Monday, January 30, 2012

Have Taleban Promised US That Women Will Be Treated Kindly?

Have Taleban Promised US That Women Will Be Treated Kindly?
Saeed Naqvi

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to the US Congress begins with America’s recent military engagement in self congratulatory terms. Among the more modest claims is: “For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country”.

The speech ends with a graphic account of the SEAL Team’s mission “to get bin Laden”. He says “one of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mission”.

Between these extended bits of military triumphalism, are other substantive themes that will play themselves out in great detail upto the Presidential election in November 2012.

Part of the choreography being structured for the campaign is the conference on Afghanistan due in May in Chicago, with NATO seated on the front benches along with others including all those present at the first Bonn conference. In his speech Obama talked of the 10,000 troops who have already returned. He then said that “23,000 more will leave by the end of summer”.

The Chicago conference will be in the Spring. The 23,000 US troops will not have left Afghanistan by then. That will happen only by the “end of summer”, say August or September, weeks short of polling day. If troops can really be brought back by then, the resultant photo ops can be given a favourable spin. Some sort of success can be projected.

Between the announcement of the exact date of the next phase of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the actual departure of troops, there can always be a hitch which will enable departure to be delayed beyond November 5, leaving the next administration to devise a more plausible policy for Afghanistan or for that hyphenated Af-Pak region. That expression has been gradually shed as Richard Holbrooke recedes from memory.

I suppose it is the prerogative of the powerful to blandish daily improvisations as carefully crafted, deeply thought out foreign policy. Put it down to my inadequate grasp of events, but in recent years I have not been able to spot anything resembling policy towards Af-Pak.

Remember when Peter Galbraith was posted to Kabul as Holbrooke’s sidekick? Soon after Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s re election in August 2009 he packed up and left because the elections had been “rigged”.

Those were the days when every visiting American journalist, briefed either at Bagram or the US’s Kabul embassy, described Karzai as something less than the Mayor of Kabul, one who could not even step out of the Palace.

Then came General Stanley McChrystal who was disarmingly blunt: India’s socio-economic development work in Afghanistan “creates complications and distracts Pakistan from its war on terror”. This is what I was told in Kabul.

Was this derived from some policy? If so, how do I square it with well placed Americans in Islamabad, during that period, fairly vocal about the Pak army playing “both sides of the street” in their war on terror?

One has lived so long with the absence of a coherent US policy in the region, that the frenetic activity between Washington, Kabul, Islamabad and now Qatar cannot by any stretch of imagination be seen as part of a deep design. It smacks of yet another improvisation.

The limited short term objective is to prepare a script for Chicago where “success” in Afghanistan can be credibly “promised”. Success cannot be “announced” because “success” cannot happen in a short time frame.

What is the implication of this Qatar digression?

Have the Taleban, a “nightmare” of the 1990s, been transformed into harbingers of a sparkling new dawn for Afghanistan, by the sheer passage of time?

In the 90s, Holbrooke and friends were passing through New Delhi. US ambassador Frank Wisner held a dinner for the group before escorting them to Bhutan for a holiday. By a coincidence, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour happened to be in Kabul. Her powerful reportage of the Taleban’s harsh treatment of women changed Washington’s policy so abruptly that, just then, Holbrooke received a call from the White House on this subject. He returned to the group shaking his head. “Washington is unhappy with the way Afghan women are being treated.” Someone in the group succinctly observed: “Afghan policy has now got embroiled in US gender politics.” Another improvisation was affected. The policy was changed. Facilitators of an American hydrocarbon pipeline through Afghanistan became pariahs overnight.

Will the Taleban this time sign statements on oath that they will be kind to their women?

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Rushdie Not A Problem For Muslims But For Politicians

Rushdie Not A Problem For Muslims But For Politicians
Saeed Naqvi

The Maulana from the Darul Uloom seminary at Deoband who threatened the Jaipur Literary Festival with disruption, in case Salman Rushdie participated, is only the latest in a long list of spoilsports appointed by God.

When Pakistan was beginning to take shape and had not yet acquired the Islamic passion it is currently famous for, the country’s second Prime Minister, Haji Sir Khwaja Nazimuddin, organized a cultural evening where the great Sarangi player, Ustad Bundu Khan, was the star attraction. Among the invitees was a Maulana.

When it was time for the guests to depart, master of ceremonies “Patras” Bukhari, himself a great wit and man of letters, escorted the Maulana to a limousine. Since Ustad Bundu Khan lived in the same direction, Patras requested the Sarangi maestro to accompany the Maulana.

Next morning the Prime Minister found himself facing a Maulana shaking with rage. “How dare Patras expect me to accompany a Sarangi player!”

The PM promptly called Patras and acquainted him with the delicacy of the matter. “You must do what is proper and report to me.”

Patras informed the PM the following day that he had taken suitable action. “I have apologized to Ustad Bundu Khan!” The Maulana on one side Patras and Bundu Khan on the other have rolled along parallel tracks from medieval times.

In 1988, Rajiv Gandhi, in political difficulties, needed the Muslim vote. This was the reason he succumbed to pressure from the so called Muslim leaders and banned Satanic Verses.

Even in those days opinion among Muslims was divided. Clearly Rushdie had, while talking about the Prophet’s wives, transgressed from the sort of irreverence which is part of literary license to hurtful rudeness.

There were those who thought the book should be banned but there were many more who argued that banning of books was immoral and counter productive.

Supposing Satanic Verses had not been banned in India. Well, there would have been no global hullabaloo about the book and no Iranian Fatwa, all of which cumulatively helped boost sales.

And now the Jaipur festival is taking place in the middle of the UP election campaign in which the Muslim vote is again on a premium. Coincidentally, an internal power struggle is on in Deoband itself in which the nephew is challenging the uncle. In this situation either can raise the stakes to embarrass the other by raking up the Rushdie issue.

Rajasthan Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot is, meanwhile, smarting under Congress High command displeasure for tardy action in Gopalgarh where the police shot Muslims in a mosque. Since Rahul Gandhi is busting his guts campaigning for the party in neighbouring UP, one false note on the Rushdie issue can cause the Muslim vote to bolt and for Gehlot to be shown the door. Or, so the partymen, in a state of funk, seem to believe.

Supposing the organizers ignored Deoband and went ahead with Rushdie’s well advertised programme. Would the country’s Muslims take over the nation’s roads in fiery agitating? Ofcourse not.

Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to upgrade relations with Israel (ultimately Narasimha Rao implemented it) has a lesson for the Congress. Muslim leaders, the usual suspects, advised him against upgrading relations. Muslims would be annoyed, they said.

Others argued that there are other negatives in upgrading relations with Israel, but one thing is clear: Israel is not a priority issue for Indian Muslims. Continuous projection of Rushdie like issues, as vital to Muslims, comes in the way of development as their priority requirement. They become a mindless religious herd in popular perception.

The wide acceptance of this perception is partly related to the decline of Urdu and the composite culture on which their identity is built. This cultural identity has in the season of vote banks been replaced by a bland religious identity. Religious identity is easier to stoke for minority mobilization. Cultural identity derives from Sufi traditions, music, architecture and, above all, poetry which has challenged religious dogma frontally.

Sab tere siwa kafir
Aakhir iska matlab kya?
Sar phira de Insaan ka
Aisa khabt e mazhab kya?
(Every one other than you is an impious kafir? what kind of non sense is this? Shun religion which is illogical)

There is not a passage in Urdu poetry which gives any quarter to orthodoxy or the clergy but poets make a clear distinction between irreverence and disrespect.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

In UP, Keep Your Eyes On The Peace Party

In UP, Keep Your Eyes On The Peace Party
Saeed Naqvi

Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh have consistently taken divergent stands on the Batla House police encounter. Chidambaram says the issue cannot be re opened because it was a proper encounter in which lives were lost including that of a policeman. The Prime Minister supports the Home Minister’s stand in the name of national security.

Digvijay Singh maintains it was a “fake” encounter. In other words, it was a deliberate attack on Muslim youth who had come from Azamgarh and were registered at the Jamia Millia University. Is this why Digvijay Singh raised the Batla House issue in Azamgarh where Rahul Gandhi was campaigning?

The Muslim has always been in focus in North India either as a potential voter or a foil against which Hindu consolidation can be attempted.

Hindu consolidation was a ploy (as during Mandir-Masjid) when BJP was a rising power. In days when Hindutva wore the “Shakti” mantle, Muslims, in search of security sought shelter in the Congress verandah. But after Babari Masjid the verandah came crumbling down and Muslim ran helter skelter even supporting caste formations.

Currently, disgusted with caste formations too, the Muslim is re evaluating his strategy. “Muslims will vote tactically” goes the refrain among tired Lucknow analysts. This means they will vote for anyone who can defeat the BJP candidate. This line of thinking pre supposes there is something like a muscular BJP around to scare the minority. Such a BJP does not exist any longer.

The absence of BJP as ogre is a new electoral problem for the Congress grown accustomed to the minorities quaking with fright come election time.

A possible way out of the jam is to create conditions of tension by constantly harping on issues which would soften the Muslim vote. Batla House is one such.

But all this sophistry is obsolete because what has emerged through six decades of trial and error is a Muslim vote in UP extremely suspicious.

That is why the Digvijay Singh – P. Chidambaram point-counterpoint is having a resonance among a large number of Muslim voters which is totally at variance from my earlier analysis. I thought Digvijay Singh would be quite the darling of the minority voters. That is not the case, among Muslims who are abandoning the Congress for a rapidly growing outfit called the Peace Party. The party has positioned itself not as a Muslim party but with Muslims, among others, in leadership positions.

The formula resembles the BSP’s approach tailored by Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. The BSP structure is built on Dalit as the base vote. Give seats to all the communities and on polling day transfer Dalit votes to augment the BSP candidate’s vote share.

The leader of the Peace Party is a bright medical doctor Mohammad Ayub. He has latched onto the theory of the Muslim “base” vote which, according to official estimates is 18.5 per cent. Dr. Ayub believes the percentage is higher – say, 22 percent.

Dr. Ayub has deftly steered clear of the easy temptation to create a Muslim party. His Peace Party has Brahmins, Thakurs, the most backward groups like Khatiks, Valmiki, Dasi and so on. There are six Peace Party members in the present UP assembly of whom three are thakurs and three most backwards.

In its step by step approach, the Peace Party has adopted the politics of horizontal growth, a gradual enlargement of the vote share. In this fashion, rival parties are denied space and the Peace Party then make slow vertical growth, a sort of “appam” effect.

It is not possessed by unrealistic ambition. “We will certainly get 25 to 35 seats”, says Dr. Ayub. There is likely to be such a multiplicity of parties in the fray that “no government can be formed without our support”. The searing ambition is to be in the government – “any government with any combination even the BJP”. Power is what the Peace Party is aiming at! Since the Peace Party seeks to balance various Hindu interests with Muslims in the lead, communal harmony is high priority.

This, precisely is the reason that in the PC – Digvijay Singh stand-off, Muslims in the Peace Party find Chidambaram’s approach more helpful. “In Malegaon, Mecca Masjid and all such incidents” Chidambaram is quietly proceeding against the Hindutva forces.

Digvijay Singh’s heart is in the right place, but by raising the decibel level on these issues he ends up “provoking the forces” the Peace Party would rather have in deep slumber.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Is Digvijay Only One Tasked To Fight Communalism?

Is Digvijay Only One Tasked To Fight Communalism?
Saeed Naqvi

Why is it a constant battle between Congress General Secretary, Digvijay Singh and the Sangh Parivar? Where is the mounting support for Digvijay Singh within the Congress so that political war can be waged with the Parivar?

But why would Tweedledum wage war against Tweedledee? Sometimes they are on the same side. Take the demolition of the Babari Masjid on 6 December, 1992. Was P.V. Narasimha Rao less guilty than Kalyan Singh?

Ahmad Patel is a Congress leader from Gujarat closest to Sonia Gandhi. Why did he not escort the Congress President to Ahmadabad after the February 27, 2002 Gujarat pogrom to see the pathetic condition of Muslims in camps?

Batla House, Azamgarh, Malegaon, Mecca Masjid are all Hindutva plots exposed by Digvijay Singh. Each one is a valid issue, but where is the Congress to take up the chorus? All the sparrow heads can cook up are 4.5 percent of 27 percent and so on. The stupidity of it is astounding. They really imagine they have fooled the community.

Never in history has the police shot and killed members of a congregation in a mosque. This happened two hours drive from New Delhi in Gopalgarh, in Rajasthan a Congress ruled state adjacent to yet another Congress ruled state, Haryana.

Not only did senior Congress leaders not make an early appearance, even the great independent media (except Indian Express) did not cover the tragedy.

The election season is in full swing. On my table is a newspaper open on a page showing six young men wearing black hoods. The story in Mail Today reads:
“Six activists of the right wing Sri Ram Sena, who had planned to spark communal violence in the North Karnataka town of Sindhagi by hoisting the Pakistani flag on the mini Vidhan Sabha premises are now lodged behind bars.”

Apparently, some very obvious clues led to the arrest of the six. But why were the alleged culprits being handled with such caution: why have their heads been covered with hoods? We have grown so accustomed to photographs of youngsters with beards and skull caps a day after their arrest that hoods look like an aberration.

When the Sachar Committee was formed in 2005, Muslims thought justice was at hand. A delegation from Gadchiroli, a remote town near Nagpur, submitted to the committee photographs of a house where alleged Hindu extremists fabricated beards, clothes and varieties of Muslim disguises. The Sachar Committee also sent the photographs to Sonia Gandhi.

Leaders other than Digvijay Singh have chosen to sit on the fence on all such incidents. The result of this fence sitting is that the Muslim, once a congress vote bank, are today in quest of all manner of alternatives. In UP, the Peace Party, is not a negligible phenomena. Just as Mayawati can weave coalitions while she has the support of chamars, so is the Peace Party banking on the community of Muslim weavers as its base vote. Other backward caste Muslims may drift towards the Samajwadi Party leaving a handful of Aashraf (upper caste Muslims) wondering what to do.

It is in such circumstances that Digvijay Singh with his consistent anti communalism should be profitably supported by the Congress. Mani Shankar Aiyar is another Congressman who would have credit among Muslims provided, of course, that he has respite from TV chat shows. Do you know who is the most popular public figure among newspaper reading Muslims? Justice Markandey Katju! Remember, the undisputed leader of Indian Muslims until his death in 1964 was Jawaharlal Nehru.

The other day, President Pratibha Patil gave her ascent to the gau-vansh vadh Pratshedh (sansodhan) authored by the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The anti cow slaughter Bill gives inclusive powers to investigating agencies and provides for seven years jail sentences as compared with six month in Maharashtra. There is no restriction on cow slaughter in Kerala, West Bengal, Bihar and all the North Eastern states.

In 2002, the Gandhian scholar Dharampal (at the instance of the NDA) researched the issue and traced the incremental increase in cow slaughter to the British requirement of beef for their troops.

Digvijay Singh may like to obtain a copy of Dharampal’s book which has on its cover the note in Queen Victoria’s hand written to Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne in 1893.
“Though the Mohammadans cow-killing is made the pretext of agitation, it is in fact directed against us, who kill far more cows for our army…..”

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Bharat Ratna For Ghalib; Centenary For Madan Mohan Malaviya?

Bharat Ratna For Ghalib; Centenary For Madan Mohan Malaviya?
Saeed Naqvi

For a country as self conscious of its past as India, culture and civilization are alluring themes. In recent weeks two themes have surfaced which may attract attention. One idea has been placed in the public square by Justice Markandey Katju, who, as Chairman of the Press Council, has energized discourse on many subjects.

The other theme is taking a more cavernous route in the corridors of the Ministry of Culture.

Justice Katju’s idea stems from his abiding interest in Urdu poetry. There was hardly a judgement of his at the Supreme Court which was not laced with choice Urdu couplets. He thought the great Urdu poet Ghalib deserved to be honoured posthumously with a Bharat Ratna.

The other idea on the anvil is to observe 2012 as the centenary year for Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, founder of the Benaras Hindu University.

There is in the Ministry of Culture a “Centenary Wing” which tosses up centenary candidates.

While the Ghalib suggestion, though quaint, has no controversy attending it, there will be more than one view on Pandit Malaviya’s centenary idea. For example his being in the vanguard of the Hindu Mahasabha. The case in his favour would be dressed up with other details: his having founded prestigious English dailies like the Leader. But his somewhat aggressive Hinduism which grew as he anchored himself firmly in the Hindu Mahasabha could invite contention.

There are folks who would spend time justifying the Mahasabha and Pandit Malaviya’s contribution as it’s President, but will the Congress party be comfortable projecting this association?

It can be argued that the centenary sought to be observed is of a national figure, not a Congress leader. Fair enough, but the ruling party’s position is a delicate one, particularly on the eve of state and national elections when it is fiddling around with percentages in reservations that would attract a reluctant Muslim vote.

Varanasi is where Malaviya spent long years. And yet, what irony, he would have been unfamiliar with Ghalib’s epic on Varanasi, Chiragh-e-dair or the Temple Lamp.

Ghalib compares Varanasi to a beautiful woman who sees her face in the mirror of the “Ganga”. Here people make soulful music out of conch shells. “This truly is the Kaaba of Hindustan.”

Is it an unrealistic demand that Justice Katju has posted for discussion? Some faint hearted Congress leaders may consider the idea unrealistic because the Congress is mortally afraid of doing anything that might register adversely with the majority vote. But how small minded can we get? Would a posthumous honour to one of the world’s great poets, whose secularism remains unparalleled, and whose adoration for Hindustan is part of his poetry, annoy anybody?

When a modernizer like Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan asked Ghalib to write a preface to Ain-e-Akbari or laws of Emperor Akbar, Sir Sayyid did not expect a reprimand.

Ghalib had just returned from Calcutta, smitten by modern administration, miracles of science like the wireless. He advised Sir Sayyid to disentangle himself from “Laws” which had been overtaken by new systems. It is quite astonishing this openness to new ideas by a man who lived all his life in old Delhi.

It is always foolish to compare apples and oranges, but in this context Malaviya emerges as the sort of reactionary Ghalib might have been uncomfortable with. Purshottam Das Tandon was Malaviya’s intellectual soul mate and one Jawaharlal Nehru was not comfortable with. His father, Motilal Nehru, was outrageously frank. He said that the Malaviya and Lala Lajpat Rai “gang” was being aided by big money “to capture the Congress”.

There was always in the Congress a streak of Hindu revivalism. Nehru stood in total opposition to this tendency. The undisputed leader of Indian Muslims, therefore, until his death in 1964 was Jawaharlal Nehru. This solid support walked out on the Congress en masse after the Babari Masjid demolition. Since that date the party has been trying to lure the community back, proceeding two steps forward on Sachar Committee and three steps back on the Ranganath Mishra Committee.

A confused party has no courage either to respond to Justice Katju nor to debate candidates worthy of centenary celebrations.

Primarily the party lacks conviction. Hence the tactic: Sheikh bhi khush rahey; shaitan bhi naraaz na ho (keep the clergy and devil equally pleased). This is a recipe for falling between stools.

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