Friday, November 29, 2013

Rafsanjani to Mollify Saudis On Iran Nuclear Deal

Rafsanjani to Mollify Saudis On Iran Nuclear Deal
                                                                          Saeed Naqvi
After the partial nuclear deal with Iran in Geneva, the US will divide its attention over two important theatres. In the Middle East, it will have Russia as its partner and foil. China will be more hands on in the Pacific where, Pivot to Asia, is the US’s other principal thrust.

In the Middle Eastern theatre the Iran deal sets into motion two processes. One is the non-proliferation issue which P5+2 will juggle with. This is the group where Israeli intelligence will keep furnishing inputs about Iran’s venality. These stories will start being leaked, well (with a shrug of the shoulders) next week.

The main dynamic the Iran deal has set into motion is what I call R5+2. R5 stands for the five regional powers: Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Iran. The plus two are the US and Russia.

If you have grown accustomed to seeing Syria as the centre of the regional universe for the past two and a half years, the Iran deal should place that issue in proper perspective.

Consider the impact of the deal on the R5, one by one.

Saudi Arabia has in the last few days seen its hold on the GCC countries loosen. To keep himself and his Kingdom in play, Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal, addressing the GCC, suggested that the Kuwait Foreign Minister lead the group to Washington protesting against the deal. Kuwait refused as did the UAE Foreign Minister who, instead, travelled to Moscow to sign different another affidavit.

There are two different appraisals of Saudi vulnerability in the context of the deal. First is the power struggle behind the curtains, a fierce war of succession. A regime so divided and debilitated is more likely to acquiesce in the new arrangement of power in the Mid-East. But the opposite can also happen. A regime weakened internally is unlikely to be able to resist the ultra conservative clergy.

 A more thoughtful approach, one which the dominant foreign policy elite in Tehran is inclined towards, considers the present power structure in Riyadh as the one most likely to be reasonable in the altered regional scenario.

Two terms former President of Iran, Hashemi Rafsanjani, shares this view. This comes across in an interview he gave to London’s Financial Times. He obviously maintained his personal relationship with Riyadh even during the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad period. In fact he was invited by the Saudi King to perform Haj last month. It was impossible for Rafsanjani to accept the invitation because American back channels with Iran were at a sensitive stage.

Rafsanjani will travel to Riyadh but only after preparations have been made for such a visit. Iran’s top leadership has to arrive first at a consensus on “de escalation” with Saudi Arabia. Rafsanjani believes a comprehensive deal with the West is possible in a year, without much Saudi opposition.

Saudi’s extraordinary clout derives from their two assets, the holiest Muslim shrines at Mecca and Medina and the world’s largest reserves of oil in Qatif the eastern provinces, which is also overwhelmingly Shia. Rapprochement with Teheran, de escalates tensions in Qatif which, in turn, enables Riyadh to tone down the Sunni-Shia divide it promoted regionally as part of its anti Iran foreign policy.

The informed view in Teheran is that the Saudi power structure is a sort of tripod: Wahhabism, Salafism and the regime in Riyadh which has a sprinkling of closet liberals. That the regime remains intact is in everybody’s interest. Should it weaken, Wahhabism’s clout grows, providing succour in the region to groups like the al Qaeda.

For Turkey, the Iran deal provides an escape from the mess it has unnecessarily landed itself into because it misread the Arab Spring and the foreign induced Syrian civil war. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, having increased his party’s vote share in three successive elections, looked like one of the world’s model statesmen. He improved the economy, promised peace with all his neighbours.

There was always in him something of an Islamist. In 1997 he was found violating canons of Kemalist secularism. He was jailed. His guilt? A poem he recited in public: “the mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

To keep buoyant in politics, he went into “taqayya”, disguising his faith. He was a roaring success as Prime Minister. But when Muslim Brotherhood started sprouting here and there, nurtured by the Arab Spring, the West set him up as a model for a changing Middle-East. He naively bit the bait, egged on by his Sancho Panza, foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. He turned up in Tripoli for thanks giving prayer in the city square after Muammar Qaddafi’s brutal murder. Apparently Mustafa Kemal Pasha had taken part in some Libyan battle. Sprouted in Erdogan’s mind a regional architecture based on nostalgia for Ottoman rule. By now, his Islamism in full throttle, he became the principal frontline state for sending in men and material to Syria’s Islamist opposition. Prime Minister of secular Kemalist state fuelling Islamic fundamentalism next door?

When the writing on the wall became clear after the Iran deal, Davutoğlu turned up in Teheran, cap in hand. Erdogan, meanwhile is off to Moscow. Iranian gas is a blandishment. Iran has also sought names of ten Israeli spies of Iranian origin operating out of Turkey. Internal dynamics in Turkey suggest President Abdullah Gul is on the ascendant. Erdogan and Davutoğlu may well be shown the door, if balance is to be restored in Ankara.

On Egypt, Iran feigns indifference to what the US wants: a regime which is not overtly hostile to Israel. The real expectation in Teheran is that the Obama administration will pitch in strongly for a two state solution, with security guarantees for Israel. This brings Washington in line what Teheran is most comfortable with: a President Jimmy Carter like approach to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Also, former National Security Council member, Bruce Riedel’s condemnation of double standards on the nuclear question in the Middle East goes down well with folks in Teheran. This was Erdogan’s line too until he lost the plot in the Middle East.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Square This Circle: Sheila For PM, Momentum For Kejriwal, Modi Cruising

Square This Circle: Sheila For PM, Momentum For Kejriwal, Modi Cruising
                                                                                             Saeed Naqvi

Supposing Delhi Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit wins a fourth term, why would she not then be the Congress Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate?

Delhi is one of the nation’s most complicated states with multiple authorities always eager to take credit and pass on blame, an alert and complaining middle class like the null point in a sea of migrants leaving the national capital region with a disconcertingly choppy, unstable demography.

If it is the national policy to allow every car manufacturer in the world to choke Delhi’s traffic as well as its citizens, what can the poor Chief Minister do? People are so angry with the political class in general, that there is a psychological need to feel good about something. Sheila has provided for just that need: the Metro, newer buses, steadier supply of electricity and water. People talk about these improvements in their lives, just as they grumble about price rise which they place in the Congress kitty almost separating the party from Sheila.

Winning three elections in a row are not Sheila’s only qualifications. She is educated in the modern idiom. Her late husband, Vinod Dikshit, was an outstanding IAS officer. His junior colleagues still remember the warmth of their house in Lucknow. That is a vast network to be conversant with.

Uma Shankar Dikshit, her father-in-law, the last of the old guard of the Congress, leaned on Sheila’s efficient management style greatly when he was the Union Home Minister. She became the most powerful “Bahu” in the country. She was Minister in the Prime Minister’s office and so on.

Is there any leader in the Congress party with this range of experience? True, she is no spring chicken but then the spring chicken the party is focused on is simply not growing wings.

She certainly compares favourably with the talent on show today. She is a good speaker and an excellent interviewee on TV, talents not to be sniffed at in today’s public life.

That she is a Brahmin will help too; Narendra Modi does not carry that embellishment. And yet, the party’s high command will not, by hint or gesture, indicate that she could be in line for the top job. Indeed, if such hints were available to the party cadres in Delhi would they not work with a greater sense of purpose? In that event Ms. Dikshit would almost certainly have carried Delhi. BJP had got into the game late. Harsh Vardhan and Vijay Goel did not make a very pretty picture pushing laddoos into each other’s mouth on the day of the compromise. And yet, there is no evidence that the Congress has any tricks in its bag except the usual Tu Tu – Mein Mein with the BJP and recently somewhat nervously with the Aam Aadmi Party too.

The momentum that Arvind Kejriwal and his team have built up is a phenomena the country will have to reckon with. Should he cross double digits in a house of 70 in his first outing, he will send a wave of relief across the length and breadth of the country.

To the AAP will go the credit for having provided a possible escape from the rogue’s gallery that the electoral arena has begun to resemble, lined as it is with posters of aspirants, one more unattractive than the other.

There are, here and there, some fairly attractive state governments but they plough a lonely furrow, unnoticed by a media which likes to play up excitements it can dwell on for long and without too much cost. Manik Sarkar in Tripura has by all accounts run an excellent administration. He has been in office longer than even Sheila Dikshit. Being CPM, he clearly embraces the wrong ideology, otherwise he too would have received some mention in passing when the Gujarat model is glorified morning, evening and the afternoon. There are other and some very dark horses who will come out from the shadows nearer the 2014 national elections.

Suspense remains on many issues, the principal among them the script Narendra Modi is expected to follow. Who has written this script? By the time elections take place in May 2014, he will have been cruising at very high altitude for a year. He was boosted sky high at the BJP conclave in Goa in June. That is when he peaked. Will he not burn himself out in the course of this marathon? Is he not already showing signs of fatigue by mixing up names, furnishing wrong historical data, fumbling for facts? Is he not declining from demagogy to provincial prattle?

Considering that Rahul Gandhi has not measured upto the competition on offer, there is probably some panic in the cloistered enclaves of the Congress high command.

Last month some channels reported that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been persuaded to campaign for the 2014 elections. An agitated spokesman, Ajay Maken, did not just deny the story. “We condemn news channels who have claimed Priyanka Gandhi will be campaigning across the country”, he thundered. Why a “condemnation” of the media when a mere denial would have been sufficient? Was the media onto some debilitating sibling rivalry in the Nehru-Gandhi household?

Eversince, that denial, Priyanka Gandhi has been visiting Rae Bareli, with the young MP from Madhya Pradesh, Meenakashi Natarajan, a Rahul Gandhi discovery. The other day she even made a foray into Amethi.

Meanwhile, Maken keeps some credit because the Priyanka-Meenakshi duet has so far confined itself to the family estates, Rae Bareli and Amethi.

A pollster has just whispered in my ear that the BJP may win all four major states and that Congress will be left only with Mizoram. Should that happen, Modi will have the momentum nationally in the same proportion that the Aam Aadmi has in the state. But wait a minute: the same pollster had told me a month ago that Delhi was hurtling towards a hung assembly with Aam Aadmi looking comfortable in 15 seats. Believe nobody until the results are out on December 8.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Like Palestinians, Muslims Of Muzaffarnagar Forego Their Right To Return, On Oath

Like Palestinians, Muslims Of Muzaffarnagar Forego Their Right To Return, On Oath
                                                                                                                  Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 15.11.2013

The government of Akhilesh Yadav in UP has asked the battered Muslims of Muzaffarnagar to sign an affidavit:
“Myself and members of my family who have left our village and our homes due to violent incidents in our village, will not now return to our original village and home under any circumstance.”

This undertaking, sought by a government which lays a special claim on Muslims, has made Firaq Gorakhpuri’s famous couplet stand on its head.
“Palat rahey hain ghareeb ul
            Watan, palatna tha
Who koocha rookash e jannat ho
            Ghar hai ghar phri bhi.”
(Exile may have been the very picture of paradise, but please let us return because there is no place like home, after all)

In this affidavit, the SP government is demanding the Muslim refugees of Muzaffarnagar to forego their right to return, rather like the Palestinians. Many refugees worldwide do not return for a variety of reasons. But here the state is complicit in perpetuating the exile.

If the refugees commit themselves not to return home, they will be entitled to a cheque of Rs.5 lakhs, equivalent of about $8000.

There are other conditions for the recipient of the dole:
“The lumpsum financial help being given by the government will be used by me only to rehabilitate my family. With the help of this money, I will live with my family arranging for residence elsewhere (not in my village).” Returning home is taboo once the cheque has been accepted.

A further condition is:
“On receiving the lumpsum financial help amount, neither I nor any member of my family will demand any compensation relating to any damage to any immovable property in my village or elsewhere.”

The implication is that any property left behind in the village can be vandalized or occupied by those who have pushed out the Muslims from their respective villages. But these Muslims will forfeit the right to complain about their properties being vandalized or occupied once they have received the Rs.5 Lakh cheque. Brilliant governance.

One would have expected the State government to send the refugees back to the homes they had fled during the riots. True, they have gone through horrible experiences. They have seen their relatives killed, their wives and daughters raped. They are therefore afraid returning to their villages unless the State can ensure their security. In normal times this was supposed to be the duty of the State. But the Samajwadi party appears to be evolving a new pattern of institutionalized apartheid as a means of managing the fallout from communal riots.

Who knows, the UP government may have embarked on an imitable model. If the majority community in a village has grown tired of that profaned term “composite” culture, all it has to do is to riot on a massive scale and drive out the minority into make shift refugee camps. The SP officials will show up cash-in-hand and ensure that the minority never returns to the homes it has abandoned.

The majority will now have a homogenous population in the villages. If the uprooted minority, Rs.5 Lakhs in hand, mutate and become the new banjaras or gypsies, so be it. If they settle in blocs of newly constructed shacks, they will be easy targets for arson as well as for votes.

It is also possible that the State government is not being as cynical as it may appear to be. It possibly has collaborators among the Muslim clergy.

Muzaffarnagar is close to Deoband, the largest Muslim seminary in the subcontinent. Maulana Arshad Madani and his disciples have shouldered a great deal of the responsibility of the riot victims still in the camps. The government in Lucknow has done little to help.

Why should a government which imagines the Muslims are its vote bank, not be energetically helping them in their distress? For two reasons: it would not like to be seen by the majority community to be reaching out to Muslims. In an atmosphere so polarized, supposing mischievous elements scream “appeasement”, that word will resonate statewise. It is not totally rational but that is the state of funk in which all parties are fighting these elections, except perhaps the three ladies – Mayawati, Jayalalita and Mamata.

Handing Rs.5 Lakh to Muslim refugees and encouraging them to take the road, is Mulayam’s way of playing both sides:
“Shaikh bhi khush rahey
Shaitan bhi naraaz na ho”
Which means that the “Shaikh should be pleased but Satan should not be displeased either”.

Well, the Shaikh of Deoband is actually playing ball with Mulayam. He is advertising the cheque as a boon for the Muslims of nine villages of Shamli and Muzaffarnagar. The political quid pro quo is simple: the clergy gets the credit for having extracted the boon from the SP government and thereby hopes to tighten its grip on the community. A rattled SP expects Deoband to help it win back the Muslim votes.

The Deoband School considers the separation of poor Muslim families, a minority in many villages, from the prosperous Jat majority an outcome to be desired. Why? Because wives and daughters of the extremely poor Muslims are exposed to sexual exploitation by the rich.

Will they not be so exploited as gypsies or in new settlements they know nothing about?

From the great secular fraternity, the silence on Muzaffarnagar has been deafening. Some weeks ago the CPM organized a Convention against Communalism at Delhi’s Talkatora stadium. The hall was full of SP volunteers wearing red caps. No sooner had Mulayam spoken than the red caps left. Only the CPI’s A.B. Bardhan urged Mulayam to arrange for the return of the refugees. Mulayam winced.

The only party with friends in Muzaffarnagar and which is campaigning for the refugee’s return is an unexpected one: Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).

Where does the Congress stand on the issue of the return of the refugees?

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Friday, November 8, 2013

A Kashmiri Pandit On The Pulpit For Moharram

A Kashmiri Pandit On The Pulpit For Moharram
                                                                      Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 08.11.2013

“Aashura”, the tenth day of Moharram or the day of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom, will be on November 15 this year. All of us, seven brothers and sisters, will be in Mustafabad, the Qasbah in Rae Bareli where we have our family home. This will be a particularly poignant get together because this will be our first Moharram without mother who passed away with as much sweetness as she had lived, at the age of 94 with forty of her children, grand and great grand children in and out of her cheerful hospital room. Lucky, ma.

She would have gently rapped me on the knuckles at this parochial narrative, for my having restricted the circle of her affections to the immediate family. She knew no nuclear family, having spent the most impressionable years of her childhood with the children of nine brothers and sisters. The eldest cousin was automatically the eldest sister or brother.

The turnstile of her much smaller house in Lucknow was in constant rotation. This network and their progeny were always in attendance. One of my brothers, the real one, often complained of having experienced a sense of neglect because of this invasion by the extended family. The family was not the only culprit, neighbours were too. Every year they invited my father to be the President of the Neighbourhood Association. A detail which never occurred to my parents may be inserted here in deference to the foul times we live in: the neighbourhood was 100 percent Hindu.

A great deal of this Catholicism was passed onto the choreography of Moharram in the Qasbahs of Awadh. For instance, Pandit Trilok Kachru would sometimes turn up for the climactic days of the solemn observance. In Iran, Southern Lebanon, Najaf and Karbala, some Shias including Clerics were intrigued by my descriptions of Moharram in Avadh, but they understood its syncretic elements. What flummoxed them totally was something else. That the sermon from the pulpit even on the most important days of Moharrram could be delivered by a Hindu, a Kashmiri Pandit to boot, was something they could not digest. Well, I said to them, come with me to Mustafabad, and you will see outside the main Imambara, a large white placard with uneven lines of amateur calligraphy:
“Kehte hue jannat mein chaley
            Jaaen ge Mathur,
Shabbir ke Qadmon ke Nishaan
            Dhoond rahe hain.”
(I shall walk into paradise. If checked, I shall tell them that I am following the footsteps of Imam Hussain)

The poet, Mathur Lucknawi, is one of a handful who have survived the assault on composite culture. Another, Sanjay Mishra “Shauq”, my mother invited last year to be the main poet at Hazrat Ali’s birthday. She personally supervised all the ceremonies for his vegetarian meal.

Haziest outlines of our composite culture were available in the early Urdu poetry in the Deccan, but this culture was institutionalized in Awadh, as an elaborate choreography around Moharram.

Hindus and Muslims participated in each other’s festivals and observances was common and understandable. The rulers took the lead in this regard. This generated a two-way traffic in the arts: from the highest to the popular level and the other way around.

There is no higher form of Urdu poetry than the Marsia or an epic in “Musaddas” or sestet, dilating on incidents which go to make up the tragedy of Karbala. A trained performer reciting the greatest poet of Marsias, Mir Anees, can keep an audience spellbound like no other performance can. Even though the dramatis personae are Arabs, that is Hussain, his sister Zainab, his brother and a host of relatives and friends, the characters Anees sketches are, in their carriage, demeanour and speech embodiments of Lucknow culture, representing mixed Hindu Muslim traditions. Indeed, the poet of Marsias who chronologically precedes Anees, happens to be Munshi Channu Lal Dilgir. His dirge or “Noha”, “Ghabraaye-gi Zainab” (Zainab will be lost without Hussain) is one of the world’s great melancholic songs, generally recited after Shaam-e-ghareeban, depicting the night in the open after the tents on the banks of the Euphrates were burnt following Hussain’s martyrdom.

Soz and Salaams, which set the tone for the Majlis are always set to appropriate ragas. Words need not be in Urdu but in folksy Brajbhasa and Awadhi.

In no part of the Muslim word has Moharram been more harmonized with indigenous traditions. The tragedy of Karabala was a matter of faith for Anees but his creation enriches a much wider secular constituency, just as Michaelangelo, Bach, Tulsidas, Mira created art which transcended their respective faiths.

My mother had mastered all this choreography. Let us see who carries the tradition forward keeping an unerring eye on details which kept together the family, the clan, and indeed, the society we lived in. A pity is that the political class around us is totally bereft of any knowledge of the culture which embellishes our observance of Moharram.

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