Condemn Israeli Massacre Of Innocent Civilians On Gaza-Bound Freedom Flotilla

On Monday May 31, Israel added another shameful chapter to its long history of blatant disregard of international law and the Geneva Conventions when its navy and air force attacked the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla in international waters, killing 19 international activists and wounding dozens of others.

In a wanton act of state-sponsored terrorism, Israeli warships encircled the aid ships, 150 kilometers outside of its territorial waters, and Israeli gunship helicopters dropped commandos onto the ships, who then began shooting the people on board without giving any prior warning.

The Free Gaza Movement website reported that the Israeli commandos were dropped from a helicopter onto the Turkish passenger ship Mavi Marmara and began to shoot the moment their feet hit the deck.

Live footage taken from the Turkish passenger ship, which was posted all over the Internet, showed black-clad Israeli commandos rappelling down from helicopters and clashing with activists, as well as several wounded people lying on the deck of the ship.

The flotilla of six small and medium-sized boats was on its way to deliver and distribute food items, medicines, electric generators, building materials, and children’s toys to the Gaza Strip, which has been under a relentless Israeli blockade since the Islamic resistance movement Hamas took control of the coastal territory in June 2007.

In that freest and fairest election ever held in the Arab world, the people of Palestine delivered Hamas a phenomenal mandate of 74 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council against Al-Fatah’s 46.

Out of 1.3 million eligible voters, 77.7 percent thronged the polling stations in Hebron, Nablus, North Gaza, Tulkarm, Jenin, Gaza City, Bethlehem, and throughout the occupied territories to express their opinion.

However, instead of appreciating such a spectacle of democracy, in which the Palestinians showed a superb sense of political consciousness in bringing Hamas to power, the hypocritical Western powers, led by the United States, denounced the Islamic resistance movement and launched a dehumanization campaign against high-ranking Hamas officials, which provided an opportunity for the Zionist regime to impose a crippling siege over the ever-suffering people of Gaza.

However, Israel’s latest atrocity even shocked and outraged its closet allies like the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Belgium, and the European Union, which all condemned Israel’s assault on civilians in the Mediterranean Sea.

The United Nations, the Arab League, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan also condemned Israel’s crime against a humanitarian mission.

However, all this did not shame the Zionist regime.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon blamed the victim — in typical Zionist fashion — saying the activists themselves were responsible for the massacre and branding them allies of international terrorist organizations.

Had they got through, Ayalon said, they would have opened an arms smuggling route to Gaza.

Adding insult to injury, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak insisted that there is no hunger and no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The whole flotilla operation, he said, was “a political and media provocation by anti-Israeli organizations.”

Since 2008, the Free Gaza Movement and a coalition of human rights activists and pro-Palestinian groups have been sending boats and landing or attempting to land supplies to break the blockade of Gaza, including medical equipment and drugs and building materials.

This time the flotilla, the largest to date, carrying over 600 passengers — believed to include the Swedish author Henning Mankell and the Irish Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire — was organized by pro-Gaza groups in Greece and Sweden, the Malaysian-based Perdana Global Peace Organization, and the Turkish-based foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), all coordinated by the Free Gaza Movement.

After this incident, the world should realize it should stop kowtowing to Israel and should inform Tel Aviv that it can no longer flout international law.

All countries should send Israeli ambassadors packing and should call on the International Criminal Court to try the Israeli officials responsible for ordering the murder of unarmed civilians in an act of unprovoked aggression on the open sea.

And the international community should organize an enormous flotilla of aid ships from all over world and send it to break the siege of Gaza.

The Zionist regime understood the importance of this grand mission, and thus tried to instill fear in the hearts of the people of the Middle East with the massacre of unarmed civilians. But Israel’s bloody interception of the Gaza aid flotilla will highlight the continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip in the most dramatic way possible and will certainly increase the pressure to lift the siege.

So the blood of the men and women who sacrificed their lives on Monday for the cause of Palestine will not have been spilt in vain and will usher in a new era of hope for the oppressed people of Palestine.

Gul Jammas Hussain

Higher Education As Profit Centres

HRD Minister Kapil Sibal finally managed on May 3 to introduce in the Lok Sabha the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation and Entry and Operations) Bill 2010 amid protest by Left MPs to the proposed law.

The bill proposes that institutions aspiring to set up campuses in India will have to deposit Rs 50 crore as corpus fund. They will have to be registered with with UGC or any other regulatory body in place.

The bill, however, gives exemption to reputed foreign institutes from the tough conditions set for opening up campuses in India. The reputed universities will not have to go through the rigorous process of approval.

An advisory board will will recommend permission for such universities like Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford and similar institutions. They will not be required to deposit any corpus money.

However, the clause that foreign institutions cannot take away surplus money back to their respective countries also applies to all foreign institutions, including the reputed ones.

The bill stipulates a number of criteria for ensuring quality. The aspiring institute need to have minimum 20 years of standing in the country to which it belongs. It should have adequate finance and other resources to conduct the courses in India.

The bill says that an aspiring institution will apply for recognition as Foreign Education Provider in India. The application will be scrutinised by the accreditation authority and the UGC or any other commission in higher education. The commission will recommend to the government on whether the institute should be given recognition.

However, the bill, which is being referred to a parliamentary Standing Committee, raises more questions. My friend CP Chandrashekhar, professor of economics at JNU in New Delhi, argues that the case for allowing foreign players in the higher education sector in India is weak and controversial and simply a ploy to create a window for foreign players and then changing the rules of the game in ways that persuade them to exploit the opportunity.

There are two arguments, among many, that are being advanced to justify this desire for the foreign. The first is that it would substantially enhance quality in both the new institutions that would be set up by these foreign entities and, by example and the pressure of competition, in old and new institutions created by public and private Indian promoters. The second is that it would close the supply-demand gap.

The supply of higher educational facilities relative to requirements in this country is seen as so large that the government or Indian private players would not have the resources to fill the gap.

To clarify, the resources that the foreign entities would bring could not be real resources like faculty, administrators and material inputs like classrooms, libraries and labs. Foreign providers would have to find these resources largely from within the country, just as Indian promoters would have to, since importing all of it would make things so expensive that the investment would not make sense unless the intention is merely to throw away the money. “Resources” here means the requisite money.

Neither of the arguments—enhancing quality and augmenting supply—is particularly convincing even for those who are enamoured by these foreign brands and what they could contribute to the making of the modern Indian mind.

It is not that foreigners were barred from coming into the country in the past. They could through many routes subject to certain rules. But either because of the rules or because of mere disinterest not many big names even gave a thought to have an independent presence here (as opposed to collaborating in different ways with domestic institutions).

On the other hand, it is not true that no foreign institutions came into this country. Some did. But they were not the well known and what they offered here did not compare at all with the best or even less than best that Indian educational providers were offering. Both in terms of presence and quality history does not give cause for optimism.

The question then is, are the rules being changed to accommodate the foreign? The government states that it is only clarifying the rules and regulatory framework that would apply to foreign educational providers, and that in itself would serve to attract them to the country.

It is true that if foreign institutions are to be allowed at all, to provide education of any kind in the country, it is better that they operate within an appropriate framework of regulation. If not, unscrupulous operators can use the “foreign” tag to exploit poorly informed students who do not have the scores to enter a good national educational institution or the finances to travel abroad to acquire a good education.

In an environment where good higher educational facilities are in short supply, such operators could get away with charging high fees for courses backed by inadequately qualified faculty, inferior infrastructure and substandard equipment.

This has in recent years been a reality in India because of a mismatch between the law on foreign investment in educational provision and the law with regard to the functioning of “recognised” educational institutions.

The foreign investment law in this country does allow foreign educational providers to enter India under the automatic route in the educational services area. It therefore allows for commercial provision of educational services by foreigners and the repatriation of surpluses or “profits” earned through such activity.

However, the nature of such services must be “informal”. If an educational service provider (foreign or domestic) chooses to establish an institution that is termed a university and is recognised as such by the University Grants Commission (UGC) or if it awards a degree or diploma that is recognised by a range of institutions such as the All India Council on Technical Education (AICTE) or the Medical Council of India, then it would be subject to regulation just as any other Indian institution engaging in similar practices. That is, there is no separate set of rules to recognise and regulate foreign institutions.

This implies that recognised foreign educational institutions cannot (like private Indian ones) operate on a “for-profit” basis. Surpluses can be generated based on fees charged, but those surpluses have to be ploughed back into the institution.

This distinction in the regulatory framework, applying to institutions seeking recognition of their degrees and those that do not, did result in the proliferation of courses that are not recognised by government, in institutions that were, therefore, not subject to regulation under laws governing the higher education system.

Most of these institutions were in the private sector, with a majority being domestic private institutions and a few foreign. Some were good, many extremely bad. These institutions were not all avowedly “for-profit” entities, but there were many that made large surpluses legally and otherwise and distributed them in various ways to their promoters.

In some ways, what the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill does is that it seeks to bring certain of those foreign institutions within a separate, clearly defined regulatory framework, requiring institutions providing diplomas and degrees to register under a designated authority, making them subject to regulation and seeking under such regulation to ensure that the promoting institution has a proper pedigree, brings in adequate resources, employs quality faculty, offers adequate facilities, and reinvests all surpluses in the institution, which cannot function for profit.

However, even though these are not considered for-profit institutions, the government is not seeking to regulate the fees they charge the students they take in, set parameters for compensation for faculty, or impose demands such as reservation of seats for disadvantaged sections as it does in its own institutions.

There are three questions which arise in this context. One is whether the implementation of the Bill amounts to skewing further the inequality in access to higher education and tilting the playing field against public institutions. Clearly, the Bill does not allow for the application of laws with regard to affirmative action in the form of reservation of admissions to private institutions, domestic or foreign.

But if the infrastructure for higher education is inadequate, this is true not just for those who fall in what is termed the “general category”, but for those in the reserved categories as well, who need adequate numbers of seats to be reserved for them.

So if private, including foreign institutions, are seen as entities that would help close the demand-supply gap in higher education, they would need to service students in the categories eligible for affirmative action as well.

Since the aim of promoting private education, including that offered by foreign providers, is to make up for the shortfall in public education, the demand that reserved category students be admitted to these institutions with support from the state is bound to rise.

State money would provide access to the socially and economically disadvantaged to private institutions. That is, while the state is not going to regulate fees, it may be forced to demand some reservation by covering the fees charged by these institutions for those it wants to assure the access they are deprived of because of the social discrimination they face.

The obvious question that would then arise is whether it may not be better to use these funds to expand quality public education at lower cost per student. Hence, clarity on the government’s use of these institutions for closing the demand-supply gap would be useful.

If the direction of policy in other areas is indicative, the public-private partnership mantra would be used to justify supporting private provision by funding access to the disadvantaged with no regulation of costs or prices. In fact, the likelihood is that the implicit control would be on the “subsidy” offered to needy students, who then may have to make do with entry into poorer quality institutions.

A second question that arises is whether the better among foreign educational providers are likely to choose not to come into the country if stringent regulations are imposed on them.

With budgetary cuts for education in developed countries and with demographic changes affecting the size of the domestic college-going population in these countries, universities there may like to go abroad if they can earn surpluses to support domestic operations.

But if regulation includes the “not-for-profit” condition, which prevents them from extracting surpluses and transferring them abroad, they may see no reason to be in India.

Perhaps for this reason, the Act for the possibility that its provisions can be diluted. For example, as of now the Act provides for the constitution of an Advisory Board that can exempt any foreign provider of all requirements imposed by the Act except the requirement of being a not-for-profit body.

It also exempts institutions conducting any “certificate course” and awarding any qualification other than a degree or diploma to be exempt from most of the provisions of the Act, making them subject only to certain reporting requirements.

This amounts to saying that if a foreign provider enters the country, reports its presence, and advertises and runs only such “certificate courses” (as opposed to courses offering degrees and recognised diplomas), it would have all the rights that many of the so-called “fly-by-night” operators exploit today.

Once that possibility is recognised the only conclusion that can be drawn, based on the experience hitherto, is that this Act in itself is unlikely to either bring high quality education into the country, or keep poor quality education out. What motivates it, is therefore, unclear.

This raises the third question as to whether this bill is just the thin end of the wedge.

If foreign providers do not come in requisite measure, would the government use that “failure” to dilute the law even further and provide for profit and its repatriation by foreign operators in this sector?

Some time back, the commerce ministry had put out a consultation paper clearly aimed at building support for an Indian offer on education in the negotiations under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The paper, while inviting opinions on a host of issues, was clearly inclined to offering foreign educational providers significant concessions that would facilitate their participation in Indian education.

In its view: “Given that India’s public spending, GER (gross enrolment ratio) levels and private sector participation are low, even when compared to developing countries, there appears to be a case for improving the effectiveness of public spending and increasing the participation of private players, both domestic and foreign.”

GATS is a trading agreement and therefore applies to those engaged in trade in services for profit. Providing such concession would force a fundamental transformation of the face of higher education in the country.

Put all of this together and both the motivation and the likely outcome of this bill remain unclear. If the intent is to attract new, more and better foreign investment in higher education to close the demand-supply gap, then the specific framework being chosen is likely to subvert its intent.

If the idea is to regulate only those who have been coming and would come, then a separate law just for foreign operators as opposed to all non-state players is inexplicable.

This suggests that the process underway is one of creating a window for foreign players and then changing the rules of the game in ways that persuade them to exploit the opportunity. This may explain the fear that the field would be skewed against domestic private players.

Thus, the case for this Act is weak and controversial. If the supply of educational facilities is low and of poor quality because public spending is low, the emphasis must clearly be on increasing allocations for education. This is likely to be extremely effective since India has the requisite institutional framework.

But there is no reason to believe, especially given past experience, that just allowing private entry, whether domestic or foreign, and the resources associated with it would indeed improve access and ensure quality. Unless the state pays the bill, which it claims in the first place it cannot.

Indo-US Nuclear Deal: Kowtowing Again!

One more accord has been concluded under the much-trumpeted Indo-US nuclear deal. But like the previous two — the 123 bilateral agreement with the US and the safeguards accord with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — the latest agreement, too, will escape scrutiny by the Indian Parliament. The newest agreement involves US consent to India to reprocess spent fuel of American origin.

Is it a good advertisement for the world’s most-populous democracy that while the American president will submit the reprocessing agreement to the US Congress for scrutiny, the Indian Parliament will again be shut out from playing any role on this latest accord? How can there be effective checks and balances in a democracy if the executive branch insists that the national legislature has no role to play in any international agreement?

It is only on the nuclear-accident liability issue that the government is coming to Parliament because that involves passing a new law. In fact, it wants Parliament to pass a law that limits liability to a pittance, overturning the doctrine of absolute liability that the Supreme Court has set in response to the Bhopal gas disaster.

The result of blocking Parliament from scrutinising the nuclear deal is that India is now saddled with a deal that does not adequately protect its interests. India has got no legally binding fuel-supply guarantee to avert a Tarapur-style fuel cutoff, and no right to withdraw from its obligations under any circumstance, although the US has reserved the right for itself to suspend or terminate the arrangements.

The terms of the latest reprocessing agreement are in continuation of what the US was able to extract in the 123 bilateral agreement. The US has retained the right to unilaterally suspend its grant of reprocessing consent to India. This is an extension of its right, incorporated in the 123 agreement, to unilaterally suspend or terminate fuel supply to India. That is exactly what the US did in the mid-70s under its previous 123 agreement with India dating back to 1963. As a result, the twin-reactor, US-built Tarapur nuclear power plant near Mumbai, was left high and dry.

In the newest 123 agreement, the US has retained the legal right to unilaterally terminate cooperation but provided political assurances to India that such a right will be exercised only in extraordinary circumstances. A similar approach is mirrored in the reprocessing accord.

Under Article 7 of the reprocessing accord, the reprocessing consent can be suspended on grounds of “national security” or a “serious threat to the physical protection of the facility or of the nuclear material at the facility,” and if the party determines “that suspension is an unavoidable measure.” So the US right to suspend reprocessing consent is unfettered.

Still, the agreement’s article 7 and the accompanying “agreed minute” record political assurances to India that such a right shall be exercised only in special circumstances and after careful thought. But such assurances hold little value when the legal right to suspend reprocessing consent is explicitly recorded in the text.

The actual implementation of the reprocessing agreement is years away, even though US-origin spent fuel has been accumulating in India for nearly 40 years at Tarapur.
India will not be able to reprocess that spent fuel until it has built at least one new dedicated reprocessing facility — a process that will take a number of years. Article 1(3) specifies that the US consent relates to “two new national reprocessing facilities established by the government of India.”

Only in those new facilities, approved by the IAEA, can India reprocess the discharged fuel under international inspection. Any additional reprocessing facility can be added only with prior US agreement.

Another feature of the agreement is that it amplifies India’s reprocessing obligations with the IAEA, including to provide facility-design information in advance and to allow unhindered international monitoring and verification (article 2). But in addition, the accompanying “agreed minute” obligates India to permit US “consultations visits” to each dedicated reprocessing facility. Every “visiting team of not more than 10 persons” will be permitted onsite access “at a time and duration mutually agreed by the parties.”

It is thus apparent that the US has got what it wanted. For example, the state department had earlier notified the US Congress in writing that “the proposed arrangements and procedures with India will provide for withdrawal of reprocessing consent” by the US. That is exactly what the text of the accord provides. Also by providing for US “consultations visits,” it effectively permits IAEA-plus inspections.

Had the Parliament been allowed to play a role, the government would have been able to leverage that to fight back one-sided provisions.

Brahma Chellaney/DNA

Education & Students: Commodity & Consumers

By Roger Alexander

The admission season has started with a bang, literally. Stories of colleges demanding capitation fees up to Rs 2 crore, principals auctioning ‘management seats’, college clerks demanding bribes, and the UGC granting ‘deemed university’ status without adequate audit are dominating the front pages of newspapers as the admission season opens.

Education is now a purchasable commodity!

Thanks to the blinkered vision of middle class parents, education is no longer a learning process. Instead, it is now all about “job-oriented” courses. A B.A,, B,Sc, or B,Com degree is “useless” as it does not “equip” youngsters for the “needs of industry”. (Check out the ‘Education Supplements’ in leading newspapers, magazines and TV shows.)

As a result, while mainstream education has become passé, courses like BMM, BMS, Catering and Hospitality, Computer Training and even Air Hostess training have parents queuing up to pay lakhs to teaching shops affiliated to unknown ‘foreign universities’ for a seat. Is this what education all about?

If ‘counsellors’ at many of today’s so-called institutions of higher learning are asked what they can expect, students are offered a straightforward answer: “a better job, higher salary, more marketable skills, and more impressive credentials.”

In the new scenario, even the University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education Commission (AICTE) say that recognising the desperate need of most college students to land jobs, courses should be utilitarian, vocational, and narrow.

But in the quest to churn out ‘graduates’ suited for ‘industrial needs’, the present system is not preparing them for life, challenging them to think beyond the confines of their often parochial and provincial upbringings. (One reason why the Raj Thackerays can sell the ‘Marathi Manoos’ spiel so easily.)

But what is forgotten is the fact that if you view education in purely instrumental terms as a way to a higher-paying job – if it’s merely a mechanism for mass customisation within a marketplace of ephemeral consumer goods – you effectively give a free pass to the prevailing machinery of power and those who run it. The status quo remains unchallenged and unquestioned!

Today’s college students are being indoctrinated in the idea that they need to earn “degrees that work”. They’re being taught to measure their self-worth by the salary they’ll earn after college. They’re being urged to be lifelong learners, not because learning is transformative or even enjoyable, but because to “keep current” is to “stay competitive in the global marketplace.” Of course, there’s no guarantee that keeping current won’t get you a pink slip as so many ‘techies’ are learning to their dismay.

Indeed, these so-called techies are programmed to believe that technical skills are the key to success as well as life itself, and those who find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide are doomed to lives of misery.

Parents and students are recruited or retained with authoritative-looking data: job placement rates, average starting salaries of graduates, and even alumni satisfaction rates through glossy ads and government pronouncements. They are led to believe that these courses are a panacea to solve the problem of unemployment.

The new courses, therefore, are smart courses, not smart teachers interacting with curious students. Canned lessons are offered with PowerPoint efficiency, and students are programmed to respond robotically to “questions” posed to what are supposed to be inquisitive minds. Now it all about “credits, projects and presentations”. Check out the syllabi of the new-age institutions and you’ll know what I mean.

Now that this mindset is official policy, the old-fashioned idea that education is about moulding character, forming a moral and ethical identity, or even becoming a more self-aware person has been flushed down the toilet.

After all, how can you quantify such elusive traits as assessable goals, or showcase such non-measurements in the glossy marketing brochures, glowing press releases, and gushing TV ads that compete to entice prospective students and their anxiety-ridden parents to hand over ever larger sums of money to ensure a lucrative future?

As long as we continue to treat students as customers and education as a commodity, our hopes for truly substantive changes in our country’s direction are likely to be dashed. As long as education is driven by industry imperatives and the tyranny of the practical, our students will fail to acknowledge that the goal of education is to know yourself – and so your own limits and those of your country as well.

To know how to get by or get ahead is one thing, but to know yourself is to struggle to recognise your own limitations as well as illusions. Indeed, education should help us to see ourselves and our world in fresh, even disturbing, ways.

As parents we must know that if we want a better future for our children and grandchildren, we must resist accepting the world as it’s being packaged and sold to us by those who lead us to believe that education is nothing but a potential passport to material success.

Roger And Out

The Grim Picture Of Obama’s Middle East

By Noam Chomsky

A CNN headline, reporting Obama’s plans for his June 4 Cairo address, reads ‘Obama looks to reach the soul of the Muslim world.’ Perhaps that captures his intent, but more significant is the content hidden in the rhetorical stance, or more accurately, omitted.

Keeping just to Israel-Palestine — there was nothing substantive about anything else — Obama called on Arabs and Israelis not to ‘point fingers’ at each other or to ‘see this conflict only from one side or the other.’

There is, however, a third side, that of the United States, which has played a decisive role in sustaining the current conflict. Obama gave no indication that its role should change or even be considered.

Those familiar with the history will rationally conclude, then, that Obama will continue in the path of unilateral US rejectionism.

Obama once again praised the Arab Peace Initiative, saying only that Arabs should see it as ‘an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities.’ How should the Obama administration see it?

Obama and his advisers are surely aware that the Initiative reiterates the long-standing international consensus calling for a two-state settlement on the international (pre-June ’67) border, perhaps with ‘minor and mutual modifications,’ to borrow US government usage before it departed sharply from world opinion in the 1970s, vetoing a Security Council resolution backed by the Arab ‘confrontation states’ (Egypt, Iran, Syria), and tacitly by the PLO, with the same essential content as the Arab Peace Initiative except that the latter goes beyond by calling on Arab states to normalize relations with Israel in the context of this political settlement.

Obama has called on the Arab states to proceed with normalization, studiously ignoring, however, the crucial political settlement that is its precondition. The Initiative cannot be a ‘beginning’ if the US continues to refuse to accept its core principles, even to acknowledge them.

In the background is the Obama administration’s goal, enunciated most clearly by Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to forge an alliance of Israel and the ‘moderate’ Arab states against Iran. The term ‘moderate’ has nothing to do with the character of the state, but rather signals its willingness to conform to US demands.

What is Israel to do in return for Arab steps to normalize relations? The strongest position so far enunciated by the Obama administration is that Israel should conform to Phase I of the 2003 Road Map, which states: ‘Israel freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).’ All sides claim to accept the Road Map, overlooking the fact that Israel instantly added 14 reservations that render it inoperable.

Overlooked in the debate over settlements is that even if Israel were to accept Phase I of the Road Map, that would leave in place the entire settlement project that has already been developed, with decisive US support, to ensure that Israel will take over the valuable land within the illegal ‘separation wall’ (including the primary water supplies of the region) as well as the Jordan Valley, thus imprisoning what is left, which is being broken up into cantons by settlement/infrastructure salients extending far to the East.

Unmentioned as well is that Israel is taking over Greater Jerusalem, the site of its major current development programs, displacing many Arabs, so that what remains to Palestinians will be separated from the center of their cultural, economic, and sociopolitical life.

Also unmentioned is that all of this is in violation of international law, as conceded by the government of Israel after the 1967 conquest, and reaffirmed by Security Council resolutions and the International Court of Justice. Also unmentioned are Israel’s successful operations since 1991 to separate the West Bank from Gaza, since turned into a prison where survival is barely possible, further undermining the hopes for a viable Palestinian state.

It is worth remembering that there has been one break in US-Israeli rejectionism. President Clinton recognized that the terms he had offered at the failed 2000 Camp David meetings were not acceptable to any Palestinians, and in December, proposed his ‘parameters,’ vague but more forthcoming.

He then announced that both sides had accepted the parameters, though both had reservations. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt to iron out the differences, and made considerable progress.

A full resolution could have been reached in a few more days, they announced in their final joint press conference.

But Israel called off the negotiations prematurely, and they have not been formally resumed. The single exception indicates that if an American president is willing to tolerate a meaningful diplomatic settlement, it can very likely be reached.

It is also worth remembering that the Bush I administration went a bit beyond words in objecting to illegal Israeli settlement projects, namely, by withholding US economic support for them.

In contrast, Obama administration officials stated that such measures are ‘not under discussion’ and that any pressures on Israel to conform to the Road Map will be ‘largely symbolic,’ so the New York Times reported (Helene Cooper, June 1).

There is more to say, but it does not relieve the grim picture that Obama has been painting, with a few extra touches in his widely-heralded address to the Muslim World in Cairo on June 4.

,

Yechury Admits Leadership’s Failure

Sitaram Yechury’s interview to Karan Thapar for the programme Devil’s Advocate

Karan Thapar: Prakash Karat has accepted that the election results are a major setback, but the truth is actually much worse than that. Can you deny that this is the worst electoral performance in your party’s 45-year-history?

Sitaram Yechury: Not at all. I don’t deny it. This is the worst debacle we have had. Soon after we were formed in 64, the first election we contested in 1967 we won 19 seats–today we won 16.

Karan Thapar: So you have literally gone back below your starting point.

Sitaram Yechury: And this is a serious matter. It is a matter which the politburo has admitted is a very big debacle and we have to understand why this happened and seriously introspect.

Karan Thapar: Let’s for a moment pause over the statistics of your performance. You have gone from your best ever electoral performance to your worst ever in just five straight years. This time around you have lost 63 per cent of the seats you had, or to put it differently you have lost 68 percent more seats than you have won. Those statistics are worrying and actually they are appalling.

Sitaram Yechury: Statistics are statistics and you can always manipulate them but that is not the point. The fact is that you cannot escape from this reality that this has been a very big debacle for us. It’s been the worst performance electorally by the party.

Karan Thapar: Let’s then come to why you did so badly. To begin with, can you accept that breaking with the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) was a mistake? The voters didn’t understand why you did it and worst of all it made CPI-M look like a party which was promoting instability.

Sitaram Yechury: All these issues we have decided will be discussed–both national and state-level issues—introspected upon and a very serious, honest, self-critical review will be made by us.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you what your defeated MPs are saying. Prashant Pradhan, your defeated MP from Kontai, says: “People have not taken kindly to the withdrawal of support from the UPA government. The poor and the farmers never understood why we wanted to topple the government.”

Sitaram Yechury: You see these are points of views which have come across. As I said all issues will be discussed by us and on all of them we will come to some honest, self-critical conclusion.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you Amitabh Nandi, a defeated MP from Dumdum. He says: “From day one of withdrawing support from UPA our slogans, our activities have proved we are against stability.”

Sitaram Yechury: These are opinions that have come and as I said all these issues will be discussed thoroughly and that process has already begun. By the middle of June I think we will come to our conclusion.

Karan Thapar: But can you accept that these are very valid opinions?

Sitaram Yechury: These issues will be discussed, definitely.

Karan Thapar: These are not inexperienced, foolish people talking. These are some of your most senior, cherished MPs, now defeated. They know what they are talking about.

Sitaram Yechury: They have been our leaders in Parliament. There is no way we are going to discount anything anybody says within the party. Everything will be taken seriously and discussed.

Karan Thapar: Now the second problem with breaking with the UPA was that you forced the Congress into the arms of the Trinamool Congress, thus creating a coalition that was able to attract the anti-Left votes in West Bengal at a time when you were yourself suffering from Nandigram, Singur and beginning to realise that the Muslim population could be disaffected. Rather than divide your opponents you ended up uniting and strengthening them.

Sitaram Yechury: But remember that the Congress and the Trinamool always had a ground-level understanding even without an alliance. What happened this time was that the de facto converted itself into de jure.

Karan Thapar: Which was a disaster for you…

Sitaram Yechury: This had its impact, definitely. There’s no doubt about it. We anticipated that this would have an impact on the marginal seats, but there are other reasons why this defeat has occurred in Bengal and those have to be seriously examined.

Karan Thapar: Absolutely. No one denies there are other reasons in Bengal. But given those other reasons, the worst tactic for you was to unite your opponents on a single platform. You should have divided them, not united them.

Sitaram Yechury: Like I said we will review all of this.

Karan Thapar: But can you accept this was bad tactics?

Sitaram Yechury: Not just this, all other questions will be discussed and reviewed. All that I can say right now is that on any one of these issues we have not come to any conclusive decision.

Karan Thapar: But you accept that given that you already had problems in Bengal, devising a strategy that unites your opponents was a pretty silly thing to do?

Sitaram Yechury: But it could well be that our opponents were going to unite any way?

Karan Thapar: Maybe but you prodded them into it. If you hadn’t broken with Congress they might not have gone with Trinamool and then you would have faced a divided opposition not a united one.

Sitaram Yechury: In the last elections, remember, of the 61 Left MPs 54 came to the Lok Sabha defeating Congress candidates. So going into elections with the Congress was never the issue.

Karan Thapar: But the problem was that this time, by breaking with the UPA, you pushed the Congress into the arms of the TMC and thus created a platform of unity against you which otherwise would have been two divided parties.

Sitaram Yechury: That is the reason why I am saying that what was de facto has become de jure.

Karan Thapar: And that was a disaster…

Sitaram Yechury: We will review that…

Karan Thapar: Is it true that Jyoti Basu advised the CPI-M leadership not to break with the UPA?

Sitaram Yechury: He may have had his opinions within the committees but there is no advice that has come to us.

Karan Thapar: What opinion did he express in the committees?

Sitaram Yechury: That I can’t tell you. That is something which even he won’t tell you.

Karan Thapar: Can I infer that within the committees he expressed a measure of dissent about breaking with the UPA?

Sitaram Yechury: You see breaking from the UPA was not a one-time decision or which happened one-off. It was a series of developments which were taking place as a result of which it culminated in our withdrawing support. On various steps in this process he had some issues to tell us which he told.

Karan Thapar: So there were various moments when he expressed his opinion; there were issues he had to speak about which he did speak about.

Sitaram Yechury: Yes, definitely. Inside the party all of us will give our opinion but once we collectively decide that is our party matter.

Karan Thapar: Thank you, I think you have said it all. You can’t confirm it but within the party at various stages he had opinions to express and he did express them.

Sitaram Yechury: He conveyed what he felt at a number of times.

Karan Thapar: He conveyed what he felt at a number of times, not (just) once or twice.

Sitaram Yechury: Even today he does.

Karan Thapar: The second biggest mistake was in fact the Third Front. We all knew what it didn’t stand for–it was anti-Congress, anti-BJP—but no one actually knew what it stood for. As a result of which it lacked credibility and it projected negativity.

Sitaram Yechury: We in the politburo have come to the conclusion that the Third Front …. you understand how this Third Front emerged? It was state-level alliances in various states. Now this was brought together as a national alternative, which people obviously found had neither credibility or viability. Both were lacking. Thus the result. That is what we have accepted.

Karan Thapar: Finish the sentence you half began before you interrupted yourself: “We in the Politburo have to come a conclusion about the Third Front” and then you stopped. What is that conclusion?

Sitaram Yechury: That it was neither viable nor credible…

Karan Thapar: Would you therefore say that it was a mistake?

Sitaram Yechury: The way it was projected was a mistake. I’ll tell you why. The CPI-M always had this opinion, which we still continue to have, that India requires a third political alternative. This third political alternative will have to bring about a shift in the policy trajectory in the country. But that cannot be a cut-and-paste job on the eve of elections.

Karan Thapar: This was a hastily put together cut-and-paste job?

Sitaram Yechury: A cut-and-paste job, and to achieve our objective of a third alternative there are no short cuts. It will have to be done through sustained, prolonged, popular struggles. .

Karan Thapar: This was an attempt at putting together a Third Front, not just by cut and paste but by short-cut methods and that was a mistake.

Sitaram Yechury: Yes. That is something which will be a subject of our review in the central committee (of the CPI-M).

Karan Thapar: But in fact it was not just the projection of the Third Front, it was not just the haste and the cut-and-paste manner in which it was put together. Even the composition of the Third Front was wrong. To begin with, almost all its members were former BJP allies. Two of them, Jayalalithaa and Mayawati, face serious charges of corruption. As a result of its composition this front undermined your cherished principles of probity and secularism. These people should have never been your allies.

Sitaram Yechury: That is why in retrospect we are saying that people didn’t find it credible. They did not find this front credible.

Karan Thapar: No doubt the people did not find it credible. The election results prove that. But can you accept that at a prior stage you chose the wrong allies? You should not have approached people like Jayalalithaa, like Mayawati.

Sitaram Yechury: In the states we had electoral understandings—with Jayalalithaa it was an understanding in Tamil Nadu; with the TDP it was an understanding in Andhra Pradesh. But we brought all this together as a national alternative. That did not find credibility with the people.

Karan Thapar: You’re accepting that projecting a state level understanding into a national understanding was a mistake. But even at the state level it was a mistake. Just look at the speed with which Jayalalithaa left you. She left you immediately after the elections and before the counting. The TRS left you after the voting and before the counting. As soon as the counting was over the JD-S and the BSP left you. They showed no loyalty to you at the state or national level.

Sitaram Yechury: The AIADMK has not left us formally, but you are right about the BSP, JD-S and TRS. That is precisely the point I am making–the front was neither credible nor viable. This (election result) has only confirmed that.

Karan Thapar: One other thing. At a time when the country was yearning for a strong and stable government, no one believed that the Third Front could offer it and more importantly the prospect of Mayawati as Prime Minister put a lot of people off, maybe even frightened them.

Sitaram Yechury: I don’t think it was only a question of stability that people wanted. If it was stability then they would have found little to choose between the UPA and the NDA. They wanted stability with a commitment to the secular, democratic foundations of India. This was the combination which they found the Third Front lacked the credibility to give. And Commitment to secular, democratic foundations the NDA would never give. Hence the result.

Karan Thapar: The reason you lacked credibility in terms of secular foundations of India is not just because of the composition of the Third Front. But if you look at what your party did in Kerala your alliance with (PDP leader) A N Madhani was another mistake.

Sitaram Yechury: There was no alliance with Madhani.

Karan Thapar: Your own local partymen in Kerala have called it an alliance and say it is a mistake.

Sitaram Yechury: In Kerala, not only Madhani, various other issues that have impacted on these elections, all of them will be reviewed.

Karan Thapar: Let us briefly talk about the manner in which your two bastions–of West Bengal and Kerala–undermined your performance. To begin with, how did you permit yourself to go into an election when your entire Kerala unit was not just feuding but acrimoniously tearing itself apart?

Sitaram Yechury: But remember in Kerala this sort of situation prevailed in the 2006 elections and that time there were street-level demonstrations (as well).

Karan Thapar: Except that the situation had got much worse. On the eve of elections your state secretariat wanted V S Achutanandan removed as Chief Minister.

Sitaram Yechury: No, that was not true. That was only a media-created rumour. But the point is in 2006 what was seen as acrimony between our leaders resulted in a two-third majority victory in the Assembly.

Karan Thapar: Except that by 2009 you were no longer the beneficiary of doubts in the minds of the people. They were convinced by then 3 years of feuding meant that you were tearing yourself apart and you were allying with people like Madani. You were losing credibility.

Sitaram Yechury: Remember the elections in 2009 were for the Central government not state government. In Kerala and Bengal people are very conscious, they know what choices they want and whom they want where (i.e. at the Centre).

Karan Thapar: All right let me quote to you Hanan Mollah, one of your defeated MPs. This is what he told several papers: “We have been severely punished. Did we lose touch with ground reality?” What is your answer to that question?

Sitaram Yechury: That is precisely what we are examining. That is the answer we will give in our Central Committee when we meet in June.

Karan Thapar: What is your hunch? You are a political man, no doubt a definitive answer will come after the analysis but what is your instinct?

Sitaram Yechury: Obviously we have lost touch otherwise this sort of result would not have come. But to what degree, why we lost touch, what were the inadequacies, that is something we are seriously examining.

Karan Thapar: But you agree that you lost touch?

Sitaram Yechury: Of course, the results show that.

Karan Thapar: Now let’s come to the question: where does responsibility lie. I want to quote to you what one of your defeated candidates, Amitabh Nandy, has said. He says: “When we complete our introspection it will certainly emerge that the party’s top leadership has failed.” Would you agree?

Sitaram Yechury: Please understand one thing that this has been a very big debacle for us. Also understand the fact that this is for the first time in the last two decades that a secular government is being formed in India in which the CPI-M has no role. This is a big setback. People, therefore, are expressing their disappointment. All these sentiments
will be taken into account by us.

Karan Thapar: When you say this is the first time a secular government is being formed in India for two decades without any role or presence of CPI-M, you are underlining how irrelevant or marginalised you have become. So let us come back to Amitabh Nandy. Will you accept that the party’s top leadership has failed?

Sitaram Yechury: That is what we are examining. Of course the top leadership of the party will have to take the leaderships role, I mean play the leaderships role. That it will.

Karan Thapar: Will the question when you do your examination be raised:has the leadership failed? Will that question be raised?

Sitaram Yechury: Of course it will come. Of course it will be discussed. Remember a Communist party functions by what we call the Leninist principles of organisation, where it is collective functioning with individual responsibility.

Karan Thapar: Both the collective functioning of the leadership will be inquired into as well as the issue of individual responsibility?

Sitaram Yechury: Of course. Yes. All of this will come in to the review. Definitely.

Karan Thapar: Your allies have absolutely no compunction at all in pointing the finger of blame straight at the Delhi leadership of CPI-M. Debabrata Biswas has done it, Abani Roy has done it and now increasingly AB Bardhan is doing it. They say the CPI-M leadership was arrogant and it had lost touch with the masses.

Sitaram Yechury: We have also heard these comments but all of them were party to all the decisions that were taken together in the Left parties’ meeting.

Karan Thapar: No doubt but is there any truth in their claim that your leadership was arrogant?

Sitaram Yechury: If our allies are saying all this we will definitely take that into account in our review. Definitely.

Karan Thapar: You won’t turn a deaf ear?

Sitaram Yechury: No, definitely not.

Karan Thapar: You won’t sweep it under the carpet?

Sitaram Yechury: No, it is for our own survival to get back the people who have been alienated from us and to advance further that we have to be candid, honest and rigorously honest in this self-critical examination.

Karan Thapar: If you want to be candid and rigorously honest then I put this to you: after facing a similar disastrous electoral performance, LK Advani offered his resignation to the BJP as Leader of Opposition. Why in similar circumstances in the CPI-M has Prakash Karat not found fit to make a similar gesture?

Sitaram Yechury: Leader of Opposition is a position in Parliament and that Parliament has ceased – the 14th Lok Sabha. And that Parliament has ceased to be. So whether he resigns or not that Parliament has finished.

Karan Thapar: We are talking about the need for candidness, for transparency and for winning back the people you have lost. Surely therefore Prakash Karat must make the gesture of accepting responsibility as General Secretary.

Sitaram Yechury: The point again here is that it will have to be a collective assessment that we will make of these results, of why these results have resulted in this sort of manner. And remember, resignation also can be escape from responsibilities.

Karan Thapar: You said a very interesting thing. A collective assessment will be made.

Sitaram Yechury: Yes.

Karan Thapar: Now your Central Committee is due to meet in June. At that meeting what are the chances that Prakash Karat will either step down voluntarily or be stripped of his responsibilities.

Sitaram Yechury: Again let me tell you the Central Committee is going to discuss the reasons for our debacle.

Karan Thapar: And they are going into the question of leadership?

Sitaram Yechury: Leadership of course. In that process. But it will not be on the basis of who is going to resign or not–that is not the issue. The issue is what are the mistakes, why were they committed and how can they be corrected.

Karan Thapar: But can you rule out the possibility of Prakash Karat accepting responsibility at that stage and resigning?

Sitaram Yechury: The Central Committee, as I said, will comprehensively review. Beyond that I cannot go today.

Karan Thapar: Let me put this to you. There is no doubt that the two issues on which you ended up losing seats were the break with the UPA and creation of a less than credible Third Front. Of both those Prakash Karat was the central architect. Is it not therefore the case that, as the Press is saying, he has the greatest measure of direct responsibility for this defeat?

Sitaram Yechury: Prakash Karat is the General Secretary of the CPI-M. These were the decisions of the CPI-M and he as General Secretary will articulate these decisions, naturally.

Karan Thapar: In most organisations when things go wrong the man at the top takes the responsibility.

Sitaram Yechury: But I think that is also one way of escaping responsibility.

Karan Thapar: Are you going to hold him to the job to punish him rather than let him go?

Sitaram Yechury: It is not a question of an individual. As I said, we will collectively assess what are our mistakes.

Karan Thapar: And therefore if you are going to collectively assess his future depends on the outcome and decisions of the central committee.

Sitaram Yechury: Well, the future of the party depends on it.

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Coping With Victory And Defeat

By Siddharth Varadarajan

With the poorly conceived Third Front promising little more than political instability and the Bharatiya Janata Party standing for greater social turmoil and division, the victory of the Congress is a vote for calm, centrist stability of the kind the country has not seen for more than two decades.

That voters have attached a premium to both the formation of a stable government and to the pursuit of social-democratic policies should come as no surprise given the spectres of economic hardship, terrorist violence and communal polarisation that haunt our collective psyche today.

The only irony is that the Left and the Congress, whose partnership for four out of the past five years provided the United Progressive Alliance both the aura of stability and the caché of populism, should have ended up such bitter rivals on the eve of the election.

On the eve of the general election, the coming together of major challenges like the world financial crisis, the implosion of Pakistan and the rising tide of religious intolerance within India and the region had shifted the matrix of rational policy in such a manner that the issues on which the Left and the Congress had parted company last year made no sense at all to voters in 2009.

On most issues of consequence, domestic and foreign, the distance between centrist and leftist policy was getting eroded. Having resisted the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme when activists first mooted the idea in 2004, the Congress took it up seriously only after the Left parties made it a priority.

Even then, conservative elements within the ruling establishment like Montek Singh Ahluwalia of the Planning Commission remained sceptical and sought to limit the Central government’s fiscal commitment to it.

Only when the economic slowdown hit India in 2008 — and the importance of NREGA as both a politically convenient safety net for the poor and an accelerator-multiplier to kickstart the economy became apparent — did the Congress make its implementation a priority.

The Congress may have been a late and even reluctant convert; but what matters finally is that the party and the Left ended up on the same page.

On other economic matters which divided the Congress and the Left like financial sector liberalisation, the fact that the Indian banking and insurance sectors were insulated from the global turmoil which felled giants like AIG and Lehman Brothers provided a further basis for the two sides to speak the same broad language.

Instead of celebrating the return of the social-democratic paradigm and using this to leverage a further shift away from neo-liberal dogma, however, the Left found itself holding the can on the one free-market policy its rural support base viscerally opposed: land acquisition.

If nationally, the CPI(M) and its allies were pilloried for a leftism that was largely declaratory, the Left Front paid the price in its bastion of West Bengal for the “rightism” of its policies that allowed Mamata Banerjee to emerge as a defender of the peasantry’s right to till the soil.

Consider the irony: the Left broke with the Congress because it felt the latter had deviated from the Common Minimum Programme of 2004. But in 2009, it allied itself to a diverse set of political parties without any programme other than the desire to establish a “non-Congress, non-BJP” government.

So it was that the Left found itself at election time with allies such as the Telugu Desam Party, the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Biju Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party — groups that had no interest in pushing the direction of national economic policy one way or the other and which had all, in recent times, been closely associated with the BJP and its communal politics.

This programmatic dilution of the ‘Third Front’ allowed the grouping to look strong on paper but it was devoid of any political ballast. But even this might not have proved fatal except for another factor: As a result of its break with the Congress over an issue that was not so decisive to the direction of Indian foreign policy in the long run — the nuclear deal — the Left facilitated the creation of a coalition that went on to storm the seemingly impregnable red fortress of Bengal.

To be sure, there were and are valid reasons for the CPI(M) to have wanted to build a Third Front. But its failure to articulate a positive pro-people programme around which such a front could be established rendered the exercise electorally and politically futile.

As it looks towards rebuilding itself in Kerala and West Bengal and enlarging its prospects as a genuinely national alternative, the Left will have to be self-critical about its preference for conjuring up expedient top-down coalitions rather than organic, bottom-up alliances based on the kind of struggles and movements the communists know best.

Unless it does so, the parliamentary communist movement will find itself increasingly squeezed by Maoist extremism on the left and the electoral machine of ‘bourgeois’ parties on the right against which it cannot easily compete. If the Left needs to introspect, what of the BJP, which paid the price for believing that the Indian voter would prefer divisiveness and strife to the comforting anchor of centrism?

The rot in the party runs so deep that it cannot be reversed by the resignation of LK Advani. The very fact that its spokesmen thought Narendra Modi’s name would generate a wave in favour of the BJP despite the Supreme Court ordering a probe into his role in the 2002 mass killing of Muslims in Gujarat shows the extent to which they are out of touch with the pulse of the country.

But since the party did relatively better in Gujarat and Karnataka, especially the coastal region where Christians, Muslims and ‘immoral’ Hindus have been targeted by the Sangh Parivar, it is possible the RSS will conclude that religious polarisation is a good electoral strategy for the BJP to pursue. If this is the direction the party takes, its capacity to generate tension and insecurity in civil society will increase even if its national political prospects continue to remain dim.

As for the Congress, the party needs to guard against the hubris that usually accompanies the kind of dramatic, unexpected victory it has just received. The INC defeated the Left fair and square but must realise that its success owes more to the social-democratic elements of its economic policies than to the ‘reforms’ the party’s more affluent backers espouse.

Second, vanquishing the politics the BJP stands for requires more than electoral success. The socio-economic and administrative support structures on which the politics of communalism thrives need to be dismantled through careful, sensitive intervention.

The party must resist the old Congress way of pandering to identity politics as a low-cost way of doing the right thing by India’s diverse electorate. India’s Muslims, for example, want equal opportunities and justice, not the banning of a book or the expulsion of a Taslima Nasreen. Providing these will involve taking on entrenched interests and attitudes, especially in the police and administration, something the
Congress has always shied away from doing.

Finally, the re-election of the UPA must not be seen as a licence to indulge in the ‘Congress culture’ of the past. The public got a glimpse of that culture when some leaders started pushing for Rahul Gandhi to be made Prime Minister as soon as the scale of the party’s victory became apparent.

Sonia Gandhi did well to nip these demands in the bud. If she can go further by pensioning off entrenched interests and democratising the functioning of the party’s leadership, the Congress will be better placed to meet the expectations of those who have voted for it.

Courtesy: The Hindu

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