Friday, August 16, 2019

Kashmir: Will BBC Once Again Lift The Veil Of Secrecy?


Kashmir: Will BBC Once Again Lift The Veil Of Secrecy?
                                                                                  Saeed Naqvi

It is just as well that the BBC has decided to expand its shortwave radio service in Kashmir to beat the communications blackout. This is not the first time the BBC has played this role – and for good reason. Because the supine, mainstream media in L.K. Advani’s words crawls when it is asked to bend.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had touched on the reasons for this spinelessness in his very first speech in Parliament in May, 2014. Although he did not mention the media, he traced the general obsequiousness to 1,200 years of “ghulami” or subjugation. Moghuls cannot be blamed for warts on the media’s face because in their period there was no media to speak of. Yes, one great editor of a paper called Urdu Akhbar, was tied to a cannon by the British and blown to smithereens for his critical writings. The Editor, Molvi Mohammad Baqar was the son of the greatest stylist in Urdu literature, Mohammad Hussain Azad.

The media, as we know it today, was a gift of the British. The imperial DNA is indelibly embedded in this media, both electronic and print, which dominates the Indian mindscape.

Mark Twian had put his finger on the nerve. “There are only two forces that carry light to all corners of the globe – the sun in the heavens and the Associated Press down here.”

It is this western “ghulami”, which tempers our nationalism. To wear the badge of nationalism, the formula is simple: heap hatred on Pakistan and work assiduously to have your progeny parked permanently in the US.

The other day The Indian Express devoted its entire front page to an advertisement about itself. The heading was: “Is Your Opinion Yours?”
“Your opinion should belong to you.”
The ad signs off:
“The Indian Express.
For the Indian Intelligent.”
The ad is loaded with irony. One full inside page of the newspaper, atleast three to five times a week, is a straight lift from The Economist including its main editorial. Why Xi Jinping is slipping, how Putin’s end is round the corner, why Maduro must quit Venezuela, how the Jewish museum in Berlin reflects the Muslim-Palestinian perspective and so on. This is in addition to countless other news items from French, British and American news agencies.

How then do you explain the July 28, 2019 page one of the Indian Express asking a young lady, stepping out into the world, “Is your opinion yours?” It is a little impertinent of the newspaper to pose the question when its own opinions on foreign affairs are The Economist’s, and sundry western agencies. Most newspapers are guilty on that count.

The Economist is a great magazine but it represents interests of the right-wing western establishment. By having this publication saturate our media space, we expose our ruling class to a point of view which is not ours, unless we have avowedly surrendered our independence to our previous masters.

What the BBC is proposing now is to expand its short wave radio to beat the blackout in what is now “undisputedly” India. Here is yet another irony. The BBC has always had credibility in a state where a balanced, fearless Indian media would gone miles to win hearts and minds.

When the senior Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq, the present Mirwaiz’s father, was assassinated in 1990, I accompanied BBC’s Satish Jacob, to cover the Mirwaiz’s funeral at the Idgah. Why did Mark Tully the Bureau Chief himself not cover the most important of stories? After all, 72 men and women were killed in the violence. Since the BBC radio was the only credible media which covered Kashmir, Tully would be mobbed because he was too well known. Satish, his deputy, would turn up with his fancy recorder but he would project himself as “German radio” which the agitated Kashmiris had no interest in.

I sought protection joining the funeral as Satish’s sidekick. My appearances on Doordarshan were on issues unrelated to Kashmir. But the agitated processionists put two and two together and, not only did they identify me, they turned upon me with unspeakable fury. They had recognized me from my Doordarshan appearances. I had incurred their wrath because in a BBC radio interview I had pointed my finger of suspicion for the murder of Mirwaiz at various groups in the valley but not on Indian agencies. “You are a sarkari chamcha” they jeered at me.

The mob multiplied in geometrical progression. Soon I had thousands, arms raised, about to assault me in unison. It was a frenzied, lynch mob. Just then a short man with light eyes, wearing a blue shirt and trouser, whipped out a revolver. He shouted above the din. “I shall finish him off.” Then he waved his revolver at the howling, screaming mob. “Move back.”

He dragged me by the sleeves to the exit. “Now you can go, and do not be seen here.” he was Feroz from the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front JKLF. This was the Front’s signal that it was not anti-India.

The story now has taken a much more blistering turn. The BBC’s credibility will grow astronomically unless strings are pulled at its head office in London with the following message: “Look, you have turned your face away from the Palestinian story under pressure of the Jewish lobby. Why can’t you turn your face away from this one? BBC will have to ponder. The Arab audience has been neutralized by Israeli stratagem, Saudi money and the western media. But is the BBC prepared to forgo the steady, reliable clientele in Pakistan?

The only balm on the wounded Kashmiri psyche will be to shut up the screaming jingoist anchors controlling the multiple channels. Open the valley to a balanced, independent media. It may take time but it will work in the long run. Ofcourse, I may be speaking out of turn because no one quite knows the depth of the brutality inflicted on the people. Only when the dark curtain of secrecy is lifted from the valley will we know whether the wounds are amenable to any kind of cure.

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

Ladakhi Magic: Disappearance Of The Muslim Majority From All Discourse


Ladakhi Magic: Disappearance Of The Muslim Majority From All Discourse
                                                                                        Saeed Naqvi

In a sense, the circumvention of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir by the Narendra Modi government concludes the fierce debate between Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbahi Patel on the Kashmir file in December 1947. The issue has not only been settled in favour of Sardar Patel, the disciple has exceeded the Guru. Recklessness was not Patel’s style although he once suggested the valley go to Pakistan if it wished. That would have made India comprehensively a Hindu Raj, something which most Congressmen desired.

It was nobody’s case that the Partition plan announced by Lord Mountbatten on June 3, 1947, envisaged a “Muslim Pakistan” and a “secular India”. It was a straightforward division on religious lines – Hindu and Muslim. Patel, like Babu Rajendra Prasad, Purushottam Das Tandon, J.B. Kripalani, would have been happier with a “Hindu Raj” or Hindustan as a counterpoint to the Muslim Raj, or Pakistan. The Congress was opposed to the Two-Nation theory. It would therefore seem absurd that the Congress would accept half of the theory, namely, Pakistan but demur on the other half, India. Obviously, Nehru and the ICS, the aristocracy around him (today’s Khan Market crowd are their poor cousins) found something “mofussil” about Hindu India. There was another, deeper reason. Hindu India could not have kept Kashmir on the contiguity principle.

Kashmir had a Hindu Maharaja ruling a Muslim majority. Which way should Kashmir go? The answer should be straightforward but it is not. Nehru drooling on the state’s accession to India, persuaded Mahatma Gandhi to visit Kashmir, just when the build upto Partition was rising to a crescendo. Ian Stephens, the Editor of The Statesman, during the crucial years from 1942 to 1951, gave much credence to the Mahatma’s visit to Kashmir. He thought the “saintly man” was also “one of the world’s most ingenious politicians”. Stephens then speculates: “It is hard to think what could have drawn him, as a saint, to Srinagar at this moment.”

For Stephens, the mystery of Kashmir deepened “when I read in September that Goplaswami Ayyangar, a very able and reputedly anti Muslim Madrasi Brahmin, who was the Prime Minister of Kashmir from 1937 to 1943, had been made Minister without portfolio in the new Indian cabinet, I said to our editorial conference in Calcutta: “that really looks as if India is upto something at Srinagar, and our correspondents were told to watch for news.” And news there was aplenty.

Nehru was keen on Sheikh Abdullah as Prime Minister. Meher Chand Mahajan, once the Maharaja’s trusted “Prime Minister” was a Patel favourite. He also became Patel’s informer: “As advised I am quietly watching the trend of events without in any way interfering in the government. Sheikh Sahib has got dictatorial powers which are being exercised in a dictatorial manner regardless of rules and forms of law.”

Mahajan whom Patel was backing for the top job in the valley came under the searchlight of Ved Bhasin, a distinguished editor of Kashmir Times. Let Bhasin speak: “Mahajan told a group of Hindus who met him in the palace in Jammu that now, when power was being transferred to the people, they should demand parity” (with Muslims).

How could parity be claimed when Muslims were in a majority? Mahajan pointed to bodies of Muslims smoldering after the previous day’s killing. “The population ratio too can change”. The Spectator, and the Times of London on August 10, 1948, estimated that anywhere between 2,00,000 and 2,37,000 were exterminated by the Maharaja’s Dogra forces. My attention to the genocide in Jammu was drawn by Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar’s article in the Times of India of 18 January 2015.

Nehru did have his way. Sheikh Abdullah did become Prime Minister but to what end. In 1953 Nehru jailed his “closest friend”. I must put it down to dynastic consistency that Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister asked Gopalaswami Ayyangar’s son, G. Parthasarathy to resume talks with the Sheikh in 1972, resulting in the Indira-Sheikh accord of 1975, restoring the Srinagar gaddi to him again. Nothing in the valley brought down the Sheikh’s image more than this “capitulation”. This is how the Kashmiris saw it. This is when other political formations began to sprout.

In 1984, the Sheikh died; Indira Gandhi was assassinated the same year. This opened the way for the next generation of dynasts – in New Delhi as well as Srinagar.

There is an old Persian saying:
Agar pidar na tawanad
Pisar tamam kunad
“That which father (or mother in one case) has left incomplete,
It is the responsibility of the son to complete.”

Farooq Abdullah, practicing medicine in London, came back to take charge of his patrimony. After a few unseemly summersaults, Congress and the National Congress joined hands to contest the 1987 elections. Together, they raised the bar of rigging elections to record heights. Kashmiris had been cheated again. That was the beginning of the insurgency in the valley. In 1989, the Afghan Mujahideen, having helped push the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, found themselves looking for work. The situation in the valley beckoned. Indigenous insurgency was helped by battle tried Mujahideen: it was a lethal mix.

While the people groaned, princely dynasties of the Abdullah’s luxuriated. I do hope Farooq will still have access to the magnificent golf course he built with such passion. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s dynasty was not far behind. Both the dynasties are now over. A former senior State Department official asks a good question: “the status quo ante was not working for the Kashmiris, was it?”

The August 5 decision is an onion which has not yet been peeled. To the common man, the breaking up of the state into two Union Territories looks like a cake sliced into Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist parts. That is an optical illusion. The Centre has set up two three-legged races – Hindus and Muslims yoked together in in J & K and Muslims and Buddhists in Ladakh. The Gogia Pasha trick here is this: the Muslims of Kargil and elsewhere in the district, much the majority in Ladakh, have been made to disappear – from all discourse, to begin with.

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Friday, August 2, 2019

Tirupati AICC Session As A Guide, Congress Will Not Hold Elections


Tirupati AICC Session As A Guide, Congress Will Not Hold Elections
                                                                                         Saeed Naqvi

Congress leaders like Shashi Tharoor are suggesting an election of a new party President. They have probably forgotten the Tirupati Congress session in April 1992 to elect a new Congress Working Committee. This exercise in Democracy astonished arch Brahmin P.V. Narasimha Rao because Arjun Singh, a Rajput, led the pack followed by intermediate casts like Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot. The results were declared null and void. Why this happened is explained at the end of this piece.

This being the 30th anniversary of one of Rajiv Gandhi gaffe’s, from which the party could never really recover, I have hung the story on that peg.

Two retrogressive steps taken by Rajiv Gandhi to please the “Mullah”, naturally alienated the liberals on all sides. He reversed a Supreme Court verdict providing maintenance to an elderly Muslim widow – Shah Bano. Later he banned Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.

Then, to keep the Hindu vote, he allowed the locks of the Ram Mandir to be opened.

The VHP was spurred into action. The reversal of the Shah Bano verdict was a Godsend: “Muslim appeasement” thundered Ashok Singhal of the VHP. Having upped the ante on this count, the VHP was anxious on another: the Congress was beginning to poach on its Ayodhya platform. This competition in Hindu radicalism defined much of the subsequent politics.

In this competition, the climax was reached in 1989 when, in preparation for elections, Rajiv Gandhi announced in Ayodhya that, should he be elected, he would usher in Ram Rajya, a sort of Hindu Shariah. This when the VHP was already embarked on one of the great mass mobilization strategies. Bricks would be consecrated in all the temples in the country, particularly in North India, and carried to Ayodhya for the construction of the Ram Temple.

At this very time, Rajiv Gandhi’s favoured Finance Minister, V.P. Singh added fuel to the cauldron already bubbling over. He charged Rajiv Gandhi for large scale corruption in the purchase of Bofors Field Guns. The charge was never proved but a harried Rajiv plotted frenetically. While V.P. Singh was challenging his moral credentials, the VHP made him look weak on the Ram Mandir. This challenge too Rajiv decided to take up without sufficient clarity of direction.

The Allahabad High Court had stayed the building of the temple on land disputed by the Muslims. By a show of massive force the VHP threatened to lay the foundation stone of the temple on land which was disputed and would therefore violate the Court’s order. If the VHP carried out the threat successfully, it would be a huge slap on the face of the administration. It would imply that the police and the official machinery were more loyal to their faith than orders from their superiors.

What then should Rajiv do?

Join them, if you can’t beat them. Help their shilanyas but only by resorting to subterfuge, unadulterated deceit, which I saw with my own eyes, seated as I was next to the District Magistrate of Faizabad, Ram Sharan Srivastava. The trick was this. To please Ashok Singhal, “Shilanyas” would be allowed “discreetly” on the land which was disputed. Once Singhal and his hundreds of “Ram Bhakts” had left, chanting slogans, Srivastava would put out a press note saying that a token stone laying ceremony had taken place on land which was “not disputed”.

No sooner was the press note on the wires, than Singhal called his own very well attended Press Conference. “We have performed Shilanyas on land which was in our original plan for the Ram Temple.”

The story perpetuated by the Gandhi-Nehru family loyalists has been that the Muslim vote walked out from the Congress en masse because P.V. Narasimha slept while the Babari Masjid was demolished on the fateful day, December 6, 1992. This is only partly true. The real hemorrhage had begun earlier, soon after the Congress allowed the brick laying ceremony to take place on land belonging to Muslims in violation of the High Court order.

I remember, a Congress stalwart of Faizabad, Nasir Hussain, weeping. “Rajiv has finished the Congress in UP” he said. He was right. It was all so short sighted. After all, it was not Congress policy to build the Ram Mandir. And yet the Congress had begun to look a saffron party. Was this only a perception among Muslims?

P.V. Narasimha, ofcourse, created conditions for Atal Behari Vajpayee to take over as the BJP’s Prime Minister for a distinct set of reasons. These reasons were embedded in the verdict of 1991 election which brought P.V. to power. Because elections in the North, where the Congress had done badly were over when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, the emotional factor which helped the Congress to scrape through operated only in the south. In other words India’s first Prime Minister from the South, was by a fluke of fortune kept buoyant by the southern contingent in the Congress parliamentary party.

This meant that his political security and longevity in power dictated that he should not allow a powerful leader to emerge in the North. Narayan Datt Tiwari was something of a has-been, but Arjun Singh could always mount a challenge. He had to be outfoxed. There was another anti Arjun Singh factor operating in PV’s deep core, aggravated by Chandraswami, the tantric constantly by his side. During the 1991 elections, key Brahmins like N.D. Tiwari, Lokpati Tripathi, Rajendra Kumari Bajpai, Jagannath Mishra, Jitendra Prasada, Bindeshwari Dubey, K.K. Tiwary, Vasant Sathe, V.N. Gadgil, Gundu Rao, all lost. Brahmins outside the Congress, Ramakrishna Hedge and Madhu Dandvate too. The abiding Brahmin in P.V. moved him to accommodate Pranab Mukherjee, Bhuvnesh Chaturvedi, V.N. Gadgil, Naval Kishore Sharma, Jitendra Prasada, and others in his office, the Rajya Sabha, as party General Secretaries and official spokesmen. But Arjun Singh who had beaten everybody in the popularity stakes in Tirupati, the “wily” Rajput, had to be kept at bay. The Congress may therefore never hold elections just in case the party finds a leader who has the potential to upstage the Gandhis.

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Does Johnson With His Vulnerabilities Make Corbyn More Acceptable?


Does Johnson With His Vulnerabilities Make Corbyn More Acceptable?
                                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

“Ek na shud, do shud”
(We were not done with one, and now we have two.)

There is a quantum leap in derisive mirth that stand-up comedians on both sides of the Atlantic are generating ever since a Donald Trump look-alike entered the black door at 10, Downing Street. In fact if Boris Johnson disciplined the outside of his head with a touch of Brylcream that would confirm a twin-like Boris-Donald duet.

There are other dubious comparisons: racism, for instance. It was a common story at Trump towers that “When Donald and Ivana came to the Casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor.” Johnson measures up quite well. His description in one of his columns of blacks as “piccaninnies with watermelon smiles”, remains a classic in racial insensitivity.

Little wonder Britain’s 77th Prime Minister has been greeted dismally by major newspapers. A “New Nadir” in British public life, screamed the Independent. “A shameless clown” it went on.

The Guardian thought Johnson and Trump made for a pair: “two loud mouthed man-children”, singularly lacking in character. Scheming, devious, lying, unreliable are some of the common adjectives being employed.

In a sense, Trump’s election was clearly more democratic than Johnson’s. Even though he trailed Hillary Clinton in the popular vote, he won atleast 46 percent of that vote. Johnson has been elected by the Conservative party members, which works out to 0.2 percent of the population.

After three years of a non-descript Theresa May, is Great Britain only capable of producing a Prime Minister who the British intelligentsia dismisses as a man of doubtful ability and character. Similar things are happening elsewhere, but let me confine myself to the trans-Atlantic cousins.

To make my point, let me in a few sentences, describe the scene on November 2016, election night at my friend’s Dumbo Loft in Brooklyn, New York, where we had collected, say, 20 friends from all sorts of disciplines: State Department Veterans, World Bankers, Columbia University faculty, artists, writers and a Fox News journalist . Everybody was eager to pop Champaign bottles as soon as Hillary Clinton’s victory became imminent. But when Trump won Florida the party was suddenly in the grip of something between hysteria and melancholia. The woman from the World Bank was shrieking like she had seen an apparition. A woman from the neighbouring loft was banging at the door. “Please let me in; I can’t bear being alone.”

It fell to my lot to commiserate with the crestfallen. They, each one of them, had difficulty digesting my diagnosis. “If you make Bernie Sanders impossible, you make Trump inevitable.”

How does this maxim apply to the elevation of Boris Johnson?

Well, “if you make Jeremy Corbyn impossible, you make Boris inevitable.” I am aware that these formulations would be anathema to friends who are sworn to “liberalism” according their lights.

Liberalism, which defined one’s life in the 60s and 70s, is an open minded accommodation of diversity in faith, tastes, manners and customs. Economists, committed to capitalism, ignore the warts it has developed. Crony capitalism, for instance, which renders the people redundant except for casting their votes during elections. The control this system has on the media helps perpetuate the Corporate-Government nexus. It is then a simple barter deal: you promote my interest, I promote yours. Come next elections, scramble to devise some new strategy to market yourself. Turn to terrorism if other issues do not work.

The perpetuation of this arrangement in democracies worldwide has caused a fatigue factor. In an earlier age, people revolted against the feudal system; they are now trying to bring about radical change through the ballot box. There are known and unknown eruptions in parts of the world where people are “struggling” outside the system altogether because, in their perception, the ruling class controls all the instruments of the modern democratic state.

The unending post 9/11 wars, the continuing ascendancy of the Deep State, disparities leading to Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party in retaliation, generated an anti-Establishment wave. This is what Bernie Sanders sought to ride. But the Establishment in its Democratic Party Avatar, had set its heart on Hillary Clinton who was upto her neck in Deep State plots in Syria, Libya and, ofcourse, Putin’s Russia.

In an anti-Establishment atmosphere, projecting Clinton as the candidate was clearly a risky hand. Clintons, after all, were The Establishment in Washington. Hence the consequent gnashing of teeth at the Brooklyn Loft party.

Reverting to Britain, once Prime Minister David Cameron’s referendum on Brexit in June 2016 had gone wrong, the Conservatives have been on a weak leg. Theresa May, limping from London to Brussels with a hundred stops en route, always empty handed did the Tories no good. In direct proportion to the Conservatives vulnerability is the right wing media’s tendency to paint Jeremy Corbyn in lurid colours as a raving anti-Semitic, a friend of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. The Economist has made him up as Che Guevara.

The spirit of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunt of 50s permeates American public life to this day. But its resurgence in the UK is all part of the Establishment digging its heels in to keep the centre of gravity of global discourse so far to the right that leaders like Corbyn and Sanders look like communists.

There must be deep consternation in Conservative power structure at the BBC’s prestigious Panoroma programme which, with rigorous research, knocked the bottom out of the anti Corbyn campaign. It will now be impossible to pin the anti-Semite label on him.

Meanwhile, the media spotlight is on Boris and his cabinet choice like Priti Patel, the new Home Secretary. According to The Guardian she was sacked from Theresa May’s cabinet two years ago for failing to disclose secret meetings with Israeli Ministers on “India related matters”. With Patel by his side, Boris Johnson has connections which can help win the elections which, by some calculations, can be soon, given that half the Conservative party has its knives out for him.

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Friday, July 19, 2019

Colombo Easter Massacre: Can Islamic Terror Be A Diplomatic Asset?

Colombo Easter Massacre: Can Islamic Terror Be A Diplomatic Asset?
                                                                                 Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 19.07.2019

Prolific punditry on the Easter Sunday massacre in Colombo has taken a pause because investigations have reached a stage where all sides have to take a political call. Different interests would like investigators to be nosy in different directions.

A calamity on a scale where nearly 300 people were killed and 500 injured immediately causes Intelligence agencies to descend with angelic intent, armed with all the technologies. A mystery which Hercule Poirot would leisurely solve over delectable wines and gourmet food is, with the arrival of the agencies, not solved in one go but incrementally, leaving space for stings and hisses, hints and guesses.

The agencies from the US, UK, Israel, Australia and India have been in a scrum according to sources. Even though Intelligence and Security are the responsibility of President Maithripala Sirisena’s office, the direction of the inquiry by the group is more to the liking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. China’s Belt and Road Initiative has taken Sri Lanka in its embrace. This is not what the agencies listed above are interested in promoting.

It remains a puzzle why Sri Lanka did not take action when Indian Intelligence (RAW) alerted them as early as April 4, weeks before the massacre. Have the differences between the President and the Prime Minister percolated down to Sri Lankan agencies too?

Clearly, Ranil is keen to sign the Status of Forces Agreement with the US before the elections next year. This would be anathema to the Chinese who share their confidences only with the President.

Opinion in Colombo is divided on India’s role. One view is that New Delhi and Washington would join hands to impede the Chinese. Others believe it is not in New Delhi’s interest to have the strategically located island transformed into a US base. New Delhi would prefer a drastically toned down, cooperative foreign presence.

How strategically important Sri Lanka is became clear to me during a visit to Mauritius some years. My TV team did a feature on the tragic, homeless people from Chagos Island. The story is not easy to digest. An entire island was emptied of its population by the British along with the Americans to set up a base in Diego Garcia. The International Court of Justice ruled in February 2019 to return the island to its citizens. Has the Judgement been thrown in the waste paper basket?

New Delhi has exerted its influence to keep Mauritius and Bhutan out of the Belt and Road project. Everything else in SAARC has gone the other way. Credit must go to the nimble, creatively ambiguous management of Foreign Policy. Modi-Xi Jinping summit in Varanasi in October may be the culmination of important developments.

The events of Easter Sunday have inspired important research. For instance, “Weaponization of Religion as New Cold War Looms”. The paper has been written by Darini Rajasingham Senanayake, a Sri Lankan scholar and writer.

She wastes no time in coming to the point: China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative “may well have been the prime target of the bombings that rocked the Indian Ocean Island caught in the cross hairs of super power rivalry”.

According to her, there is a clear effort to mislead Sri Lankans. She points to a video tape of Islamic State leader, Al Baghdadi purportedly speaking about the attacks on Sri Lanka. Arabic and French intelligence experts had no doubt that the tape had been doctored.

Hotels that were targeted were Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury. And there, says Darini, hangs a tale. These hotels were owned by Sri Lankan, conglomerates who are into property development with the China construction company.

Four oceanic scientists who were staying at Kingsbury hotel were among the six Chinese who lost their lives. This has been confirmed by the Chinese embassy in Colombo. The deceased were from the South China Sea Institute of Oceanography. Chinese state run Global Times reported that two other scientists from the First Institute of Oceanography, were scheduled to board the Chinese research vessel Shiyan 3. This was to be the start of an important China-Sri Lanka joint exploration mission in the East-Indian Ocean.

Darini sees a design in the venues that were attacked: Churches located among coastal communities with congregations whose livelihood depends on fisheries and other Indian Ocean resources in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa. As continuation of the pattern, even luxury sea front hotels also became targets. No town in the interior was targeted.

She concludes: “Marine affairs and the ocean is the red threat that runs through the design and detail of the selected targets.

It is puzzling that instead of following the leads Darini Senanayake has focused on, the foreign intelligence agencies have dwelt more on the clash of civilizations and “religious strife” as their preferred theme of inquiry.

All sorts of conspiracy theories begin to claim attention. A single column story from Nepal where also Chinese are influential, on inside page begins to look significant as part of a larger design. Near Lumbini in South West Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha, five statues of Buddha are vandalized. Is someone trying to create Buddhism-Hindu strife in the Himalayan state? It is difficult to see what political spin can be given to this vandalism.

Likewise what earthly purpose would be served by promoting strife between two Sri Lankan minorities – Muslim and Christian.

There is another way of looking at Sri Lankan developments, exactly as Darini’s headline suggests. Since 2012 I have written consistently on Islamic terror being controlled by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia as “assets” to unsettle societies with sizeable Muslim minorities – Xinxiang in China, Caucasus in Russia. Since this is Salafi Islam, it may have its uses against Shia Iran too. There is that whole turf of Central Asia. And, why forget India? For an elaboration of “Terrorism as an asset” see here.

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Friday, July 12, 2019

How Battle Of Karbala Conditions Iranian Mind On Palestinian Issue


How Battle Of Karbala Conditions Iranian Mind On Palestinian Issue
                                                                                        Saeed Naqvi

When the application of normal yardsticks on Iran lead to results which analysts find unexpected, a sort of irritation sets in. This is because of a distinct inability to understand that, with the exception of the Vatican, Iran is the only state where the leadership mindset is conditioned by theological concerns.

The epic battle between good and evil is common to many traditions including the one which brings us good cheer during Dussehra, when Ravana is killed. But these traditions are part of mythology.

Iranians, indeed Shias anywhere, contemplate the epic battle between Right and Wrong in historical terms. The battle of Karbala, fought on the bank of the Euphrates River in Iraq is, after all, an event that took place in 680 AD. The first military probe into India by Mohammad bin Qasim took place in 711 AD. By an amazing coincidence, 711 AD also happens to be the year when Tariq Ibn Ziyad crossed the stretch of water from Tangiers in Morocco and conquered the rock which he called Jabal al Tariq. Jabal means a rock. The British renamed it Gibraltar.

The point is that the Shias latched on to Karbala, a relatively recent event in history, as the ideal for morality and sacrifice. Let me explain. The great achievement of Prophet Mohammad was to settle the differences between quarrelling Arab tribes. In fact, Islam taking advantage of the vacuum in global power, soon expanded into an Empire. Fissures reappeared after the Prophet’s death in 632 AD. By 680 AD, a usurper, Yazid, entrenched as the Governor of Damascus, turned to the prophet’s younger grandson, Imam Hussain, to endorse his rule. Legitimacy would always elude him without Hussain’s endorsement. Relentless pressure caused Hussain to leave his ailing daughter in Medina and travel to Iraq. On the second of Moharram (September this year) he entered Karbala along with 72 of his closest relatives and friends.

When Hussain would not submit to Yazid’s dictat, sanctions (note the word) were imposed. In the torrid heat of the desert, water supply from the Euphrates was cut off. Children as young as six months, crying for three days without water would, Yazid had hoped, force a compromise. But on the question of principle, Hussain refused. On the 10th day of Moharram all male members, one by one went into battle against an overwhelmingly larger army, resulting in martyrdom – inspiring some of the greatest epic poetry of all time. Women of the prophet’s household were taken prisoners. And all because he would not compromise his core principles.

Karbala is the balance in which the clerical elements in the Iranian leadership measure rights-and-wrongs. Much to the discomfiture of Israel, Iran’s consistency on the Palestinian issue derives from these uncompromising belief systems. In other words, the principle of Palestinian rights is non-negotiable. Well, in which case Iran exposes itself to the most comprehensive sanctions Washington has imposed anywhere. But Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif told the Asia Society in New York recently: “You must remember we have a PhD in coping with sanctions.”

Zarif could not have meant that it is life as usual in Tehran despite the sanctions. By all accounts, sanctions are hurting. Prices have risen sky high. But is this hurt causing the population to congregate in city squares to curse the regime for having invited US sanctions? Or is the opposite happening? Are people closing ranks behind the regime for standing upto what mural size graffiti in Tehran describes as the “great Satan”?

For a week, shortages of baby diapers caused immense inconvenience. Soon the women in the countryside rediscovered commonsense solutions: cut cloth dipped in Dettol into triangular pieces, then pin the three points below the navel.

Why sanctions are not pinching is that there is sufficient food on the table. For example, meat consumption may have been pruned from four times a week to twice or even once. But there is nourishment aplenty.

Is it possible to apply comprehensive sanctions in a situation where, say, Qatar depends totally on Iranian supplies because of Saudi sanctions? There are loopholes.

The Iranian drama is being played out with a subtle give and take behind the scenes between the hardliner Ayatullah Ali Khamenei and the moderate Hassan Rouhani. Khamenei was always wary of negotiations with the US but it was his good political sense because of which he went along with the public mood for engagement which Rouhani had rightly gauged. But the President exceeded his brief when he called up President Obama during the 2013 General Assembly session. The touch of over eagerness was not Khamenei’s style. But he protected Rouhani, convinced that “Zionist arrogance” will sooner or later hamper the Nuclear Deal coming to fruition. In that sense Khamenei has proved right.

Simmering differences manifested themselves at other levels too. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, very much the face of the nuclear deal, was slighted by hardliners like Gen. Qasim Suleiman of the Al Quds Brigade causing Zarif to resign. What was the slight? During Syrian President Bashar al Asad visit to Tehran, Zarif, was apparently kept out of some meetings.

The unending chant from Washington and Jerusalem that Iran should become a “normal state” is, in the ultimate analysis, a demand for it to “soften” its stance on Palestine. While all the focus has been on Iran, the Bahrain Conference has with a sleight of hands worked towards formulations for virtually annexing the West Bank.

Not unrelated are developments in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu must win the September elections if he is to escape prison term for corruption. But such a victory can only be sustained with extreme far right orthodox Jews who quite openly support an apartheid state. And who stands by the side of the Palestinians? Iran, ofcourse. Always the spoilsport.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

Post Rahul, Party May Splinter But Something New Is Needed


Post Rahul, Party May Splinter But Something New Is Needed
                                                                                       Saeed Naqvi

When Trinamool’s Mahua Moitra took Parliament by storm in her debut speech last month, a thought crossed my mind. In over two decades as Congress President could not Sonia Gandhi have sent a handful of young people to both the Houses who would have been noticed: politically savvy, feet on the ground, conversant with issues, articulate?

She protected the pen and her progeny from running the risk of being upstaged. There were talented youngsters around in the party, but the Gandhi family tied one Jyotiraditya Scinda in a four-legged race in Madhya Pradesh and then took him off Madhya Pradesh altogether. They played him as Priyanka Gandhi’s sidekick in UP. When the “all-fall-down” happened post elections, Priyanka turned up in Amethi to scold the workers for her brother’s debacle – “a bad workman blames his tools.” Poor Sachin Pilot, a political talent by all counts was deliberately dwarfed so that Ashok Gehlot could look tall.

Rahul Gandhi’s resignation was overdue. Yes, the party may splinter but something new is needed. Everyone who has known him talks of his innate decency. He probably knew he was out of his depth, but without him many would not know which way to look. Some have grown so accustomed to a life of sycophancy at number 10 Janpath or wherever else the family is dispersed that they cannot contemplate another existence.

Supposing, by some miracle, the Congress under Rahul Gandhi had come up trumps then all the senior retainers ran the risk of being shown the door. How enthusiastic would they have been in the campaign trapped in a dilemma: victory might lead to unemployment?

I cannot forget Rahul Gandhi’s press conference at the Radisson Blue hotel, Ahmedabad in the course of the 2017 assembly election. He was flanked by Ashok Gehlot and spokesman Randeep Surjewala. One noticed an unmistakable gap: the Congress powerhouse from Gujarat, Ahmed Patel was missing. Word had been sent that his presence would enable the BJP to revive the canard that Congress was a party of Muslims.

A few days later Ghulam Nabi Azad was publicly wailing that he was not being invited by party men to address election meetings, presumably for the same reason: the BJP will polarize.

In any war it is important to know what your enemy is upto. The Congress under Rahul’s leadership had no clue what plots were being hatched. The party President fell back on the tepid, ineffective chant “Chowkidar chor hai”. It was a hopelessly ill-advised incantation. Every shop, business, housing colony, industry has a watchman. This watchman you end up mocking without even realizing the slight. Also, we are a traditional and a feudal people. The Prime Minister may not be the world’s favourite man, but no Indian would like that station to be demeaned as a watchman who is also being called a thief.

Your opponent, Dear Rahul, was not fighting an election; he was marketing himself – a whole team spread across the seas was handing him a daily script. He was not to touch on issues; that was taboo. He had to just peg away at a nagging length on a theme loaded with emotional resonance. It must resonate in an echo chamber keyed to a mood - loathe Pakistan, hate the terrorists keeping Kashmir in their thrall, and portray love jihadis and beef eaters as highly lynchable. The saffron mood will be stepped up at intervals – Pulwama, Balakot and so on. What was your response? Chowkidar chor hai?

Remember Modi had to be on every channel 24X7. This will deify him. “Jidhar dekhta hoon, udhar tu hi tu hai” (wherever I look, I see you). On every page of newspapers there was either a news photograph or an advertisement.

Even a kirtan palls. So by way of relief Modi’s choreographers focused on Rahul as a counter point in a musical score. Focusing on Rahul provides relief, ofcourse, but it also keeps up the illusion favoured by captains of industry that India is willy nilly moving towards a two party system. Among the cleverer things Mamata Banerjee said was exactly this: Rahul is a Modi USP. Rahul, according to Mamata, provides the contrast against which Modi shines.

Rahul, ofcourse, would have been inclined to consider the notice being given to him in self serving terms: he is being noticed because he was the most important opposition leader. From this profound misreading issued a desire to erect an architecture to make a bid for power by the Congress on its own. The cocky assertion by Priyanka the moment she landed in UP was that she was not in the game for 2019; she would first revive the Congress to win the 2022 state elections. She probably had no clue that in May 2018 her mother, Rahul and every possible opposition party had stood on one platform in Bengaluru to fight Modi.

The Congress probably thought that it would lose its stature as more equal than others in the vast galaxy assembled by a dynamic though lesser known politician, Danish Ali who, incidentally won the 2019 election from Amroha in UP.

In this self delusion, Rahul played the worst possible game. Instead of holding hands of all those on the stage in Bengaluru, he opened all cylinders on Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati in UP, Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi and Mamata in West Bengal. In the last melee, the great party of ideological purity, the CPM, allowed its cadres to fight Mamata shoulder to shoulder with the RSS.

As witnesses to this spectacle, who can blame the Modi-Shah duet laughing their heads off . “With such enemies, who needs friends.”

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