Friday, March 27, 2015

Scale Of AAP’s Victory Too Much For Friend And Foe

Scale Of AAP’s Victory Too Much For Friend And Foe
                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

The stunning victory of the Aam Aadmi Party on February 10 in Delhi coincided with the global liberal order in disarray.

Far left Syriza had come to power in Greece. Southern Europe was likewise threatened. Gone was the Berlusconi tamasha in Italy. The Nordic North was taking to racism like duck to water. Britain and France, liberal citadels, were besieged and may fall. Western economies are in such disrepair that Chinese slowdown is, to the protagonists, heartening speculation.

The electorate in Delhi administered such a double fisted punch on the established order, as to leave it dazed. Never in the history of free and fair elections had a party won more than 90 per cent of the seats – 67 seats in a House of 70. This in the metropolis of Delhi, the capital of India. That too, at a moment when India was being enlisted in the global grand design against the rise of China. This market of 1.25 billion must be insulated from turbulence. At such a moment, AAP has come riding a bolt from the blue. Ideas have legs and for this reason this idea, tried out in Delhi with brilliant success, had to be killed.

Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and Prof. Anand Kumar are without doubt the finest men in AAP but they have not set the popular imagination on fire. Arvind Kejriwal has.

Nothing quite as magical has happened in Indian public life. As a communicator he has no parallel. I have not seen him strike one false note in the hundreds of interviews, and off-the-cuff comments in the course of a campaign which was a seamless media show.

Narendra Modi in his historic victory of May 2014 had come to power riding the world’s most expensive media campaign. He gained a thousand fold from the listlessness of the Congress. Modi harvested the unspeakable disgust with Sonia, Rahul and Manmohan Singh.

The timing of Kejriwal’s victory placed a huge question mark on Modi’s performance. AAP exposed the potential for early disenchantment with Modi.

AAP was not just a local aberration it was a threat to patterns of crony capitalism. India Inc had bought up the media, lock, stock and barrel. Any journalist pitting himself as a conscientious objector to AAP should unburden himself of the grand delusion that he is driven by his inner voice. He is owned by interests who, in a manner of speaking, own Modi too.

That is why it is sad that Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and now even Prof. Anand Kumar have allowed themselves to be used by that instrument of the establishment called the media. Photographs of these gents have adorned the front pages of the nation’s newspapers for the past month. These have been accompanied by news of rebellion within AAP. The issues hinge on the personality of Kejriwal which appears to have bruised the egos of his think tank. How the party should structure itself? What position would Bhushan and Yadav have in it?

There has been an incipient tussle between left inclined welfarism favoured by Kejriwal and Lohia socialism. Free thinking is in the DNA of Lohiaites, which is what Yogendra Yadav and Anand Kumar primarily are. It would always have been problematic to fit them into hierarchies as also to ignore their ideas.

What is astonishing is that instead of sorting out issues within the party forum, the dissidents have possibly unwittingly played into the hands of the establishment. Even if there were serious charges against Kejriwal, could the dissidents not have raised them in good time, once the AAP government had found its feet?

In this instance, too much success appears to have been the party’s bane. Remember when the Modi campaign was in full swing, important BJP leaders were whispering their own assessments of the electoral outcome. They were called the 160 club. The implication was that Modi with a small margin would need the club to form the government.

Likewise, a relatively modest victory for AAP would have been more to the liking of those who now find Kejriwal unmanageable in his exceptional success.

If possible, Kejriwal must walk the extra mile to retain old comrades. His other cadres are very raw and untrained. Alternatively he will have to dedicate himself unwaveringly to good governance which was his original theme song.

In Prashant Bhushan, the dissidents do have in their ranks, the high minded Brutus. What Kejriwal requires is a Mark Antony who will turn the argument around.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

How Will Netanyahu’s Victory Affect Iran Deal And Palestinian Future?

How Will Netanyahu’s Victory Affect Iran Deal And Palestinian Future?
                                                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

Just when the United States thought it would mop its brow, having tried hard to tame the West Asian rodeo, the Israeli horse has kicked up dirt. Americans, like everyone else, were waiting for Benjamin Netanyahu to lose the March 17 elections, before proceeding with their script of a nuclear deal with Iran towards some conclusion in the coming weeks.

Does the Netanyahu fourth term throw a monkey-wrench in the works John Kerry has been pursuing with such dedication?

His primary strategic goal is to sign a nuclear deal with Iran. Since a military option was just not feasible, keeping Iran out of regional balance of power was impractical for the US. Without Iran in the regional solar system, the US would have to be ready for intervention to keep the regional equilibrium. This doesn’t serve a useful American purpose anymore.

Riyadh, Cairo, Ankara are regional power centers Jerusalem was comfortable with. In this galaxy, Jerusalem, and to a lesser extent Riyadh, had relied even on a recently reluctant Washington. Jerusalem was a special case. It was more equal than others.

With new legitimacy about to be conferred on Iran, Tehran will automatically become an important power for regional balance.

This amounts to a relative decline in Israel’s regional status and Israel will resist it until Israeli lobbies around the world including the US see the writing on the wall. Unfortunately for Israel, Netanyahu has manufactured victory on such an uncivilized platform – no state for Palestinians, and racist venom for Israeli Arabs – that the international community would have difficulty engaging with him. Ofcourse, he will turn, but then he will be a proven turncoat.

Even the Saudis who in recent years made common cause with Israel against Iran, will have difficulty resuming with an Israel so configured.

The new balance of power the US has finally persuaded itself to create in the region is attended by a paradox. Riyadh, Cairo, Ankara, Israel – no one wants the status quo to be altered. And get the situation on the ground is slowly eroding the status quo.

In shaping the new balance of power, Washington does come across on occasion as playing a double game. Take Washington’s reluctance in launching air strikes against the ISIS when it had just begun to menace the region. Barrack Obama let the cat out of the bag. Airstrikes against the ISIS at that stage, he said, would take the pressure off Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in Baghdad who had lost US confidence. Maliki had to leave. To that extent the Americans played the ISIS hand in helping shape a local situation.

Likewise, during the siege of Kobane US power helped Kurds, not the Turkish hegemon. So pressure here, tinkering there all, to avoid anyone becoming too powerful.

An abridged version of recent history can begin with the mess left behind by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, given total charge of the Syrian operations by the late Saudi King. The most macabre cruelty was perpetrated on world TV by forces financed from outside and supported by the West. Hillary Clinton, the then Secretary of State and a possible Democratic Presidential candidate, demanded with an imperious wave of the hand. “get out of the way, Assad.” Years later, John Kerry sees no future for Syria without Bashar al Assad being part of the solution. But isn’t this what Iran and Russia have been saying from the day a gameplan was designed to break the Iran, Syria, Hezbullah, Hamas chain by, first, bringing about regime change in Damascus?

After four years of exertion, there is no regime change. Someone has eaten crow but the world didn’t see it. Meanwhile, the ISIS continued to menace all and sundry including the Saudis whose General, incharge of the Northern Border with Iraq became a recent casualty.

The Sunni-Sunni tussle intensified when the ISIS virtually took over Tikrit, once Saddam Hussain’s stronghold. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif flew to Baghdad to sign an agreement which removes visa requirements for Iranian citizens (troops). Flushed with reinforcements Iranian troops broke the back of the ISIS in Tikrit. Obviously, the regime in Baghdad is beholden to Iran. Likewise, the Houthis and Shia Zadidis of Yemen have trusted Iranians as overseers. Can Iran be kept out of a regional balance now?

This exponential growth of Iranian influence is anathema to Israel, Cairo, Ankara and Riyadh but they have to lump it because the alternative is for the US to remain directly engaged in Arab-Arab squabbles much to the neglect of more urgent business in the Pacific where China and a Sino-Russia axis are sources of anxiety. An unexpected source of comfort to all those supporting a two state solution in Israel is Netanyahu’s last minute denial of a Palestinian state. Nothing will help the Palestinian cause more.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Vinod Mehta, A Prince Among Journalists

Vinod Mehta, A Prince Among Journalists
                                                 Saeed Naqvi
Vinod Mehta would have been flabbergasted. He would never have expected such a turnout at his funeral – the most powerful politicians, journalists, writers, cartoonists, artists, everybody except….well, in that exception possibly lay the secret of his success. The fixers and their patrons were not there.

The attendance at the Lodhi Road crematorium is not the only outpouring. Newspapers, magazines, TV channels across the country have not stopped looking at what now resembles a void. Arnab Goswami went to extraordinary lengths to pay tribute to a regular participant always waving his arm “Arnab, listen to me, Arnab”. The Times Now channel was kept open the whole morning for phone-ins.

I cannot remember an editor ever seen off with so much adulation.

The area for independent discourse shrank totally after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The tectonic event was marketed not as the victory of freedom but of market forces. Editors became promoters of neo conservative economic policies.

Not so much under Atal Behari Vajpayee’s NDA as under Manmohan Singh’s UPA, a new triangle of power emerged. Earlier, the editor was part of New Delhi’s power structure. The new triangle sidelined the editor. The triangle consisted of India Inc. in Mumbai, the US ambassador and the Prime Minister’s office. Editors were reduced to fixers. They were out of the loop on major developments – unless they became promoters of these developments.

What made Vinod’s funeral special, wholesome and popular was the absence of a category most common people are beginning to have a diminishing respect for – Big Business.

In some senses Vinod lived a charmed life. He escaped the dilemma of being indentified either on this or that side of the Emergency. He came on the scene after the event.

And later, when the neo conservative ideal was ordered to be carried on editorial shoulders, Vinod cheerfully found himself an outsider. Every publication of his upto the crowning glory of Outlook, Vinod had virtually built up brick by brick, with his own hands. There was no India Inc, no media tycoon to tower above him. The glory and the brickbats were all his.

Outlook was not his means to power and wealth. In fact it was quite the opposite. It was his means to enjoy his journalism by upholding the classical, adversarial attitude towards political power and its nexus with corporate India.

Like many men of greatness, Vinod was quintessentially self made. His average, middle class family had not bestowed too much on him. Armed with a second class senior Cambridge and a third class BA from Lucknow he turned up in London.

The recycled Oxbridge elite was running out of cash by the 60s. For a new crop of Indians, some even from public schools, London still held promise. Would a “vilayati” dhobi mark on a certificate stand the London-bound Indian in good stead? The Kolkata boy, unlike the Lucknow Boy, found his spiritual resting place in Hampstead, demonstrating their mastery over English, despite the brown tint. The Lucknow boy of our narrative settled down in Surbiton, Surrey in the company of one Bukhari from Pakistan who spoke English like Mr. Doolittle and Enamul Haq from Bangladesh, always in a dark suit, waiting for weekends when the au pair girls from Esher and Leatherhead transformed Vinod’s house into a night club.

No, London was not working out well for Vinod. In the deep inside packet of his doublebreasted corduroy jacket I once found a card which I put back immediately. It was Vinod’s employee ID card for the catering department of the British Railways. I didn’t mention it to Vinod. It was not the sort of job he would like his oldest school friend to know anything about.

The weekend social clubs were his emotional outlet, but week days he caught the train to Waterloo, seeking journalists in the Fleet Street pubs, or pouring over newspapers, desperately dreaming a paper of his own in India.

Journalism had come in his grasp after so much struggle, that he was constantly afflicted by a nagging insecurity – that he may lose it. Once he was at the Outlook office, family, friend, party an evening at the movies, nothing would lure him away from the grind. The “parcha”, as he called his magazine, was what he lived for. The sincerity of his professionalism came across to his readers, as became clear at the funeral.

That is why the Editor we said good bye to last week, deserved every bit of affection from the profession to which he had given his all, without ever expecting a reward.

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Kashmir Challenge: Modi Could Write History Or Blot it

Kashmir Challenge: Modi Could Write History Or Blot it
                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

A principal reason for Narendra Modi being swept to power in May was disgust with Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh – indecisive, short on ideas, bereft of charisma and supervising a government of scams. In a house of 543, the Congress had 209 seats. The shortfall of 63 was made up of coalition partners who made money hand over fist.

Manmohan Singh was a fine Finance Minister but, as Prime Minister, had a problem of being deferential to the Gandhis to the point of being obsequious. He looked more ineffective than he was. This collective anti incumbency was harvested by Modi.

Big business along with their multinational linkages mounted a media campaign larger than any in electoral history; by some estimates even bigger than the Obama campaign. This campaign too found the adage apt: with opponents like the Congress, who needs friends? For the first time in decades, a single party government came to power. Without any alteration that same defunct Congress is being sought to be resurrected.

The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is committed to Hindu nationalism. This does strike a chord with a majority of Hindus. But the storm troopers who helped bring BJP to power were from ultra Hindutva groups like the RSS and the VHP. These extremist groups read the mandate which brought Modi to power according to their exclusive lights. They went on a rampage demanding “ghar wapsi” or reconversion of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism. Hindu women must produce five children to boost population; they must resist an inexplicable quantity called “Love Jehad”. They went to absurd lengths crediting ancient India with every conceivable scientific invention. Elephant God Ganesha was a result of plastic surgery. They provoked communal riots; barged into parties admonishing youngsters against dancing and drinking beer. Modi waited and watched from an ambiguous distance.

By their excesses, they ended up embarrassing the majority of Hindus along with other Indians. This when that very helpful tailwind, the anti incumbency against Sonia, Rahul and Manmohan Singh had disappeared. The international talent Corporate India had mobilized for one full year buying up every square inch of media space to build up Modi as the development messiah, was no longer available. And, above all, prices of food had risen sky high.

Came a series of by elections in UP, Bihar, Jharkhand. The Modi magic appeared not to be working. Then came the elections to the Delhi State Assembly. On a platform against corruption and for social justice the Aam Admi Party trounced the BJP. Of the 70 seats, AAP won 67, making Arvind Kejriwal the David to Modi’s Goliath.

After this experience last month, there was general nervousness among big industry and their multinational partners: what kind of budget will Modi and his bright Finance Minister Arun Jaitley produce?

They have produced a market friendly budget focused on massive infrastructure projects, putting out allurements to invite Foreign Direct Investment. After the electoral debacle in Delhi, the fear was that the government would fall back on populism, increasing public spending to enhance the social security net. But Modi surprised everybody. The Corporates were overjoyed.

In fact, Modi has placed himself at the mercy of Corporates: it is in your interest, he seems to be telling India Inc, as well as that of the country, to keep the BJP government buoyant with cent per cent media support on the scale that was available to the party eversince Modi’s candidature was announced in June 2013, right upto the elections in May 2014. Will the Corporates now attend to his requirements, in the forthcoming elections in Bihar, Assam, UP. He has gambled for growth not electoral populism. If the economy shows promise he will look safe by the next general elections in 2019.

The riveting development the one that will define Modi’s innings, has been the power sharing government in Kashmir. This has opened up the possibility of improved relations with Pakistan which in turn will bring down the communal temperature, an enabling precondition for accelerated economic growth.

The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir is the most astute leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mufti Mohammad Saeed. He has vast experience of Delhi too where he has served as the Union Home Minister. He is familiar with all the caverns of intrigue on the Delhi, Srinagar, Islamabad axis.

Recently, one of the most respected columnists in India, Swaminathan Aiyar lifted the scab from an old wound: the genocide of over 2,00,000 Muslims in Jammu before the accession of the state by Maharaja Hari Singh into the Indian Union. The later migration of 4,00,000 Kashmiri Pandits from the valley to Jammu, according to Aiyar, is a living tragedy though not quite as gruesome as the Jammu massacres.

That the BJP and the PDP have joined hands in Kashmir against the backdrop is laden with possibilities. Summer is round the corner. A bumper season to boost tourism in the most magnificent parts of the state right upto the Gurez valley is possible in conditions of peace. It will open up hearts and minds.

Ghalib wrote:
“Hasad se dil agar afsurda hai,
            Garme tamasha ho
Ki chashm e tung shayad kasrat e
            Nazzara se waa ho.”
(If meanness and malice oppress the heart, step out and travel,
Narrowness of vision may open up with the abundance of the spectacle.)

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