Thursday, September 30, 2010
30 September 2010
THE POLIT BUREAU OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF INDIA (MARXIST) HAS ISSUED THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT:
The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has given its decision on the title deeds suits and related issues on the Babri Masjid/Ramjanmabhoomi temple dispute.
This judgement requires to be fully studied. There may be questions on the nature of the verdict.
The CPI (M) maintains that in our constitutional secular democratic system the judicial process which includes recourse to the Supreme Court should be the only way to resolve the issue.
The Polit Bureau of the CPI (M) appeals to the people of the country to maintain peace and communal harmony and not fall prey to any provocations.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
THE unprecedented success of the countrywide hartal against price rise on July 5 has provoked a string of absurd reactions from our political opponents in the government. Instead of accepting the fact that this spontaneous outburst of anger by the vast majority of the common people must be addressed in right earnest by making efforts to halt the price rise and improve the living conditions of the people, the Congress and some of its allies in the government, ably assisted by sections of the corporate media and the pen pushers of India Inc., have resorted to hurling baseless charges against us.
In this regard, the Trinamul Congress and its chief take the cake. Rattled by the spontaneous response in West Bengal, far surpassing the state’s usual response to hartals against the anti-people policies of the government, the Trinamul chief accused the CPI(M) of being “hand in glove with the communal party”. Committing a Freudian slip, she invoked her party’s election symbol and said that the CPI(M) and BJP are “two flowers on the same stalk”. Such temerity from a person who, in the first place, facilitated the formation of a government by the communal forces led by Vajpayee in 1998! Having served as a union cabinet minister, holding the same portfolio that she now holds in the Congress-led UPA government, she left the NDA in order to align with the Congress for the West Bengal state assembly elections in 2001.
Soon after this alliance was trounced, she abandoned the Congress to rejoin the NDA, in the aftermath of the communal genocide in Gujarat. Having been an opportunistic bedfellow of the BJP, she now has the gumption to attack the CPI(M) as “collaborating with the BJP”!Let us set the record straight. As is well-known, the CPI(M) and the Left parties along with their secular opposition allies had given the call for this nationwide hartal. Later, the BJP and its NDA allies gave a similar call on the same date. Further, this call for a hartal came as a culmination of an over year-long campaign against price rise conducted by the Left parties. On several occasions, this issue was raised in the parliament.
However, met by a callous response by the government in parliament, the Left parties decided to mount pressure on the government through popular protests and struggles. A massive `march to parliament’ was organised on March 12, 2010. This was followed by a nationwide `jail bharo’ campaign on April 8 in which over 25 lakh volunteers of the Left parties participated. This was followed by a call by the Left parties for a nationwide hartal on April 27. This present hartal has come after the recent hike in the prices of petro products in defiance of all arguments in parliament and protests outside falling on the deaf ears of the government. The CPI(M)’s credentials in fighting communalism and uncompromisingly upholding the secular democratic character of modern India is known to all. It must be recollected that in the 2004 general elections, of the 61 Left MPs in the Lok Sabha, 54 won by defeating the Congress candidates. Yet, in order to prevent the communal forces from staking claim to form the government again, the Left parties extended outside support to a secular government headed by the very same Congress party. This is despite the fact that in the Left strongholds of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, it is the Congress which is the main political adversary. Such is the commitment of the CPI(M) to uphold the secular democratic character of modern India. Having cohabited with the BJP in the past, the Trinamul Congress is cynically trying to spread patent falsehoods to muster support from the religious minorities in West Bengal. Several Congress leaders have also been making similar fabricated charges against the CPI(M). In this context, it is necessary to recollect that in 1996, the CPI(M) and the Left played the crucial role in forming the United Front government in order to prevent the continuation of the government headed by Vajpayee which lasted a mere 13 days.
The Congress party had then assured the country and the president of India that it would support this secular combination from the outside for its full term. However, it betrayed its own assurance and withdrew support in 1998 to pave the way for the formation of the BJP-led NDA government. If the Congress had not thus betrayed, then the assumption to office by a government of the communal forces would never had happened in 1998. Such absurd politicking and motivated anti-Communist campaigns apart, it needs to be underlined that this nationwide hartal was called on the issue of the relentless rise in the prices of all essential commodities. The immediate provocation for the hartal is the massive hike in the prices of petroleum products which, as already endorsed by sections of the mainstream media, is already having a cascading impact on prices sending the inflationary spiral higher. On all such attacks on the livelihood of the people, the CPI(M) along with its Left and secular allies had gone in for popular public protest actions in order to force the government to rollback such attacks. The protection and improvement of people’s livelihood is at the core of CPI(M)’s political practice. On the issue of the hike in the petro prices, the CPI(M) had always protested – whether while supporting the United Front government from the outside, while opposing the BJP-led NDA government or again while supporting the UPA-I government for four years and later opposing their anti-people policies including those of the UPA-II – on the ground that they impose severe hardships on the people.
As noted in these columns last week, the proposal for the deregulation of the petrol product prices during the United Front government in 1996-98, was accompanied by the abolition of all taxes on imported petroleum products. This proposal was put into effect in April 2002 by the Vajpayee government, only partially, without reducing the taxes on imported petroleum products. This resulted in petrol prices increasing by 21 times and diesel prices by 24 times during the NDA tenure. The CPI(M) and its secular allies had organised countrywide protests against these unprecedented extra burdens being imposed on the people through such hikes. On many occasions, other parties, including the Congress, synchronised their actions with the protests organised by the CPI(M) and the Left. So rattled was the then NDA government that on February 21, 2004 in the face of imminent general elections, it put out advertisements in the media making a commitment for no further increases in LPG and kerosene prices. The fact of the matter is simple. Irrespective of who is in government, the CPI(M) will uncompromisingly champion the interests of the people and organise popular protests against all policies that impose greater economic burdens on the people. Unlike the crass opportunism of our political adversaries, such attacks on the people’s livelihood are not matters of political alignments or adjustments for the CPI(M).
These are matters concerning the quality of life of our people – whose continuous improvement remains the firm unequivocal commitment of the CPI(M), a commitment that goes hand-in-hand with an equally firm commitment to safeguard and strengthen the secular democratic character of modern India in the face of any assault on this by the communal forces.
(July 07, 2010)
Growth Strategy is Flawed, Needs Complete Replacement
Below we reproduce the text of the speech the chief minister of Kerala, V S Achuthanandhan, made at the National Development Council (NDC) on July 24, 2010. Subheadings have been added.
THIS meeting of the National Development Council is taking place at a time when the entire capitalist world is engulfed in a crisis reminiscent of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Indian economy has been somewhat insulated from this crisis, largely because its integration into the world of globalised finance has been restricted till now. The union government has cause to thank the opponents of its neo-liberal policies for this.
POOR PRICE PERFORMANCE
But this is not the only contrast between India and the advanced world. This contrast in output performance is also accompanied by a contrast in price performance. While the US has an inflation rate that is close to zero and is about to turn negative, India is experiencing double digit inflation. We cannot claim that our high inflation rate is a necessary consequence of our high output growth rate. Our output growth rate was even higher earlier in this century, but our inflation rate was much lower. The acceleration in inflation in India, in contrast to what is happening in the rest of the world, has been sharp, sudden and crippling for the poor, because of its acuteness in the “food products” sector.
The union government assures us that inflation will come to an end soon. But the crucial question is: when inflation comes to an end, will the level of prices compared to the money incomes of the working people be higher or lower than earlier? If money incomes of the working people are held constant, then inflation is necessarily self-limiting, since it rectifies the demand-supply imbalance, which caused it in the first place, by cutting into their demand. One cannot therefore derive much solace from the prediction that inflation will come to end soon, if at its end the working people are left absolutely worse off in real terms. Only that inflation control will qualify as one, which leaves the absolute living standards of the working people unimpaired compared to what it was prior to the onset of inflation. And in an economy where money wages of the vast majority of the working people are not indexed to prices, this can be ensured only through a universal system of public distribution of essential commodities at fixed prices.
The key item here is food grains. A basic cause of the current inflation is the precipitous decline in per capita availability of food grains that has occurred in recent years. Against a population growth rate of 1.4 per cent, the growth rate of food grains during 1993-94 to 2003-04 was only 0.69 per cent, which further declined to 0.32 per cent during 2004-05 to 2009-10. the per capita output, in short, has been declining for several years now. But what is even more bizarre is that as inflation has been gathering momentum, the union government has not only been exporting substantial amounts of cereals but also been accumulating a vast amount of food stocks. During 2007 and 2008, India exported as much as 16 million tonnes of cereals; and the pace of stock accumulation was such that the level of food stocks with the government now exceeds 60 million tonnes. The decline in per capita output, combined with the rise in exports and stockholding, has caused a fall in the per capita food grain availability to a level that is the lowest ever in the last 57 years. In 1953, the per capita availability of food grains in India was 155 kilograms. In 2009, which reflects the 2008-09 output, it again reached 156 kilograms. And in 2010 it has fallen even lower, since it reflects the 2009-10 output which was hit by a drought. The post-independence period in India had seen a gradual increase in the per capita availability of food grains until the end of the 1980s. With the onset of neo-liberal policies, this upward trend was reversed, and now we have reached almost the very point from where we had started at the beginning of the nineteen fifties. This is a shocking tale of economic retrogression, which no amount of celebration of our GDP growth rate can possibly obfuscate.
UNCONVINCING POVERTY FIGURES
The mid-term appraisal’s claim, on the basis of the Tendulkar committee report, about declining poverty during the nineties, is unconvincing for this very reason. If “poverty” is estimated to be declining in the midst of growing hunger, then something must be wrong with that definition of “poverty.” All over the world, as people become better off, they absorb larger amounts of food grain per capita, taking direct and indirect absorption (via processed food and feedstock for animal products) together. If per capita absorption in India has declined so precipitously, then the spread of absolute poverty must have increased rather than decreased. Indeed, official data show that the percentage of rural population getting below 2400 calories per person per day (which has been the benchmark for rural poverty till now) had increased from 74.5 in 1993-94 to 87 in 2004-05. The percentage of urban population getting below 2100 calories per person per day (the benchmark for urban poverty till now) had also increased from 56 to 64.5 between these two dates. This is a matter of national shame.
To control food price inflation, to reverse the decline in the per capita absorption of food grains, to ensure that stocks do not accumulate uselessly as people go hungry, it is essential to move to a system of universal public distribution of food grains. The amount given should be 35 kilograms per family per month at the rate of Rs 2 per kilogram. The Food Security Bill, currently under discussion, must ensure this. This may require an additional food subsidy, over its current level, of not more than Rs 50,000 crore, which is less than one per cent of GDP, and quite manageable. It will require an increase in food grain output, but in any case this is essential for the future survival of our country, though this need has been lost in the euphoria over the growth rates. Drawing distinctions between the above poverty line (APL) and below poverty line (BPL) categories in the presence of such pervasive incidence of hunger undermines the goal of food security.
UNJUST LEVY ON CONSUMERS
The union government has not only held on to burgeoning food stocks in the midst of the current rampaging inflation, but has even chosen this very moment to raise the prices of petrol, diesel, kerosene and cooking gas. This price hike is sought to be justified by it by creating the impression that the petroleum sector is a loss-making one; that this loss is because the domestic prices of petro products have been kept fixed while the world price of crude has increased; and that this sector survives on large government subsidies which cannot be sustained for long. This impression is completely erroneous. Nearly 51 per cent of the price of petrol and 30 per cent of the price of diesel consists of taxes that accrue to the union government’s exchequer; apart from these, substantial profits of the public sector companies like Oil India also accrue to the union government. Thus the terms like “under-recovery” do not refer to any actual losses in the sense of the sale price being lower than the cost of production, but simply compare two possible positions of profit. The price hike therefore is a pure levy on the consumers; it has nothing to do with succour to an ailing sector.
This levy will hurt the poorest segments of the nation’s population. For instance, the fishermen of Kerala, who earn on average an annual income of Rs 15,000-20,000 on which they have to support entire families, and who risk their lives daily for earning this pittance, will be crippled by the diesel price hike. So when union government spokesmen sometimes defend the hike by using an alternative argument, namely that it would reduce subsidies to companies and release funds for building much-needed schools and hospitals, and thereby obliquely suggest that the hike will pinch only the companies and not the final users, they are being disingenuous.
The hike in prices, moreover, is part of a policy of making petro product prices free to move with international prices. The world price of crude, which is the basic input for all petro products, is subject to very wild swings because of the operation of speculative forces. It was around 140 US dollars per barrel just a few months ago and is now nearly half that price. If our petro product prices are linked to the international market, then they too will be open to huge fluctuations. And if the farmers are to get remunerative prices, then their prices too will have to move up and down synchronously with crude prices, since petro products figure prominently among their inputs. And if such movements are reflected in the market prices of food grains (including even the issue prices under the PDS), then the consumers will be facing wild fluctuations in the prices of most of the essential commodities for subsistence. They will survive in years when speculators are bearish, but perish in years when they are bullish.
Even the colonial government, though belatedly, after the Bengal famine had carried off four million victims, had woken up to the fact that the free market should not be allowed to function in food grains, that food grain prices had to be controlled and rationing resorted to for distributing a minimum amounts of it. But if food grain prices are to be kept under control, then a whole range of prices of major inputs needed for food production and food distribution, among whom petro products must figure prominently, must also be kept under control. It is ironical that the union government should rediscover the virtues of the free market in such essential commodities almost two-thirds of a century after the colonial government had abandoned its faith in it in the wake of a horrendous famine. The honourable petroleum minister has given the assurance that in the event of such fluctuations the government will take appropriate countermeasures to control the prices. But, why should such a situation be allowed to arise in the first place?
The government of Kerala earnestly requests the union government to rescind the petro product price hike and to abandon its policy of linking the domestic petro product prices to the international market. What the country needs above all is stability in the prices of basic goods and their insulation from wide fluctuations of the sort that occur in the international commodity markets.
The union government has a number of flagship programmes in social sectors, which are operated as centrally sponsored schemes. State governments have been opposed to the idea of centrally sponsored schemes for a long time and have demanded, instead, that the sums spent on these schemes should be handed over to the states to spend in accordance with their own specific requirements, rather than on some uniform “one-size-fits-all” basis. The union government has not only ignored this request, but is now making available under these schemes large sums of money directly to various agencies in the state, bypassing the state government budget. This erodes accountability and sets an unhealthy precedent.
Moreover, it has now started a practice which is likely to be detrimental as much to state finances as to the development of the social sector itself. It often starts a centrally-sponsored scheme and gets state governments to fall in line and commit their plan resources to meet their share of the cost, and then it suddenly decides unilaterally to drop the scheme, or to modify the scheme, or to raise the state government’s share in financing it. The state governments, therefore, having got involved in a scheme in whose formulation they had no say in the first place, are then made responsible for it to ever greater degrees at the whim of the centre. They are thus made to act as “bonded carriers” of the centrally devised schemes. This is an encroachment on their freedom, a pre-emption of their plan resources against their will, and does no good ultimately to the social sectors.
I shall cite just two examples. Against the pleas of most of the chief ministers at an earlier meeting of this very august body, the union government decided unilaterally to reduce its share in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and raise the share of the state governments. Thus, the SSA, which began with 15 per cent state government contribution in 2001-02, and kept this ratio at 25 per cent till 2006-07, has raised it to 35 per cent in 2007-08 and 2008-09, 40 per cent in 2009-10, 45 per cent in 2010-11, and 50 per cent in 2011-12. As a result, the state governments, who could otherwise have formulated schemes of their own, keeping their own specific requirements in mind, now find themselves shouldering an ever increasing burden, whose magnitude is determined again by the centre unilaterally, in a scheme that is not their own and into which they entered in the first place at the insistence of the centre. True, the thirteenth Finance Commission has provided grants to enable states to meet the rise in their obligation, but the cognisance of the problem by the commission only underscores its seriousness. Likewise, under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in Kerala, a number of appointments were made earlier. Now the union government has decided to restrict the NRHM funds exclusively for health infrastructure and the payment for all appointees has devolved suddenly upon the state exchequer. The flagship projects, in short, have become devices for leading state governments up the garden path.
The Kerala government has consistently criticised flagship programmes of the centre like the JNNURM which impose “conditionalities” on the states. But even benign looking flagship programmes like the NRHM and SSA involve an encroachment on the states’ rights, and need to be negated.
The Right to Education Act, a positive step despite its lacunae, is going to place a further burden on the state governments. The amount made available by the thirteenth Finance Commission covers only 15 per cent of the estimated recurring expenditure under the SSA over the next five years, which is a paltry sum compared to what is required. The union government must take full responsibility for financing the implementation of the RTE Act, with states’ contribution limited to some “normal” projections based on base-year figures.
On the other hand, we find that central clearance for projects of interest to the state governments takes an inordinately long time. I shall cite a few examples from Kerala. The Kochi Metro Rail project, a joint enterprise of the central and state governments, along the lines of the DMRC, still awaits Planning Commission’s clearance. And the Palakkad rail coach factory, for which the state government has met its obligation by acquiring the land, inexplicably finds no mention in the current year’s union budget. The cause of delay, in many cases, is the centre’s insistence on the PPP mode. This is a further encroachment on the freedom of the state governments: while PPP can be one of several modes from which the optimum is to be chosen, it cannot be simply prioritised in an arbitrary manner over all others.
Let me conclude with a general observation. The point of departure of the eleventh five year plan was “inclusive growth.” This was an admission of the fact that the benefits of growth did not automatically “trickle down” to the working people, and that an effort was needed on the part of the state to redistribute these benefits more evenly. Several steps have no doubt been taken by the state in this direction. But if, notwithstanding these, the people of India are hungrier today than ever before in the last fifty-seven years, then the conclusion is inescapable --- that the growth strategy itself must be fundamentally flawed, which requires not corrective measures but complete replacement, so that the basic inequalising tendencies which neo-liberalism unleashes are kept in permanent abeyance.
Biman Basu, Secretary, CPI(M) West Bengal state committee has appealed for maintaining peace and harmony in the state in view of the ensuing verdict on Ayodhya case. Through media persons Basu said: the verdict would be delivered on Friday .The issue is highly sensitive. The unity, integrity of India and the values of secularism is linked with it. Communal forces may try to create disturbances using the issue.
I appeal to all secular, democratic and peace-loving people of the state to be vigilant and alert so that the tradition of peace and harmony in the state can be maintained. (22nd.September, 2010)
Sunday, September 26, 2010
‘Maoist’ criminals killed comrade Ananta Mukherjee, member of the Binpur II zonal committee of the CPI (M) in West Medinipur on 20 September with grisly barbarity. Comrade Ananta (35) was at the forefront of organising the people’s resistance in the Silda and Belpahari area where the ‘Maoists’ had mounted assault on a camp of the Eastern Frontier Rifles, killed 24 policemen, and looted the arsenal back then. Even after the police camp was shifted for ‘reasons of safety,’ comrades like Ananta would not bother about the proverbial safety net and carry on regardless, with the pro-poor activities.
Indeed such was the measure of raw courage of the mass of the rural poor of the area that they, in their united drive, had managed to make the gutless criminals run for their lives away, far away from the area. It was later learnt that the trained killer squads then regrouped in ones and twos in the urging shelter of the spineless Trinamulis, over the past months.
There is another more alarming aspect to the grisly murder of comrade Ananta who was an educational employee at a Silda school and before the horrified students of which he was gunned down. The SLR-holding killers were all young boys between fourteen and seventeen years of age, and they all wore school uniforms of the school where comrade Ananta earned his keep. We have said before and we iterate now, that the child soldier is no longer an ugly phenomenon confined to the self-proclaimed ‘colonel’ and villain, Charles Taylor’s rag-tag army in sub-Saharan Africa. They have spread their wingtips of death elsewhere too. The Bengal CPI(M) has deeply mourned the martyrdom of comrade Ananta Mukherjee. The people’s marches shall continue to forge ahead, stronger than ever, let the enemy beware.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
West Bengal Assembly poll is due in nearly six months from now. In this situation what are the areas of development you have taken as priority task?
All of our developmental programmes are being directed towards alleviation of poverty and unemployment and improving the quality of life of the poorest of the poor. In this direction, a programme of land reforms is continuing. We distributed 16000 acres of land to landless poor in last one year. We have initiated a new scheme of home stead land to the homeless people in both rural and urban areas. The programme of REGA has been undertaken vigorously in the villages. State govt. has launched similar progammes in municipal areas. Different schemes for SC and ST people are being implemented. There is also special emphasis on education and training for skill development. Government has recently declared a policy to accommodate Muslim families as OBC on the basis of their family income. More than 1.4 crore minority population in West Bengal will get this benefit. More than 11 lakh self help groups, especially of women are active in various economic activities. Most of them are getting bank loans for doing business and earning money. Education was always in the priority list of the governmental function. On the one side we have tried to expand our base in primary education recruiting all school going children in government run schools. On the other hand we are trying our best to improve the quality of education and develop the higher educational institutions as centres of excellence.
What is the status of the slogan “Agriculture is our base, Industry is our future”?
During the Assembly Elections in 2006, we raised the slogan that agriculture is our base and industry would be our future. It is not simply a political slogan but a well planned development perspective. There is a considerable success in agricultural production with regard to rise in the production of rice, jute, vegetables, potatoes, etc. Farmers, poor and marginal farmers, of this state are better off than any other part of the country. On the other hand investments for setting up the industries are also coming. It was more than Rs 7060 crores last year. This year will be no exception. Steel, Chemicals, Fertilizers, Agro processing and IT are major areas of investment in West Bengal. No doubt Govt. is facing many obstacles from opposition in many parts of the state but we cannot stop industrialization. Because it is the need of the hour, industries are particularly necessary for the young generations.
How do you consider the danger of Maoists in West Bengal?
Maoists are operating in very difficult terrain not because of the fact that poor people, particularly tribals are living there. They operate in those areas simply for the topographical advantage to implement their politics of terror and so called armed struggle. Their programme is to destroy the democratic structure, constitution and the Indian state. It is a threat to all right thinking Indian citizens.
Do you think Maoist became active in West Bengal because of under-development?
Under-development is one of the problem but not the main problem. I would like to remind you that Khalistani movement took place in Punjab where the then per capita income was highest in the country. In West Bengal land reforms has been implemented in Jungle Mahal, like other parts of the state. As a result no big land owners have big junk of the land in that area. Vast areas of land belong to poor and tribals. They have right to enter forest and collect forest products for their livelihood. Area development schemes are going on to create more facilities in irrigations, drinking water, rural roads, electricity etc. Primary and secondary schools are operational and most of the children attend those schools regularly.
How do you view TMC- Maoist nexus in the state?
The main opposition party wants to be the ruling party in state by hook or crook. Therefore, they support Maoist annihilation programme in Jungle Mahal where they have no following. They want to enter into Jungal Mahal with the help of Maoists. A section of big press is always supporting the cause of Maoists. Some of the journalists may be sympathetic to Maoist cause without having a concrete idea about their ideology. The owner of the big press know very well that left extremism always help the right wing politics against main stream left opposition in the country. The Trinamool Congress always gives statements alleging our party for ‘sabotage’ and other crimes. Trinamool is actually based on lies and false propaganda. They think if they repeat the lies again and again it will confuse the ordinary people. But I believe that good sense will finally prevail.
What is your opinion about the policy of the second UPA Govt.?
Second UPA Govt. has failed to improve the life of aam admi. India is now virtually divided into two countries. One is for a few rich millionaires, and other is for millions of hungry poor. There is a serious setback in agricultural production which is threatening the food security of the country. Number of people living below poverty line has increased during UPA regime. Growth in rate of GDP has failed to solve the miseries of the common people.
TERMING the current situation in Kashmir as extremely serious, a seven-member delegation of the CPI(M)’s Jammu and Kashmir state committee, led by its secretary Mohd Yousuf Tarigami, met the all-party parliamentary delegation at Srinagar, September 20, and emphasised the need for some significant political initiatives to resolve the Kashmir problem.
The CPI (M) delegation maintained that ignoring or overlooking the nature of the present crisis would be quite ruinous. The CPI (M) state secretary apprised the parliamentary delegation that allowing the Kashmir problem to linger on, would only have a bearing on the precious human lives in Jammu & Kashmir. Besides, it can prove disadvantageous to the people of the country.
“The current crisis is the manifestation of aggregation of failed political approaches to resolve the basic problem. There has been a failure to develop and evolve a sustainable, result-oriented dialogue process, debates and discussions aimed at resolving the main problem rather than dealing with its offshoots,” Tarigami told the parliamentary delegation.
He reminded the union home minister, P Chidambaram, of his various statements including the one in which the latter had termed Kashmir a “unique problem which require a unique solution.” Tarigami told him that his statement needed to be implemented in letter and spirit. “This approach needs to be carried forward and strengthened,” he added.
“Cutting across the party lines and their respective positions vis-à-vis the Kashmir problem, the Indian parliament is expected to address the long pending Kashmir issue with utmost seriousness. There could be a difference of opinion but that does not denote that Kashmir can be made a battleground for the conflicting political ideology at the cost of the Kashmiris’ genuine political aspirations,” he added.
Tarigami cautioned that silent but a significant constituency of wisdom in Kashmir does not want the visit of the all-party parliamentarians to be seen as a failure. Instead, he said, they want that it should visit the separatist leadership and other voices of dissent and send a strong message that Indian parliamentarians are serious about a meaningful dialogue with all shades of political opinion in the state.
“Kashmiris at this juncture feel demoralised and disillusioned; your visit should not add to their disillusionment. The time you have spared for us should be spent giving a patient hearing for the families who have lost their near and dear ones to the past three months turmoil. The visiting delegation should visit the hospitals and meet the injured,’ the J&K CPI (M) delegation stressed.
Tarigami also expressed the hope that the government of India would restore the dignity and status of the security forces as an institution by sending a strong message down the line that human right violations have no place in the Indian security set-up and can no more be tolerated. “But we also need go ahead with the rehabilitation of families of victims, both who have lost their lives and those who have sustained injuries in last three months,” he told the parliamentary delegation members. (INN)
Friday, September 24, 2010
FINANCIAL CRISIS AND RECESSION - A BATTLEGROUND OF ECONOMIC IDEAS AND PHILOSOPHIES - Abhijit Mukhopadhyay
Sat, 2010-09-04 11:50
“In more than 30 years of teaching introductory macroeconomics, says Alan Blinder of Princeton University, he has never seen interest as high as it was last year... the crisis has also highlighted flaws in the existing macroeconomics curriculum... Courses in many leading universities are already being amended... Discussion of the “liquidity trap,” in which standard easing of monetary policy may cease to have any effect, had fallen out of vogue in undergraduate courses but seems to be back with a vengeance. Asset-price bubbles are also gaining more prominence.”
· excerpts from the article titled “Revise and Resubmit”
The financial crisis which later developed into a full-fledged economic crisis resulted into rising unemployment and a definite slowdown in economic activities in the USA. It has induced economic slowdown in other countries though some of the emerging economies like India and China are coping better with the recessionary trend in the aftermath. For a huge chunk of people across the world, it means a lot of hardship in the form of unemployment, cutting down on consumption and other expenditures and so on. By now, these are all known facts to almost everybody interested in economic happenings in the world. But, this has also been a defining time for the teachers, students and researchers in the subject of economics. Keynesian economics, which has been declared obsolete by numerous economists and commentators, is once again back in full relevance. Those who denounced Keynesian framework as a thing of past are now gradually understanding the efficacy of it as different parts of US corporate sector (particularly, the financial sector) are getting bailed out by USA Federal Government.
The history has repeated itself after around 70 years. The Great Depression of the 1930s brought in what is called in the annals of economics as “Keynesian Revolution.” Lord John Maynard Keynes, the liberal economist from Britain, gave economic theorisation a new outlook. Contrasting his analysis on the demand side of the economics with then prevalent supply side theorisation, Keynes propagated comprehensive “socialisation” of investment, where the State acting on behalf of society would ensure a level of investment in the economy, and hence a level of aggregate demand that is adequate for full employment. He was the first economist to show that achieving full employment is not automatic, rather the State has to economically act for it and only then full capacity utilisation is possible. Among other fundmental shifts in theorisation, Keynes also identified the incapacity of a free market system to distinguish between “enterprise” and “speculation.” The free market tends to get dominated by speculators who are interested not in the long term yield on assets but only in the short term appreciation in the asset values. And whims and fancies of such “speculators” boils down to sharp swings in asset prices which determine the magnitude of productive investment and hence the level of aggregate demand, employment and output in the economy. “The real lives of millions of people were determined by the whims of a bunch of speculators under the free market system.”
1In simple words, unbridled speculation also leads to a crunch in the availability of credit for “productive purposes.” The brick and mortar economy suffers at the expense of high speculative demand for money. Financial safeguards which were put in the aftermath of Great Depression had been gradually dismantled in decades of “complacent and peace-time economy.” Speculations were fuelled by asset price bubble in one or more segments in the financial sector. For example, in the last decade of the past millennium it was the bubble in IT (due to Y2K problem) and in recent times the bubble was sustained through buoyant prices in the housing sector in USA. The (finance) capital gain made using such continuous and spectacular asset price rise, in turn, would push economic growth upwards. However, within this process of rise in GDP the concerned economic actors and policy makers often forget the simple fact that any asset price cannot rise forever, and whenever it crashes, it brings down the economy along with that fall. Real economy also suffers because there is always a general apprehension during recessionary time to provide credit. On the manufacturing side also, there are always fears regarding existing demand for products and services, and that takes the economy into a downward spiral. Broadly this is the precise chain of events which happened in the USA. Given the size of US GDP and its strong trade links with most of the countries, the crisis got exported to different corners in the world. Going by the trends in policy reactions in most of the affected countries, a Keynesian response in the form of government fiscal intervention seems to be providing solution for the time being.
“Conor Clarke (Interviewer): So is it time for the Keynesians to declare victory?
Paul Samuelson: Well, I don't care very much for the People Magazine approach to applied economics, but let me put it this way. The 1980s trained macroeconomists – like Greg Mankiw and Ben Bernanke and so forth – became a very complacent group, very ill adapted to meet with a completely unpredictable and new situation, such as we've had. I looked up – (and by the way, the most of these guys are MIT trained; Princeton to MIT or Harvard to MIT) – Mankiw's bestseller, both the macro book and his introductory textbook, I went through the index to look for liquidity trap. It wasn't there!
Conor Clarke (Interviewer): Oh, I used those textbooks. There's got to be something in there on liquidity traps.
Paul Samuelson: Well, not in the index. And I looked up Bernanke's PhD thesis, which was on the Great Depression, and I realised that when you're writing in the 1980s, and there's a mindset that's almost universal, you miss a lot of nuances of what actually happened during the depression...
...My book, which over a period of about 50 years sold millions of copies, for the first time brought home - ... the gist of the Keynesian macroeconomic system.
...I had distrust – after 1967, let's say – of American Keynesianism. For better or worse, US Keynesianism was so far ahead of where it started. I am a cafeteria Keynesian. You know what a cafeteria catholic is?
Conor Clarke (Interviewer): I think so. Someone who picks and chooses the bits of the doctrine that they find agreeable.”
These are excerpts of an interview which appeared in “The Atlantic” in two parts on June 17 and 18, 2009, around six months before Paul Samuelson died on December 13 the same year.
2 As far as macroeconomic policies to counter recessionary trends in an economy is concerned he made his position quite clear and did not mince any words while criticising the standard reactions of some of the better-known US macroeconomists to the occurence of financial and economic crisis in an economy. However, though claiming to be a so-called “cafeteria Keynesian” Samuelson himself was a stalwart of propagating certain neo-classical values in economics.
Denial or underestimation of concepts like “liquidity trap” by today's American macroeconomists is no isolated phenomenon. In their framework if there is an increase in easy credit availability then eventually there would be more credit offtake and as a result, an increase in aggregate demand and production. Then that would result into more credit demand and put an upward pressure on rate of interest. If increasing the monetary base can take care of the problem then why should one bother about a situation where rate of interest is at such a low level where people in general will hold liquid cash? Rate of interest can be raised sufficiently to avert any such kind of possibility. This logic completely ignores the possibility of low or no amount of credit demand in spite of easy supply of credit in the economy.
In fact, this is in continuation with the idea that 1930s' Great Depression would not have happened in USA if Federal Reserve Bank and American Government did not undertake a series of so-called “wrong” policies and if monetary base was expanded at the right time then the crisis could have been averted to a great extent. This was first propagated and best articulated within the mainstream theory by none other than Milton Friedman. In his 1963 book, “A Monetary History of the United States, 1867–1960” co-authored with Anna Schwartz, Friedman came out strongly against Fed and American government blaming them squarely for bringing in the recession by raising interest rates first, then increasing tax rates, and declaring “bank holidays” to restrict withdrawal of deposits from the banks starting panic all over the USA, resulting in bank runs in thousands of bank in that country. According to him, restrictive tariff policies also have to be blamed for worsening the situation.
Essentially free market proponents tend to undermine the efficacy of fiscal policy as it involves government intervention. This undermining, in turn, propagates the efficiency of market forces, and it also poses the government as a part of the problem in an economy and never a solution. Government is seen as an agency which only creates distortions in free market mechanism in the form of price distortion and distortions in other key macroeconomic variables. Essentially, according to this neo-classical framework any kind of government intervention will result into so called “market failures” (where market will be unable to reach at equilibrium price and quantity through free interaction between demand and supply) in different sectors of the economy. In his Presidential address delivered at 80th Annual Meeting of American Economic Association in December 1967, Friedman said,
“Keynes and most other economists of the time believed that the Great Contraction in the United States occurred despite aggressive expansionary policies by the monetary authorities – that they did their best but their best was not good enough. Recent Studies have demonstrated that the facts are precisely the reverse: the U.S. monetary authorities followed highly deflationary policies. The quantity of money in the United States fell by one-third in the course of the contraction. And it fell not because there were no willing borrowers – not because the horse would not drink. It fell because the Federal Reserve System forced or permitted a sharp reduction in the monetary base, because it failed to exercise the responsibilities assigned to it in the Federal Reserve Act to provide liquidity to the banking system. The Great Contraction is tragic testimony to the power of monetary policy – not, as Keynes and so many of his contemporaries believed, evidence of its impotence.”
3.This kind of logical reasoning ultimately posits that the recessionary trends would not have happened if enough money were supplied at right time. Apart from creating a stable background for the economy by monetary policy, Friedman also talked about creating a balance while controlling the money supply. In essence, he debunked the idea of influencing key macroeconomic variables like rate of interest, inflation or unemployment in the long run. This means a very limited or no role for monetary policy in influencing the economy. The idea of fiscal intervention, in any case, was debunked by that time. Structurally monetarism (as propagated by Friedman) negates the idea of Keynesian fiscal activism on the part of the government. So in short and simple words, the government or the central bank would have almost no role to play in economic policy making. Friedman mentioned,
“A second requirement for monetary policy is that the monetary authority avoid sharp swings in policy. In the past, monetary authorities have on occasion moved in the wrong direction – as in the episode of the Great Contraction that I have stressed. More frequently, they have moved in the right direction, albeit often too late, but have erred by moving too far. Too late and too much has been the general practice. For example, in early 1966, it was the right policy for the Federal Reserve to move in a less expansionary direction – though it should have done so at least a year earlier. But when it moved, it went too far, producing the sharpest change in the rate of monetary growth of the post-war era. Again having gone too far, it was the right policy for the Fed to reverse course at the end of 1966. But again it went too far, not only restoring but exceeding the earlier excessive rate of monetary growth. And this episode is no exception. Time and again this has been the course followed – as in 1919 and 1920, in 1937 and 1938, in 1953 and 1954, in 1959 and 1960.”
4. So, his prescription was to avoid such swings “by adopting publicly the policy of achieving a steady rate of growth in a specified monetary total.” This, in his belief, may result into moderate inflation some times, but in his opinion moderate inflation or deflation with a publicised steady rate in money supply is easier to handle than wide-ranging fluctuations in the control variable which may result into runaway inflation or chronic deflation. Great amount of overall economic aloofness has always been prescribed for the central bank and the government within the structure of monetarist and neo-classical paradigm of economic theorisation simply because structurally these theories have strong belief in free market mechanism.
The broader battlelines of economic ideas are drawn with respect to these two theoretical positions – one Keynesian and the other neo-classical. However, there are many explanations provided by eminent economists at different times. For example, many commentators and economists are relating the current crisis with Hyman Mynski's thesis on financial crisis and named it as “Mynski meltdown.” Mynski's proposition has generated a lot of interest lately though his theorisation is there for many decades now. One may put it as Hyman P. Mynski's moment of posthumous vindication, but a few economists are even theoretically challenging this “Mynski moment.” Some economists of certain neo-classical streams are putting up a brave face and still trying to explain the crisis within a framework of so called “business cycle” theory. So, there are more nuances, complexities and subtleties involved in this than one can possibly think of while simply comprehending the crisis.
With lots of revisions in popular undergraduate basic economics textbooks around the corner, how many of these nuances get incorporated in the revised versions remains an interesting future to watch out for. Over the years, the basic textbooks of economics remained the primary and the most important source to inculcate neo-classical pro-market values in young impressionable minds. Those moulded minds throughout their lives have faith in a stream of economics which they often believe is “next to natural sciences” for its determinate pattern. This sense of “precise determination” is derived also by unnecessary mathematisation and liberal borrowing of tools and concepts from subjects like physics and some of the bio-sciences. This false sense of precision often clouds the mind of a typical economics student while economics remains a social science dealing with pure human beings where there is very little or no scope for experimentation and hence essentially a subject with definite indeterminate nature. This also possibly calls for an effort on the part of progressive economists of the world to popularise their alternative viewpoints through the standard textbook channel.
· Friedman, Milton (1968), The Role of Monetary Policy, American Economic Review, Volume LVIII, March 1968, Number 1
· Patnaik, Prabhat (2008), A Perspective on the Crisis, Networkideas (http://www.networkideas.org)
Courtesy: Dr.D. Mukherjee
New Delhi: Almost one-third of Indians are "utterly corrupt" and half are "borderline", the outgoing head of the country's corruption watchdog has said, blaming increased wealth for much of the problem.Pratyush Sinha, who retired as India's Central Vigilance Commissioner this week, said the worst part of his "thankless job" was observing how corruption had increased as people became more materialistic."When we were growing up I remember if somebody was corrupt, they were generally looked down upon," he said. "There was at least some social stigma attached to it. That is gone. So there is greater social acceptance."Transparency International, the global anti-graft body, puts India 84th on its corruption perception index with a 3.4-point rating, out of a best possible score of 10.
New Zealand ranks first with 9.4 points and Somalia last on 1.1 points.The campaign group has said that each year millions of poor Indian families have to bribe officials for access to basic public services.Sinha told a Delhi-based newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday that 20 percent of Indians were "honest, regardless of the temptations, because this is how they are. They have a conscience. "There would be around 30 percent who would be utterly corrupt. But the rest are the people who are on the borderline," he said, adding that corruption was "palpable".Sinha said that in modern India "if somebody has a lot of money, he is respectable. Nobody questions by what means he has got the money."Recent corruption scandals in India have focused on construction projects for the Commonwealth Games that open in New Delhi next month, and alleged tax evasion in the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament.India is also regarded as a hotbed of illegal betting syndicates, with gamblers and bookmakers involved in "spot-fixing" - the gambling that has engulfed the current Pakistani cricket tour of England.Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has often spoken out against the damaging effect that bribes, extortion and fraud have on all levels of life, and warned that the problem threatens India's future economic prospects.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
THE representatives of the Left parties, namely Prakash Karat (CPI-M), A B Bardhan (CPI), Debabrata Biswas (AIFB) and Prasanta Mazumdar (RSP), who spoke at the all-party meeting on Kashmir, held in New Delhi on September 15, made the following points.
1) They expressed their sorrow and anguish at the death of more than 80 people in the police firings in the valley in the past three months. They called for a halt to the method of policing which had led to the deaths of a large number of people due to firing. There should be a distinction made in handling the stone pelting crowds and tackling the violence by the militants and terrorist activities.
2) Many of the young men in jail, arrested during this period, should be released if they are not facing any serious charges. Steps should be taken to provide relief for the large number of people injured and those permanently incapacitated.
3) Measures should be taken for providing economic relief for the continuous disruption of business and economic activities in the valley, with special emphasis on providing employment.
4) There should be accountability for the security forces. Action should be taken on the excesses and human rights violations. The army is not deployed or in use in various areas. Pending the question of amending the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Disturbed Areas proclamation must be revoked from Srinagar and other centres, which will make the AFSPA redundant in these areas.
5) The political process should begin and dialogue should be initiated with all sections in the state. For this purpose, an all-party delegation should be sent to Kashmir to hear the views of different sections of the people.
Chhabi in Bengali means a picture. Chhabi Mahato was picture perfect in terms of appearance and maybe her being named thus had something to do with this fact. But more than being beautiful, Chabbi Mahato was a brave woman who was the sole breadwinner after the death of her husband Chhatradhar Mahato due to illness around six years ago. This 41-year old woman was bringing up her son and two daughters by working as an Anganwadi worker under ICDS project in Bangabundh village in Salboni area. She was barely able to meet her ends and her two brothers helped in the education of her children, who were admitted into colleges in Medinipur town.
The totally brutal and lumpen nature of the so-called Maoists, particularly in Bengal, is vividly captured in the tale of this brave Anganwadi worker and activist. Chhabi Mahato was an active leader of the West Bengal ICDS Karmi Samithi. She was also a CPI (M) member working under the Pirakata local committee. Many parts of Salboni were under control of the 'Maoists'-TMC combine. They killed many leaders and workers of the CPI (M) in the area (will check & give number later) as part of their terror campaign with the aim of disrupting the CPI (M) mass base. Hundreds of families left the area and lived as refugees in camps set up by the Party in Salboni, Inayatpur etc. The not so active members and supporters of the CPI (M) who remained in the villages were particularly targeted by the armed squads which roamed freely in the villages. Some were asked to pay up hefty amounts as fines and most were regularly asked to attend their meetings. In course of this, the 'Maoists' and their frontal organisation PCPA hoodlums ordered Chhabi Mahato to participate in a procession propagating the Lalgarh rally to be addressed by TMC leader Mamata Banarjee. She refused to do so saying that she belongs to another party. And she was threatened openly.
Recently in August, Bangabundh was also one of the many villages that have been freed from the clutches of these lumpen elements by the mass resistance of the villagers who were fed up with the continuing violence. Many who had fled the village returned back to their homes. On August 31, some of them found a big pit dug up and filled just adjacent to the jungle on the side of the village and it raised their suspicion. They immediately informed the Salboni police who came and dug up the pit in the presence of an executive magistrate. The decomposed body of Chhabi Mahato was found.
The locals who had stayed back in the village during the 'Maoist'-TMC terror reign told the police that Chhabi Mahato was abducted on August 2 by the lumpens who nursed a grudge against her for not heeding their diktats. Although the viscera report of the body after the post-mortem in Mednipur hospital is yet to be released by the doctors, these locals have told the police that Chhabi Mahato was gang raped by at least 21 goons and for many days. They witnessed the heinous act of the beasts who had dragged her away into the adjoining jungle but kept silent out of fear for their lives. They also told that she was buried alive even as she had become unconscious from the torturous assault.
It was difficult to get Debashish Mahato, son of Chhabi Mahato, to talk. He and sisters Sikha Mahato and Sandhya Mahato are yet to come to grip about the horrific death of their mother. Even with tears rolling down his cheeks, one could sense the deep anger and hatred in him against the perpetrators. Asked by a national television channel reporter whether his continuing to work for SFI in his college does not frighten him, he shot back, “Why should I be afraid? I am not doing anything wrong”. His sister Sikha said that with the lone earning member in the family no more things have become real difficult to carry on. Sishir Mahato, brother of Chhabi Mahato, informed us that the West Bengal ICDS Karmi Samithi and AIDWA have demanded from the administration that it should bear the cost of education and living of the son and daughters of Chhabi Mahato as also provision of a job to one of them. We are told that this is being processed.
Another Anganwadi worker, Anima Besra was also abducted by the 'Maoist'- TMC goons on August 23 from Ledam village in Bandwan block of Purulia district. This village is near the jungles bordering Jharkhand from which these goons regularly make hit and run attacks. People in the village are fearing the worst about this tribal woman in the wake of the killing of Chhabi Mahato.
Would the 'personalities' in the business of promoting the romanticised versions of these beasts through embedded journalism care to explain, not necessarily in their poetic prose, the rationale of such brutal killings? How does Chhabi Mahato or the more than 280 other tribal and dalit poor who have been brutally killed since the last Lok Sabha polls – all holding around half-an-acre to one acre land – qualify as “class enemies” for this degenerated lot? Do these downtrodden people too not have the basic human right to life and liberty? To chose their politics in a democracy? Not to be made refugees in their own land?
These so-called intellectuals would do well to reflect on these issues rather than searching for CPI (M) conspiracies behind even these killings! A notorious local Trinamul character in Salboni, Dinen Roy, after the discovery of Chhabi Mahato's body surfaced in Midnapore hospital where the body was kept. He made a preposterous claim that Chhabi Mahato was a Trinamool activist who was killed by CPI (M) workers!! Chhabi Mahato's son had to declare that his mother was an activist of CPI (M) to clear the air. This is the level to which TMC-'Maoists' are stooping with able support from the corporate media and NGO intellectuals. But it is clear from the recent developments including in most parts of Salboni that people are seeing through the game of these anarchists and have decided to put them in their place.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
· Hawking warns over alien beings
· Stephen Hawking's successor named
· Send us your theories
Courtesy: Dr. D.Mukherjee
A teacher, working as she is against pressures from multiple fronts, can make or break a child.
Yet, why is teacher training such a low priority?
As Veena waits outside her son's school gate, she witnesses widespread disenchantment with teachers. “My son does not know his tables and he's in the fourth. Why can't his teacher insist that he learns them?” “Mala's teacher corrects very unfairly. She cuts marks for small mistakes.” “Dev was scolded by his teacher, who everyone says is mean. The poor kid is feeling so bad.”
Being a high-school teacher of 15 years, Veena maintains a stoic silence. She knows the stresses and struggles her job entails. Bombarded by pressure on all fronts — from unreasonably high parental expectations to student misbehaviour, from the management exhorting teachers to achieve 100 per cent results in board exams to students griping about marks — the travails of a teacher's job makes her sigh. And, the most hurtful part is that her efforts are not recognised, let alone lauded, by anyone.
Status in society
Krishna Kumar, the former director of NCERT, aptly writes, “In our society, education is not regarded as a serious profession. Teaching, which comprises the heart of education, has a poor status, especially if you teach children as opposed to youth… But it is not just the teacher of young children who has low professional status; those who train teachers fare no better. Indeed, teacher training can be accurately described as the centre of India's educational depression.”
Right after completing her B.Ed., Veena remembers her trepidation as she faced her first batch of 60 adolescents. Unlike a medical degree, which requires students to intern under an experienced doctor for a year, Veena was simply thrust into a classroom and expected to perform right from day one. Without any mentoring or guidance from more experienced colleagues, Veena learnt the ropes on the job. The short-term workshops offered by various consultants and experts at the end of every academic year at her school provided only stray tidbits of advice; even today, after 15 years of teaching, when Veena feels unsure of a student, she has to steer her own boat. Her B.Ed. did not prepare her sufficiently on how to motivate failing students, deal with inattention and open defiance, cater to children with learning difficulties, address parental anxieties or create a classroom of lifelong readers. Given the inadequacy of her training, Veena does her best to deliver effective lessons.
As children traverse the academic ladder from kindergarten to college, all parents hope that their wards are blessed with good teachers. While we look back on our own student days, most of us have memories of good and poor teachers. But the outstanding teacher who inspired passion and creativity and instilled trust and confidence was usually the exception. While we intuitively accept that a teacher can indeed “make or break” a child, why then do we invest so little in creating excellent teachers? Why are teachers in India not accorded the status that the profession rightly deserves? Instead of engaging in unproductive teacher bashing, which does not serve anyone's interests, least of all our children, we need to upgrade teacher education programmes and elevate the status of teachers so that more children fall under the magnetic spell of master teachers. On par with IITs and IIMs, teacher training in India needs to be rejuvenated by oases of excellence that attract bright and talented youth to be champion teachers.
But what constitutes outstanding teaching? To most of us, excellent teaching is an elusive quality that a teacher does or doesn't possess. Like great works of art, its characteristics cannot be pinned down. However, a recent study by educationist Doug Lemov suggests that inspiring teaching is a craft that can be mastered by acquiring and honing skills. While Lemov accedes that great teaching is an art, he emphasises that every artist has to first learn and master the tools of the craft before producing masterpieces. Can ordinary teachers then be trained to perform better and achieve extraordinary results? Lemov suggests they can. He tracked teachers who had succeeded in producing high-achieving students despite having the odds of poverty, truancy and broken homes stacked against their students. These teachers were the outliers who defied predictions and produced high-performers. Right from the moment they entered class to their leave-taking, Lemov noted what these teachers did differently. Rather than spinning lofty educational theories, Lemov offers “concrete, specific, actionable” techniques that any teacher can adopt to refine her teaching style.
In a technique called No Opt Out, a teacher returns to a student who fails to answer a question the first time. For example, Ms. Jamal asks, “What is a prime number, Jaya?” The child falters, “Miss, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9…” “Those are odd numbers Jaya. Samir, tell Jaya why 9 is not a prime number?” “Because it has 3 as a factor.” The teacher then persists, “Now, Jaya, can you tell me what a prime number is?” By not accepting that a child cannot answer a question, the teacher subtly conveys that everyone can succeed. While Jaya gets it right on the third try, Ms. Jamal has communicated that all children in her class are capable of learning. This also gives Jaya the confidence to persist despite getting an answer wrong. No child in Ms. Jamal's class can get away with a “Don't know.”
Outstanding teachers also set high expectations for students by not accepting anything but an answer that is 100 per cent accurate. They insist that children respond in complete sentences and stretch them by asking questions even after an answer is given. So when Mr. Jacob asks the class, “What is a peninsula?” and Arati responds by saying ‘India', he says, “That's an example. Give me a definition.” When Arati ventures, “A piece of land that projects into water,” he persists, “Can you expand on that definition? How is it different from an island?” The child says, “Connected to the mainland,” and the teacher continues, “Good. Now tell me what a peninsula is in a complete sentence.” After Arati gives the correct answer, he further challenges the class, “What is the difference between a peninsula and a gulf?”
Planning is an integral component of remarkable teaching. Visionary teachers spell out measurable teaching goals before drawing up lesson plans. Great teachers also pay attention to details. Activities like distributing papers, collecting homework etc. are practised and perfected to a high degree of efficiency so that only around 10 seconds of precious class time are wasted. Likewise, they use positive framing to instill discipline, usually preempting misbehaviour.
Lemov's claim that the craft of teaching can be mastered echoes the findings of a report published by McKinsey and Company in 2007. While India was not a part of the study, the findings suggest how we might overhaul teacher education. McKinsey analysed school systems in 25 countries including top performers on international assessments like Belgium, Finland, Netherlands and Singapore. While countries differed greatly on dimensions of culture, politics and school systems, high-performing nations have three common features.
Talented graduates with strong communication and interpersonal skills and a deep-seated desire to teach are selected for competitive teacher education programmes. Furthermore, even on the job, teachers are provided with intensive training and support. During the formative years of their careers, young teachers are mentored by more experienced colleagues. Finally, children with difficulties receive intervention so that they can catch up on lagging skills.
As we pay tribute to educators across the country on Teacher's Day, we may consider investing more heavily in teacher training and mentoring programmes. Historian and educator Henry Adams succinctly captures the enormous scope and potential of this age-old profession: "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
The director is Director, PRAYATNA, Centre for Educational Assessment and Intervention. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtesy: Dr. D. Mukherjee
The early years of the Left Front government in West Bengal in the late seventies had been marked by severe power cuts in Calcutta (as it then was) and elsewhere in the state. One evening as ''load-shedding'' began, a little urchin in a slum neighbouring a high-rise, jumped up and down clapping his hands, shouting: ''Babuder alo gyalo re.'' The slum to which he belonged was devoid of power supply and hence not affected by the power cut, while the high-rise was; in his excitement that urchin was expressing an important truth: power supply, and hence by inference the concept of ''infrastructure'' itself, has a class dimension.
Any particular growth trajectory requires infrastructure specific to it. The advent of colonialism, for instance, which entailed a growth trajectory for the economy that was totally different from what had obtained earlier, meant the building of a whole new type of infrastructure, such as ports, railways, and urban metropolises around ports, and the decay of the infrastructure that had existed earlier. Gaur and Murshidabad declined as Calcutta came up, Thanjavur and Warangal became marginalized as Madras flourished, and Pune and Satara became minor cities as Bombay occupied the centre stage. The investment undertaken for this new infrastructure was part of the promotion of a new growth trajectory, and hence ipso facto in the interests of the classes that stood to benefit from this trajectory and against the interests of the classes that became its victims. The term ''infrastructure'' therefore cannot be seen as an undifferentiated catch-all category which is always ''socially necessary'' and investment which is always ''good for the people''.
But then isn't it the case that since the shifting growth trajectories have the effect of developing the social productive forces, the investment in the shifting infrastructure requirements for these changing growth trajectories is simply part of historical progress? Doesn't looking at this historical progress merely in terms of being beneficial to some classes and against the interests of the others, amount to the adoption of a rather narrow and moralistic perspective, to the exclusion of an overarching view based on the development of social productive forces? Who for instance would deny that the introduction of railways in India, though motivated by the colonial regime's need to open up Indian markets to foreign goods and to cart Indian raw materials off to the world market, nonetheless played a remarkably positive role in the development of the Indian economy and society. And given this role, isn't it churlish to cavil at the particular class interests that brought the railways into existence in India? Isn't looking at the development of infrastructure through the prism of class interests then an altogether unjustified occupation, especially for Marxists who take a ''longer view'' and measure social progress in terms of the development of the social productive forces?
Karl Marx interestingly had made a most remarkable statement. Talking about India he had written in a letter to Danielson in 1881: ''What the English take from them annually in the form of rent, dividends for railways useless to the Hindus; pensions for military and civil servicemen, for Afghanistan and other wars etc. etc.- what they take from them without any equivalent and quite apart from what they appropriate to themselves annually within India…amounts to more than the total sum of income of the sixty millions of agricultural and industrial labourers of India!'' (Emphasis added). The same Karl Marx who had written elsewhere that the ''railway system will...become in India…the forerunner of modern industry'' had no compunctions about calling the railways ''useless to the Hindus''. The development of the productive forces in his perception in other words, could never be looked at in isolation from the class character of this development.
The matter acquires a special pertinence when we are looking at the development of the productive forces not just in the context of history, but in the midst of a struggle over the mode of development of productive forces, i.e. when this development is itself a matter of class struggle, as is the case now. Bourgeois spokesmen would argue that something called ''infrastructure'', as a supra-class, supra-growth-trajectory entity, is essential for society, and that investment in it must be encouraged at all costs. The expenditure of Rs.35,000 crores on developing the ''infrastructure'' in Delhi to cope with the Commonwealth Games is socially necessary, and that there should be a political consensus on such investment in general. Their attempt is precisely to deny that infrastructure has a class character as well. The development of expressways has a rationale only in a society where the car population is increasing rapidly; it benefits only the car-owning population, and no matter what its long-run benefits for society as a whole, it is ''useless'' (in Marx's sense) for the bulk of the people of the country.
''Infrastructure'' as a catch-all category, being made into a sacred cow which must be worshipped by all irrespective of political differences and class perspectives, is therefore a bourgeois subterfuge to pass off the interests of the beneficiaries of the current neo-liberal growth trajectory as the ''social interest''. True, the development of infrastructure even in this sense may stand society in good stead at some indefinite future date even after the current growth trajectory may have passed. But that cannot be an argument for supporting expenditure on ''infrastructure'' indiscriminately, for that would mean an abdication of the espousal of the class interests of the oppressed, and an endorsement of the prevailing growth trajectory itself.
Once we see ''infrastructure'' as having a class dimension, we must distinguish ''infrastructure'' that is in the interests of the people at large and ''infrastructure'' that uses social resources for the benefit of the few. While economists have been surprisingly chary of drawing this distinction, artists, at least some of them, have been more forthright. The late Habib Tanvir in a play called ''sadak'' had lampooned the obsession with expressways, ''useless'' to the people but of benefit only to the rich or to the State, (reminiscent of the Nazi autobahns), that the country had acquired.
To be sure, as long as the specific growth trajectory continues, not developing infrastructure appropriate for it would cause contradictions, bottlenecks and inconvenience. On the other hand, distinguishing between different kinds of infrastructure, ensuring that expenditure on infrastructure ''useless'' to the people is curbed, even if it causes inconvenience to the beneficiaries of the current growth trajectory, and using the resources for meeting instead the health and education needs of the people at large, for universalizing the public distribution system and other such ends (for all of which the government pleads scarcity of resources), is not only socially desirable in itself, but may even become the first step in an overall attempt to change the growth trajectory itself. To treat as a sacred cow something that is an integral part of a specific growth trajectory is an endorsement, whether consciously or unconsciously, of this trajectory itself. Rejecting this sacred cow can be the start of a struggle against this trajectory itself.
The little urchin who had clapped at ''load-shedding'' could implicitly draw a distinction that Karl Marx had done explicitly. Do we have the courage to draw this distinction today?
Courtesy: Dr. D.Mukherjee
PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN BULLET - PRIMARY SCHOOL HEADMASTER DIBAKAR MAHATO PROVED IT BY SACRIFICING HIS LIFE AT THE HANDS OF PERVERTED MAOIST BUTCHERS
Friday, September 3, 2010
The Trinamool MPs were demonstrating against alleged atrocities by the CPI (M) in West Bengal.