Friday, December 27, 2013

How AAP Upsets The Modi Versus Rahul Format

How AAP Upsets The Modi Versus Rahul Format
                                                                        Saeed Naqvi

Meeting a friend in his avatar as a member of the Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) required cultural adjustment. Where should we meet? Certainly not on the exclusive floors of five star hotels where seasoned politicians seek privacy as do captains of Industry. India International Centre, Habitat, even the India Islamic Centre have the right ambience but they require membership and so cannot qualify as an Aam Aadmi rendezvous. What we, my friend and I, were looking for was the old fashioned Coffee House where teachers, students, journalists, artists, politicians once mingled inexpensively. Shall we look forward to a chain of Aam Aadmi Coffee Houses across the country?

The party, which exploded on the scene with the suddenness of revelation simply does not have the time to stitch together a national organization before the General Elections in May. But there is a spontaneous local growth of AAP in the states in the aftermath of the Delhi results.

Should AAP concentrate on 80 Parliamentary seats or spread itself across 240 in a House of 543? Opinion in the party is divided on this. It already claims some organizational presence across 300 districts. The surge in Delhi had reverberations even in states where its presence was less than rudimentary – Tamil Nadu, for instance, where its helpline crashed because of overloading.

Depending on the demands that Delhi makes on the leadership, the party would like to start working early for state elections in Maharashtra and Haryana due in October. It is particularly well placed in Haryana because some of its better known leaders like Yogendra Yadav live in that state. This is the reason why his name does not figure in AAP Delhi cabinet.

Prashant Bhushan, has also kept himself out of government. He can now organize the party’s informal think tank and cast his eye on a wider turf for the general election and beyond.

Delhi, where AAP has arisen, can be a mean city, with deeply entrenched interests. The rapturous applause with which South Delhi and the club set had received the results, is giving way to caution, a cunning reserve, eyeing both sides of the street.

This lot have been rattled by AAP. These are also powerful vested interests which will fight tooth and nail for their survival. Every trick in the book, social media, stings and manageable news channels will be used to demoralize AAP.

In sharp contrast, are the tribe made famous by Sangeeta Richards in New York – the domestic workers. They sit huddled in groups in the park near my house along with the auto rickshaw drivers who have parked their vehicle outside the Metro station. There is a resolve here to consolidate behind AAP.

A section of the media is already showing its colours. It did not even wait for the swearing in ceremony. It bared its fangs well in advance. At his press conference, Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, promised AAP will fulfill its promises, “but you must realize that I have no magic wand”. No sooner had Kejriwal uttered “magic wand” than the anchor of a channel interjected. “Look how prompt he is with his excuses”. So the honeymoon period with the media may be short lived.

Corporate interests which control the media have gauged that AAP is not just a flash in the pan. It has national potential and could therefore disrupt larger game plans.

A year ago, the media had hyped up a Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi campaign. Modi rose to the bait but Rahul did not. Somehow, the Confederation of Indian Industry roped him in for an hour’s solo performance in April which did not set the Jamuna on fire. Word went out that he would concentrate on building up the party.

The December 8 election results must have disturbed India Inc on several counts. The Congress was sinking; BJP did stand its ground in all four states but there was no discernable Modi magic. Upsetting all calculations, AAP came to power in Delhi within a year of being born.

The scenario is encouraging for regional formations. In this framework, even AAP is a regional force. And yet, unlike the Dravida parties, or caste parties in UP and Bihar, AAP is neutral in terms of caste, community and linguistic regionalism. Since it was born in the nation’s capital, it looks much more cosmopolitan and all embracing.

Against this backdrop, what is the future for the Modi versus Rahul format? And, danger of dangers, should snoopgate catch up with Modi, what future for him?

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Will Poets Writing Smut Be Jailed?

Will Poets Writing Smut Be Jailed?
                                                Saeed Naqvi

The sports page of the Indian Express has a banner headline:
“US Nominates Openly Gay King For Sochi.” Below, is a photograph of former tennis champion, Billie Jean King, looking at the skies like a woman with a mission, like someone possessed.

She will be in the US delegation at the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia, not for having been a champion some decades ago but because she had the courage to announce her sexual orientation from that high point of eminence.

The US, which likes to send strong messages, will, by King’s presence at Sochi, have exposed the Russians as spoilsports on gay rights, in full daylight, for the whole world to see.

King is not the only insult the US is heaping on the Russians. An openly gay athlete, an Olympic hockey player Caitlin Cahow, will represent the US during the closing ceremony. So, the US has it sealed at both ends.

This is the first time in history that gays have been used to score diplomatic points. This gay discourse has surely reached a crescendo, atleast in my lifetime. How did it all begin?

It was a most confusing beginning. I first became aware of the girl-boy segregation in the course of being punished at junior school for having been found in the girl’s toilet. What my friend Richard McAuliffe and I were doing in the girl’s toilet, I cannot remember. We must have strayed as a prank.

We were escorted to the principal who, upon hearing of our crime, walked briskly in the direction of the Green Room behind the stage and emerged with two pink, crumpled frocks. We were to wear these at school all day. The Principal looked more amused than angry meting out this novel punishment.

If the idea was to make us feel like effeminate sissies, it did not work that way. We had a jolly time behaving like clowns and making the whole school laugh. That Richard looked rather nice in a pink frock is the only titillation I can take away from that episode.

By the time I reached the all boys school in standard IV, the boy-boy thing did surface but mostly as a joke.

The junior dormitory, at one end of the huge estate, was in the care of a burly Anglo Indian called Gibson, wearing canvas shoes and white trousers. He chewed gum all day or whistled and spoke like Mr. Doolittle. The senior dormitory, at the other end, was under the supervision of a master who waxed his moustache and we called him “Waxy”. He spoke in accents exactly the opposite of Gibson. He spoke like Henry Higgins.

A rumour had reached the principal that some boys from Waxy’s dormitory had made it a habit of prowling over to the junior dormitory with “suspicious intent”. One night, Waxy, armed with binoculars, sneaked up behind the gang and caught the leader who was sent to the principal the next morning to be caned – “six of the best”, they were called.

Hell hath no fury like a thwarted lover. The affected young man found the target for his revenge:  Waxy’s parrot in the verandah downstairs, settled in an iron cage so large that it would not dangle in the breeze.

Daily, at the crack of dawn, our thwarted friend would approach the parrot and teach him the chant: “Waxy’s a bastard; Waxy’s a bastard”. In three months the parrot mastered the lesson.

One day when Waxy brought out his “talking” parrot to regale his friends, he was horrified. His favourite pet proceeded to heap choice abuse on him in an unstoppable barrage. “Waxy’s a bastard; Waxy’s a bastard…….”

Next morning Waxy twisted its neck. The tragi-comic story receded into the background when adulthood exposed us to Lucknow’s dazzling output of smut as a high literary form. In this form of writing, gay love was neither elevated nor degraded but lampooned in a good natured way.

Images of sex were used for satire. When India’s first family planning programme was announced, Abba Changezi sent a long poem, a tarana (or anthem) to Nehru. The nation should be advised to take the route of “Sodom and Gomorrah” because it was running out of grain to feed the future.

If you taught English literature in Lucknow University of the 30s and 40s you were good enough to teach at, say, Oxford. Rafi Ahmad Khan taught literature by day and entertained friends by night with his unsurpassable poetry on gay smut in exquisite Urdu. Ofcourse it was decadent – the slow decline of the feudal order. But it was quite as tolerable as Sir John Falstaff and Nell Quickly.

Other geniuses were dominating the putrid decay of sub cultures elsewhere. Urian (Disrobed) of Hyderabad was quite a favourite with the late Prof. A.M. Khusro, former Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. Mahshar Enayati took liberties even with the late Nawab of Rampur who, incidentally, enjoyed his verses.

This degenerate and very funny genre actually derives from the acceptance accorded to homosexual love in Persian and Urdu poetry. Tasawwuf or Sufism provides the opening: the object of spiritual love, the Divine, is male in most instances. The tavern, goblet and wine are all part of His seductive arrangement.

Love poetry, if it is good, will lend itself to two interpretations: the spiritual and the physical. Separate the physical and it will easily degenerate into the carnal. Place this material in the hands of Jafar Zatalli (he was executed by a later Moghul for sedition), Rafi, Uriyan, Mehshar, and Abba Changezi, and I will show you audiences who will be left in stitches.

These audiences, I am afraid, are now an endangered species. They will either be foul of the law against homosexuality or be lynched by mobs opposed to the law. I have decided to consign my small library of selected smut to the bonfire while ushering in the New Year. All are welcome – to drink a toast to Billie Jean King.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

AAP Sets The Cat Among The Pigeons

AAP Sets The Cat Among The Pigeons
                                                         Saeed Naqvi
“Maen akela hi chala tha
            Jaanibe manzil magar
Log saath aatey gaye aur
            Karavan banta gaya”
(I was alone when I set out towards
            that destination,
But people kept joining in and it
            became a bustling caravan)
                                    Majrooh Sultanpuri

Thanks to AAP, there is a new kind of thrill in the air. The pool of drivers leaning against their awkwardly parked cars in my lane, sharing one newspaper, are suddenly looking smarter in their winter wear. There is a certain bounce in their tread as they open the doors of cars, and slam them carefully and drive their employers away.

Raj who looks stately on the wheels of my modest jalopy, has recently not been very communicative. My inquiries about his voting preference drew a blank. This stoked my lately acquired communal reflexes: when people don’t share with me their political inclinations, I assume that they have decided to vote BJP and that they feel they should not share this detail with me. But the problem is inside my head because contrary to my suspicions, all the drivers, indeed scores of others who work in the neighbourhood, have gone and voted AAP. Why then were they secretive with me? It turns out that in their minds it was a “class” thing. ‘They’ as a class had voted AAP. And they saw us, notches above them in lifestyle, as affiliates of the corrupt system AAP sought to upturn.

The refreshing thing about this Delhi election is that those being driven by Raj and his cohorts have, in many instances, also voted AAP. Just as Mir Taqi Mir felt ‘hemmed’ in by the walls of the city, so too were a section of the ruling class suffocated by the two stale ruling parties. This split in the ruling class has to be watched.

The electorate had handed to AAP the best possible result: crowded opposition benches to menace any ruling party. The BJP’s performance in the state would remain in critical focus. The momentum AAP had built up would have enabled it meanwhile to stitch together organizations in other states, harness the phenomenal energy it has unleashed, connect with likeminded souls ploughing some lonely furrow elsewhere. AAP volunteer groups are mushrooming in unexpected enclaves. These groups are even working on devices to keep donations kosher. In my forty years of covering elections, I have never seen anything quite like this. Unfortunately, AAP will have to refashion its gameplan in the event of a re poll in Delhi. It will then have to prepare for power in Delhi, not the best prospect for an inexperienced team.

The outcome of these elections have not been bad for the BJP but there is enough in these results to question the promised Modi magic.

The Congress is too large to become a cipher but the party has been on its knees atleast since 1996 when P.V. Narasimha Rao’s perceived inaction on the fall of the Babari Masjid brought it down to 140 seats in a House of 543.

The 1991 elections were peculiar. Had Rajiv Gandhi not been assassinated half way through the elections, he would have had to sit in the opposition. Even with the sympathy wave after his assassination, the Congress could only muster 244 seats, leaving it to Narasimha Rao’s wiles to manage a majority. The winning mark is 272 seats.

One of the great puzzles of recent Indian politics is the equation between what Congressmen insist is Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s charisma and the party’s electoral fortunes.

Sonia Gandhi took over the party from Sitaram Kesri who was party President in 1998. Kesri could claim his party won 141 seats which is one more than what Narasimha Rao could claim in 1996.

When Sonia Gandhi was at the helm in 1999, the party slid to its lowest ever: 114 seats. However, it did pick up to 145 in 2004 when Manmohan Singh was nominated Prime Minister. The quantum jump to 206 in 2009 was attributed to the youth surge, minorities boosting the Congress in UP and, ofcourse, Andhra Pradesh.

On Andhra Pradesh, the party is attempting the impossible: to pull the rug from under its own feet.

Why Muslims will circumvent the Congress is a subject for a separate article. Nothing has annoyed the minorities more than Congress smugness, communicated by word and gesture, that with Narendra Modi looming so large, “they have no option but to come to us”. And now emerges a third option in the form of AAP gifted with a winning formula: people are fighting this election. If AAP can keep away from sectarian vote banks and the clergy as vote getters, they will have rediscovered the dictum: the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts.

The youth soufflĂ© has gone flat because Rahul probably doesn’t want power right now. Remember what he told the Confederation of Indian Industries in April.

“As opposed to the Parliament and State Legislatures there were 2.4 hundred thousand village Panchayats. It were these that had to be “empowered” as the nodal points most in contact with the people. Legislators and policy makers, have to develop institutional mechanisms to liaise with the Pradhans who implement policy at the village level.”

A project of such extensive architecture sprouting from the mind of Rahul Gandhi may take a decade before the crown prince readies himself for governance. After all, he has plenty of time ahead of him.  I had written in April: “He will be only 48 during the 2019 elections and 53 for the 2024 election. By that time all other parties will have exposed themselves as rotten or so he reckons. Only the structures Rahul will have built will deliver unto him the absolute majority without which Prime Ministership is a crown of thorns.” It is quite another matter that by that time there may be no Congress left to restructure.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Why Is Rape In Goa Different From Rape In Muzaffarnagar?

Why Is Rape In Goa Different From Rape In Muzaffarnagar?
                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

State election results have taken Tarun Tejpal off prime time shows and the front pages. This is something of a relief.

On November 7-8, past midnight, after extensive partying at what was billed to be a THINK fest at a five star hotel in Goa, the feisty proprietor editor of Tehelka magazine followed one of his junior reporters, a friend of his daughter’s, and allegedly did things to her which under a revised law is tantamount to rape. Strangely, something similar happened the subsequent day too.

In such stories, a routine triangle emerges. There was, for instance, Tarun’s wife and family in a state of trauma. In the young lady’s case there is apparently a boyfriend in the bargain. The truth of any human story will always be conditioned by these extraneous factors.

No sooner had the story leaked than it was banner headlines, recycled mornings, afternoons, nights on prime time shows. That was not all. It remained the staple for TV discussions week after week, as if the world had come to a standstill, riveted on Tarun Tejpal.

By a coincidence, I had just returned from Muzaffarnagar, barely two hours drive from New Delhi, where Muslim victims from recent communal violence were preparing for a bitter winter in makeshift camps. Among the refugees were scores of women, raped in front of their parents and children and who are still waiting for the wheels of justice to move at all. In Tarun’s case there is that uncertainty as to what really happened. Here is rape with as many witnesses as can fill a court of law.

Efforts to administer justice in the case of an alleged rape in the lift of a five star Goa hotel, contrasted sharply with gross inaction in Muzaffarnagar. The star struck media was taking no interest.

These victims of rape and ethnic cleansing were confronting yet another challenge. The regional party in power in Lucknow, the Samajwadi party, were keen that these victims must somehow disappear because their continued presence in camps reflects on the government’s inability to prevent the pogram.

There was another dilemma. If the state intervened on behalf of the Muslims, the government will lose Hindu support. Should it end up doing nothing for the uprooted Muslims, the party faces the certainty of that vote bank drifting away.

So what should “Maulana” Mulayam Singh Yadav do on the eve of key national elections? He has a brainwave. He will require the few thousand Muslims still in the camp to accept a lumpsum of Rs.5 lakhs, equivalent of $8000, by way of compensation for having been dislocated.

So far so good. But they will be entitled to this lumpsum only on one condition: they sign an affidavit that they will not ever return to their homes under any circumstance.

Why is the government of Mulayam Singh going to such extraordinary lengths to prevent this timid vote bank from returning to their villages? Because he cannot guarantee them their security.

Why such helplessness on the part of the nation’s most populous state? Because the conflict in the region is between Jats and Muslims and the police force is overwhelmingly Jat.

If that is the case why not transfer a Jat force to a non Jat area and the other way around? Hush!! Don’t even whisper this. Jats will get angry.

To sweeten the deal for the victims, Mulayam has roped in Maulana Arshad Madani, National President of Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind. Maulana says the “victims should take the money and build a home elsewhere”. But why should they abandon the property they have left behind in the villages from where they have been driven out. “That property is theirs” says the Maulana. “No one can take it away from them.” So, Mulayam Singh has placed the fate of the Muzaffarnagar riot victims in the care of the Deoband seminary.

With all of this swimming in my head upon my return from Muzaffarnagar, I had difficulty placing all the brouhaha about the Goa episode in proper perspective.

I messaged Tarun: A media so focused on rape, should be directed to Muzaffarnagar.

It turns out that Maulana Arshad Madani’s nephew, Maulana Mahmood Madani was also at the Goa THINK fest dominating the nation’s news. The clergy, it turns out, has got it covered at all ends.

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