Friday, December 28, 2012

A New Year Gift To Syria: A Possible Agreement?

A New Year Gift To Syria: A Possible Agreement?

                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

The New Year promises to be better for the Syrian people because diplomacy, not conflict, appears to be coming on top. The brazen indifference to the question “what after Bashar al Assad?” appears to be giving way to sober reflection on just that point.

Remember Hillary Clinton waving her hand in one, big arc to exhort the Syrian leader: “get out of the way, Assad!” And this, soon after her performance in Tripoli: “I came, I saw and he died!” That tone is missing in recent Western statements.

The US, Europe, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia on the one side and Russia, China and Iran on the other, are inching their way backwards to resurrect the six point Geneva declaration of June 30.

The US Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has been meeting relevant leaders. It was on the margins of OECD summit in Dublin, that Brahimi, Foreign Ministers of Russia and the US discussed what were later leaked as “creative” new ideas for peace in Syria.

There is in this turn of events considerable disappointment for lobbies who have sought regime change from day one of the Syrian crisis, atleast since the summer of 2011.

I have been arguing from August of that year that toppling of Assad was not possible in a hasty time-frame for a simple reason. In many ways the two Baathist regimes of Saddam Hussain and Bashar al Assad are mirror images of each other. The US had to occupy Iraq for ten years, kill Saddam Hussain, dismantle the Baath structure before leaving behind the mess that country is today.

How naïve, then, of Western governments and their allies to expect the Syrian regime to fall by a proxy war, fuelling admittedly powerful internal dissent?

Ofcourse, the expanding areas of internal dissent in Syria, totally dependent on foreign funds and arms, did test Russian resolve to a point that, at one stage, it appeared to be cracking.

A highly placed source in Moscow told me last July: “Putin’s stakes are high in Syria but they are astronomically higher in Russia.” His tongue-in-cheek comment implied that Moscow would go as far with Assad as its own interest dictated.

The Supreme header in Iran was sharp in his response. If Russia changed track at this juncture it would lose not one but two Middle Eastern friends: Syria and Iran. The logic was exactly what I had opened this column with – after Assad what?

What negates “remove-Assad-first” strategy is Washington’s very own step of declaring Al Nusra a terrorist organization. Groups under its control have clearly hijacked what was thought to be a resistance movement.

There are reasons why a rethink on Syria is gaining ground in Washington. The US has learnt a bitter lesson in Libya where absence of governance, millions of Qaddafi era weapons in the hands of quarrelling tribes, growing extremism, all climaxing in the murder of the US ambassador, have cumulatively shaken the American military-intelligence community.

The US is entering its trickiest phase in the Af-Pak region, where elections are due in both, Pakistan and Afghanistan just around the time Washington has set for its troops to depart. Can troops depart without an overt or covert understanding with Iran which has a long border with Afghanistan? Rubbing Iran’s nose in Syria would be self defeating on that count, among others.

Obama in his second term would have his eyes set on a place in history as a world statesman rather than a President aiming only for a second term. He has already hinted at his preferred trajectory in Foreign Affairs by ushering in John Kerry as Secretary of State.

It would have been difficult for Hillary Clinton to revert, to the Geneva Plan of Kofi Annan’s which talks of a “Syrian led” transitional government, without insisting on Assad’s removal.

When asked at a Press conference, Lavrov said: Assad will not go even if Russia and China ask him to. An assertive Assad told Brahimi in their last meeting that the regime will talk to the opposition provided they do not insist on imposing Shariah law on secular Syria. Also, the opposition must accept Damascus’s stand never to sign an agreement with Israel until the Jewish state returns all Syrian lands. This strikes at the heart of a possible entente with Israel which Muslim Brotherhood groups from Tunisia to Turkey have reportedly conceived at the conference with the Syrian opposition held in Istanbul in April.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Does The Congress Confront The BJP Or Condone It?

Does The Congress Confront The BJP Or Condone It?
                                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

Elections in Himachal Pradesh were, in context and content, totally different from Gujarat. Virbhadra Singh’s generally untainted image drove the Congress to victory. It is interesting that the BJP, defeated in this election, does not have a “communal” persona in the state. There is just no Muslim presence in the state to generate a need for communal politics. A BJP minus communalism is a unique phenomena.

In the two Hill states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, there is another detail worth noting: a Thakur will be the Chief Minister in one and a Brahmin in the other with more or less regular frequency.

Gujarat is a totally different story. I wonder if it is all that ironical, but the land of Mahatma Gandhi has always lent itself willingly to communal violence. Frontier Gandhi Badshah Khan parked himself at Gujarat Governor Shriman Narayan’s house in Ahmedabad for weeks to monitor the aftermath of the 1969 riots which left him in a state of shock.

Anti Sikh riots, the 1993 Mumbai riots and countless others could not have happened without State help, but Narendra Modi, in 2002, raised the pattern of rioting to state sponsored genocide. The Hindu consolidation thus managed, became the base on which he structured an efficient system of administration which the country’s major industrialists, the media and, by sheer incantation, others, have declared as being terrific.

There must be something to it otherwise Modi would not have won three elections in a row. With each victory, every chant of “lets move on”, Time, the great healer, has made the memory of 2002 that much more faint. As temperate texts teach us: in geological time, graves disappear, making space for Man’s other works.

The debate on the Gujarat verdict is interesting. In the grand pageant of democracy, Secular India and Saffron India, are arguing and jousting, even as inch by inch the area of overlap between the two sides grows, like lengthening shadows over a pitch.

It is a largely intra-Hindu tussle, a debating spectacle which the world’s second largest Muslim population is watching increasingly from the sidelines.

The current Congress line is: if it speaks up for the Muslims, the Hindu starts drifting away. It is this mindset which caused the Congress in the recent campaign not to mention 2002; it did not point fingers at Modi’s candidates who participated in the carnage. In brief don’t provoke the Hindu.

Has the Congress forgotten how from having two seats in 1984, the BJP has become the party which consistently threatens the Congress? Some common facts to refresh the memory.

When Rajiv Gandhi came to power in December 1984 with an unprecedented 404 seats in a House of 545, advisers like Arun Nehru thought there was enough in the bank to take a few risks.

In October 1984, Hindu radical groups had launched an agitation in Ayodhya to “open the locks” of the Ram temple. The temple was claimed on the same spot where the Babri mosque stood. Note one false step after another.

In February 1986 an over confident Congress opened the locks to please the Hindus. Then, to humour the Muslim, Rajiv Gandhi upturned the Supreme Court verdict on the Shah Bano case. A supposedly ambidextrous policy caused the party to fall between stools. It continued to compound the blunder by allowing the foundation of the Ayodhya temple to be laid exactly on the spot where the VHP wanted it. Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao carried this policy to new heights by sleeping through the demolition of the Babri Masjid, causing the Muslim vote to walk out on masse.

That is where the two parties stand to this day, locked in slow moves, like wrestlers, each trying to tire the other out.

Is there a way out for the Congress? Ofcourse there is. Shed the low politics of dishonesty and deceit which only enables the cockroaches around the leadership to survive as a coterie even as the fortunes of the party dwindle. The cockroach will survive under the furniture even when the leadership is in the opposition.

The party must rediscover its élan. It must stand on a liberal, genuinely secular platform and be prepared, if need be, to lose an election, remembering the Biblical paradox: “He who loses shall gain”.

Otherwise, in years to come, the schoolboy rhyme will be apt for the two parties.

In form and feature, face and limb,
                  One grew so like the other,
That folks were utterly confused
                  ‘tween him and his twin brother!

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ravi Shankar: From Yehudi Menuhin To Woodstock

Ravi Shankar: From Yehudi Menuhin To Woodstock
                                                                                       Saeed Naqvi

Pandit Ravi Shankar’s worldwide popularity derived from his musical genius ofcourse, but also from his exceptional cosmopolitanism. Sixty years ago, Amjad Ali Khan’s father, Sarod Maestro Hafiz Ali Khan, would not allow his music to be recorded because it would be “played at paan shops which would debase it”.

That was courtly exclusiveness but also parochialism of a very high order.

Ravi Shankar took classical music away from this restrictive attitude. He carried it to every corner of the globe. He could do so because he had, as they say, “chosen his parents with care”. His father was a much travelled lawyer, a Bengali settled in Varanasi. Bengali settlements along the Ganges is an exquisite pattern of migrations which lurk in Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy and for which Ravi Shankar provided the music.

Why Ray chose the other great sitar player, Vilayat Khan, for his remarkable lyric in Cinema, Jalsaghar, is a question well worth asking Sandip, Ray’s son.

Another advantage Ravi Shankar had over his contemporaries were his travels to the West as part of his eldest brother, Uday Shankar’s dance troupe. The lilt of dance in his music can be sourced to that experience.

“I was young and handsome and enjoyed walking the Latin Quarter in Paris in my three-piece suit, with a cigarette dangling from a fancy holder.” Yes, Ravi Shankar could be mistaken for a show-off, but such narrations were generally laced with a naughty sense of humour, an impish grin, exposing a perfect set of teeth and a well shaped mouth, and eyes which were both penetrating and mischievous. His slight frame did not come in the way of his being a captivating presence and quite conscious of that fact.

He had a natural gift of making connections and charm which he could turn on at will.

When Dr. Narayana Memon, a Veena player and Director General of All India Radio, organized an East West Music Festival in the 60’s, the stellar attendance included Yehudi Menuhin, Ravi Shankar and Vilayat Khan. Evidently, Yehudi and Ravi Shankar had met earlier. In the course of these interactions, Ravi Shankar had made the connection.

Lord Harewood, the moving spirit behind the Edinburgh Music Festival, a friend of both Narayana Menon and Yehudi Menuhin, had Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan ferried to Edinburgh where, for the first time, the two left an abiding impression on the audience, indeed on world music.

Sarod Maestro Ali Akbar, by universal consent the finer musician, would by himself have been lost without Ravi Shankar, much the man of the world, holding his hand in a completely new cultural space.

Introducing Indian classical music to Western classical circles was certainly Ravi Shankar’s contribution. But soon, his yen for public relations overreached itself.

While Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was keeping the Beatles in his thrall at his Chaurasi Kutia, Ashram on the Ganges in Rishikesh in 1968, Ravi Shankar could not resist the temptation of high voltage publicity that the Woodstock music festival offered in 1969.

The great Tabla player, Allah Rakha used to close his eyes in embarrassment whenever he was asked about his and Ravi Shankar’s appearance on the High Stage at Woodstock. While Ravi Shankar tuned his sitar, the Hippie enthusiasts below, celebrated the occasion by resorting to such copious love making that Ravi Shankar and Allah Rakha quickly packed their instruments and left the venue in a daze.

Despite Ravi Shankar’s growing disenchantment with the non-classical sector of Western music, he made space for Beatle George Harrison’s persistent interest in the sitar. Some Beatle numbers like Norwegian Wood have been composed on the sitar but the quality of music does not quite justify instruction at Ravi Shankar’s feet.

Why musicians of Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar’s class should find California more compelling than India is surprising. Did the nightmare of earning a pittance from All India Radio concerts in the 50s and 60s psychologically dislocate them? Financial gain alone cannot explain the lure of the West. It is just possible that great artists transcend national boundaries, M.F. Hussain for his reasons and Ravi Shankar for his. They become truly global citizens.

Mir Taqi Mir lamented:
“Kab talak tung rahein sheher
                          Ki deewaron mein?”
(How long should I remain constrained in the walls of this city?)

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Friday, December 7, 2012

A Hundred Million Muslims In Search Of A Party

A Hundred Million Muslims In Search Of A Party

                                                                                  Saeed Naqvi

The more the communal picture changes since the demolition of the Babri Masjid 20 years ago this week, the more it remains the same. Possibly with one variation: the political insecurity of the Muslim grows with each turn.

The mosque was demolished on December 6, 1992, but the planning for the event had preceded three years earlier. It was a brilliant marketing strategy by Hindutva craftsmen who had outlined the project of casting bricks, some in silver and gold, to be sanctified by the temples of India and eventually reach Ayodhya for the construction of the Ram temple with 108 pillars across two storeys, sprawled over 270 feet, which will be its length, quite in harmony with its 125 feet height.

The passage of the sanctified 2,75,000 shilas or bricks through towns and villages towards Ayodhaya clearly created tension. The Bhagalpur riot of 1989 was a consequence. I happened to be in a village called Chanderi.

Riots in Bhagalpur had broken out on October 24. By October 27, the area was tense enough to warrant the appearance of Major G.P.S. Virk of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry Regiment in Sabaur thana overseeing the contiguous settlements of Chanderi and Rajpur.

The two villages have a population of about 2,000 each, of whom about 10% are Muslims. (Remember I am describing the scene as I saw it in 1989, and the riots in Faizabad last week are a replica: in other words nothing has changed.) Rajpur has a ramshackle mosque which even the Chanderi Muslims visit on Fridays. But because of the fear that an aggressive Shila Pujan processions would pass 27,000 Bihar villages, the Chanderi Muslims set up a small shack for a mosque of their own so they would not have to undertake the risky journey across paddy fields to Rajpur for prayers.

In the saffron atmosphere, the emergence of a notional thatch mosque was resented by those high on the heady idea of sanctified bricks devotedly carted for the Ram Temple. Tensions caused the 100 or so Muslims to seek security in numbers. Major Virk shepherded them to the largest Muslim house in the village and, to ensure security, left a posse of policemen to keep watch.

Next morning when Virk returned he was in a state of daze. The Police were missing. The safe house for the Muslims had been gutted. From Chanderi’s central pond, covered with Hyacinth, protruded human parts – hands, legs, heads. The people around the pond denied they had seen anything.

Obviously unnerved by the saffron surge, the Congress instructed its UP Chief Minister Narain Dutt Tewari to arrange for the “Shila Nyas” or stone laying ceremony of the Ram Mandir’s outer walls on the disputed spot demanded by the Hindu extremist, VHP. This, the Congress coyly agreed while publicly denying that it had supervised Shila Nyas on “disputed land”. The sleight of hand became common knowledge.

This, it turned out was part of the party plan. Kicking off the party’s election campaign from Ayodhaya, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had promised to establish “Ram Rajya” in the country. What surprise then that the Shila Nyas was supervised by the Congress, even though the cheery slogans were mounted by the VHP: “This is not the foundation of a temple but of the Hindu Rashtra”.

Would you be surprised that one of the wisest Congressmen I have known, a deep, cultured man, Saiyid Nasir Hussain, sat in his office in the Faizabad Mosque, held his head in the cusp of his hands, and wept: “they have cheated the Muslims”. He then blurted out: “the deal with the VHP had been stuck at the very top.” He knew what he was talking about. “In UP the Congress is finished.” So far he has proved right.

Ofcourse the Ram Janmbhoomi agitation, L.K. Advani’s “Rath Yatra” was a cunning, multipurpose political project – to neutralize the caste forces unleashed by V.P. Singh’s promotion of the Mandal Commission Report giving reservations to the lower castes thus destabilizing the centuries old caste pyramid.

By the same token, Muslims were identified as the OTHER, to help in Hindu consolidation – the ultimate, elusive dream being that of Hindu Rashtra.

With the aggravation of this plot by the Hindu right, a rudderless, post emergency Congress has been living in mortal fear of Hindus leaving the Congress fold. This fear is a function of the Congress being totally out of touch, not having its ears on the ground, and nervously reacting to the BJP propaganda of Muslims appeasement.

How “appeased” the Muslims are, is available in graphic detail in the Sachar Committee report on the socio-economic condition of the Muslims. Not having the guts to implement the Ranganath Mishra Commission report to follow up on the Sachar Committee recommendations, the Congress drifts, until some smart Alecs place in its hands tricks like NREGA or cash transfers.

In non Congress, non BJP circles, it has been known for quite some time that the Congress had donned soft saffron even before P.V. Narasimha Rao slept through the Babri Masjid demolition.

Totally disenchanted with the Congress, which it considers a wilier variation on the BJP, the Muslim has all but abandoned it.

On an experimental basis, the Muslim tried his luck with the SP. But under Akhilesh Singh, a spate of anti Muslim riots in UP have been unnerving. Some in detail resembling the carnage in Chanderi (though on a smaller scale) has left the community something of a political destitute. Chief Minister Akhilesh Singh has not had the time to visit the riot affected people

In the Southern states, the community is relatively well adjusted. It is in the North and West that 100 million Muslims are running helter skelter in search of a party.

Ghalib’s line is apt:
“Chalta hoon thori door har ek
                              Tez rau ke saath,
Pahchanta naheen hoon abhi
                              Raahbar ko main.”
(I join everyone who is ahead in the caravan,
I have not yet recognized the leader who will show me the way)

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Who Will Inherit The Soul Of Hamas?

Who Will Inherit The Soul Of Hamas?

                                                               Saeed Naqvi

In the recent Israel-Hamas spat, who won?

If the outcome inflates Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support base for the January 22 elections, the mini war would have been well worth it for him. But that is not what the pundits are saying.

If the balance of power between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, shifts in favour of Hamas, because of the war, surely the Israeli Premier is not going to be overjoyed. Indeed, moderate pressure, even in the US, was clearly behind UN member states voting in favour of the resolution which upgrades Palestine’s status from “Observer entity” to “Non-Member Observer State”. This is something Netanyahu does not like in the pit of his stomach.

Militarily too, Israel has not covered itself with glory killing 160 Gazans, mostly civilians, as compared with only half a dozen Israelis.

The mood in Gaza, battered though it is, remains positive. During the 2006 war with Hezbullah the Israelis were surprised that the supposedly invincible Merkawah (Chariot of God) tank had its own Achilles heel. Iranian technology exposed it during that war.

On this occasion too, Israeli anti missile technology, some of which was on sale to New Delhi too, failed to neutralize the Fajr missile Iranians enabled them to assemble. And these missiles did reach Tel Aviv. Neither side can bet on a secure future in these circumstances.

It is undeniable that, once again, the unintended consequence of the recent war has been an upgradation of Hamas’s resistance capabilities in popular Arab perception. That this has been possible because of Iranian military help is also a truth well recognized in the Arab street.

None of this detracts from the new found agility of the Emir of Qatar to have turned up in Gaza to douse the war flames. Such an effort has never been mounted from Gaza for a simple reason: travelling to Gaza requires Israeli coordination, something not easy to arrange.

For Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi, this is a defining moment. He has leveraged his political, moral and logistical control on Hamas by persuading it to go along with the chorus to end the fighting. He has done so at a time when the secular opposition to him has stoked nationwide protest because it fears Morsi may be consolidating Muslim Brotherhood stranglehold outside constitutional provisions.

Morsi’s basic problem must be understood. His Party, the Muslim Brotherhood is, paradoxically, in conflict with Egypt’s cosmopolitan culture. Egypt’s culture is shaped by its own sense of antiquity, proximity to Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa. But its Islamic ideology has been shaped in opposition to oppressive authoritarianism.

Iran may offer an apt analogy. During the Shah’s autocratic rule, either the Communists in the form of Tudeh and Mujahideen e Khalq organized themselves underground or the Ayatullahs set up base in the only centres where some ventilation was available – the mosque.

Likewise, after almost half a century of authoritarianism, Egypt’s politics, reared in the mosques, cannot but be influenced by Islamic ideologues. But the cadre based organization of the Muslim Brotherhood must not be mistaken for the unorganized majority of whom the Coptic Christians constitute 20%.

What is going on in Egypt is something of three-legged walk: Morsi’s leg is tied to that of the liberal establishment. As soon as Morsi attempts to charge in the ultra Islamic direction, he is pulled back. The behavior of crowds at Tahrir square gives an idea how delicately Egypt’s quest for popular rule is poised.

Egypt is likely to remain in this phase of inconclusiveness until the Constitutional issues are out of the way. When the anti Mubarak protests erupted two years ago, there was a debate on whether a new constitution should precede Presidential elections. The Brotherhood pushed for early elections. For them, it made sense. Being the only cadre based party, they knew they had an advantage.

Even so, Ahmad Shafiq, interim Prime Minister when Mubarak was being wheeled out of the stage, upset all calculations by coming close to victory. If the group had organization, what might the result have been? It would therefore, be premature to conclude that there is a certain inevitability about the Brothers being at the helm for good.

While credit must be given to Morsi’s diplomacy in dousing the flames in Gaza, it must not be forgotten that a dozen Foreign Ministers visited Gaza in quest for a ceasefire. Ofcourse, the decisive visit was by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The game now is as follows: so far Iran, Syria, Hezbullah and Hamas were the “axis”, forged at a time when Shia-Sunni differences did not matter. But with the emergence of the Brothers in Egypt, a section of the Hamas is drifting back to its origins – Muslim Brotherhood. Recently, Syrian intelligence expelled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal who was found helping the opposition to Bashar al Assad.

This leaves Hamas in a state of schizophrenia. If it is to be a resistance movement, it needs military help from Iran. But this route distances it, for the time being atleast, from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood whose ideological child Hamas essentially is.

Who will inherit the soul of Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood or the Palestinian Resistance? That question will answer itself as events unfold.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Carving Communal Constituencies: Countdown To 2014

Carving Communal Constituencies: Countdown To 2014

                                                                                             Saeed Naqvi

While we have been tenderly performing the final rites in Mumbai of our full blown fascist and riveted on the blood sport of putting to sleep a 26 year old terrorist from Pakistan, I have, by way of a diversion, looking at the deteriorating communal situation nearer home, in UP. Let me begin with Faizabad, the precursor of Lucknow’s great culture.

Shahjehan Bibi, about 50, a yellow dupatta covers her shoulders in such a way as not to expose the grimy, torn kurta. Her face is expressionless with fatigue. Her piercing eyes, set in dark circles, are two continuous streams. Her tears do not stop. How does one break this forbidding silence? Who knows she may give out a primal wail like Om Puri in Aakrosh.

The torn sleeve in her right hand is held like a handkerchief to wipe her tears. She whispers, with gentle deliberation the names of her three daughters – very floral names they are:
Gulshan Bano, 26, Gulistan Bano, 24 and Gulfishan Bano, 22. They are hiding in a distant village. “I was beginning to collect jewellery for their marriage”, she hiccups. What kind of jewellery? “Three silver earings.” She lifts her finger upwards where a thatched roof once was and which protected the family, winter, summer and monsoons.

The picture gets even more grim in countless villages around Faizabad, once the epitome of Awadh’s composite culture. There are about a dozen houses of Shahjehan Bibi’s neighbours gutted likewise by mobs.

Phoolpur Takia is a colony of Muslims called Faqirs living in rows of thatched huts, whose primary occupation is making small tazias for the Moharram observance.

To burn their huts on the eve of Moharram is to destroy them financially. But there is always that indestructible will to survive. I was quite amazed seeing some of them on their haunches making bamboo frames for tazias in their roofless homes.

In a sense, the tensions of Faizabad are a continuation of a dozen or so incidents of communal violence across the state that began soon after Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav ascended the Chief Minister’s gaddi in Lucknow in March. One is not suggesting that the Chief Minister or his party is responsible for the violence. But there is incontrovertible proof that his grip on the administration is pathetic because violence has never been stopped. Above all the Chief Minister has never considered it worth his while to visit the places where these incidents have taken place. Did someone say: Muslims vote SP?

What has happened, follows a pattern: series of hamlets or villages around Bhadrasa town, within a stone’s throw from Faizabad, have been surrounded by arsonists and all the huts, without exception, belonging to Muslims have been gutted. Diligent care has been taken to ensure that the fire does not spread to a Hindu hut.

Ask Nazreen, or anyone else in Phoolpur Takia. They will have the same narrative.

The arsonists, brandishing trishuls and lathies chanted “Jai Sriram”. They ran from the predominately Hindu village of Phoolwaria, across the pond, towards Phoolpur Takia. Petrified women heaved a sigh of relief when three police vehicles drove towards Phulwaria. But after a conversation with the torch carrying mob, the police vehicles backed up and drove away. The mob descended on Phoolpur Takia and burnt everything – even the bamboo skeletons for the Tazias. What was that conversation between the police and arsonists about?

Tension in Faizabad was palpable when idols of Kali, Lakshmi and Saraswati at the famous Dev Kali temple nearby were found missing from their pedestals on September 22.

Yogi Adityanand and his cohorts turned up, flaring at the nostrils, spewing brimstone and fire, threatening to shake heaven and earth if the idols were not recovered. Supposing the culprits were Muslims. Trust the police therefore to have searched for the idols in Muslim enclaves of Azamgarh. Mercifully, they were recovered from the possession of four Hindus (each from a distinct caste) from Kanpur.

With Dussehra and Eid due on October 24 and 27, the communal gameplan now needed another booster. Immediately stories were floated of a Muslim boy having teased or molested (take your pick) a Hindu girl. The stories dominated the front pages of Hindi newspapers published on Dussehra Day. That day, being a holiday, there would be no publication the next day. So rumour would have more time to spread – right into Eid.

Loot, arson anti Muslim violence gripped Faizabad on October 24 when a large procession, carrying Durga idols, passed the main market past the historic 18the century mosque which is considered a model of communal harmony. Hindu women in hundreds climb the mosque for a darshan of the Durga procession. The mosque arranges for the flowers which can be showered on the idols. This year the organizers of the Procession asked the women to stay home. Could there have been a more tell-tale proof of planning for violence? And yet, the police did nothing. Atleast fifty shops were looted, item by item and then burnt.

Only the next day were the arsonists in the rural areas mobilized, the ones who reached Shahjehan Bibi’s village.

Mitr Sain Yadav, SP MLA, says “Hindus and Muslims had both voted for the SP in recent elections. The effort now is to separate them.” Who gains from this separation? Gainers from the mischief, across UP, will be sorted out later. The effort now is to rattle Akhilesh Yadav.

Also, there is careful social engineering involved in the pattern of conflict. It is no longer Hindu vs Muslim. This time Pasis, Lohars, Mallahs and a series of sub castes from among the Dalits are being individually pitted against the Muslims – a consolidation of Dalit sub-castes with Muslim as foil.

But much the most ominous slogan in Faizabad gives a clue to minds of people like Yogi Adityanand.
UP ab Gujarat banega
Faizabad shurruaat karega.
(UP will follow the Gujarat model. Faizabad is the start.)

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Is Arvind Kejriwal Left, Right or Centre?

Is Arvind Kejriwal Left, Right or Centre?
                                                                      Saeed Naqvi

When the Congress decline began to look patently devoid of any advantages to the BJP, L.K. Advani said something significant: “Another JP is needed!”

Advani’s invocation of the distinguished socialist and Gandhian leader Jai Prakash Narayan was not altruistic. As a result of JP movement, Indira Gandhi’s monopoly on power was smashed. Advani and Atal Behar Vajpayee of Jana Sangh (BJP’s precursor) were in the nation’s first coalition government in 1977 under Prime Minister Morarji Desai. Centre of gravity of Indian politics shifted from Left of Centre to Right. The trigger was the JP movement.

When Anna Hazare, also a strict, austere Gandhian, like JP, launched his anti corruption movement last year and the media gave it enormous space, a search began for the movement’s political beneficiaries. Some whispered: hadn’t Advani asked for another JP movement?

The people, particularly a swami or two, who began to appear on the Anna stage were, in form and feature, more “BJP” than any other party on show. This BJP tilt must have caused others in Anna’s proximity to steer clear of an identity they were averse to.

India against Corruption functionaries are quite open that Kiran Bedi was navigating Anna towards the BJP. It would therefore follow that Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, the ones who charted a different course, that of gradually setting up a political party of their own at some stage, must be seen as a force wary of the BJP, particularly after the duet hurled a boulder in the Nitin Gadkari pond! Their vision of a decentralized, people’s government, right upto the village level may require some work on the constitution. Is the village democratic? Is corruption really a top-down phenomenon? IAC think tanks are mulling over these isues.

As for the Congress, some of its leaders are having nightmares at the demolition work the IAC has already done. The expose of Robert Vadra’s land deals has rattled not only the family but the Gandhi Durbar. Heaven knows which missile is going to sting them where?

Ofcourse there are skeptics of diverse hues, some so startled at the rapidity with on which one scandal has followed another, that they can only think of a dark conspiracy whose beginning or end they are unable to spot. One diligent journalist has thrust under my nose a speech World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz made in 2006 denouncing corruption as “one of the biggest threats to development in many countries” including India. To draw attention to Wolfowitz’s anti corruption speech at this juncture implies that the IAC, according to this journalist, is somehow tainted by a World Bank agenda!

If this, indeed, were true, how does one explain thoroughbred Communists in muted admiration of Kejriwal?

Where the left front stands vis-à-vis IAC’s future political plans may not be altogether irrelevant in the emerging framework. The Left, meanwhile, is busy putting its own house in order.

There have for some time been representatives of the CPM and CPI in conversation to minimise differences between themselves because, with the Congress and the BJP embarked on self destruction, they see vast, virgin fields open to political harvesting. But the Left is in no position to take advantage because it does not have a gameplan yet.

The CPI, much the smaller of the two parties, doggedly disagrees with the CPM in Andhra Pradesh, for instance. It would like to go along with Telugu Desam because that support is important for D. Raja’s re election to the Rajya Sabha. Raja’s current term ends in March. Is this a priority concern for a party with any hope in hell?

It reflects on Kejriwal’s success that folks in the generally cautious Left parties are quite open about their emissaries being in contact with IAC.

Ofcourse, the bewildered metropolitan dilettante frequently asks: “But how will this shoot and scoot help?” A pause. “See nothing has happened to Vadra.”

Well should not the media, its credibility on the line, be pursuing stories to their logical end? The politically naïve also talk of the legal course.

But this course is course to paradise for the corrupt who have vast reserves of patience. Remember Sukh Ram found with crores in his pillow? Well he is free as a lark for the past 23 years even as the case drags on and on.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Obama And Muslim Anti Americanism

Obama And Muslim Anti Americanism

                                                                Saeed Naqvi

A dear friend of mine, whose soul is suspended between India and the United States, has established a fine tradition of hosting a bagels and cream party every four years, on November 7 at 5.00 am to watch the American Presidential election results, exactly when the carnival begins in the US.

The 2008 party was sensational: America re inventing itself, handing the reins to America’s first black President. I can never forget Jesse Jackson unable to control his tears. Vistas to a new world were opening up. But where has it fled, the visionary gleam?

So I refused to attend this year’s party.

“Why?”, my friend asked.

“I am disappointed with Obama”, I said.

“Give me one reason?”, he persisted.

“He couldn’t even close Guantanamo Bay!”

He fixed me in a sympathetic gaze. He did not say anything, but I knew what was going on in his head. He had worked out in his orderly mind all the reasons why Obama actually won, but this Guantanamo bit surprised him. I am aware of his own disgust with the notorious facility but what startled him was, that in my emphatic prioritization of plaints, Guantanamo ranked so high.

Somewhere here is also a clue to an item which, if Obama can place on his list of things to be done in the four years of his Presidency, he will go down in history as a President who restored to America that admiration which has over the years been replaced by fear, awe, a nagging sense of injustice, generating anger and rage.

To take up this agenda, Obama has to first recognize the reality: 90 percent of the world’s 2.3 billion Muslims nurse varying shades of anti Americanism. It cannot be a comfortable feeling that two fifths of the world population has a negative focus on a nation of which you are the leader.

I must be some sort of a romantic, but I really did believe that an opportunity came our way to calm anti Muslim sentiment in the United States in July 2010 when – it appeared then – that New Yorkers led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had agreed to build a 13 storey community centre two blocks away from Ground Zero in Manhattan. The tragedy is, that project was obstructed just because it was named Cordoba House!

A colossal irony attends this obstruction. Cordoba, an exquisite city in Southern Spain, was in medieval times the high point of cultural and religious tolerance. It was built by Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Yale Professor, Maria Rosa Menocal’s remarkable book “Ornament of the World” dwells on Cordoba as an example of how great civilizations can co exist, exactly the opposite of the horrendous lessons of the Crusades.

No sooner was the project announced, than Ms. Sarah Palin was at her shrillest. Anything associated with Muslims, she seemed to suggest, had a natural tendency towards fundamentalism, extremism or worse. Never mind if the proposed multi faith centre would accommodate a 500-seat auditorium, theatre, a performing arts center fitness centre, swimming pool, book store and a memorial to the victims of September 11 attacks. Was Ms. Palin justified in throwing a ginger fit if such a facility were to also accommodate some worshippers – Muslims as well as others?

Remember, the Mosque at Cordoba remains to this day one of the world’s great monuments inside which is a functioning Church.

Here is a small idea which can go some distance in toning down anti Muslim sentiment by simply acquainting a forgetful West of the world’s most glorious phase of cultural harmony.

Surely, hard line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must know a few things about Andalusia, of which Cordoba was once the capital. His father Professor Benzion Netanyahu, specialized in the history of the Jews in Spain!

This is just an idea in passing. The larger point I am making is this: to make his legacy a memorable one, Obama can, with some determination, retard Muslim alienation which turns to rampaging anti Americanism, which, step by step transforms itself into rage, the stuff of terror which, to reach the ends of the earth, waits for just that Drone attack to generate more anger and augment terrorist ranks.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

In Exposing Corruption Kejriwal-Prashant Searchlights On Media Too

In Exposing Corruption Kejriwal-Prashant Searchlights On Media Too
                                                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 02.11.2012

Josh Malihabadi’s scathing satire on Bribery in the 50s confirms the fact that corruption, ranging from “Bakshish” or “tip” to more unsavoury disbursements, has deep roots.

But the barrage of corruption charges that has left the United Progressive Alliance or UPA II wriggling against the ropes are on a qualitatively different scale, where the nexus between big industry and government tends to institutionalize exploitative systems which leave the poor outside the pale. This is what all Urdu poets without exception have berated as “sarmayadari” or “capitalism”. Take the great poet Majaz, for instance:
“Yeh who bijli hai jiski zud
            Mein har dahqan ka khirman hai
Yeh who aandhi hai jiski rau
            Mein muflis ka nasheman hai”
(Capitalism is the lightening which strikes a peasant’s thatched hut;
It is a flood in whose path lie the dwellings of the poor!)

I suppose my good friend Dr. Surjit Bhalla, who is a little to the right of the John Birch Society, would like to send all Urdu poets to an IMF sponsored reformatory. We can discuss that too, but my purpose here is to gauge the efficacy of the recent campaigns by India Against Corruption. Nothing in recent memory has quite captured the national mood on this scale as the efforts of Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, picking the high and the mighty, one by one, lifting their chins, then chastising them with double fisted punches.

Corruption, magnified a thousand fold, is being brought into focus, frame by frame, even as the nation sits around its TV sets, riveted. But a small caveat must be inserted. People, angry on a host of socio-economic issues can, when charged up, vent their ire on something quite different.

In Julius Caesar an infuriated mob has been swayed to kill those who conspired to murder Caesar. A section of the mob falls upon a man, “tear him to piece, he is a conspirator.” The man throws up his hands in denial, “I am Cinna’ the poet.” One of the mob screams. “Tear him for his bad verses”.+

In the current setting dominated by the Kejriwal-Prashant duet, peoples anger on price rise, growing disparities between rich and poor can be easily deflected because the government’s discomfiture on corruption in high places, in its ranks, is much more telegenic. Sheepish spokesmen, rolling their eyes across the screen, are more eye-catching than vegetables whose risen prices are angering millions!

The observation that much of what IAC has exposed was something “we knew” has partial validity. Well, CPI General Secretary, Sudhakar Reddy’s 2007 speech in Parliament on the Reliance-official nexus reads like a document from which Kejriwal may well have lifted passages while targeting those deemed guilty.

The fact that the explosive material was lying around is all the more embarrassing for the media: why did it not mount an investigation? In a remarkable exchange on Karan Thapar’s Devil’s Advocate, Kejriwal throws the gauntlet: “Karan, you don’t have the courage to invite Robert Vadra on your show!” Karan, in this instance, is a metaphor for the media in general.

This is Kejriwal’s greatest achievement. He has pulled down the screen behind which the powerful felt exclusively secure. By beaming searchlights on those considered beyond investigation, Kejriwal has charted a new course for the media. Will the media rise to the challenge?

It is common knowledge that Corporates control most of the electronic media. That being the case, how has the media turned upon the hand that feeds? Intra corporate warfare?

The nervousness of the Corporates and their media clients is best exemplified by an unprecedented one and a half hour interview Ratan Tata gave to NDTV during the Neera Radia phase which, incidentally took a toll of many media reputations.

The IAC revelations have clearly rattled the establishment. But does not exclusive focus on corruption create the impression that corruption is the only yoke under which the poor groan?

Purpose of life, we were all told, was the pursuit of happiness. Rampaging capitalism made that dictum stand on its head. The purpose of life, according to the new theology, became the accumulation of wealth.

Economists like Prabhat Patnaik would argue that accelerated corruption is a consequence of Neo-Liberal policies. That is where redressal has to be sought to manage popular unrest in a poor society.

The lasting contribution of Kejriwal-Prashant may well be the removal of fear of the mighty. Media must take heart from this and proceed on this new course. But it cannot because its affairs are shrouded in secrecy. The duet, to leave a lasting legacy, must beam on the media, demanding transparency in patterns of ownership. We must know who owns a channel to be able to know whether it slants a story and, when it does, slants it which way?

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Friday, October 26, 2012

The End Of A Love Story

The End Of A Love Story
                                            Saeed Naqvi

“Raja Sahib Bhatuamau”, as I generally teased him, died in a Karachi hospital last week. This mock elevation of Kazim Bhai’s status was actually somewhat ironical. His father really was the Raja of that awkward sounding principality, in Awadh, in status and location not far from other Taluqdari’s, some driven to despair by Chief Minister, Govind Ballabh Pant’s zamindari abolition in the 1950s.

The status reversal for Awadh’s gentry was considerable but the enormity of it did not apparently touch Kazim Bhai who drowned out the Blues at the Lucknow club, danced the fox trot in buckskin shoes, and escorted Anglo Indian ladies from the Maqbara to the weekly, 10 am. English movie at Lucknow’s Mayfair cinema. Heaven knows how he ended up in Sweden from where, armed with a degree in structural engineering, he landed on his feet in Karachi and built a few buildings.

Meanwhile, a transformational storm had also engulfed our family, anchored in Mustafabad in Rae Bareli.

Depleted land revenues spurred a quest for Western education, the only stepping stone towards alternative means of livelihood. Law was a favoured profession because legal practice was an enabling factor in avoiding having to “work” for somebody else.

Then came the troubling issue of women’s education. Of the four sisters, my mother and the one immediately younger to her, went through the usual motions of private instruction while the younger two, Bilqis and Alia Askari joined the University. Alia, communist after a fashion, proceeded to lead the Lucknow University union and became the first woman in the family, indeed in Lucknow of the 50s, to obtain a highly acclaimed Ph.D. She was my favourite aunt and for her many idiosyncrasies, I addressed her as Aunt Agatha, straight from Wodehouse.

Given the gender biases of the period, Aunt Agatha’s education, her exceptional oratorical skills, her equation with the finest minds of the day, became her greatest handicaps. “How to find a husband for a girl so educated”? There were other handicaps: she was a Saiyyid too! A feudal landscape in a state of collapse was singularly bereft of Post Graduate Saiyyids!

At the time of Partition my eldest Aunt, Shabbir Bano, lived in Mumbai with her husband, a Captain Hasan Zaidi. A question arose. Should he join the Indian or the Pakistan army? The issue was settled by an extraordinary calculation. A map of India was pinned on a large table. One point of a compass was placed on Lucknow, the other on Mumbai. Then, the point on Mumbai was rotated onto Karachi. There was not much of a difference in terms of distance. The issue was easily settled in favour of Karachi because a family friend, Brigadier Zahid, had promised all manner of support in the new country.

When Shabbir Bano heard of Aunt Agatha’s predicament, she sent word that Karachi was crawling with “post graduate” Saiyyids. So, Aunt Agatha was placed on a Karachi bound Dakota and received in Pakistan with fanfare by relatives who were active members of the Pakistan Communist Party from whom she learnt of Ayub Khan’s military pact with the United States.

Before she had opened her bags, she was whisked off to a large public meeting which Aunt Agatha kept spellbound by her oratory and sharp “anti imperialist” invective. Gen. Ayub Khan lost no time: well spoken officers picked her up from the meeting, collected her bags from her sister’s house and placed her on a Delhi-bound Dakota, within a day of her arrival.

But my Karachi Aunt would not give up. She scoured the city until someone drew her attention to a tall engineer from Sweden always in a flashy suit and, ofcourse, those trademark buckskin shoes. He could not measure up to Aunt Agatha’s intellect, but he was a Saiyyid alright, a fact which in Shabbir Bano’s eyes absolved him of his sartorial excesses.

Although towards the end they were inseparable, the first phase on Aunt Agatha’s part was one of acquiescence. She was all too conscious of what to her, in the beginning, seemed an unbridgeable chasm: two people from the same region, Awadh, living in different zones. And all because, they were from childhood, exposed to a variegated emphasis on a life of the mind.

Most of those who had migrated from India, the Mohajirs or refugees as they are called to this day, would see them as an unlikely pair. The trick was to escape to an alien culture where people would not spot the nuances.

Aunt Agatha proceeded to teach Urdu literature in Beijing University until the Cultural Revolution of the 60s made it difficult to live in China. In China, too, Kazim Bhai was her perfect escort, even to the Great Hall of the People.

Returning to Karachi, she immersed herself into her favourite literary groups. Kazim Bhai, clad in his suit and buckskin shoes, fixed his gaze on her with unwavering adoration. She became an in-house intellectual to Begum Nusrat Bhutto a fact which elevated Aunt Agatha further in Kazim Bhai’s doting eyes. After Begum Bhutto’s death they proceeded to waste themselves in mutual adoration bereft of any inspiration – a very feudal decay. But they were, by now, totally inseparable.

There was always in Kazim Bhai something of a Walter Mitty, day dreaming, lost in reveries, including one of a day in paradise. I called him from Delhi: “How was paradise? Would you like to go?”

“No” he said in his frail voice. “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush”. He was a lovable man.

If we tried we would have got visas to attend his funeral. But we did not. The sheer habit of living in different countries with obstacles in travel increases distance exponentially. Dearest relatives take up residence only in the mists of memory.

Look after yourself, Aunt Agatha!

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

How Chavez Made The Media Electorally Irrelevant

How Chavez Made The Media Electorally Irrelevant
                                                                                         Saeed Naqvi

“If much of the Western media is to be believed, I write this column from a country brutalised by an absurd tinpot caudillo, Hugo Chavez, who routinely jails any journalist or politician with the temerity to speak out against his tyranny”. This was written by Owen Jones of London’s The Independent from Caracas on the recent Venezuelan elections. And guess what happened: Chavez won handsomely.

But media malice continues. As an example Jones cites, among others Toby Young, author of “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”. According to Young, Venezuela is ruled by a “Marxist tyrant” and a “Communist dictator”. The defeated opponent in the presidential elections, Henrique Capriles, was portrayed by contrast as an inspiring, dynamic democrat determined to end Venezuela’s failed socialist experiment and open the country to much-needed foreign investment.

Doesn’t this yearning for “much needed foreign investment” by most of the losing politicians in Latin America, resemble the sentiment of the Indian ruling class?

Owen Jones’, critique of the global media habitually dissembling about world leaders who thumb their noses at the West, is all the more compelling because it comes from one of the West’s very own. Jones continues “The reality of Venezuela could not be more distant from the coverage, but the damage is done: even many on the left regard Chavez as beyond the pale. Those who challenge the narrative are dismissed as “useful idiots”, following in the footsteps of the likes of Beatrice and Sidney Webb who, in the 1930s, lauded Stalin’s Russia, oblivious to the real horrors.”

Those in the media who were cheerleaders for Henrique Capriles, the defeated opposition candidate, must seriously reflect why they got this election so hopelessly wrong. They may take heart from the fact that they are not the first Chavez baiters who galloped straight into the windmill. There have been a procession of others, possibly more illustrious than they, who have been eating humble pie though 15 elections that Chavez has successfully been through ever since he won the first one in 1999.

He must be one of the most exasperating figures for the West to stomach. It would be easy to smother him under heaps of abuse had he silenced the media, painted blood signs on the doors of the rich, filled jails with his opponents: it would be gratifying driving nails into the coffin of such a monstrous tyrant. But he has done none of this. He has simply ignored the rich to their devices and improved the lot of the poor, by every development yardstick.

He has tolerated the private media, having 90 percent of the audience share. This “free” media dishes out daily doses of vitriol against Chavez. The person the “free” media rails against trounces his opponent the object of its adoration. It must be galling that the independently owned media has become so insubstantial, so impotent, unable to terminate the political life of a dictator they so hate? Here is room for the study of “free” media sans credibility, something the global media is rapidly becoming in pursuit of an agenda in yet another theatre – Middle East. What riles the media is this: “he has not even given us the opportunity to accuse him of repressing the media, or of blocking rallies against him which, in fact, are galore.”

Is he able to survive because he rigs elections? But all elections have been declared free by International Observers. One of these observers, President Jimmy Carter, described the country’s election process as “the best in the world”.

A mention of George W. Bush at this juncture would be proper because no recent US President has tried harder to stop Chavez. In fact the losing candidate on this occasion, Capriles, tried to do in 2002, with Bush’s help, what an earlier American administration succeeded in affecting in Chile: a Pinochet style coupe. And this effort at toppling Chavez was totally backed by Venezuela’s “free” media. Allowing a candidate with this record to contest against him reflects on his cultivated cockiness.

The Independent’s correspondent asks: “I wonder what would happen to Sky New and ITN if they had egged on a coup d’état against a democratically elected government in Britain?”

Much to the West’s chagrin, a series of South American leaders are only mildly distinguishable from Chavez in their leftist hue. In fact Brazil’s Lula de Silva spoke for most Latin American leaders when he said: “A victory for Chavez is not just a victory for the people of Venezuela but also a victory for all the people of Latin America. This victory will strike another blow against imperialism.”

Geographically, Fidel Castro and Chavez are within whispering distance from the US which has not concealed its incurable dislike for both. Castro has been on the hit list for half a century.

Why is it then that Saddam Hussain can be picked up from a rathole, Qaddafi sodomized by a knife in front of TV cameras, similar plots can be in the works for Bashar al Assad, but hate objects in the vicinity of the US are treated differently. Why? There could be interesting reasons.

Considering that India is part of BRICS, it cannot be indifferent to developments in Latin America. Ofcourse, there will a qualitative change in interest if the promised energy pipeline from China to Venezuela proceeds beyond the drawing boards.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

India’s Role In The Muslim World: A Foreign Policy Challenge

India’s Role In The Muslim World: A Foreign Policy Challenge
                                                                                                      Saeed Naqvi

Supposing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, seated across the table with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, were to say:
“The murderous regime in Syria has killed 30,000 of its own citizens. India by itself has no clout in Syria. There is nothing you can do on your own. It is time therefore that you become part of the solution by falling in line with us. Assad simply cannot have a role in the solution having murdered so many. You must make a choice: does the obstructive role being played by Russia and China deserve your support? And you know as well as anyone else that the regime’s days are numbered.”

What would be Krishna’s response to this imaginary statement? Well, imaginary the statement may be but, with moderated tonal quality, it may yet reflect sentiments the Indian side has heard from their US counterparts in recent exchanges on West Asia. Do Indians listen in silence to this case for the prosecution? Or do they dwell on the case for the defence? Being reminded that India has no hand to play, must hurt.

What exactly is the situation inside Syria? When I was there, which is several months ago, the world media had conceded outright victory to the Syrian opposition and safe havens were being considered for Assad and his family. The Assads are still around, although speculation is rife of him being considered for “targeted killing” as distinct from “political assassination”. Wondrous play on words!

There is a difficulty analyzing a dynamic story like Syria where so much technical, military, human resource has been injected from outside. We may have forgotten but once we described this as cross border terrorism. The facts on Syria this reporter internalized in August, 2011, can be only partly relevant a year after the first external probes began to find local hospitality. And then external and internal amalgamated into scores of opposition groups.

The earlier case was based on personal observation and interviews. Contrary to conventional wisdom a year ago, Assad could not fall because he controls (loosely now) a Ba’ath power structure not dissimilar to the one Saddam Hussain supervised in Baghdad. It took Shock and Awe, invasion, occupation, half a million Iraqi lives, thousands of US and British soldiers dead: only then was the US able to leave Iraq the wreck that it is today. Does the West have the stomach to repeat that in Syria when Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya continue to be weeping sores?

Such a question would be particularly valid at this juncture when the world is waiting for a new administration to emerge in Washington. But the reality is that Foreign Policy – and National Security establishment in Washington, barring extraordinary change at the top, moves seamlessly from one administration to the next: faces change, but attitudes do not.

Election season or no election season, the US establishment focused on West Asia is pushing ahead regardless, holding the hand of France, Saudis, Qatar, Turkey, orchestrating the eventual fall of the Syrian regime.

In high stake poker there is always a little bit of bluff and bluster. There may be some here too, particularly to play on Russian nerves. As a scholar told me in Moscow recently: “Putin will not let down Assad, but fewer are the chances of his letting down Russia!”

Mikheil Saakashvili’s eclipse in Georgia must have provided relief in Moscow from the relentless Western pressure on Syria. For the time being, Moscow and China will stand their ground because the cost of an alternative policy will be too high in the region.

The Saudi interests are clear: a fear of encirclement by Shia populations. But surely Saudi Wahabis will remain a minority even in an augmented Sunni ocean, the kind of Sunnism that obtains in the region stretching from Morocco right upto the borders of Saudi Arabia.

Two Saudi Crown Princes have died in the past year. The current one is ailing and King Abdullah is in and out of hospitals. A durable Saudi strategy must await the impending succession to be over.

The lightening shift in Turkish policy in the region has astonished observers. Well known journalist Mehmet Birand told me last year. “We were a docile ally of the US in the past and now a dissident country in the Western Alliance.” No longer can he say that. Tayyip Erdogan won three straight elections incrementally increasing his vote from 36 to 42 and in 2011 to 49 percent. His declared ambition was to have “zero problems with all our neighbours”. With neighbouring Greece on its knees, Turkey’s rise seemed unprecedented.

Why has Erdogan staked so much on the Syrian expedition?

Firstly, does he see Democratic Turkey as a model for the Muslim world in transition?

Secondly, is this vision accompanied by echoes of an Ottoman past which, he must know, is anathema to the Arabs?

Third, is his Akhwanul Muslimeen core, earlier toned down to be acceptable to the Army’s Kemalist secularism, resurfacing with the Akhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) on the rise elsewhere in the Arab world?

Four, is he not opening up fronts with 18 million Kurds, 20 million Turkish Alawites, and Russia’s Slav and Orthodox Church links in the Balkans which had been tamed in the recent past. Forcing a Moscow-Damascus flight, carrying some Russian families, land in Turkey on suspicions of arms being shipped has caused President Putin to postpone his visit to Ankara.

Five, what is the design in provoking direct confrontation with Iran?

Six, is the biggest incentive for the shift the large off shore gas finds in the Eastern Mediterranean? This deserves to be focused on.

Whatever the combination of motives, the gamble for Turkey is a huge one.

Iran, ofcourse, must continue to live dangerously between negotiation on the nuclear issue and the risk of being attacked. “Attack Iran” lobby has not weakened in Israel or the US.

In all of this, where does India stand? In the fictitious script Hillary Clinton says India has no clout in the region. Possibly true. But how did Nehru and Indira Gandhi have influence in the area. It will be argued that that was during the Cold War, when India led the Non Aligned which became redundant in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet collapse.

But with Western decline, a new world order may well be taking shape. In shaping the new equilibrium New Delhi does have a leadership position in groupings like the Non Aligned which will meet in Cairo in coming years. Only by reinventing its leadership role in such groupings will New Delhi insulate itself from the ignominy of being told that in so and so part of the world India does not matter.

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