Saturday, July 24, 2010


“Even the wind is providing resistance,” jokes Himanshu Kumar, about the difficulty of his cycle yatra. His face has a dark tan and his partner Abhay Sinh Rathwa complains, “Even when we have a downhill climb, he has to stop to take a leak.”

RESISTANCE and LEAK are the two operative words applicable to their cycle yatra. What he is doing is no less than an attempt to leak the government’s covert agenda to subjugate its rural mass and blind the urban mass to this fact by manipulating the media, by hook or crook. Mostly, it is the latter. It is his own little attempt at resistance, against a govt. that took away all that he had selflessly built over 18 years in rural Chhattisgarh last May.

Himanshu Kumar with his cycle in Pallu Village in Northern Rajasthan on 21st July 2010. 

A Gandhian inspired as much by his own progressive father who has worked with Vinoba Bhave and Gandhi as by Mahatma Gandhi himself, he left the comforts of his fairly urban UP existence to live amidst the villagers as Gandhi had asked of the nation’s youth. Being the only one of his ilk in Dantewada he even implemented many govt. schemes, helped set up schools and bring medicine to the tribal masses of the region i.e. bring ‘development’ a rhetoric the govt. is using to subjugate the same masses now. Everything was fine until the govt. covertly backed the Salwa Judum, a citizen’s militia, illegally armed and trained them to wipe out the Maoists. Not many ask why Judum started in 2005 even when the Maoists have existed since the late 60s.

The Salwa Judum unleashed a reign of terror on the already deprived and malnutritioned adivasis. Over 700 villages were burnt (644 is the govt. figure) and there’s no count of deaths (those that you get are mostly of townsfolk, and usually does not include the tribals killed deep in the jungles). Rape visited the socially evolved adivasis of Bastar, who did not have an equivalent word or even a conception of the same, for the first time. These are the things he wants to highlight through his cycle yatra.

This and the fact that when Himanshu raised a voice against this injustice, his ashram was razed to the ground by govt. forces in a brazen display of state might. When he still did not shut up as was expected of him, and talked of a satyagrah, a foot-march and a public hearing to address the state’s atrocities on its people, they did not even ‘permit’ that. When he still sat fasting under a tree outside his home in Dantewada this Dec-Jan, they moved in on him.
All my bags are packed and I'm ready to go... 

Word reached that under its usual modus operandi, it was gathering ‘evidence’ against Himanshu Kumar and he’d be arrested, just like another selfless worker, Dr. Binayak Sen who the state kept in prison for two years, without a shred of evidence until the supreme court chided the state police and released him. The charges leveled against Binayak, as it would have been with Himanshu, was of conspiracy against the government.

By an ironic twist of fate, this charge of being anti-govt is actually true. But there’s a corollary. In a nation where for over 6 decades successive governments have led the nation down as poverty and malnutrition grows at an alarming rate (and so does the riches of the rich), and where corruption is all in a day’s life for the average Indian, isn’t rebelling against such a ‘govt.’ and such corruption, the greatest, single patriotic act one can imagine?

But that is the hypocrisy that we the middle class Indians refuses to see. We rile against the corrupt bureaucracy, but never revolt against it. The middle class lets its steam out often in fantasy, be it in films like ‘Akrosh’, ‘Krantiveer’ or the latest ‘Rang De Basanti’ which shows a group of youth taking the law in their own hands and murdering a politician. Everyone cheered in the theatres, but in real life, we the middle class bay for your blood if you challenge the status quo, no matter how despicable it may be. The reality, as Himanshu always says, “Everyone wants a Bhagat Singh, but in their neighbors’ home.”  
Abhay on what he calls the 'uncle cycle'... 

There’s an unwritten ‘social contract’ between the middle class of India and its successive governments. The govt. maintains a show of democracy, often actually delivering it in cities (again only for the middle class, not the poor), while the middle class maintains a show of ‘all iz well’. But is all really well for the citizens under this nation’s constitution?

34% of the people in this country are chronically malnutritioned, not even getting one meal a day. 50% of the world’s population of malnutritioned children ‘live’ in India and according to a recent survey reported in all major newspapers (read English papers) just 8 Indian states have more poor people (421 million) than those of 26 poorest African nations combined. INDIA IS IN A STATE OF EMERGENCY, the likes of which the world has not seen. The likes of which did not exist even when the Britishers ruled over India.

In hindsight, you are bound to agree with the Britishers who had said that India will be in chaos, if they left. The middle class often keeps repeating another line like a mantra over a rosary, ‘the Britishers were better rulers of India than Indians’, not realizing that they are lamenting their own inefficiency and impotency. Since 1947 India indeed has been in chaos, sold off to the greed of its opportunistic elite and a middle class aspiring to be that elite ruling class.
The Bicycle Warrior... 

In a city where over 65% of its people live in slums, without even the basic facilities afforded to them, the richest Indian is building the world’s most expensive home, pegged at Rs. 8,000 crore, 27 floors of which meant to house a mere 5 people. We the middle class join the chorus in celebration of the abject shamelessness of this act. Not just this, but the same richest Indian, even gets an article written in the New York Times (written eloquently by an Indian) comparing himself to Mahatma Gandhi. Add another adjective before ‘Shining India’ – shameless.

On the opposite spectrum, is a dying, impoverished India of the neglected masses who when they try to resist oppression against them, are called Maoists, the filthiest abuse one can imagine in the nation today.

And if you are a middle class Indian, who raises your voice against this gross injustice, you are despised, nay hated, booed and yes, you are called a ‘Maoist Sympathizer’.

Dr. Binayak Sen was imprisoned for two years for the same ‘crime’ of seeking justice.
A sweaty Himanshu looks like the cartoon character Pyarelal from the Tinkle comics... 

It’s like the story of the king who loved his kingdom and the people who equally loved him back. But one day, an evil sorceress poisoned the well from where the entire population drank water. Slowly, the everyone went mad because of the poison and they saw the king and his ideas differently, wanting to lynch him for being different. When the king learnt the truth, with a dejected heart, he drank the water from the same well, and finally ‘all is well’ again in the kingdom.

If you refused to drink from the well that we the middle class drinks from, you’ll be ganged up against. Look at Arundhati Roy, labeled a Maoist and hated for supporting what she calls ‘the single largest resistance against oppression anywhere in the world.’

They call her a foreign spy, another standard middle-class allegation for anyone opposing the system, saying she is getting money from international agencies for helping keep India down. Strange, for it is the same international agencies who also hate her for exposing their schemes. The Indian Middle Class accuses Roy of loving fame and notoriety. We don’t even realize that that allegation does not stick to a woman who was the undisputed ‘gajra’ wearing queen of not just Indian, but world literature. The ground beneath her small feet encompassed the world.

This was the time she realized that the pen can be a sword and directed it against the oppressors. She could have chosen to stay royalty, like many ‘ball-less’, ‘spineless’ party going, skirt/brief chasing writers across the world. That a demure little woman had the ‘balls’ to describe the bloody Indian spade, we the Indian middle class refuse to celebrate. And if there indeed is any mother India, then it is in women like her and Aruna Roy and Medha Patkar and thousands like them, who have put the impotent middle-class men of this nation to shame.

But not all men in this nation have become impotent. But you rarely get to hear about them, like Himanshu Kumar.
Abhay and Himanshu after reaching Sardar Sahar...

After leaving Chhattisgarh thus, he lost more than his workplace, he lost the trust he had garnered of the tribals there who felt he had let them down. Few of his co-workers continue to be tortured in jail on charges for which he would also have been arrested had he not left. A tribal, Lingaram, who was at the receiving end of govt. brutality and is a petitioner in many cases against the Chhattisgarh govt., is now being framed by the police. The police there release ‘unsigned’ press releases and the media laps it up. No one reports the obvious truth in this drama, of the fight of those named in the release – Arundhati Roy, Nandini Sundar, Medha Patkar and Himanshu Kumar (the only man, please note) engaged in a fight for justice against the Chhattisgarh govt. Afterall, the media too is run by the same aspiring middle class.

Restless at being forced into exile in his own country, Himanshu decided to embark on a cycle yatra through the rural parts of the country to raise awareness against state oppression, to describe in detail what is really happening in the dense forests of this nation. Obviously, he rattled the govt. In Punjab, people gathered in hundreds and a few times in thousands, to hear him and his stories of Chhattisgarh, often exclaiming in awe at the similarity of the oppression. Some even mentioned that the only way to fight govt. oppression is through Naxalism. Being a Gandhian, he ‘fought’ back against this violent notion. Himanshu’s fight is not against the govt. or the idea of Maoists. His is a fight against violence, no matter the form.
The Tribal from Chota Udaipur in Rajasthan... 

He is asking pertinent questions, in his cycle yatra and otherwise? How did so much violence begin in the first place, he asks the people buying the media and govt. rhetoric? And to those who believe that taking up arms like Maoists is the only way he reminds Gandhi’s common sense when he quipped that an eye for an eye could only make the whole world blind. And he has governments own data to support him here which states that ever since the Salwa Judum started in 2005, the Maoists cadre has increased 22 fold. The effect that ‘Operation Greenhunt’ will have on their numbers is anyone’s guess. So in effect, the govt. of India is helping the Maoist cause. Can we call it Maoist sympathizer then?

For this ‘service’ of common sense to the nation as opposed to the run-of-the-mill juvenile rhetoric of patriotism practiced both by the govt and the middle class, he is branded a maoist sympathizer. Shouldn’t he be branded a ‘truth’, ‘common-sense’, ‘peace’ and ‘non-violence’ sympathizer instead?

Himanshu’s most exciting memory of his cycle yatra through Punjab is visiting the warrior poet Pash’s home. From a book gifted by someone here, he read’s some lines written by this assassinated poet, “The most dangerous thing is the death of our dreams… the most dangerous is that direction where the sun of our soul set, and a piece of that dead sunlight gets stuck to your body…”

Himanshu Kumar Reciting Pash's Poem

It perhaps won’t be long before he is arrested. In Rajasthan some Intelligence Bureau guys wanted to know what he is talking about. He said he had nothing to hide and that they too can sit in the public lecture and hear what he has to say. They have been on his tail since Punjab and have been keeping track of where he is going and what he is doing.

He would be arrested because resistance is no longer permissible in the sham democracy that we have become. The leaks of truth that people like Himanshu mange have to be plugged, by hook or by crook. Mostly the latter. In a democracy practiced today in this nation, you cannot aspire to survive by being ‘pro-people’, you have to be ‘pro-govt.’ even if that govt. is ‘anti-majority’ because it consciously neglects its dying poor, which according to the constitution should get first billing in any govt. policy. That this neglect itself takes away the legitimacy of the govt., no one cares to note.
Showing photos of a tribal child to village children... 

These are the new rules of the ‘social-contract’ we the middle class have consensually subscribed to. Himanshu Kumar be damned, and damned be his battered cycle. Let us all take a ‘leak’ of faith and freedom and justice. The poor, the malnutrioned, and the dying be damned. Instead, let us celebrate the shameless, unaccountable capitalism. We are, afterall, the great Indian, aspirational, spineless ‘ball-less middle class.

We are the middle class that calls slum-dwellers as encroachers even when they toil 16 hours a day cleaning the filth we let into the sewers. We look at beggars and call them ‘lazy-losers’. We call villagers fighting to retain their land and their lives ‘anti-development’, asking them to come to cities, not realizing the hunger and inflation that will visit this already hungry nation if they don’t produce our food. In an ideal world, the ones that grow food would have been the most respectable members of any society. But we are not the ideal world; we are the middle-class world. We celebrate creation of money, not food. As if we can eat paper and all the goods we buy with it, when all the farmers are killed, commit suicide, or come and live in cities as our laborers.

Never once do we care to go deep and try to ask ‘why’ or ‘how’ or use any of Kipling’s six serving men.
At 4.30 in the morning, they get ready to cycle another 70 kms... 

Outside the wind is bellowing sand even after a little rain has settled the Rajasthani desert. Little thorn shrubs have begun growing amidst the sand in this inhospitable earth. Perhaps the middle class may grow thorn bushes of resistance once again.

The little rain has not had much effect on the wild sand dust that sweep over this land with a vengeful fury, or the punishing sun above. It is amidst these that Himanshu and Abhay plan to ride over 60 kilometers from Pallu to Sardar Sahar in Northern Rajasthan. Two mad men on a mad trip. Their opponent is not the govt., but we - the apathetic great Indian Middle Class, the largest group of ‘like-minded’ people anywhere in the world. Their enemy is this class’ attitude of turning a blind eye to the uncomfortable truth and taking refuge in fictions like religion, materialism and what not.

The two men pack their two bags on their cycle, the big one on the back, the small one in front. Abhay hates riding this ‘uncle cycle’. But sports cycle, like sports car cannot carry enough. Despite desiring otherwise, he too readies himself to add another day of cycling to the 26 days they have completed, add 60 odd more kilometers to the 2000 odd they have already covered.

Sadly, they manage to cover only 4km in an hour as the wind provides wild resistance to their movement. They had to tow their cycles to Sardar Sahar. Later Himanshu allegorically says, “We are anyways going against the direction of the wind. Resistance is the least we can expect.”
Abhay listens with the audience as Himanshu speaks... 

The public gathered to hear him at Sardar Sahar is a small one: few teachers and 30 odd students, mostly school kids and some college youths. Yet, what is interesting is that the teachers here are not so unaware of their grim reality. One talks about how the famed NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) is actually a scheme to kill the agricultural sector. When probed he says, “Under NREGA they give laborers money even if they don’t work. Now, because of the BT crops (that do not yield seeds, which means you have to buy seeds every year, as opposed to the ancient logic of keeping aside a part of the crop for seeds next year) you have to buy seeds every year making agriculture more unaffordable. And any money the govt. gives is thus welcome to this famished farmer. They will quit agriculture, sell their land to corporates for factories to be set up on fertile land and become laborers.”

Another teacher is in tears when she hears of how the police, SPOs and Salwa Judum is treating the Chhatisgarhi tribal. She gives a moving vote of thanks reminding her students of the ancient Indian phrase ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’ – the world is your family. She draws the analogy of the Bhopal Gas Victims who have not yet received justice. Maybe the truth about Chhatisgarh will take as many years as that to reach us, she reminds the students. Even if a part of the body is pained, it affects the rest of the body, she says. Bingo! Her impromptu speech is part rhetoric, part insightful.

When the kids are hesitant to ask questions, a teacher says, “He has raised his voice against his own government, and you are hesitant to ask questions.”

Himanshu Kumar Speaks on the 26th day of his Cycle Tour

Earlier the lady teacher had told Himanshu, “We get irritated even after a small journey in a car in this smelting heat. But you are doing it on a cycle. Only the strong can do it.” Himanshu quips quickly, “The strong or the desperate. I am desperate after the government destroyed everything that I had built.” The teacher is quick to respond, “Only the desperate is strong.” Another Maoist sympathizer for you, Mr. Chidambaram?

There perhaps is hope still for the Indian Middle Class.

News comes that an RTI and wildlife activist, Amit Jaithwa, has been shot dead in Gujarat brazenly outside a court. Himanshu talks of the govt. resistance against him. It won’t be tough for the govt. to silence him as well. “My cycle might be run over by a truck and the govt. will call it an accident. Like the ‘accidents’ it causes to millions of hungry in this nation,” he says. Life is indeed cheap in a country run under reckless capitalism.

One among the audience, a local activist, informs Himanshu later of another local activist, Dharampal Kataria, who had raised his voice against the local police’s complicity with the higher classes here who had raped and murdered a lower caste woman. They had instead implicated this activist for the same, and he is languishing in jail. Everyone knows the truth, no one says anything.

Even as Sardar Sahar sleeps, the two set out, this time without their big bags in their carriers which will be brought to them by a local... 

Himanshu recalls how he was told in Punjab that the PM of the country, Manmohan Singh, had been named a Naxalite when he was still a professor in Punjab by the police some 30 odd years back. He cared, they told him, back then. What happened to him? Maybe the capitalist salesman from the Sidney Lumet film ‘Network’ visited and converted this ‘gentle sardar’. There are no countries anymore, only corporations, the capitalist had screamed sense into a compassionate messiah in the film. How true!

Peacocks scream out freely in this one lakh strong community in Sardar Sahar. They roam freely here, unlike many humans in this country.

There is a man being illegally imprisoned every minute in every nook and corner of this country. There is so much injustice in this nation that trying to grasp it all can drive the middle class soul into Sadat Hasan Manto’s asylum from his story ‘Toba Tek Singh’ i.e. they will be finally rendered sane.

But in an insane world, sanity is the new insanity. But the likes of Himanshu, refuse to drink from the insane well. And for that, we, the middle class, shall lynch him. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Green Zone - Gritty Indictment of War

Review of 'Green Zone' i wrote for IANS. Copyright, IANS. 

Film: 'Green Zone'; 
Cast: Matt Damon, Yigal Naor, Khalid Abdalla, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan; Director: Paul Greengrass; 
Rating: *** 1/2.

War is never inevitable. Peace should always be. Going back into the history of most wars, be it Vietnam, or the film's domain, the Iraq war, we realise this truth. That most wars are fought on flimsy reasons meant to make war sound inevitable.

Green Zone exposes the real WMD's - 'Weapons of MASS DECEPTION'

It's April 2003, Iraq has been occupied by US forces for a month, but there are no signs of Weapons of Mass Destructions (WMD), the basis for the war. One man more curious than most is Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon). He has led his team on dangerous raids based on 'reliable' intelligence but has been unable to find even a trace of WMDs. When his top brass are unable to explain why, he decides to take matters into his own hands and go beyond the call of duty.

With the help of an Iraqi citizen and a CIA agent who also wants the truth, he tracks Al-Rawi (Yigal Naor), the top general in Saddam's army, who he realises is the mysterious informer Magellan who is supposed to have confirmed the existence of WMDs. However, discovering the truth won't be easy as he has to battle his own forces, and take on General Al-Rawi single handedly.

It is a truth we all know now -- that there were no WMDs in Iraq, thus making the invasion of Iraq illegitimate.
Gritty, grainy, real... that's 'Green Zone'

The film shows how the real danger is a WMD of a different kind, those cheekily called 'Weapons of Mass Deception'. In one particular scene, Miller is told: 'All they are interested in is spotting something they can hold up on CNN.'

War is fought more in people's minds than on ground. Sway their judgement and you can get away with almost anything -- even, as in this case, invading a country. And the partners in crime is an irresponsible media more interested in �breaking news' and ad revenues than the truth.

'Green Zone' effectively interweaves fact and fiction. Writer Brian Helgeland wrote the screenplay based on the non-fiction book 'Imperial Life in the Emerald City' by American-Indian Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

The film has many characters reminiscent of real life characters like Clark Poundstone who is modelled on Paul Bremer who actually dissolved the Iraqi army in 2003. The character of WSJ journalist Lawrie Dayne is based on New York Times reporter Judith Miller who was embedded in Iraq during the war.

Fans of the 'Bourne' series will love the coming together of director Greengrass and Damon. The shaky, documentary style of camera made fashionable for Hollywood by the 'Bourne' series works to heighten tension, and gives us a gritty, edge of the seat thriller.

Damon is believable as the straight-faced soldier. But it is Khalid Abdalla as Fareed, a hurt and concerned Iraqi, who does an excellent job.

The main drawback is that despite its courage to go where not many Hollywood films have dared it stops short of taking that leap of truth. It uncovers the intrigue but fails to give it completely, which we now know -- that the office and indeed the President of the United States himself were involved in the cover-up over WMDs and Iraq war. Also no explanations are given about the reason for Iraq's invasion.

Yet 'Green Zone' does tell us that the truth is 'not' the first casualty of war. The real casualties of war are justice, kindness and compassion and deaths that could have been easily avoided because no war is truly inevitable.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How Many Deaths Before Too Many Die

Shoma Chaudhury, in her usual impeccable style, analyses what's going on. This is published in Tehelka this week:

How Many Deaths Before Too Many Die
Managing Editor

Hapless victim Sudharani Baske, 70-year-old widow, arrested as a dreaded Maoist
A FEW WEEKS after he was released from two years in jail, Binayak Sen, the gentle and now famous doctor from Chhattisgarh, was asked what he thought of the Maoist crisis and the government’s response to it. It’s like watching two locomotives hurtling towards each other, he replied. Bent upon colliding even when all the warning signals are clearly flashing. And you can do nothing to stop it.
On April 6, not the first but the loudest of many tragic collisions came to pass. The Maoists ambushed a heavily armed CRPF battalion in the jungles of Dantewada, and blew up an armoured vehicle. Within hours, 76 jawans were dead. The sheer, staggering loss of life — the spiraling pain that would ripple through small anonymous homesteads in UP and Haryana and Delhi — took your breath away. Here again, were the poorest of the poor, being sent out to execute the most draconian face of the State. These 76 dead were just a punctuation: more jawans would be sent out, more jawans would be killed. The poor being set to kill the poor. If ever there was reason to rethink strategy, surely, here it was.
But if you watched television studio debates that night or read many of the newspapers the next morning, something more terrifying — and tragic — than the physical image of hurtling locomotives would have become evident: you’d have seen the pistons driving these locomotives to self destruct. Livid, one-sided conversations: ill-informed, deaf, uncurious. And, most damagingly, simple-minded.
Exterminate the terrorists! Wipe them out! The entire nation is united: launch an all-out war. Bring on the airforce. Didn’t we pull it off in Punjab? Haven’t the Sri Lankans pulled it off with the LTTE? Why are you “intellectual sympathisers” talking of root causes and development and urging other approaches? Are you on the side of the savages? Are you condoning Maoist violence? Why are you raising questions about police atrocities and State neglect? How can you equate our violence with their violence? How can you lump the good guys with the bad guys?
On the other side, less loud but equally intractable are voices hurling blanket abuse at the State. Ignoring the slow fruits of 60 years of democracy; ignoring the genuine moral challenges the Maoists present; ignoring the inevitable corruptions of armed rebellion; willing to overlook the dangerous imperfections of one political position to vanquish the other.
Part of the reason why the Maoist debate rouses such anger is that its fundamental cliché is that it is a complex issue. Yet none of the public positions trotted out by its most voluble stakeholders really tell the whole truth. Anger then is inevitable: it arises out of each side finding itself willfully and inadequately described.
This is why, drowned by the fierce volume of media debates, those who hold a third position feel an added helplessness — the helplessness of being strapped bang centre in the path of rushing trains. Yet if there is anything that can make the collision screech to a halt, it is this position: this saving in-betweeness. Which makes it imperative to outline what the third position is.
And turn up its volume.
THE SIGHT of the 76 dead jawans might have some Indians baying for blood: more war, more jawans. For other Indians though, on April 6, as coffins were loaded on to trucks in the eerie silence of night, and wrapped in the national flag for their moment of pomp the next morning, the image crystallised some of the deepest and most troubling questions that underpin the Maoist crisis. What sort of a society are we creating? What sort of a society have we become? How will this cycle of violence end? The Maoists might have a lot to answer for, but where will we find the answers to the imperfections in ourselves? We can exterminate them physically, but what are we going to do with the big, rebuking questions they have unleashed around us?
This is not the self-flagellation of bleeding-heart liberals that the war hawks make it out to be. In fact, ironically, it is underscored by the same concern as the death mongers: how can one neutralise Maoist influence in India? Only it seeks deeper answers than merely killing them; it seeks more sustainable strategies. Strategies more introspective and selftransformative.
It is true the State could exterminate the Maoists. As Home Minister P Chidambaram said a few hours after the bloodbath in Dantewada, “We might lose more people, many more may die, but the State will ultimately prevail. It might take two or three years, but we have to give them a firm response. If they have declared war on the State, we will launch an all-out offensive against them.” Set aside the disturbing assumptions in that statement. Ask merely the common question at hand: but will this “wipe them out”? The curious thing is, according to insiders, the Maoist politburo itself feels that Operation Green Hunt might eliminate one-third of their cadres. But will this really “wipe them out”? The State has crushed the Naxal movement thrice before — in Bengal, in Bihar, in Andhra Pradesh. Each time thousands of Indian citizens have been killed; each time the Maoists have resurrected themselves. This is the fourth big wave. Are we finally going to accept their challenge and address “root causes”, or are we going to content ourselves with killing tens of thousands of our poor every decade?
War seed Karam Kanni, whose husband was killed by the Salwa Judum in Jan 2009
Part of the mounting ironies around Operation Green Hunt is that, contrary to the broad brush with which the Home Ministry and others in the Establishment have taken to tarring civil society, many activists and concerned citizens stretching deep into the far left are extremely disturbed by the growing militarisation of the Maoist movement. “I am completely unequivocal about this,” says Binayak — a man the State had jailed as being a ‘big Naxal leader’ — “violence cannot be the answer. This growing militarisation cannot be the way forward.” Others too, both underground and overground who might otherwise share Maoist views on social transformation, are murmuring disapprovingly about “Left adventurism”. As a former member of the People’s War Group and close aide of their towering leader Kondapalli Seetharamaiah says, “I have lived in the jungles. I have been in jail. I have been tortured by the police. And I have seen the idealism and zeal with which the Maoists work in the jungles. But I no longer believe violence can be the path.”
Yet the big, thorny conundrums persist. Home Minister P Chidambaram might repeatedly be calling for talks with the Maoists saying he is not asking them to lay down arms but merely asking them to “abjure violence” — almost flamboyantly urging them to give him just 72 hours to turn the discourse around. But it a measure of the deep scorn and distrust on both sides that even a hint of talks arouses two viscerally cynical reactions: the State says it’s merely a ploy on the part of the Maoists to gain time and regroup; the Maoists says it’s merely a ploy on the part of the State to bring them over ground and smash their hideouts. The shadow of the failed talks and its bloody aftermath in Andhra Pradesh in 2005 looms large.
At a deeper level, the possibility of talks with the Maoists breaks down prima facie on two genuinely sticky points: How can a State committed to parliamentary democracy (no matter how flawed) broker peace with an armed group whose stated resolve is to overthrow it and seize State power by 2050? Are events in Nepal a possible roadmap for the way forward? Will the Maoists privilege their ideals of social justice over their ambition to seize State power through protracted war? Will they somehow function as a pressure lobby within the framework of Indian democracy, slowly changing the political system from within? As the late and highly respected human rights activist K Balagopal said, this might contravene the very basis of their ideology, but are the Maoists right to hostage current generations of tribals to some promise of a future utopia that may never come?
On the other hand, equally, the Maoists might ask, why should we lay down arms and join Indian democracy? Has the Indian State ever demonstrated that it speaks to peaceful people’s movements? The only reason tribal welfare has even entered contemporary national discourse — even as mere lip service — is because of the power of the gun. Many civil society and people’s movements leaders have been urging Chidambaram to side-step the Maoists and talk to them on the same issues of social justice that the Maoists are raising. They challenge that if they are allowed to work in those areas, they will be able to reduce Maoist influence. But he steadfastly refuses. He is bent on “area domination” through force. It seems only nuisance value can trigger offers for talks, not ethical consciousness.
(In fact, one of the most disturbing trends triggered by Operation Green Hunt is the way civil rights activists are increasingly being outlawed by the State: mocked, arrested, sidelined, pigeon-holed — merely for seeking answers beyond easy binaries. So it is that Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar has been hounded out of Chhattisgarh — his ashram demolished by the State in Dantewada and a diktat put out that no one should rent their home out to him; and a Home Ministry dossier on him grows by the day. So it is that in Bengal, just a few days ago, activist Kirti Roy was arrested for organising a people’s tribunal on police torture. The police had filed a case against him for attempting to impersonate the judiciary.)
This taunting question about the nature of the Indian State then is one we might well ask of ourselves. If the tribals lay down arms, will the State keep its promises, or will it ride like a storm over them, seizing their lands and stealing their resources as it has done elsewhere? And why does the Indian State have such a dismal record of speaking to people’s movements espousing just demands? The Bhopal Gas victims have never taken to arms. For 25 years they have walked the 800 miles to Delhi again and again, camping in Jantar Mantar and asking for justice: have they got it? Far from it. Instead, Dow Chemical was invited to set up shop in Nayachar in West Bengal. Worse, the Indian government is in the process of signing a nuclear agreement that will excuse foreign investors from paying damages in the event of a leak. And protestors are no longer allowed to camp overnight in Jantar Mantar — Indian democracy’s designated site for people’s protest.
Unfortunately, the epic list of questions doesn’t stop here. Were the people of Nandigram and Singur made stakeholders in the projects that would displace them from their emerald land? Why was the draconian Land Acquisition Act and malafide SEZ Act not thought through in equitable ways, on the sheer basis of the State’s benevolent intention? Why was the State ramming its projects through? Why did it take violent people’s resistance for these Acts to go back to the drawing board? Why are workers in Delhi being uprooted from colonies they have lived in for 30 years and being pitchforked into far-flung wastelands where there are no schools, no health centres, no toilets, no roads, no public transport merely to beautify the city for 12 days of Commonwealth Games? Why do the people of Sohanbadra in UP have to walk miles through arsenic sludge and breathe fly ash from thermal plants? Why is it that almost every industrial project in India turns into a human rights violation — either in terms of land or labour or environmental violation or human health?
The truth is, as long as the poor suffer silently, Indian democracy chugs along, doing little. If people protest peacefully, no one cares: not the media, not the government. If they organise themselves in outrage, they are berated for being disruptive and crushed. If they have grown too powerful to be crushed, the State offers talks. As eminent lawyer KG Kannabiran, who was part of the Committee of Citizens that brokered the (failed) peace talks between Maoists and the YSR Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh and is today a faintly dejected man, says, “We are experiencing the beginning of a long and terrible earthquake. Why doesn’t the Indian State follow the Constitution? Why doesn’t it act on its own Planning Commission Report on Naxal-affected areas which advocates a development-centric approach? Forget the Maoists. Even Locke and Laski said the right to insurrection arises when constitutional guarantees fail.”
Camp fire The Silda camp in Bengal, two months after it was razed by the Maoists
The massacre of April 6 then places us at a potent crossroad. We could choose the path of escalated violence that will lead to a bloody civil war in the heart of the country. Or we could step back and choose the long march to social transformations that will leach away the attraction the oppressed have for the Maoists. On the first path, pain and futility stretches vast on either side. Increasing Maoist violence on one side: more police stations attacked, more jawans dead, more informers executed. Amplifying mistakes of the State on the other. Set aside 60 years of neglect, just three years of the Salwa Judum had notched up a terrifying roster of violence: 640 villages forcibly evacuated, lakhs of tribals forced to flee or live in camps, tribals set against tribal, homes burned, chickens and grain stolen, women raped, young boys dead. The Judum might now officially be declared a misadventure but it increased tribal disenchantment with the Indian State and pushed thousands more into Maoist arms.
Now Operation Green Hunt is doing exactly the same: for every “genuine” Maoist ideologue arrested or killed, hundreds of ordinary people — minors, old folk, just adults scratching out a survival — are being arrested or killed. It enrages many in political and media circles when this is said, but the truth is, quite apart from “root causes” — the structural violence in Indian society that stretches back through time — every cluster of deaths, every crisis in the contemporary Maoist saga has an irretrievably muddied chain of cause and effect.
As GN Saibaba, a Delhi University professor and an activist ‘black-marked’ by the intelligence apparatus, says, “Ultimately nobody wins a war. You can only win in an ideological and social domain.” So which route will India choose now? The knee-jerk, short-term logic of violence and counter-violence? Or the statesman’s game?
At one level, ‘the flags of our fathers’ draped around the dead jawans remind us of the soaring ideals on which India was founded, the articles of faith that keep us together as a nation. Few — positioned anywhere on the political spectrum — can deny that the Indian Constitution is a shining document and a real existential and political counter-challenge to the Maoists. Every deformity in the Indian polity today is a corruption of the Constitution. But as organising principles for society go, there can be very few documents in the world that are more sophisticated and far-seeing. And more capable of reconciling India’s inherently mammoth contradictions. Yet, at another level, ‘the flags of our fathers’ recalls the Clint Eastwood film that exposed the empty gestures and faux patriotism of war-torn America in the 1940s. Like the flag hoisted merely for a photo-op in the film, beneath the saber-rattling talk of “our jawans” and calls for retaliation, there lurks a terrible cynicism.
Like those they have been sent out to battle with, these jawans are the weakest links in the Indian chain. They are merely another face of the poverty they have been sent out to vanquish. In the same breath that they speak of the terror of the Maoist attack on them, they speak of the inhuman conditions they live in, the lack of training, the lack of basic living facilities.
Besides, what is the SOP the jawans are being berated for not following? SOPs — “standard operating procedures” — dictate that jawans should walk single file or ride on motorbikes in Maoist territory. That way, if a mine goes off, only a couple of jawans will die: not enough to embarrass the State, not enough to make the evening news. After all, 76 jawans dying over 76 days is not as insupportable as 76 jawans dying in one day. It’s not human life and sorrow and “the deaths of innocent men” that’s got us in a twist then: it’s an imagined slap on the imagined face of the nation. And to avenge that slap, we are willing to trot out more cannon fodder: more ill-equipped jawans, more terrified boys. Caught between poverty and duty.
Also, the uncomfortable truth is, the Maoists may have a lot to answer for, but tragic as it is, the massacre of April 6 is not the most damaging of them. Sections of the media might call them “terrorists” and “savages” for the attack in Dantewada, but if terrorism is defined as anonymous hits on civilians, the Maoists’ night-time massacre of sleeping villagers in Jamui in Bihar last year counts as a much worse blot. The April 6 attack was an episode between combatants — an inevitable by-product of a poorly addressed conflagration. And the worst part is it could well happen again.
For this reason alone, contrary to the almost colonial outrage about “savages” burning the airwaves, for many patriotic Indians, the death of these 76 jawans could be read as a catalyst for turning up the volume on the third position on the Maoist debate. (It might soothe those baying for escalated State action to remember that top cop KPS Gill — the hero of Punjab — and Ajit Doval, former Intelligence Bureau chief, both feel that, in its current form, Operation Green Hunt is something of a strategic misadventure.)
OF THE many half-truths on the back of which the Maoist crisis is currently escalating, the biggest lie is that there is political unanimity on Operation Green Hunt. For the moment, Home Minister P Chidambaram may be the loudest voice from the UPA government and he may (ironically) enjoy the fervid support of the BJP and CPMin treating the Maoists as merely a “law and order problem” and declaring an “all-out offensive” on them, but Chief Ministers Shibu Soren and Nitish Kumar, and Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee are not the only politicians uncomfortable with this stance. The Congress party itself is richly and positively divided on this. And though their silence so far is baffling, the heartening fact is that many of its most powerful leaders hold the third position. Or variants of it. As one particularly powerful Congress insider says, “There has to be a middle way between the zero strategy of the Home Ministry in UPA 1 and the George Bush-like utterances of the Home Ministry in UPA 2. It’s getting more ludicrous by the day.”
What is this third position then? The first and primary relief of the third position is that it is not a monolithic one: it is no soundproof room blocking out all argument that challenges its notions. It recognises that India is a complex country to run. It recognises that Home Minister Chidambaram is partially right in saying a State cannot let 234 districts slip out of its hands and some targeted use of force is called for to re-dominate those areas. But in the same breath it recognises that military action alone is suicidal. “Compassionate governance” cannot be a verbal frill attached to a machine gun. It has to be the primary soldier, the captain of the guard. In the third position, courage lies in rethinking fundamental directions of our society. It lies in acknowledging that Maoists are not merely demonic outsiders but a complex grid of Indians driven in equal parts by ideology, desperation and new political awakening.
As veteran Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar says, “It is ridiculous to attack everyone just because they have a view on the Maoist issue as anything more than just a ‘menace’. While there’s no alternative to a State defending itself to a challenge by insurgents, we have to ask ourselves why this insurgency is confined to 5th Schedule Areas (ie, tribal) areas. And as long as our ideas of development is restricted to gains for people like Vedanta and POSCO and Tata and Essar and the Mittals, and we allow them to exploit tribal resources, the tribals are bound to see this development not as desired but disruptive. The point is, we have to define the difference between ‘participatory development’ and ‘aggressive development’.”
For those who find the prospect daunting, Aiyar has an inspiring list of simple measures, constitutional provisions and visionary legislations that can begin to effect change. Read the 73rd Amendment along with Article 243G and 243ZD of the Constitution, he urges. Let all states governments implement PESA — (Provisions of the Panchayat [Extension to Scheduled Areas] 1996) — on the ground. Invoke the provisions of the Forest Act to give full ownership of forest produce to tribals. And watch the miracles start to flow.
For middle-class audiences, PESA is probably the least known piece of legislation, yet it is sheer genius in its simplicity. It prescribes that no proposal of a Panchayat, no disbursal of funds, and no use of common property resources can be sanctioned without the permission of the Gram Sabha. Unlike the Panchayat which has elected members, the Gram Sabha includes every adult member of a village community. This consultative process is the most elemental step of a democracy and it effectively ensures that tribals can take full control of their lives, finances and functionaries — cutting out the corruptions of an alien bureaucracy.
Aiyar is not alone in these views. Congress veteran Digvijay Singh has written pieces in the media on the same lines. Rural Minister CP Joshi, who was handpicked by Rahul Gandhi (and whose ministry report on ‘State Agrarian Relations’ spoke of Operation Green Hunt as the “biggest land grab in the history of India”), also has similar views. “There is a failure of governance, a real crisis of credibility among the lower level functionaries. The whole judicial system, for instance, relies on the patwari andthanedar. If they tamper with an FIR or land paper, how can the system work? We have to think of alternative forms of governance. We have 32 states — let there be 10,000 forms of local government in them. We have to take the traditions of each community and work within that to implement democratic ideals.” At a press conference in Chhattisgarh, asked about the Maoist crisis, Rahul Gandhi himself said, “When governance fails to reach people, such movements are bound to gain strength.”
These ideas however cannot be postponed to some future utopia — a time when 234 districts have been recovered from Maoist control. “It is misleading to suggest all these areas have slipped out of government control,” says Aiyar. “Even in Naxal-affected areas, only some thanas are under their control. The rest are all under State control. We should immediately implement full-fledged Panchayati Raj and PESA in these thanas. We can win this only if we construct a real and shining alternative to the Maoist-led government.”
For that to happen, at the very least, in a sort of first sign of good intention, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh needs to retrieve the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj from the ciphers who now control it and give it to someone at par with the incumbent Home Minister. In fact, in the sort of neat ironies life sometimes offers, Home Secretary Gopal Pillai, who is seen as an able lieutenant to Chidambaram’s security-driven hard line, is married to Sudha Pillai, one of the country’s top civil servants on Panchayati Raj. Since, so far, governance has been promised at the heel of security — with disastrous consequences, for a while, perhaps, the wife should be foregrounded over the husband.
There are other urgent areas of redressal. As Aiyar says, “If the Tatas and Ambanis can own vast tracts of land and the government deems private property as sacred, how is it that we think of community property as something that the government can take over? The tribals have owned these forests since time immemorial. This tradition was only disrupted when the British entered the forests of Dandakaranya. Can’t democratic India restore the the rights over this forest back to its own people? Finally, if middle-class Indians can have shares in corporate projects, why can’t tribals be made stakeholders in projects that ursurp their land?”
So before the memory of the 76 jawans fades, here’s the question again: what route is India going to take now? When you ask the Home Minister — or chief ministers of Naxalaffected States — to seize the high moral ground and send out a message to their police and paramilitary forces that no excesses will be tolerated, they snap back — why are you pointing fingers at the State? What about the 55 CPM cadres the Maoists have killed in Bengal this year? What about the 11 jawans they have killed in Koraput? The trap of binary conversations.
It is futile to remind them that they are our elected representatives and democracy demands we hold them more accountable than the Maoists; futile to remind them that we expect the State to have a greater morality than the outlaws they are combating. Futile to assert that our constitutional concern about the nature of the Indian State does not equate to support for the Maoists. Violence can only legitimise itself by painting broad pictures of Good and Evil, by painting itself the Avenger. This is why, for defenders of Operation Green Hunt, condemnation of Maoist violence must ride on silence about the State’s.
In a telling detail, however, the widow of beheaded policeman, Francis Induwar understood that death does not come in different colours. Barely weeks after her husband’s gory murder at the hands of Maoists, she was pleading with the government not for revenge but a non-military approach to resolve the Maoist crisis. A cardinal rule of leadership that leaders often forget is the powerful symbolism of taking the unilaterally ethical stand. Not contingent on the good behaviour of others. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true.”
Maybe the death of these jawans will bring that message home to those men and women who wield most power in this country.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 15, Dated April 17, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Hurt Locker - Overhyped And Dangerous

A review of The Hurt Locker I wrote for IANS. Copyright, IANS. 

Film: “The Hurt Locker”; Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty; Director: Kathryn Bigelow; Rating: ***

Let’s begin with the obvious. “The Hurt Locker” (THL) is a decent, racy thriller with a steady, engrossing pace and camera work reminiscent of the “Bourne” series. The film’s fault, however, is that it was handpicked and overhyped.

At the face of it, “The Hurt Locker” is a series of vignettes in the life of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq. After the death of the first team leader, James (Jeremy Renner) joins Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Eldridge (Brian Geraghty).

James’ job is one of caution. But his carelessness, his attempts to defuse bombs at the risk of his team members, makes Sanborn and Eldridge hate him. However, James’ calmness as they are stranded in the middle of a desert brings them together as a unit.

There isn’t much happening in terms of a story, but the film keeps the viewers engaged with well executed and tense shots, witty dialogues and good camera work that flow with the action.

Sadly, unlike the mindless films made in Hollywood, this one does have a mind and an ideology – and a very dangerous and narrow-minded one. In keeping clear of politics, and tacitly justifying war, it gives a dangerous message.

That war is a necessary drug. Yes, war is a drug (the film’s tagline). But war is also politics. Thus a war film cannot be apolitical. It cannot simply be an action thriller.
Matt Damon battling intrigue in 'Green Zone'

“The Hurt Locker” shows the dangerous attempts of ‘good’ American soldiers to diffuse bombs. Yet never once does it attempt to tell us how the bombs got there in the first place. That is the films main drawback, of cutting out politics and keeping characters black and white. All Americans are good. All Iraqis are bad.

In essence the film represents American cowboy adventurism with the rest of the world. James is a symbol of Uncle Sam. He is strong, experienced but reckless, and doesn’t care about others opinions.

After Sanborn punches him, James merely lifts his cigarette and continues smoking. The punch on his face is the punch of world criticism on America’s war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Peace is not James cup of tea. Peace is not America’s drug. America needs war. James needs war. In short James is an analogy for America, both of them don’t like peace and love.

It’s a strange that the first ever best director Oscar to a woman had to be for a war film. War’s greatest and most gruesome casualties are always on women.

If you want a more fuller understanding of the war, watch “Green Zone” or rent Brian De Palma’s neglected 2007 masterpiece “Redacted”.
Brian De Palma's deliberately neglected masterpiece 'REDACTED'. No one likes the truth. 
“What’s the best way to disarm one of these things,” a colonel asks James. “The way you don’t die, sir,” comes the reply. That is also the best way to wage war: the way no one dies. The way of peace. Hope that is the message you come out with after you have seen this over-hyped film.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Gross Miscarriage of Justice in Chhattisgarh

This outrage happens in India, a democracy. Will the courts of this country please stand up and correct this gross injustice?

The piece below is from Sadanand Patwardhan's blogpost:

Raipur : Free Run for An Absconder.

Dantewada : Accused roam freely, Victims in custody”,covered the drama of an accused and Salwa Judumleader, Soyam Mukka, freely moving around in Dantewada on 6th January 2009 right in the presence of police. Soyam Mukka was one of the four leaders who were leading a group of Salwa Judum cadres reconstituted under the banner of Ma Danteshwari Swabhimani Adivasi Manch (MDSAM). This brand new outfit was formed only a month earlier with the specific intent of targeting Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, who had organized a peace march starting on 14thDecember that would have passed through some two dozen odd villages that had been plundered and burned by Salwa Judum. The purpose of the foot march was toinstill confidence among the terrified tribal residents who had run away into the nearby forests & were hiding there, and to encourage them to return to their villages and lands. MDSAM has now metamorphosed into a platform to take on activists, researchers, academics, scholars and journalists who want to visit Bastar division of Chhattisgarh State for a fact finding mission in the wake of ‘Operation Green Hunt’.

Soyam Mukka has been declared on 10th December, around the time MDSAM was formed, an absconder and a non-bailable arrest warrant has been issued for him by Shri Sharad Gupta, Sessions Court Judge – South Bastar, Dantewada. Ironically, not only he was allowed to lead the mob that pelted eggs, muck and tomatoes on the activists lead by Medha Patkar & Sandeep Pande at Dantewada, but he seems to roam around freely even in the state capital Raipur. In fact, he was at the press conference on 16th January 2010 in the Raipur Press Club that was also addressed by his colleagues Chhavindra Karma, Chaitram Atami and Sukhdev Tati.

The police are supposed to execute the arrest warrant and to arraign the accused before the court, but in Chhattisgarh, police appear to be protecting the absconders and accused at the direction of highest levels in administration. In the above photograph a youth in civies with a gun is clearly seen behind Chhavindra Karma, son offounder of Salwa Judum and Congress leader (ex-CPI) Mahendra KarmaWho is he? - Police in plain clothes, Special Police Officer, or a Salwa Judum vigilante. When a person who is to be arrested as per law and produced before court gets police protection to roam freely; Isn't it a breakdown of constitutional machinery in the state

Monday, February 1, 2010

FAMINE, WAR, GENOCIDE and INDIA: Dr. Binayak Sen on Malnutrition- India's Biggest Problem

Dr. Binayak Sen in this speech given at the Tata Insititue of Social Sciences, Mumbai India, on December 14, 2009, talks about a shocking truth about India. 33% of Adult Indians are Malnutritioned. 43% of Children in India are malnutritioned. In the Scheduled Tribes more than 50% people are malnutritioned. Among Scheduled Castes more than 60% people are malnutritioned. World Health Organisation declares that in a community if more than 40% people are malnutritioned that community can be called as one in a state of Famine. The worst thing is that the 33% have been in a chronic state of famine since decades and will continue to do so if we do not do something about it urgently. Dr. Binayak Sen talks about the relation between Famine, War and Genocide in India, something that is applicable to most of the third world countries and conflict zones across our planet.

India is thus actually in a state of emergency and Famine of magnanimous proportions. It is something that should take precedence over any other matter.

This video is in Public domain and free for anyone to use in their research, film etc. However, please do quote the source and creator in the same. If you want the original footage write to me at

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Part 7:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wanted - More Natural Calamities So US Could Take Over The World

If the US, after the cold war got over, is anyways going to take over the world as is evident from the article below and our cowardice at legitimising their illegal activities be it in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa or now in Haiti just because they are rich and 'sophisticated', then I pray to Nature to introduce calamity all across the world periodically and thus help America bring 'peace (peaceful subjugation to their needs)', 'justice (equally denied to all)' and 'equality' (Americanization) to the world.

Nietzsche's thunder that "God is dead" is proven wrong here. God lives and 'He' is on the American side. God is surely helping America. Wonder when IT will help the Haitians?

Original Article:

The Kidnapping of Haiti

Jan, 28 2010 By John Pilger

The theft of Haiti has been swift and crude. On 22 January, the United States secured "formal approval" from the United Nations to take over all air and sea ports in Haiti, and to "secure" roads. No Haitian signed the agreement, which has no basis in law. Power rules in an American naval blockade and the arrival of 13,000 marines, special forces, spooks and mercenaries, none with humanitarian relief training. 

The airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, is now an American military base and relief flights have been re-routed to the Dominican Republic. All flights stopped for three hours for the arrival of Hillary Clinton. Critically injured Haitians waited unaided as 800 American residents in Haiti were fed, watered and evacuated. Six days passed before the US Air Force dropped bottled water to people suffering thirst and dehydration. 

The first TV reports played a critical role, giving the impression of widespread criminal mayhem. Matt Frei, the BBC reporter dispatched from Washington, seemed on the point of hyperventilation as he brayed about the "violence" and need for "security". In spite of the demonstrable dignity of the earthquake victims, and evidence of citizens' groups toiling unaided to rescue people, and even an American general's assessment that the violence in Haiti was considerably less than before the earthquake, Frei claimed that "looting is the only industry" and "the dignity of Haiti's past is long forgotten." Thus, a history of unerring US violence and exploitation in Haiti was consigned to the victims. "There's no doubt," reported Frei in the aftermath of America's bloody invasion of Iraq in 2003, "that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East ... is now increasingly tied up with military power."

In a sense, he was right. Never before in so-called peacetime have human relations been as militarised by rapacious power. Never before has an American president subordinated his government to the military establishment of his discredited predecessor, as Barack Obama has done. In pursuing George W. Bush's policy of war and domination, Obama has sought from Congress an unprecedented military budget in excess of $700 billion. He has become, in effect, the spokesman for a military coup.

For the people of Haiti the implications are clear, if grotesque. With US troops in control of their country, Obama has appointed George W. Bush to the "relief effort": a parody surely lifted from Graham Greene's The Comedians, set in Papa Doc's Haiti. As president, Bush's relief effort following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 amounted to an ethnic cleansing of many of New Orleans' black population. In 2004, he ordered the kidnapping of the democratically-elected prime minister of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and exiled him in Africa. The popular Aristide had had the temerity to legislate modest reforms, such as a minimum wage for those who toil in Haiti's sweatshops. 

When I was last in Haiti, I watched very young girls stooped in front of whirring, hissing, binding machines at the Port-au-Prince Superior Baseball Plant. Many had swollen eyes and lacerated arms. I produced a camera and was thrown out.  Haiti is where America makes the equipment for its hallowed national game, for next to nothing. Haiti is where Walt Disney contractors make Mickey Mouse pjamas, for next to nothing. The US controls Haiti's sugar, bauxite and sisal. Rice-growing was replaced by imported American rice, driving people into the cities and towns and jerry-built housing. Years after year, Haiti was invaded by US marines, infamous for atrocities that have been their specialty from the Philippines to Afghanistan. 

Bill Clinton is another comedian, having got himself appointed the UN's man in Haiti. Once fawned upon by the BBC as "Mr. Nice Guy ... bringing democracy back to a sad and troubled land", Clinton is Haiti's most notorious privateer, demanding de-regulation of the economy for the benefit of the sweatshop barons. Lately, he has been promoting a $55m deal to turn the north of Haiti into an American-annexed "tourist playground". 

Not for tourists is the US building its fifth biggest embassy in Port-au-Prince. Oil was found in Haiti's waters decades ago and the US has kept it in reserve until the Middle East begins to run dry. More urgently, an occupied Haiti has a strategic importance in Washington's "rollback" plans for Latin America. The goal is the overthrow of the popular democracies in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, control of Venezuela's abundant oil reserves and sabotage of the growing regional cooperation that has given millions their first taste of an economic and social justice long denied by US-sponsored regimes.

The first rollback success came last year with the coup against President Jose Manuel Zelaya in Honduras who also dared advocate a minimum wage and that the rich pay tax. Obama's secret support for the illegal regime carries a clear warning to vulnerable governments in central America. Last October, the regime in Colombia, long bankrolled by Washington and supported by death squads, handed the US seven military bases to, according to US air force documents, "combat anti-US governments in the region".  

Media propaganda has laid the ground for what may well be Obama's next war. On 14 December, researchers at the University of West England published first findings of a ten-year study of the BBC's reporting of Venezuela. Of 304 BBC reports, only three mentioned any of the historic reforms of the Chavez government, while the majority denigrated Chavez's extraordinary democratic record, at one point comparing him to Hitler. 

Such distortion and its attendant servitude to western power are rife across the Anglo-American corporate media. People who struggle for a better life, or for life itself, from Venezuela to Honduras to Haiti, deserve our support.
Blog Information Profile for satyenkb