LONDON â€" What's a politician most afraid of? British Premier Harold Macmillan's famous answer to the journalist's question is more relevant than ever: "Events, dear boy, events."
If you add the Paris death toll to the number of victims who died after ISIS bombed a Russian plane over the Sinai, that's 353. And the previous day's attack on Beirut takes the number to 400 civilians assassinated by ISIS.
How has the British government reacted? London was the victim of al-Qaeda a decade ago, when 52 people were killed in the attacks against public transport system. July 2005 was Britain's wakeup call. Ever since, security has remained a top priority, measured in the surveillance cameras on every other street corner, near public arenas, shopping malls, train stations. In terms of the state of security, the UK goes far beyond what would ever be authorized in France, or what the German public would ever accept.
Prime Minister David Cameron's government is currently working on a new wiretap law, which is much more likely to pass in the wake of the Paris attacks.
An entirely different question is the one concerning military readiness. In 2003, when then-Prime Minister Tony Blair donned his "special relationship hat," he had no reservations about helping the United States in Iraq. Cameron, on the other hand, hesitates to ask for parliamentary approval to send the UK's eight Tornado aircraft to Syria.
In 2013, when Cameron asked the lower house for a mandate to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons on his people, lawmakers rejected the request. Another defeat would be fatal for him, so the man in Downing Street must first make sure to have an absolute majority on his side before undertaking anything.
A crucial letter
Perhaps the most unexpected consequence of the Paris attack across the Channel is over negotiations concerning the referendum to remain in the European Union, and the risk of the so-called Brexit. The climate appears to have reverse. The events in Paris underpin Cameron's intuition that, to play a role in the reformed EU, there actually is no alternative regarding security policy. After Nov. 13, the European priority is collaboration, support and security, more than ever.
President Hollande and I stood shoulder to shoulder outside the Bataclan Cafe in Paris. pic.twitter.com/prDbxIFy5u
â€" David Cameron (@David_Cameron) November 23, 2015
As if anticipating the events in Paris, Cameron penned a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk last week, acknowledging "the benefit of a close collaboration on security issues." In a speech accompanying the letter, he called the EU "an important political instrument, similar to organizations such as NATO or the UN."
Britain's reform expectations towards the EU hadn't been forgotten, but the Brexit debate is now getting the international attention that it had been missing to date, thanks to the events in Paris.
In the light of much needed unity to face the terror, Europeans too will consider what Britain is really worth and how it fits into the EU. Maybe they will understand better now why the Island nation has always kept its distance from a Europe without frontiers, now that refugees are threatening the principles of the open-borden Schengen Area.
But if you think that the British want to retire to some sort of "splendid isolation," you're mistaken. The country knows a true variety of different cultures, with a much more global orientation than what can be seen in many parts of the Continent. It's something that Charles de Gaulle understood in 1963, when he refused Britain's application to become a member of the European Economic Community. He claimed that it "would never truly want to become a part of Europe."
But Britain has changed its position, and Cameron's point of view has clearly evolved since the days of de Gaulle. Nevertheless, we must not forget that Britain isn't interested in unity for the sake of unity, but for how it can benefit the country's own struggle to survive.
Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?
BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.
The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.
This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.
Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.
"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.
Can you trust environmental officials?
For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.
This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.
It could have sunk because of the rain.
After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.
The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.
"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.
"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.
Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water
A questionable claim
That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.
"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.
He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."
Living in pollution
The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.
"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.
He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.
The mining work should have been stopped long ago
Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.
The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.
In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.
The mine has affected the landscape around the villages
Resisting lignite mining
The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.
The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.
They were dependent on others' land for work.
Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.
In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.
The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.
"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.