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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 30, New Delhi, July 11, 2020

LETTER TO THE READERS - Mainstream’s, COVID 19 Lockdown Edition No.16 | July 11, 2020

Saturday 11 July 2020

Talk of De-escalation on the India-China border is good news:
Sino-Indian standoff seems to have moved away from a full-blown confrontation. New Delhi appears to have elevated its diplomatic contacts with Beijing. On July 5, 2020, Special Representatives of India and China on border dispute Ajit Doval and Wang Yi reached a ‘positive consensus’ over de-escalation and disengagement in Eastern Ladakh. Time will tell if this holds. Though reports still point at round the clock monitoring by the Indian military aircraft near the border, disengagement will take time. Every effort needs to be made to cool the temperatures. India must steer clear from US lobbyists and not let them set the agenda by dangling the carrots.

It has to be understood that China has not changed its posture since 1962 when it had invaded India without any real provocation. This step by China had caused intense dismay among progressive sections in India and they had to pay a heavy price just because of their ideological proximity to China. Since 1962 there have been umpteen instances of border tensions despite repeated efforts by India seeking detente.
There was a possibility of opening a new chapter in Sino-Indian relations when Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao went to China in 1993. A bilateral agreement to ensure peace and tranquillity on the border was signed. However, this failed to avoid confrontation in Sumdorong Chu in 1997 .Even before the Rao visit to China in 1993 there was the possibility of an agreement being signed regarding the border issues in 1982-83 when Deng Xiao Ping and Indira Gandhi were in charge. Had that agreement been signed then China and India would have turned a new leaf in their relations. But that was not to be and the relations have continued to deteriorate despite China being India’s largest trading partner. If a new era in Sino-Indian relations has to develop the two sides must settle the border issue through detailed negotiations among them. Is it a tall order? It appears so in the present circumstances when both sides have hardened their positions. However, there is no alternative to a negotiated settlement which both sides would have to concede.

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Food Security must be a priority:
Recently, our attention was drawn to Bhagalpur in Bihar where the COVID-19 crisis has undone the Mid-Day Meal Scheme - a pioneering welfare scheme in India to fight malnutrition. Children of one of the poorest Dalit communities in Bihar, the Musahars, had to take to rag-picking after the scheme, that used to provide them one meal a day, came to a halt a few months ago. The pandemic has caused a major social-economic crisis in our society. Prominent development economist Jean Dreze, the right to food campaign and the opposition parties have repeatedly asked the government to open the food godowns and provide food - to run food kitchens for the migrant workers and the poor who have lost jobs due to Covid19 slowdown and strengthen food security programmes. The Government keeps making high promises but is clearly on the road to privatisation, standing shy from social welfare programmes and would rather just hand out cash instead of running ’anganwadis’. There are major job cuts across the board and hardly anything one can call a national social security canopy under which people can seek protection exists. The warning from Pronob Sen India’s former lead statistician that India could see food riots, should have gotten the governing elites worried about social risks. It looks as if the baton-wielding law and order school of thinking - which believes that they can browbeat the poor and fix the problem prevails. And these men are popular than ever with our middle classes whose minds are bombarded every night by right-wing propaganda from TV networks such as Republic and Zee.

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Why read a book when an SMS can do the job-style thinking:
Of late educational administrators seem to have lost some of their brains in India. Two developments drive us into saying this. One is the decision to arbitrarily censor and slice the very well designed syllabi and textbooks for school children. The doctoring of textbooks and removal of entire chapters on important issues of human rights, secularism, citizenship, social movement histories, on the life of peasants, zamindars, understanding the Partition of 1947 from National School textbooks of the CBSE is a totally scandalous move in the name of lightening the weight of learning and taking short cuts. The second is a highly irresponsible move by the University of Delhi to postpone exams 36 hours before their scheduled dates. Students of the university are young citizens who have no say in the educational system that is being mismanaged at the whims and fancies of the people who seem accountable to none.

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Impatience with Democracy - Anti Reservation - Upper Caste Privilege Talk Gaining Hold in our society:
July 8 marked the 75th anniversary of Peoples Education Society, an organisation founded by Dr. BR Ambedkar. The society was open to students of all communities but aimed primarily at promoting higher education among Scheduled Caste students. On July 8, 2020, Rajgruha, which housed many such students, was vandalized. Castiests who have vandalised Ambedkar’s statues in the past and have now attacked Rajgruha, his home, have gotten a lot of wind under their wings and much energy after the BJP came to power in Maharashtra, where right-wing extremists, who triggered the violence at Bhima Koregaon, have gone scot-free. The victory of Yogi Adiyanath in Uttar Pradesh and political sidelining of low caste formations such as the BSP and Samajwadi party had rejuvenated the upper caste groups leading to much violence in the countryside. These along with moves by the Modi government and some recent judgments by the high judiciary weaken and undermine the system of reservations. These are leading us into a situation of social regression. At the level of state action, ’Positive Discrimination’ in India had been a relatively effective technique of social mobility for low caste groups and to redress the long history of their caste oppression. It had its share of problems, but those went unaddressed to make it socially acceptable across the society.

Outside the Government, at the level of political parties, the BJP has come to achieve a pretty large presence of Dalits and the poor in its fold, a far bigger number than any other political party in India. They micromanage the inner tensions and contradictions between upper and lower castes inside their party. This is not to say they practice equal opportunity for all inside. They are no role models. The opposition parties that sloganeer social commitments towards the fair social representation of Dalits, Adivasis and all minorities, regions and women in our society mustn’t limit themselves to demanding a share in the national pie from the state but also give real representation inside their own parties and trade unions and mass organisations. Democratic representation of all segments of society will only happen if this becomes a daily educational chore & practice within all organisations across the board. The idea of equal citizenship has to be made real inside the social life of all political parties. The democratic opposition forces must create a new political culture that challenges inequalities within their own organisations.

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Retribution and Revenge are not the ways in which a democratic society functions.

Recently Vikas Dubey, a known criminal in Kanpur UP, killed 8 policemen who had gone to arrest him. Following that the gangster was killed on July 10 in a blatant manner. According to the police, Dubey had fired at them from a weapon he snatched from the police officer, after the vehicle in which he was being taken to Kanpur from Ujjain overturned on the highway last morning. His death is being described as the culmination of an encounter. The so-called encounter has left the former top cops across the country disappointed and fuming. They have called the incident "unfortunate, outrageous and untenable in a civilised society" while calling for an enquiry into the death, given the "circumstances under which it happened".

Observers in UP who wish to remain unnamed opine that Dubey was linked to the police, bureaucracy, politicians from the BJP, RSS, SP, BSP and even businessmen who provided protection to him. It needs to be recalled that in 2018 a Police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh, who was the investigation officer of Dadri lynching case, was killed by a mob of around 400 persons in Bulandshahr in an incident related apparently to cow slaughter. In both instances, the lives of policemen were lost but there was hardly any investigation. Whether its the lives of Policemen or the lives of so-called criminals, the due process of law and procedure must be fully respected in a democracy. Retribution and Revenge are not the ways in which a democratic society functions.

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Narasimha Rao and Babri Masjid

Last week on June 28, former PM PV Narasimha Rao’s birth centenary was observed. It needs to be mentioned here that while he was berated for having done practically nothing to protect the Babri Masjid which was demolished under his watch on December 6, 1992, by the Hindutva wadis, he had actually requested the Supreme Court at that time to give its opinion on whether he could send troops to protect the mosque from the violent mob before it was razed to the ground; the Supreme Court, however, declined to give its opinion in the matter. Thereafter, the issue was hushed up when the then UP CM Kalyan Singh gave an undertaking that the structure would be untouched. And, the rest is history ’revealing the ways in which the BJP functions’.

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Veteran film comedian Jagdeep best remembered as Surma Bhopali of the film ’Sholay’ passed away at the age of 81 in Mumbai. He featured in some 400 films in a career spanning six decades, beginning with BR Chopra’s ’Afsana’ made in 1951. His style of rolling his eyes while speaking Hindi with a distinct Bhopali dialect later became his hallmark. We pay our tributes to the people’s comedian.

The Editor, July 11

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