Archive for November, 2009

Who Killed JFK?

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

Nov 28, 2009

He died this month 46 years ago. The assassination was pinned on a crazed gunman, though so many wanted him dead.

It was a case of which one of the groups that wanted Kennedy dead got to him first

On the morning of 22 November 1963, on their way to catch a flight to Texas, John F Kennedy told his wife Jacqueline: “Jackie, if someone wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it.” Hours later, he was dead. Lee Harvey Oswald, a left-wing nut, had fired thrice from the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository. The second bullet hit Kennedy in the neck, and the third on the back of his head, spattering his brains on Jacqueline’s lap.

Nearly 50 years after Kennedy’s assassination, hardly anyone is convinced that Oswald was acting alone. The fact that Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby, a small-time Dallas nightclub operator (and who, some researchers have alleged, had Mafia connections) while he was being taken to court, deepens the suspicions. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, was clear that no one must believe that this was not just a gunman gone crazy. He told a journalist that if Americans believed that Cuba or the Soviet Union was behind the killing, the world could be looking at a nuclear war, with at least 40 million casualties. The Warren Commission, set up to investigate Kennedy’s murder, gave a clean chit to everyone except Oswald.
But could it have been only Oswald? What are the chances of a man scoring two bullseyes out of three from the sixth floor of a building, aiming at a moving car? Many eyewitnesses claimed they saw a plume of smoke from a ‘grassy knoll’ on the other side of the road, as if there was another shooter there, but this was brushed aside.

And it’s astonishing how long the list is of people who had a vested interest in Kennedy’s death. One, Fidel Castro, who Kennedy saw as a huge communist threat. Kennedy had authorised an assassination attempt on Castro. This was goofed up, but it is possible Castro came to know of it. Even if he had not, there was enough bad blood. Kennedy agreed to another hare-brained CIA plot of arming and training anti-Castro Cubans living in the US and sending them in to conquer Cuba. When this rag-tag lot landed on the Bay of Pigs’ beach, they were slaughtered by Castro’s soldiers. The CIA pleaded for air support and troops, but Kennedy refused. It was massive egg-on-the-face for the CIA, so even the US’ premier intelligence agency had a motive for revenge on Kennedy. As did the anti-Castro Cubans whose brothers and cousins had been butchered, and who felt they had been led up the garden path by Kennedy.

Kennedy had also made a bitter enemy of Soviet boss Nikita Krushchev. When Soviet nuclear missiles were detected in Cuba, Kennedy gave the Soviets an ultimatum: withdraw the missiles or prepare for Armageddon. An hour before the deadline, the Russians blinked, a massive public humiliation. Krushchev had enough reason to want Kennedy dead, even if it would be just a private pleasure.

The Mafia had enough reason to see the back of Kennedy. The Mob had lost huge investments in casinos in Havana, when Castro outlawed gambling. They had been lobbying politicians and government agencies for an invasion of Cuba, financed by the Mafia. After Kennedy’s handling of Bay of Pigs, they knew that as long as this man was in charge, their assets in Cuba were dead.

J Edgar Hoover, the legendary FBI chief, hated Kennedy’s guts for his stand on civil rights. Hoover was a racist right-wing nut who spent much time and effort recording Kennedy’s sexual escapades. Every month, he would send documents or recordings of these to Bobby Kennedy. “It’s pure blackmail,” Bobby told a friend. But the Kennedys did not back off an inch on their support for uniform civil rights, infuriating Hoover and his right-wing cohorts. On the morning of his death, a Texan right-wing paper called Kennedy a ‘Communist’.

So, left or right, domestic or international, federal agencies or organised crime, almost everyone seemed to have had a motive. It was the question of who would get to him first. And catch hold of Lee Harvey Oswald as the stupid fall guy.

Left out by the Left

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Nov 21, 2009

How a barely remembered island in the Sunderbans delta links to the chain of events that has led to the Indian State’s woes with Maoists.

hey had been condemned by the Indian State to generations of helpless penury

Most of us haven’t heard of a small island in the Sunderbans delta called Marichjhapi. Unless, that is, you were living in Bengal in 1978-79, or have read Amitav Ghosh’s extraordinary novel The Hungry Tide. But Marichjhapi is one of the most important links in the chain of events that has led to the Indian State’s woes with Maoists.

But let me start at the beginning. One of the most poignant stories I’ve ever heard about the Partition is from an ex-colleague. His father and his newly wed wife were fleeing East Pakistan, following the massacres. They reached one of the last boats to cross the river to India. But only the man could board; his wife was left behind in the riverside crush. He never saw her again.

When he reached Calcutta, the Bengal government was offering the refugees a choice of three locations for resettlement: the Andamans, the Terai in what is now Uttarakhand, and the Dandakaranya forests of central India. The Communist parties vigorously opposed resettlement anywhere other than in West Bengal. A gentleman I knew, who was an official in charge of resettlement in the Andamans, used to tell me how Communist leaders, including Jyoti Basu, would stand at the Calcutta docks and convince refugees that they should not go, that the Left would make sure they would get land in West Bengal. Those who went to the Andamans or Uttarakhand (like my ex-colleague’s father did, where he remarried and raised a family) have flourished. Those who stayed back in Bengal got no land and lived in poverty, the sudden leap in population almost ruining the state’s economy. Interestingly, it was the resentment these lakhs of people bore about their fate that brought the Left to power for the first time in the state in 1977, on the explicit promise that the Left was ‘the friend of the Bengali Hindu refugee’.

When more than a lakh families reached Dandakaranya, a vast forested area that stretches across Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra, they discovered it was one of the most arid and disease-ridden regions in India. For all practical purposes, they had been condemned by the Indian State to generations of helpless penury. For years, the Left parties of Bengal asked the state and Union governments to give these people land in Bengal. But the migrants had effectively been erased from the pages of history.

When the Left came to power in 1977, there was joy in Dandakaranya. About 30,000 peasants migrated to Marichjhapi, and cleared the land for agriculture without any subsidy. What happened next is incredible, and can at best be called the first instance of state-sponsored terrorism in independent India. Following Chief Minister Jyoti Basu’s orders, the police fired on the unarmed peasants, stopped NGO relief boats trying to reach the island, destroyed all the boats of villagers leaving them no escape route, cut off food supplies, starved to death men, women and children, and confiscated their property and destroyed their homes. Hundreds were arrested.

Then, the Communist government forced as many of the refugees as it could find on special trains, locked the doors from outside, and sent them back to Raipur. Though the official figure for police-firing casualties is 13, independent estimates put it at above 100.

Thirty years have gone by. No one but the victims remember that pogrom of helpless people, people who had lived in hope that Marxists would give them a chance to live human lives. But the victims will never forget, and their children remember. Dandakaranya remains a cursed region. There has been no development, and the people lead wretched lives. Is it any wonder Maoists now have a stronghold here? Betrayed by every entity in our political system, what do these people have to lose?

If you know of Marichjhapi, you can hardly feel any sympathy for the Indian Left.