Saturday, June 30, 2012

Syria Will Drag Down Turkey

Syria Will Drag Down Turkey

                                                 Saeed Naqvi

Turkey is being pushed into a role which will recoil on it unless it rethinks its policy in West Asia.

For decades Ankara has been trying in vain to join the European Union. “European Civilization was essentially Christian” proclaimed French Statesmen, Giscard d’Estaing. Turkey, being Muslim, had no role in that club. And now the same interests are mobilizing Turkey for their plans in West Asia.

For years Rauf Denktash argued the Turkish Cypriot case for joint management with the Greek half. Once the issue was close to resolution under the Annan plan. At the last minute, Turkey was ditched. Greek Cypriots were given EU membership. There was always a certain shoddiness with which the West treated Turkey.

Ofcourse, the Turks extracted a great deal of good in trying to measure up to EU standards. The economy, environment, civic amenities, tourism – everything improved. Turkey began to register growth in all spheres.

Imagine Greece, mother of Western Civilization, on its knees next door. TV pictures of middle class office goers looking into garbage bins to retrieve whatever is of value – old newspapers for instance.

These are telling images. The contrast with an economically and politically secure Turkey, just across the Aegean Sea is even more galling.

It is universally acknowledged that President Lula da Silva in Brazil and Prime Minister Tayyep Erdogan are two of the most charismatic leaders whose popularity has been reflected in their successive electoral returns. Erdogan’s vote share has risen from 36 percent to, 42% to 50%.

But according to Turkish law, Erdogan cannot seek a fourth term. At this time, therefore, the internal political situation in Turkey has livened up.

With quickening politics, should Erdogan be seen to be losing momentum in the next political season, there are enough internal and external interests which can join hands to check, even reverse, mild Islamism in favour of mild Kemalism with which they are more comfortable.

Historically adversarial relations between Turkey and Europe suggest the West would not lose sleep if Turkey were to stumble.

Erdogan had at the outset spelt out his goal as building a nation at peace with all its neighbours. What we have instead is Turkey embroiled in conflicts all around. Something is going out of control.

Although neighbouring Iraq did not become three distinct states as Peter Galbraith had predicted, the semi-autonomous status of Iraqi Kurdistan was the sort of status quo custom made for Turkey. South East Turkey was virtually indistinguishable from Kurdish Iraq. Turkish business was booming. The assembly house in Arbil, airport in Suleimaniyah were being built by Turkish businessmen.

By offering itself on an anti Assad plank, Turkey has exposed itself as a target for Kurdish militancy in which Syria, Iraq and Iran can all join hands.

Kemal Pasha Ataturk had by an edict transformed Turkey into a nation of Turks. No other entity existed. Gradually, a Kurdish entity has been accepted. Likewise, the Alawites. There is a silent but substantial Alawite minority in Turkey.

Should the Sunni-Alawite conflict grow in Syria, Turkey will not remain untouched.

Turkish co-operation with the US has been mutually beneficial in the Balkans. The creation of a Muslim state of Kosovo is very much a joint US-Turkish project. A great deal of this co-ordination is despite Russian opposition. Russia has Slavic plus the Eastern Orthodox Church links with the Balkans. In fact, the Orthodox Church links are very strong with Greece too.

Turkish role in trying to dethrone Assad would provoke Russia coming in directly in the eastern Mediterranean, ofcourse, where oil and gas on vast scales are in the bargain.

What should worry Turkey more is Russia pressing on other pressure points. Recently thousands of citizens of Mitrovica, a Serbian dominated district of Kosovo bordering Serbia, sought Russian citizenship!

Turkey is playing a role with Iran and with the Arab world. The latter conjures up images of the Ottoman Empire, anathema with Arabs. Erdogan’s visceral Islamism impels him to help likeminded groups in the Arab world. This raises the hackles of closet Kemalists in Turkey.

Iran, Israel, new Egypt are all new and complicated arenas, traversing which could cause Erdogan to fall flat. What Turkey needs is to revert to a policy of peace with all its neighbour. CIA Special Forces operating from Turkey will harm Turkey more than they will Syria.

# # # # # #

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Communists Controlling Shimla Are All From Elite Schools

Communists Controlling Shimla Are All From Elite Schools
                                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

The takeover of the country’s oldest Municipality in Shimla by young members of the CPM as Mayor and Deputy Mayor is a piece of history I witnessed by the sheer accident of being present in the celebrated Hill Station.

Most north Indian hill stations – Shimla, Naini Tal, Ranikhet, Mussoorie – have fallen from grace because of burgeoning populations.

Therefore, our expectations were low when we accepted friends’ invitation to escape the torrid heat of the plains to take refuge in their 100 year old cottage-bungalow, not far from the Shimla Railway station, itself one of the world’s wonders.

It was a surprisingly pleasant experience for several reasons. First, the road to Shimla is a six lane highway, like the New Jersey Turnpike, with clever deviations which by pass Kalka. A drive to no other hill station could be more convenient.

Contrary to the impression I had, the Mall is free of cars, except for the absolutely essential ones. It is the cleanest space for pedestrians. Apparently there is a fine of Rs.500 for spitting and sterner punishment for carrying or scattering polythene bags.

The restored Gaiety theatre resembles the finest of theatres in London’s West End, something the National School of Drama should take an interest in.

It is quite creditable that local Communists do not claim Shimla’s many improvements as their achievement. They give the credit where it is due – primarily with the administration of Yashwant Singh Parmar from 1963 to 1977 and Virbhadra Singh through four stints as Chief Minister intermittently from 1983 to 2004.

Indeed, it is the enlightened social base left behind by the earlier leadership that has created a secular platform on which the Left offers itself as an alternative to the quarrelsome Congress and the BJP.

It might please the Malabar Hill – Maharani Bagh bourgeoisie that the seven member state committee of the CPM are all public school alumni. The Secretary of the party, Rakesh Singha, passed out from one of the country’s oldest Public Schools, Lawrence School, Sanawar, founded in 1847. In other words it preceded Shimla’s elevation as the summer capital of the viceroys from 1864.

Mayor Sanjay Chauhan studied in St. Edwards and Bishop Cotton School. Deputy Mayor Tikender Singh Panwar is not only from Bishop Cotton School but also of Princely stock, against whom communists of earlier generations waged extended “class wars”.

These communists have not sprouted overnight. The solitary University in Shimla and six other colleges in the city have been in the grip of Students Federation of India (SFI) for decades.

A simple reason for the Congress defeat recently is the division in the Congress at New Delhi. Virbhadra Singh, four times Chief Minister, is not comfortable with Vidya Stokes, Kaul Singh and Anand Sharma who derive their power from Sonia Gandhi. If Virbhadra Singh finds himself ignored by the Congress High Command, he may break away and join hands with the Left and dissident elements in the BJP. This trio may well win the coming state elections in October.

In many ways, Himachal Pradesh resembles Kerala in its socio-economic structure. The enlightened Princely rulers of Travancore and Cochin, left behind an efficient administrative infrastructure.

Communism and the Christian missionary school system laid the foundation of a joint, formal as well as political education. Complete literacy in Kerala is matched by universal literacy in Himachal Pradesh. Like Kerala’s Rajas, Himachal Pradesh had 30 small “rajwaras” or principalities with as many State People’s movements, primarily anti feudal, but, with Congress support, anti colonialist too.

Here was an irony. While State Peoples Conference had an anti colonial edge, it also sought facilities, the British had begun to provide in Shimla. This explains the countless Public Schools (in the British framework public school was a term for expensive private schools) which has begun to churn out the current crop of communists.

“What is helping the CPM are the application of neo-liberal reforms on civic bodies”, says Singha. For instance, the Irrigation Department provides 3.7 crore litres of water for distribution in water starved Shimla of which 60% is lost in leakages. The CPM has launched a mass mobilization drive to conserve water and it is working. Outsourcing of water will cost Rs.40.00 per thousand litres as against Rs.8.00 today. Outsourcing brings in the exploitative contractor. In a secular framework, the public organizations then begin to talk to the Left. So, if you wish to arrest CPM’s growth, sow seeds of communalism!

#          #          #          #          #          #           

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mehdi Hasan Filled Different Vacuums in India and Pakistan

Mehdi Hasan Filled Different Vacuums in India and Pakistan

                                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

Mehdi Hasan once said he aspired to do for Urdu ghazal what his relative Ustad Amir Khan did for Hindustani classical singing.
Amir Khan controlled and stabilized the note on which, with effortless deliberation, he built the architecture of a raga.

With similar control on the note, Mehdi Hasan proceeded to sketch the raga, not build it, so that he could superimpose its outlines on the mood of each ghazal.

Ahmad Faraz’s lyrical ghazal (unlike, say, Ghalib’s intellectually taxing verse) “Ranjish hi sahi”, has been given a hauntingly original tune by Mehdi Hasan in raga Yaman Kalyan. It will never be just a passing tune. “Phool hi phool khil uthey” has been adorned with Megh, Kedar and Bahar, something of an overkill, but pleasing, because the notes match the words.

Casting the ghazal consistently in the mould of classical ragas is a singular contribution of Mehdi Hasan.

Amir Khan would never have dreamt of such large audiences. But this limitation on the size of audiences is an unintended consequence of the choice a classical musician makes in any society. Yehudi Menuhin would never have aspired to fill football stadia. Even so, let it be said that Amir Khan in his day, like Ulhas Kushalkar, for instance, today, could fill the National Centre for Performing Arts at Nariman Point in Mumbai – and elsewhere.

The extraordinary popularity of Mehdi Hasan and the genre he mastered is also an interesting sociological study. It filled a need in India for one set of reasons and in Pakistan for quite another.

The “dhishum-dhishum” cinema of the 80s, dominated by Amitabh Bachchan, took the lyric out of Bollywood song. The Indian sensibility, reared for centuries on the rural, pastoral lyric, felt an aesthetic vacuum. The prospect of “hum, tum ek kamrey mein band hon” becoming a staple was forbidding. This space was filled up by the Urdu ghazal. The market found the commodity.

In Pakistan music was being muzzled by the votaries of Islamization. Abdul Karim Khan’s youngest daughter, Roshanara Begum, migrated to Pakistan and proceeded to fade out in the absence of sponsors or an audience. Her sister Hirabai Barodekar thrived in India.

The bogus conflict created by the clergy between music and shariah in Pakistan, snuffed out pure classical music. This in its turn created the space for the ghazal which Mehdi Hasan cleverly tied to classical music. Singing Urdu ghazal was kosher for the Mullah; music otherwise was not!

Ofcourse, Mehdi Hasan cannot claim monopoly over ghazal singing. So many in previous generations have bummed Ghalib sung by K.L. Saigal. It is a flawed understanding of the history of music that, somehow, ghazal has a long tradition of being a musical art form. Yes, simple, low brow versifiers did set words to accompany the seductive dance rhythms of the “nautch” girl at the “Mujra”.

Kamla Jharia’s two ghazals mark an emancipation from the “nautch” parlour. A little later, Malika Pukhraj left her stamp with ghazals like “Be zubani zubaan na ho jaaye” or “Taskeen ko hum na royein” and, ofcourse, Hafeez Jullundhari’s nazm “Abhi to main jawaan hoon”, all sung with unsurpassed vigour and verve.

One of the reasons for the tardy progress of the ghazal to the concert stage has been an occasional ego conflict between the singer and the poet. Except for a remarkable ghazal of Mir Taqi Mir’s, “Dil ki baat kahi naheen jaati”, which she sang, full throated, like a thrush, when she was a young Akhtari Bai Faizabadi, Begum Akhtar (the transformation occurred when she married a minor aristocrat) seldom sang great poetry.

Only when she was roped in by Shiela Bhatia and S.M. Mehdi to provide music for a play on Ghalib did she add the great poet to her repertoire.

Those eager to know more about Mehdi Hasan should also visit the haveli of the thakurs of Bisau, 40 Kms from Jhunjhunu where his father, Azim Khan and uncle, Ismail Khan sang.

As a 20 year old he migrated leaving his thatch roofed house in Luna, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. Today, after news of his death, a memorial is being planned in his place of birth. Yes, he crossed the border in 1947 but then, on the wings of his art, he transcended all boundaries, committing to posterity the best in poetry and song, visiting everyone everywhere.

# # # # # #

Monday, June 11, 2012

Western Journalists in Syria and Indians in Maoists Country: A Comparison

Western Journalists in Syria and Indians in Maoists Country: A Comparison

                                                                                                                              Saeed Naqvi

Last month, a conversation with journalists in London, centered on Marie Colvin, the war correspondent, with a Moshe Dayan eye patch, working for the Sunday Times, London, who was killed in Baba Amro, Homs, in Syria. The paper she worked for is owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Does she qualify to be described a hero?

Ironically, just when hundreds of Colvin’s friends, relatives and colleagues were paying tributes to her at the Church of St. Martin-in-the Field on Trafalgar Square, another employee of Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks along with her husband and colleagues was being charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice. Brooks, ofcourse, is much higher in the Murdoch hierarchy being the former Chief Executive of the News International.

When Colvin was being remembered in London, nearer home, in New Delhi, the Managing Editor of Tehelka magazine, Shoma Chaudhury, was writing an anxious editorial column about two of her journalists battling for life because of the disease they contracted while trying to demystify the forbidding forest area called Abujhmarh, natural refuge for rebellious Adivasis and their Maoists supporters where a conflict between the Adivasis-Maoists combination, mining interests and the security forces, makes the region worthy of journalistic enquiry.

This is what Tusha Mittal, 27, and Tarun Sehrawat, 22, set out to unearth, armed with their notebooks, pens and cameras and equipped with bottles of water and biscuits.

The conditions in which people live in the area is a startling story we must wait for. There is fear that we may not get the stories because the two, having spent days and nights in the world’s most inhospitable conditions and having drunk water from streams where buffaloes bathe, have contracted the strain of Malaria which can be fatal.

Let us now compare the two expeditions – Marie Colvin’s and Tusha and Sehrawat’s.

Colvin was in the sovereign territory of Syria, without having a Syrian visa. She was part of the free-for-all, a sort of melee in which foreigners with Arabic speaking “fixers” are being into Syria. Would Arab journalists have been justified in entering Ulster with IRA support when it was illegal to use Gerry Adams’ voice on BBC?

The Libyan war was fought with the help of a managed media. The idea was to turn the Syrian tide by cunning use of communications, flashing images of the conflict provided by rebel groups without any authentication. For enhanced credibility, accompanying commentary generally admitted the amateur origins of the footage. Scandal of Houla massacres is yet to be revealed. In true style of Jehad, throats of Alawi children were slit with swords. Why would the Alawi army not use guns? And, footage from Iraq in 2003 is foisted on unsuspecting viewers as Assad’s brutality in May, 2012! Really, if Goebbels had access to modern communication tricks, Hitler may have won.

Had Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, along with his Intelligence colleagues who know Syria in great detail from Soviet days, not visited Damascus in February and furnished President Assad with details of the build-up of foreign assets, Baba Amro would have remained a safe haven, tunnels to Lebanon et al.

The crux of the matter is this: the Colvins of this world are part of the western war effort. Only non western, non Arab journalists, who are not in the conflict from any side, can be objective.

On the eve of Operation Desert Storm, when I decided to stay in Baghdad, the correspondent of London’s Daily Telegraph received word from his editor that he would not like “our man to be behind the enemy lines”. For me, there was no enemy line.

This brought home to me my naiveté. I was nursing notions of objectivity about a conflict in which my western colleagues already had an “enemy” in sharp focus. Unfortunately countries like ours, generally content with being passive recipients of Western media, do not realize that it is the west which always ends up choosing the enemy (or friend) for us. We are the perpetual Sancho Panza to Don Quixote!

Colvin’s death is a tragedy, ofcourse, resulting from an audacious high wire act. But there is a touch of journalistic heroism in the effort of Tusha and Sehrawat, Shoma Chaudhury has written about.

# # # # # #

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Kazmi Story Takes A Turn

The Kazmi Story Takes A Turn

                                                   Saeed Naqvi

The strange case of Syed Ahmad Kazmi, Urdu journalist, Doordarshan newsreader, and correspondent in India for the Iranian News Agency may well take a favourable turn after critical remarks last week by the Sessions Judge Surendra Singh Rathee about the manner in which the case has been handled so far. The Judge’s reasoning resembles, almost to the last syllable, P. Chidambaram’s arguments as a lawyer in a case in Chennai. Surely, the Union Home Minister will now stand by what he believed in as a lawyer.

Sessions Judge expressed surprise that the seven applications for extension of judicial custody were never shown to the accused.

In fact at one stage it was found that the application had either been removed from the lower Metropolitan Magistrate’s custody or never given to the court. Just when this travesty of justice was noticed, a court official materialized with the documents.

The Sessions Judge expressed bewilderment how judicial remand or custody had been extended on the basis of “illegible”, scribbled notes. The court order reads:

“The police custody Remand of Syed Mohd. Ahmed Kazmi to the special cell on March 7, 2012 is hand written so poorly that it is almost totally illegible. Not only is the handwriting so poor but even the complete words have not been framed and the order has been over written over the printed text of the application. This practice, the Sessions Court says, “deserves to be deprecated”.

Justice Rathee’s lamentation continues: “Despite sustained efforts, it was not possible for this court to decipher and read the order.”

When Kazmi’s lawyers moved a bail application within a month of his being held, the police case was that one country (by implication Iran) had used the territory of India to commit an act of terrorism on another (Israel). It was realized that the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, under which the Special Cell had arrested Kazmi, would become inoperable once Nations and not individuals were involved.

An amendment was introduced. The earlier stand was described as a “typographical” error. The alteration in the stand was not communicated to the accused which, the Defence says is violative of natural justice. The Defence can also argue that the copies of remand application sought by Kazmi were lost and found so mysteriously that they can no longer be considered “sterilized” documents.

The journey of the “non sterilized” documents in a case so much in the public eye, is worthy of note.

When Kazmi’s defence sought all the police applications for extension of remand, the following order was handed to him. The trial court said: “I am of the considered opinion that the said application and order cannot be supplied to the accused…….”

It was in response to this order that the accused turned up at the Sessions court in appeal. The Sessions judge maintained that “the reader of the court was not even aware of the exact whereabouts of these seven documents.”

“It is only after the court staff realized the seriousness of the situation, they seem to have conducted a sustained search and, after about two hours, the missing remand papers were produced before this court.” The judge has pointed out the flaw because of which “the Revisionist who is in custody since March 6, 2012, was denied the Right to seek copies of those very applications and orders under which he is being kept in detention.”

The state cannot seek refuge behind UAPA, under which it does have extra powers, but none that violates his Rights under article 21 and other supporting articles.

“Non supplying of documents can lead to vitiating the detention itself.”

Members of Parliament who have taken upon themselves to keep the Prime Minister and Home Minister, informed of the Kazmi case would find in Chidambaram a sympathetic legal mind.

In a case before the Madras High Court in the 90s, Chidambaram argued that “routine and mechanical” grant of remand to arrested persons was “repressive and oppressive”.

What view would he take of a case where Remand papers disappear and, under pressure, reappear as if from a magician’s hat. He would rather have the arrested person freed than hold him in a procedurally flawed manner.

# # # # # #