Friday, September 25, 2015

While Rahul Shows Neither Interest Nor Talent, Cousin Varun Shows Both

While Rahul Shows Neither Interest Nor Talent, Cousin Varun Shows Both
                                                                                              Saeed Naqvi

Rahul Gandhi’s photos adorn the shoulders of mainstream newspapers but he is in Aspen, Colorado, apparently to attend a conference. BJP spokesman, Sambit Patra made a valid point: Rahul has never attended such intellectually challenging seminars in India. Why such enthusiasm for an event at Aspen?

The election campaign in Bihar is in full swing. It must be a little embarrassing that his two rallies in Bihar made no impression whatsoever. Neither Nitish Kumar nor Lalu Prasad Yadav are comfortable with Rahul in their vicinity during a serious campaign. Far from winning votes, he loses votes for any combination he joins. That is the perception.

If he has chosen to disappear from the scene to keep his self respect, well, this would be the first time he has demonstrated a diminishing value called sensitivity, a thin skin.

The Aspen conference, if there is one, may not be his only engagement. Congress President Sonia Gandhi is New York bound for medical checks. Why would the family, which values its privacy, congregate in New York at a time when the entire Indian establishment, media et al, are all over the city for the UN General Assembly? It would be malicious to suggest that the deadline for foreign asset disclosure is approaching.

The family is, by now, quite used to scraping the bottom of the electoral barrel. Another humiliation in Bihar (for the Congress) will not cause much sleep for Sonia, Rahul or the cotrie which survives by looking at them with cow eyes.

And yet the media will not give up on Rahul. There he is on front pages, his escapades, if not his politics, the subject of heated debate on prime time TV.

The media’s obsession with Rahul is clearly not because of some intrinsic worth it sees in him. It could be in pursuit of TRP ratings because in a feudal society a family name is a valuable asset even though the family is in free fall.

In fact the Gandhi family, in abject decline, for past few years, were a powerful negative force which brought Narendra Modi to power in May 2014. The world’s most expensive media campaign would have remained unrewarded had Modi not harvested the voters’ total disgust with mother, son and Manmohan Singh.

It is possible that the formula which brought Modi to power in 2014 is being given another try in Bihar. The face of the BJP’s campaign in the state is Prime Minister Modi who is unlikely to double up as Chief Minister in the event of a BJP victory.

Regional leaders Nitish and Lalu are the faces of the RJD-JDU campaign. There is no regional BJP leader impressive enough to face the duet. Not fielding a Chief Ministerial candidate has the advantage of aspirants from diverse castes having their eyes riveted on the top job and therefore under some discipline.

There is a flaw in the game plan. An incumbent Prime Minister fighting state level leaders does not look logical. Modi, the aspiring Prime Minister, riding the crest of an expensive campaign, battered an incumbent, Manmohan Singh, who looked helpless on a short leash held by Sonia Gandhi.

Within six months of coming to power, Modi was trounced in Delhi. In other words he did not ride to power on some extraordinary magnetism he possessed. He won because of the media hype plus the dismal trio in opposition. So, Modi needs a foil like Rahul against whom he looks a winner. To that extent Rahul is a requirement of the BJP.

There is an overriding factor. The Indian ruling class the Corporates included, has nursed an unrealistic dream that India has somehow become a two party system.

Two parties carrying carbon copies of the same economic policy is for the Corporates a dream scenario, accustomed as they have become to crony capitalism of differing shades. Rahul as Modi’s foil creates the illusion of an alternative. This is supposed to work as a deterrent for third and fourth fronts.

Sooner or later a fatigue factor will set in and it would be extremely unfair to Rahul not to prepare him for that eventuality.

Nitish still looks like a political animal, at home in the rough and tumble of an electoral fray. But the rustic charm of Lalu has now begun to pall. The trend began with Raj Narayan who provided a homespun contrast to the polish of Hiren Mukherjee, Nath Pai and H.V. Kamath. Lalu today begins to look like a continuation of sustained boorishness on both sides of the aisle.

Whenever I ask Congressmen why are they flogging an obstinate horse that will not budge. They answer listlessly “For the time being there is no alternative to the Gandhi family”.

Talking of the Gandhi family, has anyone noticed the evolution of Rahul’s first cousin Varun Gandhi from an intemperate rabble rouser to a writer of thoughtful columns? Channels in search of TRPs may consider a Rahul-Varun showdown.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Book On Firaq Today Is An Oasis In A Parched Land

Book On Firaq Today Is An Oasis In A Parched Land
                                                                      Saeed Naqvi

In my current pre occupations with the depressing state of world affairs, the arrival of a book, “Firaq Gorakhpuri” for review, provided relief. The author, Ajai Mansingh claimed to be a relative of Firaq. This was intriguing. Raghupati Sahai Firaq, was a straightforward Kayastha from a distinguished family of Urdu poets. It turns out that Mansingh claims descent from one of Firaq’s sisters.

Oddly, Mansingh has lived in Canada for over decade teaching subjects unrelated to poetry. He then settled down in Jamaica which I associate with Rastafarians, Ocho Rios and fast bowler Michael Holding, not Firaq.

All information is not necessarily knowledge. Mansingh’s painstaking compilation of the great poet’s family and relatives does not shed even a shaft of light on a genius who spent his life in poetic gatherings, mushairas, intellectuals, artists, students and teachers of Allahabad University.

The book has triggered a procession of personal memories.

Once when I was visiting my cousin Mushtaq Naqvi in Allahabad, the great Urdu critic, Saiyyid Ehtesham Hussain dropped by. He had to meet Firaq Sahib and asked me to accompany him. Firaq Sahib held forth on a book by Prof. Aijaz Hussain, Head of the Urdu department and Firaq’s regular companion. Ehtesham Sahib, a man of few words, was mesmerized. Returning home, Ehtesham Sahib muttered mostly to himself about Firaq’s “incisive” mind, how he had shed light on aspects of the book only a genius can discover. This admission was significant because Ehtesham’s critique of the book had created waves in literary circles. Firaq’s observations were novel and fresh. Throughout the journey back home, Ehtesham kept shaking his head in silent admiration.

My cousin Mushtaq was close to Firaq on two counts. Firaq’s youngest brother, Yadhupati Sahai, was the head of department, English literature at Allahabad University where Mushtaq was a lecturer. Also, Musthaq’s maternal grandfather, Mir Wajid Ali, had been a much respected senior in Naini jail where Firaq too had spent a term during the freedom movement.

The day after Ehtesham Sahib’s visit, Mushtaq visited Firaq.

“Ehtesham Sahib was terribly excited about your fresh insights into Prof. Aijaz Hussain’s book.”

“Which book?” Firaq rolled his eyes mischievously. “I know Aijaz so well, I don’t need to read his book.”

This was just one example of Firaq’s perceptive, razor sharp mind. He had sent away the greatest critic in the land deeply impressed by his insights into a scholarly book he had not read. He had anticipated his friend Aijaz’s mind with stunning accuracy.

In his book Ajai Mansingh expresses unhappiness with the way Firaq has been projected. Most of the writings on Friaq, he alleges, were based on gossip.

At the very outset the Author, lists four generations of Firaq’s family as sources for the book. In this list the Mansinghs are prominently inserted. Firaq would have torn his hair. He was not a family man at all. One of the unhappiest events of his life was his marriage. The language he sometimes used to describe his wife is almost unprintable.

Firaq was one of Urdu’s greatest poets, but he was not what you would call a nice man. He says so himself.
“Munh se hum pane bura to naheen kehte
                                                            ki Firaq,
Hai tera dost, magar aadmi achcha bhi
(I will not call him names because Firaq is your friend. But let me warn you, he is not a good man.)

He could be self centered and insincere. Many flattering stories about himself were half truths. Firaq passed the ICS examination. Not true. He got into the provincial civil service but, under the spell of the Nehru family, joined the national movement. He was a professor in the English Department. Incorrect. He spent his life as a lecturer. Yes, he was one of the most popular teachers the university ever had.

He had all the contradictions great men are sometimes endowed with. In full flight of his imagination, he could, in one moment be with the stars, clouds, the milky way. In the next moment he touches deep emotions with rare delicacy. He is probably the most sensuous poet since Meer Taqi Meer.
Shabe wisaal ke baad aayina to
                                    dekh I dost
Tere jamal ki dosheezgi nikhar
(Look at the mirror after a night of love
You look more chaste and maidenly)
Woh tamam rooe nigar hai
Woh tamam bos o kanar hai
Woh hai ghuncha, ghuncha jo dekhiye
Woh hai choomiye to dahan, dahan.
(She is all beauty to behold
She is all entangled arms and lips
She is a rose bud for eyes to dwell on
In a kiss she is all mouth.)

Did Firaq dominate the literary scene even though contemporaries like Josh Malihabadi, Jigar Moradabadi and Yaas Yagana Changezi were also on the stage? Such an assertion would be fiercely challenged by partisans. Josh was unparalleled in the boom and vigour of his diction; Jigar in his unsurpassed lyricism; Yagana in the startling novelty of ideas.

Firaq derives his sensuousness from Behari as well as Keats. As a teacher of English literature, he had allowed the Romantic movement to influence him greatly. He was to that extent much more cosmopolitan than his contemporaries. A few decades down the line Faiz Ahmad Faiz emerged as a poet with a mind truly in the modern idiom. His personal friendships extended from Edward Said to Louis MacNeice.

Faiz was quite considerably helped by the fact that he lived in Lahore, the liveliest cultural centre until 1947. Lucknow and Delhi never quite recovered their √©lan after 1857. Majaz possibly the finest talent of the century, languished in Lucknow’s decadence. His dozen or so ghazals and long poem, Awara, rank with the best in Urdu poetry.

It is in this galaxy that Firaq shines incomparably. He courted controversies, including the one which caused Oscar Wilde to be jailed by Victorian England. Like Wilde, Firaq was a scintillating conversationalist, whose company was sought by all ages.

Ajai Mansingh’s plaint is that most of the Firaq stories were “unethical, mischievous and libelous,” as they were based on “gossip”. He says all the writings were based on Firaq’s “last twenty five or thirty years when he had become mentally deranged and morally bankrupt.”

Here is a clear case of libeling the dead. Firaq attended Mushairas until the 70s. He died in 1982.

What a genius like Firaq needed was a Boswell, to record the public record of his wit and erudition, not a tedious compilation of relationships the great poet would have had difficulty recognizing.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Are Events In Syria Following A US, Russia Plan?

Are Events In Syria Following A US, Russia Plan?
                                                              Saeed Naqvi

One day quite soon Syrians fleeing their country will find their feet in the European countries who have opened their doors to them. When they have settled in their ghettoes or new tenements, they will, over time, seek out other Arabic speaking people in the host cities, visit them, share the Shisha, the Arab hubble-bubble. Stories of their plight at home will trickle down to local newspapers.

Those with interesting stories will have visitors. They will be invited to the mosque for Friday prayers.

One in a leather jacket will hesitate. “I have been baptized.” Who knows, he may then break down. There will emerge two contradictory narratives. Arab residents in the host country will have swallowed the western media version which places all the guilt at Bashar al Assad’s door. How stoutly will this version be challenged by the family who saw extreme Salafi gourp cut open a stomach and eat the liver. Surely, cannibalism is not yet a charge against Bashar al Assad?

Meanwhile, confusion on what is happening in West Asia is absolute. The western press, its most powerful component being the US media, was once a reliable clue to thinking in the White House and the State Department. Today it is much more in the thrall of think tanks with links in Jerusalem. This haze will continue until the nuclear deal with Iran is sealed, and put away in the strong room.

Only then will Washington’s halting progress on West Asia accelerate. At that stage focus could well shift once again on the US-Russia understanding of May 12 after which Secretary of State John Kerry announced a Washington-Moscow convergence on the Syrian crisis.

The refugees, terrorism of the ISIS and its other variants impacts all countries and therefore the Syrian war cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. Four years of the Syrian war with support from the US, Europe, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey has killed 2,50,000 Syrians and destroyed one of the world’s oldest civilizations. A blowback – terrorism and refugees – is now affecting all countries who originally sponsored cross border terrorism in Syria.

After the May 12 understanding, the US and Russia were expected to persuade states under their influence to take steps towards a solution within the framework of this understanding. Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote an article in Beirut newspaper hinting at a readiness to reach out to Saudi Arabia. The delay in Riyadh’s response was to obtain guarantees from Washington.

Saudi record has been stuck in one groove for a long time – Assad must go. When Saudi foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir arrived in Moscow to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expectations were that there would be an advance in the Saudi position. Sometimes the world’s shrewdest diplomats are too clever by half. Eyebrows were raised when news leaked that the Saudis sustained the chant: Assad must go. If this was to be the only outcome from the visit, why did Jubeir undertake the journey to Moscow. The fine print came out later in bold relief: Riyadh would support the institutions Assad supervises and the Syrian army too but not before Assad’s departure. Saudi position had shifted vastly. They were now not insisting that the entire government edifice be dismantled.

Why was Riyadh insistent on keeping the Assad card in its hand before settling down to an agreement on Syria?

If Riyadh were to accept Assad as part of a solution in Syria, the various Salafist groups it has nurtured in Syria and elsewhere would declare autonomy. The hold of money and material which keeps these groups in Riyadh’s sway, would wither away. The volatile internal situation – major oil well in the Eastern province was under attack recently – would spiral out of control.

Saudi Arabia is also riding a tiger in Yemen. For six months the country has been buying weapons from the West and saturating the poorest Arab country with mindless bombardment.

The war in Yemen is looking all the more tragic because the West is no longer buying the allegation that Houthi rebels have Iranian military support.

The destruction of Libya and Syria has recoiled on Europe. The destruction of Yemen will eventually recoil on Suadi Arabia.

There was a silver lining in Saudi King Salman’s visit to the White house: President Obama was able to persuade the King that it was in his interest to see the Iran nuclear deal in a positive light.

This may lead to an Iranian accommodation with Riyadh in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria.

Assad has already indicated he was willing to talk to the moderate Syrian opposition even before the next elections. After the Iranian deal, Washington will have to revisit the task of putting together a reasonable Syrian opposition – easier said than done.

There has been some speculation on the presence of Russian soldiers and armaments in Syria. Is this presence in the war zone despite the US? Or is it part of the broad understanding reached on May 12? This military presence may serve as a deterrent against countries like Turkey which have had their fingers so badly burnt in the Syrian misadventure that they may be tempted to recover some prestige by striking inside Syria.

Interesting statements have come out from Moscow. We are in the same trench as Cairo, fighting terror. This support for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is bad news to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Turkey. This, surely, is to Israel’s satisfaction.

With luck, less volatile West Asia may not be unthinkable. Should peace return to Syria, Europe inducting new refugees, may then feel the need to turn to Syrian intelligence to help Europe to sift good refugees from the bad.

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Friday, September 4, 2015

A Popular Muslim Stereotype As Opposed To An Official one

A Popular Muslim Stereotype As Opposed To An Official one
                                                                                Saeed Naqvi

On Thursday, 30 July, 2015, two high profile burials took place, almost formalizing new stereotypes of Indian Muslims.  A former President of India and the other a convicted terrorist, were buried in graveyards as far removed as Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu and Mahim in Mumbai. The President was given a state burial. The “convict” received a popular burial, one befitting an iconic figure.

The old stereotypes showed Muslims as hubble-bubble smoking, paan chewing debauches, reciting Urdu poetry, surrounded by nautch girls. Or, they were “Qasais” or butchers who bathed only on Fridays, married several times and multiplied like rabbits. By now these images had begun to pall. New stereotypes were required for propagation.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam received a state funeral. Army, Navy and Air Force saluted someone billed as India’s most popular Head of State. The occasion was given further elevation by the presence of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and important members of his cabinet.

His humble beginnings were in constant focus. This brilliant scientist came from a family of fishermen, self taught, deriving greatly from the Hindu ambience of Rameswaram. He read the Gita, studied the Vedas, played the Veena. He accepted Hindu culture without juxtaposing it against any of his own. He was the perfect example of what former BJP President Murli Manohar Joshi famously described as a “Mohammediya Hindu”.

An irony attended the two burials. Kalam’s funeral was stately, suitably somber, but lacking in spontaneity. A spontaneous, emotional crowd, about 15,000 strong, thronged Mumbai’s Bada Qabristan. This, despite TV channels blacking out the event – under official instruction. In the popularity stakes, Memon would win by many lengths. Does this imply that Indian Muslims stand four squares behind terrorists? A resounding no. They are with Memon because they do not have an iota of faith in the criminal justice system when it concerns Muslims. Sad, but true.

The establishment, on the other hand, was bringing out in bold relief the image of its most acceptable Indian Muslim distinct from the Saiyyid, Pathan, Sheikh, stereotypes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his very first speech in Parliament in May 2014, blamed India’s backwardness on 1,200 years of “ghulami”, which means slavery or serfdom. In one sentence Modi, had dismissed the entire Muslim period in India as “alien” and repressive. In Modi’s framework, Aurangzeb, for example, falls in the category of foreigners. Renaming of Aurangzeb Road to Abdul Kalam Road is in that sequence.

It would have been comforting to imagine that Nadeswaram player Sheikh Chinna Maulana Sahib, great Kathakali singer Kalamandalam Hyderali, music director Allah Rakha Rahman would, like Kalam, be acceptable to the likes of Modi. They were converts who retained “Hindu” culture. But this morning’s newspaper upsets even this thought. Kerala’s powerful Mathrubhumi newspaper was persuaded by Hindutva groups to discontinue M.M. Basheer’s series on Ramayan. Abuses were heaped on the editor as well as Basheer. The argument was that a Muslim cannot understand Rama’s Godliness.

Let us, in the meanwhile, gauge the extraordinarily large crowd from Memon’s house in Mahim to the Bada Qabristan. Was it a ringing vote of no confidence in the Indian state’s communal partiality? The crowd had been requested by Memon’s family not to raise slogans. This request was heeded. Why did Muslims turn up in such large numbers for the burial, despite the government’s ‘gag order” on the media?

The BJP leader and governor of Tripura, Tathagata Roy tweeted. “Intelligence agencies should keep a tab on all who attended Yakub Memon’s corpse. Many are potential terrorists.”

A more sensitive response, appeared in writer Aakar Patel’s column in Outlook magazine. The crowds had not come to protest. “They had come to sympathise because they too were victims.” This is not part of the routine Muslim narrative of victimhood. This is specific to the sequence of events beginning with the demolition of Babari Masjid on December 6, 1992. These led to Mumbai riots of January-February 1993 which provoked the Mumbai blasts of March 12, 1993.

It is official policy to deny linkages between the three incidents. But Justice B.N. Srikrishna in his Judicial Inquiry Commission into the Mumbai riots had concluded:
“One common link between the riots of December 1992 and January 1993 and the bomb blasts of 12 March 1993, are that the former have been a causative factor for the latter. There does appear to be a cause and effect relationship between the two riots and the serial bomb blasts.” Also, why did successive governments in Maharashtra not have the courage to name politicians the report heaps all the blame on?

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