Friday, July 13, 2018

Croatia In World Cup: The Story Of Its Origin

Croatia In World Cup: The Story Of Its Origin
                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

Croatia’s prominence in the football World Cup freshened memories of its origin in the war which expanded after German Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher recognized Croatian and Slovenian independence, ahead of other EU countries which were palpitating because German reunification in 1989 had already added to their anxieties.

As the Persian expression goes “Ek na shud, do shud”. Before one source of anxiety could subside, another surfaced. Cardinal Franjo Kuharic headquartered in Zagreb’s magnificent Cathedral, marched off to the Vatican to seek the Pope’s and Italy’s support. This was promptly given. Some EU member countries began to have nightmares of the “Axis” being revived.

I was in the Cardinal’s office in the Cathedral which dominates Zagreb square, when the door of the ante room flung open and Father Juraj Jezerinac of the Topusko Parish walked in. I had been introduced to him at the earliest stages of the conflict in one of the livelier cafes in Zagreb square. He was full of stories. One night his orthodox Serb counterpart from the neighbouring Church compound came to him, looking very conspiratorial.

He had received word from the Orthodox headquarters in Belgrade that Orthodox Priests must lead all Serb populations out of Western Croatia in the Topusko area because the Serb army was preparing to attack the area and annex it as part of Greater Serbia. This was a scoop.

Was further proof required to confirm coordination between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches? They would put aside their intra Church conflicts and join hands against the Bosnian Muslims. The cruel irony was that Sarajevo, the centre of art, music, theatre, literature in former Yugoslavia was primarily a Bosnian Muslim city. Like Lucknow, Sarajevo went down, nursing art and culture, unable to cope with the assault of Philistinism.

At the outset when, some EU members suspected German and Italian encroachments, Britain and France came covertly on the side of Serbia which had been with them during World War II. Gen. Michael Rose, leading the UN Peacekeeping mission in Bosnia became a regular feature on global TV giving briefs on the Bosnian dead on a daily basis.

Nothing could have exceeded Serbian brutality than the four year long siege of Sarajevo. Graphic accounts of this siege, beamed mornings, afternoons, evenings to global audiences on a daily basis, decisively altered the political landscape in Turkey, a development of which the West remained totally oblivious.

Sarajevo derives from Caravan Sarai, pointing to the city’s Ottoman past. The effect of the Bosnian tragedy on the Turkish electorate brought to power Necmettin Erbakan of Refah party, akin to the Muslim Brotherhood. This was anathema to the upholders of Turkey’s secular Kemalist constitution. The Erbakan government was dismissed.

That is when two of Erbakan’s protégé, Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gul reinvented themselves as the (AKP) justice and Development Party. The rest is recent history.

The siege of Sarajevo was graphically chronicled by a daily newspaper, Oslobodenje, which won global awards for its bravery. The paper’s office itself was an astounding sight. The offices and the press were in a huge basement, beneath the debris of a multistoreyed building brought down during the war. The editor, Kemal Kurspahic whom I had met at the last non aligned summit attended by Rajiv Gandhi in Belgrade, looked none the worse for his travails. But he had, nevertheless, developed a mark on his forehead. This happens when the forehead hits the ground for Namaz five times a day over months and years.
“Have you become a devout Muslim?” I asked.
“There is no alternative but God when the world abandons you.” There was conviction in his voice.
“Who helped you publish the paper in these circumstances?”
His reply stunned me.
“George Soros.”

Throughout the four year conflict Europe maintained a hands-off policy to avoid internal divisions within EU. Observers like Salman Rushdie described European restraint as hypocritical.

“You reverse the religious affiliations of the protagonists on the ground and not just NATO but even European forces would have entered the theatre immediately to end the bloodbath.” They refrained from intervention because Muslims were the victim.

Those of us involved in covering the conflict, knew that Rushdie, and others like him, were speaking the truth. But the mainstream narrative was fudged even on such crimes as the Srebrenica massacres in which 8,000 young Bosnian men were separated from their families and shot dead by Serb militias. Why did the Dutch Peace Keeping Forces move away from the site of the massacre?

The 78 day US bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo war was designed to oust the Serbian dictator, Slobodan Milosevic. Russians had been outmaneuvered by the western alliance in a theatre Moscow considered its pan Slavic sphere of influence. Therefore when the responsibility of various part of Kosovo was being distributed between countries of Europe, Russian armoured carriers barged into the area around Pristine airport uninvited. They are still in occupation of that airport. Britain, Germany, France control other segments of Kosovo, a tiny country dotted with exquisite monasteries. The great monastery of Decan in the care of the Italians where priests produce the world’s finest wines and schnapps.

Just as the sun sets, a young priest runs around the building carrying on his shoulder a giant rattle called the tallantone, alerting the inmates just in case the “Turk invader” has eyes on the “House of God”. This hostile mythology is sustained in many countries on the periphery of what was once the Ottoman Empire.

Considering that this World Cup has been a celebration of multiculturalism, how do I explain my being distracted into Balkan tribalism? How swiftly a nation of 4.5 million has made its mark, wrenching itself away from a recent and messy past. Supposing Sefik Ibrahimovic had not migrated from Bosnia to Sweden in 1977 where the great soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic was born? Well, Zlatan could have claimed a slot in the Croatian team with considerable justification. His mother, Jurka Gravic, is after all a Croat. Remember, there was multiculturism in the Balkans too before sectarian tribalism was let loose.

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Friday, July 6, 2018

The Role Of The Cold War In Indira Gandhi’s Emergency

The Role Of The Cold War In Indira Gandhi’s Emergency
                                                                               Saeed Naqvi

Indira Gandhi declared the emergency in 1975, plonk in the middle of the most intense phase of the cold war. Détente was going so badly for the Americans that stand up comedians in Washington were comparing it to a wife swapping party “from where you return alone.”

After the Vietnam debacle, Washington was going to exert every muscle not to allow Moscow to build upon the strategic asset it had created for itself in New Delhi during the 1971 Bangladesh war.

In fact, the Congress split of 1969 was itself an advantage for Moscow. Mrs. Gandhi had discarded the conservative, pro capital big wigs, more comfortable with Congress stalwarts like Morarji Desai whom she had defeated in the Parliamentary party contest to become Prime Minister in 1966.

Not only was a former card carrying communist (from Eton and Oxford too), Mohan Kumaramangalam part author of the split, he had worked out an arrangement with the General Secretary of the CPI, S.A. Dange described as a policy of “Unite and Struggle”. We shall, said Dange, unite with the Congress’s progressive policies but “struggle” against its “anti people” deviations.

This was a pronounced leftward lurch and it was going to be resisted by a coalition of the Right, both internal and external. Indeed, as early as 1967, within a year of her coming to power, Mrs. Gandhi was given notice: she lost elections in eight states to parties of the opposition. This groundswell would obviously suit the purposes of the Congress old guard discarded by Mrs. Gandhi.

The most succinct observation on Mrs. Gandhi’s ideological leanings came from the correspondent of the Times London, Peter Hazelhurst: “She is a little to the Left of self interest.”

Her ideological inconsistency becomes apparent if one reverts to her earliest days in 1959 as President of the Congress. She dismissed the world’s first communist government which had come to power through the ballot box in Kerala. That she took American help to unsettle Kerala to justify the state government’s dismissal was revealed by US ambassador, Ellsworth Bunker in an oral interview kept in the Columbia University archives. Whatever doubts there might have been about the Bunker revelations, were cleared later by Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his memoirs.

During her Prime Ministership in 1976, the Congress party raised a storm against the US having installed a nuclear device on Nanda Devi peak to spy on China. The controversy had many twists. A joint CIA and Intelligence Bureau effort to install the device in 1965 (Lal Bahadur Shastri was Prime Minister then) had failed because of bad weather. Worse, two plutonium laden capsules had been lost. According to the Intelligence estimates the plutonium was enough for half a Hiroshima bomb.

In the course of an interview, Chester Bowles, US ambassador during Indira Gandhi’s first innings, took my breath away. He couldn’t understand Congress protest. “After all Indira had asked me to complete in 1966 the project which had been aborted in 1965.”

Well, this is how the Congress’s attitude towards the super powers varied from time to time. But for the West the spectacle of Mrs. Gandhi and Dange in a warm embrace was alarming because of the context. The West had taken a series of knocks – Vietnam, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nicaragua were all communist. Additionally Communist leaders Enrico Berlinguer, Georges Marchais, Santiago Carrillo in Italy, France and Spain respectively were a headache for the West. Given this state of play, India was too priceless a trophy to be easily lost to Moscow’s sphere of influence.

The obstacle in the way of a counteroffensive was Mrs. Gandhi’s personality. She had evolved into a charismatic and, therefore, invincible leader. Proprietor of the Indian Express, Ramnath Goenka and Nanaji Deshmukh, fell into deep thought.

The Indian mind reveres renunciation. It occurred to the head hunters that once a top ranking Socialist leader, Jayaprakash Narayan had renounced political power. He was keeping himself busy with Gandhiji’s ashrams and such unlikely causes as Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan or Land Gift movement. JP agreed to lead the movement provided it remained peaceful.

The youth were in agitation across the globe against the excesses of the Vietnam War – Grosvenor Square, London, barricades in Paris, police shooting down of students at the Kent state university in Ohio, US. Soon thereafter the Navnirman Andolan, youth agitation in Gujarat erupted on a seemingly flimsy issue of hostel fees. After visiting Gujarat, JP was prevailed upon to launch a similar movement against corruption and bad governance in Bihar. It was a tepid agenda livened up only by the media dedicated to the task of keeping up the pressure on New Delhi, boosting notions of a “total revolution” one day, asking police and the bureaucracy not to obey “bad” orders another, and so on. The immediate target of the “movement” was a hapless Chief Minister, Abdul Ghafoor, quite bewildered by his own eminence. Why was he in the eye of a storm? He had sunken cheeks and a drooping frame, draped in a much worn Sherwani. By way of hospitality for visiting scribes, he would fetch a bottle of old smuggler Scotch whisky from his wardrobe full of smudged clothes which were clearly waiting for laundry. He was a simple man, not a plausible enough crook to invite a national movement for his ouster.

JP, who had invited me to stay in his house in Patna’s Kadam Kuan, listened to my stories even about the CM with a kindly smile. He was a trusting man and totally non judgemental about the wide range of political interests who had clambered onto his movement.

The movement was carried mostly by RSS cadres, with a sprinkling of socialists, Gandhians and Congress (O), mostly those who had been shown the door by Mrs. Gandhi in 1969. This exactly was the rough outline of the group which morphed into a coalition in the course of the movement. The coalition came to power in 1977 as the Janata Party.

Supposing the Allahabad High Court had not disqualified Mrs. Gandhi, how would events have shaped? If Sanjay Gandhi, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Muhammad Yunus and others had not forced her hand on the Emergency, how would the Mrs. Gandhi-JP standoff have concluded?

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Friday, June 29, 2018

People Versus Established Order: Contradiction Sharpens In New York And Elsewhere

People Versus Established Order: Contradiction Sharpens In New York And Elsewhere

Saeed Naqvi

Does the stunning victory of a 28 year old Latino bartender in New York this week over a 10 term Democratic lawmaker bear any resemblance to AAP’s victory under a political novice, Arvind Kejriwal in February 2015. He thrashed Narendra Modi’s resurgent BJP and a Congress Chief Minister entering her fourth term? Ofcourse, there are a thousand differences in detail but these are dwarfed by a basic similarity – popular resentment with establishments everywhere. It is a wave sweeping all electoral democracies across the globe. I have just seen the toppling of the Italian ruling class in Rome. Wherever they can, establishments are fighting back tooth and nail. Kejriwal’s endless travails are part of this counterpunch.

The winner in New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was, in her last job, mixing cocktails in a Manhattan bar, sometimes on 18 hour shifts to help avoid foreclosure of her mother’s property. But more meaningful for her career was her stint as Bernie Sanders’ campaigner during the 2016 elections. Little wonder she stands on a similar, leftist platform, demanding universal health care, ending tuition fees at public colleges and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Still recovering from the shock defeat happens to be Joe Cowley for whom the Democratic Party had built many castles in the air. The same party had dug its heels in so firmly for Hillary Clinton as the Presidential candidate that every argument pointing to Bernie Sanders’ chances of victory over Trump were discarded.

I was in Washington for the campaign, surrounded by Clinton enthusiasts who would not answer a straightforward question:
“Popular disgust with the Washington establishment was unmistakable. Given this reality, by what logic do you see Clinton as a winner: she is the very epitome of the Washington establishment.”

Alexandria’s victory places her in line as the youngest woman in Congress after the November elections. This could well be the thin end of the wedge, gradually opening up spaces for younger and more radical candidates.

Considering that Trumpism too is consolidating itself on white working and middle class grievances, the divisions in American society may become more shrill. Once they rise to a crescendo, the clashing of Cymbals will be deafening even though the talk of a civil war is rank exaggeration.

A considerable segment of the Democratic Party, which refrained from radicalism during the 2016 campaign, appears to have sensed the ground realities, almost anticipating the New York result. Democrats like Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren signed onto Bernie Sanders bill for universal Health Care, something they had avoided two years ago when Sanders first introduced the Bill. The platform is picking up.

The New York outcome has clearly set the cat among the pigeons in establishment circles and not just in the US. Another resounding punch will be administered on the establishment’s chin when Andrez Manuel Lopez Obrador nicknamed AMLO, almost as far Left as the late Chavez in Venezuela, triumphs in the Mexican elections on Sunday. The sharp anti US edge to this result can safely be attributed to Trump’s open disdain for the southern neighbour.

A Bloomberg banner headline reads: “Listen, Trump: Firebrand Lopez Obrador Set to Win Landslide in Mexico.”

There is, however, a welcoming warmth to this turn in world affairs in progressive circles in Europe, not the least of it in the higher echelons of Britain’s Labour Party.

Last week I attended a meeting in support of Democracy and Human Rights in Mexico organized in the House of Commons by Laura Alvarez Corbyn, the Labour leader’s Mexican wife. Jeremy Corbyn sat through the meeting, signaling his support for progressive causes.

Is the Democratic Party in the US learning lessons from real life? Until the New York result there was no evidence of any change of heart in the party’s higher reaches. In fact, a year ago, a Fox News poll establishing Bernie Sanders’ exceptional popularity was largely ignored. The poll showed Sanders a +28 rating above all US politicians on both ends of the political spectrum. Trust The Guardian, London, being the only newspaper to pick up the issue. The paper’s Trevor Timm wrote:
“One would think with numbers like that, Democratic politicians would be falling all over themselves to be associated with Sanders, especially considering the party as a whole is more unpopular than the Republicans and even Donald Trump right now. Yet instead of embracing his message, the Establishment wing of the party continues to resist him at almost every turn, and they seem insistent that they don’t have to change their ways to gain back the support of huge swathes of the country.”

On current showing, the British Establishment demonstrates greater suppleness. A few months ago The Economist welcomed Corbyn, a socialist in the Michael Foot mould, as Britain’s next Prime Minister. That the Economist, a pillar of the Western establishment should acquiesce in Corbyn’s impending Premiership, could not have been honeyed music to Blairites in the Labour party, like Lord Peter Mandelson who is committed to “undermining Corbyn”. This kind of cussedness is counterproductive and this becomes clear when a Labour back bencher retorts:
“Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister implementing policies that actually benefit the people terrifies the Establishment. It is no surprise that Mandelson has found space in his busy schedule on an Oligarch’s Yacht to attempt to undermine Jeremy.”

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