Friday, February 16, 2018

Hashimpura, Srebrenica And Rohingyas in Rakhine: Similar And So Different

Hashimpura, Srebrenica And Rohingyas in Rakhine: Similar And So Different
                                                                                               Saeed Naqvi

Incidents, similar in their chilling monstrosity, came to mind when I saw photographs of a row of Rohingya Muslim young men, on their knees, their hands tied behind their back. Gun wielding military police, lurking within the frame, eventually mowed them down.

This is the face of the horror the world will remember. In a state of funk, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief, General Min Aung Hlaing has admitted mass graves in one village: Inn Din 50 km north of the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe. Journalists have scoured many other mass graves.

The other gruesome episode etched on my mind is Srebrenica in Bosnia (1995). Hashimpura in Meerut (1987), ofcourse, is our very own tragedy, still lingering. In each one of these macabre events, Muslim youth had their hands tied behind their backs and shot by the local army.

In the latest massacre of the Rohingya in August 2017, the local Buddhist clergy and army turned upon the Muslims. The number killed exceeds 6,700 according to the NGO Doctors without Borders.

In Srebrenica, the orthodox Christian troops of the Bosnian-Serbian army, murdered 7,000 Muslim youth and expelled 20,000 civilians from the area.

In Hashimpura, forty two young men were lined up along a nearby irrigation canal and shot by soldiers of the Provincial Armed Constabulary. These soldiers were Hindus. Can their denomination be spelt out? Apparently not, given the manner in which Asaduddin Owaisi of the Ittehadul Muslimeen has been shouted down for having dared to mention Muslims as “martyrs” because in the latest outrage it is mostly them who have been killed by terrorists.

Owaisi was making a simple point. Patriotism of Indian Muslims is regularly challenged on prime time television which places them on the wrong side of the secular line. But five out of seven killed in the Sunjwan army camp happened to be Muslims. Why is this detail missing from reports? Such stories would go some distance in bridging communal divide. No, said the anchors almost in chorus, “Owaisi is communalizing the army”. Pray, how? “By reporting that five of the seven killed in the camp were Muslims”? Muslims must never upstage Hindu soldiers in the martyrdom stakes?

Given this attitude, the killers of the 42 Muslims in Hashimpura must be seen only as instruments of the “secular” state. That 19 PAC personnel, under the platoon commander, Surinder Pal Singh, rounded up Muslims in the Hashimpura neighbourhood of Meerut, should be blandly reported without mentioning religious identities. Religious identity must only be mentioned if terrorists turn out to be Muslims which is what they are when police shoots them down. The number of youth taken away is still unclear, but the police narrative suggests 42, mostly weavers and daily wage earners, who were taken in a truck to the upper Ganga canal in Murad Nagar, near Ghaziabad.

The men were blind folded, and shot. Their bodies were dumped in the canal. This was not the only such operation following a series of communal clashes in Meerut that year since March.

On May 24, 2007, 20 years after the massacre, 36 members of victim’s families filed applications under the Right to Information Act at the office of the Director General of Police in Lucknow. The inquiry revealed that all the accused remained in service. In their Annual Confidential Reports there was not even a hint of their involvement in the Hashimpura massacre. The secular state was protecting its own.

The case has dragged on, zig zagged without any evidence of the establishment really searching for justice. News is expected from the High Court on February 20. Reporters recall the Minister of State for Home, P. Chidambaram, outside his North Block office actually scream at officials. “Crush them” he shouted. He was very hands-on during the Meerut riots and the aftermath. Subramaniam Swamy actually named Chidambaram as an accomplice but the allegation, coming from Swamy, became prima facie suspect. In the fullness of time, the PAC men involved in the case, including Surinder Pal Singh, have all departed to their maker, one by one.

I have given the fairly common place details of the tragic saga of Muslims in the Hashimpura case simply to establish the contrast with massacres in Srebrenica and Rakhine in Myanmar. Orthodox Christians in one instance and Buddhists in the other brazenly targeted Muslims and for which they have been or are being punished. But in India the secular edifice would be weakened if the religious identity of police or armymen who kill Muslims is mentioned. And the case will be dragged on eternally.

In Serbia-Bosnia, the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia concluded that what happened in Srebrenica was “genocide”. It pinned the blame on senior officers in the Bosnian Serbian Army.

Bill Richardson, former Governor of New Mexico and US Ambassador to the UN, resigned last week from a Myanmar Advisory Board on the Rohingya crisis. He called it a pro government “cheerleading squad”. Richardson has been a friend of the country’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. This did not prevent him from expressing his anger at what he said was a whitewash in which she was complicit. “She has developed the arrogance of power”, he said.

For the horrors of Srebrenica senior commander Ratko Mladic and a host of his accomplices, have been awarded long sentences at the International Court of Justice. In Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi and her military accomplices are inching towards global opprobrium and eventual justice.

Why then are the perpetrators of Hashimpura, the oldest of the three massacres, still scot-free?

Supposing Owaisi were to lift the scab from another raw wound and say “wheels of justice, even when the complainants are Muslims, move faster in non Muslim theocratic states than in pretentious secular ones”. Would he be shouted down again?

Most Indians shy away from a glaring reality. Eruptions in former Yugoslavia and Myanmar took place when Muslims were in bad odour globally after the wars in the Arab world.

Communal clashes in India, particularly police versus people, have been endemic since the Partition of 1947. And the world does not take much notice because it is a routine “internal affair” of a sovereign state.

#          #          #          #

Friday, February 9, 2018

After Reverses In Syria, Afghanistan, A Quest For Propaganda Equalizer

After Reverses In Syria, Afghanistan, A Quest For Propaganda Equalizer
                                                                                         Saeed Naqvi

Conspiracy theorists, who prove mostly right in the topsy turvy post 9/11 world, are these days busy switching channels – Syria, Afghanistan, Korean peninsula and yes, one more theatre which will be in heavy focus in June-July. All these narratives have Russia in them, including, quite surprisingly, South Korea where the media will gloat over the humiliation heaped on Russian athletes.

Intelligence agencies in Washington and Moscow, operating under the universal rubric of Deep State, are circling around in the ring, psyching each other. The US, in this game plan, would be developing an offensive posture pushing the Russians on the defensive. Russians are already reeling from the blow administered by the International Olympic Committee: its athletes have been banned from participating in the Winter Olympics being held in South Korea.

The assumption in Moscow is that the West would use all the propaganda tools at its command to rub Putin’s nose in the mud on the occasion of the FIFA World Cup being hosted in June-July 2018.

As Putin prepares to cope with the World Cup related security challenges, one image will certainly cross his mind: the furtive visit of Prince Bandar bin Sultan to the Kremlin on the eve of the February 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Prince Bandar offered Putin the “moon” if only the Russian strongman would persuade Assad to vacate the President’s palace in Damascus. Among the gifts he offered Putin was a “terror free” Sochi Olympics.

Why did the Western media ignore the incredible Bandar story? Because eversince the Russians had their boots on the ground in Syria from 2015, they have had a ringside seat on the barely disguised drama of Americans supplying arms to various groups fighting Assad. None of these stories would have been flattering to the US, including the one about Bandar, George W Bush’s sidekick. So the mainstream media, as part of the establishment, had to look the other way.

The rules of the game, according to Russian and Turkish sources, were simple: groups battling Assad under American guidance would be described as “freedom fighters”; those not serving American (Saudi, Israeli) interests, were ISIS, Jabhat al Nusra, Al Qaeda. They, each one of them, could change their labels, depending on the dynamics on the ground. The Russians had video evidence on all of this. The Turks too are in the know, first as participants in the battle against Assad and later fighting the YPG, the Kurdish group who have adopted a Syrian name – Syrian Democratic Forces.

The Turks consider Abdullah Ocalan led PKK as their existential enemy. The PKK is a “terrorist organization” by the UN’s definition. By Turkish definition the YPG is PKK with another name. This “other name”, Syrian Democratic Forces, is a sleight of hand without which the US cannot help YPG/SDF. Their original name has the label “terrorist group” attached to it.

The Turks have told the US that their operation against the YPG in Afrin will continue so long as “one terrorist” remains in the territory contiguous with Turkey. The situation has brought Turkey, Russia and Iran on the same side. Much to the chagrin of the US, the Syrian Democratic Forces too are reaching out to Damascus in their desperation. Newspapers supporting Erdogan are, in deference to the situation, recommending an Ankara-Damascus rapprochement if not specifically an Erdogan-Assad handshake. An isolated US, egged on by Riyadh and Tel Aviv, therefore faces Russia and its cohorts in Syria. The situation is fraught.

Even in the Afghan theatre, the US is not smelling of roses. Russia’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Morgulov Igor Vladimirovich told the impressive gathering at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi recently something of abiding interest to the region: IS fighters were being flown to northern Afghanistan. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei told the Friday congregation on January 30, “the US goal of transferring ISIS terrorists to Afghanistan is aimed at creating a justification for its continued deployment in the region.”

Pundits took no note of an outrageous proposal for Afghanistan which was under “active consideration of the White House” for weeks last year. Erik Prince, Founder of the world’s biggest supplier of mercenary troops, Blackwater, had submitted details on how Afghanistan can be most effectively administered: “Exactly as the Viceroy administered India when it was a British colony.” The very fact that such a proposal reached the highest echelons of American decision making clearly beamed searchlights deep into the caverns of the American mind.

The IS as a Western asset is not a new concept. I have been writing about it atleast since President Obama admitted as much to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times in August 2014. Friedman asked why did Obama not bomb IS as soon as it reared its head.

“That would have taken the pressure off Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki”, Obama replied. What clearer admission could one seek from a US President that the IS was an asset at that stage. Iraq’s Shia Prime Minister was eventually forced out.

After reverses suffered by the IS at Russian hands, there were several reports of IS given safe passage, even air lifted. In October 2017, Robert Fisk, of the Independent described how hundreds of IS fighters in Raqqa had been given safe passage “to go where they like”.

Turkish intelligence has an interesting take on IS being transferred to Afghanistan: these are “upgraded” Taleban after a stint of “Jihad” in Syria. The wide disparity in the wages of the regular Afghan Taleban and those trained in Syria has provoked the home grown Taleban to teach American and their “lackeys” a lesson – hence the spike in violence. Note American isolation in Kabul too. Aggressive retaliatory posturing by Washington would bring Moscow and Beijing into an even tighter embrace. Interesting Times, as the Chinese proverb says.

#          #          #          #

Friday, February 2, 2018

Ashram Notebook 50 Years Ago: Beatles, Maharishi, Crows And Catapults

Saeed Naqvi playing holi with Paul McCartney, walking with Maharishi

Ashram Notebook 50 Years Ago: Beatles, Maharishi, Crows And Catapults

I received a call from an editor reminding me of my stay with the Beatles 50 years ago this February in Rishikesh. He was keen that, at this distance in time, I hammer out a piece placing that visitation in perspective.

There was irony in the request itself. The value the editor was placing on the story was in sharp contrast to the cold reception it received from the Resident Editor of the Statesman all those decades ago.

In my 20s then, I belonged to a generation which straddled two worlds. My love for classical Indian music did not obstruct my being enmoured of the Beatles. But the Statesman, self conscious of its status as the country’s premier newspaper, had not yet shuffled itself out of its Victorian mould. The last British editors had left in 1966 but there were still senior assistant editors and their brown progeny, in a cultural sense, who were more conversant with Benjamin Britten than the Liverpool four. The paper’s Delhi office had by contrast transited to such rapid indigenization that neither the resident editor, K. Rangachari, nor New Editor, R.N. Sharma, knew who the Beatles were. India was in cultural flux.

I had actually got myself initiated into the arcane ways of Transcendental Meditation at the Maharishi’s feet in anticipation of the Rishikesh jamboree.

As far as I know, I was the only “journalist” who had the Maharishi’s nod to stay in the ashram during the hallowed period.

The Beatles were not the only ones who sat cross legged around the Maharishi as around an altar. There were others – the Beach Boys, Paul Horn the flutist, Donovan, writing a song a day, one of which I have kept as my exclusive possession.
“When the sun is tucked away in bed,
You worry about the life you led.
There’s only one thing to do,
Let the Maharishi lead you.”

The non singing stars, who caught the limelight, were Mia Farrow and her sister, Prudence. The galaxy of stars at the ashram may have placed Prudence in the category of less noticed meditators. But she grabbed everyone’s attention when a sadhu looking after her hut rushed to Maharishi’s cell with an unbelievable report: Prudence had slipped into a meditative trance which had lasted from dawn to dusk and was still continuing.

This gave Maharishi the sales pitch he was looking for after the setback at the hands of the Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr, who described the Ashram with supreme irreverence as a “Butlin Holiday camp”, and left. Butlin were an inexpensive holiday camp in England in the 60s.

To encourage meditative marathons of the kind Prudence was in thrall of, Maharishi would have to find some deterrence for the crows which had multiplied in the ashram foraging on the frugal fare the meditators had carelessly dropped. The challenge for the Maharishi was to keep Chaurasi Kutiya out of bounds for the noisy avians but without resorting to violence.

The trick, suggested by the Ashram manager, Suresh Babu, a close relative of the Guru, was to arm the Sadhus with catapults. The ammunition would be nothing more lethal than paper balls which would scare the crows but not hurt them. White robed Sadhus with catapults on the ready became a comical sight. I am not certain if the trick to deter crows worked, but establishing noiseless serenity around Prudence Farrow’s hut became a high priority with the guru. It was this heightened concern which caused him to visit her hut frequently, giving rise to a rumour that Maharishi made a pass at Prudence. In reality the rumour was a function of Prudence’s fevered imagination.

Mia Farrow was a problem for another reason: she was a compulsive smoker. “Cigarettes only” Suresh Babu would wink. There appeared to be a tacit understanding among the ashramites that if someone was suspected of smoking marijuana, there would be no whistle blowing. But Mia had created a particular problem for Suresh Babu, a meek man in all circumstances. She regularly sat on a chair outside his cottage, wreathed in circles of smoke, causing raised eyebrows among the Sadhus and the more earnest meditators.

Matters came to a head one day when Raghu Singh, my photographer summoned up enough courage to photograph Mia Farrow either lighting a cigarette or making rings with the smoke. The frame would be perfect if Suresh Babu were also in it. Raghu did manage that photograph but at a price: Mia gave him chase screaming “bastard”, past the sleepy Sadhu manning the gate. Raghu would not be allowed in the ashram any more, Suresh Babu announced.

This was easier said than done. The military alertness the battalion of Sadhus had displayed during the first week or so of the Beatles arrival, had given way to a meditative serenity – except for the crowing of crows, I mention elsewhere. The initial hurly burly was over once the reporters and photographers who had laid siege to the ashram, had been successfully turned away. This opened the way for one or two parked outside the ashram, wailing and beating their breast that their “wrecked” lives could only be repaired by Maharishi. They did get in, armed with cameras, and their “wrecked” lives were placed on the fast lane of enormous financial success. They made a killing hawking their Beatles experience in picture and word.

Raghu Singh, on the other hand, never placed any value, on The Beatles story. He didn’t know who they were.

He precipitated the Mia Farrow incident because he had decided, inside himself, that the story was over after the first burst of excitement. This was the continuation of the disinterest I have already mentioned earlier.

Indeed, Raghu Singh’s boss, Raghu Rai, who later evolved as the country’s greatest photographer, never went back to the Ashram, after that first day when he took a historic shot of the Beatles clustered around the Maharishi in the shadow of a large tree. It was a world scoop. Raghu Rai never returned to the ashram because, he said “I had no interest in the Beatles”.

It was due to the encouragement I received from Desmond Doig who, along with his bevy of boys, edited a cult youth magazine, Junior Statesman, that the Beatles assignment was sustained for weeks.

#          #          #          #

Friday, January 19, 2018

Reflecting On Rahul Gandhi And Cow Belt – With Eyes Closed

Reflecting On Rahul Gandhi And Cow Belt – With Eyes Closed
                                                                               Saeed Naqvi

I missed out on the “tumult” these past weeks in circumstances which remind me of Shah Sarmad, the great Sufi saint of Jewish extraction, who wrote:
“I slept through the tumult on Judgement Day.
When I half opened my eyes to see if it was over,
I saw that it was still continuing.
I closed my eyes again and slept.”

Strange, the connections the mind makes. Sarmad’s experience came across to me as a variation on the most serene aasana in yoga called Yoga Nidra. In this aasana, as the body slips into the deepest sleep, consciousness is proportionately sharpened, to a point where the mind can traverse the details of the body, the immediate environment and the universe outside.

The blissful combination of Sarmad and Yoga Nidra fell into my lot, paradoxically, in the care of Dr. Cyrus Shroff, who brilliantly stitched together an injured retina in a two and a half hour surgery and confined me to bed upside down, quite literally, adding a new dimension to my yogic experience.

The new Congress President, Rahul Gandhi in his new Hindu avatar, swam into my ken, wearing an unconvincing janaeu over his jacket and temple hopping with frenetic frequency.

Image projection is much more cosmopolitan in his travels overseas. After his visits to US campuses late last year (Berkeley and Princeton, for instance) escorted by Sam Pitroda and, in segments, by Shashi Tharoor and Sunil Khilnani of the Idea of India fame, Rahul Gandhi turned up for a high powered international meet in Bahrain earlier this month. Similar jamborees are lined up in Singapore in March and, later, in Malaysia, then the UK and so on. Foreign travel has been imaginatively woven into the promotion plans possibly to forestall chances of his taking off on his own to unknown destinations, given his compulsive yen for foreign travel.

No one can grudge him his international itinerary. What has to be watched with some concern, however, is his new Hindu projection. It can be argued that it worked to some extent during the recent Gujarat elections where he diligently steered clear of Muslim groups, localities and even Congress leaders who happened to be Muslim. Indeed even a person of Ahmed Patel’s seniority was advised not to be seen in Rahul Gandhi’s vicinity. Electoral results were not altogether bad. Who knows, the trick of treating Muslims as pariahs might work to some extent in the Hindi belt. Beyond this belt, however, a new makeup will have to be applied to his visage. Will that not raise issues of credibility?

Influential segments of the chatterati are already beginning to place their bets on the new soft saffron. For this lot “secularism” is a political burden because it opens the Congress to the charge of being “Muslim friendly”. This image must be discarded at all costs because it gives Hindutva a handle for communal polarization. The unstated theory is: if the Congress embraces soft Hindutva, the BJP will be left with nothing to oppose?

A pity the residual Congress leadership does not see the dangers of competitive communalism. If this is the way the game is to be played, the polity will continue to shift dangerously towards the far right in the cow belt most certainly.

In this belt, we Urduwallas had placed all our bets on the durability of the Ganga-Jamuni or composite culture which we had forged over centuries of cultural commerce and an overriding love for this land and its soft pastoral tones. I never tire dwelling on Urdu poets having written adoringly on Rama, Krishna, Gokul, Varanasi, Triveni, Koel on a mango perch. Indeed even the Prophet’s birthday was celebrated by Mohsin Kakorvi by describing the clouds floating ecstatically from Kashi to Mathura to catch a glimpse of Krishna.

All of this would have had a chance of surviving had Partition not taken place. I dwell in some detail on this theme in my book “Being The Other: The Muslim in India”.

If Partition could not be avoided, the next best option for all would have been an honest to goodness Hindu Raj: the obvious name for the country would then be “Hindustan” as opposed to “Pakistan”. After the Congress’s unseemly rush to accept Pakistan, (thereby defacto accepting the two nation theory) this should have been the logical next step.

Quite seamlessly we glided from British Raj to Hindu Raj. The problem Congress generated was precisely this: having helped create a Hindu Raj, it proceeded to deny its existence, inciting politics which provoked Hindutva to complete the unfinished business.

Accepting the label, Hindu Raj, it is suggested was against Nehru’s self image. Such a label would also have smacked of the “mofussil” to the thin layer of Macaulay’s elite, clustered around him. Above all, there was that minor matter of Kashmir which could only have been kept in a “secular” state.

An honest bargain could have been struck in a “Hindustan”. I am almost embarrassed to cite Britain as an example. The country is anchored to the Anglican Church, and yet has a Muslim Mayor of London. All religious denominations are in the cabinet (and shadow cabinet). Indeed, at one stage there were four Muslims in the English cricket team. It is a tolerant society where the rule of law applies. Just imagine what a bargain 180 million Muslims would have been able to strike in a “Hindustan”. Conditions for a plural society would have been inherent in an honest arrangement, free of a bogus secularism which today rings like a hollow cliché.

Let me, in my Yoga Nidra state, pull back my consciousness from issues of what “might-have-been”. The current situation is frightening and yet the gloom and doom about fascism having arrived is pre mature. Lift your eyes from the Hindi belt and the perspective changes. The strength for a pluralistic society will come from a multi ethnic, multi linguistic, multi religious federal India, the one pulsating outside the cow belt.

As the only North Indian (and Muslim to boot), who edited a major newspaper covering all the South Indian states with my headquarters in Chennai for full five years, some credit must attach to what I am saying.

#          #          #          #