Saturday, June 16, 2018

“Two Muslims Near The Very Top In British Politics”



“Two Muslims Near The Very Top In British Politics”
                                                                         Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 16.06.2018

The three column, six inch deep headline on page 1 of the Daily Telegraph caught my eye:
“Doors open to thousands more skilled migrants.” Given the anti-immigrant rhetoric I had heard in Rome and elsewhere in Europe, the headline was refreshing. Even more noticeable was the name of the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, the third highest ranked member of Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet who had reversed policy with the statement which formed the headline.

The 48 year old son of Pakistani migrants who started business with £ 500 bank loan had already established his clubability with the Conservative Party when he became Managing Director of Deutsche Bank.

Of comparable agility in the political race is the high profile Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, of the Labour party. He is only 41 but has already graduated through a stint in the cabinet as Transport Minister. “I am the first Muslim in Britain to have attended cabinet meetings” Khan said with pride.

One of the obstacles in the way of Donald Trump making a state visit in 2017, a banquet with the Queen et al, was the Conservative Party’s very bipartisan objection: how can we host a US President who has imposed restrictions on citizens of Muslim countries? “We have a Muslim mayor and therefore a state visit by Trump is out of the question.”

“There are two Muslims in this country who are positioned to make a bid for the Prime Minister’s post” said Lord Meghnad Desai. He was chairing a discussion on “India at 70: Nehru to Modi” in Committee Room 1 of the House of Lords. Instantly a question surfaced: can a Muslim nurse such aspirations back home where he has a history for a 1000 year?

Last year, at a similar seminar at the King’s College, London, someone pointed to the presence of four Muslims in the English cricket team. This time I find that even the ever present Moeen Ali, with a beard longer than W.G. Grace’s, is not in the squad. This waxing and waning is itself proof of a consistent quest for merit. It is not just a blanket upward mobility that Muslims have acquired: a process of distillation is taking place.

The post 9/11 war on terror which distorted most democracies by transferring extraordinary powers to the Deep State, did not leave Britain unscathed. But persistent reliance on the Rule of Law has kept prejudice from taking root at an institutional level. The brief travel I have undertaken from London to Manchester has been something of an eye opener.

A distinguished psychiatrist with the National Health Service married to my sister, has been bed ridden with a stroke he suffered three years ago. The care he has received in hospitals has to be seen to be believed. He is under 24/7 observation. The four very English “carers” who visit him round the clock have virtually become members of the family. It would be malicious to put it down to the aromatic cuisines my sister rustles up every time the carers arrive.

One evening I was invited to a “All Faith”, post Iftar talk on a theme which surprised me because of its incongruity: the “wave of Populism in Europe”. It was all very graceful.

Earlier in London, I had seen Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the local Rabbi and Priests of various churches, breaking bread with their hosts at a “street Iftar Party” outside Finsbury Park mosque. The enthusiastic white, English participation in the event was heartwarming.

The war on terror with its random targets did cast the Muslim in an unfortunate image particularly during the Tony Blair years. But excesses of those years also filled the ordinary people with a sense of guilt and compassion.

This somewhat exclusive focus on the Muslim in Britain must not obscure the overall south Asian profile in the country.  A recent study produced a very negative image of Pakistanis among the public. 1,668 British adults were asked last month to indicate the extent to which Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis made a positive or negative contribution to life in UK. The image of Indians was by far the most positive. 25 percent of those asked thought that Indians made a positive contribution. When positive and the negative figures were placed side by side for Bangladeshis and Pakistanis their score was -4 (minus four) and -3 (minus three) respectively.

Obviously proportionate to their population in the country, there are fewer Muslims in the high aspirational bracket than there are Indians, mostly Hindus in diverse careers. This imbalance can be traced to India’s social history. The majority community took to western education in late 19th century itself while Muslims remained anchored to feudal nostalgia and their rich Urdu culture.

I, in my earlier years, have seen this country rattled by Enoch Powell’s anti-immigrant speech in 1968, exactly 50 years ago: “Like the Roman, I see the Tiber     foaming with blood.” The Liberal press reached out for Powell’s jugular and for a while Powellism appeared to be receding. But soon enough the country experienced another bout of street racism. “Paki bashing” became the war cry in the run down parts of the country. But such upheavals never unhinged Britain from its basic anchor: the Rule of Law. It is this anchor which has been the primary enabling factor in Sajid Javid and Sadiq Khan’s rise.

It may be instructive for us in India that Britain is a very resilient Protestant monarchy which overseas secularism tied with hoops of steel to the Rule of Law.

It would be absurd to compare apples and oranges. The bewildering variety of our civilizational tapestry is unique. Even so our trajectory could have borne some resemblance to “genuine equal rights”, a phenomena Britain can boast of. Instead our politicians dissembled at the very outset leading us into a messy path. I shall explain.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

After Brexit, Itexit Looms, Spanish Order Caves In: God Help Europe


After Brexit, Itexit Looms, Spanish Order Caves In: God Help Europe
                                                                               Saeed Naqvi

Pardon the postscript first. With the appointment of Giuseppe Conte, a lawyer, as a compromise Prime Minister of Italy, the wheel has come full circle. But before the Italian see-saw could stabilize Spain’s Mariano Rajoy has thrown in his towel in the face of corruption charges that actually never left him since 2015. Establishments in Italy as well as Spain have been mauled in recent days by People’s power. This People’s power has been given an insulting name by the rulers – “Populism”.

Meanwhile herewith the column I wrote from Rome yesterday (Thursday) before travelling to the troubled countryside:   

From the terrace bars, Rome’s current vogue, the monuments look mysterious in soft light even as St. Peters towers above all. But this panoramic grandeur disguises the tumult into which Italy has been tossed after President Sergio Mattarella, a judge by training, refused to swear in Paolo Savona, 83 years old Economy’s Professor who is staunchly against EU.

Savona’s name had been proposed by the victorious alliance which came to power following the elections in March. The Five Star Movement is anti-austerity and anti EU; the League is sharply xenophobic on the migrant issue.

While the Interim Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, a lawyer was more of 5 Star nominee, the Finance Minister rejected by President Mattarella shared the League leader, Matteo Salvini’s anti-German bent. A growing anti-German sentiments is becoming part of Italy’s political rhetoric. Matteo Salvini, pulls no punches on that score.

“German newspapers call us beggars, ungrateful, lazy, freeloaders and they want us to choose a Finance Minister they like.”

Alessandro Gilioli, Deputy Editor in Chief of the influential L’Espresso, was candid. He thought that the Leader of the Five Star, Luigi Di Maio who never sought a Euro exit, would have been amenable to a compromise even in the first round negotiations with President Mattarella last week. But Di Maio could not have stuck his neck out with a softer line on Europe: that would have been a huge advantage to the League. An almighty competition in radicalism is on between unlikely competitors.

President Mattarella, a Europhile, acting under heaven knows what impulse or pressure, invited a 64 year old IMF official Carlo Cottarelli to become interim Prime Minister. This was like a red rag to the 5 Star-League bull. Mattarella came under further pressure to reverse the decision which would have given the coalition a formula to grow exponentially in the next elections.

An even more muscular, menacing combination of 5 Star and the League would be in the perception of Brussels, not the medicine that the doctor had ordered for Italy, the world and certainly for the EU which is still reeling from the Brexit blow and looking at disturbing developments in Spain. An Itexit would be a disaster of unimaginable proportions. So all the world’s establishments leaned on the President to open up consultations which have resulted in the reappointment of Conte. The compromise is: Conte minus Savona. What is being attempted in Italy is to delay the day of reckoning – when People disgusted with established parties will install their representatives whom the rulers continue to call Populist.

Consider what happened in Spain. In 2015, Pablo Iglesias with his communist portfolio, riding a crest of Podemos (Yes We Can, echoes of Obama’s first campaign) burst upon the Spanish scene on a platform to get rid of Rajoy, noted for corruption even then.

Look how Rajoy managed to stay on until the latest vote. The stop gap Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of the declining socialist party standing on rotten stilts will fall sooner rather than later.  Will that be the end of the Establishment in Spain? As an insurance, a Centre-Right youth party, Ciudadanos, Citizen’s party has been floated successfully, borrowing Podemos’s aesthetics. Its leader, Albert Rivera, has boosted his image on a nationalist platform opposing Catalan independence.

Remember also how the world’s progressive groups had built castles in the air when Alexis Tsipras of Greek communists, Syriza, promised the utopia where “austerity” will be forever banished? Today he is a contented poodle in the German lap.

But the new turn in European affairs seems to suggest that Tsipras too might be a nine days wonder. In fact, Yanis Varoufakis, the former Finance Minister, whom he sacked under German and EU pressure, has resurrected himself on the platform which Tsipras discarded. On Mattarella’s initial undemocratic action, Varoufakis was scathing. “By grounding their candidate for Finance, you have given a fantastic gift to populist forces”.

“You said nothing when the League leader Salvini named himself the Minister for Interior, when he was committed to throwing out 5,00,000 immigrants?”

During the Cold war, Christian Democrats were kept in power by the entire western alliance. Italy at this period had a much loved Communist party which, paradoxically, was considered a taboo for power – atleast while the Soviets were around. Soviet collapse by that token, deprived the CD of its blackmail card to stay in power.

Italy’s conscientious Judges who had held their fire for fear of unsettling a system which had served as a bulwark against the global Left, now began to investigate the corruption in which the Italian power structure was sunk neck deep. 1992 onwards, hundreds of politicians, civil servants, businessmen went to jail for brazen corruption.

When Berlusconi became Italy’s Prime Minister in 1994, he owned every TV channel. Naturally the media backed him to the hilt during his subsequent spells in power. Over a decade ago, a comedian Beppe Grillo started a blog to engage young people on basic issues like technology, water, pollution, unemployment, economic distress. Italians, suffocated by Berlusconi’s self-serving media monopoly, built an internet revolution on the platform created by Grillo’s blog. This is the platform on which the current alternative Italian political structure is being erected.

There may be differences in detail, but Europe these days is convulsed by two currents fiercely opposed to each other: People’s power, from the Left and the Right (disparagingly named “Populism”) is out to dethrone the established order. Until the other day this order seemed invincible: the Establishment had many instruments in their toolkit. But developments in Spain suggest that the seemingly invulnerable are running out of steam. Change and status quo are in conflict on an unprecedented scale.

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Entire Opposition Join Hands Even As Doves In RAW And ISI Coo


Entire Opposition Join Hands Even As Doves In RAW And ISI Coo
                                                                              Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 25.05.2018

Two mutually reinforcing images from last week may well define the next phase in national affairs. It is too early to call them game changers but they have considerable potential.

The most comprehensive array of opposition leaders, almost a record, who assembled in Bangaluru for H.D. Kumaraswamy’s swearing in as Chief Minister of Karnataka is significant because it happened despite the contradictions inherent between the various groups in that galaxy.

The occasion produced the man and he better be noticed: Kunwar Danish Ali, the Jamia Millia educated, JDS spokesman, carried sufficient credibility on both sides to swiftly stitch together the Congress-JDS alliance in the state. This became the platform on which stood India’s non BJP diversity. In stitching this extensive hem too Danish Ali is being applauded by those who know.

Muslims in politics are either too weather beaten or “too Muslim” to navigate diversity. Danish Ali, in my view, is a political animal with a wide reach and one who keeps his faith intensely private. We should hear more about him should the Karnataka experiment remain intact.

The other iconic image was, quite curiously, of a book release. It must have been a few hours of grave national danger, because seldom has the well appointed auditorium of the Claridges hotel been more packed with spies, past and present. For its sheer audacity, Spy Chronicles, RAW, ISI and the illusion of Peace, is by itself a thrilling title, but when the authorship comes out in sharp silhouette, the revelation takes ones breath away. A.S. Dulat, former chief of RAW and Gen. Asad Durrani, former head of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) have put their heads together and have, without compromising fidelity to their respective oaths of office, produced a 320 page document which must now onwards inform those in the sub continent shaping policy on Kashmir and Indo-Pak relations.

The high powered congregation in Bengaluru and the brave effort of the Dulat-Durrani duet, both respond to the same national quest – a softer more humane sub continent. Alas, a calmer India, on its own, divorced from the sub continent, is just not possible. It is, likewise, not possible for Pakistan. 1947 was both a blessing and a curse. We could define our separate nations according to our lights but we were also yoked together by geography from which proceed historical and sociological currents which flow forward but also regurgitate into the past.

The first concerted effort to wrench away from the sub continental centre of gravity came from Pakistan dictator, General Zia ul Haq. His push for Nizam-e-Mustafa invited nascent Islamophobia which has metastasized into the modern horror.

Just when fluctuations in Indo-Pak ties gives way to a seemingly interminable hostility, comes the Dulat-Durrani intervention, opening a ventilator in an otherwise suffocating hothouse.

What the book touches on is, in effect, the nub of the matter. Indo-Pak initiatives flounder on that ubiquitous document meant for the principal, say, the Prime Minister, marked “for eyes only”. If the Deep State on both sides is the obstacle, why not allow spymasters on both sides to sort out the cobwebs which the principals cannot?

Leftovers from Partition are Kashmir, Pakistan, Hindu-Muslim tensions. If tense communal relations are a requirement for the politics of Hindu consolidation, it follows, as night follows the day, that Kashmir and Indo-Pak relations must simmer in perpetuity. They have been placed on auto by our own hands.

To obviate communalism as an essential requirement for electoral politics, it is essential that the motley political crowd on the podium at in Bengaluru is regularized. Many societies called it a rainbow coalition.

Both, pre requisite and a consequence of the Bengaluru experiment is precisely this: tone down social disharmony which communalism aggravates. This end is unachievable without the Dulat-Durrani initiative taking off. Social disharmony, it needs to be stressed, is the overarching malaise under which communalism is played. That is why one photograph that came out of the Bengaluru assembly is epochal – Sonia Gandhi leaning her head against Mayawati’s.

It may be odd to remember Urdu poetry at this juncture but do indulge a line. The most graphic poet, Mir Anis, describes cosmic tumult in which two mutually hostile creatures come together in the face of common danger:
“Shaheen o kabk chhup gayey
Ekja mila ke sar”
(Facing danger, the falcon and the dove put their heads together in the thicket)

Considering that Congress lost its deposit in the March by-elections in UP’s Phulpur and Gorakhpur constituencies, Sonia Gandhi would be seen to be in requirement of the BSP supremo, Mayawati’s help. Mayawati may not have been the winner but it was with her help that Akhilesh Yadav’s SP won the two seats.

In this situation what would one make of Congress Election Chief in Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh’s statement from Bhopal. He dismissed any tie up with the BSP. Neither was Sonia’s photograph with Mayawati an announcement of a tie up, nor does Digvijay Singh’s reported statement scuttle it. This non-story is only a precursor to what is in store: political busy bodies will load a triangular situation – Congress, BSP, SP – with such heavy voltage speculation that some strand somewhere will snap. The process of coalition building will only be partly in the hands of the principals. To a large extent the process will be conditioned by the din surrounding it which will create misgivings all around as in rapid fire magazines.

The Dulat-Durrani initiative will be subjected to an even more severe ordeal by fire, atleast upto 2019. The events of last week provide hope which will generate its opposite – the Pulley principle.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Ramadan Ceasefire In Kashmir Meaningless If Media War Continues


Ramadan Ceasefire In Kashmir Meaningless If Media War Continues
                                                                                        Saeed Naqvi

I have never seen the electronic media so totally defiant of the BJP government. Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s avowed intention to calm Kashmir by announcing a Ramadan ceasefire appears to have been dismissed as “appeasement of Pakistan and terrorists”.

A guest peering out of one of the six windows on the TV screen was frothing in the mouth. “Murderers of our brave jawans are being shamelessly appeased.” The other went one better: “a brave nation does what the Sri Lankan army did to the LTTE – just finished them off.” The anchor on this Aaj Tak show Thursday evening looked angrier than both. This apparently is common fare.

The Communist Party of India is receiving signals from its Kashmir unit that it may have to rename itself. The ‘I’ in the CPI has been hurting the state unit for quite some time. But after the recent surge in shootings, stone pelting, “encounters”, sustained images of wailing women, trailing the spate of funerals, and relentless media jingoism, the “I” now invites physical danger. True, a defunct party by any name will remain defunct, but even so, Communist Party of Kashmir (CPK) will atleast not incur the wrath of the street.

The relative Ramadan peace is a good occasion to take stock. Even in days of drift in Kashmir during the time of P.V. Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, there was a semblance of political control by the National Conference and the PDP. Elements of the Hurriyat had fingers on the street pulse. The scene recently has been anarchic: there was no control.

Recent increase in violence was described by reliable sources as “indigenous” which is not what officials say.  A narrative which discounts outside “meddling” is not honeyed music to the establishment. Nor to that shrill panel – on Aaj Tak. Ironical, isn’t it, that absence of outside support to the insurgency disturbs us?

Just when Kashmir was at fever pitch, the mayhem in Aligarh Muslim University erupted around the photograph of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Friends are in error if they consider the undiluted hooliganism on view in Aligarh an occasion to engage in a serious debate on Jinnah’s culpability in partitioning the country. The hoodlums of Aligarh were not busting their guts to have Jinnah’s portrait removed from the AMU union office. Quite the contrary. Hindu Yuva Vahini would love to provoke Aligarh hotheads to dig their heels in to preserve Jinnah in the university precincts. This will be the ammunition which can come in handy at all times. The campus will be the ordnance depot for frequent explosions in the service of the projected Hindu Rashtra.

This is not the first time in recent decades that AMU has been exploited for saffron politics. Ever since Prime Minister V.P. Singh aggravated identity politics by implementing the Mandal Committee report providing reservation in government jobs to lower castes, the BJP has rushed to prevent the caste structure from crumbling. Hindu consolidation, by building up the Muslim ogre, has been the obvious strategy.

Aligarh was frequently the target as part of this strategy. There was no Arnab Goswami in the 90s but Hindi newspapers played a lead role in widening the Hindu-Muslim divide.

A story appears in newspapers that, after horrendous riots in Aligarh city, some of the injured Hindus being taken to the University Medical College for treatment, are being killed by Muslim doctors and interns. Even though the university is only three hours drive from New Delhi, newspapers choose to rely on unverified agency copy which, in turn, quotes upper caste Hindi newspapers.

An incredible scene is being enacted on the outskirts of the university. Local scribes seated on chairs arranged in a circle under a mango tree, sip tea even as one Krishna Kumar Navman, BJP MLA from Aligarh, holds them in his thrall with graphic accounts of murders in the hospital.

“Has anyone visited the Medical College?”, I ask. They had not, they say, because it is “risky”.

At the medical college the picture is surreal: petrified doctors encircle me.

“No one has come to us for clarification”, they complain.

Why have they not reached out to the journalists with their story? After a long, pregnant silence, they speak up. They thought it would be dangerous stepping out of the campus “in the midst of communal violence”. This is what I call uninstitutionalized apartheid.

That was 30 years ago when there were no TV channels to inculcate saffron nationalism on the scale I saw the other day and which I have mentioned above.

Folks overtly agitated or elated at the turn of events in Aligarh, may find it sobering that Pakistan’s Jinnah is not the only leader around whom communal polarization can be contrived. Ram Navami processionist in Kankinara, 24 Parganas in West Bengal were so overpowered by the spirit of Rama that they pulled down the statue of Congress President and India’s first Education Minister, Maulana Azad – a person, who in his outlook was exactly the opposite of Jinnah. This was in preparation for the Panchayat elections currently in the news.

Protection to anti namaz lumpens in Gurugram, or those who pasted a Maharana Pratap Road placard on Akbar Road (the placard was removed the next morning), Modi clenching his fist at Tipu Sultan during the recent campaign, are minor episodes in an epic of hatred being manufactured for 2019 ofcourse, and beyond if need be. In this gameplan there is no real, long term respite for Kashmiris, Muslims, or Indo-Pak peaceniks. Alongside, the rage of the dalits and tribals is spiraling out of control. There is an element of simulation in anti Muslimism for political reasons but the retribution faced by dalits and tribals in the countryside is visceral.

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