Friday, October 16, 2015

Public Intellectual and Grassroot Common Sense Need More Media Space

Public Intellectual and Grassroot Common Sense Need More Media Space
                                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

By way of relief from the cacophony that passes for debate on prime time television, India’s ace anchor, Barkha Dutt, did a memorable interview the other night with historian, Romila Thapar. It was memorable because the context against which this thoughtful conversation took place was so shoddy, and bleak.

A man had been lynched at Dadri near Delhi on suspicion of eating beef; three rational thinkers, Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar had been murdered in cold blood by individuals affiliated with extremist Hindu groups; Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face had been blackened by Shiv Sainiks for hosting former Pakistan Foreign Minister’s book launch; Ghazal singer Ghulam Ali was forced to cancel his performance in Mumbai……..the list is endless.

These are no longer “fringe” groups, Thapar remarked, they are here, in the room.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, an intellectual way to the right of Thapar, chastised Modi in the harshest possible terms, for the state of affairs. Mehta wrote: “the blame for this has to fall entirely on Modi. Those who spread this poison enjoy his patronage. This government has set a tone that is threatening, mean spirited and inimical to freedom.”

The occasion for the Thapar interview was the publication of a book edited by her on the role of the Public Intellectual in India. The timing of the book is prescient. The publication has coincided with writers across the country returning awards given to them by the state. What started as a driblet with Nayantara Sehgal and Ashok Vajpayee taking the lead has now become a torrent.

Meanwhile, a government in search of Foreign Direct Investments, is particularly worried at the bad press in countries from where investments are most expected.

Even the New York Times spotted Modi’s below the belt jibe at Lalu Prasad Yadav. Lalu was possessed by the “devil”, Modi said, because the Bihar leader had suggested that Yadavs ate beef. “In contrast, Modi boasted, I come from the land of Gujarat where people worship cows”.

What is involved here is the sort of low cunning not expected from the country’s Prime Minister. Many Yadavs, like a host of others, probably do eat “beef”. But this “beef” is buffalo meat which is permissible by law. Unfortunately, in popular parlance even buffalo meat is “beef”.

Indian newspapers have written hard hitting editorials, but let me reproduce this passage from the New York Times because Indian readers may not have read it.
Since he was elected in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India has been adept at appeasing his Hindu hard-line base while, at the same time, promising economic growth and development to a wider national and international audience. But that balancing act is in danger of teetering, imperiling not only the economic development Mr. Modi has promised but also India’s open, inclusive democracy.”

The brutal murder of Akhlaq at Dadri is another link in the chain of communal riots and pogroms that have been visited upon Indian Muslims since the Partition of 1947. This must not be mixed up with the serial murder of rational thinkers or Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face being blackened with ink. These are not communal issues. These are attacks on freedom of speech. The new constitution of Fiji has an elegant formulation: the “freedom of imagination and creativity”. There may be something for us in this phrase.

Romila Thapar’s book should be brought centre stage in the debate that, media willing, is gathering momentum. Ofcourse there will be sharp divergences on the role of the public intellectual between Thapar, Mehta, Kulkarni, followers of Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar. But there is a vast expanse on which they agree: the need for rational debate.

As Wilde said, “we are all in the gutters; only some of us are looking at the stars.” The poet, writer, thinker, in brief the intellectual, represents a society’s distillate of wisdom and common sense. If this category has entered the fray, it devolves on all of us of whichever creed or persuasion, not to regurgitate into the proceedings the mean mindedness our politicians have burdened us with.

No interest group likes to liquidate itself out of business. It will be impossible to ask the half baked Mullah and the Sadhvi to lock up their shops. Even more difficult to restrain are the non clerical busy bodies claiming national attention on Prime Time screaming matches.

Banner headline on page one of the Indian Express screams:
“Muslims can live in this country but they will have to give up eating beef, says Haryana Chief Minister.”

This conditional permission granted to Indian Muslims by a Chief Minister who has been in the RSS for 40 years and almost never in Haryana, may have been obviated if he knew the state.

In Kheri Kalan village not only does Mohammad Haseen Khan run a Gaushala (a cow protection centre) but a range of dairy businesses and a nursery school. The initial finance for the Gaushala came from a Human Care Charitable Trust established by N.P. Thareja, a retired banker.

The success of this experiment appears to be infecting neighbouring villages. Abid Hussain has opened a Gaushala at Havanagar.

This robust commonsense at the grass root level requires as much media attention as the public intellectual does.

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Friday, October 9, 2015

“The British Origin Of Cow Slaughter In India”

“The British Origin Of Cow Slaughter In India”
                                                          Saeed Naqvi

Gokula Dhundh Brindaban dhundho
Barsane lag ghum ke aai
Tan mun dhan sub waar ke Hasrat
Mathura nagar chali dhuni ramai
(Lets look for him in Gokul and Brindaban
Or lets look for him in Barsana
Hasrat, give up for him all that is yours,
Then settle in Mathura as his devotee)

This is just one of the numerous verses by Maulana Hasrat Mohani, a Congress leader during the national movement, among the founders of the Communist party and member of the Constituent Assembly.

After his annual Haj, the Maulana always visited Mathura and Barsana for a “darshan” of Krishna and Radha. For combining Haj with Mathura, the Maulana had an explanation. God had sent his messengers to every land. For many of the Maulana’s persuasion, Lord Krishna was God’s messenger or incarnation in India.

“Many of my friends are so pleased when I visit Mathura.” He once told a friend. He did not visit Mathura to build up a constituency of admirers. But the fact that these visits pleased his friends was a source of great joy to him. In deference to the original cowherd, the Maulana never ate beef.

To my recollection, beef was never eaten in our home either. After Zamindari abolition, in 1951, austerity entered our lives. Mutton and chicken became an expensive proposition for family gatherings sometimes exceeding 50 during marriage, death and Muharram. Plenty of vegetables were tossed into a meat which was described (only in whispers) as “bara” or “big”. This was, without exception, “buffalo”. Consumption or mention of “beef” was taboo because it might “hurt” people who frequented our homes.

Tundey, Lucknow’s most celebrated Kebabchi for over 110 years, has two outlets for his Kebabs: the more expensive ones are mutton, cheaper ones are “bara” for which read buffalo.

Vigilante gangs out to terminate beef eating should visit fancy restaurants including ones in five star hotels and ask for the menu card. They may find “beef steak” listed, sometimes on “sizzling platters”.

A restrained line of action would be to send the steak to forensic laboratories which must soon begin to mushroom to cushion the current hullaballoo. All the “beef steak” samples will, without exception, turn out to be buffalo.

Anti beef agitators have clearly not come up the social ladder. Their more prosperous cousins choose not to look at their progeny drooling over beef steak at Smith and Woolensky in New York.

In a globalized world where our children are exposed to the blandishments of Angus steak in Britain and Kobe steak in Japan, can dietary restrictions really be mandated?

A valuable video clip in my archives shows Dara Singh, the original Hanuman of Bollywood, stepping out of Carnivore, the celebrated restaurant outside Nairobi, where Zebra, Wilderbeast, Giraffe, crocodile meat is among the less exotic fare roasted over a giant fire.

This may be a little extraneous to our theme. More to point might be the query: how did beef become the Muslim’s diet? It was not the staple diet in the places of origin of the Delhi Sultans and the Moghuls. They ate mutton, camel meat, chicken, fish, geese, antelope and other game. Also, contrary to the popular belief, they ate plenty of vegetable. How then did the converts, who constitute 80 to 90 percent of the Muslim population, develop a taste for cow?

Atal Behari Vajpayee invited famous Gandhian scholar, Dharampal, to research the origins of cow slaughter in India. Based on original British documents at India House in Britain, Dharampal and his assistant, T. M. Mukundan submitted, their study in 2002.

The title of the book gives the story away:
“The British Origin of Cow-Slaughter in India.”

The thesis is straightforward: the rapid increase in the number of the troops following the uprising of 1857, caused an increase in the number of slaughter houses to provide beef for the soldiers. The “bakar Qasab”, so far employed largely in the sale of mutton, was transformed into “Qasai” for the slaughterhouses.

Here was a situation custom made for the authors of Divide-and-Rule. British officers could easily point to the Muslim Qasai whenever Hindu-Muslim tensions were required.

Queen Victoria gave the game away in a note she wrote on December 8, 1893 to her Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne:
“Though the Muhammadans’ cow-killing is made the pretext for the agitation, it is in fact directed against us, who kill far more cows for our army, etc. than the Muhammadans.”

In a speech in Muzaffarpur, Gandhiji developed on this theme: “If we cannot stop cow slaughter by the British, we have no right to raise our hands against Muslims.”

The tradition of beef eating, established in the shadow of the British Raj, acquired its own momentum after the British left.

That was colonialism taking advantage of Hindu-Muslim tension.

Today a very political majoritarian project is beaming the search light on the Muslim as the Melecha, in the alley of beef eaters.

In this din, even Maulana Hasrat Mohani, who experienced the Divine in the Mosque as well as the Mandir, would have been on this side of a very bleak divide.

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Russian Roulette And US Dexterity On Test In Syria

Russian Roulette And US Dexterity On Test In Syria
                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

A shikari invited a friend for a shoot because he had obtained permission to cull vermin. The friend, a man of catholic palate, returned home with a bagful of wild boar.

There was a furor in the haveli. The host was shaking with rage. “You know pork is taboo among all my friends” he said. “Couldn’t you have returned with more edible meat?”

In other words, in the hunt on in Syria, Russian must wear blinkers: the only kosher target is ISIS.

On the basis of an old treaty, the Russians are arming themselves steadily in Syria. This is under an overarching umbrella of an understanding reached in May 12 between Secretary of State, John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. They declared a convergence on Syria.

Armed with approvals, the Russians have gone out on a shoot in Homs a 100 kms from Damascus where a canal network still provides escape route to anti Assad gangs trained by the Americans. Senator John McCain blurted this truth out. Are more US trained rebels likely to come out of the warrens, their hands up in surrender? Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar – all have their “fronts” in the huge mess that has been created in Syria ever since the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia led the charge on Syria.

And now that the Russians are taking out all the vermin (read terrorists), the western and Arab members of the alliance are crying “foul”. No one can say that the Russians must not attack terrorists. But what they are saying is: “Russians are not attacking the ISIS”. A milder allegation is: “they are killing civilians” or that “they are weakening the anti Assad coalition inside Syria”.

Understanding between major powers always leaves room for maneuver. Americans can give their spin and Russians their’s. The ultimate purpose is the same – to work towards a political settlement in Syria. There is, ofcourse, a divergence in the rhetoric on Assad’s role towards this end. Russians are quite clear: Assad has to be part of the solution. The American position is more nuanced: Assad will have to go eventually but it has yet to be determined when.

This is another way of saying that Assad is required for the peace process after which his future will be in the balance. This double speak is meant to assuage allies like Saudi Arabia who want Assad’s head on a platter.

Remember Saudi Foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir visited Moscow to meet Lavrov. Jubeir did not resile from his chant: Assad must go. He would not like his supporters inside Syria and elsewhere to know that he has already moderated his position on Syria. The Saudis have dropped their opposition to the Syrian army and other government institutions Assad supervises. Rhetoric on Assad’s departure cannot be given up by Riyadh abruptly because all their non kosher, Salafist assets will simply wither away if the objective of removing Assad, for which they were mobilized in the first place, is given up.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond did not know how to explain British hesitation on air strikes. “Now we have a new leader of the opposition – Jeremy Corbyn”.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he was concerned that Russian air strikes “may not have” targeted ISIL position. Surely one expects more certitude from the world’s most powerful alliance.

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter waffled in front of the Media. The Russians should not be supporting the Assad regime, he said. Their military moves are “doomed to fail”.

On the margins of the UNGA virtually holding Kerry’s hand, Lavrov told a reporter “We are for a democratic, secular Syria”. The word “secular” in this context will set the Saudis on fire.

The wing of the Western media whose core emotions hover between the US and Israel, is livid. They have grown accustomed to shaping opinion on West Asia not being asked to swallow an uncertain line. Recent realities have been disconcerting for this lot.

The nuclear deal with Iran became a reality, the Palestinian flag fluttered at the United Nations and now the Russians are altering all game plans in West Asia.

How can anyone fault the Russians for calling for a joint battle against terror in Syria and Iraq? Western and Saudi insistence that the Russians must only target ISIS to the exclusion of other groups, presupposes the ISIS as a tidy column on the march which does not have tributaries reinforcing it from such places as Homs.

Once upon a time the Sole Superpower could do pretty much what it liked when it entered an area like West Asia. But in its post Sole Superpower phase, the imperial power will have to navigate between a plethora of interests. It has to be nimble, dexterous, patient and focused on a clear target.

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