DAWN - Opinion; October 17, 2008

Published October 17, 2008

Reliving Gandhi’s legacy

By Ayesha Siddiqa

IN this day and age when one desperately searches for men of vision, courage and integrity it is such a relief to know of a man like Prof Mushirul Hasan, the vice chancellor of New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia.

An established historian, he will be remembered by posterity for his liberal views, enlightened thought and efforts to heal the wounds of a community that has a significant presence in Indian society. This is in reference to the mother-father role that Mushirul Hasan played in calming down the Muslim community in Jamia Nagar and the Muslim students of Jamia Millia who were extremely fearful after some students were picked up by the Delhi police in connection with the seven blasts in the Indian capital.

The vice chancellor established a fund to which teachers and old students of the university contributed to provide legal aid to the ten arrested Jamia students. Of course this brought lots of criticism from many in India. They were of the view that the university or its office-holders had no business to help the students because then every student anywhere in the country could seek similar assistance.

Mushir’s act became even more noticeable after the vice chancellors of universities in Gujarat decided that all students of all colleges and universities in the state must take a course in anti-terrorism. Furthermore, the Gujarat VCs declared that in the event of the police arresting someone under suspicion of terrorism, the detainee in question would be considered a terrorist. This stance is diametrically opposed to Mushir’s position.

One hopes that those who fault the Jamia’s VC for helping his students will realise that his act will strengthen rather than weaken the Indian state and society. It is an important symbolic gesture in a society where communities today are becoming increasingly estranged. While the developments post-9/11 have changed global politics, they have also created bitterness between the majority and a sizeable minority in India. The liberal and seemingly secular elite in India view Muslims with a lot of suspicion and this in turn draws a reaction from the minority community.

Some would argue that suspicion is natural in the current circumstances. However, there are always two sides to a story. The other side, which the majority might not wish to see, is that given the increased hostility towards religious minorities in India, namely Muslims and Christians, the minority communities are bound to feel ostracised and bitter about the state. The Muslims in Kashmir are one part of the story, but the other reality pertains to the rest of India where Muslims feel less secure especially after the Babri Masjid incident and the Gujarat carnage.

These two incidents widened the chasm which, in any case, existed due to the disparity in development. The majority of Muslims are less educated and poor. They are not even impressed by the few examples of success found in Bollywood in the shape of Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan or Salman Khan. Or some of the cricket stars.

Some might argue this is the fault of the Muslim leadership in India that has done little to develop the community. But then isn’t it the responsibility of the state as well to assist the poor people of a community which once had a proud sense of ownership in the Indian state? Or isn’t it the responsibility of the state to bring development to the poorer segments irrespective of the community they belong to?

What we see as violence in India is a repercussion of imbalanced development. The country may be a regional power with nuclear weapons and blue-water capability but it is also a place where a large segment of the population does not get a share in the development windfall. On the one hand is the growing middle class, which has access to education and resources. This is the emerging class which, like in any other part of the world, suffers from myopia and would like to shut its eyes to poverty and the dispossessed.

In their view, Muslims represent a bunch of terrorists. It is sad that India, which claims to be the epitome of secularism, has also become a society where the growing middle class is increasingly prone to stereotyping the other community. So when discussions take place in most affluent living rooms, Muslims are dismissed as a bunch of troublemakers and a violent lot.

The question for such people is, what does India plan to do with the Muslims who account for 14-15 per cent of the total population? Does it plan to drown them in the Indian Ocean or force them to carve out yet another country for themselves? And let’s not forget the Christians who are being targeted as well. After all, these people chose to remain Indians in 1947 and are the country’s citizens.

Recently, during a chat with a senior university professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University, my suggestion that India is under threat from within was brushed aside with the argument that the country is too large and can absorb crises. The problem is that no country is large enough when the crisis it faces is the intolerance of the majority. Furthermore, the concern in the region is that if anything happens to India due to internal security issues, its large size will negatively impact the entire region.

The idea is not that the country will disintegrate. After all there are other battles being fought in India as well. There are the Naxalites, the Assamese and Kashmiris who are fighting their own battles. However, communal tension is far more lethal especially in this day and age when people believe that violence may be their weapon of last resort. A divided society cannot be set right even with an armoury of lethal weapons. Perhaps what university students in Gujarat need is a lesson in tolerance rather than counter-terrorism.

Therefore, what Mushir has done is show courage and vision to protect the Indian state. Many have tried to remind him that the Jamia is the very place he was kicked out of for not supporting the anti-Rushdie fatwa and resultant demonstrations. So then why support such people? It is probably his faith in the Indian state that made him take a stand. Unfortunately, many would rather communalise his decision rather than support it. One wishes that there were VCs, professors and intellectuals from the majority community who would come together to heal the wounds of the various minorities in the country.

At the end of the day, Mushirul Hasan represents Gandhi’s legacy better than many others. One sincerely hopes that India finds more men of vision and similar character to save itself from violence and internal battles.

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.


Loss of goodness

By Niilofur Farrukh

WHEN news of the recent killing of women in Babakot hit the headlines, the nation was stunned. Soon it was to learn that what preceded their death was even more horrific as all sources point to a brutal execution.

The province-wide cover-up of the Babakot murders in Balochistan raises many questions regarding a systemic failure to protect the victims and also suggests concealment of evidence. To this day, despite the appointment of an official committee tasked with investigating the matter, no credible report has emerged, and even after the bodies were exhumed the number of women murdered could not be stated with any certainty.

Conflicting accounts from eyewitnesses and people from the region have added to the confusion which has worked to the advantage of the real culprits who are openly preventing local cooperation with fact-finding missions. The public endorsement of violence against women by some elected Baloch leaders coupled with the lack of decisive action points to deep gender biases that devalue female lives.

Such prejudice is in clear violation of the oath they took as members of national and provincial representative bodies. Without the courage and conscience of one reporter who broke the news despite grave threats to his person, the murders would have been buried with the victims.

The only ‘crime’ of these adult Baloch women was that they defied tribal laws which invited the wrath of the custodians of patriarchal codes that continue to be practised in defiance of the constitutional rights of the citizenry. This incident is not isolated as crimes against women increase every year. Women and pre-teen girls, some as young as three, are routinely declared vani and handed over to the offended clan to save the lives of guilty adult men. These helpless girls are married off to men sometimes old enough to be their grandfathers by outlawed jirgas unlawfully presided over by social and political leaders.

A woman was shot dead in court recently and another met the same fate some years ago at a prominent lawyer’s office. These ‘hits’ were commissioned by the girls’ families as the punishment by death of the child who challenges clan law overrides all other ties. Every week we read accounts of young couples in love who should be leading a happy married life. Instead they are on the run, desperately hiding from disapproving clans thirsting for their blood just because of their inter-biradari/clan/sect union.

All these dismal scenarios from Pakistan within the span of a few weeks should be enough to jolt us into the realisation that we are fast losing our last shreds of humanity. Not because someone has taken it away from us, but because we are giving it up inch by inch as passive witnesses to violence, bigotry, injustice and suffering.

The nation was quick to register its outrage over the Babakot murders in sound bytes for TV but failed to leave its comfort zone to join rallies at the Karachi Press Club asking for justice. Not even a 100 people turned up each time, in a city of around 16 million souls. According to statistics, Karachi has the highest literacy rate in the country and the highest number of professionals and technocrats. If civilisation is related to education and exposure it must surely be linked to social awareness and social responsibility.

The spectre of violence against women and children exists at all levels of society as the state no longer has the capacity or the will to protect the weakest. Among the economically deprived the practice of giving away girls in savara is no less heinous than murder as the victims are forced into a life of sanctioned servitude. The walls of hatred they face daily as a symbol of crime against the family traps them into emotional, physical and sexual enslavement. Many savara women are known to commit suicide and their troubled lives continue to emotionally scar future generations.

The fact that the majority conspires with its silence to protect criminals can only lead to further brutalisation. Half the population of Pakistan is being deprived of its right to freedom of choice, right of reproduction, right to education and right to justice. Things can’t get more serious. This slow genocide of women must be stopped and the system of apartheid dismantled.

Germany and its allies felt a loss of goodness when the Nazi gas chambers and concentration camps were exposed. The Nuremberg Trials were held to punish those responsible for crimes against humanity and to cleanse and heal the soul of Europe. A model used more recently was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa which aimed to repair the self-esteem of the black people humiliated, subjugated and dehumanised by apartheid regimes. It mentally prepared a nation for forgiveness so that the human vigour needed to plan a better future could be regained.

Pakistan, where 50 per cent of the population is killed, maimed and demonised with little or no justice on offer, should be taking serious steps if it wants to gain respect and dignity in its own eyes and those of others.

For those interested in taking the first step to heal the spirit, there can be no greater mentor than Abdul Sattar Edhi, the man who picks up our unclaimed corpses from back streets, nurtures our unwanted babies and houses our homeless old. Even if each Pakistani decides to give two hours a week to him, the broken link with fellow citizens in need can be re-forged.

Equipped with empathy the nation can begin a crash course in the rights and responsibilities enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan. This vital document can guide us to a better present and future as it can justly empower each citizen and reverse our loss of goodness.

asnaclay 06@yahoo.com

Bring back Swiss bank money

By Kuldip Nayar

THIS is not grandma’s prescription. It is plain common sense. Whenever you are hard up you reach for the money you have hidden.

India, and all of South Asia for that matter, is facing a crisis of liquidity. And this is the time when politicians, industrialists and bureaucrats in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka should bring back the money they have stashed away in Swiss banks.

The amount reportedly runs into billions of dollars which the corrupt elite have come to possess through dishonest methods. I do not want to argue the rights and wrongs of their deeds because that would start another kind of a debate. We need money to stave off the crisis we face. Even otherwise, if the corrupt feel even an iota of patriotism, they should not hesitate to bring back the much-required finance to bolster our sagging economies.

Since Switzerland maintains secret bank accounts, it is not possible for any intelligence agency, however resourceful, to trace the money. The account holders will have to do it themselves provided they feel the pain which their nation is going through.I do not know how much money is hidden by Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalese or the Sri Lankans. But the estimate for Indians is around $1,500bn which, translated into rupees, comes to some 675,000 crores (I have calculated it at the rate of Rs45 per dollar). Indeed, the figure is mind-boggling.

In a 2006 report on black money in Swiss banks, the Swiss Banking Association has put the deposits of five top countries as: India, the highest, with $1,456bn, Russia $470bn, the UK $390bn, Ukraine $100bn and China $96bn. If India’s deposits were to be distributed, 45 crore people would get Rs1 lakh each.

When I was at India’s High Commission in London, I met a bank manager from Switzerland at a party. He said that his bank alone had so much money deposited by Indians that their country could meet foreign exchange requirements for ten five-year plans. Those were the days when we were acutely short of foreign exchange and had even pledged our gold to the Bank of England as a guarantee.

The global financial situation is not getting better and India is bound to be affected sooner or later. The money in Switzerland would come in handy at this time. Yet, the question is how to persuade corrupt politicians, IAS, IPS and IRS personnel and industrialists to move their piles from abroad to India. Threats to them will not work because nobody except the Swiss banks knows how much they have. There has to be an appeal to their better senses and an assurance that they can possess most of the money legally.

It sounds immoral but there will have to be something like a tax holiday or some scheme where no questions are asked. If they were to give one-third of the amount they have abroad, they could retain the rest. I wish they realise that one-third is a small price to pay for legitimising their loot in which they have indulged since independence.

In fact, tax havens such as Switzerland are a drag on poor countries. They are part of the exploitation to which South Asia has been subjected to by the West for centuries. A book written by a western economist — entitled Capitalism’s Achilles Heel: Dirty Money and How to Renew the Free-Market System — estimates that at least $5bn have been shifted out of poorer countries to the West since the mid-1970s.

Still the markets and several banks in the West have crashed. They are in fact responsible for ruining our measly financial institutions. Imagine what would have happened to them if they did not have the money which our corrupt industrialists, bureaucrats and politicians have deposited with them? Add to this the money they have stashed away in tax havens.

South Asia has been hit because it is part of the global economy which has caved in. Under pressure from the West, we have opened up several sectors to them. It has been seen during the last few weeks that they have been the first to sell their shares in various Indian companies, bringing the stock market tumbling down. It is estimated that in India alone they were withdrawing Rs2,000-3,000 crore in foreign exchange per week because they experienced hardship in their own country.

In India, the Left which had supported the Manmohan Singh government has saved us from further disaster by not allowing some financial sectors opening up to global players. We also owe it to the Left that western institutions were not allowed to enter insurance to the full extent. The Left also put in place some regulatory measures for banks.

The economic crisis, triggered primarily by western wasteful living, brought all of Europe, America and others together the other day in Washington to discuss how to overcome the situation. I wish New Delhi had taken the initiative to get the countries of South Asia around the same table to discuss a joint action for facing the problem.

Poor countries have a lot of resilience. They may therefore weather the storm. But it will be again at the expense of the lower half. In a capitalist economy, the upper half loses luxuries, not comforts. The poor have to cut down on necessities. One per cent of the world population is said to be holding more than 57 per cent of the total global wealth.

Manmohan Singh, who authored a South-South Commission report, proposed close commercial and economic cooperation among the countries of the third world. The suggestions never took off. He should wash off the stigma by grouping the countries in South Asia into a common market. The world financial crisis can be turned into an opportunity for the region to lessen dollar transactions. We can meet most needs from our own resources. We have the men and material, technology and manpower to do so.

We have lost enough to the West before and after independence. Let us at least start depending on ourselves and do away with such foreign goods that are available in the region. And it becomes all the more necessary for civil societies to band together with national and international experts to put moral and legal pressure on Swiss banks to reveal the identities of account holders. This money belongs to the people of South Asia and it should be available to them when they need it. We should also develop confidence to borrow from one another instead of looking towards the West.

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.

Key role for China

By Andrew Graham

THE massive government interventions announced on both sides of the Atlantic in the last 48 hours may, just, have prevented the world’s financial system from imploding. Alongside the largest monetary meltdown in half a century, we face collapsing consumer and business spending.

These problems are closely intertwined — the financial crisis is part of the cause of the collapse in spending, and the collapse in spending is now undermining financial markets — but they need separate (and yet non-conflicting) solutions.

To get a handle on these problems, start on the financial side and two big “facts” about banking and money.

First, since the emergence of modern capitalism some three centuries ago, we have seen more than 30 major financial crises — about one every 10 years. But this is an average. In the UK, we’ve had more than 30 years since the last banking rescue (the secondary banks in 1974). One result was a growing belief, now shattered, that banking could be left largely to the private sector.

In the US, the ideology of the unfettered market is more deep-seated. Despite the collapse and rescue of Continental Illinois in 1984, despite the savings and loans crisis of the 80s, and despite the rescue of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998, the US clung, until the last few weeks, to the belief that the banks could largely be left alone. Nevertheless, economic history is clear: banking systems almost always eventually over-extend themselves and have to be rescued — not just the Brits and the Americans, but the Japanese and the Latin Americans in the early 80s and then the Scandinavians, the south Asians and the Russians in the 90s.

Secondly, money is not like cars or cups of tea — you cannot test-drive or taste it. It depends, above all, on trust and confidence which cannot be bought or exchanged. Money is the bedrock for the whole economic system. If you are to avoid catastrophe when confidence evaporates, as it has done in the recent turmoil, the only option is for the state to underpin the core financial institutions.

These two facts are the reasons we are where we are today. Faced with meltdown, the chancellor’s dramatic actions on Monday (followed by the US and Europe) are exactly appropriate: inject liquidity into the markets, provide guarantees to the inter-bank market and, above all, inject public capital directly into the banks by the purchase of their shares.

But why not also match the commitments made by others for 100 per cent security for personal deposits? This is an area where, now that the government has acted with credibility, the greater the promise, the less the cost!

Do taxpayers here in the UK and in the US need to be worried about the scale of this intervention? Hardly at all. The bank shares governments are buying at these depressed prices will almost certainly prove to be a bargain. When the Scandinavians did the same, the public purse made a gain. Moreover, as the chief secretary to the UK Treasury, Yvette Cooper, has said, the scare-mongering about the scale of government debt is based on the fallacy that this is “spending” just like buying the services of a teacher or a doctor. It is not, it is a financial investment.

That recession (or the shortage of global aggregate demand) is the elephant in the room. Its origins lie in the huge imbalances in the world economy, resulting from our credit-driven consumption in the West having filled the vast hole in demand that would otherwise have been left by high levels of Asian (especially Chinese) saving.

As we in the West stop spending, the only way to avoid a global recession is for the Chinese, especially, to spend more. So far there is no sign of this. Would they cooperate if asked? Not necessarily, but they hold such vast dollar reserves (around $2 trillion) that they have a massive incentive to help stop the US economy and its currency descending into chaos. At the global and aggregate demand level, as well as in terms of future global financial stability, the Chinese are an essential part of the solution and it is extraordinary that the G7 or G8 groups do not include them. They should be invited immediately.

Meanwhile, the current financial crisis, its reminder of economic history, and the differences between finance and the rest of the economy, make two further points imperative. One is that every major bank has to have the state standing behind it. This has been known for ages but, shockingly, was forgotten in the case of Iceland.

We now need international agreement that countries with a small tax base must either run banks that are commensurately small or must get their banks underwritten by international bodies such as the IMF. The second is that financial regulation has to be approached with a completely different mindset from that for the rest of the economy. Elsewhere, competition can be a substitute for regulation. In banking, the opposite applies: the greater the competition, the greater the need for regulation and/or supervision.

The twin results — the growth and influence of China, plus a more regulated and state-financed banking system — make it inevitable that the Anglo-Saxon model of unfettered capitalism that has dominated thinking for half a century will be much diminished. What will replace it is unclear, but it may well look more like a form of state capitalism — perhaps not full-blown, but something much closer to Chinese capitalism than would have seemed conceivable just a month ago.

The writer is an economist and master of Balliol College, Oxford.

— The Guardian, London



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