, Herr Wolfgang Schäuble’s praise for him as a more conventional and acceptable figure is barely a surprise.

The EU, earlier terrified by Tsipras’ call for referendum could see Greece’s resistance miserably crushed, enabling them to play the Grexit card and impose stronger austerity measures. Disregarding the total rejection of their devastating policies imposed on Greece for the last five years, they could impose an “accord” to extend the damage of the Greek state and immiserise the population. A black deal was signed on Monday, July 13 at the Eurozone heads of state meeting, sums up this sordid tale.

Of course, there are still resistances and protests against this wholesale tragedy inside Greece. There were huge mobilisations in the streets of Athens, Thessaloniki and other places. A general strike against the third memorandum was called by the public sector trade union federation. The “notorious” riot police, which Syriza had earlier pledged to disband, was sent out to disperse protesters as the leadership was afraid that unlike the previous “no” rallies, the new ones would never be in their favour. 

While the president of the Hellenic Parliament, Zoé Konstantopoulou, in a speech, declared her staunch refusal to accept this humiliating “accord,” 109 members out of 201 of the Syriza Central Committee, signed a statement condemning the capitulation. Nevertheless, caving in to the creditors’ threats and blackmails, Tsipras decided to oblige them ignoring his comrades. With this surrender he accepts terms even harsher than what he had turned down before.

The contents of the “new” accords precisely lack any newness. The same old measures, viz budgetary surpluses through pension cuts, increase in the VAT and other taxes, further privatisations and rapidly, additional “market reforms,” restraint on collective bargaining (read: Wages to be kept as low as possible), etc. As Stathis Kouvelakis, a central committee member of Syriza who teaches political theory at King’s College London points out that the deal included “(...) a handful of measures to give it a slight flavour of ‘social justice’ (eg an increase in the corporate tax rate by two points).”

Sensing rebellion in his own ranks including senior ministers like Panos Kammenos, head of the Independent Greeks party (ANEL), and Panagiotis Lafazanis, the leader of the Left Platform Tsipras, colluded with three right-wing parties -- PASOK, Potami, New Democracy -- to get the deal passed in Greek parliament on July 16. 32 Syriza MPs voted against and seven abstained.

Is there a way out?

The EU hawks successfully spread the canard that suspending debt payment was synonymous with exiting the Euro. Their spin doctors were successful in blackmailing Tsipras into conceding to their demands and more, but the reality lies elsewhere. A series of sovereign measures of self-defense, viz control on banks, currency, and taxation could work strongly for a Greek economic recovery and make the threat of Grexit irrelevant. However, the current measures mean that the crisis would recur from time to time and Troika would successfully use the threat to subordinate the Greeks incrementally.

Greece is also used as a precedent to warn current and potential rebellion in Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and of course, the whole of Europe.

While it was perfectly possible to reject the European Central Bank, the Eurogroup and the European Commission’s nefarious designs expressed through unbearable and illegitimate injunctions, Tsipras squandered his chances and converted a prospective advantage to a deficit. His tragic subordination to EU’s arm-twisting would result not only in more austerity -- misery, pauperisation, and impoverishment -- but a sell-out of the country’s national heritage.

However, one thing is for sure, if the Greeks want to get out of this imprisonment, they have to adopt radically different measures -- fiscal, financial, economic, and of course, political. They must also be prepared to leave the Eurozone voluntarily. Reports suggest that there might not be any overwhelming endorsement for the latter idea at this point of time -- a vulnerability well-exploited by the creditors as well as the pro-deal political actors.

Nevertheless, the terms and conditions of the agreement would sooner or later convince a majority of Greeks, that a future that includes justice and emancipation, or in other words, a prospect where they cease to be guinea pigs but survive as decent human being doesn’t lie in the Eurozone. 

- See more at: http://www.dhakatribune.com/op-ed/2015/jul/25/greeces-way-out#sthash.Poq6kgHm.dpuf

Why We Oppose all Death Penalties, and Why We Oppose the hanging of Yakub Memon

Why We Oppose all Death Penalties, and Why We Oppose the hanging of Yakub Memon

 

Radical Socialist has consistently opposed death penalty as a form of punishment. This stems from a number of considerations. In the first place, long before the emergence of modern socialism, during the Enlightenment, it was pointed out, by Cesare Beccaria above all, that if the aim of punishment is to go beyond taking revenge, then the death penalty is unacceptable.

According to liberal theory, the state represents everyone. It is to ensure peace. But if the state is a rational entity, then revenge cannot be a principal motivating factor. During the hanging of Afzal Guru, it was argued that the collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender. In other words, what motivated the Court was at least as much a perceived desire to pacify the alleged collective conscience of society, as any desire for justice. This shows the gap between Liberal claims and Liberal reality.

Two parallel events have again brought hanging back into the news. The first is the imminent hanging of Yakub Memon. Memon was a participant in the 1993 terror bombing in Mumbai. He was however a secondary figure, the leading figures being Dawood Ibrahim, Yakub’s elder brother Mushtaq (Tiger) Memon, and others. A year and a half after the event, Yakub returned to India and was arrested by the police, in an incident which remains murky (Yakub said he wanted to surrender, police said he had been arrested).

Yakub played an important role in the Indian police proving that Pakistan had been concealing the truth. In other words, he played a kind of approver’s role. An approver is of course one who was originally part of the criminals. But it is standard for approvers to get lesser punishments. But the Indian police and the political establishment wanted a Memon to hang. So he must be hanged, even though he has already spent 21 years in prison. This seems to be the principal reason for the rejection of his mercy petitions, and the death penalty in the first place, with all mitigating circumstances being ignored.

Very different is the other case. In 2002, after the Godhra train burning, there were planned pogroms all over Gujarat. One of the persons finally convicted for many of those crimes was Maya Kodnani. Kodnani was found guilty for the murder of 97 Muslims in Naroda Patiya, along with Babu Bajrangi and others. The Special Court that tried her gave her a 28 year prison term. The Gujarat Government refused to give the Special Investigation Team (SIT) the permission to seek the Death Penalty in a higher court.

This needs to be generalised and certain other facts understood. It is only when major issues, like the hanging or not hanging of Memon or Kodnani come up, that the death penalty is discussed. But according to Prashant Bhushan, who is a senior lawyer, certain basic data can be found in the patterns of people hanged – namely, a class bias. The figures from a recent study bear him out. Nearly 94 per cent of people in the Death Row in contemporary India, according to a recent study, are Dalits or minorities.  Over 75 per cent are economically vulnerable. The most important reason this happens is, these people, poor, often poorly educated, usually do not even manage to get a decent lawyer at the trial stage.

The recent revelations about the hanging of Dhananjoy Chatterjee reinforce this. He was an impoverished guard in a building where an 18-year-old named Hetal Parekh was found dead in March 1990. He was convicted of having raped and killed her and was hanged on his 39th birthday, August 14, 2004, protesting his innocence until the end. An analysis by Debashish Sengupta and Prabal Chaudhury of the case showed that a police witness in court denied having seen Chatterjee at the victim’s flat. The police seizure list was signed by someone who supplied tea to the police and did not turn up in court. The antecedents of some items presented as incriminating evidence, such as a necklace and a watch, were never checked. The trial court failed to question why no murder weapon was recovered and why there was no blood on Chatterjee’s clothes even though there were 21 stab wounds on the victim’s body. There are good possibilities that there might have been a so-called “honour killing” involved, since Parekh was supposedly raped and killed in a short window between 5:20 pm and 5:50 pm, (her mother had come back at 5:50), but the police were called only three hours later giving ample time to doctor evidence). The Parekh family members’ evidences were inconsistent, and they soon ended their business in Kolkata and left.

The standard legal procedure is that guilt must be established beyond doubt. But in the cases where the accused are poor or from socially weaker strata, like Chatterjee, courts have often routinely ignored gaps and inconsistencies, simply because they did not have hotshot lawyers. By the time senior lawyers took up the case, they could only argue about procedural flaws, since the basic hearing had been in a trial court.

Yet, in 2004, when Chatterjee was hanged, his guilt was taken for granted, and those who campaigned that as he had already served 14 years in prison the penalty should at least be commuted to imprisonment were aggressively attacked.

His case, the cases of Memon versus that of Kodnani, all go to show that the death penalty in our society will only serve the economically and the politically powerful.

The mercy petition of Memon should therefore be supported, not because he is innocent, but because he does not deserve hanging.

 

Radical Socialist, 26 July, 2015 

Subcategories