Friday, February 22, 2013

Anti Colonial Leader Now Holds Neo Colonial Coat Tails

Anti Colonial Leader Now Holds Neo Colonial Coat Tails

                                                                                               Saeed Naqvi

Did Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru fight British colonialism? If they did, is it not ironical that New Delhi should be seen to be supportive of the French neo-colonial effort in Mali? New Delhi has in hush-hush tones said that it would release $100 million to the government in Bamako, coinciding with the French arrival in that country to protect Africans from Africans.

This maybe a flawed reading of the picture. It is just possible that the funds are part of the Indian effort to make an impression in Africa.

It is the timing which is odd. As in several African countries, India is trying to get into infrastructure developments like laying of power transmission lines. But through whom will this money be disbursed in Bamako, Mali’s capital?

After all, the legitimate government of Mali was ousted in a coup d’├ętat in March 2012.

President Toumani Toure was forced into hiding. Harsh sanctions from Mali’s neighbours followed the coup. Renegade soldiers who staged the coup, suspended the constitution and left a vacuum in the North. The Tuareg tribes, with reinforcements and arms from a disintegrated Libya, took hold of the North. They announced an independent nation. Clashing with this demand was the call by yet another Islamist cluster, Ansar Dine, demanding Shariah law in North Mali.

This extremist lot set about unspeakable destruction of 15th century shrines and religious texts preserved in the archives in the historic town of Timbuktu. It was desecration every bit as barbarous as the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan. That would have been a wonderful occasion for New Delhi to hold France’s hands to help stop the monumental sacrilege. That did not happen.

In any case, the interim government holding onto Bamako by the skin of its teeth, knows nothing about agreements New Delhi may have had with the ousted government. There will hopefully be a legitimate government in Mali after the elections which are due in July. That is when New Delhi’s check will be encashed. The announcement of help at this juncture must, therefore, be seen as a morale booster for the French whose President has just been to India.

The real purpose of the Indian gesture maybe something fairly straight forward: to find its feet in a continent rich in minerals (Mali has uranium) and where the Chinese have stolen a considerable march on all other competitors.

It is not generally understood that the streak of extremist Islamism noticed here and there along the Sahel region owes its origin to the same location – Afghanistan. Episodes like the Iraq war, pointless savaging of Libya, externally aided civil war in Syria have only helped in multiplying extremist cells.

Once the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, preparatory to the fall of the Soviet Union, the Wahabized Mujahideen looked for work first in Kashmir and subsequently all along the Middle East, specifically in Egypt and Algeria. There is a tendency not to notice the global media’s role in unwittingly promoting terrorism worldwide.

Operation Desert Storm and later the Occupation of Iraq came across as victory to Western audiences but as national humiliation in the Arab street. Indeed, the street in all Muslim enclaves, including the ones in India. Remember George Bush was not allowed to address a joint session of Parliament in New Delhi. Instead he was given a picnic at the old fort.

Operation Desert Storm, the first globally televised war, ended in February 1991. The sense of humiliation resonated elsewhere, including Algeria. By the time General Elections took place in Algeria in December, 1991, the highly motivated Mujahideen from Afghanistan were already multiplying their cells in the former French colony. They must have helped in stoking anti secular sentiment. Little wonder, Islamic Salvation Front won 188 out of 231 seats.

An unnerved West, with the French in the lead, leaned on the Algerian Army to scrap the election results. It is that kind of seething rage which is lurching from state to state and whose anger has been fueled by the West including the French in Algeria, Iraq, Libya and Syria. How they extricate themselves from Mali will be watched by all, including the Indians who have made a modest appearance on their bandwagon.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

The Post Afzal Guru Still Before The Storm?

The Post Afzal Guru Still Before The Storm?

                                                                         Saeed Naqvi

A powerful incident like Afzal Guru’s hanging lifts the scab from earlier wounds, exposing raw nerves. Experiences one had pushed into the deepest recesses, begin to surface.

When I joined the Statesman as a cub reporter, my effort at house hunting taught me one of my earlier lessons: Muslims have difficulty finding houses. Even in the 60s? Sadly, the problem has grown worse. But my faith in the secular fabric was secured by senior colleagues, Kuldip Nayar and Bikram Singh who persuaded a delightful Mr. Gupta to rent us his house in South Delhi.

And now, in the context of Afzal Guru’s hanging the mind ferrets out Kashmir related memories.

Writing my earliest articles on Kashmir, I chanced upon a rare document. Maulana Azad mostly drafted his letters to his cabinet colleagues in Urdu. These were translated by his staff. In an inspired moment, Director of National Archives, Dr. Rajesh Kumar Pruti published the original in Urdu.

In a 1953 letter to Jagjivan Ram, Minister for Communications, then Education Minister Maulana Azad writes:
“As many as 53 persons from Jammu and Kashmir apply for a clerical post and only one is appointed. The rest are from outside the state. This baffles me. Obviously those in charge of recruitments are not sensitive to the fact that such instances complicate our stand on the question of Kashmir.”

“As you know, Communications and Defence have been transferred from the state to the centre. We are asked mockingly that if this is the way Kashmiri Muslims are going to be treated by the Communications and the Defence Ministries, then what hope will there be for these people if other departments are transferred to the centre? How do we respond to this charge?”

In another letter the Maulana is even more blunt:
“The state government has been complaining repeatedly that Kashmiri Muslims are not recruited by the State Posts and Telegraphs department. Jobs are given only to non-Muslims.”

He concludes in another letter:
“If this is the result of a department having been transferred to the centre, then how will Kashmir ever have the confidence that its future is secure with India.”

President of the Congress in its crucial phases, a friend and confidant of India’s first Prime Minister, erudite, an intellectual, has, within six years of independence, been reduced to a supplicant, imploring cabinet colleagues to stand by the promises they had made to the people of India. There are other letters which are even more pathetic.

How “appeased” the Muslims had been, came out in bold relief in the Sachar Committee report in 2006. They had in the years since independence been pushed into the ranks of the most marginalized. The Maulana would have shed tears of blood.

There was minimal breast beating at the report but no more. To do anything dramatic would only invite the appeasement slur. And appeasement would cause many to walk out on the Congress.

It was in continuation of this understanding, that the locks of the Ram Janmbhoomi temple were opened to please the devoted Hindus. The Supreme Court verdict on Shah Bano was upturned to appease the conservative Muslims. With the Hindus and Muslims so yoked (went the thesis), the Congress bandwagon would roll.

It did not. In fact the bandwagon collapsed largely because of the Congress ambivalence on the Mandir-Masjid issue. The Congress collusion in the demolition of the Babari Masjid was seen by the minorities as a great betrayal. They walked out on the Congress en masse. The party crashed to 140 seats in a house of 545. Gone, for good, were the days of absolute majorities.

Meanwhile, global events were to complicate the internal communal picture. Pakistan had stolen a lead in being enlisted as a frontline state in the post 9/11 war on terror. This was galling for New Delhi, having been a victim of cross-border terrorism for decades. In this context the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament turned out to be an event which boosted India’s stature as a serious participant in the war on terror.

In the vocabulary of the global war on terror, Muslim became indistinguishable from “Jehadi”. This distortion was carelessly embraced by the Indian establishment, picking up young innocent Muslims on terrorism charges, training police guns only in one direction in all riots, arresting Akbaruddin Owaisi for his intemperate speech but hesitating on Praveen Togadia of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Togadia in his speech had boasted of the Muslim killed in a series of riots. He had virtually produced a macabre catalogue.

And now, finally, having spared the killers of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh (that would destabilize Tamilnadu and Punjab) they have taken a gamble on Afzal Guru because the valley of Kashmir is well covered with military presence. How will the aftermath playout.

The new middle class on the make is exposed to mobilization by that effective pulpit, 24X7 channels. Those who see themselves as victims get their diet of retaliatory vitriol and morale boosting rhetoric from the Urdu press.

For the moment, the two tectonic plates are moving parallel to each other. Should they ever meet, it will be with a cataclysmic impact.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

France In Mali – Tragedy With Much Comic Relief

France In Mali – Tragedy With Much Comic Relief

                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

The embarrassment France has faced in its Mali expedition cannot be allowed to cast a shadow on President Francois Hollande’s two day visit to New Delhi beginning next week. Since he will be landing in India, with his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, exactly on St. Valentine’s Day, they may like to have a few private moments at the Taj in Agra. But when he makes a pitch for the $12 billion Rafale Jets being sold to India, rival defence dealers will alert A. K. Antony’s team about the French air force image in Mali.

What happened in Mali?

Well as early as October 11, Hollande announces there would be “no men on the ground, no engagement by French troops” in Mali.

On January 8, Le Figaro publishes an opinion poll which clearly establishes Hollande’s popularity plummet like it never has for any French leader.

On January 11, a panic stricken Presidency decides to fly out troops to Mali. What is the immediate provocation? The French did nothing when the splendid 15th century monuments in Timbaktu were being dismantled.

On this occasion the reason given is that the militants of Ansar Dine had taken Konna and would proceed towards the capital Bamako. But Bamako is 700 kms of open country from Konna. Is a full fledged invasion by France required to handle a mere hundred or so militants? What happened to a joint African Force?

Whatever, the logic for the intervention, it reflects on the mental health of the French nation that approval ratings for the President improve as soon as France is seen to be involved in action which conjures up images of colonial authority.

Having been rushed into action without any notice, the troops are confronted with an extraordinary situation: there is no pre positioning of assets for an overseas expedition. There is no logistical infrastructure. Indeed, the nation which is in the Defence market in India, had to lean on Britain to supply C-17s to airlift men and materials to Mali.

A very reluctant Britain loans two C-17s, one of which breaks down in France. Canada is implored for help. A Canadian C-17 also breaks down as soon as it participates in the ill starred expedition.

The next scene is custom made for a French Film maker: 400 troops in Mali are falling over each other for the first right to sleep on the hundred or so cots that are available. Men with guns on the ready are sent out to neighbouring towns to purchase 400 mattresses. And yes, in a mosquito ridden country, the troops are also short of mosquito nets.

Another problem is refueling. The Algerians have allowed their previous colonial masters to overfly their territory to reach Mali. But flying to Mali and back from France is a distance long enough for planes to require refueling. In this department too the French are wanting. So Danes are commandeered for refueling technology, but they want payment for fuel confirmed well in advance.

Elements in the US establishment have not forgotten strong French opposition to American unilateralism in Iraq. Americans spot great irony in French unilateralism. They delay their Drone surveillance.

French analysts like Olivier Zajec of Le Monde have a ready response to this line of thinking. France supported the rapid strike needed to topple the Taleban regime in Afghanistan soon after 9/11. But it was careful not to place too many French troops on the ground. Why? Because it has limited interest in a far-off region. By contrast, several thousand troops were deployed in Ivory Coast as part of a successful Peace Keeping Force.

Zajec proceeds to blame France for its “tragicomic” mixture of rhetoric and action in Libya, which, in the ultimate analysis, opened the gates to all and sundry – criminals, nomadic Tuareg tribes and Al Qaeda affiliates to destabilize all of North Africa.

After sending out confusing signal for months, France may well have chosen the worst possible moment for intervention. Because its procrastinations allowed a whole range of potential opponents to mingle and be jointly prepared just in case the French did intervene. Knowing the terrain well, the Militants–Tuareg combine has simply slunk away, leaving troops in a blind hunt for targets.

The West African summit in Abidjan on January 19 has announced an International Support Mission for Mali. West African countries have promised 3,600 troops. The despairing French troops on the ground will be training their binoculars on the horizon, waiting for these reinforcements to arrive before they are bogged down in slush which is unavoidable once the rains arrive in the coming month or two. That is when the enemy will strike.

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Friday, February 1, 2013

Media Setting Up Rahul – Modi Contest For TRP Ratings

Media Setting Up Rahul – Modi Contest For TRP Ratings
                                                                                                  Saeed Naqvi       

Conventional wisdom being forged by lobbies is veering around to the view that there shall be either a UPA-III or an NDA-II after the 2014 General Elections. In which case why this high decibel clamour for Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi as prime ministerial candidates for the BJP and Congress respectively?

Ofcourse such a facile scenario would simplify matters for the talk show hosts, the TRP hunters: just place faces in those six boxes on the screen and trigger a daily diet of prime time cacophony, as riveting as a street brawl.

The channels miss the point that there is so much else to clarify to their viewers in the run upto the 2014 election that naming of Prime Ministerial candidates at this juncture may be a trifle premature.

For example, several states have to face the electorate this year, by end November. Please analyze these states. These include four states in the North East, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Delhi.

If the congress in Delhi, under Sheila Dikshit’s leadership, wins for the fourth term, only a very perverse system would keep her out of higher office. This line of thought will immediately be challenged by Congressmen themselves, in whose ranks ironically we may find Sheila Dikshit too. The Congress principle at this stage is that the first right of refusal for the Prime Ministerial slot belongs to Rahul Gandhi.

All of this, as I have indicated earlier, is premature for a simple reason: UPA-III entails a coalition. Who the coalition partners will be and what bargains they strike will depend on the hand the electorate deals out to the players at the table.

Shrill demands for Narendra Modi as Prime Ministerial candidate is equally premature in an era of coalitions. If the BJP in its deep heart’s core is inclined to field him as its candidate for Prime Minister, the situation will clarify of its own accord when Modi does or does not campaign for his party in the coming state elections.

Modi and Rahul are distinct political entities. Modi is an extrovert who intimidates and repels prospective coalition partners; Rahul, an introvert, is, on current showing, shy of coalitions. This aversion to coalitions is being rationalized as a tactic to wait, even beyond 2019, when the electorate will become so disenchanted with coalitions that it will produce a Parliamentary majority for the Congress. What underpins this enchanting pipedream is the purposive manner in which Rahul’s team proposes to build the party brick by brick.

Reconstruction of the party edifice visualizes ruins, like Macho Picho, on which masonry is being undertaken. A more valid image for the Congress in disrepair derives not from architecture but from gynaecology. The caste parties now in play were once inside the Congress womb. How does a weakened mother fight her own children?

The Congress led the nation to independence representing a federation of interests behind a programme for freedom. Purshottam Das Tandon and Abul Kalam Azad were in the same party. During an election in the 60s, S.K. Patil and Krishna Menon were Congress candidates from separate constituencies in Mumbai. Patil represented big business while Menon was more on the fringe of the Communist Party. Over a period of time, this diversity had to break ranks and find independent political platforms.

Let us not forget, barely twenty years after independence, in the 1967 elections, Indira Gandhi lost power in eight states. A weakened Indira Gandhi, split the Congress in 1969, throwing a cordon of Left of Centre Congressmen around herself and thereby creating a distance from the conservative party bosses in the states.

It was this conservative streak which mingled with the RSS and socialists under the banner of the Bihar movement led by a retired Gandhian, Jay Prakash Narayan. An unnerved Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency, and later proceeded to lose the elections.

Before the emergency, the press maintained a balanced, adversarial attitude towards the establishment. The theory was something like this: In a democracy, people elected the government. The government could represent the Centre, Right or Left. The media’s job was to respect the people’s verdict, report objectively, and accord “critical support” to the government elected by the people. The emergency destroyed this balance and the distortion continues.

Political parties which do not ponder this question will have abdicated power and placed it in hands exposed to influences, both within and outside.

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