Thursday 10 November 2011

Crisis in the making: Iran, the Empire, and the Rush to War

A little history lesson:

In September 1980, an episode occurred which went a very long way towards shaping modern history. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Iran.

How did this shape modern history, you ask?

If it were not for the invasion of Iran (instigated to a large extent by the then-nascent Empire and what Frontline magazine calls the “Imperial Petrol Stations”) by Iraq, the latter would not have been in an economic crisis by the time the war ended eight years later. And it would not have reacted as it did to Kuwait’s digging slanting wells across the border in an attempt to steal Iraqi oil. And that would have denied the Empire an excuse to create a more or less permanent presence in the Persian Gulf with troops in virtually all the “imperial petrol stations”, which in turn led to Al Qaeda’s rise as an anti-American terrorist force, 11/9, the invasion of Afghanistan and then the occupation of Iraq, and latterly the slide into bankruptcy of the Empire itself.

History, pace Henry Ford, isn’t bunk.

But that’s not precisely what I wanted to talk about in this article.

Iran, in 1980, was in a godawful mess. The Iranian Revolution had split the country down the middle. The ayatollahs had not yet established full control. Civil society had disintegrated to a very large extent. The Iranian Army, once one of the strongest in Asia, had fallen apart. Its top generals had been executed or imprisoned. The equally once-formidable Iranian Air Force was virtually grounded because of a lack of spare parts, and also because many pilots and ground crew suspected of loyalty to the Shah had been thrown into jail.

Furthermore, the regime in Tehran was isolated internationally. Iran’s new Islamic rulers were hated by the US for throwing out their puppet the Shah, and distrusted throughout West Asia, where Sunni Arab kings lording it over restive part-Shia populations (as in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia) were terrified of the possibility of the export of the Islamic Revolution abroad. Nor could Iran count on the support of the USSR, since it was playing host to Afghan refugees and mujahideen camps on its territory.

To Iraq, ruled by then-American ally Saddam Hussein, it seemed a golden opportunity to grab the Shatt-al-Arab waterway between the two nations, and oil-rich areas of Iran close to the border. Iraq at the time had possibly the strongest army any modern Arab nation had ever seen, and Iran’s rag-tag forces weren’t expected to be able to put up serious resistance.

The main thrust of Iraq’s attack on Iran was across the Shatt-al-Arab waterway into the south-western (and oil-rich) province of Khuzestan. This province (known as Arabistan to the Iraqis) has a majority ethnic Arab population, and was expected to welcome their fellow-Arabs with open arms. The few Iranian militia units were supposed to be brushed aside with ease. The first objective, the port city of Khorramshahr, just across the border and within easy range of Iraqi artillery, should have fallen in a day or two.

It held out for over one and a half months.

In a battle so epic that Khorramshahr is often now called Khunishahr (City of Blood), the Iranians, including a handful or regular forces with just a company of tanks, some Pasdaran militia, and the rest being civilians from the town (ethnic Arabs, remember), fought off repeated attacks from Saddam Hussein’s forces. Women took up arms as well and those who couldn’t fight cooked for the men at the front. Even after the city was completely surrounded and being shelled and bombed round the clock, the Iranians fought street by street, house by house, until finally withdrawing in November. And a year and a half later, the Iranians took the city back again, capturing nineteen thousand Iraqi troops and pushing Saddam Hussein’s forces back over the frontier.

By any objective standpoint, Iran’s survival in the war must rank as one of the great military feats of all time. With an air force desperately short of aircraft and spares for the planes it did have, little functioning artillery or armour, an army largely composed of volunteers (some of whom were children) with only a couple of weeks’ training, and a speedboat navy, they did more than just survive. First, they fought the Iraqis to a standstill, then they forced Saddam to withdraw across the border, and then took the Al Faw peninsula and came close to taking Amarah and Basra. During all of this they faced active American and Arab hostility (Donald Rumsfeld visited Baghdad in 1983, shook Saddam Hussein’s hand, and gave him the weapons he wanted), massed artillery, armour, and poison gas attacks – and still came through. 

Those soldiers in khaki uniforms crouched in their First World War style trenches, slapped on gas masks, and fought back massed armour charges from point-blank range. The expected Second Iranian Revolution didn’t happen. The allegedly oppressed people of Iran did not rise up and overthrow Ayatollah Khomeini. The Arabs and Kurds didn’t revolt against Tehran or welcome the liberators invaders with flowers strewn across their path. 

And the Iranians proved two things: first, that they are not a pushover; and, second, that whatever their individual circumstances and political affiliations, when they are attacked by a foreign enemy, they are all Iranians.

Now that the drum-rolls of war are again sounding over Iran, this is a history lesson one should keep in mind, though some people seem eager to forget it.
The (probably) coming war on Iran:

In recent days, the zionazi pseudostate (for those of you new to my world, that’s how I refer to the so-called state of “Israel”, whose legitimacy I do not recognise) in Occupied Palestine has grown shrill with threats to attack Iran, whose alleged nuclear programme is an alleged “existential threat” to the racist Nazi thugs in Tel Aviv and elsewhere. This is far from the first time the zionazi pseudostate has threatened to attack Iran, citing an alleged imminent nuclear threat, and one assumes that it won’t be the last; but there are distinct signs that this time, there will be an attack – unlike all the times before. 

It won't be a zionazi attack, that's all.

The reasons for the war to come aren’t all that difficult to see, and haven’t changed too much in the last several years. Only a few of the personalities involved have changed around, but not even as many as one might think.

Back in 2008, when the erstwhile Bush regime seemed about to attack Iran, I wrote an article from which I will quote certain passages, and then provide updates in brackets:

The first reason is the nature of the Zionist regime. It’s no great secret that for all its democratic pretensions, the Zionist regime is in trouble. It’s one of several countries in the world that keep its people under the thumb by the use of terror – not terror directed at the people directly, but terror as in keeping them in a state of perpetual fear. (This is also the way the Bush regime acted between 2001 and 2006, before people simply got tired of being afraid.) In any case, you can only use fear so long before it either drives people away or else desensitises them. This is happening now in “Israel” with more Jews moving out than are actually moving in. I say “Jews”, not “people”, because as far as the Zionist regime is concerned the non-Jews might as well not exist, as (zionazi premier) Golda Meir once stated officially.

...The second option before the Zionist state is to begin a war. A war can be sure to attract domestic support – just look at the US between 2001 and 2003. You can do anything in a war, accuse all opponents of being unpatriotic, anything. They will fall in line at once...

...the Zionist entity can’t win a war against guerrillas, and it knows it. It can, however, fight and win a conventional war. This is because not only does it have automatic access to the most effective American weaponry and electronics, but also because it has a nuclear arsenal which it will use if faced with defeat...(a) can be certain of being allowed to get away with that.

So, here is the first reason why there may be an attack on Iran: the fact that the zionazi entity called “Israel” needs a war.

[Update: At this time, the zionazi regime has problems on its hands. Despite all the talk of their so-called nation being a shining beacon of democracy, the zionazi people themselves have decided that enough is enough and have come out into the streets in their own version of Occupy Wall Street. The continued blockade of Gaza is failing. Cairo’s reliably pliant dictator has been replaced by a military cabal which, though beholden to Washington, is obviously far less able to control the Egyptian people’s natural antipathy towards the bastard offspring of Nazism and apartheid which rules over Occupied Palestine. And at the same time, the once-friendly Turkish regime is considerably less friendly, and – as I’ll mention in a moment – the old reliable protector, the Empire, has problems of its own. Therefore, war is needed, now, more urgently than ever. It may be the last chance.

However, the zionazi pseudostate today is a rather different “nation” than the one which had routinely invaded Arab nations up until 1982 and then again in 2006, when Hizbollah sent it reeling back from the Second Invasion of Lebanon. It no longer fights major wars, whether on its own or as part of an alliance. Nowadays, despite its enormous arsenal, it prefers to kill unarmed Arab civilians and fight wars of aggression only against small resistance groups like HAMAS, which have hardly any capacity to hurt the pseudostate in a major way. Nowadays, the pseudostate prefers to have the Empire fight its wars for it, and tries to ensure (via its lobbies in Washington) that this is what happens.

Also, there are practical difficulties in the pseudostate’s attacking Iran, if that is what it plans. Iran’s nuclear sites are now, very sensibly, dispersed and protected. It certainly won’t be easy for zionazi missiles to take even some of them out, let alone all – and the end result will be that the Iranians might finally decide they need a nuclear weapon for security after all, and set about developing one. If the zionazis decide to attack Iran with bombs, they will have to overfly Arab territory, and more than likely refuel on or over Arab territory as well. No Arab ruler can risk – in this season of revolt – overtly helping the oppressors and murderers of Palestinians to start another anti-Muslim war. And, of course, since Iran is better armed than, say, Iraq or Afghanistan, zionazi pilots may be shot down and killed, or, worse, paraded in chains on Iranian TV.

Therefore, it’s highly likely that those who state that the zionazi threat to attack Iran is a bluff are right. The pseudostate won’t attack Iran, but then it doesn’t have to. It’s got the Empire to do its job for it.]

Back to what I wrote in 2008:

The second reason is that...the US economy is in recession, and needs stimulation. War is a marvellous stimulant of an economy like that of the US ...which is largely dependent on the military/industrial complex. Actually, with its massive donations to the political establishment, it’s now the military/industrial/political multiplex (MIP for short), and can – does – influence US government policy, as Eisenhower himself admitted a long time ago.

...another little fact that doesn’t get mentioned much in polite society; the Zionist lobby and its effect on US politics. I say Zionist lobby advisedly, not Jewish, because the only raison d’ etre of this lobby is the protection and promotion of the interests of “Israel” and not of Jews anywhere else. However, the Zionist lobby works hard at equating Judaism with Zionism, so any anti-Zionist viewpoint can be condemned as anti-Jewish. Because the Zionist state needs a war, as I said, the Zionist lobby will argue in favour of this war. It will ensure the US does everything possible, and more, to make sure the Zionazis can get away with doing anything and everything in the course of this war. And because the Zionist lobby and the Zionazi entity seem to have an incredible influence on US foreign policy, they will try and force the US to fight “Israel’s” war for it.

[Update: Despite the change of guard from the hated warmonger Bush to the beloved Messiah cum Nobel Peace Prizident Obama, nothing has changed at all as far as these points are concerned. The Obamites are, if anything, even more desperate than the Bushies were for a war on Iran, and for the simple reason that their political fortunes may hinge on starting a war. Let’s look at the reasons:

1.     The Depression and Occupy Wall Street. Though the D-word isn’t being uttered, the Empire is in an advanced state of economic implosion, and the Nobel Peace Prizident Obama’s popularity among people who aren’t his worshippers is, to put it mildly, not high. The Messiah’s halo is slipping fast, and he may well calculate that positioning himself as a war leader (like Bush in 2004) is what he needs to get another term. A war will have the additional advantage of stymieing the protestors, who can then be reviled as traitors undermining the nation in a time of war. That will suit the corporations bankrolling both the Peace Prizident and his opponents very well indeed. And once the first bombs fall, the only difference between the viewsreaders of Faux News and CNN will be who wears flag lapel pins, while the only criticism the Republicans will throw at the Messiah is that he’s not killing enough Muslims fighting the war ruthlessly enough.

2.     The defeat in Iraq. By any objective analysis, Washington has lost, and lost badly, in Iraq, and the extent of the defeat will only become more obvious as the days go on. Iraq’s current rulers aren’t nearly as beholden to the Iranians as most people seem to imagine, but they are no longer subservient tools of the Empire, either. Whether or not it was Iranian pressure which caused them to refuse immunity to American war criminals soldiers and mercenaries private security contractors, and insist on the Empire’s sticking to the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the warmonger Bush (which pledged to remove all troops by the end of 2011, and which the Nobel Peace Prizident Obama was trying desperately to overturn – of such delicious stuff is irony made), the fact is that the Empire has to evacuate Iraq. And though it can (and is) stuffing the imperial petrol stations full with its soldiers, all they can do is increase anti-American hatred among the subject protected people. That’s how Al Qaeda rose in the first place, don’t forget. And since nobody wants to be known as a president who lost a war, the Messiah-cum-Nobel-Peace-Prizident needs another one not only to distract the people at home from their economic woes, but to distract attention from Iraq. And isn’t replacing a smaller colony (Iraq) with a far larger one (Iran) a project to warm the heart of any neo-imperialist?

3.     The ongoing disaster in Afghanistan and the creeping war against Pakistan. How do I put this as politely as possible? The Imperial project in Afghanistan is (as Norman Mailer put it in The Naked And The Dead) “fugged”. Afghanistan is a lost cause, and the Pakistanis now hate and distrust the US to the extent that anti-Americanism is now a political platform in Pakistan, one which “mainstream” politicians can ignore only at their peril. Explaining this creeping disaster is going to be difficult for the Messiah cum Nobel Peace Prizident, especially since the next year will see the Taliban grow even stronger and the Afghan war enterprise (which he called the “good war”) slide even closer to final collapse. Pakistan isn’t a nation the Empire would be well-advised to openly invade, since it has a large nuclear arsenal (which it is allegedly moving around in vans to keep hidden from the Americans). But someone has to be blamed for the disaster, doesn’t it? It might as well be the Iranians. After all, they’re all Muslims, aren’t they? And what better way for the Peace Prizident to prove he’s not a Muslim than by murdering even more Muslims?

4.     The need to contain Russia and China before they get too strong. Russia is no longer the supine doormat of the Yeltsin years, and Putin – a far tougher character than Medvedev – is all set to return to the Russian President’s office and openly restart calling the shots. The ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia have already seen which way the wind’s blowing, and the president-elect of Kyrgyzstan has ordered the Empire to vacate its base outside Bishkek when the lease runs out in 2014. China, on the other hand, has launched its first aircraft carrier, is developing an amphibious assault capability, has a highly capable submarine force (which has proved that it can penetrate the security screen of Imperial carrier groups) and is rapidly turning into a nation the Empire can’t fight militarily without sustaining unacceptable levels of damage. The Chinese economy and military need a lot of energy, though, and said energy mostly flows from the oilfields of West Asia, primarily Iran. Controlling Iranian oil will stifle China economically, and controlling Iranian territory will isolate Russia to the south and provide another potential outlet for the pipelines the damned Taliban haven’t allowed to be built from the ‘stans of Central Asia to the Arabian Sea.

5.     British support to the war. It may be slightly bizarre at first sight that the British should seem to be even more enthusiastic than the Empire in the plans to attack Iran, but only at first sight. Britain, as I’ve said in the past, never saw a war it didn’t love, as long as someone else had to do most of the fighting.  Also, as the mess in Libya deepens, it soon won’t be possible any longer to hide the colossal disaster Britain and France have created in that nation. What better way to distract attention than to start another war, in which British troops will only have to play second or third fiddle to the Americans? And British (and possibly French) support will enable the Nobel Peace Prizident to claim he has the backing of the majority of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, so he has a right under international law to create a brand new war. For the man who pretended that bombing Libya didn’t count as combat, creative interpretation of language is nothing new.]

Back to my 2008 article:

The third reason there may be a war is the nature of the regime in power in Tehran. Now there are plenty of reasons to support Iran in this “controversy”; it’s the underdog, it’s obviously being targeted through no fault of its own, it’s the victim of neo-imperialism and economic megalomania. But at the same time it’s impossible to deny that there are many, many things wrong with the Islamic republic. It’s impossible to deny that the people are restive and there is mass disillusionment with the Ahmadinejad regime...although President Ahmadinejad certainly never said that “Israel” should be wiped off the map (and ... even if he had said it, he had no way of making it happen), he has been working to keep tensions high as a way of gathering support behind his regime, quite like the way the Zionazi entity has been operating on its own people. It may even be that the Iranian regime wants a limited attack carried out on it; this would be a nice cause celebre to gather the support of the population as the defender of the country.

Then, the Iranian armed forces, though much stronger than the pathetic Iraqi and Afghan armies, are...weak. Iran has never really recovered from the Iranian revolution and the eight year Iran-Iraq war...It certainly has neither nuclear weapons nor a programme that could produce any rapidly, because that would have automatically rendered it immune to American aggression (remember North Korea?). It does have some ballistic missiles, but...the capabilities of these missiles is exaggerated. All this is important because it means that Iran is not a significant opponent in a conventional war.

[Update: though the Iranian armed forces are probably stronger now than when I wrote those words, the points remain just as valid. The Empire could “defeat” Iran fairly easily in a conventional engagement, though at a rather higher cost than Iraq or Afghanistan. It, however, could not occupy Iran in the long term, because the Iranians would resist in a manner that would make Iraq look like a walk in the park. Remember what they did to Iraq, back in the eighties, when they had been expected to collapse in weeks?

History – see the little lesson with which I started this article – will teach us that the Iranians will resist the occupation with everything they have, and keep resisting until they win. But because this resistance to occupation would take years to succeed, the Messiah/Peace Prizident could secure his re-election, and that’s all he cares about at the moment.

A side note also to mention that Ahmadinejad isn't the most powerful person in Iran. That's Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader. Ahmadinejad is little more than a figurehead.]

OK, so these are the reasons why there may be a war. If there is a war, how might it go? The way I see it, it depends on the strategy the Americans and their Zionist controllers follow.

  1. If the war consists of a limited bombing attack on one or more Iranian nuclear sites. This is the least likely scenario if one thinks the Zionists actually believe that Iran has a nuclear programme. It would do only limited damage, unite the Iranian people behind Ahmadinejad, and the Iranians would likely really begin on a nuclear weapons programme. It would most probably not react too aggressively, limiting itself to shooting down as many of the enemy aircraft as it could... but would also most likely reduce oil production as a retaliatory measure. The price of oil would go so high the current rates would be called the “good old days”.

  1. If the war consists of a massive bombing campaign on numerous Iranian sites, whether carried out by “Israel” or the US or a combination thereof, with or without the use of nuclear weapons. This is the most likely scenario. It would probably succeed in destroying the bombed sites. Tehran would have no choice – it would have to retaliate. This it could do by missile attacks against American bases in West Asia, and against “Israel”, but these would achieve little because ballistic missiles without nuclear weapons are not very destructive. It would almost certainly also block the Straits of Hormuz, closing off a good percentage of the world’s oil supplies. This it can do temporarily with missiles and substantially less temporarily by sinking blockships in the Straits. This is the same technique Nasser successfully used in Suez in 1956. Again, the global oil prices will rise sky-high.

  1. If the war consists of an invasion and occupation of Iran. This is possible but not probable, because controlling a nation the size of Iran isn’t so simple...(t)he war will go on and on and on.

 [Update: Three and a half years after I wrote those words, I wouldn’t change a bit of it.]

Indicators that a war is imminent:

A modern war of aggression needs a cause celebre. Even Hitler realised it, and staged a fake Polish attack on a radio station at Gleiwitz in Silesia as the excuse to set off what became World War Two. And the Peace Prizident’s men are looking hard for a cause celebre. That they have thus far failed does not mean that they won’t try again. To look back one last time at my old article,

The...propaganda machine doesn’t have to convince everyone in the world. It only has to convince enough of the American people to “manufacture consent”. I’m sorry if I’m offending any Americans here, but I know of no other people in the world who could have been brainwashed so easily into believing that Saddam Hussein was behind the 11/9 attacks.

Once the American people are convinced of the need for a war, the American government can claim popular support for its war and can order its vassal states to fall into line. As we saw during Iraq, the vassal governments uniformly ignored their own peoples’ opinion and decided to send troops to help in the invasion.

We’ve already had a couple of cause celebres:

1.     The first was the ludicrous alleged plot by the Iranian Quds Force to blow up a restaurant in Washington in order to murder the Saudi Ambassador. This alleged plot involved drug cartels and an American of Iranian origin known among the expat Iranian community for his utter incompetence at anything and everything he tried. So laughable was this plot (set up by the FBI, which has recently taken to creating ”terrorist plots” in order to “foil” them) that not even the American people could be made to swallow it, though it is still alleged to be real by the Peace Prizident’s men.

2.       The second cause celebre is a statement by the IAEA, now run by a Washington toady, that unnamed “member states” claim that the Iranians “might” have conducted experiments designed to further their nuclear knowhow, and “cleaned up” the site afterwards – thus absolving, of course, those unnamed “member states” from the burden of providing evidence. That wasn’t enough to stop that fount of balanced and fair reporting, CNN, of claiming that Iran was “developing nuclear bombs”.

What now?

Obviously, the Nobel Peace Prizident (and there’s a surprise for you!) is determined to go to war. The only thing standing between him and launching the war, at the moment, are China and Russia. Surely they must be aware of the fact that the invasion of Iran is only a step in the long term objective of isolating, starving, and ultimately subjugating them. And going by the indications, it seems as if they are so aware.

But sticking to “warnings” of the “dangers” of an attack on Iran will not be enough. The Empire does not listen to “warnings” – it has not yet left behind the illusions of the neocon period, when Karl Rove could contemptuously declare that those who did not accept the Imperial project were part of the

reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

So, Russia and China need to prepare for a showdown. They need to provide armaments and security guarantees to Iran, and declare, if necessary, that an attack on Iran will be considered a declaration of war against them. Watch how quickly the warrior spirit in Washington, let alone the vassal capital of London, will disappear at the prospect of being nuked.

I don’t know if Russia and China will do so, but if they don’t, they’ll be harming  themselves.

A personal note:

Back in my college days, among my fellow students were a couple of Iranians. One of them was called Amir Tafazoly. A native of Tehran, he was several years older than the rest of us, and for an excellent reason; he had spent years of his life fighting as an infantryman against the Iraqis, and had the photos, and a couple of scars, to prove it. Four of his platoon died in the war, he told me.

This Amir Tafazoly was a considerable physical specimen. Heavily muscled and more than a little handsome, he was a superb athlete (particularly at the hammer throw). He also had no pretensions to religious belief, and could be relied on to avoid the mosque or the daily prayers. Also, he had no problems with Arabs, mixing freely with the Palestinians who were also students at that same college.

Bear in mind that this liberal, athletic, non-religious dentist was a veteran of a brutal war where he faced armoured assaults and poison gas, and that he had come through it with his humanity essentially intact. I don’t doubt, though, that if Iran were to be attacked again, he and those like him – the antithesis of the mullahs popularly supposed to be ruling everything in Iran – would return to combat, no matter what the personal cost to them. They are all Iranians, as I said.

The Empire might begin the war, but they will finish it.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Oiling the Machine: Why Fuel Prices in India Will Keep Rising

What goes up must come down, conventional wisdom says. Just throw a stone up and see – and be careful it doesn’t fall on your head.

If you’re the Indian government, though, and if it’s fuel prices that you’re talking about, conventional wisdom, and gravity, can go take a hike.

Fuel prices, in this Greatest Democracy In The World, have been “deregulated” as of last year – in other words, state-run fuel companies were allegedly given the freedom to “adjust” their charges according to the prices of fuel in the international market. The idea (at least according to the official account, which – if you’ve been paying attention to my writing – you know not to trust) is that the consumer will pay according to the international cost of fuel (primarily petrol). When it goes up, he or she will pay more, of course – and when it goes down, he or she will pay less. And because the oil companies will be competing against each other, the consumer will get the best deal. Impeccable neoliberal capitalist logic, right?

Well, guess what happened.

Yeah, that’s right. Far from competing, the oil companies quickly formed a cartel, where the prices of petrol would only rise and rise, whatever the international price situation.

Who’d have guessed?

Well, actually – anyone could have guessed. That, apparently, was the whole point, to raise oil prices in a way that would let the government off the hook.

You see, until last year, the price of oil was controlled by the government, which usually (at least when an election was coming) tried to keep it low. When elections weren’t imminent, of course, the government raised the prices as much as it wanted, and siphoned off a hefty part of the proceeds for the benefit of the ruling party. That’s hardly unique, of course, in India’s political scenario, but it did have a high political cost.

The reason for the political cost is that petrol prices aren’t a stand-alone price. When you raise fuel costs, you raise the costs of everything – from the cost of transporting produce from the fields to the markets, to the cost of commuting to work, everything that depends on fuel becomes more expensive, resulting in increased cost of living at a time when food price inflation alone is running at over 12% and the so-called eminent economist who is the country’s alleged prime minister (without winning even a municipal election in his life) has nothing more to offer than “assurances” that the rate of inflation (that is, the rate of increase, not the actual prices themselves) will eventually come down.

This problem is exacerbated by a couple of other things:

First, in recent years, the government has bent over backwards to promote private car ownership in this country. On the one hand, car makers have been given ridiculous incentives to set up factories (such as virtually free land, taken from their original owners at gunpoint if need be, in the “national interest”, or decade-long tax holidays). State-owned banks have also gone on lending sprees so you can buy your car on a “soft loan” you can pay back in five or six years. Never mind the fact that the urban infrastructure – the streets and traffic control apparatus – can’t begin to accommodate all the new traffic; India has to prove to the world that It Has Arrived. What better way than allowing the public transport system to decay (except showpieces in the largest cities) while cramming the streets with private vehicles? Let the mind-boggling traffic jams begin!

But those private vehicles need fuel, don’t they? And almost all of India’s fuel has to be imported, too. So, increased consumption of fuel by a burgeoning fleet of private vehicles leads to...increased imports, which means more money spent importing that fuel! Amazing! Who’d ever have thought it?

Cars need fuel? Who'd have thought it...

But the thing gets even more ludicrous. India’s petrol quality is among the lowest in the world. Fuel adulteration is at incredible levels, to the extent that if you don’t use your car for a few days, you might have difficulty starting it because the contaminating oils, like naphtha and kerosene, have settled to the bottom of your petrol tank. The adulteration is systematic and occurs all the way down the supply chain, because it there’s so much money in it.

Why is there so much money in it?

The reason is that while the price of petrol is allowed to rise and rise, those of diesel and kerosene are kept artificially low. Plenty of people in India still cook on kerosene stoves, and it’s called the “poor man’s fuel”. It’s heavily adulterated, too, of course, because you can make more money by selling five litres of kerosene mixed with two litres of naphtha than you can by selling seven litres of kerosene; and a substantial part of it is purchased to adulterate petrol. It works out very well for the people doing the contamination.

Diesel, similarly, is kept artificially cheap in order to please farmers, who form an important voting bloc. Farmers use diesel for their tractors, and diesel-fuelled trucks haul loads all over the country. Well, then, shouldn’t diesel be kept cheap? What’s the problem with that?

This: there are diesel-fuelled cars in India, which are rather more expensive than the petrol-fuelled automobiles and motorcycles the hoi polloi are forced to use. These diesel-fuelled vehicles are owned only by the rich, and since diesel is cheap it’s not worth adulterating; which means that the costs, both financial and pollution-based, of petrol are disproportionately borne by the middle and working classes.

Now, as I said, the price of petrol is being raised deliberately and repeatedly (those of cooking gas as well) by the (state-owned) oil companies. These companies, according to the government, are autonomous and determine their pricing on the basis of international costs of petroleum. In that case, shouldn’t the price (as I said) go down when the international price of petroleum goes down?

It will surprise no one that it isn’t.

The price of fuel has already been raised five times this year, and since last year, when the prices were “deregulated”, the costs have only risen. The technique is always to raise the price at midnight, with only a couple of hours’ notice, so that people so that people don’t have a chance to rush out and fill a tankful before the cost goes up (something appropriately called “midnight robbery” by Hindunazi politician Lal Krishna Advani).

There are two separate (and, as I shall explain, mutually incompatible) excuses for this:

The government claims that the oil companies determine the prices by themselves, and the government has no control over them. At the same time, it blames the increasing price on the “international situation” and the steady devaluation of the Indian rupee vis-a-vis the US dollar.

Why the argument fails: The government is itself perfectly aware that the oil companies seem to time their fuel price hikes once elections are safely out of the way, no matter what the international situation is. Also, the devaluation of the rupee isn’t something that just happened, like a natural force. Virtually every episode of devaluation of the rupee, which has crashed by about 500% in the last two decades, has been the result of a deliberate policy by the government in order to “boost exports”. Now, India’s exports are almost all items that other nations can get along without – textiles, or software, for instance. Plunging the rupee into the muck in order to make your exports cheaper won’t get you far when your customer nations are in deep economic crisis and people would rather spend what little cash they have in order to keep a roof above their heads. But since our imports are vital to the economy and everyday life (like, you know...petroleum?) this will make imports costlier, all to keep a relatively tiny number of exporters and IT professionals happy. And even that happiness will evaporate pretty damn quick when depression abroad crushes their business like a ton of bricks, so it’s triply futile.

However, let’s for the sake of argument assume that the idea has merit, and that the devaluation of the rupee is actually partly to blame. Now, the rupee has in recent days been bouncing up and down from about Rs 45 to the $ to Rs 50. According to the government, in the last two months (the interval between the last big price rise and the latest), the rupee has fallen by about four rupees to the dollar, making a further price hike inevitable. But, as I said, the rupee-to-dollar rate is fluctuating up and down, and only ten days ago was (I saw it myself) at Rs 46 to the $. Why, then, not import your petroleum in large amounts when your currency appreciates and stop the imports when it depreciates? Why doesn’t anyone in a position to be heard ask this simple question?

The oil companies claim that their hands are tied by the (alleged) fact that they already run losses on the petrol they are selling. They say they will have to curtail sales if they don’t raise prices.

Why the argument fails: First, since a large part of the demand is because of the deliberate fostering of private car ownership, it’s not as though civilisation will crash to a halt if less petrol is sold. People may have to get used to taking the bus again, or (gasp) walking a kilometre or two. Also, instead of competing against each other, why are the oil companies forming obvious cartels with no difference in their prices?

Besides, these same oil companies openly state that if the government orders them to, they will reduce fuel costs. Remember that the government claims that the oil companies are independent? According to the companies themselves, they aren’t.

What is the government doing about this? Nothing, actually. Our rulers know the incredible apathy of the Indian people, who at the most will vote them out of power for a while so another coalition can have its run of looting the country, and then vote them back in again. They know perfectly well that there will never be a violent revolution in this nation, or even a military coup – Indians don’t have that much backbone. In fact, in response to the protests against the latest price hike (two midnights ago as I write this), the so-called, unelected “prime minister” has said that he wants even further deregulation of fuel prices.

I’m trying to visualise what’s going to happen if India’s Zionazi friends and Evil Empire overlords attack Iran, as they are threatening. If Iran, as it is capable of doing, shuts down the Persian Gulf with a few anti-ship missiles, and the cost of petroleum soars to $200 or more per barrel, where are the prices going to go?

Even the sky couldn’t be called that high.

Sunday 6 November 2011

The Clown

Have you heard?” The boss’ secretary looked up at her from behind her computer, her eyes avid. “It’s happened again, last night.”

She paused, the printouts dangling from her fingers. “It? What do you mean?”

“It. You know.” The woman seemed surprised that she didn’t know what she was talking about. “Someone was killed again. Last night.”

“Oh?” She felt a faint stirring of interest. “It was in the morning papers, I suppose? I haven’t had time for the news.” She hadn’t had time for anything for long now, what with her problems at work and elsewhere. She barely had time to breathe, she thought sometimes.

The secretary was young and pretty, far prettier than she had a right to be. “Yes, well. They found another body. The same injuries and marks as before.”

“That makes...” she thought a moment. “The fifth, is it? The sixth?”

“My word, you have been out of it, haven’t you?” The secretary’s over-made-up eyes looked like glittering wet stones. “It’s at least the eleventh.” She held up the fingers of both hands, and then one more. “The police say there may be more that they haven’t yet discovered.”

“The same injuries and marks as before, huh?” She ignored the insinuation in the younger woman’s voice. It was always good policy to keep the boss’ secretary on one’s side, because you never knew when you might need some inside information. “As you said, I’ve been under a rock. Just tell me the details. So I can, you know, refresh my memory.”

“Young women,” the secretary said with relish. “He always kills young women at night. Like, you know, our age.” She looked the other woman up and down doubtfully, as though it would require stretching the word young. “And he always cuts their throats.”

“Cuts their throats,” she repeated, her own throat going dry. “I think I remember reading about that. Anything else?”

“No...well, except the clown, of course. Nobody saw him this time, but he must have been there again, mustn’t he?”

Clown? What clown?”

“Oh, don’t you know? They’re calling him the Killer Clown, because witnesses saw a clown near a couple of the killings. I tell you, I’m scared to go out at night now. He might be anywhere.”

“Killer Clown. Sounds like something from a B movie. One of those horror flicks that make you laugh.” She and her boyfriend had loved those movies, sitting on the couch with a couple of bottles of beer and a bowl of peanuts, laughing until they cried at the predictable formulas and the gratuitous nudity and violence. She hadn’t watched one of those movies in years now, and probably never would again. “What sort of killer would dress up as a clown? That’s ridiculous.”

“Won’t be so ridiculous if he came after you, would he, with his knife? Of course,” the secretary added, “you’re probably a bit too old for him. He likes young women.”

“Yeah, thanks, that’s reassuring.” She looked around the secretary’s office, at the potted plants below the large window and the holographic print on the wall, of leaping dolphins. The secretary had a much better office than her own, and probably got paid twice as much as well. She fought down a surge of hatred for the pretty young woman. Sweetie, she thought, not that long ago, I was better-looking than you, even without the makeup. Time will do its number on you, too. Just wait a couple of years. Her fingers clenched around the printouts, crumpling them. “Well, I must be getting back to work.”

She could feel the secretary’s eyes on her back as she left the office, and she knew the younger woman was grinning.


That evening she bought a paper on her way home, from the stand at the bottom of the escalator leading up from the Underground platform. It had been a while since she’d bought a newspaper, and she had to dig at the bottom of her purse for change. It was a tabloid, with headlines in 72 point type taking up more than half the front page: CLOWN KILLER STRIKES AGAIN. The rest of the page bore a picture of a clown in full make-up, eyes leering between a curly wig and a red rubber nose.

She lived on the outskirts of the city, in the big old house that had belonged to her parents, the house she had grown up in and had moved back to once what her mother had called the “thing” with her boyfriend had ended. Her mother was gone now, of course, her father having died much earlier. They were all gone, even her boyfriend. She leaned her head against the bus window and clenched her eyes shut. She had no desire to think of her boyfriend, hadn’t thought of him for years, yet apparently today she kept on being reminded of him.

Back home, after changing and making herself a cup of coffee, she looked at the paper. The clown picture on the front page leered at her, almost alive, the light glinting off his eyes and lips. She found it difficult to imagine that this make-up was meant to entertain kids, for god’s sake.

She had first seen a clown back when she was a child and the circus had come around. Back then the ground at the bottom of the street had still been an open field and not built up into a stadium with locked gates which was almost never used for anything. The circus had set up its Big Top there, and though she hadn’t really wanted to go, all the other children were going, so her parents had taken her too.

Even then, she hadn’t found any of it funny. The antics of the clowns, in their big shoes and baggy pants, had seemed either stupid or threatening. She’d cringed when one of them had aimed a bucketful of confetti in her direction. For nights afterwards she’d dreamt of being buried under scraps of coloured paper while a grinning face gibbered nonsense in the background.

She left the story for until she’d finished making supper, which she ate straight out of the frying pan, standing at the oven, because that saved pointless washing-up. She was exhausted, and had a creeping headache, something that had been happening more and more frequently these last months. She knew it would last a day or two until it went away...if it did. Some traces of it seemed to be hovering around always, inside the back of her head.

From the uncurtained kitchen window, she could see the topmost floors of her old school, two streets away but visible from here, the faint moonlight shining on its concrete walls. She had hated every moment she’d spent in that school, hated being the one who was picked on by the teachers and bullied by the bigger girls, but each time she’d begged for a transfer her parents, reluctant to lose the convenience of a school within easy walking distance, had told her it was “only a phase”.

It hadn’t been “only a phase.” Even now, when she had to pass by the school grounds with the sheds at the end of the playing fields, she averted her eyes, remembering how she’d been harassed every day there during the break periods, because she’d been slow and fat then, humiliated at every turn by the bigger and more athletic girls. So she’d taken to hiding in the toilets until class time. She could still see the rows of stalls with the smell of disinfectant overlying the excreta. That had lasted until they’d found her in the toilet, and after that she hadn’t been able to hide there any longer, either.

She remembered how they had peeked over the stall door, and then popped their heads over the side walls, pointing down at her and laughing. One of them – she could no longer remember the girl’s name, but she could still see her face, oh yes, every feature of that delicately pretty doll’s-face was clear in her memory, so much like the boss’ secretary this morning – had begin pelting her with pellets of toilet paper, and then they had all done it. They had laughed and hooted and thrown toilet paper, and she hadn’t been able to avoid noticing that some of that paper had been used.

She had never visited the toilet block again. It had been torn down long ago, but she knew exactly where it had been, and when she passed the school she always looked away.

Angrily, she turned away from the window and poured herself a glass of wine. She rarely drank any longer, but kept a bottle of port for moments like this, when she needed chemical help to relax. The headache pounded away, drumming inside her skull, and though she was exhausted she knew she couldn’t sleep. Not yet.

Sitting in the chair in front of the TV which she never turned on nowadays, she sipped at the wine and wondered what was happening to her life. She had no lover, no friends, no relatives. As for her job, she knew quite well that she wouldn’t get any further than she had – her career graph had flattened out, and she was only marking time, watching younger and less capable people climb past her into the rarefied heights of the executive boardrooms.

Maybe she should look for another job, but she didn’t really want to. She had no drive any more, none of the fire that had burned so long ago that even the embers were cold. She wasn’t even middle-aged yet but she felt like an old woman. She was surprised that her face wasn’t wrinkled yet, her hair not gone white.

With a surge of remembered anger, she thought of the secretary’s insinuation that she was past it, that she was too old for even the killer clown to take any interest in her. Perhaps the killer clown – if such a person really existed – would pay the silly little bitch a visit, and teach her a lesson. Or maybe he was behind her now, behind her shoulder, knife in hand, reaching –

With a shiver, she fought down the urge to look behind her, and turned to the paper. The actual news was scanty, just the details of the woman killed. A jogger, it appeared, who’d been in the habit of going for a run in the pre-dawn darkness and had been found dragged into an alley, her throat cut and her breasts slashed across. It wasn’t even all that far from this house, apparently. The paper said the victims had all been young and pretty, and that the police were asking for witnesses, especially if anyone had seen a clown around. It appeared that the police, at least, were taking the clown idea seriously. She swallowed the last of the wine and dropped the tabloid on the floor. The hell with all of this, she thought, for tonight, at the least.

Later, she lay in bed, in her oldest T shirt and shorts, looking up at the street lights reflected faintly on the ceiling. The headache, as she’d known it would, had settled down into a steady ache which spread across her forehead and the back of her eyes. The wine had helped, but not enough. Lately, nothing was helping.

Her bedroom seemed alien at this hour, as if the darkness had changed it, turned the corners into dark forbidden recesses, where anything might be lurking, things with sharp grinning teeth. She watched the light reflected through the window on the mirror of her wardrobe, as though it was a point of stability in a world which was melting and changing. The mirror was an anchor at this hour, just as it was something she avoided in the daylight, not wanting to see her own exhausted eyes and remembering what used to be.

Little by little, she settled into a doze, and then she dreamed.

She stood in the middle of the playing field of the school, alone. The field stretched out around her, stretching to the horizon. There was no colour anywhere; the sky, the grass, her own hand when she held it up before her face, everything was in shades of grey. When she looked down at herself, she noticed with a sense of inevitability that she was naked.

When she looked up, far away on one side of the field, she saw a long, low building. She knew, of course, what it was – the toilet block from her childhood, long since demolished, but back in her dream just as it had always been.

Between her and the toilet block, something moved, a black figure covered by a hooded robe. It was walking away from her, very slowly, the robe trailing down to its feet and dragging on the grass. It looked over its shoulder at her, and she saw the face, the white cheeks and the black eyes and nose, the wide red slash of the painted mouth. It watched her for a moment, expressionlessly, and then moved on. Her feet followed, taking her behind it, stepping through the grass. She was walking with exactly the same pace as it was, neither slower nor faster, through the field. She knew she was dreaming; she wasn’t scared at all, even though she knew what it was, even though she could see the knife in one of its hands, the blade glinting white in all the shades of grey. Every so often it would glance back to make sure she was following, but otherwise it made no effort to hurry its pace.

It reached the toilet block before she did, slipping in through the side door she knew so well, the one she’d used herself. Her feet carried her through the door, expecting to find it waiting, knife raised, and she was willing to raise her head and expose her throat to the blade. But all she found was the robe on the floor, a crumpled mass. Gingerly, she picked it up and slung it over her arm.

Step by step, her feet took her down the passage between the rows of stalls, the lights overhead glaring down on the tiled floor, sparkling on little puddles of water. She already knew where she would have to go – the third stall from the end on the right, the one which she’d hidden in that day when the girls had found her. The other stalls’ doors were open, but this one was closed. She saw her hand rising, the fingers closing around the knob, turning it.

The thing sat on the toilet, looking up at her. She couldn’t tell if it were smiling, or if it was only the red paint of its grin. She couldn’t tell if it was blood on the blade that it held before her eyes, and if the blood was her own.

She woke, her heart thudding, gasping for breath. She was standing in the middle of her dark bedroom, in front of the wardrobe, dressed in something dark. Her hands were covered in something else, also dark, and sticky. She didn’t want to think about what it was, but she was certain she knew.

Slowly, she raised her eyes to the mirror. The black paint around her eyes had smeared over her white cheeks, but the red slash of the painted mouth was still smiling.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2011