Friday, September 23, 2011

Police Joins In Gopalgarh To Kill Muslims: Rings A Bell?

Police Joins In Gopalgarh To Kill Muslims: Rings A Bell?
Saeed Naqvi

Home Minister P. Chidambaram would do well to take a 20 mts helicopter ride to Gopalgarh, in Rajasthan, close to both Haryana and UP, where on September 14, the police, in collusion with local Gujjars, fired and killed nine Muslims (of the Meo community) in a mosque. Muslim anger spilling over into UP would be disastrous for the Congress 2012 campaign.

The post mortem report, conducted in Sawai Man Singh hospital, Jaipur, has confirmed three deaths by “bullets” and three were burnt alive. The remaining three died of injuries from sharp weapons. Officially, seven are missing and twenty-three injured. The unofficial figure of the injured is in excess of fifty.

Of the nineteen policemen at Gopalgarh police station, nine were Gujjars. In the entire Meo belt, beginning from Nuh on the Delhi-Alwar highway, and spreading across Rajasthan, Haryana and UP, there is a large presence of Gujjars in the police force and none of Meo Muslims, much the larger community.

The number of dead does not tell the story of Meo helplessness which becomes apparent at every turn on a two and a half hour drive from New Delhi past Nuh, Pahari and Gopalgarh. The logistics being so convenient for all the channels headquartered in New Delhi, the blackout of the story is inexplicable. Salman Rushdie once made an observation about European (media too) attitude towards the Bosnian carnage: “You reverse the religious affiliations of those brutalized and NATO would have moved in immediately.” Put it down to my cowardice that I hesitate to make that point about our media’s attitude to Gopalgarh. But it is tragic that, except for the Indian Express, I saw no other media in an area known for its unique culture and where almost everybody is aching to tell a sad story.

The great historian and author of the History of the People of Hindustan, the late Dr. K.M. Ashraf was a Meo. The Meo community was, until a few years ago, a unique blend of Islamic faith and Hindu culture – rather like Indonesia, where the practice of Islam has no conflictual equation with the local culture which derives from Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Ramzan Chaudhry, a lawyer, remembers his grandmother wearing the Rajput “Lehnga” and organizing Govardhan Puja without prejudice to namaz each day.

Successive administrations treated Meos with neglect. This gave an opening to the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Tablighi-Jamaat to step in, “refine” the faith and dilute the colourful culture.

Three kms from Gopalgarh is the large Meel ka Madrasa, where 2,000 boys and girls live in a series of gigantic courtyards ringed by verandahs and tidy rooms like major universities anywhere. “What job will you get once you pass out from the Madrasa?” I ask 15 year old Jamal.

“A moulvi” (priest) he responds with pride. A moulvi in the kind of Mosque where the police and Gujjars opened fire?

It is uncharitable and wrong to link Madrasas with militancy. But what is frightening is this large turnover of unemployable “moulvis”.

Even though the Meos are much the largest population in the area, Gujjars are more self assured after their recent publicized agitation for reservations. They also feel more muscular because of the support they have from the police.

The scene of the violence is a set of three properties – a mosque, two acre enclosure for special Eid prayers and a few acres of disputed land which the Muslims use as their graveyard. On this some Gujjars have encroached.

It is at this point that communal politics gets mixed up with a land dispute. On September 13 Gujjars beats up the moulvi of the mosque precisely to raise tensions. Gopalgarh is tense. On September 14, RSS, VHP and Gujjar leaders mob the Superintendent of Police and Collector and forcibly obtain orders for the police to fire on Meos seeking shelter in the mosque.

At this stage, politics takes over. Rajasthan’s Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has 96 seats in a House of 200. He makes up the deficit with the help of BSP MLAs from the Meena tribe with whom Meos have “ties of blood” and Gujjars have traditional antipathies. Meos and Meenas have the same sub castes and “gotras”. So, Gehlot suspends the collector and SP and removes all the Gujjars from Gopalgarh police station. He announces a judicial and CBI inquiry plus a compensation of Rs. Five Lakh for relatives of those killed.

Four bodies are quietly buried, after relatives accept five lakh cheques. But Kirorilal Meena, who has emerged as the leader of the Meos, raises the compensation demand to Rs.25 lakh and a plot of land for a memorial to the dead plus resignation of Rajasthan Home Minister, Shanti Dhariwal who has been tepid on the Gopalgarh tragedy. Gehlot cannot annoy the Meenas, who are the front for Meos, because his survival in Jaipur depends on them. He is helpless on Dhariwal whose hold on the “Hindu” vote is priceless. So he is in a bind.

Like every other group, Meos too have created their tiny dynasties. Zahida Begum, Congress MLA from Kama in Rajasthan, is under pressure from Gehlot to use her influence and end the Gopalgarh story before New Delhi tweaks the Chief Minister’s ears. If she succeeds she will become Minister. Bhupendra Singh Hooda, Haryana Chief Minister, is pressing his Meo MLA Aftab Ahmad to stop Muslim anger from spilling over into his state. Aftab and Zahida are political enemies but are together in limiting the “Gopalgarh-effect” for their own reasons. Zahida’s brother, Fazal may be given an assembly ticket in Haryana if she can join forces with her political enemy Aftab Ahmad to help Hooda. But everyone is at this moment being neutralized by Kirorilal Meena, the most influential leader of the Meos. Congress, which has lost the habit of doing its homework, probably does not know that Kirorilal Meena, the most popular leader of the Muslim Meos was once a BJP MP and has just returned from Ahmedabad after attending Narendra Modi’s sadbhavna fast!

At his instance, the burials may be delayed, the charge sheets against the local administration be more comprehensive. Should tensions linger and travel to UP, Chidambaram will be asked questions. Should he travel to Gopalgarh? If he does not visit, Digvijay Singh may.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Credibility Deficit In The Western Media

Credibility Deficit In The Western Media
Saeed Naqvi

The story could not have been summed up more succinctly: the photograph shows David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in Tripoli holding aloft the hand of a Libyan leader they would like to promote. Below, the headline across three columns – “Islamists Rise in New Libya”. This was refreshingly honest.

The world Information order, like much else, was shaped when India was a colony. It is a matter of astonishment how the Indian elite allowed itself to be a passive recipient of images beamed at it by the western media and, in foreign coverage, its Indian transmitters.

I had lodged the issue in some deep recess of my mind and allowed it to freeze until the so called Arab Spring impelled me to the region. Here I was again, the lonesome Indian journalist, in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Amman, Baghdad, Bahrain, the oil bearing eastern province of Saudi Arabia. Later, in Damascus, Homs, Hama in Syria just as I had been to Sana’a, in Yemen and Tripoli before all hell broke loose. I list these news spots only to make a point: unless you have your media there, in the midst of the story, how would you ever know the lengths to which the Western media can go, when it rallies behind a national agenda, to dissemble and purposefully shape your mind? Even the coincidence of that telling photograph and the contradictory headline would require decoding unless you have followed the drift of the from a consistent source.

On my return from Damascus, when I suggested to a senior leader that an Indian delegation should visit important countries in what is virtually India’s “near abroad”, he looked at me like I was pushing him into the line of fire.

“You are not suggesting that we go to Hama, are you?” he asked weakly.

Hama causes raised eyebrows because of the harshness with which Hafez al Assad suppressed an Islamist uprising in 1982. But all recent reports of protests being put down by tanks and rockets are concoctions, in most instances, as a group of six Indian journalists recently found out. Damascus seemed more at peace than New Delhi is before or after the recent High Court blast. Yes there was tension in Hama, a certain restiveness, nasty graffiti painted over in black. But no trace of a “massacre”.

The negative images on Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya channels are being flashed by the Islamic rebels who have been equipped with technology provided by the US keen to weaken Syria’s links with Iran and Hezbollah.

James Glanz and John Markoff of the New York Times say:
“The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy ‘shadow’ internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.”

“The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cell phone networks inside foreign countries, as well one operation out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L street in Washington, where a group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype “Internet in a suitcase” – all part of what is being called “Liberation technology movement”.

The suitcase can be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet.

“The state Department is financing the creation of stealth wireless networks that would enable activists to communicate outside the reach in countries like Iran, Syria and Libya.”

In this Information war, on whose side are we? In the absence of our own sources of information, these are the traps we can walk into. If BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya were to provide free service to Indian channels, do you think are great “independent” media will be able to resist the bait?

When the Anglo-French plot on Libya was first hatched, I wrote in these spaces that folks in Benghazi luring Europe are the very same who started 2006 uprising against the Danish cartoons. The sole voice was drowned out by the drumbeat of “revolution”. And now, after six months of relentless NATO bombing and Special Forces operating away from the cameras (these were focused on t-shirt and jean wearing youth brandishing AK 47s on pick up vans), Qaddaffi remains elusive and a wave of something resembling Salafism is already discernible. H.D.S. Greenway, in a superb piece, says: “Libyans will remember Qaddaffi differently in the chaos that is coming.”

Let us, then, move on to Baghdad – a shattering experience. I visited my favourite “mazgouf” joint which means fish from the Tigris grilled on open fire on the riverbank. It looked exactly what it was: a bombed hut. The fish is no longer from the Tigris but a nearby lake. A macabre incident ended that culture of eating. Human body parts were found in the stomach of the fish which, having lived for thousands of years on live bait, had become scavenger because of bodies floating down the river since the invasion.

Yes, we need our own reporters in every part of the globe otherwise the world will pass us by. Events will take place outside our ken.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Win In Libya And Lose The Arab Spring

Win In Libya And Lose The Arab Spring
Saeed Naqvi

In the decade since 9/11, has the West’s rift with the Muslim world widened? There was a window of opportunity to compose the rift when the Arab Spring ushered in a secular mass mobilization in Tunis and more decisively in Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

Secular Muslim youth, Coptic Christians, a toned down Muslim Brotherhood, were all there, seeking change. Not once did one hear slogans against Israel or the United States. This was true of the fervent in all the countries this journalist visited – Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Syria even Qatif and Dahran, the oil bearing region of Saudi Arabia. But monarchies, sheikhdoms, dictatorships looked at each other in a state of funk because the people were out on the streets.

A handful of American columnists are being shortsighted in owning upto the mess that is being left behind by Britain and France in Libya. The United States was not interested in getting involved in a third Muslim country, the other two being Iraq and Afghanistan. How it was blackmailed into acquiescence in the name of saving NATO is another story.

Now, ofcourse, US diplomat and Arabist, Jeff Feltman has appeared in Benghazi just in case the scrambling Europeans forget their premier Atlantic partner.

How would the Muslim world have taken the six month long televised marathon in Libya? Also, there are 20 million Muslims in Europe. How would they react? Here is yet another occasion where one image evokes diametrically opposed responses between the West and the rest, particularly Muslims. In Europe, the responses would range from Anders Breivik’s in Oslo to the Muslim fringe, in a heightened state of agitation, after Libya. A glass, full of promise, has been spilt. Can an attempt be made to rescue some goodwill in the run upto the UN General Assembly vote on Palestine later this month?

A pity the Spring ushered in by Arab youth has been willfully wasted by the West. Indeed, the shaken monarchies and the remaining dictatorships have rallied around the US and Europe to protect themselves.

While some of the western diplomats have been selling the lemon that Libyan oil was not the reason for the invasion, facts on the ground suggest oil, water, Libya’s links with resource rich Africa are the prime reasons for European interest in the country whose leader, Qaddaffi, was their friend until the other day.

I was reading an autobiography which touches on the King of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah’s exile from Lucknow in 1856, an event which triggered the great uprising of 1857. That was classical regime change, one of the many that colonialism engineered. The metropolitan centers of control in Europe have not shed habits picked up in the 19th century. Indian statecraft probably has its own logic, what I find disgraceful is the deafening silence in India’s intellectual corridors.

Western media, which in the past threw up its hands in horror at the very mention of Muslim Brotherhood, is suddenly so accommodative of the Brothers that the Economist is editorially advising whoever would care to listen that all Muslims are not ogres provided they play by democratic rules.

This is true, but this line is being devised to justify the overthrow (almost) of possibly the most secular dictator in the region other than the two Baa’th regimes in Syria and Iraq. As someone who visited Tripoli after President Reagan bombed the country on “suspicions” of terrorism and more recently, I can say with authority that it was the only society in the region free of the Mullah. The most educated person in the neighbourhood could lead the Friday prayers. The country boasted of the world’s first military academy for women. Indeed, Qaddaffi’s two bodyguards were women. Difficult to believe that he “murdered” his own people as Alain Juppe and David Cameron have repeatedly alleged?

If he was such a tyrant, how do we explain cosy deals between British and French Intelligence agencies and Tripoli? When the dust settles all lies will stand exposed. In the meanwhile do not give credence to the well informed businessman from Tripoli who insists that in the melee, Qaddaffi placed his bets on both sides. In other words, watch the man being brought into focus as Libya’s interim leader: keep a steady gaze on his eye which he might wink in warm recognition whenever he sees Qaddaffi or his minions at a moment opportune for both.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Media For TRPs And Prasar Bharati For Murdoch?

Media For TRPs And Prasar Bharati For Murdoch?
Saeed Naqvi

One may have to turn to major advertisers to find out what slots are being booked beyond September 16 when the India – England ODI series ends. Because that is when the political season will open up for the UP assembly elections, and for which the channels are already smacking their lips.

It is at that stage that the marketing whiz-kids have to take a call whether to invite Anna Hazare for a sojourn at Delhi’s Ramlila Ground or, for variety, transport fifty or more cameras to Ralegaon Siddhi itself. Crowd mobilization in a remote area may not be insurmountable because crowd amplification is an elementary media trick.

It was by this trick that the Dick Cheney pulled wool over the world’s eyes by putting out a complete fabrication that Saddam Hussain’s statue had been pulled down on April 9, 2003 by Iraqi crowds celebrating victory. Nothing of the sort happened. Some workers from Baghdad’s Palestine hotel and a handful of bystanders saw US marines place a hook around the neck of the statue and an armoured personal carrier pull the rope to leave Saddam hanging at an awkward tilt, gifting the world with an iconic image of American triumph.

Poor Rageh Omaar, the BBC’s correspondent, received instructions from headquarters to provide commentary suitable for a great victory. So, he went on and on: O’ my god, this is unbelievable, the crowds are coming from this side and that. The fact of the matter was that the crowds did not come, only Omaar did.

In between the contrived frames of the statue falling, were snatches from Dick Cheney’s “victory” speech in which he thanked “religious” leaders for having made the occasion possible. Who were the “religious leaders” being thanked and why? Shia clerics Baqar al Hakim and Muqtada Sar had been contacted to send out Shia crowds to celebrate. Yes, that is when Tom Friedman, who thought Iraq was the greatest liberalizing project ever undertaken, recommended a Noble Prize for Ayatullah Sistani. The story bears repetition because it is on mass amnesia that the contemporary global media feeds as I know too well from recent travels through most of the Arab world in the grip of violent change. It quite beats me how the western media has heaped so much shame on itself by telling lies that would make ones hair stand – in Libya and Syria. Joseph Stiglitz, the American Nobel laureate is right. Bin Laden wished to hurt America, but the manner in which the US has proceeded to hurt itself by dismantling its institutions, of which a credible media is part, is quite dismaying. And we, in India, give currency to columnists who, at their lowest, spew racism. “The West must at times be prepared to fight for its values against barbarism.” Really? When did Martin Luther King lead the Civil Rights movement? Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, a million civilians killed in Iraq. And our obsequious media publishes columnists justifying military action on Arab people to end “barbarism?”

But let me not mix up print with electronic media. These have been good days for TRPs eversince the Cricket World Cup began earlier in the year, leading upto a dream climax in the semi final in Mohali, garnished with an Indo-Pak summit, and then the final of finals when India became the world’s number one team.

It was not that the marketing managers had taken their eyes off life after the world cup. Here was the worlds number one team (it had just won in the West Indies too) headed for England. It was mind boggling the bonanza that loomed on the horizon. Unfortunately, team India flopped in England.

But by the time the last test match ended at the Oval on August 22, channels were busy reheating the Anna project.

In a fast paced novel or movie P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Swami Ramdev, Anna Hazare and the media, would all be found to be batting on the same side, heightening dramatic effect from their own vantage points in geometrical progression, filling the media’s coffers with mysterious altruism.

Barely two days before a dismal test series ended, Anna was reinstated at Ramlila ground. The 24X7 media had never had it so good. Anchors mobilized superior pundits to analyze every inflection of Anna and his cohorts. For ten days, without a break, morning, evening, afternoon, all other news disappeared from the media.

And now as the country prepares for the UP and national election, the channels must keep their gaze on the main chance, the TRPs. In wars the western media becomes part of the war effort, batting for the country as it were. But whose purpose does the Indian media serve when it becomes part of the Anna campaign? We shall never know the answer to this question unless we know who owns the media and what are the foreign linkages.

When Rupert Murdoch was on the mat in Britain and the US his representative in India was doubling up as member of the Prasar Bharati Board! Really, what salvation when neither the state nor Anna know a jot about the media which ties them up in knots?

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Is Damascus Burning?

Is Damascus Burning?
Saeed Naqvi

It was not easy to fit Syria into a pattern eversince Mohammed Bouazizi, Tunisian pavement seller, ignited Arab change by setting himself ablaze for being slapped by a policewoman on December 17, 2010.

The Arab world divided itself into three distinct theatres of change. First were the North African states, stretching from Morocco to Egypt, having a Mediterranean face but an African depth too. The turn of events in Egypt were tectonic.

The second theatre was Libya where Muammar Qaddafi, in a solo, walked through minefields inexpertly laid by the Anglo-French combine. This has now turned into a fox hunt – hounds, bugles et al.

The most violent theatre was in Saudi charge, a Shia arc around the realm – Yemen with its Zaidis and Huthis (Al Qaeda, too), Bahrain(80 percent Shia), Kuwait(30 percent), Iraq(65 percent), the last three converging on the Saudi oil fields in Dahran, Dammam, Qatif, all Shia dominated.

Damascus was more like pre occupation Baghdad. Saddam Hussain and Hafez al Assad were both secure as leaders of the iron-clad Ba’ath Socialist parties. Order was maintained by the army and party cadres.

But in Iraq Saddam, Army, party were all smashed by the US occupation, focused overwhelmingly on oil. Only a subsidiary interest was to insulate Israel’s east from an oil rich, efficient dictatorship. An unintended consequence was the emergence of Shia power around which the Saudis are now doing a vigorous war dance.

Syria was spared the American wrath because it had no oil and its border with Israel had been the most peaceful in the region. War drums around Damascus are a surprise because another Iraq is not possible. That would entail American invasion, not in the cards now. So Damascus has to be destabilized in other ways – by encouraging the Sunni majority against the Alawite dominated regime, for instance.

Why this focus on Damascus now? Have they found oil on a scale comparable with Iraq? It takes time to digest startling reality. Yes, oil and gas are in the bargain now, offshore, within the territorial waters of Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus, as much oil as there is in Saudi Arabia. Do a Google search and find Israel Energy Initiative. Familiar names like Dick Cheney, Murdoch, Rothschild swim into focus.

New Delhi clearly has a lively embassy in Damascus. Here, seated in President Bashar Assad’s palace, I find officials quickly process documents submitted by ONGC Videsh Ltd. to prospect in blocks claimed by Syria.

Some political facts to complete the picture. A Shia ring around Saudi Arabia gives Riyadh nightmares. A larger, strategic Shia arc (plus Hamas) is Israel’s nightmare. It is in this latter category that Syria fits in because Assad, his clan, the army, are all Alawites a secular variant of Shias. The majority is overwhelmingly Sunni. These sectarian divisions in the Syrian context are slightly misleading: Baa’th socialism nurtured a deeply secular society. Creeping anger inclined towards Sunni extremism is an import from neighbours after televised destruction of Iraq.

Ataturk’s Turkey and Ba’ath Syria had a durable, secular bond. But a more Islamic Turkey has been pressing Assad to give political space to the Muslim Brotherhood, while introducing reforms in Syria. For Assad, this would be the thin end of the wedge.

A more “sunni” Syria would remove the country from the Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas nexus and enhance Turkey’s influence way above Iran’s in the region. Also, Turkey is strategically placed to ensure fluent flow of fuel to Europe or elsewhere when the off shore oil is placed in pipelines.

In this scenario, US ambassador to Syria Robert Stephen Ford’s role is vital. John Negroponte as ambassador to Iraq, said of Ford, his deputy then: “he is one of those very tireless people…...who didn’t mind putting on his flak jacket and helmet and going out of the Green Zone to meet contacts”. Well, he is putting his genius to use driving to such trouble spots as Hama’a and Darr’a patting the rebels. Why Assad has not shown him the door probably reflects on the besieged President’s weakness, possible divisions in the highest leadership.

In this destabilization process the Iraqi insurgency next door also finds an outlet, relieving pressure on US troops planning departure from Baghdad.

The media, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, BBC, CNN, in that order are putting out stories which neither this journalist nor non Arab ambassadors have found to be true. In a drive to Homs, even Hama, the real trouble spot, I saw fewer pickets than on Indian roads. At the end of the day media’s reputation will be quite as battered as the region is. How are these bogus stories being flashed despite dictatorial censorship? The New York Times says that “the Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy ‘shadow’ internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.” All for love of freedom?

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