Thursday, March 23, 2017

Exiled Former Russian Lawmaker Shot Dead In Kiev / Lawyer For Russian Whistleblower’s Family Falls From Building One Day Before Hearing

Ukraine accused Russia of “state terrorism” after a former Russian lawmaker and key witness in a treason case against former leader Viktor Yanukovich was shot dead in broad daylight outside a hotel in central Kiev on Thursday. Russia called the allegation “absurd.”

Former MP Denis Voronenkov was killed by an assailant who was armed with a pistol. The assailant was wounded by Voronenkov’s bodyguard and later died in hospital, police said. Voronenkov fled to Ukraine last year and was helping the Ukrainian authorities build a treason case against Yanukovich, Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin former president. Voronenkov had also spoken out against Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, although he voted for the move at the time.

President Petro Poroshenko said the killing “is an act of state terrorism on the part of Russia, which (Voronenkov) was forced to leave for political reasons.” “Voronenkov was one of the main witnesses of Russian aggression against Ukraine and, in particular, the role of Yanukovich regarding the deployment of Russian troops to Ukraine.”

Relations between Kiev and Moscow are at an all-time low after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March 2014 and the subsequent outbreak of separatist fighting in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region that has killed more than 10,000 people. Poroshenko said it was “no accident” that Voronenkov was shot on the same day as a warehouse storing tank ammunition was blown up at a Ukrainian military base. Moscow denied any involvement Voronenkov’s murder … read more:

see also

Andrew Calcutt: The surprising origins of ‘post-truth’ – and how it was spawned by the liberal left

the groundbreaking work on “post-truth” was performed by academics, with further contributions from an extensive roster of middle-class professionals. Left-leaning, self-confessed liberals, they sought freedom from state-sponsored truth; instead they built a new form of cognitive confinement – “post-truth”... More than 30 years ago, academics started to discredit “truth” as one of the “grand narratives” which clever people could no longer bring themselves to believe in. Instead of “the truth”, which was to be rejected as naïve and/or repressive, a new intellectual orthodoxy permitted only “truths” – always plural, frequently personalised, inevitably relativised.

Under the terms of this outlook, all claims on truth are relative to the particular person making them; there is no position outside our own particulars from which to establish universal truth. This was one of the key tenets of postmodernism, a concept which first caught on in the 1980s after publication of Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report On Knowledge in 1979. In this respect, for as long as we have been postmodern, we have been setting the scene for a “post-truth” era.

“Post-truth” has been announced as the Oxford Dictionaries’ international word of the year. It is widely associated with US president-elect Donald Trump’s extravagantly untruthful assertions and the working-class people who voted for him nonetheless. But responsibility for the “post-truth” era lies with the middle-class professionals who prepared the runway for its recent take-off. Those responsible include academics, journalists, “creatives” and financial traders; even the centre-left politicians who have now been hit hard by the rise of the anti-factual.

On November 16, 2016 Oxford Dictionaries announced that “post-truth” had been selected as the word which, more than any other, reflects “the passing year in language”. It defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

The word itself can be traced back as far as 1992, but documented usage increased by 2,000% in 2016 compared to 2015. As Oxford Dictionaries’ Casper Grathwohl explained:

We first saw the frequency really spike this year in June with buzz over the Brexit vote and again in July when Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination. Given that usage of the term hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time.

Punditry on the “post-truth era” is often accompanied by a picture either of Donald Trump (for example, BBC News Online or The Guardian) or of his supporters (The Spectator). Although The Spectator article was a rare exception, the connotations embedded in “post-truth” commentary are normally as follows: “post-truth” is the product of populism; it is the bastard child of common-touch charlatans and a rabble ripe for arousal; it is often in blatant disregard of the actualité.

The truth about post-truth
But this interpretation blatantly disregards the actual origins of “post-truth”. These lie neither with those deemed under-educated nor with their new-found champions. Instead, the groundbreaking work on “post-truth” was performed by academics, with further contributions from an extensive roster of middle-class professionals. Left-leaning, self-confessed liberals, they sought freedom from state-sponsored truth; instead they built a new form of cognitive confinement – “post-truth”.

More than 30 years ago, academics started to discredit “truth” as one of the “grand narratives” which clever people could no longer bring themselves to believe in. Instead of “the truth”, which was to be rejected as naïve and/or repressive, a new intellectual orthodoxy permitted only “truths” – always plural, frequently personalised, inevitably relativised.

Under the terms of this outlook, all claims on truth are relative to the particular person making them; there is no position outside our own particulars from which to establish universal truth. This was one of the key tenets of postmodernism, a concept which first caught on in the 1980s after publication of Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report On Knowledge in 1979. In this respect, for as long as we have been postmodern, we have been setting the scene for a “post-truth” era... read more:

see also

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Stephen C Angle - In defence of hierarchy

The modern West has placed a high premium on the value of equality. Equal rights are enshrined in law while old hierarchies of nobility and social class have been challenged, if not completely dismantled. Few would doubt that global society is all the better for these changes. But hierarchies have not disappeared. Society is still stratified according to wealth and status in myriad ways.
On the other hand, the idea of a purely egalitarian world in which there are no hierarchies at all would appear to be both unrealistic and unattractive. Nobody, on reflection, would want to eliminate all hierarchies, for we all benefit from the recognition that some people are more qualified than others to perform certain roles in society. We prefer to be treated by senior surgeons not medical students, get financial advice from professionals not interns. Good and permissible hierarchies are everywhere around us.

Yet hierarchy is an unfashionable thing to defend or to praise. British government ministers denounce experts as out of tune with popular feeling; both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders built platforms on attacking Washington elites; economists are blamed for not predicting the 2008 crash; and even the best established practice of medical experts, such as childhood vaccinations, are treated with resistance and disbelief. We live in a time when no distinction is drawn between justified and useful hierarchies on the one hand, and self-interested, exploitative elites on the other. 

As a group, we believe that clearer thinking about hierarchy and equality is important in business, politics and public life. We should lift the taboo on discussing what makes for a good hierarchy. To the extent that hierarchies are inevitable, it is important to create good ones and avoid those that are pernicious. It is also important to identify the ways in which useful and good hierarchies support and foster good forms of equality. When we talk about hierarchies here, we mean those distinctions and rankings that bring with them clear power differentials.  

We are a diverse group of scholars and thinkers who take substantively different views on many political and ethical issues. Recently, we engaged in an intensive discussion of these issues under the aegis of the Berggruen Philosophy and Culture Center in Los Angeles, and we found ourselves agreeing on this: much can be said in defence of some kinds of hierarchy. The ideas we present here are at the very least worthy of more widespread and serious attention. All of this takes on a new urgency given the turn in world politics towards a populism that often attacks establishment hierarchies while paradoxically giving authoritarian power to individuals claiming to speak for ‘the people’.

What then, should be said in praise of hierarchy? First, bureaucratic hierarchies can serve democracy. Bureaucracy is even less popular these days than hierarchy. Yet bureaucratic hierarchies can instantiate crucial democratic values, such as the rule of law and equal treatment. 

There are at least three ways in which usually hierarchical constitutional institutions can enhance democracy: by protecting minority rights, and thereby ensuring that the basic interests of minorities are not lightly discounted by self-interested or prejudiced majorities; by curbing the power of majority or minority factions to pass legislation favouring themselves at the expense of the public good; and by increasing the epistemic resources that are brought to bear on decision-making, making law and policy more reflective of high-quality deliberation. Hence democracies can embrace hierarchy because hierarchy can enhance democracy itself. 

Yet in recent decades, these civic hierarchies have been dismantled and often replaced with decentralised, competitive markets, all in the name of efficiency. This makes sense only if efficiency and effectiveness (usually assumed to be measured in economic terms) are considered the overriding priorities. But if we make that assumption, we find ourselves giving less weight to values such as the rule of law, democratic legitimacy or social equality. Hence, we might sometimes prefer the democratically accountable hierarchies that preserve those values even over optimal efficiency.

Read more:

Ajmer blast case: Two including a former RSS worker get life imprisonment

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) special court in Jaipur today sentenced Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel to life in jail in the Ajmer blast case. The two were convicted along with Sunil Joshi on March 6. Joshi died under mysterious circumstances soon after the bombing, in which three people were killed and 17 others were injured. The October 11, 2007 blast took place during the month of Ramazan and targeted the Khwaja Chishti shrine.

Both Devendra Patel and Sunil Joshi are former RSS pracharaks.

BHARAT BHUSHAN - Narendra Modi's Republic of fear ...

  1. On March 6, the court found three of the accused guilty in the 2007 blast case. Those convicted include Devendra Gupta, Bhavesh Patel and Sunil Joshi. Both Devendra Gupta and Sunil Joshi are former Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharaks.
  2. The NIA court found the three men guilty of conspiracy, planting bombs and inciting religious sentiments. While Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel have been in judicial custody, Sunil Joshi had died mysteriously in 2007, soon after the Ajmer bombing.
  3. The remaining accused, including Aseemanand, Chandrashekhar Leve, Mukesh Vasani, Bharat Mohan Rateshwar, Lokesh Sharma, Mehul Kumar and Harshad Solanki were acquitted in the case. Three accused - Suresh Nair, Sandeep Dange and Ramchandra - were declared absconders.
  4. The National Investigation Agency had accused Aseemanand of masterminding the blast. The Jaipur court, however, acquitted Asseemand and others for the lack of evidence. The court also did not find any involvement of senior RSS functionary Indresh Kumar in the blast.
  5. The case had witnessed a major twist when Bhavesh Patel, one of the three men convicted, accused several Congress leaders, including Digvijaya Singh and former Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde of pressurising him to name senior RSS leaders, including current RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat and senior RSS functionary Indresh Kumar as being complicit in the blast case. He demanded a judicial enquiry into his accusations and into the alleged role of Congress leaders and NIA officers.

see also
RSS leader announces Rs 1 crore reward for beheading Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
List of serious criminal charges against new UP CM Yogi Adityanath
Julio Ribeiro - Burying Karkare: I cannot let these forces go unchallenged
The Supreme Court, Gandhi and the RSS
The BJP and Justice, Chapter 2

Very short list of examples of rule of law in India
A letter to Jaitley: Why do students get jailed but RSS leaders who issue vile threats walk freely?

Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti Press Release NADIMARG MASSACRE of March 23 2003

On the ill-fated day of March 23, 2003, 24 Kashmiri Pandits were cold-bloodily murdered by the militants in Nadimarg, District Shopian  (then District Pulwama), and from the last fourteen years not a single person has been punished for the same. The role of Investigating Officer(s)/Agency (ies) is in question as they always give us cold shoulder whenever they are asked about their failure to identify and book the culprits who are responsible for this heinous crime.

When KPSS did ground zero investigation about this crime, we found that it was a well planned attempt by some armed insurgents and local youths from the adjoining villages to take revenge for the Gujarat Riots which took place after the Godhra Train Buring in the year 2002 and to celebrate Pakistan Resolution Day by killing Kashmiri Pandits.

Under a well planned and in organized way, the gunmen with youths from the adjoining village(s) visited Nadimarg on March 21 and 22, 2003 to see the location of the KP families who they planned kill so that they can execute their murderous plan. And finally on March 23, 2003 at 10:30 PM, the militants with the active support from the youths of the adjoining villages came in Indian Army Uniform and cordoned the KP houses, brought them out,  made them sit on their knees in a line and finally shot at their faces mercilessly killing 24 Kashmiri Pandits in the name of revenge that happened in Gujarat in the year 2002 and to celebrate the Pakistan Resolution Day by killing Kashmiri Pandits.

The Investigation Officer/Agency, did not investigate the matter with any intention to book the culprits, for reasons best known to him / them, which puts the credibility of the Investigation Officer / Agency in question.

KPSS reiterates its demand for a “Truth and Justice Commission” authorized to look into all these incidents which took place in the State of Jammu and Kashmir over the last 27 years and to book the culprits so that the justice is done to the people who were killed by the State / Non-State Actors.

Sanjay K. Tickoo
President, KPSS


More statements/press releases by Sanjay Tickoo
See also

Mukul Kesavan - The mourning after: Ways to tackle an electoral defeat

There is a ritualized quality to mourning in some social groups. In many parts of north India a death is followed by formal lamentation or 'siyapa'. Punjabi women will beat their breasts (pitto) and wail to help the bereaved widow weep, but also to dramatize the awful finality of the moment. In other communities the tragedy of a death might be differently conveyed. It could be marked sartorially by wearing black and mourners might contain their grief as a mark of respect to the dead person and the greater grief of that person's family.

In recent times, progressives have treated electoral setbacks as deaths in the family and they have chosen to pitto. This is true of public discourse - op-eds in newspapers, their equivalent on television - but it is especially marked in the semi-private online spaces that define modern life, social media communities like Facebook. The particular consolation of Facebook is that everyone gets to be chief mourner. The moment a person posts "I can't believe this is happening", "what sort of country do we live in", "I can't read the papers I'm so depressed", a group of ancillary mourners gathers and this faux community of people has a comfortable funeral. This is harmless and possibly therapeutic; but it isn't a form of 'engagement'.

Lamentation on social media is not a form of political engagement; it is a form of virtue signalling. It is a way of indicating that you are genuinely stricken. It is a preliminary to grading the politics of your 'friends' by the force of their lamentation. It is the opposite of political engagement. If that debased term means anything it must mean working with people on your side, persuading the undecided and pushing back against the arguments of the other side. Social media narcissism does none of this; it does, however, briefly make you the hero of every piece of political theatre in this obsessively political country.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's massive win in Uttar Pradesh provoked two sorts of responses amongst middle-class people who dislike the party. One was existential despair. Another was cold-eyed realism about the prospects of mounting a challenge to Narendra Modi's BJP in the foreseeable future, accompanied by an 'I told you so' claim to prescience.

The first sort of response is both self-indulgent and self-harming. Regardless of how bad a poll result is for progressive politics, it is dangerous in a democracy to treat the aftermath of an election like a death in the family. The other side doesn't think anyone died and since progressive prospects in the next election depend on persuading some of these people, liberals can't behave as if their side is doomed because the electorate might take them at their word. Public hand-wringing and breast-beating might be cathartic for the bereaved after a real death; it is merely demoralizing after a political defeat. There is a reason why parties formally concede defeat in stable democracies and put their game face on.

The second response is useful to the extent that it helps liberals size up the magnitude of the task. The political reportage during the election, particularly the bizarre phase when every political correspondent in the province seemed persuaded that a resurgent Akhilesh Yadav had cast off the millstone of incumbency and was set to sweep the polls under the sign of good governance, was marred by magical thinking. It is good to be reminded by those who resisted wishful thinking that the prime minister and his political machine together make up a formidable political juggernaut. What is less helpful is the suggestion that everyone should - take a moment to marvel at the BJP's new mandate. To acknowledge defeat is essential; to go the extra yard and admire Modi's victory does the progressive cause no favours. The lessons of defeat might be more useful than hand-wringing or resignation.

One lesson of the UP election is that Indian politics is provincial and successful parties tailor their message to the neighbourhood. This is not to wilfully ignore the force of Narendra Modi's political persona, but to note that in less helpful circumstances - Delhi, Bihar, Punjab - it didn't sweep everything before it. The sociology of UP as well as its political history made a grand alliance of the Bihar sort impossible. The Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance was a parody of the Mahagathbandhan and went the way of all bad jokes.

The strategy of creating a political coalition that unites Muslims and OBCs and denies majorities to coalitions dominated by savarna parties has seen some success and much failure. The problem with this strategy is that the residual category of savarna Hindus that it creates by default is not just economically but also numerically powerful and able to co-opt subaltern groups: tribals, Kurmis, non-Yadav OBCs. Even before Modi's inspired use of his OBC origins, the parivar successfully fielded Vinay Katiyar, Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti to consolidate its savarna-plus strategy.
The other lesson of this election is that secular coalitions should be inclusive, not excluding. They are not going to be built by rhetorically nominating savarna Hindus as the enemy. The Bahujan Samaj Party was most successful when it managed to co-opt Brahmins along with winning some support amongst Muslims and others, in what was a reprise of an old Congress strategy, but with the caste roles reversed.

But building a political combination has to combine social arithmetic with emancipatory ideas that resonate beyond this community or that. The BJP's big idea was progress and empowerment for a consolidated Hindu community that transcended caste and excluded Muslims. Mayavati's beleaguered response was a rainbow coalition with two primary colours, Muslims and Dalits. Given the vastness of UP and its myriad social fractures, she couldn't have won those communities entire and she didn't. The idea that a Samajwadi Party burdened by incumbency and split by dynastic politics would be rescued by Akhilesh Yadav's adult baptism in good governance was always unlikely. The notion that an alliance with the Congress would help the Samajwadi Party hoover up the Muslim vote was, given the state of the Congress in north India, wishful.

These fantastical political scenarios seemed plausible to their sponsors because they assumed that demonetization must have alienated some part of the BJP's base. It didn't, and they weren't. As Edward Thompson showed half a century ago, economic hardship creates resentment only when it's seen to be discriminatory; if its causes are deemed virtuous, people are willing to take it in their stride. But knowingness is easy with hindsight.

To declare desolation or to tough-mindedly announce that the BJP owns the foreseeable future are, despite their surface differences, very similar responses. They are the responses of spectators watching a game played by others. If there is one lesson that the supporters of the BJP have to teach the other side, it is this: till Anglophone progressives stop playing at being flâneurs, they are likely to remain at the receiving end of history.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

President Blowback: How the Invasion of Iraq Came Home By Tom Engelhardt

If you want to know where President Donald Trump came from, if you want to trace the long winding road (or escalator) that brought him to the Oval Office, don’t look to reality TV or Twitter or even the rise of the alt-right. Look someplace far more improbable: Iraq.

Donald Trump may have been born in New York City.  He may have grown to manhood amid his hometown’s real estate wars.  He may have gone no further than Atlantic City, New Jersey, to casino-ize the world and create those magical golden letters that would become the essence of his brand.  He may have made an even more magical leap to television without leaving home, turning “You’re fired!” into a household phrase.  Still, his presidency is another matter entirely.  It’s an immigrant.  It arrived, fully radicalized, with its bouffant over-comb and eternal tan, from Iraq.

Despite his denials that he was ever in favor of the 2003 invasion of that country, Donald Trump is a president made by war.  His elevation to the highest office in the land is inconceivable without that invasion, which began in glory and ended (if ended it ever did) in infamy.  He’s the president of a land remade by war in ways its people have yet to absorb.  Admittedly, he avoided war in his personal life entirely.  He was, after all, a Vietnam no-show.  And yet he’s the president that war brought home.  Think of him not as President Blowhard but as President Blowback… read more:

Child workers producing 'Bengali black' leather exposed to cocktail of toxic chemicals

Children as young as eight, working in the tanneries of Bangladesh producing leather that is in demand across Europe and the USA, are exposed to toxic chemical cocktails that are likely to shorten their lives, according to a new report. 

Approximately 90% of those who live and work in the overcrowded urban slums of Hazaribagh and Kamrangirchar, where hazardous chemicals are discharged into the air, streets and river, die before they reach 50, according to the World Health Organisation. Their plight spurred the volunteer doctors of Médicines Sans Frontières (MSF) to set up clinics in the area to diagnose and treat those who are the victims of their workplace. It is, says a paper published in BMJ Case Reports, “the first time they have intervened in an area for reasons other than natural disasters or war”.

MSF’s intervention was triggered by “the widespread industrial negligence and apathy of owners of tanneries and other hazardous material factories” towards the more than 600,000 largely migrant population who have no access to government-funded healthcare. MSF set up and ran four main clinics for 5,000 workers in 2015, located in the centre of communities involved in four different manufacturing processes at factories for tanning, plastics recycling, garment-making and metals.

The hazards of the 250 or so tanneries in Hazaribagh – which are 30 to 35 years old and discharge 6,000 cubic metres of toxic effluent and 10 tonnes of solid waste every day – are best known. In 2012, Human Rights Watch produced a report called “Toxic Tanneries” which revealed the flouting of Bangladesh’s own laws as well as international law in the employment of children under 18 in work that is harmful or hazardous.

The factories douse animal skins in cauldrons of chemicals as part of the processing of “Bengali black” leather, which is exported to European leather goods manufacturers in Italy, Spain and elsewhere. “Apart from heavy metals like chromium, cadmium, lead and mercury, a conglomerate of chemicals are discharged by the tanneries into the environment,” says the paper. “Workers aged eight and older are soaked to the skin, breathing the fumes for most of the day and eat and live in these surroundings throughout the year. Personal protective equipment [is] not provided.”

Child workers clad in no more than loin cloths and wellington boots are exposed to chemicals including formaldehyde, hydrogen sulphide and sulphuric acid, write Venkiteswaran Muralidhar, associate professor at the Sri Balaji Medical college in Chennai, and colleagues.

The other factories– for plastics recycling, garments and metals – are in Kamrangirchar, an urban slum which is not officially part of Dhaka city. “In these, there are complex risk hazards from cotton dust, heavy metals and chemicals like mercury, phthalates, acids and dioxins and ergonomic hazards,” says the paper. Chronic skin and lung diseases are common, say the authors. Within six months of the setting up of the clinics, 3,200 of the 5,000 eligible workers had come forward for at least one consultation. Among them, 468 (14.6%) were diagnosed with suspected work-related diseases, and 30 (0.9%) had work-related injuries.

The figures do not reflect the overall harm to the population, however, said Muralidhar. Those who are severely injured by chemicals or accidents would not go to one of the clinics. “They will probably be taken by rickshaw to a hospital in Dhaka,” he told the Guardian. And the clinics were only open four days a week, during the daytime, and workers needed the owner’s permission to go for a consultation. He feels strongly that a hospital should be set up in the slum to help its people. “They are the most horrible conditions you can imagine,” he told the Guardian. “I work in this area. I have never seen anything as bad as this.”

Ritwik Agrawal: Don’t be surprised at Yogi Adityanath’s elevation

The elevation of Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most politically crucial state has unnerved political observers. Several journalists and political commentators, including eminent ones, appear to be shocked that the BJP leadership, which nowadays is a euphemism for the high command of PM Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, has brazenly appointed a known rabble-rouser like Adityanath to such a sensitive post. Their shock suggests that at least implicitly, they’ve bought into Modi’s “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas” (participation and development of all communities) propaganda. This is naiveté at best, and I for one am happy that the appointment of Adityanath might serve as a wake-up call to these commentators.

Make no mistake, pretty much the *only* reason why the BJP  has not implemented the full scale of its neoliberal + Hindutva agenda is because it has not been able to. Both during the previous BJP-led regime of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and during the current regime of Narendra Modi, progressive elements have retained control of crucial instruments of power, such as the Rajya Sabha, Supreme Court and critical state governments, therefore thwarting the BJP’s attempts to change the political economy of the country in a decisively right wing manner. There are numerous examples, but to take only a recent one – the excellent work by the united opposition to thwart the amendments to the land acquisition act, which were aimed at taking over farm land across the country and giving it at throwaway prices to crony capitalists both in the country and those based abroad. BJP’s inability to ever command a majority in the Rajya Sabha has meant that it has not been able to implement large parts of its cultural, educational and economic agenda.

This explains the keen-ness of the Modi-Shah combine to install, by hook or by crook, BJP governments in every state, including where it is not even the single largest party in the legislature, such as in Goa and Manipur. They are following a differentiated strategy to win as many states as possible, which involves poaching opposition leaders who will deliver a component of the electorate, which combined with BJP’s “catchment” hindutva vote (100% consolidated behind Modi and Adityanath sort of figures), will almost always deliver victory in a first past the post electoral system. To gain power in states, BJP is even willing to let go of ministerial posts (Manipur, Goa) because the larger ideological goal is clearly perceived by Modi-Shah.

This sense of purpose doesn’t come only from a desire to maximally extend their patronage network (although that is part of it) but from an ideological desire at total domination with a view to rewrite the political economic structure of the country. This needs to be clearly understood by all who are troubled with recent political events. Any action can only proceed from a clear understanding of the situation.

The BJP’s string of electoral successes since 2013 (state elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh), dampened only by the heavy defeats in Bihar and Delhi and to some extent in Bengal, mean that for the first time ever, the Sangh Parivar is close to exerting control over both houses of parliament, including a full majority in the Lok Sabha and a virtually sure-shot victory in the Presidential polls, due this year once Pranab Mukherji retires. The peril this poses to democracy and progressive values in India can hardly be overstated. India has entered the darkest phase in its continued survival as a broadly democratic and plural nation striving to march into modernity.

To re-emphasize, these values won’t survive if we, the citizens, blithely believe that pressure from the media or intellectuals (especially those based abroad) will prevent the Modi government from making wholesale changes to the economic and political structure of the country. Far more organized, tactically conscious and purposive resistance is the need of the hour, starting with opposition unity in the House and for future elections. But this unity needs to extend much beyond just electoral politics, involving a common minimum program outlining economic, educational and cultural policy, and smart marketing which will counter and defeat the sophisticated and all pervasive propaganda of the Sangh Parivar, particularly on social media like Whatsapp. None of this is exceedingly difficult once progressive elements decide to come together, and there are some pointers to be had from countries like France, where parties ranging from the communists to the socialists to the centrists have repeatedly come together on common platforms to keep the fascists from power.

The elevation of Adityanath has some troubling portents. And this is apart from his record at instigating communal hatred and rioting, and his long criminal record, which have received attention in the media once his name was announced as CM-designate. More troublingly by my lights, it signals BJP’s continued tactical nous under Modi and Shah. For the BJP, Adityanath is an excellent choice for the following reasons:

1. He’s a young and charismatic mass leader.

2. He’s from an “upper” caste but serves as the head of a body which has numerous “lower” caste devotees, and that combined with his Hindutva and ascetic image, makes his appeal cut across caste divides in UP’s fractured polity.

3. BJP’s crushing victory in UP automatically means that the Ram Mandir crowd would be emboldened, and by making Adityanath CM, the party has ensured that he would have to act with a certain minimal responsibility, which was not guaranteed with him out of power.

4. He’s known to have been be at odds with the RSS and BJP leadership in the past, due to his individualistic streak. The fact that Modi and Shah are willing to empower such individuals shows a certain ideological commitment as well as organizational strength and confidence.

5. Adityanath belongs to the Hindu Mahasabha tradition, which has been partly at odds with the RSS/BJP tradition in the politics of the Hindu Right. His elevation signals a growing confluence of these streams, and the RSS’ ability to co-opt various strands of the Hindu Right (including such apparently benign ones as demonstrated by Indian ‘techies’ based abroad) within its broader fold.

6. Notwithstanding (4) and (5), the move to make Adityanath CM provides Modi and Shah an escape hatch if the party doesn’t do as well in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in UP, if the opposition does unite and the electoral arithmetic doesn’t favour the BJP. The appointment of a quiet figure like telecom minister Manoj Sinha would’ve kept the responsibility of delivering UP in 2019 solely upon Modi, but now Adityanath will have to shoulder part of the burden (and the blame, should things not go well).

British banks handled vast sums of laundered Russian money

Britain’s high street banks processed nearly $740m from a vast money-laundering operation run by Russian criminals with links to the Russian government and the KGB, the Guardian can reveal.
HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Barclays and Coutts are among 17 banks based in the UK, or with branches here, that are facing questions over what they knew about the international scheme and why they did not turn away suspicious money transfers. 

Documents seen by the Guardian show that at least $20bn appears to have been moved out of Russia during a four-year period between 2010 and 2014. The true figure could be $80bn, detectives believe. One senior figure involved in the inquiry said the money from Russia was “obviously either stolen or with criminal origin”.

Investigators are still trying to identify some of the wealthy and politically influential Russians behind the operation, known as “the Global Laundromat”. They estimate a group of about 500 people were involved. These include oligarchs, Moscow bankers, and figures working for or connected to the FSB, the successor spy agency to the KGB. Igor Putin, the cousin of Russia’s president, Vladimir, sat on the board of a Moscow bank which held accounts involved in the fraud.

British-registered companies played a prominent role in this extensive money-laundering network. The real owners of most of the firms used in the scheme remain secret, however, because of the anonymity provided by controversial offshore laws.

The Global Laundromat banking records were obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Novaya Gazeta from sources who wish to remain anonymous. OCCRP shared the data with the Guardian and media partners in 32 countries. The documents include details of about 70,000 banking transactions, including 1,920 that went through UK banks and 373 via US banks… read more:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Coimbatore: Rationalist murdered for his atheism - Farooq administered a WhatsApp group with rationalistic views who regularly debunk religion

A 30-year old realtor surrendered to a Coimbatore judicial magistrate on Friday March 17 evening in connection with the murder of a member of Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam. Podanur Sriram Nagar resident M Arshad claimed responsibility for the murder of the man known for voicing rationalist opinions, reported The Hindu. H Farook, 31, was found dead near the Coimbatore Corporation’s sewage farm on Thursday night.

The police told The Times of India that a gang of four people had hacked Farook to death for his atheist views. “Farook’s anti-Muslim sentiments had angered people. This may be a possible motive for murder,” Coimbatore Deputy Commissioner of Police S Saravanan told the daily. The incident took place around 11 pm on Thursday when Farook had received a phone call and left his home on his two-wheeler. The gang then waylaid him and attempted to stab him, reported The New Indian Express. When Farook tried to escape, the men caught him and stabbed him in his stomach. Farook had deep cuts on his neck also.

A scrap iron merchant from Bilal Estate in south Ukkadam, Farook was known for the rationalist opinions that he voiced on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook. The police are now going through his social media posts. City Police Commissioner A Amalraj has formed a special team including Inspectors Rajesh, Jothi, Sri Ramachandran and Deivendran to invesigate the murder.

Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam leader Kolathur TS Mani, Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam leader Ku Ramakrishnan and a few others paid homage to Farook. He is survived by his wife and two children.

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Prasenjit Duara on the Role of Chinese Religion in Environmental Protection

Prasenjit Duara is one of the most original thinkers on culture and religion in Asia. A 66-year-old historian of China, he was born in Assam and educated at Delhi, Chicago and Harvard. He later taught at Chicago, Stanford and Singapore and now teaches at Duke. Professor Duara began his career with a pioneering study of Chinese religion: “Culture, Power, and the State: Rural North China, 1900-1942.” This work, published in 1988, helped redefine how many people thought of Chinese religion, showing it to be one of the most powerful forces in traditional Chinese society. His subsequent books reflect a broadening of interests to include topics such as nationalism and imperialism. His latest work, “The Crisis of Global Modernity: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future,” brings many of these strands together, along with issues such as climate change.

In a recent interview in Beijing, Professor Duara discussed Buddhist environmentalism, what aspect of religion most alarms the Chinese government and the South Manchuria Railway Company.

Most people would have no problem accepting the first two premises of your new book: that we have an environmental crisis and that it is due to recklessly fast economic growth. But more counterintuitive is your argument that there’s a solution beyond nongovernmental organizations and international frameworks like the United Nations. You think faith has a role, too. 
We need the NGOs and the U.N., and we also need bioengineering and market mechanisms. But one of the most important factors that has emerged in the past 10 or 20 years — slowly, but catching on — is that the most effective communities are in some ways the most traditional, too. They have integrated ideas about nature and community that are faith-based. In Taiwan, for example, I’ve been very interested in “fojiao huanbao” — Buddhist environmentalism. I was there this summer, and there are large-scale Buddhist groups that have taken to saving the environment.

Can this apply to China, too? Can the return to traditions help motivate people?
China is more difficult in some ways. But there are efforts at Taoist environmentalism, like at Maoshan [a sacred mountain in Jiangsu Province]. They depict Laozi as a green god. Some villagers seek to protect their local ecology through revived temple communities.

One of your strengths is your ability to cross borders and describe the situation in East, South and Southeast Asia. I was struck by your new book’s cover. What does it show?
The painted faces are of people who live in the Prey Lang forest in Cambodia. The forest faces destruction by massive logging. These people hold demonstrations, painting themselves and staging ritual dramas using traditional ideas of avatars as well as from the movie “Avatar” to publicize their cause. They have organized surveillance systems of the forest and links to NGOs.

And in India?
It is a little more hopeful because it is a functioning democracy. While India has a hierarchical society, democracy is good for allowing differences. You had movements like the Chipko women tree-hugging movement of the early 1970s. This then bloomed into a huge environmental movement.
But India now faces the problem of the strong man that we have in other states with the rise of leaders like [Russian President Vladimir V.] Putin and [Chinese President] Xi Jinping. It’s interesting what they’re going after: environmental movements. They are banning foreign NGOs and closing these groups down.

Your contention is that local faiths inspire some of these movements. When I look at China, I wonder how much of faith is about social goals. Much of it seems to be only about personal salvation.
In fact, it’s the social element of religion that most scares the Chinese government. Although it starts with personal salvation, it’s about social relationships. Religions in China have been the basis of social communities — temple-centered communities. The state has tried but hasn’t been able to prevent groups that challenge injustice. The Chinese state sees the social organizational impact of religion much more clearly than any other state.

You make this case forcefully in your first book on religion in north China. Until it came out in 1988, most researchers believed that Chinese villages were primarily linked by market days and economic ties. But you coined the term “cultural nexus of power” to describe how villages were linked by something else: religion and culture.
I intended to write a book on revolution in north China. Instead I stumbled on how religion held society together. My research showed a network between people and villages linked by temple fairs and rituals that brought people into contact with each other. This was the beginning of my interest in this topic.

I was always interested in your sources for this work. In the bibliography to this work you primarily cite archives of the South Manchuria Railway Company, a Japanese colonial organization. What was it doing looking at Chinese religion?
Bottom of Form
It was as much of a railway company as the British East India Company was a shipping company. The South Manchuria Railway Company — Mantetsu — was a vast colonial enterprise spread across the Japanese Empire with a research wing staffed by many people who fled Japan during the rise of the militarists and wanted to do something for China. They employed researchers to survey this new territory. It was the biggest modern research organization in the world at the time. I also used the archives in Tokyo for a year.

You also coined another important term in understanding Chinese folk religion: “redemptive societies.” In the West, people often use the term “secret societies” for these groups.
They had millions of members, so they were hardly secret. Instead, I thought it better to find a term that describes what they were doing. They were trying to save Chinese society in the early part of the 20th century. Some people said “redemptive” sounded too Christian, but Buddhism has this idea, too.

This brings up an important idea in your current work: the idea of “transcendence.” You argue that religions try to effect more than personal salvation. They try to save the world as well.
The idea originated with Karl Jaspers’s theory of the Axial Age, which refers to the rise of key religions or thinkers among Jews, Hindus, Chinese and Greeks in the sixth century B.C. Before that, religion was mainly based on worldly exchanges with ancestors or gods. They might be apart from the physical world, but they played a role in your everyday life: I will sacrifice, so you will give me a son, or I’ll say this prayer 1,000 times and you give me a first class in the exam.

The transcendent idea says there’s something beyond that in another realm. It might not help you immediately in the here and now, but it gives you moral authority to do what is right. This was a time when big states and empires were forming and you needed a view that is larger than your own community. Transcendence is an idea of something beyond the here and now.

This idea spread around the world, but in Asia you see a unique development. You use the adjective “dialogical” to describe it. What does this mean?
It refers to the idea of a dialogue. It is the idea that you can accept other notions of how to achieve that transcendental state. So there are transcendental ideas, but not just one path to get there.

So it is more inclusive.
Yes. The problem with the Abrahamic faiths is they come to be formed like nation-states: us versus them. We believe this, they believe that. We have to convert them. It doesn’t easily allow for a dialogue. Of course, some have moved away from this, but under certain conditions, these ideas pushed the formation of the nation-state and colonialism. We celebrate the nation-state in large part because it is the engine of competitive capitalist success and modernity. As the nation gradually dropped the religious dimension, it also removed the barrier to the conquest of nature and global resources. It does not know where and how to stop. It’s bringing about the dystopia of modernity.

So you see traditional faiths in Asia as being more suitable for solving today’s problems?
The problem with the Abrahamic faiths is their idea of an absolute truth. Buddhism or these other pluralistic religions don’t have as much confidence in a substantive, transcendental truth, which comes with the idea of an absolute god. An absolute truth brings about reform movements that are very radical because they always want to get back to the pure and the true — such as in fundamentalist Islam, or early Protestantism. This leads to the idea of expanding your nation, or your prosperity, even if at the expense of others.

So is your contention that these faiths are important because Asia is a big part of the world, so we should look to them as appropriate for this part of the world? Or because they can provide alternative modes for the rest of the world?

I do tend to the idea that these concepts, be they in India or China, were dialogical. They repressed others, of course, but ultimately they didn’t have that doctrinaire dimension of excluding other truths. They linked ideas of personal cultivation with universal goals. To the extent they survive, they could be transported to other places.

China Seeks Tighter Grip in Wake of a Religious Revival OCT. 7, 2016