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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