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EDITORIALS

Terrorism is un-Islamic
The misguided need to do fresh thinking
Those
who have been indulging in violence by invoking Islam have put both the religion and its practitioners — the Muslims —- in the dock. Known as Islamic terrorists, they brought a bad name to the Muslims and Islam much before 9/11, when the US-led multinational coalition declared a war on Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaida and the erstwhile Taliban regime in Afghanistan that provided sanctuary to the dreaded terrorist outfit.

Trouble in TN
Lawyers up against court, government
T
HE long arm of the law — policemen — and lawyers have clearly taken the law into their hands in persisting with their confrontation, which involves the judiciary as well as the Tamil Nadu government. 



EARLIER STORIES

‘Jai Ho’, ‘Jai Ho’
February 24, 2009
Modi’s claim nailed
February 23, 2009
A question of EC’s credibility
February 22, 2009
Habitual offenders
February 21, 2009
Punjab budget
February 20, 2009
Offensive against Naxalites
February 19, 2009
Appeasing the Taliban
February 18, 2009
Carry on, Pranab
February 17, 2009
More open to FDI
February 16, 2009
Pitfalls of democracy
February 15, 2009
One step forward
February 14, 2009
Amarinder’s expulsion
February 13, 2009


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE
TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS


When lakes go dry
Impending ecological disaster in Haryana is serious
T
HE alarm bells had begun ringing across the country over reports of drying up of Badkhal Lake in Haryana. The state government, however, went ahead with the auction notice of mining in Sirohi and Khori Jamalpur in Faridabad district. In both areas mining has extracted a huge ecological price.
ARTICLE

Race for UP
Mulayam sharpens focus on OBCs
by Syed Nooruzzaman

A
nyone
discussing the emerging political scenario in Uttar Pradesh invariably asks: why has Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav joined hands with Mr Kalyan Singh, the former BJP mascot in the state? The SP supremo must be aware of the likely consequences, as this may erode his Muslim vote bank considerably. Is he not hopeful of the MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination working in his favour as it did in the past? Or does he believe that the time has come for devising a new winning formula?

MIDDLE

Seminar siesta
by Vivek Atray
T
HESE days one is subjected to all kinds of seminars and conferences for reasons still unknown. Either one has to sit on the stage and speak on a subject which only remotely resembles an area of one’s interest, or one has to sit in the audience and nod one’s head vigorously as if one has never heard more truthful tales being told before in one’s life. Both experiences have their own story to tell, and hilarious situations often arise.

OPED

Misuse of CBI
It should be placed under CVC
by Kuldip Nayar
W
HEN a parliamentary standing committee was constituted to discuss the formation of the Central Vigilance commission, I was its member from the Rajya Sabha. The two points which were debated at length were: whether the Central Bureau of Investi-gation (CBI) should be under the proposed commission and whether the government’s prior permission was necessary before taking action against a public servant with the rank of joint secretary and above.

Cuba’s dark side
by Terence Blacker

It turns out that freedom of expression is largely a matter of fashion. Some acts of censorship are titillating and promotable, while others are downright embarrassing. So, in the week when there was considerable fuss over the alleged banning of a book at the Dubai Literary Festival, the deteriorating health under appalling conditions of 21 Cuban writers, journalists and librarians serving long prison sentences barely merits a paragraph – and is then denied by an apparently sane and respectable British academic.

Tibetans say no to celebrations
by Barbara Demick

The Chinese government has a New Year’s greeting for Tibetans — celebrate, or else. The Tibetan New Year, or “Losar,” is normally the most festive holiday of the year, when Tibetans burn incense, make special dumplings and set off fireworks.




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Terrorism is un-Islamic
The misguided need to do fresh thinking

Those who have been indulging in violence by invoking Islam have put both the religion and its practitioners — the Muslims —- in the dock. Known as Islamic terrorists, they brought a bad name to the Muslims and Islam much before 9/11, when the US-led multinational coalition declared a war on Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaida and the erstwhile Taliban regime in Afghanistan that provided sanctuary to the dreaded terrorist outfit. But most Muslim organisations, including religious institutions, remained silent spectators till the consequences of the actions of some misguided persons and groups in the community became unbearable. Darul Uloom, Deoband (Saharanpur district, UP), South Asia’s most influential institution of Islamic learning, felt the need to organise a convention as late as in May 2008 to debate the issues arising out of terrorism. Mercifully, the gathering came out with an anti-terrorism declaration, which was endorsed by a conference of Islamic scholars in Hyderabad on November 9 last year.

Yet this did not have the desired impact. Jihadi terrorists continued to kill and disable people with impunity, leading to the attack on Mumbai. The Deoband seminary has come into the picture not because of 26/11 but following a VHP letter addressed to 13 Muslim institutions, including Darul Uloom. The letter wants a fatwa declaring India as a “friend” of Islam so that jihad (read terrorist violence in the name of religion) against India and Indians has no sanctity in Islam. In an interview with The Tribune, the head of Darul Uloom, Maulana Marghoobur Rehman, has cleared the air by saying that India has already been the Land of Peace (Darul Aman) for Islam ever since it became an independent and sovereign nation. He reiterated that Islam considers terrorism as “haraam” (forbidden).

But this is not enough. Darul Uloom is not the only institution which has spoken against terrorism, though belatedly. Even the Imam of Kaba (the holiest of the holy shrines of Muslims in Mecca, Saudi Arabia) declared terrorism as an un-Islamic activity some time ago. Yet terrorist outfits like Al-Qaida, the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba continue to find recruits for their destructive projects. Why? Obviously, there is a need for the Islamic institutions like the one at Deoband to launch a campaign against Islamic terrorism so that it becomes a thing of the past and India and the world have peace and harmony. That is the wise course to follow.

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Trouble in TN
Lawyers up against court, government

THE long arm of the law — policemen — and lawyers have clearly taken the law into their hands in persisting with their confrontation, which involves the judiciary as well as the Tamil Nadu government. It is not uncommon for policemen to indulge in “excesses” as the men in uniform did when they clashed with lawyers at the Madras High Court premises on February 19. Doubtless, the lawyers were at fault in going on the rampage and battling the police — in the course of which a sitting high court judge was injured. Their justification for taking on the police was that a number of lawyers were arrested on February 17 for attacking Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy in a courtroom of the Madras High Court and in the presence of the sitting judges. The fact that Mr Swamy was pelted with rotten eggs for his anti-LTTE statements suggests that the lawyers came prepared to cause trouble.

Lawyers in Tamil Nadu are not only a highly politicised lot but also divided along party lines with many of them belonging to the PMK and the MDMK, which are known to be sympathetic to the LTTE. It is indeed shocking that they should attack a person, and that too in the courtroom, for his views on the LTTE; and, expect that the police, the court and the government should not take any action against them for their lawless conduct. It is curious that lawyers and their associations in other parts of the country are forthright in condemning the police attack on the lawyers, but silent on the lawyers attacking Mr Swamy in a courtroom.

Clearly, the lawyer-police clash is snowballing into a political crisis in Tamil Nadu with the lawyers ignoring the Chief Justice of India’s call to return to work. Both the executive and the judiciary seem to be helpless against the lawyers behaving as a law unto themselves. It is ironic that lawyers in Tamil Nadu can get so worked up over people’s views on the LTTE and not be affected in the least by the many and varied injustices prevalent in the country, often because the courts are burdened with a heavy backlog of cases. Far from easing this burden, the lawyers’ conduct will only prolong the delay and denial of justice to the people they are supposed to serve.

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When lakes go dry
Impending ecological disaster in Haryana is serious

THE alarm bells had begun ringing across the country over reports of drying up of Badkhal Lake in Haryana. The state government, however, went ahead with the auction notice of mining in Sirohi and Khori Jamalpur in Faridabad district. In both areas mining has extracted a huge ecological price. In Sirohi the indiscriminate mining has already touched the lowest permissible limit. The Badkhal is not the only lake in Haryana or in India that has been consumed by human greed, faulty policy planning and decision- making. Earlier, a historical lake at Surajkund, known for the annual crafts mela, dried up. Damdama Lake in Gurgaon, too, awaits a similar fate.

Haryana, which is essentially short of water, is endowed with many lakes, both man-made and natural. The significance of these water bodies as sources of irrigation and drinking water has to be underlined in a state which has no perennial rivers. Plus the lakes are a major tourist attraction. Badkhal Lake was once a splendid tourist destination. Today, it along with the lake at Surajkund has been reduced to a dry stretch, doubling up as a cricket ground for youth and a grazing place for cattle. Besides sapping up the tourist potential of these places, the drying up of lakes will adversely affect water supply. Experts have reiterated that Faridabad, totally dependent on ground water, should be declared a prohibited area for mining.

The Haryana Chief Minister, Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda, has promised to revive Badkhal Lake by next year and has expressed concern over the lakes going dry. But the government’s unjustified hurry and an attempt to bypass the expected guidelines of the Supreme Court on mining in the Aravali foothills belie his promise. The government had been duly warned of the impending ecological disaster yet it turned a blind eye. The Chief Minister’s plea that mining alone is not responsible for the drying up of the lakes may be partially true. However, the man-made threats to the fragile ecosystem have to be tackled. The self-serving mining lobby, however powerful, cannot hold the state’s precious natural resources to ransom. 

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Thought for the Day

The chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches. — Adam Smith

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Race for UP
Mulayam sharpens focus on OBCs
by Syed Nooruzzaman

Anyone discussing the emerging political scenario in Uttar Pradesh invariably asks: why has Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav joined hands with Mr Kalyan Singh, the former BJP mascot in the state? The SP supremo must be aware of the likely consequences, as this may erode his Muslim vote bank considerably. Is he not hopeful of the MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination working in his favour as it did in the past? Or does he believe that the time has come for devising a new winning formula?

Mr Mulayam Singh must have done thorough calculations before deciding to make common cause with Mr Kalyan Singh. The SP leader has had a solid base among the minority community, but it has suffered much erosion over the years. He is no longer a favourite of the Muslims, who constitute 18 per cent of the state's population. A few days back his most trusted lieutenant Amar Singh tried to meet the head of Lucknow's Islamic seminary, Nadvatul Uloom, but could not succeed. He was made to feel that SP leaders were not welcome at the second most prestigious Islamic centre of learning in the northern region after Darul Uloom, Deoband.

Mr Amar Singh had a similar experience at Deoband too. His efforts to have an audience with the Vice-Chancellor of the Deoband seminary, Maulana Marghoobur Rehman, ended in a fiasco. Even the Maulana's immediate juniors sent out the message that they were "not available".

The Muslims in UP have been getting disenchanted with Mr Mulayam Singh for a long time. But now they have begun to express this more forcefully. The realisation that has dawned on the community is that he has used them for achieving his political objectives as the Congress did in the past. He did not bother about the sentiments of the community when the SP leader decided to bail out the Congress-led UPA government over the Indo-US nuclear deal.

What he has done is in the national interest, as he has been justifying it. But this has had no impact on the Muslim perception, though patently wrong, that any arrangement that brings India and the US closer to each other cannot be in the interest of the community.

Yet most Muslims were having second thoughts about abandoning the SP till a few days back. They thought that it would be unwise to reject the SP when they had no better choice. But they were shocked to know that Mr Mulayam Singh and Mr Kalyan Singh had reached an understanding to contest the coming elections as informal allies. The explanation that Mr Kalyan Singh will extend his help to the SP as Mr Mulayam Singh's friend to defeat the BJP has few takers. The development is considered a severe blow to the MY combination.

Few Muslims are prepared to forgive Mr Kalyan Singh for his role in the demolition of the Babari Masjid at Ayodhya. He was the Chief Minister when this happened. He was supposed to work for safeguarding the life and property of all sections of society as the head of the government. But he failed to discharge his constitutional duty. Few are taking seriously Mr Kalyan Singh’s confession, “I want to make it clear that I had taken moral responsibility for the demolition of the Babari Masjid.” People may be having a short memory, as the saying goes, but they cannot forget that Mr Kalyan Singh made India hang its head in shame on December 6, 1992.

Mr Mulayam Singh is bound to pay heavily for shaking hands with Mr Kalyan Singh. But the SP leader is not a political novice. He must be aware of the negative fallout of his decision. His loss will not be confined to the minority community alone. The Congress, too, may stay away from the SP because of the Kalyan Singh factor. However, there are factors other than these which, too, cannot be ignored.

The minority voters have already been shifting their loyalty to the BSP for the past few years. They seem to believe that Ms Mayawati is better placed to fight for their interests than anybody else under the circumstances. Some people are convinced that the UP Chief Minister can emerge as a serious contender for the country’s prime ministership if her party improves its performance in the ensuing parliamentary elections. The argument goes that it is better to support the BSP than the SP, as the former, in any case, is a fast growing political organisation. The BSP has greater chances of evolving into a bigger player at the Centre.

Mr Mulayam Singh’s eyes are fixed on the 36 per cent population of UP --- the OBCs, including the Yadavs. His party leaders are arguing that the Dalits constitute only 22 per cent of the electorate but they control the levers of power through the BSP. The Muslim population is only 18 per cent of the total, yet the community has been influencing the course of politics in the state.

The SP strategy seems to be aimed at providing a separate identity to the OBCs. The idea is to make the OBCs feel that they together can emerge as the most powerful claimants to power in UP, as also in the other Hindi-speaking states where the caste factor continues to play a major role in elections. Mr Kalyan Singh, who has been instrumental in enlarging the BJP’s support base among the OBCs, it is believed, may be of great help to the SP now.

This is, of course, a sad commentary on the state of affairs in UP where politicians do all they can to ensure that society remains divided on caste and communal lines. Ms Mayawati is, no doubt, highlighting development-related issues through advertisements in the media, but her real strength lies in having a committed constituency of the Dalits. Those belonging to other sections of society like the Brahmins who supported her party in the previous elections did so knowing it full well that no other party was in a better position to safeguard their interests.

But so far as Mr Mulayam Singh is concerned, his new experiment in social engineering is unlikely to be successful so long as his party remains closely identified with the Yadavs. The other backward groups may see in his strategy a design for Yadav domination in UP politics with the help of the less privileged among the OBCs. It will be interesting to watch how the SP leader tries to remove this fear from the non-Yadav OBCs.

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Seminar siesta
by Vivek Atray

THESE days one is subjected to all kinds of seminars and conferences for reasons still unknown. Either one has to sit on the stage and speak on a subject which only remotely resembles an area of one’s interest, or one has to sit in the audience and nod one’s head vigorously as if one has never heard more truthful tales being told before in one’s life. Both experiences have their own story to tell, and hilarious situations often arise.

Speakers typically blow their own trumpet with unabashed aplomb. After a while, the high and mighty speaker gets offended at the crowd’s obvious lack of interest, as the onlookers gossip with the neighbour or look around at good-looking targets. After receiving a chiding from our “trumpeter”, people do settle down for a while, only to drift into the realm of distraction again.

Having had to put up with such unending verbosity on numerous occasions, one tries to rush through one’s own talk for two reasons. First, one has very little to say and, second, it is often past lunch time and the gastric juices have commenced their protest march!

Post-lunch, there is another story to tell, as one usually finds oneself seated in a seminar hall which is half empty. The aforementioned gastric juices have given way to somnambulant tendencies and the frequency of delegates snoozing off is quite high! In fact, excepting the main organiser and his accomplices, few other dedicated souls appear to be interested in the goings-on.

A recent event that one happened to attend highlighted these dozy trends like no other. The lunch on offer had been really sumptuous, embellished as it was with “puris” and all kinds of “halwas”. The audience included mostly middle-aged people, and the opening speaker of the post-lunch session was not exactly India’s greatest orator. He actually managed to plunge proceedings to levels of boredom hitherto undiscovered.

This combination of factors was so compelling, and the chair which one occupied was so cushy that one couldn’t help catching some shut-eye either!

My pleasant siesta was rudely interrupted, however, by loud shouting from the stage. Our champion sleep-inducer had perceived finally that no one was exactly thrilled to bits while listening to him. He was so peeved by the fact that almost all of his audience was fast asleep, that he became quite violent with his language and he made no secret of his utmost displeasure! This unprecedented dressing-down had the desired effect, and every one, including yours truly, was soon perched on the edge of the aforementioned cushy seats, a position we maintained till the very end of the session. It seemed as if we were all watching a 20-20 humdinger!

That scary episode notwithstanding, one is seriously thinking of writing to organisers of seminars that they must invite item-number-specialists to perform on stage along with the speakers, or else add siesta-time to the official schedule!

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Misuse of CBI
It should be placed under CVC
by Kuldip Nayar

WHEN a parliamentary standing committee was constituted to discuss the formation of the Central Vigilance commission, I was its member from the Rajya Sabha. The two points which were debated at length were: whether the Central Bureau of Investi-gation (CBI) should be under the proposed commission and whether the government’s prior permission was necessary before taking action against a public servant with the rank of joint secretary and above.

I was amazed to find the unanimity among members of different political parties on both points. This was despite the Supreme Court’s order to constitute a Vigilance Commission, answerable directly to parliament.

Had the court’s order been respected, the CBI would not have been a government department as it is today. A couple of members touched this point but only in a cursory manner. The CBI fought tooth and nail against the Vigilance Commission’s superintendence.

Ruling at the Centre at the time was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It was as vociferous in opposition to the CBI coming under the Vigilance Commission as the Congress and the Left parties were. What bothered them was that they would not be able to use the services of the CBI in the states they ruled.

How could an independent CBI serve their purpose if and when they wanted to use the agency against the opposition? Hence, an independent CBI was far from their mind.

According to the Special Police Establishment Act, which has constituted the CBI, the centre cannot use the agency in a state without the latter’s permission. The state allows the agency’s operation or initiates it if the party in power finds it politically convenient.

The working of the CBI shows that the centre uses it to punish or favour an individual, a leader or a political party. The part the agency played to help Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian and a friend of the Sonia Gandhi family, to escape in the Bofors payoff scandal and get money from the London bank is one glaring example of favouritism.

Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj, close to 10 Janpath, saw the completion of the process till the end. Lalu Prasad Yadav, involved in the fodder scandal when he was the Bihar chief minister, was let off the hook once he came to support the Congress at the centre.

The latest is the agency’s flip-flop in the case of former UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. When he was opposed to the Congress the CBI came into the picture to probe how he came to possess disproportionate assets.

Now that he is on the side of the Congress, the CBI informs the Supreme Court that it wants to withdraw its earlier letter for Mulayam’s prosecution.

Once again, Law Minister Bhardwaj has interpreted the case differently. The Supreme Court admonished the CBI. A legal luminary observed that the agency has sold its soul.

When in power, the BJP used the agency in a similar way. So much so that the CBI did not appeal against L.K. Advani’s acquittal in the Babri Masjid demolition case in which Advani was the prime suspect.

However, the UP government stepped in to file the appeal. Advani rewarded the retiring CBI director by nominating him to the National Human Rights Commission. Whichever party is in power — this time it is the Congress — it uses the CBI as it deems fit.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) too has no faith in the CBI. Its general secretary, Prakash Karat, has said that the Congress is in the habit of influencing the CBI.

The CPI (M) has alleged that the CBI investigation against Kerala Communist party secretary in a case, which has caused the state a loss of crores of rupees, was politically motivated.

The state is, however, feeling a piquant situation because chief minister V.S. Achudananndan has allowed the CBI to complete its probe. The party’s directive is not to recognise the CBI.

How to insulate the CBI from political pressure is the question. So far the agency has been an instrument in the hands of the party in power at the centre. The Supreme Court will have to intervene.

The original proposal to entrust the supervision of the CBI to the Central Vigilance Commission is a sound one. Only the court can have this implemented. Had the Ombudsman been appointed as promised by the successive governments at the centre, he or she could have seen to the independence of the CBI.

Perhaps, it could be put under the Ombudsman. Since such an institution is not even in the picture, the credibility of the CBI will be questioned and all its inquiries will have question marks against them.

Maybe the Supreme Court, which expressed its shock over the CBI stand on the Mulayam Singh’s case, can appoint a standing committee of eminent people to supervise the working of the agency.

If this does not happen, the central government will continue to mess up investigations as it has been doing so far. Mine was the only dissenting note on the government’s permission to act against the joint secretary or above.

The Supreme Court had already thrown out the dictum of prior permission and the then BJP-led coalition had enacted a law to make the permission by the government mandatory.

I vainly approached the Left parties to lend me support. But they too had their own compulsions in view of the state governments they had ruled.

What was obvious was that all parties had in mind the officers who served their purpose and who should not be exposed to any probe. That explains why some senior officers become a tool in the hands of the party in power and do anything on its bidding.

In turn, the officers have the confidence that even if they were ever put on the mat by investigating agencies or otherwise, they would be saved by the government which had all the power not to allow a probe, much less prosecution, against joint secretaries or above.

This is precisely what happened during the emergency. Public servants willingly committed excesses for the reward of quick promotion or a cushy posting. They should have been held accountable but were not.

This has given civil servants a new culture. The proximity of officers to the seat of power has made them blind to follow even inherent ethical conduct in public behaviour.

For many a public functionary the dividing line between right and wrong, moral and immoral has ceased to exist. They are only at the beck and call of the ruling party to carry out its command, however wrong and dirty. This is a point to worry in a democratic structure. 

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Cuba’s dark side
by Terence Blacker

It turns out that freedom of expression is largely a matter of fashion. Some acts of censorship are titillating and promotable, while others are downright embarrassing. So, in the week when there was considerable fuss over the alleged banning of a book at the Dubai Literary Festival, the deteriorating health under appalling conditions of 21 Cuban writers, journalists and librarians serving long prison sentences barely merits a paragraph – and is then denied by an apparently sane and respectable British academic.

Cuba, of course, is tricky. It is a plucky little country which has defied the bullying of its mighty neighbour. Its revolution has become the stuff of Hollywood films. It has a good health service, wonderful music and lovely cigars.

The Castro regime is one which, for romantic lefties living in comfort in the West, still represents the smiling face of revolutionary socialism.

In this context, it is an awkward fact that a group of people who are similarly independent-minded and articulate, but who happen to be Cuban, were rounded up by the authorities in 2001.

The crime of these 75 writers was that they were arguing for democracy. In short order – all the trials took place over two days and behind closed doors – they were sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment.

The families of those who remain in prison tell increasingly grim stories of beatings, solitary confinement, dire food and medical conditions causing serious illness in some cases.

It was to this little-publicised aspect of Cuban life which the writers’ organisation English PEN brought attention on this month’s 50th anniversary of the Castro revolution. The reaction, as is so often the case with Cuba, has been bizarre and vaguely shameful.

In the past, Ken Livingstone has dismissed criticism of the Cuban government’s human rights record as coming from those “with a very right-wing perspective”.

This week’s Fidelista has taken a different tack. Rebutting PEN’s call to arms in a letter to The Guardian, Professor Michael Chanan concedes that there might be Cuban prisoners “classed from outside as political” but they are kept in good conditions.

Chanan himself had, he says, filmed political prisoners in 1986: they had actually “declined to let us film their quarters because they didn’t want people to see how decent they were.”

In other words, like Ken Livingstone, George Galloway and others, Professor Chanan believes that PEN, Amnesty International and indeed the United Nations Commission on Human Rights are inventing the grim circumstances of the imprisoned writers (details of which can be found on www.englishpen.org).

On his website, the professor makes great claim for the new freedom enjoyed by Cuban film-makers; it is apparently only those who argue for a second political party who might find themselves in a bit of trouble.

There are many like him who prefer their illusions about the Castro to remain unblemished. If these people are truly interested in allowing the truth to be told, they will convince the Cuban authorities to allow visits to the imprisoned writers.

So far, the prisoners have kept out of sight and contact from the outside world. If that remains the case, only one conclusion can be drawn.

Tony Benn, a great champion of the Castro revolution, once said that “socialism has always been about democracy, human rights and internationalism”. For Cuba, one out of three is no longer enough.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Tibetans say no to celebrations
by Barbara Demick

The Chinese government has a New Year’s greeting for Tibetans — celebrate, or else. The Tibetan New Year, or “Losar,” is normally the most festive holiday of the year, when Tibetans burn incense, make special dumplings and set off fireworks.

But this year, Tibetans have declared a moratorium on celebrating their own holiday, saying they will instead observe a mourning period for people killed during protests against Chinese rule in 2008.

The 15-day holiday begins on Wednesday, and as it approaches, tensions are rising. In the past few weeks, the Chinese government has closed off large swaths of western China to foreign visitors — not just Tibet itself, but parts of provinces with large Tibetan populations.

Nearly a year after the violent demonstrations reportedly left more than 120 dead, Tibetans are trying out a novel technique for nonviolent protest.

“Say No to Losar,” as the campaign is called, was launched by Tibetan groups in Dharamsala, India, the Dalai Lama’s home in exile.

“Instead of the usual celebrations marked by singing, dancing and other festivities, silence will be observed and butter lamps will be lit in the temples and homes to pray for the deceased,” according to a campaign statement released in January.

The tactic appears to be driving Chinese authorities crazy. They’re countering with their own campaign of forced merriment — organizing concerts, pageants, fireworks, horse races, archery competitions. They’ve declared a one-week public holiday beginning Monday in Tibet and are offering free admission to museums and parks.

The Communist Party in Tibet also gave special vouchers worth $120 each to 37,000 low-income families in Tibet to shop for the holidays. And to further tempt the 2.8 million Tibetans, state television will broadcast a four-hour gala with 800 performers Tuesday night.

“They want to show that the Tibetan people are happy, that they have returned to normal life. But by intervening, they’re making them unhappy,” said Tsering Shayka, a Tibetan historian living in Canada. “They are trying to come up with gimmicks instead of solving the problem.”

At Beijing’s Central University for Nationalities, Tibetan students who had applied in 2008 for permission to hold a Losar celebration informed the university recently that they wished to cancel. But the university told them that the party must go on, said a university source who asked not to be quoted by name.

“Celebrating is compulsory,” he said. As the holiday nears, tensions are spilling into the open.

On Feb. 14, a Tibetan monk set off a furor when he walked through a public market in the Tibetan plateau’s Lithang county carrying a photograph of the Dalai Lama and chanting, “No Losar.”

Hundreds of other people reportedly joined the protests, which continued into the next two days, according to the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy. The group said Chinese police detained 21 people, some of whom were beaten, and that the entire county has been locked down for the holiday

Reports say up to 20,000 additional soldiers and paramilitary have been deployed in Tibetan areas and that in Qinghai province, village leaders were threatened with arrest if they urged people not to celebrate the holiday.

Even among Tibetans, there is a vigorous debate about the campaign to boycott Losar. The holiday, which dates back to pre-Buddhist times, is the most beloved in the Tibetan calendar and involves elaborate rituals and meals. Tibetan families traditionally make a soup with special dumplings in which they hide various items — chile pepper, wool, charcoal — and family members read their fortune by which dumpling they pick.

In addition to the tension over the holiday, the month of March will bring the 50-year anniversary of a failed anti-Chinese uprising, after which the Dalai Lama fled to India.

The date has traditionally been a trigger for protests within Tibet, and this year might be especially tense because the Chinese plan to mark the occasion with a celebration of what they are calling “Serf Emancipation Day.” The Chinese government maintains that it liberated the Tibetans from brutal feudal serfdom.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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