United Opposition Unsettled BJP

United Opposition, Unsettled BJP

If the manifest use of language is a social-psychological indicator of hidden tectonic shifts, civilization and culture, as much as compulsive Freudian slips, then, surely, things don’t seem to be going hunky dory for the muscle-flexing, cash-rich ruling party in the Centre. For one, its two unilateral supremos from Gujarat have not been seen smiling or happy since a long time now – their tense faces a give-away, a repetitive syndrome, especially in the poll rallies.

Obviously, the unprecedented multi-million electoral bond scam of organized extortions linked to raids by central agencies, and lucrative contracts in millions soon after to all kinds of companies, including sleazy business groups, often unknown with a pathetic front of its office (as that of a gaming company plus biggest doner to the BJP), has hit the party hard. It has hit them real hard in the face of a united opposition which held a massive rally in Delhi recently against the arrest of Arvind Kejriwal and Hemant Soren, two elected chief ministers. The crowd was spilling over outside the Ramlila Maidan, almost like the Mumbai finale rally of the Bharat Jodo Yatra Part II.

Besides, this crowd was extremely serious; they were not hired and brought on buses and trucks. They were real people, citizens of India, original dissenters, and they listened to the speeches with intent and concentration. Every top leader of all the parties in the alliance was there, with Derek ‘O Brein, ironically, seated between the two leaders of the two communist parties. And the speeches were first class, especially that of Tejeshwi Yadav and Rahul Gandhi.

The INDIA Bloc statement, significantly read by Priyanka Gandhi, had every sentence etched out in its articulation, and the audience heard her with rapt attention. This kind of audience is more likely to be a ‘change catalyst’ with a rapid multiplier effect, in contrast to those hired or brought in hordes with food and cash by political parties.

In UP, the BJP’s Pandora box of caste and communal politics, the Ram Mandir hyperbole has fizzled out like an artificially bloated balloon suddenly shrunk. Political observers believe that the loss here could be as many as 10 seats, with the quick alliance with RLD boomeranging badly. Recently, a tea party hosted by a BJP leader for RLD leaders and supporters in Western UP was reduced to a street bout with the BJP cadre getting thrashed very badly. Besides, farmers here are really angry with the BJP for all its failed promises, including on MSP.

Civil society groups in the state, as in other states, have started a campaign on EVMs, threatening to enter polling booths demanding proof in paper, of votes cast. A new survey by an unknown research outfit says, surprisingly, that BJP might not cross 170 this time. As if taking a cue, Rahul Gandhi has been talking in conjectures: for instance, he says, if the BJP gets 170, 160, 140, then what? He has also threatened severe action in the post-election scenario in case the BJP loses, saying that you can’t win elections through the terror mechanism of the agencies, by freezing Congress accounts with threats of huge tax arrears, and putting opposition leaders, including chief ministers in jail.

Ground reports point out that in the best case scenario the BJP might not cross 270, and that itself would be a big downer for the ‘great helmsman’, now being caricatured as Mr Paisa Wasool Bond, Mr Crook Bond, Mr 056 Bond (punning on 56 inches), and spoofing on 007 James Bond! If the hired BJP troll army is eternally hyper active, the counter-narrative in terms of videos, memes, caricatures, posters, songs, and spoofs, is also relentless and high-voltage.

Besides, now, clearly, the fight is for the soul of India – a corrupt and arrogant quasi-dictatorship verses the collective urge for democracy, secularism and a society without the terror of jail and raids, with jobs and justice! This kind of mass instinct surfaces and solidifies in rare moments of history, it accumulates through multiple layers of frustrations, angst and anger, and it does take a while. However, indications are that the underpinnings are sharp, a simmering rebellion seems to be brewing, and the South, Bengal, Punjab, and perhaps Bihar and Delhi, will show the way!

ALSO READ: Narendra Modi’s Southern Discomfort

Hence, here comes the use of language as a Freudian slip, if not a sign of obsession with absolute power, while strangely feeling suddenly cornered and pushed to the wall. In a reminder of the post-Pulwama phase before the 2019 polls, the PM raked up Pakistan yet again, and for no rhyme or reason, in what is our nation-state elections. He said in a rally in Jamui, Bihar, flanked by another obsessive power-hungry turn-coat, Nitish Kumar (who disclosed, ironically, that he would not go anywhere now!): “Aaj ka Bharat ghar mein ghus ke maarta hain.”

Now, apart from the routine terrorist activity across the line of control in Kashmir, where the government has botched up very badly, alienating the entire population, including in Jammu and Ladakh, Pakistan has done nothing to be so brazenly threatened by the PM of India, and that too with such crudity. Why beat up anyone, or our neighbours, indeed, in their own home, in the first instance, in an era of subtle and nuanced diplomacy?

Surely, heads of state are expected to speak the language of statesmanship. That is what is expected of them, isn’t it? They are role models for their own country, and the whole world is listening to them!  Besides, if there is only one leader who uses such crass language, he is Benjamin Netanyahu — perhaps, the most hated, condemned and isolated leader in the world in the current circumstances, and in his own country, Israel. Witness the massive protest rallies in Tel Aviv against Bibi!

The slip-of-the-tongue is a prophetic sign that the BJP is slipping, and on slippery ground. Pakistan hits the radar of the party every time it finds itself on a sticky wicket. The ‘China card’ is never used, because the ‘red eyes’ for the enemy turns blink-blink-blank when it comes to Chinese soldiers violating the buffer zone across the LoC in Ladakh. Now, even the Gandhian satyagraha has spread like wildfire in what was a totally sublime and peaceful Buddhist landscape, with women and youngsters joining the Sonam Wangchuk non-violent movement in large numbers. So much so, Leh, as per latest reports, is under a police siege, as the administration is out to foil a long ‘border march’ by the citizens of Ladakh.

Said Wangchuk on Twitter: “Leh is being turned into a war zone with disproportionate force, barricades, smoke grenades. Attempts to arrest peaceful youth leaders, even singers, continue. Seems they want to turn a most peaceful movement violent and then brand Ladakhis as anti-nationals… The government seems worried only about Ladakh’s effects on their votes and on mining lobbies… not the people here nor even national security.”

That tells a dark story of bad faith. On one end of the border, in the north-east, Manipur is still simmering with rage and sorrow. Women stripped in public by a blood-thirsty mob is a nightmare which comes back, like nightmares, like the murderous attacks and burning of villages, the scores of dead across the communities, in the valley and the forests; the unknown bodies, the mothers in mourning, the virtual civil war in a sensitive border state ruled by a partisan and unrepentant BJP chief minister.

Of course, the whole country knows that the PM did not visit Manipur even once, and almost always chose a tacit silence, for reasons only he knows. Language failed him on a ravaged Manipur, and he could not even blame it on Pakistan! Now, Ladakh is becoming restless. They too want justice, and they too are on a sensitive border region, walking a tight-rope, in a delicate situation, with China, literally, breathing down their neck. So, like Manipur and Kashmir, will they botch up Ladakh too, now under a siege? Immerse a pristine heaven of simple and gentle people into the ugly hell-fires of a tragic epic? Quite probably, yes!

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JNU Says My Name is Red

My Name is Red And I’m No Pushover

And if it were said of us that we’re almost romantics, that we are incorrigible idealists, that we think the impossible: then a thousand and one times we have to answer – ‘yes we are’
Che Guevara

Idealism, yet again, has won in JNU! Demonised, destablished, destroyed, degraded, demoralized, deconstructed, debunked and damaged, JNU, predictably, has yet again risen from the ashes of contemporary history, phoenix-like, a red star luminescent like hope shining, amidst the darkened skies blacked out by the perverse and putrid shadow of fascism.

In this beautiful, lush green landscape, where the wings of pure, eclectic desire and passion was always in synthesis with the imagined utopia of universal freedom, justice and equality, surely, the commune of Prussian-blue peacocks across the rocky Aravalli terrain of the Parthasarathy plateau and the open-air theatre — they too must be celebrating, joining the addictive slogan of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ — with the lovely choir and chorus of their lingering, echoing, sing-song, peacock calls. Theory, once again, has found radical catharsis in praxis.

It’s truly a festival of colours in JNU once again, after a prolonged period of what used to be routinely called in its simple, hand-made, cyclo-styled pamphlets of the past – a ‘graveyard of silence’.  Undoubtedly, it is ‘resurrection time’, and a sublime omen before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Elections happened in the hounded campus after four years – something unprecedented in its history. Those days it used to happen when the chilly nip in the air had just arrived, the campus would be full of lovely pre-winter flowers, and the greenish-white flowers in soft clusters of the tall Saptaparni trees would fill the atmospherics with a sublime sensuality which could drive both poets and philosophers mad!

Those days the elections would be called the ‘Great October Revolution’ – as an annual tribute to the Great Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the working class, the poorest, and the resilient people of Russia. The Election Commission (EC), as it is now, would be composed of students. No EVMs were ever used, and the EC was eternally non-partisan, unbiased, and provided an equal playing field to all the students’ organisations.

No outside political or extra-constitutional interference, and no vulgar exhibition of money or muscle power was allowed; all posters were hand-made by students, spaces in walls and public spaces were duly allotted to all contestants, public meetings were held peacefully at night in the hostel messes, campaigning would go on from morning till late night inside and outside classrooms, whereby the candidates would present their manifestos and arguments, no violence, unruly behaviour, abusive language or aggression was tolerated by all concerned, and the elections were conducted in the schools with great maturity, efficiency and discipline.

The counting day, which was always a nocturnal affair, marked the cathartic finale of this grand festival of democracy, when students in multiple groups would celebrate the entire night with drums, songs, slogans and collective bonhomie. Once over, the winners would take out a victory procession across the girls and boys’ hostels, shouting slogans, singing songs, making the campus resonant with a pronounced youthful fervour. The opponents and losers were all treated with dignity and respect, and differences were swallowed by all in a democratic spirit, albeit, sometimes, with a big pinch of salt!

The United Left has given a decisive drubbing to the ABVP in JNU this time, thereby sending a clear signal to the sleazeball Electoral Bonds party, flush with multi-million scam money, that ‘achche din’ finally seems to be coming in India, after the dingy days of prolonged darkness at noon. JNU might be a small campus, and just about 5,500 students voted in what was a 73 per cent turn-out, but the signals sent from there to the country, especially to students and young voters, is strong and optimistic. Indeed, with their mighty messiahs and fake guarantees, the students’ wing of the BJP, as always, lost badly.

Earlier, they had allegedly created an aggressive ruckus inside the campus, their trademark style repeatedly witnessed in Delhi University in the past, especially when they choose to violently disrupt an academic seminar, or a film show organized by students and faculty. There is a certain pattern to this predictable lumpenism which marks their compulsive behaviour! In a typical response, a massive, non-violent ‘mashaal jaloos’ was taken inside JNU by students, led by the Left.

ALSO READ: JNU Is Not Going To Crawl Or Bend

Pray, hold your own seminar and film show! Show all the Vivek Agnihotri, Anupam Kher and Kangana Ranaut films to your heart’s desire! Why do violence when an intellectually stimulating seminar or public meeting is being conducted peacefully, with a Q and A session, or a meaningful classic is being screened? If anything, go, ask one hundred questions – what stops them?

It is not a dark irony of history that they flourish and flex their muscles only when they have their party in power. Ask them to make sacrifices, face police barricades, take up burning causes of injustice or social suffering, and they will disappear into the blue.

JNU still remembers how ABVP goons, under the tacit protection of the cops, went berserk with iron rods etc., attacking hostels, teachers and students, and smashing the head of the then JNU Students’ Union president, Aishee Ghosh, her face splattered with blood. Not one of these goons were punished by their mentors in the ruling regime. And when Deepika Padukone came to a peaceful rally in the campus, and stood in silence in solidarity, she was relentlessly hounded by the stooge media.

Earlier, the onslaught started when Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and Kanhaiya were arrested with not an iota of evidence. There was organized propaganda that this prestigious academic institution, with its students spread across the Indian and international kaleidoscope (including inside the central BJP cabinet of ministers), was a den of ‘anti-national’ activities. So much so, this demonization campaign was conducted with the brazen objective to destroy its essence and liberating character, with another stooge vice-chancellor at the helm, who left no stone unturned to destroy JNU.

And, yet, JNU has repeatedly shown that it is a shining landmark in the firmament of higher education, and the students have proved this, again and again. Thousands of youngsters continued to sit for its entrance exams despite the negative propaganda. The library is an every-day intellectual refuge for its students, sometimes till past midnight, and the canteen and rocks, its heady locations of friendship, the adventure of ideas, and creative arguments. Reading Pablo Neruda and Muktiboth outside Ganga Dhaba under the lamp-post, or debating about global politics, or the Tiananmen Square massacre of June, 1989 in Beijing, the doors of enlightenment have always had open-ended windows.

The cause of Dalits, adivasis, minorities, the poor, women’s rights, and injustice across the world, from Gaza to Ukraine, would find its resonance in JNU. Indeed, we all danced in many circles at the India Gate, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison after a long condemnation of three decades, in apartheid South Africa.

The United Left victory, therefore, is more than a signal in the current scenario of quasi-dictatorship in India. Two elected chief ministers have been put in prison. One is a tribal leader, and the other a middle-class hero across the country, who has done a lot for the poor, especially by turning government schools into fabulous symbols of modern enlightenment, among other social welfare measures. Congress funds have been frozen, once again, an unprecedented move against the main opposition party! Mamata Bannerjee’s party is facing daily raids by the agencies, latest being Mohua Moitra, who took on the PM and Adani in Parliament.

Brilliant scholars, including Umar Khalid, are languishing in prison, for protesting peacefully against the communal and anti-constitutional CAA. The Election Commission (selected by a ruling party majority) and EVMs are under a shadow of doubt. The mainstream media is shamelessly toeing the establishment line.

In this bleak scenario, the slogans reverberating in JNU, and becoming viral in the social media, with young, passionate faces refusing to succumb, marks a happy departure from the tragic twilight zone that stalks India. Surely, if idealism can win in JNU, why not then, in the rest of this beautiful and vast country?

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Scams & Spectacles – Chronology Samajhiye

Scams & Spectacles – Aap Chronology Samajhiye!

Things are really not working as per the pre-determined script the two-man leadership of the BJP had master-minded, along with the RSS, on how to ride the jolly good ride once again to absolute victory in the coming 2024 Lok Sabha polls. From ‘Modi hai to mumkin hain’, the slogan in 2019, to ‘Abki baar, 400 paar’, seems to have got stuck in a filthy quagmire – and they can’t even blame the opposition for it. Indeed, it only reminds a shocked nation, especially seasoned journalists who understand the ‘system’, that, even then, an absolute majority seemed ‘namumkin’ for Modi – that is, until Pulwama happened!

The tragic, sudden and shocking death of 40 CRPF soldiers travelling in a convoy on February 14, 2019, on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, in a village near Pulwama, is still simmering deep inside the conscience and consciousness of India. The tears in the eyes of the family members have still not dried.

The attack happened moments after 3 pm in the afternoon. Anyway, there are too many uncanny and unresolved questions about the attack and how such a huge quantity of explosives was being carried in a vehicle by a lone man in an extremely high security and volatile area, and that too in what is perceived to be a ‘conflict zone’. Those questions can only be resolved after a ‘fair and free’ enquiry, which is simply inconceivable in the current circumstances.

The revelations by former Kashmir governor, Satyapal Malik, however, has been terribly disturbing, and his version has been quoted widely in the media. In all probability, his version might be correct, though a proper enquiry alone can only substantiate the final sequence of events, and the instructions allegedly given to him by the PM himself after hearing the news.

Well, during the attack, or before it, the PM was in yet another ‘PR mode’, shooting for an adventure series called ‘Man vs Wild’, dressed in safari jungle jacket, at the Jim Corbett National Park.

Since then, much turbulent waters have flowed down the bridge. Come to think of it, the BJP, riding high on its well-oiled, cash-rich electoral machine, backed by an organized RSS cadre with deep pockets, and, largely, a stooge media, is in a worse situation now then what it was in — before the Pulwama tragedy. The Ram Mandir ‘Pran Pratishtha’ hyperbole, as a deliberate Hindutva card, with blanket media coverage day in, day out, seems to have vanished into the blue, and even the saffron flags atop homes and vehicles have all but disappeared. The brazen push to make the secular Indian State turn into a quasi-Hindutva apparatus, with the PM leading the rituals in Ayodhya, apart from temple-hopping across the country, seems to have found a sudden road-block.

Indeed, he was last seen in the sea-waters somewhere on the coast of Gujarat, scuba-diving perhaps, praying to the mythical watery city of Krishna, wearing, as trolls claimed, a space-helmet – “so that his face is visible, while praying, underwater”. That is, yet another glorious adventure-spectacle, mixed with a heavy dose of religion, plus, a spectacular photo shoot.

The only other leader known to do such grand, narcissistic ‘spectacles’, often oozing with bare-bodied machismo, is Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, perhaps on steroids; he has predictably won a landslide for the umpteenth time recently, with no opposition party pitched against him in a one-man show, while his most formidable opponent and famous dissenter, Alexei Navalny, just about 47, seems to have been murdered in cold-blood, in a cold prison, somewhere in the icy wilderness far away from Moscow.

Thankfully, India still seems to be a quasi-democracy, with a firm belief in the secular Constitution drafted by Dr BR Ambedkar, culturally pluralist in its deepest essence, still clutching onto the sacred doctrines of freedom and equality in its heart and soul. The second Bharat Jodo Yatra by Rahul Gandhi has been a stupendous success, the India bloc has stitched-up a strategic alliance, the South, Bengal and Punjab are refusing to accept the BJP or Hindutva, and the Supreme Court has finally delivered a great, historic order of justice in an overwhelming atmosphere where injustice seems to be the order of the day. Inevitably, this paradigm shift has plunged the fake messiah and his fanatic followers into a quagmire of doom and despair.

The electoral bonds scam has exposed an organized, unimaginably gigantic, shadowy and sinister operation, putting the most efficient and ruthless mafiosi into shame, in what appears to be a multi-million, multi-mega scam, unprecedented in the history of any living democracy in the world. ED raids are thereby directly linked to patronage to sleazy enterprises, lucrative deals and huge donations to the BJP, whereby, sometimes, companies with a pitiable financial corpus are seen to be donating massive sums running into many crores to the party, using these bonds. This has created the speculation that some of them might be camouflaged as ‘proxies’ for big industrialists; or, some big business empires might simply be wanting a quid-pro-quo in terms of yet another multi-million cash-cow project, including, perhaps, stakes in a public sector company, like airports, mining and ports.

Hence, now, the slogan, ‘Na khaunga, na khane doonga’, seems as hollow, and bereft of ethical values, as most slogans coined by the PM.

ALSO READ: The Tunnel To Himalayan Disaster

Remember a man named Wakeel Hasan. He is one of the rat-miners who staked their lives and squeezed inside the rat-hole, the death-trap of the Silkyara tunnel, in November last year and saved the lives of the 41 trapped workers inside for 16 days. This, after the best of national and foreign technology interventions and disaster management applications failed to succeed. It became 24×7 prime-time news.

After the rescue operations, the PM had a ‘live’ chat show with the rat-miners. Later, reportedly, they were not even given alternative jobs or a financial package as reward – and thereby were left to their fate to rot as rat-miners for the rest of the lives. To add salt to their simmering wounds, Wakeel Hasan’s humble home was demolished by the DDA recently in Delhi. Surely, the meaning of gratitude is different for different people!

Besides, in a dark irony, Navayuga Engineering Company Private Limited — the company that built the Silkyara Tunnel in Uttarkashi which collapsed on 12 November, 2023 — had reportedly bought bonds worth Rs 55 crore. Reports claim that they had bought 30 bonds worth Rs 1 crore each on April 18, 2019, shortly before the Lok Sabha Elections in 2019. In mid-2020, the Andhra-based firm was granted the controversial Rishikesh-Karnaprayag rail link project, apart from other projects.

Controversial, because, like the ‘Char Dham’ project of the PM, which has led to massive cutting down of trees, huge soil erosion and the fear of multiple-landslides in the fragile Himalayan ecology of Uttarakhand, the rail-link project was opposed by environmentalists as another recipe for an impending ecological disaster, after the watery sinking of Joshimath. Besides, reportedly, on October 26, 2018, income tax officials had swooped down on its offices, accusing it of violating income tax rules and laundering money.

As the joke goes on and on in social media: ‘Aap chronology samjhiye – please’! Surely, as another cliché does the rounds: ‘Modiji hain, to sab mumkin hain’!

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Life Must Go on In Hills

Where Life Must Go on, Like a Stream in the Hills

This fear is tangible, though the mountain sunshine has spread like mountain sunshine — sharp, soothing, serene and sensuous. It’s as tangible as the rustling of the leaves, the falling of the branches, and the lingering sound of thick, animate, forest shadows. It’s a feeling you can touch, like the sound of the rippling mountain stream down below, day and night, a romantic melody during the day, a loud lullaby in the dark, stark, silence of the night. However, these days, fear stalks a small, brave, beautiful, good-hearted, hardworking village in the Himalayan foothills — but life goes on. Life must go on.

Three dogs killed or taken by leopards in just about one year. It’s called baghera in these dense forest villages in the hills. Like everywhere, be in the suburbs of Mumbai, or the small towns of Tehri Garhwal, they stalk human civilization as predators looking for easy food. Dogs have been their eternal prey, in case they can’t get hold of a goat or sheep. This is because the mountain dogs are free creatures, they roam around in the lanes and by-lanes of the villages and the forests, and they chase the monkeys and pigs which arrive like monsters to ravage the crops. Hence, like alarm calls of the barking deer which warns of a tiger in the core area of national parks, the monkeys arrive here with the baghera in the shadows of the green undergrowth – waiting for the dogs. 

There are villages in Garhwal, surrounded by huge water bodies due to the big dam, and endless expanse of forests – a direct consequence of the Chipko movement – where there are no dogs, not even one! The last one has been picked up by a leopard, hence, the village folks are compelled not to keep pets. The forests surrounding the villages are full of leopards, and, thankfully, a flourishing prey base – but dogs are the first and final casualty.

You can talk to a stoic and calm Garhwali who lives on the edge of a hill facing vast tracts of valley and forest. He would say, nonchalantly, “This morning, a couple of leopards were sitting in our verandah. So my wife and I could not come out of the house. Look here, they were sitting right under this galgal (huge yellow fruits belonging to the orange family) tree under the sun. One of them lives near that temple below. Two others come down from the hills, near one of the streams, at the bend of the road. Another couple seems to have made my house and the surrounding area its home. They simply refuse to move. On Diwali night, I started early from work on my scooty. But I had to wait a long time, all alone in the dark at a distance from my house, because this couple simply refused to move.”

And, yet, it is peaceful-coexistence here, as it is in all forests where indigenous communities, including adivasis, have lived for centuries, sharing time, space, geography and habitat with wild animals. No human has been harmed — mostly. And a 90-year old sturdy mountain woman, armed with nothing but a tall lathi, wooden staff, can take her flock of sheep or goats all alone in the thick of the forest with not an iota of fear in her heart.

However, the death and disappearance of three loving dogs is a simmering tragedy in this little village with less than ten houses, where little girls go to schools in the neighbourhood, sometimes crossing the forest. Others walk long distance to the nearest town through the zigzag of the forest. Another man runs an aata chakki propelled by a small and strong waterfall in the heart of the forest.

The line between home and the forest is thick. So, a wall has been built now by a family, because their main door would open into the street and the forest, and their two little daughters should be safe. People are shutting their doors early in the evening, not venturing to come out after the dark, guarding their children and animals with extra care and protection. A woman heard the leopard three nights ago in the vicinity of her open-to-sky courtyard. Someone saw its paws at the river bed. Two little shops in one corner still choose to be open till late after evening, their lights twinkling in the cold darkness of night, their soft whispers heard from a long distance. The predator is around.

In the night, sometimes, the forest wind blows with a theatrical flourish, full of song and drama. It’s like the Bengali jatra enacted as theatre during Kalboishaki in Bengal, when there is great thunder and lightning, and the air is thick with the erotic aroma of moist earth and nature, but rain refuses to arrive! Here, in the expanse of the Himalayas, where meadows move into woods, and woods into shadowy, hidden secrets, you can actually touch the sound of the wind; sometimes, it acquires such intense ferocity that it seems apocalyptic! It will blow your mind!

The trees swing and move and sway, as if stricken by infinite longing, intoxicated with unrequited and unfulfilled passion, and the vermillion sky in the blue horizon, soaked with anticipated rain, suddenly becomes luminescent, as if bending down to embrace the wind. It’s like a drunk sea tide riding high on a full moon night, wanting to touch the moon.

Then rain arrives — magical. And there is no understatement about it. In torrential madness, like gigantic waterfalls on the way to Gaumukh, the orgin of Ganga, the mountain river still young, primordial, pulsating, and sensational. This rain is different here from the equally dramatic rain which falls eternally during the monsoon in Kerala; like in the town of Macondo, with all doors painted blue, in the magic realism epical, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

ALSO READ: Breaking Bread With Tribal, Around A Sublime Fire

The Himalayan rains carry the transparent fragrance of bark, leaves, petals, fragile rocks, fungus, rotting plants and leaves, ancient trees and roots, thick foliage and strange substances, and earth, which anchors and holds all together. On the tin shed, on ledges, across the fences, in the mustard flower fields, the rain lashes like an incredible Santana drum orchestra in ‘Woodstock’. The sound reaches a crescendo, subsides, and moves, yet again, in high pitch, to and fro, like a trained classical musician playing with traditional, primitive drums. Inside mud, wood and stone homes, therefore, warm and cosy, everyone huddles together to hear a folk tale over a cup of hot tea, or sit around the kitchen fire to have a simple, hot, pahari meal.

And sleep arrives like a childhood dream, full of candy flowers, ghost stories, forgotten songs and poetry, and the smell of old cotton clothes, still, perhaps, hiding a faint memory of lavender. A familiar, loved memory. A soft, sensuous longing. A lingering, hidden, angst. A joyful moment of rapture.

In the morning, the mountain sunshine arrives like mountain sunshine. The mountain stream is rippling in its eternal journey through civilization. The villagers are collecting grass and wood, tending to their cattle, nourishing their vegetables in the garden and the crops in the fields. The kids with their rosy cheeks are going to school with their backpacks. And the dogs are out there, free and happy as ever, running here and there, looking at you with their soulful eyes, waiting for the monkeys to arrive.

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No Bharat Ratnas For Farmers

No Bharat Ratnas For Farmers!

At the Shambhu border, one farmer shouts out loud on the microphone: “The wait is over, here it comes. Get it man. Get it.”

Two kites are flying high. One quickly does a rapid gota; in kite-language it means a fast, sharp and swift spiral downwards, which only a rare and expert patangbaaj, trained to fly kites in the gullies and terraces of small towns and village mohallas, would know. The kite dips like a rocket and there is a huge cry of joy: “Got it.”

The drone has been trapped by the kite. Earlier, the drones were dropping tear gas like bombs, a first in Indian history.

This is not a fly-in-the-sky game. This is a virtually a war waged by the Indian State against thousands of peaceful and unarmed farmers protesting for a just Minimum Support Price (MSP), a long-standing demand in a market dominated by capitalist sharks aligned to the ruling regime in Delhi.

Last we heard about drones was in Gaza. Certain journalists, ordinary folks, mothers and kids, they were targeted and murdered by Israeli drones. While India, under this current regime, whose PM has publicly displayed his bonding and bonhomie with Benjamin Netanyahu, is one of the largest importers of arms from Israel, the use of drones against the civilian population is a first in India. Earlier, all US presidents, including Barack Obama, have used drones to target ‘terrorists’ in Afghanistan and the Middle-East, with scores of civilians also murdered as ‘collateral damage’ – a normal war-tactics for the Americans, now done at a mass scale by its close ally, Israel, with American guns and bombs.

Not only drones, as during the great and glorious struggle of the farmers in 2021, through rain, sunshine, freezing cold and a scorching summer, for months, the farmers had braved tear gas, lathi-charges, water cannons, armoured barricades, and huge metallic nails, cement barricades, and multiple blockades during the protracted peaceful struggle against the farm bills. These are the same tactics once again being employed at the Delhi border. Now, they are reportedly using pellets as well, used repeatedly and ruthlessly in Kashmir earlier. Three farmers have lost their vision, according to reports.

The notorious farm bills were widely seen as another brazen ploy by the PM to privatise agriculture and vast tracts of fertile land owned by the farmers into a cash-rich fiefdom for certain crony capitalist buddies, namely from Gujarat. Finally, they lost the battle. The bills were repealed – but the promises were not kept.

Significantly, the farmers are demanding, since long, that the MS Swaminathan Committee report on MSP should be implemented. The ruling regime has continuously back-tracked on this crucial issue which is at the core of the economic well-being of India’s hard working farmers. Why? And why is the PM so afraid to allow the farmers to peacefully protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi – which is their constitutional right?

One lakh crore was lost by the government in year 2021 due to tax concessions and corporate subsidies to industrialists. Ports, mining, forests, airports, etc, apart from huge multi-million projects, are being dished to out to certain favourite industrialists, thousands of crores have been spent on the Ram Mandir, the Sardar Patel statue in Gujarat, a particular stadium named after the PM in Ahmedabad, and the new Parliament building. So, why deny their economic rights to the annadatas, pending for so long?

In a season when it has been raining Bharat Ratnas, agricultural scientist and one of the founders of the botched-up Green Revolution in north India, Swaminathan was given the Bharat Ratna. The move has flopped miserably. His daughter, economist Madhura Swaminathan, has openly come out in support of the farmers proving that not all have sold their soul in ‘totalitarian’ India.

“The farmers of Punjab today are marching to Delhi. I believe, according to newspaper reports, there are jails being prepared for them in Haryana, there are barricades. All kinds of things are being done to prevent them (from entering Delhi). These are farmers; they are not criminals,” she said at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute in an event to mark the Bharat Ratna for her father.

“I request all of you, the leading scientists of India… (we) have to talk to our farmers. We cannot treat them as criminals. They are our annadatas. You have to find some solutions. I request, if you have to honour MS Swaminathan, we have to take the farmers with us with whatever strategy that we are planning for their future,” she said.

ALSO READ: Why Are Indian Farmers Protesting Again?

Narasimha Rao, former Congress PM, unleashed crony capitalism, liberalization, structural adjustment, and the sell-out to West-dominated global financial agencies like the IMF and WTO, with Manmohan Singh as finance minister. He also played blind and deaf while the Babri Masjid was being demolished by the foot-soldiers of LK Advani, while the current PM, then a RSS pracharak, was at Advani’s side. December 6 was then called a ‘black day’ by an outraged nation and the entire media, even by those who have now been running non-stop eulogies on TV and print media on the grand ‘pran pratishtha’ ceremony at Ayodhya.

Now, even Rao has got the highest official award in the land which is an open admission of his complicity in the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya, while being a lackey of Western-global predator capitalism in India. Unabashed loyalty to billionaire businessmen, and the polarizing Hindutva card unleashed, mixed with a dose of fake ‘social justice’ for the backwards – this is the triple whammy which the ruling regime thinks would result in total victory in the Lok Sabha polls of 2024.

However, even the most cunningly crafted script can turn sour. The award to Chaudhry Charan Singh seemed to have pushed his grandson to suddenly start glorifying the PM, with the possibility of him joining the NDA alliance. The last farmers’ struggle had unified the Muslims and Jat kisans in western UP once again, after they were communally polarized by poisonous social engineering before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Har Har Mahadev and Allah-o-Akbar became united slogans of the farmers during the movement.

The same farmers are holding a mahapanchayat and might join forces at the Shambhu border. The farmer struggle has decisively spilled into Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh – a bad omen for the PM weeks before the parliamentary polls. Western UP was never a Hindutva stronghold. Hence, the award given to Charan Singh to appease the jat farmers seems to have failed its purpose.

Indeed, there have been indications that despite the hype and hyperbole on the Ram Mandir in the Hindi heartland, it’s not really becoming a win-win trump card among a wider audience. More so, the Supreme Court judgment on electoral bonds, has come as a shock to the PM and his party. All the big money names would be soon displayed on the Election Commission website. The freezing and de-freezing of Congress accounts, yet again unprecedented in the history of Indian democracy, was therefore a desperate move to divert attention. It boomeranged.

Clearly, it is not all hunky dory for Modi and his men in the days to come. There have been huge protests against the EVMs in Delhi, largely unreported in mainstream media. With thousands of civil society groups and people’s movements working on the ground, the vengeful ED raids and hounding of Opposition leaders creating widespread discontent and anger, and the stupendous response to Rahul Gandhi’s yatra, the Hindutva kite which was flying high after its victory in three cow-belt states, seems to be losing steam.

However, it is a fact that the poison of hate has spread deep in the social fabric, especially in many parts of north India, while Uttarakhand has become the latest hate lab. As the polls come closer, a tense undercurrent floats in the in the air. Pulwama is remembered yet again. The tragedy is still simmering. The tears in the eyes of the families have not dried up.

As the old jungle saying goes: when it comes to the insatiable lust for power, anything can happen. Indeed, will India remain a secular and pluralist democracy after the 2024 polls? We keep our fingers crossed.

The West Is Blind To The Rest

The West Is Blind To The Rest

The global fault-lines, which have been ripped open after the ongoing genocide in Gaza, has been unparalleled in world history, especially in the recent past. For instance, western opinion and active participation consequent to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including the order of the International Court of Justice in Hague on Russia, has had no impact on Vladimir Putin.

The mindless war continues with thousands dead across both sides, many of them with shared families, cultures and memories, who fought the Nazis together during and after the Holocaust, and made massive sacrifices. More than 20 million people of Soviet Russia died fighting the fascists. Also, after the Russian invasion, if the heart of America, Britain, France and Germany beats so hard for Ukraine, whatever happened in Gaza?

Remember the ethnic-cleansing and repeated massacres of one community during the civil war in Serbia-Bosnia-Herzegovnia — this too was happening right inside the heart of Europe. It took the entire West months of deadpan detachment to act, before NATO unleashed its jet aircraft and bombs. Slobodan Milosevic, the Butcher of Serbia — was he punished in his lifetime? Many of these butchers were, ironically, former communists in Yugoslavia.

Come to think of it, till the time Adolf Hitler attacked Poland in 1939, America and Europe acted totally blind to the long convoys of trains taking millions of Jews to the gas-death chambers, zigzagging through Europe. They simply chose to look the other way, even while France and Britain pretended to be helpless after the extermination of most of their young men in the first world war, another mindless war where the League of Nations was as impotent, as has been the role of the United Nations during the NATO wars unleashed in Iraq and Syria, the American invasion of tiny Vietnam earlier, while backing dictators of sundry banana republics in Latin America.

Did anyone ever say that George Bush was a war criminal for the tens of thousands of Iraqis dead whereby they did not find one weapon of mass destruction in this insatiable American quest of ‘blood for oil’? And that Bush too should have been hauled up in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Hague like Ratko Miladic, for the mass murders he unleashed in what was former Yugoslavia? Or Hillary Clinton, for unleashing a relentless wave of destruction in Syria and the bestiality unleashed in the murder of Gaddafi in Libya?

Imagine the mass suffering, as a civil war erupted in Iraq, with the war splitting over to Syria unleashed by Clinton and Barack Obama, with entire communities of Yazidi women taken as sex slaves by the ISIS. Who were the patrons of ISIS and where did they get their arms? The American regimes and its allies have their best interests in keeping the pot boiling in the Middle-East till the time oil exists in its vast underground, and till the time Israel can be used as a strategic military force by the US.

ALSO READ: Gaza – Where Tears Have Run Dry

The ICJ did not order Israel to stop its armed assaults – it has asked it to stop its genocidal actions, thereby recognizing that it is a genocide and that the situation in Gaza is catastrophic. While it may take years to give a final judgement, it has largely followed the nine “provisional measures” demanded by South Africa. It is significant that South Africa which suffered an apartheid regime backed by the US and Britain, is now fighting another apartheid regime, backed by the US and Britain!

The 17 judges in Hague ordered that Israel should do everything in its power to avoid killing Palestinians, causing them serious bodily or mental harm, creating unlivable living conditions in, or intentionally preventing Palestinian births, which is a pointer to scores of children being killed due to the bombing of hospitals, the murder of doctors and nurses, and stark absence of medical facilities.

Pointing at the crass declarations by politicians, including Israel’s president and defence minister, calling for the elimination of all Palestinians, including children and women, branding the people of Gaza as animals, etc, the court said that Israel should do more to “prevent and punish” public incitement to genocide. The court ordered “immediate and effective measures” to look into the humanitarian catastrophe.

Isreal can disobey the order, but it is morally bound to obey it, even as it its government is totally isolated across the entire globe, while there have been huge protests in Tel Aviv asking Benjamin Netanyahu to quit. Indeed, the Hague ruling is unprecedented because it has created a huge public perception against Israel across the globe, and serious moral dilemma for the US, Britain, Germany and France, who are openly backing the mass murder of children in Gaza, with Joe Biden actually funding the bombings with millions.

Called ‘Genocide Joe’ now, even by his Democrat supporters, especially the millennials, and hitting 80, there have been massive protests in America (300,000 in Washington DC) and in Europe (half-a-million in London) – as well as in other nations. Even the caucus rally in South Carolina by a thoroughly discredited Kamala Harris had Palestinian flags in the audience.

Indeed, Jewish Groups for Peace in America have been the most vociferous against Netanyahu’s brand of Zionism, whereby he is using mythical narratives to unleash the savagery. The role of notorious Jewish lobbies, including among big business and multinationals, have been dissected publicly by activists, academics and journalists, especially that of the shadowy America Israel Pubic Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Not only does this outfit have tremendous power over various American regimes, both Republicans and Democrats, with their huge money resources and powerful connections, they can shape the destiny of the presidential polls in America. There are allegations that they are pumping in huge money to get those candidates defeated who have opposed the regime in Tel Aviv.

It is indeed a bad faith choice for Americans now, between two very old and unprincipled men who have discarded all values of basic humanity and ethics, and who seem untouched by the 10,000 dead children, the daily violation of international laws, the bombing of churches, mosques, schools, university campuses, refugee camps, hospitals, the killings of more than 100 journalists. They stand totally committed to the ultra-orthodox, Rightwing, extremist Israeli regime, and its barbarism in Palestine.

For a capitalist empire with vast inequalities and thousands of homeless on its big city streets in this freezing cold, the collective guilt and anxiety for its relentless mass murders across the globe – from Vietnam to Gaza – is a psychological epidemic. That thousands have consistently protested across its cities, especially women and the young, only shows that a regime which feeds on barbarism has no democratic credibility, and is as inhuman as any other totalitarian or fascist regime.

With all credit to the West and Europe for its resurrection of arts, architecture, classical music, cinema, academics and culture in the post-war scenario, its governments are most often followers of the Hobbesean principle – they are short, nasty, brutish and barbaric. And that they care a damn for democracy, higher civilizational values, and basic human conduct.

Hence, this high moral ground with which the white empire looks down at the Orientals, has been yet again exposed with its total endorsement of the genocide in Gaza. Yet again, it has taken 25,000 human beings to die by Hiroshima-Nagasaki type of bombing, including 10,000 plus children, and infinite suffering and injustice, to show the cracked, blood-stained mirror to these western empires.

Indeed, it is the people of these countries, now on the streets in mourning and in protest for Gaza – they must show the way. It’s time the West and America discovers a radical paradigm shift in its politics, and creates a new counter-culture of humane civilizational evolution, defying the medieval cruelties of the present and the past. Or else, it would continue to be Eyeless in Gaza and other endless stories of stark silence and barbarism!

For more details visit us: https://lokmarg.com/

Rahul Yatra Reaches Dhanbad

A Glimmer of Hope For Secular India

While the prime minister hops from one temple to another, and much of the mainstream media has gone on a relentless frenzy about the Ram mandir in Ayodhya, there is no doubt that India is steadily moving towards becoming a theocratic State. That the incomplete temple is the trump card for the BJP in the 2024 polls, especially in the Hindi heartland, is now as clear as daylight. This is yet again evidence that performance and good governance will be pushed to the backdrop, yet again, while social polarization and Hindutva would be the magic wand that the well-oiled BJP-RSS electoral machinery, with deep pockets, will wave in this election year.

It is being projected that the Hindi belt is going through a kind of religious resurrection, propelled by the ruling party in the Centre, and the constitutional principle that the State should be non-partisan and neutral in terms of the religious affairs of citizens, which is essentially a matter of private choice, has been effectively dumped. And, thus, the sacred preamble of the secular Constitution of India, and the values and ideals of the freedom movement – in which the Sangh parivar did not participate, nor make any sacrifice – too, has been dumped into the trashcan of history.

The walls of Delhi and its open spaces, for instance, have been glorifying the pran pratishtha ceremony all over the place, markets and shopping centres have joined in, government holidays have been declared, tempos playing loud devotional music float inside residential areas, and committed RSS cadre have gone from door-to-door distributing little packets with rice, a photo of the temple, and asking people to light diyas in their homes and in mohalla/colony celebrations. Amidst this organized political mobilization in the garb of religion, the PM is temple-hopping or posing for solo photo shoots, even while it is obvious that he is followed by a battery of camerapersons, officials, media and armed commandos.

Forgotten is the fact that the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the bloody aftermath in the Hindi heartland, was universally described then by the media and the nation as a ‘Black Day’ in the history of our secular democracy. A dark shadow of doom and disbelief had descended over India. Scores of journalists were beaten up and robbed in Ayodhya, the preparations for the organized demolition was in full swing much before the eventful destruction, top BJP leaders and certain loyalist-journalists were openly seen celebrating, while the then Congress PM, Narasimha Rao, alleged to be a closet RSS-lackey, chose to look the other way.

In the current circumstances, therefore, the theocratic dimension has become so brazen, that calling India a secular democracy seems like a misnomer. Besides, the ideological division between the North (barring Punjab and Himachal Pradesh), and South and East India, seems starkly apparent, as always in the past. Bengal and South India have been steadfastly holding the secular flag, and the drubbing which the BJP got in Karnataka recently is a big pointer. Besides, what the world now thinks about the ‘largest democracy’ remains an open question.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra Part II is gradually gaining momentum, starting with the effort to heal the still simmering wounds of Manipur, which continues to witness routine killings of citizens and security forces. The fact is that the prime minister, an avid traveller to distant places, has not visited Manipur till date, while his discredited chief minister continues to goof up and display brazen partisanship. As the yatra moves inside Arunachal Pradesh from Assam, even while there seems a near-total blackout in mainstream media, it is a reminder that the seven sisters of the Northeast, sensitively located on international borders, continue to remain distant and alienated from the mainland.

However, amidst this organized cacophony of the Ram Mandir, certain significant signs have emerged in the INDIA alliance which promise, if not promising hope, then, at least, a semblance of strategic and tactical fight. For once, a cocky Congress, which has the knack of snatching defeat from a certain victory, lost three crucial states in the Hindi heartland, including the two in which they were ruling. This has led to the BJP pumping its muscles and Narendra Modi absolutely confident of making it as well in 2024 – all they now need is the blessings of Ram, a surge in Hindutva, and the consequent polarization on the ground. The flipside is that if the Congress had won, it would have once again started flexing its one-upmanship, and the India bloc would have floundered.

ALSO READ: ‘BJP Has Raised And Dumped Ayodhya Issue Cyclically’

Now, the Congress has done at least two things which seem perfectly reasonable. One, they have abandoned the soft-Hindutva card (blatantly used by an arrogant Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh) by refusing to join the mandir inauguration, and second, that they have promised to restrict the party to 255 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. Not only the Congress, almost all the parties in the INDIA bloc refused to go to Ayodhya on January 22. This is certainly a good sign, and reinforces the opposition space as a secular space and defies the partisan dominant narrative.

Second, seat-sharing talks have started happening at a rate faster than imagined, and with reasonable consensus and flexibility. Even Akhilesh Yadav, who has already clichéd a deal with the Rashtriya Lok Dal in Western UP, is ready to be consensual, despite the fact the Congress, foolishly, refused to give his party even one seat in the assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, like it did with other smaller parties in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. With no base left in UP, Priyanka Gandhi having failed to break ground in the last instance, the Congress would do well to climb down from its disproportionate demands, and follow the dharma of the alliance. If the BSP joins the alliance in UP, despite the loud opposition of the Samajwadi Party, it might not be a cake-walk for the BJP.

The AAP has finally opened talks with the Congress, and their joint Mayor candidate in Chandigarh is a potential sign of unity. While the AAP must concede more seats in Delhi and Punjab, the Congress would do well to accommodate them with a big heart in Haryana, Gujarat and Goa. All forms of symbolism helps in a protracted tactical struggle.

The Congress has only two Lok Sabha seats in Bengal which Mamata Banerjee is ready to give them. These are their traditional strongholds in Murshidabad/Behrampur and Malda, Its demand for more seats, therefore, is unreasonable, as is the aggressive stance of Adhir Ranjan Choudhury. The CPM is a spent-force in Bengal, with zero seats, even while it should remember that its cadre and supporters voted for the BJP in the last general elections – leading to the BJP getting 18 MP seats, an impossibility at one time.

With the South firmly out of the BJP’s grasp, and Bengal and Punjab too joining, if the Opposition alliance can restrict BJP to less than 250 seats in the cow belt, then there is a real chance for a new government arriving in Delhi. Or else, the secular democracy that is India, will definitely enter an era of doom, and it will be once again, darkness at noon.

Tears Have Run Dry in Gaza

Gaza – Where Tears Have Run Dry

Benjamin Netanyahu quoted the ‘Old Testament’ in late October this year, to evoke a bloody revenge spectacle from the mythical Biblical times, as he bombed Gaza, with thousands of dead bodies of Palestinians buried in the rubble, including children: “You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible. (1 Samuel 15:3) ‘Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass’.”

Unrepentant and hardline Zionists are now saying that killing of children is important because you nip the enemy in the bud. One expert on Israeli TV was heard, expressing unabashed glee, saying that he cannot sleep if there is no bombing in Gaza. Another said, what is wrong with war crimes? War crimes are necessary, it must be done!

It’s like certain Israelis, in the earlier conflicts, would have a picnic: sitting in a garden on an elevated place and watching the killings and ‘fireworks’ in the Palestinian areas. Similar to Nazi officers organizing a massacre, and, then, taking a break — happily going for a picnic with their wives, kids and friends on a week-end, or celebrating outside a concentration camp, with Jewish slaves as attendants.

Undoubtedly, this abjectly extremist, pathologically perverse, racist and supremacist Right-wing regime which controls Tel Aviv these days, is replicating exactly the Nazi model. It’s that there are no concentration camps, gas chambers, no trains jam-packed with Jews being taken to the slaughter houses in Aushwitz or Krakow, etc. There is no Warsaw Ghetto where the Nazis isolated 400 to 500,000 Jews, starving them, blocking their water and electricity, turning them into sick and emaciated creatures, before transporting them to the gas chambers and labour/death camps.

Gaza looks like the Warsaw Ghetto now, and it also reminds of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – following the Amlekites theory from the Biblical times. If this is not mindless madness enacted by mass murderers and backed by Joe Biden and the West, then what is? The Jews were then branded as pests, carriers of epidemics, dirty, filthy, sub-humans, animals, cockroaches and rats, selfish and self-seeking, a curse on society, untouchables and outcastes, not fit to walk on the same roads, or use the same transport, or, share the same space as the Germans.

Something is really wrong with this rogue State. A new clipping of famous Palestinian social scientist Edward Said, when he was young, has emerged; years ago, Netanyahu refused to share the same space with him in a TV programme because he apparently believed that the professor would murder him! Said had no such phobia.

Now, Netanyahu is using a myth to organize a relentless genocide, outside all international law, amidst mass hunger, amputated bodies, including that of severely wounded children, disease, thirst, hunger, dying and death, while the Palestinians are branded exactly in the same manner as what the Nazis did to the Jews! Clearly, in the warped and sick mindset of the Israeli regime and its followers, all Palestinians should be eliminated, especially women and children, so that no child is ever born in this ‘holy land’. Thereby, and after having already occupied the West Bank, they can now construct a Grand Zionist State with nuclear power in the whole of Palestine, including Gaza. Backed by American and Western powers, whose hearts bleed for the killings of innocents by Putin’s army in Ukraine.

Hence, every day, more and more grotesque stories are emerging from Gaza. The latest, unconfirmed news is that 80 bodies returned by the notorious Israeli Defense Force (IDF) had their organs stolen. If true, how is it different from the Nazis taking the body organs of the Jews, including the skin of children, hair and gold-teeth, in the concentration camps?

There are reports coming of targeted killings – execution style. Al Jazeera reported that bodies of new-borns, children and women were found piled up in the Shadia Abu Ghazala school in northern Gaza, with people reporting that they had been shot at point-blank range. Witnesses said the civilians were killed — execution-style — by Israeli soldiers.

Shoot before you ask. That is how IDF killed three bare-chested Israeli hostages, one holding a white flag on December 15. All of them in their 20s.

Meanwhile, amidst a litany of horror stories, scores of Palestinians, stripped, were lined up in a stadium, or filled like poultry chicken in a truck. Video footage showed Israeli soldiers, on tanks, pointing their guns at them. Were they tortured? Were they killed – execution style? War crimes – who cares, certainly not Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak!

At least 4,000 students, 300 medics, 136 United Nations staff and 90 journalists have been reportedly killed; journalists have been killed to block all news of the on-going genocide, even while others continue to report from the ground, including young women journalists with children.

Samer Abudaqa, a cameraman for ‘Al Jazeera Arabic’, was killed while reporting at Farhana School in Khan Younis. He was clearly targeted. His colleague, Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Wael Dahdouh, who lost his family earlier, was wounded. Journalists in Gaza are carrying a “human and noble message” for the world amid the continuing war and will continue to work despite Israeli attacks, Dahdouh said in his eulogy. “We will continue to do our duty with professionalism and transparency,” he said, as mourners and journalists around him wept.

Tears flowed from his eyes too when Dahdouh had lost everything in his life. He had moved away from the cameras of fellow journalists at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital after his wife, son, daughter and grandson had been killed in an Israeli air raid.

Take the case of a famous poet, as popular in the West for his sensitive poetry as in the Middle-East — Refaat Alareer. He had told CNN earlier that he and his family had no choice but to remain in the north, because they “have nowhere else to go”. He had said: “It’s an archetypal Palestinian image of a discussion, a debate on should we stay in one room, so if we die, we die together, or should we stay in separate rooms, so at least somebody can live?”

A professor of comparative literature at the Islamic University of Gaza, Alareer also taught ‘Creative Writing’ and was a mentor to young Palestinian writers, inspiring them to write stories about their occupied homeland. On December 7, Alareer was murdered by a targeted attack in Shajaiya, in northern Gaza, where he had taken refuge. He was staying with his brother, sister, her four children — all of them were killed.

Alareer had edited ‘Gaza Writes Back’, a collection of short stories by young writers, he was co-editor of ‘Gaza Unsilenced’, a collection of essays, photos and poetry, and he also contributed to ‘Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire,’ an anthology published in 2022. He had studied at University College and SOAS in London. His death created outrage from London to New York. His last poem, became viral. As a tribute, across the world, mourners carried white kites in his memory, and in protest.

In this poem, ‘If I must die’, he wrote:

If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story
to sell my things
to buy a piece of cloth
and some strings,
(make it white with a long tail)
so that a child, somewhere in Gaza
while looking heaven in the eye
awaiting his dad who left in a blaze—
and bid no one farewell
not even to his flesh
not even to himself—
sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up
above
and thinks for a moment an angel is there
bringing back love…

For more details visit us: https://lokmarg.com/

A Reporter’s Romance by Mahendra Ved

Stories, Memories, Conspiracies A Reporter’s Romance

The smell of newsprint. The quintessential smell of newsprint. For old-fashioned journalists who started working on a typewriter, the catchy cover of this book would be a quick trip down nostalgia lane. It will be soaked with the sweet and salty memories of the heady atmospherics of a bustling, noisy and chaotic newspaper office, with the newspaper in black & white arriving next morning as a testimony of their faith in their loved, addictive profession. This book, and this cover, tells us this story of the 5 Ws and 1 H, along with the byline, the typeface, the point size and leading, and the headline, half-hidden.

@75 As I Saw It: A Reporter Recounts, penned by seasoned journalist Mahendra Ved, is what it claims to be: a reporter’s notebook and close encounters fleshed out with anecdotes, stories, revelations, memories, journeys, conspiracies, murders, riots and violence, prime ministers and politicians, and film stars and celebrities. In this journey, now at 75 in year 2024, for a reporter, there is no QED. In this raw copy which must go to the copy desk, there is no full-stop in the end.

In a sharply cryptic blurb on the back cover, another seasoned Hindi journalist plays a spoof on himself. His reporter’s journey too is still on, after having traversed all over the world with miscellaneous prime ministers and for other assignments, and having reported from the ground across India, including from the dense forests of Chhattisgarh, living among the adivasis. Says Ramsharan Joshi: “Being @80, I see my contemporary, Mahendra Ved’s creative Avatar @ his 75 as a full bloom of professional accomplishment.”

The introductory chapter, ‘A Reporter’s Audacity’, tells a tale. When he started young, like most of us, there were certain core values and ethics of journalism which journalists had inherited from the profession. I presume many journalists, never ever compromised, till the end of their lives – despite being pushed to the wall. Besides, Ved is proud of his objectivity and neutrality.

He writes: “When I began, giving free publicity to any individual or institution in that ‘socialist’ era was a no. Dealing with private sector enterprise was like a touch-me-not. It was, indeed, one-sided. Now the private sector is the bread-giver, and (the) media is its best – and worst – example.”

He continues: “Field reporters are becoming invisible, and expendable. Ask any committed reporter, he/she will tell you that they have worked at the cost of their health, personal life, personal relationships, etc. Work is the only thing that keeps a reporter going…”

The contradictions have been sharp and jarring in contemporary times. He tells the story of one of his last experiences at The Times of India, Delhi — meeting a young TV reporter in a news briefing. He was “loudly asking questions on cue on cell-phone from his boss – loud enough to disturb the briefing”. The young fellow “accosted” Ved and said, “Sir, please tell me the news point of what he said.”

Ved was reminded of his younger days. He “obliged” him. “Back in the office, my editors watched this reporter’s ‘Breaking News’ on TV. They told me: ‘This is your lead’.”

Ved witnessed a great event in Indian space history. India was collaborating with the Soviet Union on space research. Sputnik, the first elementary satellite, happened in 1957. (Sputnik was the name of a revolutionary newspaper started by Lenin.) Yuri Gagarin was the first man to go to space, something “unthinkable” those days. “When the space hero visited, he took India by storm. He conquered the popular imagination of my generation.”

ALSO READ: How Tricky It Is For Reporters To Cover A War

Later, Ved happened to be in the same Control Room of Doordarshan with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, one of two lucky journalists. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had launched a joint mission with Soviet Interkosmos. Two Soviet astronauts and Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma of the Indian Air Force spent seven days, 21 hours and 40 minutes aboard the Salyut orbital station. Air Chief Marshal Dilbagh Singh addressed the PM: “Madam, now you can speak to him.”

Rakesh Sharma was asked about his health, his food, if he had slept properly, and how it felt to be in space. He said, “Zaroorat se zyada hi khatey hain.” He also said that the crew practiced yoga. (Mrs Gandhi too was a trained yoga practitioner. )

Wahan se Bharat kaisa dikhta hain,” She asked. He said, “Saare jahan se accha!”

“There was a hushed silence. Nobody clapped… The PM’s face lighted up… A lump rose in my throat…”

Rakesh Sharma was honoured with the Ashok Chakra. He also received the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ award.

Many of us, as reporters, saw at close range and documented the State-sponsored massacre of Sikh citizens in November 1984 in Delhi and elsewhere, after the assassination of Mrs Gandhi. The organized mass murders, loot and violence went on four days and the Indian State and its law enforcement agencies refused to move.

Ved remembers his Sikh neighbours in a locality where he lived in a rented house with his wife. When he left the place, neighbours came to say goodbye. “Among them was a Sikh family. Its patriarch, whom I only knew as ‘bauji’, insisted that we have our last meal together. That evening he repeatedly said: ‘We will not forget 1984’.”

During those turbulent days, Bauji and his three sons visited him regularly. They would spend the whole day in Ved’s house and then leave after dinner. “No queries were needed. Fear had made them seek refuge.”

“With the Press label on my scooter as the only protection, like any other reporter, I rode on prominent through-fares seeing burning taxis and taxi-stands, presumably, Sikh-owned, and fleeing men being shorn of their turbans. It was scary to see hundreds of stick-wielding men, shouting slogans in a riotous mood, thronging the VVIP security zone, as the policemen passively looked on…” The Delhi Police had let law and order slip out of their control.

Ved was posted in Dhaka when Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the founding father of Bangladesh, and 27 of his family members, security chief and servants were murdered after an army coup. Mujib’s brother and brother-in-law, two sons and their wives, one of them pregnant, his third son, just about 10, were murdered. He remembers this radio announcement in the morning of August 15, 1975: “This is Major Dalim speaking. Under the robust leadership of Khndoker Mushtaq Ahmad, the armed forces have taken power. Sheikh Mujib and his government has been ousted. From now on, Martial Law has been declared…”

It was a grim day, but a “journalist cannot place himself/herself above the news”. While airports and communications came under army control, Ved was able to smuggle out two reports, one with his wife and another with a passenger who were flying to Calcutta.

Interestingly, Ved points to the invisible hand of a section of the CIA behind the assassination. He writes about two officials in the US embassy in Dhaka. “Both officers became known after the August 15 events. In many reports and analysis, Cherry was cited as the CIA station chief in Dhaka. That Sheila was seen dancing at a Dhaka hotel with Dalim and Cherry allegedly ‘helped’ the coup d’etat became known to the world..”

It is also well known that the US had backed and propped the army dictatorship in Pakistan. While Soviet Union backed India, and the freedom movement in Bangladesh, the Americans were unhappy with the massive victory of the Indian forces, the liberation of Bangladesh, and the surrender of thousands of Pakistani troops. The US establishment was a tacit observer of the genocide and mass rapes unleashed by the Pakistani army in Dhaka and elsewhere, soon after they had sensed their inevitable defeat.

Mahendra Ved’s book is loaded with anecdotes and revelations. A close reading would suggest deeper nuances and political ramifications. For journalists, old and young, this is a reporter’s diary which heightens the beauty of the profession, and shows us, how we, as journalists, have lost our way in contemporary India.

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Tunnel To Disaster

The Tunnel To Himalayan Disaster

A big wave of relief and joy has swept the country after the 41 workers have been rescued from a tunnel which turned into a huge rat-trap. And who scored the final victory stroke – 12 ‘rat mine workers’, who staked their lives, and cleared the debris with their bare hands. This is a joy which is greater than any World Cup victory. Bigger than the landing on the moon!

It has been the season of dead-end tunnels, and human beings trapped in this dark underbelly of modernity, for no fault of theirs. From the genocide in Gaza, with both the Israeli hostages and the Palestinians condemned in the rubble, and the labyrinthine underground — dead and alive, to Silkyara near Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand, it has been ‘the tunnel’ which was at the top-of-the-mind these days.

This is also the pristine landscape where a magical mountain river starts its civilisational journey from the frozen, blue and muddy glacier of Gaumukh, via Gangotri, Darhali and Harsil, undulating through the Himalayan hills via Uttarkashi, onwards to the arid plains. This unruly, anarchic, rippling river flows in sublime Shiva-Parvati territory, across Chirvaas, and Bhojwasa — with its ancient leafy trees, which, perhaps, gave the first manuscripts in ancient India. It flows ceaselessly, amidst the madness of fierce waterfalls and serene streams, and is celebrated with multiple mythological stories, as much as exotic names, mixing with other mountain rivers: Jahanvi, Mandakini, Bhairvi, Alaknanda, Kali Ganga, Safed Ganga, Bhilangana, and, of course, Bhagirathi.

In this terrain, you are a mere speck in the sand, a dot in the galaxy, so overwhelming is this incredible moment of srishti, like the origin of civilization; all you can hear, absorb, inhale and experience is the melodious orchestra of the river in synthesis with the sound of the wind and the waterfalls, echoing in the hills. It is she who is the maestro, the grand conductor of a million symphonies here, and even Shiva is subservient to her raw, intense and irreverent beauty.

Before this young, pulsating, primordial miracle of nature is finally tamed in the plains by the orthodox, religious establishment, domesticated and turned into a mother-symbol – Ganga maiya – she arrives from the cosmic galaxy on the day of Ganga dashami. Without a family, origin, identity, caste, religion or community, she is unlocked from a reluctant Shiva’s flowing locks after a series of long tapasya by Bhagirath. Thereby, it hurtles down the hills and valleys, playful, joyful, turning track, changing trajectories, becoming faster and faster, and, then, suddenly slow and subdued, amidst the wild flowers and chirping birds, flowing in eternally gay abandon.

Then, this creature of absolute freedom too is trapped – right inside the hills. Dammed and damned at Tehri by the big dam, its aviral dhara is thereby condemned and imprisoned – it flows out in a trickle from here on, stagnant and sad in a man-made reservoir, onwards to Rishikesh, hence becoming a ganda nulla at Haridwar, while being turned forcibly into a ‘sacred canal’ at Har ki Pauri.

Henceforth, despite the millions of worshippers, no one really cares for the lost purity of the holy river– choked with the infinite sewage of towns and cities, garbage, gutter-waters, industrial waste, plastic, non-biodegradable left-over of Hindu festivals, etc. It yet again becomes another clichéd banality of daily life — worshipped and ravaged at the same time.

At Uttarkashi, the other ‘Kashi’ for Hindu pilgrims for decades, on the sandy, sunshine river-front, the river moves slow and steady. Not far away in this district is the Silkyara Bend-Barkot tunnel, where 41 workers were trapped since the last two weeks, in the dingy and cold darkness underground. The tunnel is part of the ‘grand project’ of the current regime called the 889 km Char Dham National Highway Project, which has destroyed hundreds of hectares of forests and flora and fauna, culled thousands of trees, created brutal, volatile disturbances in the fragile Himalayan ecosystem, and has been criticized universally by ecologists and scientists.

ALSO READ: ‘Our Environmental Sins In Uttarakhand’

Food reached them finally, they were able to make contact with their loved ones, experts and skilled workers were trying their best, horizontal and vertical drilling was on, ‘rat-miners’ staked their own lives and moved inside the debris, ambulances were on the ready, and psychologists were at hand to counsel during this traumatic phase. Earlier, the media and those glued onto their TV sets seemed to have completely ignored the workers because of the cricket world cup’s patriotic frenzy; however, after that, they were on the front pages, thank God!

Predictably, gradually, reluctantly, sane and scientific voices are coming out, speaking about the bitter truth which the workers in the trapped tunnel have triggered. Earlier, it was a sinking Joshimath, ravaged by commercial and religious tourism, which became the tip of what seemed like a collapsing iceberg. There were warnings in 2013 that the tunnels of the Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydropower Project of the NTPC could cause irreversible damage to this town where urban planning seems to have gone for a toss.

Environmentalist Suresh Nautiyal (Lok Story, Lokmarg, January 13, 2023) had said after the Joshimath fiasco: “Governments have cared two hoots for the vulnerable ecology of the hill state and willfully aligned with corporations, contractors, industrial companies and the construction mafia to irretrievably damage the inherent balance of nature. Roads, big dams which displaced thousands, real estate and mindless constructions violating all norms, unknown tunnels and aggressive religious tourism has all turned the clock to its current, tragic fate…The murder of natural streams and rivers, the massacre of trees, the non-stop destruction of the organic eco-system in the relentless race for a capitalist model of unplanned development, blindly copying big cities in the plains, has ravaged the pristine ‘Dev Bhoomi’.”

Combine this with the gigantic Tehri dam, with its failed promises, and many other dams which have choked the rivers, and submerged fertile valleys and habitats, this is a recipe made for disaster. Seismologists have earlier warned that a major earthquake around the Uttarkashi-Chamoli faultline might spell disaster for the big dam, and, consequently, for the towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar, within minutes. However, the establishment, across all governments, cared a damn.

The Char Dham project, connecting to Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, as another gimmick to boost religious tourism, has led to serious criticism, but the BJP regime is not listening. According to The Telegraph (November 27, 2023), “We have erred in allowing the haphazard expansion of townships by housing and road-building on unsuitable sites, ignoring the essentials of geological conditions,” geologists Naresh Pant and HS Saini said in Current Science, a journal published by the Indian Academy of Sciences. “We have also failed to enforce the standards of civil construction vis-à-vis land capability and hazards,” they said in their review, written months before the November 12 collapse of a 57m stretch of the tunnel along the Char Dham project. “The market forces of excessive tourism (have) prevailed over safety norms.”

The newspaper reported:  “A high-powered committee (HPC) set up by the Union environment ministry under the Supreme Court’s directions to find ways to minimise its environmental and other consequences had found that the project had ‘damaged the Himalayan ecosystem due to unscientific and unplanned execution’. The HPC, in a report submitted in July 2020, had also warned that the project had cut hills without prior slope vulnerability analysis and without adequate slope protection measures, increasing the risk of landslides. A landslide susceptibility study by scientists from IIT, Roorkee and the University of Potsdam, Germany, along the 250km highway from Rishikesh to Joshimath near Badrinath during September and October 2022, had noted 309 landslides along a 247km segment, or one landslide every kilometre.”

As of now, the trapped workers in the tunnel seem strong, stoic and resilient. The smiles on their faces have gladdened the entire nation. One only hopes that the political establishment rethinks this massive, multi-crore road and highway project, in a seriously fragile and vulnerable Himalayan terrain, and stops all construction – and destruction – immediately. So that, no human being is ever trapped in these hell-holes.

Will they?

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