Friday, November 29, 2019

Pulitzer Prize Winner Resurrects “Oudh” Princes From Delhi’s Malcha Mahal


Pulitzer Prize Winner Resurrects “Oudh” Princes From Delhi’s Malcha Mahal
                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

Ellen Barry of the New York Times walked into my study and, wasting no time, came straight to the point. What did I know about the last “Begum of Oudh”? She had a quizzical, amused look like she knew what the answer would be but would still like to see my expression. The abruptness of the query was her way to establish a point of departure on the theme.

After reading Ellen’s evocative masterpiece on the Oudh (Awadh) Royals in the NYT, I am chastising myself for poor judgement. I dismissed Ellen’s pursuit as a “foreigner’s” quest for the exotic. This was months ago. The story titled “The Jungle Prince of Delhi” appeared last week.

Only after reading the lengthy piece which, in parts, reads like a poem in prose, did I Google Ellen out. She had been the paper’s bureau chief in New Delhi, Moscow, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and so on.

The story of the “Begum”, Princess and the jungle Prince, is a classic case of “news” which, when neither confirmed nor denied, takes root in the popular imagination. Public opinion then drives the government into action to minimize criticism. That is why Indira Gandhi in the early 80s agreed to transfer the “Royals” to a medieval hunting lodge on the ridge. It is known as Malcha Mahal.

In early 70s a woman with sharp aristocratic features, took up residence on platform number one of New Delhi Railway station and proclaimed herself the last Begum of Oudh. For greater credibility, she had in her entourage, two children, a handsome dog and a liveried servant. The mainstream media took perfunctory interest but the Urdu press amplified the fall of the House of Oudh and readers, in enclaves like Jama Masjid, saw it as part of a continuing story of victimhood. Here was tear jerking melodrama: “our royals betrayed”.

It says something of our journalism that a story laden with so much possibility waited unexplored for 40 years until Ellen Barry appeared. She tied up all the loose ends – the railway station Lucknow, Bradford, Texas, Lahore: and what a story she has delivered, a story under our noses but which we failed to see. This is not surprising because even our archaeology was excavated by Europeans. Why, even the Last Moghul, is something of a masterpiece by William Dalrymple. While Dalrymple diligently scoured archives in the fashion of scholarly investigation, the Oudh story was there for all newspapers and channels to see.

True, the story was, on the face of it, “fake” from the beginning. But what shames us, this hack included, is the fact that it required an outsider to tell up why the “fake” was being played out – across the subcontinent and two generations?

Toba Tek Singh in Manto’s story cannot understand how a place, which was in India, can “go” to Pakistan. Like Toba Tek Singh, Begum Wilayat of Oudh also spent time in an asylum for her grand delusion. She had to live with women who were “tied in chains”, Ellen’s investigations reveal for the first time.

Trust Saiyyid Ammar Rizvi, Lucknow’s omnipresent Shia (and gourmet in the classical Awadh mould) to have become something of an intermediary between the Royals and the UP Chief Minister. He must surely know about the other Royal in that splendid city – Prince Moinuddin, who also addresses himself as Bahadur Shah III. The last Moghul Emperor was his great, great grandfather: that is his story. His great grandfather escaped to Kerala. But why did Bahadur Shah III materialize in Lucknow?

The Bahadur Shah story has remained unnoticed because the claimant to the title never made a nuisance of himself. Begum Wilayat Mahal did. When the New Delhi station master requested her to vacate the platform, she threw a fit. She would commit suicide by drinking some exotic poison. In fact when she did die in 1993, her progeny tutored by her for decades, put out the story that, for a decorative expiry, she had swallowed “crushed diamonds”. Her daughter, Sakina’s death was presumably caused by neglect because there were stories of her unwashed hair dropping in matted locks. It was with the “Prince”, variously named as Prince Ali Reza, or Cyrus, who spent his last years in Malcha Mahal, that Ellen struck an equation of tenderness mingled with curiosity. Google her NYT piece titled “The Jungle Prince of Delhi”.

The yarn begins in Lucknow where Wilayat was happily married to the registrar of Lucknow University, Inayatullah Butt. The name itself is a give-away: it is a Sunni name whereas anybody claiming lineage from the Nawabs of Oudh would have to be Shia. A similar story of dubious veracity explains why the Butt’s left for Pakistan. During the high tension of Partition in 1947, Hindus armed with hockey sticks beat Butt up. I can bet my last rupee that the story is false. Yes, there was small-scale stone throwing between Shias and Sunnis on appointed days annually. But Hindu-Muslim violence? Never – until caste politics reared its head in the late 80s.

The last king of Oudh (Awadh), Wajid Ali Shah’s exile to Matia Burj near Kolkata or the more recent Partition of India are disorienting events for those in the thick of it, by historical memory or raw experience. In minds like Wilayat Butt’s the historical memory and immediate experience are all jumbled up in knots.

Ellen believes that disruptions caused by change (Partition for instance) had a great deal to do with the Butt tragedy. A grievance “unaddressed, had metastasized” to become an epic tragedy.

Wilayat was a “mental” as one of her relatives in Lahore said. Ellen has explored the story backwards after she got to know the recluse “Prince Cyrus” in his Malcha Marg hideout. In the end he turned out to be no more than Micky Butt. She writes of their sad delusion:
“It is impossible to know, now that he and his sister are dead, whether they even knew it wasn’t all true.”

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Friday, November 22, 2019

Not Just A Brexit Election: Outcome Will Tilt Global Balance

Not Just A Brexit Election: Outcome Will Tilt Global Balance
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

In a hall somewhere in England, a propagandist for the Tories, a sort of marketing man, is being bombarded by angry citizens on bad schools, bad housing, bad health service. The salesman, wriggling against the wall, furrows his brow and comes up with an explanation. After stuttering a few times, he says:
“The answer to your problems is here, in this very room.” Then, foaming at the mouth on the issue of health services, he points to a young man. “Ali” he blurts out. “It’s all because of him.”

A white man shouts back. “What has Ali got to do with the fact that my mother can’t get a surgery?

Well, there is a shortage of money, says the salesman, “There is too much pressure on the system because of”, stutter, stutter, stutter. “Ali”.

Ali at the back mutters shyly. “But I am a doctor.”

An alert audience has seen vast sums being passed on to a man in a pin stripe suit by the very same salesman. A howl of protest goes up. “You said you had no money.”

“He is the CEO of a major tech company – he is a job creator” says the salesman. Wealthy Corporations need massive tax cuts for this reason, he says.

Boris Johnson and the Tories will ofcourse mount a resounding rebuttal, but they do not seem to have a case which can be encapsulated like Corbyn’s. The Right, it was said, has to make up in style what it lacks in substance. In the British context, The Spectator and The New Statesman were cited as examples of the Right having more head and the Left more heart. But those were days when debate was civilized.

After the collapse of one system represented by the Soviet Union, the victorious system embarked on a mission which did not promote human rights, democracy; it promoted runaway capitalism which, alas slipped and fractured its legs on a bend in 2008. Since this major fracture, capitalism is being made to run on artificial legs. People are “occupying Wall Street”; Mammoth Corporations are mobilizing powerful establishments to thwart the march of people screaming “inequality”.

Liberals, under the Establishment’s “Chhatra-Chhaya” or canopy, begin to show their colours: “Communism” they say. Ed Murrow of CBS News single handedly stopped Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt. Murrow’s was the compassionate, liberal, democratic expression of Journalism.

After the first Boris Johnson – Jeremy Corbyn debate three weeks before the elections, the media commentariat has been even handed. They gave victory to neither. They did not take into account Tories fixing a twitter account to boost debate ratings. This “balance” would appear to be a tilt in favour of Corbyn, because earlier BBC’s political correspondent, Rob Watson, for instance, never mentioned the Labour leader’s name without shrugging his shoulders and wincing. Such gestures would certainly touch the right chords with the establishment that keeps Watson buoyant.

Boris is not exactly an adorable character. He is Prime Minister without having been elected as one. A reputation for lying, inflating expense accounts, making merry with the rich on the Continent, looking lost at airports after late night binges, public quarrels with girlfriend and so much more – all these the establishment will overlook if only Johnson can help abort the Corbyn project. “You can go to Caracas or to your Mullahs” snarled Johnson in Parliament. For Caracas read Hugo Chavez, disciple of Fidel Castro, Communist, enough to invoke the ghost of McCarthy. When Johnson taunts Corbyn about the “Mullahs”, the Labour leader is sought to be cast as one soft on Muslim immigrants, the basic source of terrorism – “Ali” of the clip above.

The only way Capitalism in trauma can fight a progressive politician is to cast him as a “Communist”, anti-Semitic or one negligent of Islamic terrorism. When Johnson handpicked Priti Patel as Home Secretary, he had all these themes in his mind. Consider Patel’s background: as Secretary of State for International Development in Theresa May’s government, she travelled, without any authority, to Israel, meeting Netanyahu’s ministers in pursuance of her own agendas. She was found out and was sacked but Johnson needed just such cloak-and-dagger talent. Recently, when Hindu groups turned upon Corbyn because he was critical of recent actions of the Modi government in Kashmir, informed folks asked: is this Priti’s handiwork? For electoral gains Johnson would not mind Priti Patel (strictly behind the scenes) stoking a little Hindu-Muslim polarization.

Look at the contrast. Corbyn has reached out much more elegantly for sub-continental support. The Labour party has promised in its election manifesto something Indians have been demanding for some time: an official apology for the Jalianwala Bagh massacre.

That is why the December election is not just a Brexit election as the British see it. The outcome will tilt the global balance one way or the other. Two competing forces, in a general sort of way, are Progressivism and an ultra-right global coalition which I call Bannonism.

Even though his stay in the White House as President Trump’s principal adviser was found to be untenable because of his brazenly racist, ultra right views, Steve Bannon has been travelling around the world stitching together Right extremism everywhere under the banner of what he calls the Movement. Trump to Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil), Matteo Salvini, (Italy), Marine Le Pen (France), Nigel Farage (Britain), and the new Rightist eruption in Spain, Vox, under Santiago Abascal have all been embraced by Bannon. Johnson’s victory will strengthen this group of which Narendra Modi’s India too is a part.

At the Progressive end, Podemos is the first communist party to be in a Spanish coalition government. Portugal, Greece, Italy and France have strong Left currents. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are Americans of this bent. This entire formation would take heart from a Corbyn victory. But, beware of establishments which can cause even a conflict to protect a crumbling capitalist order. Nothing can be taken for granted.

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Saturday, November 16, 2019

Ending Temple Politics Will Help Harmonize But Pakistan The Cornerstone


Ending Temple Politics Will Help Harmonize But Pakistan The Cornerstone
                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

It was delusory to imagine that the Ayodhya verdict would bring down the communal temperature, even though Muslims will acquiesce in the judgement after a brief sulk. Ayodhya is part of a much bigger enterprise. It is, to use my favourite image, a case of two interlocking triangles.

The caste triangle, is as old as the hills and which negotiated change across centuries at its own pace, including the phase of conversions to other faiths. The uplift of lower castes was a contentious issue throughout the national movement but a volcanic convulsion erupted only when Hindu interests saw one of their very own, V.P. Singh, subvert the caste structure by implementing the Mandal Commission Report. Western notions of democracy, social justice, upward mobility were being imposed on a uniquely unequal system.

It might have seemed revolutionary to some but it shook Hindu society to the core. The Hindu riposte was quick and powerful. V.P. Singh had introduced the Mandal report on 1 August, 1990. On 25 September 1990 BJP President, L.K. Advani embarked on his Rath Yatra from the Somnath temple in Gujarat to Ayodhya. It was a fiery expedition to mobilize public opinion for the Ram Temple “exactly” on the spot where Ram was born. Indeed, V.P. Singh’s provocation came in handy for Advani to implement the BJP’s resolution adopted at Palampur in June 1989.

In fact Indira Gandhi began to incorporate a touch of saffron in her own politics as became clear from her campaign for Jammu election of 1983 when she pitched the campaign against minority communalism, of the Sikhs in this instance.

Even though Advani raised Ayodhya on an epic scale to neutralize V.P. Singh’s aggravation of caste, a Ram Temple in Ayodhya had been central to Hindu pride from the beginning of the Republic. The first Congress’s Chief Minister of UP, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, “accepted” the installation of the Ram idol under the central dome of Babari masjid on the midnight of December 22-23, 1949. Nehru asked for the idols to be removed but Pant expressed his “inability”. Nehru did not punish Pant for his reluctance. Instead he rewarded him. Pant became Nehru’s handpicked union Home Minister.

When Rajiv Gandhi had the temple locks opened in 1985 to balance his capricious reversal of a Supreme Court order giving alimony to a Muslim widow, he was not acting without any precedent – his own grandfather had will nilly accepted the idol in the mosque. His promise for Ram Rajya on the eve of the 1989 elections was all part of the continuing clamour for a Ram temple. By adopting this plank Rajiv was hoping to attract Hindu votes. The crawl towards the Congress becoming the BJP’s ideological “B” team had begun.

In fact, what Rajiv Gandhi initiated by subterfuge on 14 August, 1989, allowing brick laying ceremony on disputed land, the Supreme Court completed on 9 November 2019. Does the Ayodhya verdict bring about a closure to the conflict? The way the national mood has evolved since 1947, I do not see the Sangh Parivar having completed its agenda. It can be argued that mosques in Kashi and Mathura are equally an affront to Hindu sentiment. I expect these issues coming up down the line, in due course, when required, because Hindutva has not completed its tasks yet.

What are these tasks? One is to curb the rise of caste parties which it sees as a fracture of Hindu society. Remember, the demand for the Mandir entailed the removal of the mosque for which Muslims began to agitate. Spurred by clerics and lawyers, they dug their heels in. Caste leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav spotted an opportunity: they sought to lure the Muslim away from the Congress by posing as protectors of the mosque. On 30 October and 2 November 1990, Mulayam as UP Chief Minister opened fire on kar sevaks, or Hindu volunteers who had assembled in Ayodhya in violation of government orders. Atleast 16 were killed. In hindsight the death of Hindu kar sevaks must be seen as a defining moment. Muslims embraced Mulayam. (Laloo Prasad Yadav does not quite fit in the same way because of a different social structure in Bihar.) But as the Muslim vote drifted towards caste leaders, so did Hindu consolidation receive a shot in the arm. Deepening of the saffron shade, by casting Muslims as the “other”, began to show dramatic results in consolidating Hindus. Straightening the lines of the caste triangle and Hindu consolidation are exactly the same process. Both processes are as of now incomplete. To that extent, the clearance of the path towards a Ram temple is only a milestone.

Narendra Modi appeared on the firmament in Gujarat, later in New Delhi, blessed by the Gods. The post 9/11 global Islamophobia, enhanced the tolerance level for an ever more stark anti-Muslim (anti minority) platform. He gave notice of his intentions in his very first speech in Parliament in May, 2014. We have to overcome “1,200 years of foreign subjugation”. As that delightful Congress leader, the late K.K. Tewari told me: “in his subconscious the Hindu nurses the belief that the Muslim rulers were foreigners.” But Modi is the first leader to say so.

By firmly opposing the two-nation theory but, paradoxically, accepting a theocratic Pakistan next door, the founding fathers muffled the allegations of “double-speak” by their iconic stature as leaders of the independence movement. The incendiary material for communalism left behind by them – Pakistan, Kashmir, Indian Muslim tied to beef, love jihad and terror (the third in the list has been accentuated recently). The triangle has to be consistently on slow fire to keep sufficient saffron in the air for the Parivar to proceed on its tasks.

Can this disharmony ever be phased out? Not by settling Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura alone. What would be required for that epochal outcome would involve resetting the corner stone of the communal edifice relations with Pakistan. That step will open up possibilities in Kashmir and take the heat off Hindu-Muslim relations. But, then, what happens to the project of Hindu consolidation?

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Monday, November 11, 2019

Your Lordships Have Turned Upon A Community In A Daze


Your Lordships Have Turned Upon A Community In A Daze
                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

Your Lordships have turned upon a community in a daze. Altaf Hussain Hali’s verse comes to mind:
“Kisi bekus ko ai bedad gar mara to kya mara?
Jo khud hi mar raha ho usko gar mara to kya mara?”
(What valour is there in turning upon the meek?
Or those who are by themselves running out of life?)

Your mediation effort has provided oxygen to those who are now, quite justifiably, picking holes in what you have delivered as a judgement. This is more grist to the Mill of those in pursuit of the Hindu Rashtra by 2025, centenary of the RSS. By way of digression, let’s reflect on the following:

“Beautiful Aheliya, who had turned to stone because of a curse, came back to her gorgeous self when, you, O’Lord, touched the stone; you transformed one from the animal kingdom into your most trusted, Hanuman; you humanized a demon. When will you ever bestow your boon on me?” The one seeking a boon from Rama is Abdul Rahim Khan e-Khana (1556-1627), one of Moghul Emperor Akbar’s most powerful courtiers and contemporary of Tulsidas, author of Ramayana. What is more, this shloka by Rahim is in Sanskrit. The two were in correspondence on subjects of common interest, including a poetic metre, much favoured by Tulsi –– Barvai chhand.

How would Rahim, a remarkable poet in Awadhi and Sanskrit, have regarded what their Lordships dished out on Ayodhya? Indeed, what would have been the reaction of my mother, who accompanied me to Ayodhya in 1989 to watch the Shilanyas or brick laying ceremony ordered by Rajiv Gandhi? She found Ayodhya a temple-town where a mosque on the ground claimed by Hindus as the birth place of Rama was an “incongruity”.

According to her, a Muslim could spread out his prayer-mat in the direction of Mecca anywhere and say his “namaz”. A Hindu consecrates his “idol”, which then lives in the temple eternally. Muslims must withdraw from the “masjid e fitna”, or a mosque of conflict. Likewise, the Gyanvapi mosque in Kashi and Shahi Idgah in Mathura.

If any Muslim accompanied me to Varanasi, he would require minimal sensitivity to see that the Gyanvapi masjid insults the Hindu. It sits on the shoulder of one of Hinduism’s three most important shrines – Kashi Vishwanath Mandir.

The temple lights must have cast a spell on Urdu’s finest poet, Mirza Ghalib. He wrote his longest poem “Chiragh e dair”, “Mandir ka diya”, or the Lamp in the Temple. He wrote:
“Ibadat khana e naqoosian ast
Hama na kaabay e Hindostan ast”
(This is the place of worship for those who make music from conch shells
This, truly is the Kaaba of Hindustan)

No description of Kashi Viswanath would be complete without the strains of Bismillah Khan’s Shehnai. The first Independence Day celebrations in 1947 at the Red Fort would certainly have been incomplete without the strains of Kafi from the very same Shehnai.

Against the backdrop of so much cultural commerce and adoration for the land, its civilization one learnt to discard the warts of history. Yes, mosques in Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura would hurt Hindus in perpetuity, some of us have long believed. But it is extremely difficult for a community, sliding down a slope of status reversal to check its trajectory and scream: “We want to be generous; gift those three to the Hindus.” But they can be guided by deft messaging and an open minded leadership, not middlemen hawking religion.

At this stage, I hope I will be forgiven if I break a confidence. Sri Sri Ravishankar of the Art of Living, led the trio appointed by the Supreme Court to explore possible mediation between the parties to the Ayodhya dispute. He is someone I have known. I shared with him my sense of how Muslims feel.

First, the anti-Muslim slant on most channels pushes the community into their laagar, not the best corner from where to consider compromises. The post 9/11 Islamophobia provides a canopy under which regional anti Muslim bias finds oxygen.

Secondly, there is no uniform profile of an Indian Muslim – Mapilla in Kerala, Labbai in Tamil Nadu, Bengali Muslims would have a response on Ayodhya many shades different from the Muslims impaled in the cow belt. But, even so, if the self-appointed leaders of Muslims can somehow be circumvented, there may be traction for new ideas. Some well-meaning friends discussed an audacious idea: supposing a comprehensive opinion poll was undertaken to gauge what compromise formula would be acceptable to all sides, Muslims particularly.

Muslims have learnt the hard way that, by digging their heels in for the mosque, they have provided the exact foil for Hindutva to catapult itself into the stratosphere. Each time the known pro mosque enthusiasts raise their voices, the media finds just the decibel level to help harden the saffron that much more.

The trick of casting Muslims as the foil for saffronizing the atmosphere has advanced Hindutva to a stunning 353 seats in a Lok Sabha of 543. So successful has the strategy been in the context of Ayodhya that the BJP would have to be as inept as the Congress not to pitch its Hindutva even higher.

The march towards Hindu Rashtra has quickened but sensible folk have not given up. They are still talking of compromises. The ailing cleric, Saiyid Kalbe Sadiq has repeatedly said, “Muslims should gift the land for the temple even if they win the case.” This mood of generosity and compromise would have been encapsulated for the opinion poll on which my friend, pollster Ranjit Chib had already started working. Unavoidable constraints came in the way.

Your Lordships have frozen the spirit of generosity which was stirring in Muslim enclaves. You have commanded them to acquiesce not urged them to give. People were working towards a happier conclusion. What was so sacrosanct about the deadline for the judgement? Was it choreographed to coincide with the Kartarpur corridor event? A little more time would have gone a long way towards making the right kind of history.

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Friday, November 1, 2019


Many Uses Of Al Baghdadi: Why Did They Kill Him?
                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

In these dark days when terrorism has become a strategic asset, to bump off a superior practitioner like Abu Bakr al Baghdadi has implications. Had he begun to serve the interests not of his original handlers but, possibly, their rivals? Has he been eliminated at all? Does his disappearance leave unprotected those oil wells, which his gang or his patrons profited from? Is the drama in murky light, a bait to drag President Trump back to the West Asian arena which he is militarily withdrawing from? From the very beginning, Syria was at the heart of the conflict between Trump and the Deep State which is now accepted even by the New York Times.

In fact, NYT’s Establishment columnist Thomas Friedman, while applauding the killing of the ISIS, reveals which side he is on in the Trump-Deep State conflict. He notes, satirically, how “effusive Trump was of the intelligence agencies who found and tracked al Baghdadi to the lair in Syria where he blew himself up to avoid being captured.”

Friedman then gives vent to the bile he has accumulated against Trump for having been at cross purposes with the Deep State Friedman so obviously adores. “Well, Mr. President, those are the same intelligence agencies who told you that Russia intervened in our last election in an effort to tip the vote to you and against Hillary Clinton.” What does this line of reasoning mean?

When history is written, Trump will be faulted on a hundred counts, and severely. But it would be uncharitable not to note one truth about him: Trump is the only President in recent history who tried to end military conflicts the US was involved in and who did not start a conflict. There have been 13 military conflicts in recent decades costing $18 trillion, by some estimates.

The Baghdadi image did have its uses. The last time his photograph appeared on front pages of newspapers was after the Easter Sunday massacre in Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 21. On TV too Baghdadi was shown claiming the massacre as “revenge” for attack on a mosque in New Zealand. French experts, among others, soon established that it was a fraudulent clip – a voice had been super imposed on his visage.

Which outfit would like to stir up a conflict between Sri Lanka’s two frail minorities – Muslims and Christians? New Delhi alerted Colombo as early as April 4, that a major terrorist attack can be expected. How did New Delhi know?

At this time Sri Lanka was sharply divided between two camps: President Maithripala Sirisena had embraced China’s Road and Belt Initiative; Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was in convulsions to sign the (SOFA) Status of Forces Agreement with the US before the next general elections.

A puzzle remains. The island nation is at the centre of fierce competition between a rising China and a retreating US for influence in the Indian Ocean. Over 300 people are killed; 500 injured. Among those killed are Chinese Marine engineers. Hotels attacked have Chinese links. Whodunit?

There were stories about Saudis leaving because they had advance knowledge. Supposing the al Baghdadi clip claiming the massacre had been borne out by facts, which direction would the needle of suspicion point to? Islamic terror? What purpose would that narrative serve?

Looking for simple answers would not help. A small island nation, just recovering from a vicious civil war, would be shaken up by the sheer scale of the massacre, warranting the appearance of intelligence agencies from everywhere – US, UK, Israel, Australia, India. An initial pooling in of intelligence would lead to a penetration of systems until the benefactors achieve their hallowed goal: place roadblocks in the way of the Road and Belt project.

That may or may not have been the plan but police sniffer dogs found something extraordinary while walking through the Jaic Hilton hotel. The dogs stopped in front of an apartment and would not stop barking.

The management cited some difficulties in opening that apartment, national security or no national security. After considerable time had lapsed, two persons claiming to be with the US embassy turned up. In the room were two “explosive detectors”. The detectors, said the two men, were for their personal security. Just look at the cockiness of this stance. They ignored the obvious fact: dogs would only bark if the detectors had been in touch with explosives. These details are part of the investigations conducted by Dr. Michael Roberts of the University of Adelaide.

Those who tried to foist the tragedy on al Baghdadi were obviously embarrassed. But even a fraudulent use of the ISIS chief was possible when he was still theoretically alive. He may be missed. Even NYT’s Friedman, I have quoted earlier, had recommended that al Baghdadi can be creatively used in the American interest. He advises Trump not to waste his time fighting the ISIS. He wants “Trump to be Trump – utterly cynical and unpredictable.” He continues, “Trump should let ISIS be Assad’s, Iran’s, Hezbullah’s and Russia’s headache.”

Friedman has not cooked up the theory of terrorism as a strategic asset on his own. He has acquired this wisdom from leaders, including US Presidents like Barack Obama. In the course of a lengthy interview in August, 2015, he asked Obama a very pertinent question. When ISIS first reared its head in Mosul a year ago, why did the President not immediately bomb it out of existence?

Obama stated quite plainly: “we did not just start taking a bunch of air strikes all across Iraq because that would have taken the pressure off Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki.” Obama’s priority was not the elimination of the founder of the Caliphate. His priority was to exert pressure on Nouri al Maliki to vacate the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office. Why? Because Maliki was “brazenly” pro Shia and had refused to sign the Status of Forces Agreement with the US. Obama’s “one-two” (to use a term from boxing) worked. US pressure, and al Baghdadi’s menacing presence at the gates of Iraq’s capital, helped ease Maliki out.

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Friday, October 25, 2019

Choice Before BJP: Hindu Rashtra Demands One Course, Elections Another


Choice Before BJP: Hindu Rashtra Demands One Course, Elections Another
                                                                                         Saeed Naqvi

After the Maharashtra, Haryana elections, when I reverted to friends and acquaintances, my personal pool for an opinion survey, a majority heaved a sigh of relief. This was at variance from the response of this very group during the 2019 Lok Sabha election. There was an unnerving consensus for Narendra Modi. Why? I had asked then. “Well, the Hindu sentiment” said a very friendly member of my welfare association.

Now that the BJP is diminished, why this sigh of relief? Mixing up “pride” in Hinduism with demonstrable “arrogance” of Hindutva power may be the cardinal mistake the Modi-Amit Shah duet have made.

Ultranationalism will give a platform an initial boost to take-off but ultranationalism cannot be sustained over long distances. Boosters en route to stoke nationalist temperature will begin to look like the handiwork of tricksters. One surgical strike on Pakistani terror camps will work wonders in one set of elections. But repeat it on the eve of another election and folks will screw up their noses: “again?” There is, in other words a decline in credibility as frequency of requirement for nationalism “boosters” increases. In fact even article 370 turned out to be a dud cartridge in this electoral round.

The Congress will be justified in taking heart from the results, but it will have to accept many qualifications. Its relatively decent performance in both the states is despite the Gandhi family. That is a problem congressmen do not like to talk about: how do they discard a dynasty?

Remember how Haryana strongman Bhupinder Singh Hooda inaugurated the Haryana campaign while the party high command, Hamlet like, was sunk in thought. Whether he forms the government or not, on this electoral showing, Hooda is looking a much taller Congressman than, say, Ahmad Patel, Anand Sharma, Ghulam Nabi Azad, etcetera.

In Maharashtra, the Congress is having to digest a principle it refused to accept during the Lok Sabha elections. It refused to be a junior partner to Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati in UP, to Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi, or Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. Instead of joining them, on whatever terms available, to fight the BJP, it turned upon them, hoping to come up trumps. I heard the BJP sing in chorus: “With such enemies, who needs friends.” The Congress was clobbered in the three states.

I wonder what the “janeudhari” Brahmin, Rahul Gandhi is upto these days other than temple hopping? (Or, has he given up the practice). Two cameos come to mind. There was Rahul, flanked by Ashok Gehlot and Randeep Surjewala, addressing a post campaign press conference on the fifth floor of Ahmedabad’s Radisson Blue hotel. Someone asked where was the senior most Gujarati Congressman, Ahmad Patel? He had been advised not to appear at the press conference. His presence might give BJP the ammunition to polarize the vote.

The Supreme Court judgment on Sabrimala lifted the ban on women of childbearing age to enter the shrine. The RSS smacked its lips. Here was an issue of “aastha”, faith. The cadres would whip up an almighty frenzy if an abiding tradition was breached by the Supreme Court. Congress, which had initially supported the judiciary found the Hindu card alluring. So, helped by nimble footed leaders like Shashi Tharoor, the Congress recalibrated its stand until it was indistinguishable from the RSS position. The CPM Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan stood his ground, mobilized the Ezhavas and so badly undercut the RSS’s very own Nair Service Society, that he became unbeatable in two elections where the Nairs were once powerful.

What should the Congress do other than give up? It can call an All India Congress session and hold elections to elect its various bodies including the Congress Working Committee. It does not adopt this obvious route because the spectre of the Tirupati session in 1993 haunts it. P.V. Narasimha Rao heard those results in glum silence. His arch rival Arjun Singh had polled the largest number of votes, followed by Rajesh Pilot, Sharad Pawar, a slate bereft of Brahmins except for the Prime Minister’s Secretary, Jitendra Prasada. The results were promptly annulled.

There are plenty of wise men in the Congress who, alas, have brought the party to this sorry pass. Some ideas can be tossed up: hold party elections followed by a conclave to chart out a new, realistic course for the party. It must give up its dream of “reviving” to the glory it began to lose as early as 1967, when eight states had non Congress governments. Now, by its own ineptitude, its mimicking of the Hindu platform, it has caused the BJP’s dramatic ascent, indeed, dominance. Its first task should be to strengthen regional forces – exactly as it has done with Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra. Its perspective should be a larger federation of regional parties. It will be federalism that will check the phenomenal rise of the BJP. That is the only way to whittle down the idea of a unitary system.

A contributory fact for exposing the BJP’s vulnerability has been rural distress, unemployment, nervousness on collapsing banking system, all functions of neo liberal economic policies mingled with a swadeshi urge – neither here nor there. The Congress must consult progressive economists to give shape to a left of centre platform, without which distributive justice is not possible in a country which is now globally accepted as 102 in the Global Hunger Index.

Have these results been accepted by the opposition without grumbling about the ruling party’s capacity to manipulate EVMs? Not really, because at least 850 EVM related complaints have been registered with the state election commission. But there is no evidence of a combined opposition movement to abandon EVMs in favour of paper ballots.

Has the Hindutva brigades trot towards its transformational agenda of a Hindu Rashtra by 2025, centenary of the RSS, been retarded by these results? There is Kashmir and Ram Temple yet to be played, but how and when? Election results demand one course, Hindu Rashtra another.

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Friday, October 18, 2019

Prophet Mohammad at Hudaybiyyah: Lesson For Muslims Coping With Ayodhya?


Prophet Mohammad at Hudaybiyyah: Lesson For Muslims Coping With Ayodhya?
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

Should the Supreme Court verdict enable the building of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Muslim fears about the security of mosques in Kashi and the Idgah in Mathura would appear to have been taken care of by the Places of Worship Act of 1991. The act spells out that all places of worship “except Ayodhya” will be maintained and respected as they were in 1947. Assurances, however, have value only when there is rule of law which has been a retreating value in recent years. In these circumstances what is the wise course for the Muslims to adopt when the Ayodhya verdict is delivered before November 17?

Already, intemperate whispers are afloat that should the verdict favour the Mandir some members of All India Muslim Personal Law Board would go in appeal. Years ago, a radically different way out for Muslims was spelt out by my mother, Atia Naqvi. She had accompanied me to Ayodhya not specifically to watch the brick laying ceremony in August, 1989, but to be able to spend time with me because soon after the Ayodhya assignment I would catch the flight to New Delhi from Lucknow where she lived.

She made three observations: First, she found a mosque on a high ground jarring in a patently Hindu, temple town. Secondly, by her understanding of Muslim names, Mir Baqi, who is supposed to have built the mosque, was quite clearly a Shia. Why then was there no agitation in the Shia enclaves of Lucknow? And finally, and most importantly, if the Hindu had claimed it to be the birth place of Ram, why had the Muslim raised their objection to the highest pitch. Let me try to quote her verbatim from memory:
“A Muslim can spread out his prayer-mat anywhere facing the Kaaba and say his “namaz” (prayer). A Hindu consecrates the idol which is then alive eternally for worship.”

It is not wise for Muslims to argue against the Hindu claim that Ram Lalla was born under what became the central dome of the mosque, now demolished. What archaeologists say is, in political terms, not as important as what the vast majority of people have been induced to repose absolute faith in. Since this faith is being exploited by political interests towards their agenda of “Hindu Rashtra”, the Muslim opposition to this transformational plan provides grist to the Hindutva mill. It enables Hindutva to sharpen Muslim-Hindu polarization on an even larger scale.

The boost from two BJP seats in 1984 in Parliament to 350 now would not have been possible without the Muslims having been ensnared into opposing the agenda. This posture of Muslim ironically, served Hindutva’s purpose.

Muslims were first led into faulty politics by Syed Shahabuddin, a brilliant officer of the Indian Foreign Service whom Atal Behari Vajpayee, as Foreign Minister in the first Janata government (1977-80) handpicked as a “Muslim” face of the Janata Party. Shahab fell into the trap of wanting to be a leader of Indian Muslims rather than being a “Muslim leader”. Communal polarization is built into the approach. Little wonder he found himself digging his heels in for the mosque when the Ayodhya dispute erupted. The VHP, BJP had reheated an old issue as a strategy to neutralize V.P. Singh’s promotion of caste forces in the Hindi belt. L.K. Advani’s Rath Yatra was intended to serve more than one purpose: to contain the ogre of casteism let loose by V.P. Singh and to accentuate the anti Muslim slant of the BJP. This is where Shahab’s fierce opposition helped the BJP. What Advani initiated has spiraled into the stratosphere which is where the BJP today is.

I must, ofcourse, add in parenthesis, that Shahab was far from being communal. He was a deeply religious gentleman. In amoral politics, devoid of honesty, such a person can easily be cast as “communal” by those on an agenda of majoritarianism. Shahab had the honesty to recognize his naiveté and withdraw from politics.

Shahab did not have the “tact” which Justice Sibqat Ullah Khan stressed in his 2010 Allahabad High Court Judgment on Ayodhya. Justice Khan gave the example of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah which prophet Mohammad signed with the hostile tribe of Quraysh in 628AD. It had been six years since the prophet and his followers had left Mecca for Medina.

After these years, the Prophet with a caravan of 1,000 men on his way to Mecca for Haj reached Hudaybiyyah. Quraysh had made it known that they would block Muslim entry to Mecca. The Prophet consulted his companions: should the caravan return to Medina or proceed, risking a battle? Intermediaries carried messages back and forth. All that the Muslims wanted was to perform Haj at Mecca. This, the Quraysh were determined to prevent. Eventually a truce was agreed upon. Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, drafted a treaty. The prophet dictated that it was a treaty between “Mohammad, the Prophet of Allah, and Quraysh”. Interlocutors for Quraysh objected. They did not recognize him as God’s prophet. Ali, his cousin, refused to drop the preamble. The Prophet intervened and himself deleted the phrase, thus paving the way for a Treaty which declared a truce between the two sides.

The terms of the treaty were considered a surrender. For instance, despite the compromise, Muslims would not be allowed to perform Haj that year. Next year they could, provided they stayed in Mecca for only three days and so on.

In modern military terms, the treaty turned out to be a sort of tactical retreat, because in a matter of a few years Muslims had conquered Mecca. At this stage, the story becomes a parable.

What “conquest” was Justice Khan recommending? If you study Hudaybiyyah as a parable alongside some of Iqbal’s couplets which Justice Khan so aptly quotes, his message becomes clear: “communal disharmony” is what has to be conquered.

But that precisely is what majoritarianism does not want. Its meteoric rise since 2014 is based on polarization and more polarization.

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