Friday, January 24, 2020

Reflection On Partition As Government Opens Wounds On Citizenship


Reflection On Partition As Government Opens Wounds On Citizenship
                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

Since the word “Partition” has figured in the discourse on CAA, NCR, NPR the mind turns towards Maulana Azad, who was so fiercely opposed to the country’s division. By a coincidence, next month, February 22, happens to be the 61st death anniversary of Maulana Azad. Exactly 30 years after that date those 30 precious pages of “India Wins Freedom” were taken out of the National Archives which the Maulana had kept away so that all his contemporaries were not around to face embarrassment from the exposures, if any, contained in those pages.

And there were embarrassments galore. The Intelligentsia and the ruling class was disinclined to give much credence to what the Maulana wrote. The absence of debate after the publication of the “complete” edition of “India Wins Freedom” in 1988 was deafening. Nor were threads picked up subsequently in the interest of history. For instance the Maulana’s assertion that, towards, the end of the negotiations with the British, Sardar Patel appeared to be more convinced of the two-nation theory than Jinnah, deserves to be noted. Rebut it, if need be. To avoid the brutalities which followed the announcement of the Partition plan, an idea was mooted to keep the British Army united.

As a temporary measure, it seemed a sensible idea. But to the Maulana’s surprise, most adamantly opposed to a United Army “even for a day” was the arch pacifist Rajendra Prasad. His opposition was conditioned by a fear that a United Army would remain an “unfinished” business of Partition. And who knows how long this “unfinished business” would linger. What if a United Army becomes a pressure point for reversing Partition? The eagerness to hold onto Partition is manifest in the behaviour of a long list of leaders. The Maulana describes in detail how Sardar Patel had convinced even Mahatma Gandhi that Partition was the best course under the circumstances.

Just as it is today, Assam was the key state in focus in 1946-47. The crucial role it is playing today in the CAA, NRC discourse is not surprising. Fired by sub nationalism and cultural pride, Chief Minister Gopinath Bordoloi enlisted Mahatma Gandhi’s support in rejecting the Cabinet Mission proposal yoking Assam with Bengal in what was described as zone C in the Mission’s plan. The country was to be stabilized under groups: A, B and C.

The Cabinet Mission’s was the last effort to keep India united. It was endorsed by the Congress on July 7, 1946. But two surprising events made Partition inevitable. One was Assam’s firm rejection of being grouped with Bengal. It feared then as it does now, of being inundated with migration. Second was the new Congress President, Jawaharlal Nehru’s fateful press conference in Mumbai on July 10. Nehru declared that all that had been agreed with the Cabinet Mission and Jinnah, would have to be ratified by a constituent assembly. This stipulation was not in the agreement. Little wonder Jinnah picked up the marbles and walked out of the game. Partition became inevitable.

The Maulana’s opposition to Partition was absolute. He was eloquent about the cultural commerce of over 1,100 years which he always described as his heritage. “We handed over our wealth to her (Bharat) and she unlocked for us the door of her own riches.” He was unambiguous: “Partition would be unadulterated Hindu Raj.” In the light of experience, was he wrong? Was Partition the Congress’s gift to the Hindu right? A Muslim country next door to be hated in perpetuity. An unresolved problem of Muslim majority Kashmir. A 200 million Muslim population – a lethal mix for dedicated Hindu Rashtra Bhakts – all under the canopy of global Islamophobia.

If Pakistan was so much against the interests of Muslims themselves as the Maulana never tired of saying, why should such a large section of Indian Muslims be swept away by its lure? The Maulana’s response to this query was unique:
“The answer is to be found in the attitude of certain communal extremists among the Hindus. When the Muslim League began to speak of Pakistan, they (Hindus) began to read into the scheme a sinister pan Islamic conspiracy. They opposed the idea out of the fear that it foreshadowed a combination of Indian Muslims with trans-Indian Muslim states. This fierce opposition acted as an incentive to the adherents of the League. With simple though untenable logic, they argued that if Hindus were so opposed to Pakistan, surely, it must be of benefit to Muslims. Reason was impossible in an atmosphere of emotional frenzy thus created.” Is the ogre of three Muslim majority states a continuation of the line the Maulana had spotted 75 years ago?

He was convinced that the “chapter of communal differences was a transient phase of Indian Life.” “Differences would persist just as opposition among political parties will continue but, it will be based not on religion but on economic and political issues.”

Nehru’s last interview with Arnold Michaelis in May, 1964, shortly before his death is revealing. First, he dismisses Jinnah almost as a non entity in the freedom struggle. “He was not in the fight for freedom.” In fact the Muslim League was set up by the British to “Divide us”. He said he, like Gandhiji and others, were opposed to Partition. “Then why did you accept Partition?” Michaelis asks. Nehru’s reply is cryptic.

“I decided it was better to part than to have constant trouble.” The trouble Nehru refers to was clearly the continuous bickering between the Congress and Muslim League in the interim government of 1946. Obviously Nehru was exasperated by the apparent incompatibilities in the interim government. While giving vent to his exasperation, did India’s first Prime Minister spare a thought for the minorities, primarily Muslims, 200 million at current reckoning who were riveted on him as their leader. Maulana Azad spelt out exactly what their fate would be. And surprising though it is, the Maulana was nowhere near Nehru’s charismatic hold on a community which learnt only in retrospect that they had been let down by the leader they adored.

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Friday, January 17, 2020

New Idea Of India: Secularism Of Common Aspirations Takes Shape


New Idea Of India: Secularism Of Common Aspirations Takes Shape
                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

“Majrooh uthi hai mauje saba
Aasaar liye toofanon ke
Har qatra-e-shabnam bun jaaye
Ek mauj-e-rawan, kuchh door naheen”
(The morning breeze is deceptive; it is actually a storm in the making.
Who knows, even dew drops will acquire the power of torrents.)

Make allowance for poetic license, but the mood that the protest movement against CAA, NRC, NPR has maintained this past month would have thrilled the stalwarts of the Progressive Writers’ Movement of which Majrooh Sultanpuri and Faiz Ahmad Faiz were key figures. In fact Faiz’s poem “Hum Dekhenge”, has clearly become the movement’s signature song. By singing the Kannada version at the Bengaluru Town Hall, M.D. Pallavi may well have inaugurated a trend in cultural commerce. Faiz in Maithili, Bhojpuri has percolated down to villages and hamlets.

Since the movement has kept political parties at a distance, it is becoming possible for diverse elements of civil society to embrace it. Even the most conservative groups have accorded hospitality to Faiz. The dominant song at a social event of High Court judges, which I attended was “Hum Dekhenge”. No movement on this scale has so spontaneously spread across the length and breadth of the country.

That the unprovoked police attack on students huddled over their books at the Jamia Library ignited the agitation is common knowledge. How the videography and transmission of live visuals of the brutality disturbed the nation has a small story attached to it. It was entirely the imagination of Anwar Jamal Kidwai who, as Vice Chancellor, inaugurated the Institute of Mass Communications at Jamia in 1982. Bollywood, theatre, Doordarshan and countless of channels were all manned substantially by students trained at Jamia.

Since the Institute of Mass Com is the university’s flagship, students across the campus are familiar with its students and, by association, with videography. This explains the high quality footage of the events of Jamia which fired the nation’s imagination.

There has always existed a shade of uninstitutionalized apartheid, a wariness in visiting colonies and ghettos across communal lines. Every year during Ramadan I face, not resistance, but a lazy reluctance from friends to visit Jama Masjid to share the festive atmosphere. I have so far failed. For one “sehri” or the meal at dawn after which the fasting begins, I personally ferried Swami Agnivesh and Lord Meghnad Desai.

At the other end of New Delhi, the image of Batla House near Jamia has been sketched on our minds by the electronic media as a combat zone where encounters take place. To correct that image, visit the nearby Shaheen Bagh today.

Breaking down the apartheid of the mind has been a singular achievement of the televised nationwide protests led by students and youth. Another stereotype the protests have shattered is an image of cloistered Indian women, those in hijab and the ones in more cosmopolitan gear. Indeed, a heartwarming fact has been the leadership provided by women – articulate, dignified and focused. Standing upright for the National anthem mornings and evenings at Shaheen Bagh, and reading the preamble to the constitution like they had erstwhile read a religious texts all of this is exhilarating, particularly after a depressing 2019.

The secularism this movement promises has on its visage a refreshing sincerity, compared to the stale, withered tokenism of recent decades. The secularism of a common struggle and aspirations is what India’s first war of independence had set into motion in 1857. With the British in control, the freedom movement never quite rediscovered that élan. Post Partition, a pall hung over the practice of secularism – a situation promoted and exploited by politicians. The current youth movement transcends gender, community, caste and language. It is defined by its simplicity, absence of pretense, and hypocrisy. It stands out like a lotus in a pond of murky politics.

The lotus must retain its pristine purity. The movement must remain aloof from the discredited political formations. Only then will it gather momentum. The critical mass will then grow. The movement’s demands, because they are honest, have already caused politicians to ponder. Look, how protection of democracy and the Constitution have become the centre piece of all discourse.

Since all social and economic strata are joining the movement, a resounding call for social justice is unlikely to invite a caste/class backlash. The movement will have to be sensitive to that call. Sectarian nationalism will have to slowly give way to what Tilak and Maulana Hasrat Mohani meant by “Swaraj” which embodied a notion of “sovereignty” which had a powerful anti imperial thrust. Since the initial tussle has been with a formation committed to a unitary system, the idea of federalism will automatically creep into a renewed idea of India as protests grow.

The Sangh Parivar must be baffled by the upsurge. The RSS-BJP combine completely mixed up religious fervour with communalism. Religious fervour was mollified once the Supreme Court permitted the construction of the Ram temple. In a sense, the bird that laid the saffron egg was dead.

The Modi-Shah duet are under all sorts of pressure. The Congress Chief Minister of Chattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel has, in an interview to NDTV, set the cat among the pigeons: the contradictory statements on, say, the NRC are a function of a growing divide between Modi and Shah, he says. Uddhav Thackeray, meanwhile, has compared, police action in JNU and Jamia with the November 25, 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai. The BJP will, ofcourse, extract comfort from the opposition disarray. A coherent opposition is only possible if the Congress house ever acquires some order. This can only happen if the party leadership takes courage in its hands and holds elections to all key posts. A fixation on the Gandhi parivar will remain a huge road block to opposition unity. The opposition, sandwiched between a weakening BJP and a growing youth movement, will seek salvation in the regions. Federalism will be strengthened, which is just as well.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2020


After Soleimani: The Cost-Benefit For US, Israel, Saudi And Iran
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

When Donald Trump did not take even arch ally, the UK, into confidence when Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani was murdered, how prepared the US would have been for an expanded military engagement? The Iranian missile attacks on a range of US bases are a straightforward retaliation: bases from where attack on Soleimani was launched have been targeted. The conflict so far has been contained.

Ofcourse, the US is in readiness. Already, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean is being readied, which will pose a few questions for New Delhi, exactly of the nature that Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar faced during Operation Desert Storm. Chandra Shekhar allowed US bombers to refuel on their way to Iraq.

Even as the post cold war world transited to the post 9/11 Islamophobia, New Delhi, by choice and circumstance, held firmly onto American coat tails, even putting up with an insult or two. Pakistan, and not India, was first incorporated into the global war on terror. US Ambassador Robert Blackwill was terse: “Your’s is an old regional quarrel with Pakistan; that country is partnering us in our global war on terror.” Only after December 13, 2001 attack on Indian Parliament, did New Delhi become a bonafide “victim of terror”. It was a strange triangle: New Delhi and Islamabad were not on talking terms, but both were yoked in the US led war on terror.

This was the state of play when in April 2003, George W Bush was pushed into occupying Iraq by his neo-con drum beaters sketching designs of “full spectrum dominance” in the New American century. It was all very tempting when the Americans invited New Delhi to be their partners in Iraq which was now “theirs”. A section of South Block was having orgasms at the prospect. India was being invited to be an occupying power in Iraq’s Kurdish north. Atal Behari Vajpayee as Prime Minister put his foot down: it was a foolish idea.

The real author of the Iraq expedition, Vice President Dick Cheney choreographed his victory speech on April 9, 2003 to synchronize with the pulling down of Saddam Hussain’s statue at Baghdad’s Palestine Square. The celebrating Iraqis did not appear.

In desperation, Americans contacted Shia clerics like Muqtada Sadr. The cleric was an iconic figure in a Shia ghetto north of Baghdad named Saddam city. Muqtada Sadr it was who mobilized Shia’s to come out in celebration, beating Saddam’s photographs with chappals even as the marines pulled down the statue with cranes. In deference to this act, the occupying power renamed Saddam city as Sadr city.

This is how intimate the US’s relations have been with the mercurial cleric from the beginning of the occupation. These relations have fluctuated from mutual dependence to total hostility. A nationalist to the bones, Sadr would welcome help from someone like Qassem Soleimani but would be uncomfortable if Soleimani’s Iranian charisma overwhelmed his.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi was someone Defence Secretary Mark Esper consulted half an hour before the assassination. “I advised him against the decision” Mahdi revealed. But “half an hour” in the circumstances, was eternity. He could have alerted Soleimani’s convoy. Why did he not?

In the convoy was also Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis the Deputy Head of Hashd al Shaabi, or Iraq’s popular mobilization, which has the sanction of Grand Ayatullah Ali Sistani in Najaf. It reflect on American caprice that in 2005 Sistani was a figure of adoration in the US establishment. In March of that year Thomas Friedman of the New York Times had proposed the Nobel Peace Prize for Sistani in his column titled “A Nobel for Sistani”.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was clearly Soleimani’s eyes and ears in Iraq. But he was only the second in command of the Hashd. Where was the leader of the Hashd, Falih al Fayyadh? Last month he had made a surprise visit to Washington to meet Defence Secretary Esper, the very same person who alerted Prime Minister Mahdi about the action which killed Soleimani, Muhandis and a host of others.

The information obtained by Esper directly may have encouraged him to believe that the anti American line up in Iraq was a divided house. Even Muqtada Sadr’s visit to Riyadh some months ago would have been taken into this calculus.

The consequence is that the assassination-in-a hurry has united even disparate forces in Iran, Iraq and the larger West Asia. It left Europe dazed, Britain embarrassed and the rest of the world wondering as to what would happens next. The only country to have expressed support for the action is Israel. And Israel is on notice by the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah. An attack on Hezbollah from any of the players, in the region or beyond, would be an invitation to Hezbollah to retaliate “massively” on Israel.

Incidentally, New Delhi has been in interaction with Falih al Fayyadh. He arranged for the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis to be affiliated with al Nahran Centre for Strategic Studies in Baghdad. Studies by IDSA will surely augment the pool South Block will require to shape a consistent policy.

Soleimani caused extreme discomfort to the US, Israel, Saudi combine not because he was plotting military actions. He was hated because by knitting together powerful proxies on the periphery of Israel and Saudi Arabia he had defeated the strategic faultline invented by US-Israeli strategists. Palestinian issue had lost salience gloated the new theorists. Sunni Shia was the new strategic faultline. With the inauguration of the Kuala Lampur summit of Islamic countries, and the winning lineup in West Asia, US and its allies look increasingly cornered and isolated. In this Soleimani had a decisive role as he did in defeating ISIS much to the chagrin of those who had begun to see terror groups as an asset to be relocated from one theatre of conflict to the other.

Once the dust settles, Soleimani in his death will be seen to have achieved something he strove for: US departure from Iraq. A US field commander’s letter leaked to Reuters suggests plans for an exit strategy.

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Friday, January 3, 2020


Soleimani’s Murder: It Is Building Upto A Terrible Crescendo In West Asia
                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

The assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani by US airstrikes in Iraq, brings West Asia nearer the precipice. By this action, President Trump, who cannot get out of Afghanistan, has got himself deeper into the West Asian Quagmire. Americans know power and strategy. They don’t understand a quantity called the people. This gap in their make up has been their undoing in every outing since Vietnam.

Soleimani was the author of growing Iranian influence in the region – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. In Iraq, he was supported by Hashd al Shaabi and Kataib Hezbullah. Their leaders were iconic figures too. Soleimani was a regional hero in not only helping defeat Daesh (ISIS), Al Qaeda and Jabhat al Nusra, but also placing the US, Israeli, Saudi combine on the defensive. He did this by building local forces in all the countries under his influence. He had paid special attention to Iraq, particularly after the appearance of the Islamic State in Mosul in 2014, from where it began to hurtle down towards Baghdad with the explicit purpose of affecting regime change in the Iraqi capital. This, in effect, meant the removal of Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki whom the Americans labeled as a “fundamentalist” who was augmenting Shia influence in Iraq at the expense of Sunnis who, though a minority, wielded great influence as Saddam Hussain’s Ba’athist Revolutionary Guards, Army, Intelligence and bureaucracy.

After the occupation of Iraq by the US in April 2003, a section of the Americans toyed with the idea of pampering the Ba’athists into supporting the occupation. But Iraqi “operators” (call them leaders if you must) like Ahmed Chalabi, close to the Dick Cheney-Donald Rumsfeld, neo cons, persuaded them to another course – that of disbanding the Ba’athist structure lock-stock-barrel. This was honeyed music to the clergy in Najaf. Chalabi became extremely close to the group around Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Please note, Cheney’s advisers becoming the eyes and ears of the Najaf clergy.

The first US representative, Paul Bremer became the succour who removed every Ba’athist from every nook and corner of the administration. The result was unspeakable chaos which neither the Americans nor the weak governments in Baghdad have been able to control to this day.

Many of the Iraqi Ba’athists moved to Syria where their Ba’athist cousins welcomed them. The CIA not only sought them out but also nursed them. When Nouri al Maliki flexed his muscles and refused to sign the Status of Forces Agreement in 2011, the US sulked out. Iraqi Ba’athists in Syria, looking for work and plotting plots, came in handy as the backbone of what came to be known as the Islamic State.

How does an outfit, which hides in trenches, war ravaged houses, produce a smart news website called Amaq. It frequently produces a glossy magazine too. A terror group, on the run, with such facilities at its command?

Hints on Daesh’s origins have been available from the very beginning. When it hurtled towards Baghdad in convoys of brand new Humvees, its soldiers in new uniforms, helpers in Nike shoes, every Arab ambassador, except for those representing the GCC Sheikhdoms, was on record that Daesh was an American creation. When CNN’s Christiane Amanpour asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov if he suspected the US hand in the terrorism till, he answered in the affirmative. President Barack Obama, in the course of a 2014 interview with the New York Time’s Thomas Friedman, all but accepted that Daesh was an asset. Asked why he did not bomb Daesh when it first reared its head in Mosul, Obama replied that immediate air strikes would have taken the pressure off Nouri al Maliki. In other words, the Daesh was not bombed out of existence, because it was required to exert pressure on the Shia Prime Ministers whom the US hated.

Why, Trump himself told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he was convinced that Obama and Hillary Clinton had been responsible for wasting millions of dollars in helping set up terror groups in Syria and Iraq. I can never forget the face of Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, in a distinctly lower mould, virtually in tears while being grilled by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on the state of play in Syria. Carter admitted that a $500 million dollar project to train militants had been withdrawn because those trained had passed on lethal equipment to other militants and left for heaven knows where.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s allegation cannot be easily dismissed: the US was taking revenge against Iraqi militia Hashd al Shaabi “because they played a key role in defeating Daesh”. Khamenei has consistently maintained that the US had “created and nurtured Daesh”.

Indeed, Khamenei told a Friday prayer congregation in Tehran in 2018 that Daesh groups were being flown to northern Afghanistan. Earlier that month Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Morgulov Igor Vladimirovich told a high powered seminar in New Delhi that militants were being flown from Syria to Afghanistan. “Only Americans and the Afghan government controls the country’s air space”, he said rhetorically.

Iraq is something of an obsession with the US establishment because it has not been able to extract advantage consistent with nearly 15 year old occupation and investment in blood and treasure.

Matters have been building upto a crescendo eversince the Iraqis opened the land route to Syria which gives Iran a clear passage via Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. This adds to the way an officer like Soleimani was able to turn the tables on Washington, Tel Aviv, Riyadh who thought the Shia-Sunni faultline would work to their advantage. Quite the opposite has happened.

Déjà vu – some would say. On December 17, 1998 President Clinton had launched attacks on Iraq. That impeachment vote was delayed. Are Trump’s circumstances similar?

American air strikes against bases of Iraqi militias invited a peoples’ invasion of the US embassy. What will be the retaliation to Soleimani’s murder? Only time will tell.

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Friday, December 27, 2019

Ram Mandir And The Muslim Citizenship Issue: Different Hindu Responses


Ram Mandir And The Muslim Citizenship Issue: Different Hindu Responses
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 27.12.2019

A settlement may well be taking place somewhere near the base because one is hearing stories of students arguing with conservative parents before trooping out to join a hostel here, a college there to merge in the nationwide protests. These are “ostensibly” against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). “Ostensibly”, because a mass upsurge does not possess precise comprehension of a complicated issue nor its geometric lines. It proceeds on the basis of a vague, intuitive grasp of a larger reality: something evil is afoot.

Are the unspeakable brutalities of the UP police some sort of rearguard action on the government’s part to protect the key bastion? All fangs bared, psychologists will tell you, is a sign of fright. Or, is Yogi Adityanath climbing up a few notches to look taller than the duet in Delhi?

Police barging is into Muslim mohallas, terrorizing the elderly and women, picking up the youth (not always without an eye on ransom money), in brief, inviting “skull caps and beards” onto the street to provide visuals for a gleefully complicit media. But focus on the partisan media must not obscure the oases of courageous, balanced journalism with the likes of Ravish Kumar of Hindi NDTV in the lead. They deserve applause. This media keeps protests (and police excesses) at Benaras Hindu University and Aligarh Muslim University in equal focus. The assiduous effort to polarize on communal lines by the rest of the media, the one which does not show policemen smashing CCTV cameras, are challenging journalistic decency. Whether the no holds barred excesses of the Yogi will smother the embers of protest or barely cover them with an ashen sheet, only time will tell.

How long will the darkness in UP last? Sahir Ludhianvi summed it up very simply:
“Zulm phir zulm hai, barhta hai to mit jaata hai
Khoon phir khoon hai, tapke ga to jumm jaayega”
(Brutal repression cannot last in perpetuity.
Blood, when shed, leaves stains)
The black-hole of UP must not be allowed to distract attention from a historic new phase the youth have inaugurated in the nation’s political life. First, the movement signals a generational change. The time may well have come for senior pundits to contemplate retirement in the 72nd year of the Republic. The placards are not only teeming with ideas, they are also brazenly irreverent: Hindu hoon, chutia naheen” for instance. I am perfectly willing to substitute “Hindu” with “Muslim” in the text.

Opening of the ventilators is the single biggest contribution of the youth agitation, the realization that one can heave a sigh of relief. The regime’s invincibility had been dinned into large sections by a faction of the media which too is now in the process of being exposed in the wake of the protests.

It was bad enough that the protests erupted with the suddenness of revelation, what is worse for the regime is the fact that they have taken place against the backdrop of electoral decline. Reverses in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, a narrow shave in Haryana, embarrassment in Karnataka, must be galling for a party which saw Hindu Rashtra within grasp after a thumping majority of 353 seats in a House of 543.

Even though the Supreme Court gifted a judgement to the BJP affiliates enabling them to finally build a Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the political consequences of this outcome are ironically negative for the party. Communal polarization burgeoned when the temple was an issue, with Muslims pitted on the other side. For the faithful, a temple exactly on the spot where Rama was born, is a matter of supreme satisfaction. But by the same token the politician has lost an issue – the goose that laid the saffron egg is dead.

This is one additional reason why the Citizens issue was urgently required to keep up the communal temperature. But a great miscalculation attends this move. Ram Janmbhoomi had been an issue since the 19th century, given a boost by the idols being placed inside Babari Masjid in 1948. The “Shila” processions in 1989, the carrying of bricks consecrated in thousands of village temples all the way to Ayodhya was a marketing strategy that would leave Madison Avenue gasping. Even more spectacular was L.K. Advani’s Rath Yatra, carrying a replica of Ram’s carriage from Somnath to Ayodhya, generating sufficient saffron to boost the BJP from a mere two seats in 1984 to power under Atal Behari Vajpayee in a little over a decade.

Narendra Modi had this advantage plus the tailwind of post 9/11 global Islamophobia to which he added his own “Mian Musharraf” rhetoric (grinding his teeth) in Gujarat elections and the sky-high communalization post 2002 Gujarat pogrom.

The Citizens issue, however, though loaded with communal intent has resonated quite differently with the youth – of all denominations. The Citizenship issue terrifies the Muslim but the image of petrified Muslims has, contrary to Hindutva expectations, touched a soft cord. Women, with students in the vanguard, in occupation of spaces of progressive politics is another new, heart warming trend.

How New Delhi proposes to firm up the Citizenship Register in Assam without upsetting the warm relations with Dhaka is something of a puzzle. Does the lack of anxiety on Sheikh Hasina’s brow indicate back channel assurances? Will Muslim distress across the border not provide a handle to the opposition in Bangladesh?

The expanding protests have given heart to various groups. The traditional metropolitan elite, distanced from power with the consolidation of the Modi-Shah duet, has already pulled out its calculators, working out the electoral mathematics for the future. The habitual quest for connections causes them to dream dreams of an implausible two party system. The emerging reality is more federal than unitary. Delusory dreams are in any case premature because the BJP is not disappearing in a hurry. If the party ever has its back against the wall, there is still a willingness to surpass Balakot by yards.

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Friday, December 13, 2019

We Waited For A Contest In Britain, We Got A Massacre


We Waited For A Contest In Britain, We Got A Massacre
                                                                              Saeed Naqvi

The evening began disastrously not only because Boris Johnson won by a landslide but because our host, Lord Meghnad Desai, could not cook us a meal, having hurt his right hand (it is in plaster); our collective viewing of the election results was thrown into further disarray because his TV burnt out. Inexhaustibly stocked row of three refrigerators came in handy: smoked salmon, Italian bread and pizzas. At 10 pm he switched on his IPad. Exit polls had given Boris the biggest victory since Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

A member of the Labour party for 49 years, one would have expected him to become quiet and reflective. Instead he broke into song, wriggling what in leaner bodies would be the waist. We asked for a mini cab. The driver turned out to be a big, burly, black young man with a beard which I find disagreeable when it comes without a moustache. He was from Conakry, Guinea, the peaceful West Asian country that I have travelled through in the past to reach Sierra Leone. He opened up because of my name. “We have lived peacefully here” he said, taking one hand off the steering wheel. “Now we shall live timidly.”

London remains the cosmopolitan hub, where Boris has not made much of an impression. Scottish nationalism always had a mellowness of single malt, lilt of the bagpipes and the quaintness of kilts. This nationalism is not claustrophobic because it also reaches out to the EU. In Northern Ireland, Republicanism has gained – so Dublin becomes closer, not farther from Belfast.

The very first to greet Johnson has been Donald Trump, his business cohorts smacking their lips at the prospect of a burgeoning Anglo Saxon club, particularly now that France’s Emmanuel Macron is thumbing his nose at Trump’s America. And Macron is not alone.

The scale of Boris Johnson’s victory boosts what I call Bannonism sky high. Let me explain. George Soros and Steve Bannon who is a friend of Trump and the KKK, have been shuttling around Europe trying to divert popular anger away from socialism which contemporary capitalism paints in lurid colours. It is McCarthyism to its tips. While Soros, a liberal capitalist, seeks an integrated Europe to thwart “leftism”, Steve Bannon, Trump’s conscience keeper, is keen for Italy’s Matteo Salvini, France’s Marine Le Penn, Spain’s Santiago Abascal and Britain’s Nigel Farage to clasp hands and shift Europe so far right as to be teetering on Fascism. This school received a boost last night.

It would be irresponsible to describe Johnson as closet fascist but his friend Farage is. If one surveys the rise of anti migrant, anti semitic parties from Victor Orban of Hungary to leaders in Austria, Germany, Poland – it is a depressing list. In the presence of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Benjamin Netanyahu and others, the Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz accused the Polish leadership of antisemitism in almost abusive language: “Poles suckle anti-Semitism from their mother’s milk.” This, from a public platform in Warsaw.

The Warsaw incident came to mind as soon as I saw Tory leader Michael Gove appear behind the microphones at the Tory headquarters to prime up the mood before Boris Johnson made his first appearance after the historic victory. It was the sort of time in the morning when people want bed tea. Suddenly, a stern looking Gove is brought slowly into focus. And, lo and behold, the only community he mentions are Jews. “Through this campaign, our Jewish citizens have been living in fear.” Then a Churchillian pause: “no longer will Jews live in fear”, he thundered. Why this outburst?

There is a background to this inexplicable intervention. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, former Co-Chair of the Conservative Party has been fairly regular in complaining that “anti Muslim” prejudice had “poisoned” the party. The principal “culprits” in her line of fire were Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Zac Goldsmith. Gove’s generosity of expression in favour of Jews, at the moment of Tory triumph, is designed to send a message to the Warsis in the party: like it or lump it. How can the Tories have forgotten Gove’s brazenly anti Muslim book Celsius 7/7 published in 2006? Corbyn was battered and bruised not only through this campaign but over the years as a “danger to Britain”, “traitor” a friend of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and other “devilish” characters. By sheer incantation, some of it sank in. Ofcourse, Johnson’s message was simpler: “get Brexit done.”

What the mainstream media will keep mum about, alternatives like London Economic, a digital newspaper, publishes and with increasing credibility. The news portal exposed that one of Britain’s leading barristers, Jolyon Maughan QC, director of Good Law Project, alleged that the BBC indulged in showing “coded negative imagery” of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn since his election in 2015.

It is universally proclaimed that Johnson, lies, fiddles expense accounts, is seen at European airports in a daze after late night parties but he remains the darling of the electorate, as result 2019 has shown.

Another London Economic analysis shows that people generally have another perspective when presented with policy options but the very same people vote in a completely different direction. Why? Because the media is bombarding the voter with high level, right wing propaganda.

Lord Rothermere, a billionaire living in France, owns the Mail and the Metro. Rupert Murdoch, billionaire US citizen own the Sun, Fox News, B Sky B, News corp. Alexander Evgeny, ex KGB Russian billionaire, owns the Independent, Evening Standard. Richard Desmond, a billionaire, did own the Daily Star and if it has passed onto someone else, it certainly is not to the socialist international. In brief, 80 percent of media is owned by billionaires. For those of us grieving in India on this score, is there not a pattern? As the late Bobby Talyarkhan used to sign off his column: “Do you get me, Steve?”

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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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