Friday, March 28, 2014

Elections 2014: Between Wave And Reality, The Shadow Of Figures

Elections 2014: Between Wave And Reality, The Shadow Of Figures
                                                                                             Saeed Naqvi
Anil Trivedi, tall, with an unkept grey beard, settles down over a cup of tea in my Indore hotel room, putting aside his AAP cap. His companion, Gaurav Chandak, a younger man, is an Indian Institute of Technology graduate and committed social worker. He “had to vote” for the BJP in the December elections, he complains, because the Congress has not offered much of a contest in Indore in recent years.

Therefore when AAP erupted with the suddenness of revelation in the Delhi elections on December 8, Gaurav began to inquire if there would be an AAP candidate from Indore for next month’s Parliamentary elections.

A fortnight ago, friends led him to Anil Trivedi, the AAP candidate who was himself looking for help. Since then, Gaurav has been Anil’s one man secretariat. The two have discovered that campaigning on two wheelers is a huge convenience in a city which has 16 lakh cars in a population of 22 lakhs. “Whenever we stop, a crowd gathers enabling us to address street-corner meetings”. He proposes to mobilize “a car or two” to be able to campaign in the 700 villages under the constituency.

The sitting BJP MP, Sumitra Mahajan, not accustomed to too much exertion in past elections, is suddenly having to contend with a different culture of electioneering. It would be risky to pick victors and vanquished, but the electorate in Indore are finding the intimacy of AAP’s door to door canvassing persuasive.

From Patna, Lucknow or Indore, the overall picture also looks different. In the course of channel surfing the avid election watcher does linger longer on the manufactured Modi show beamed from the principal English and Hindi channels, but these images are not as overpowering as they tend to be in New Delhi or Mumbai. Smaller cities are reliable listening posts for the rural hinterland where the influence of the trunk route media declines.

A conversation in the plush office of Indore’s powerful Hindi daily is much more down-to-earth, based on real figures. There are a total of 200 seats in Andhra, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Odissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Delhi, Arunachal, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Chandigarh and Pondicherry. In this substantial chunk of India there is, at present, not a single seat with the BJP. In a Lok Sabha of 543, the party has 343 from which to coax a majority for the NDA. This is a feasible proposition except that pocket calculators are out in every constituency where alternative coalitions are being dreamed up.

The party is certain to pick up a seat or two in Uttarakhand, Haryana but where else? Tamil Nadu?

In Bihar, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh the BJP has a total of 66 seats out of a total of 126. It will probably add to its numbers here.

UP, Rajasthan, Punjab account for 118 seats of which the BJP has only 15 at present. Will it double these seats or treble them? This is precisely where the BJP could grow exponentially if its ambitious project of social engineering succeeds. This entails saffronization of the lower castes.

Will this project be to the liking of UP’s Brahmins who have been wandering from camp to camp in search of patronage and stability ever since their secure edifice, the Congress, collapsed in the late 80s. They shifted to the BJP imagining it to be the new parking lot for the upper caste. But the BJP at this stage was adjusting to the post Mandal commission caste politics. Kalyan Singh, a lodh, became Chief Minister, much to the Brahmin’s chagrin. He has over the years adjusted even to Mayawati’s blandishments.

This time, if a section of Brahmins stays with Mayawati her chances will be considerably boosted. It is of vital importance to Modi that this support somehow becomes available to the BJP.

The Muslim vote in UP is drifting towards the BSP. But here too there is a complication. In every alternate seat one runs into the same unexpected campaigners, wearing an AAP cap and riding a two wheeler. In a four cornered contest, Muslims will vote in the following order of preference – AAP, BSP, Congress and Samajwadi Party. Never was the SP so much out of favour with Muslims in UP. They are punishing the SP for Muzaffarnagar just as they punished the Congress in Rajasthan for it callousness in Gopalgarh.

The BJP will have to fight tooth and nail to improve its tally of 32 seats from a total of 90 in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Assam. The Gandhi family will be in deeper trouble if Uma Bharati and Smriti Irani are fielded from Rae Bareli and Amethi respectively. Congress workers in both these constituencies wait anxiously for Priyanaka who remains absent.

The greatest unpredictability imposed on these elections is by AAP which has changed the terms of the game but whose own score will remain a total mystery until the votes are counted on May 16.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Can Modi Strike A Bargain Of Decency On Varanasi?

Can Modi Strike A Bargain Of Decency On Varanasi?
                                                                      Saeed Naqvi
Ofcourse there will be some sophistry by which the current scramble for Varanasi will be justified, but there are finer reasons for which the city should be more frequently remembered.

My earliest memories of Benaras go back to the 60s when my architect friend Satish Grover, a passionate student of history and an inveterate traveler, found us cheap accommodation on the ghats from where we watched the cycle of life and death as an early lesson in metaphysics.

On one side of the Ganga, young men grappled and exercised in “akharas” or mud pits, and on the other, funeral pyres burnt, starkly bringing about a closure on life’s narrative.

Rows of widows draped in white, shaven and austere, gazed vacantly, at the slow moving river. The contrast was provided by children jumping into it.

A priceless footage of musical history Doordarshan had once acquired shows Siddeshwari Devi and Rasoolan Bai on a barge, talking of “thumries”, the musical style famous in Varanasi. The understated words of the “thumrie”, its sensuous lyric, makes it sublime poetry. Take this example.

“Hiraye aanyeen kangana
Nadiya naarey.”

The meaning is straightforward: she lost her gold bangle near the river. The fact that the “kangana” was lost in a moment of orgasmic ecstasy is communicated, not in words, but by inflection of voice and tone.

We could hear the “thun-thun” of the tabla from the street at Kabir Chaura. Was it Shamta Prasad practicing? He was a genius, not so much for his mathematics as his ability to coax melody by sliding his left hand on the tabla.

Just as the old cities of Delhi and Lucknow have a decaying Urdu ambience to them, Gudaulia in Varanasi is primarily hindi with a purabia lilt. Men in white, starched kurtas and dhotis, amble towards their favourite paan shop, the city’s informal rendezvous.

All of this, minus the population density, must have enchanted Shaikh Ali Hazin, when he arrived here from Isfahan in 1750. He died here in 1766.

He recorded his “helplessness” in not being able to separate himself from Varanasi.

“Az Banaras na rawam
Maabad aam ast iinja
Har Barahman pisare
Lachmam o Ram ast iinja.”
(How can I ever leave Banaras. It is the Kaaba for all. Every Barahman here looks like the very son of Lakshman and Ram.)

Benaras cast a similar spell on Ghalib when he arrived here in 1828 on his way to Calcutta. It was here that he wrote his longest poem “Chiragh e Dair”, or Lamp of the Temple.

Banaras, he says, is like a beautiful woman
Who sees the changing phases of her face in the mirror
Of the Ganga.

“Ibaadat khanae naqoosian ast
hama na kaabae Hindustan ast”
(Here people make sacred music from conch shells.
This truly is the Kaaba of Hindustan.)

Varanasi had become an organic part of Persian and Urdu aesthetics much earlier. During this period Arabic remained the language of religious reform. This sometimes irritated poets like Yaas Yagana Changezi.

“Samajh mein kuch naheen aata,
Parhey jaaney se kya haasil?
Namazon mein hain kuch maani
To pardesi zuban kyon ho!”
(What is the point in saying your prayers five times a day? If your namaz is to have some meaning, why should it be in a foreign language?)

The ground for cultural commerce had been prepared by the great sufis. The ambience they left behind mingled in the regions with influences of Bhakti, the wandering mendicants and Faqirs. The great Nadaswaram player, Sheikh Chinna Maulana Sahib, or the Kathkali genius, Kalamandalm Hyderali in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and Qazi Nazrul Islam in Bengal have trodden the same spiritual path. In this journey they did not necessarily surrender their faith, only moderated it. With Ghalib, faith declined into agnosticism. Josh Malihabadi, Majaz, Faiz Ahmad Faiz were rank atheists.

Waris Shah of Dewa Sharif, Sufi shrine outside Lucknow had an exquisite reason for not saying his “namaz” or prayer. “Where is the space for me to go down in supplication?” In other words, “He is in me”. It reminds me of the title of Ramchandra Gandhi’s book, “I am Thou.”

Varanasi had also been woven into devotional Qawwalis. Mohsin Kakorvi, famous writer of naats or poetry dedicated to Prophet Mohammad, accentuated his devotion by retaining centers of Hindu pilgrimage as the backdrop. His description of the elements on receiving the news of the Prophet’s birth, is of breathtaking beauty:
“Samte Kashi se chala, jaanibe
Mathura Badal,
Taerta hai kabhi Ganga kabhi
Jamuna Badal…….”
(Clouds are travelling ecstatically from Kashi to Mathura. Sometimes they float above the Ganga, sometimes Jamuna.)

It is probably unfair to expect a hardened politician like Narendra Modi to see his constituency in this framework. But it would still be nice of Modi if he visited Bismillah Khan’s house at Chatta Tala in Beniabagh. Never was the Shehnai played with notes of such devotion at the Viswanath Temple; nor on Moharram when he walked bare feet, playing a dirge all the way to the river for the burial of the tazias.

On this note, may I offer Modi a grand bargain:
During the February 2002 Gujarat pogrom, rioters flattened a tomb not far from Ahmadabad’s main police station. It was the grave of Wali Dakhini (Gujarati). The candidate for Kashi should be astounded if he has a heart.

“Kooch ae yaar ain Kashi hai
Jogia dil wahan ka vaasi hai.”
(The lane where my beloved lives is like the holy city of Kashi. The Yogi of my heart has taken up residence there.)

If the goons desecrated Wali’s shrine in total ignorance, there is plenty of time before election day for Modi to restore the grave of this remarkable poet whose adoration for Indian civilization and Gujarat remains unmatched. But if it was done deliberately, in full knowledge, well, what can I say?

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Should The Media Not Applaud Kejriwal’s Anti Corruption Plank?

Should The Media Not Applaud Kejriwal’s Anti Corruption Plank?
                                                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

It is true that every anti corruption movement in recent history has decisively shifted the centre of gravity of Indian politics yards to the right, as writers have asserted recently. Such campaigns have always had considerable media support.

Internal tussles have had their external stimuli quite consistently until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990-91. Thereafter, free from external ideological pressures, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao set Manmohan Singh, his Finance Minister, on a new path. This became Manmohan Singh’s chosen route even during his own two terms as Prime Minister. He hitched his wagon to a hyperpower seeking full spectrum global dominance, and sometimes by that association looked energetic during UPA-I.

The hyperpower started running out of steam by 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed, signaling structural flaws in the engine of capitalism. That is the development after which Manmohan Singh has looked limp and directionless throughout UPA-II.

The current hype around Narendra Modi is designed to provide the contrast. The alternative to Modi is no longer the Congress but a coalition of muscular, regional parties with help from either of the mainstream parties. Brooding over this politics, like Banquo’s ghost, is the AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal. His contribution to the outcome of these elections will be only known on May 16, when the results are declared.

One achievement must be credited to him straight away. He has removed the screen behind which Congress and the BJP romance. Kejriwal has taken full advantage of the media attention – at the India Today Conclave, for instance – to tear into the Congress-BJP collusion. Will this considerable expose not have a bearing on the election? That the two parties are indistinguishable on economic and social issues cannot be lost on the electorate, particularly minorities. Look at the list of their candidates: they are both equally thick skinned on corruption.

The situation poses an interesting question. As mentioned at the outset, all anti corruption campaigns have provided occasion for politics to be shifted further to the right. In which direction will Kejriwal’s double-fisted assault on both, the BJP and the Congress, shift Indian politics?

“Crony capitalism” is clearly in his target. This cannot be honeyed music to “crony capitalists” who have controlling interests in both the national parties.

When one considers the ideological infighting within the Congress upto and after Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru comes across as something of a Samson, holding on his shoulders the temple of a secular, socialist republic. On all social and foreign policy issues his colleagues, Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Rajaji – were all suspicious of non-alignment. They would have taken India into the Western camp from day one of Independence. Don’t forget, it was only “transfer of powers” that took place in 1947.

It were the ideological heirs of Nehru’s opponents who in 1969 sought to wrench the party away from Indira Gandhi’s socialist platform. There was considerable external support to Indira’s instinctive moves. After all, Indo-Soviet relations peaked during the 1971 Bangladesh war.

This was the phase of lightening moves and counter moves on the international and the national chess board. Just when New Delhi was at its coziest with Moscow, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto facilitated Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to Beijing. Then, by a splendid irony, next year, in 1972, Indira Gandhi and Bhutto were face to face at the Shimla Summit.

When Indira plotted to split the Congress in 1969, she prepared the ground by relieving Morarji Desai of the Finance portfolio. He resigned.

But Morarji Desai, shown the door by Indira in 1969, became the Prime Minister of the Janata Party led government in 1977. By 1999, intermediate stages were no longer required by Hindu nationalism’s moderate Atal Behari Vajpayee to became Prime Minister for a full term.

It is not surprising therefore that this year, Narendra Modi was being audaciously built up as the mascot for good governance and Hindu nationalism.

This is when Kejriwal may have spoilt Modi’s party. For the last four months AAP has been pegging away at his crony capitalist links. The media is playing down the negatives. The results on May 16 will establish how much of Modi’s sheen was lost by being exposed to charges of corruption.

Will Modi’s progress be checked by an anti corruption campaign? This will be the first time that such a campaign has not boosted the Right.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Tebbit Test For Kashmiris Who Applaud Pak Cricket Team?

Tebbit Test For Kashmiris Who Applaud Pak Cricket Team?
                                                                               Saeed Naqvi
Across its six columns on page one last Wednesday, The Indian Express screamed: “For ‘cheering’ Pakistan in India Match, University in Meerut suspends 67 Kashmiri students.”

Indian bowlers had choked Pakistan, until legendary hitter, Shahid Afridi, walked to the middle. A sensational spree of sixes turned the game around. Pakistan won. India was stunned.

Students in Meerut’s Swami Vivekananda Subharti University were watching the match on TV in the hostel’s community hall. There happen to be 68 Kashmiri Muslim students on the premises who cheered Pakistani victory. This was resented by other students. A scuffle led to a brawl.

The authorities suspended the students. The police charged them with sedition but later withdrew the charge.

G.S. Bansal, the warden of the hostel, told the Indian Express that the Kashmiri students had been punished for being “anti national”. The Vice Chancellor, Manzoor Ahmad went a step further. He had the students driven to Ghaziabad from where they improvised their way back to Srinagar.

“By this one act, have you not sent these students straight into the arms of the gun wielding militants?” asked a Kashmiri teacher in New Delhi.

On his Super Primetime show on Thursday night, Arnab Goswami, the country’s most vocal anchor, took advantage of the incident to draw some red lines on patriotism. “This was not an ordinary cricket match”, he said. It was not a match with Bangladesh, Maldives or England – it was a match against Pakistan, match which Pakistan won. “To cheer Pakistan against India will not be tolerated”, he warned.

Everyone missed out on a huge irony. While Arnab Goswami was drilling patriotism into the 67 Kashmiri students with misplaced loyalties, the Kashmir valley had celebrated Afridi’s incredible inning with real fireworks from Poonch, Rajauri right uptoKargil.

Stories of media jingoism and cricket have hazily surfaced in my memory.

US invasion of Afghanistan brought in its train a most impressive galaxy of anchors and reporters. One who will remain etched in my mind was Geraldo Rivera of Fox News. He would flourish his revolver on live telecast. He said he would shoot dead Osama bin Laden, should he ever find him. Is Indian television in the process of surpassing that level of jingoism?

Just as patriotic Indians are cross with Kashmiris clapping for the wrong cricket team, so was Norman Tebbit, leader of the Conservative Party in Britain, angry with immigrants. In 1990, he enunciated what came to be known as the “Tebbit Test” to gauge the loyalties of immigrants settled in England. It was a simple test: do immigrants applaud the cricket team of their adopted home, namely England? Or do they persist in supporting the team from countries they have left behind – India, Pakistan, West Indies? I remember how the British press lambasted Tebbit. I have not seen Indian scribes sufficiently moved to write an editorial or two.

By a freak chance, the Meerut story has attracted instant media attention. But this one exposure must not be allowed to obscure the hundreds of thousands of seditious thoughts that simmer in the hearts of so many in the valley.

Ghalib said:
“Na karda gunahon ki bhi hasrat ki
                                                Miley daad,
Ya rab agar in karda gunahon ki
                                                Sazaa hai”
(Applaud me, Oh God, for nursing in my heart a desire for hundreds of sins,
If there is to be punishment let it be only for the ones I have committed)

My first Kashmiri story with a cricketing background concerns Feroz. Srinagar was in the grip of one of its routine bouts of tension. I was visiting a family of journalists. Feroz, their son, was eight years old, very bright and a compulsive talker, mostly on cricket. The best way to attract his attention, I decided, was to talk of cricket.

“Do you like Imran Khan?” I asked him. I thought this would give him a chance to keep up his cricket prattle, but he surprised me. “No” he said sharply. He walked out, past the courtyard, his head bowed, like he were in a sulk.

“You asked him the wrong question”, his mother whispered to me. “That is a very sore point with him.” Tears filled her eyes as she told me the story.

The CRPF, in the course of its house to house searches, had found Imran Khan and Wasim Akram posters in several houses. They took aside young admirers of these cricketers and asked them leading questions about visitors to their homes, uncles with “guns”, and such like scary stuff. Posters of Pakistani cricketers in Kashmiri homes were in the perception of CRPF, clues to homes of Pakistan sympathizers.

Word spread rapidly on the network of cricket crazy toddlers that it was dangerous to have Imran and Wasim posters on the premises.

 With a heavy heart, Feroz brought his scrap book to his mother and diligently pulled out all the Pakistani photographs, (he did not touch Indian and West Indian cricketers) and handed them over to his mother. He asked her to tear the pictures and turned his face away. He did not wish to see his Gods defiled.

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