Friday, March 31, 2017

Why Did Mandela’s Closest Comrade End Up As Tour Guide?

Why Did Mandela’s Closest Comrade End Up As Tour Guide?
                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

In Ahmed Kathrada’s death in Johannesburg last week at the age of 87, students of South African history have lost a precious resource person with a unique perspective on one of the world’s great national liberation movements – how it peaked, then lost its fizz.

On February 11, 1990, I was among the willing throng of the world’s journalists, waiting outside Victor Verster prison near Cape Town, waiting for history’s most iconic political prisoner to walk free after 27 years in the Apartheid regime’s captivity. It is difficult to communicate the heady excitement of the moment.

It might interest anti meat enthusiasts in India, that the first meal out of prison Mandela asked for was “Indian curry and rice”. His host for the night, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, tossed in a few more item s to make it more decorative. That is when I first met Kathrada or “Kathy” as everyone, including Mandela, affectionately called him. Out of prison Mandela seemed to constantly require by his side a transistor radio set to one frequency, BBC’s Africa Calling, and, if possible, Kathy.

Mandela’s dependence on Kathy manifested itself when he occupied the President’s office in Pretoria. Kathy was given the adjacent room as his adviser. Although, he had become the second most powerful man in South Africa, he was so modest in his mannerisms that he almost looked embarrassed holding high office.

Kathy had spent almost as many years as Mandela in jail most of it in the same prison, Robben Island, a turbulent boat ride away from Cape Town, a more vicious version of Alcatraz from San Francisco.

It was in the yard of the prison where the plot was hatched to smuggle out chapters of the Long March to Freedom. In this project, Kathy became the lynchpin.

In 50 years of journalism, it has remained one of my most cherished stories for a singular reason: Mandela confided in me all the details (they became common later) in his Johannesburg bungalow after he had handed over the Presidency to his successor, Thabo Mbeki. Throughout the narrative (with an impish smile) he played with Amina Cachalia’a hand. I shall dilate on this fascinating digression later.

The conspirators had rationed out the work according to their respective talents. “I would hand over the first draft to Kathy to check out factual details – you see, I have never in my life met anyone with a better memory.” Only after Kathy had edited the draft was it shown to “comrade Walter Sisulu for ideological consistency.”

“All this could be arranged from cell to cell – which overlooked the yard, where prisoners assembled before being taken to the lime quarries for their day’s labour.”

The next step was loaded with high voltage suspense: how was the final draft to be smuggled past the heavily guarded gate to the prisoner’s cages?

The genius for this vital step was Laloo Chiba, with silver hair and eyebrows, a wheatish complexion and eyes which were unexpectedly blue. “He had a talent for very fine, miniaturized writing”. From a matchbox, he would slide out the card-board tray stacked with match sticks. Keep the sticks in a drawer, and carefully steam out the rectangular paper, the size of a large postage stamp.

Chiba would pack a thousand words on the reverse side of this “postage stamp”; another thousand on the cardboard. With grains of cooked rice, the paper was neatly stuck to the bottom of the tray.

At the appointed hour, when there were no guards in the courtyard, the match box was tossed out of the window, to be picked up in the morning by one of the “conspirators”. It was left to the resourcefulness of “Comrade” Mac Maharaj to smuggle the manuscript out of Apartheid South Africa.

Having sacrificed their lives for South Africa’s liberation, did leaders like “Kathy” depart with a sense of fulfillment? He spent his last years as a guide at Robben Island. That was more nostalgia for the years of struggle than a celebration of victory. Yes, the yoke of apartheid was lifted. But, at this distance in time, that was all.

When South African communists (most of them doubled up as The ANC for tactical reasons), returned from the Italian Communist stalwart Enrico Berlinguer’s funeral in June 1984 described by historian Paul Ginsborg as “the greatest spontaneous civic demonstration in the history of the Italian Republic”, there were stars in their eyes. Mikhail Gorbachev, though, still a few months shy of taking over as the Soviet leader, was among the world statesmen at the funeral. The left seemed to be on the ascendant everywhere in Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Afghanistan. ANC/Communist leaders like Sisulu, Kathy and Joe Slovo hoped to win riding that crest.

Ironically, Gorbachev lost control of his Glasnost, Perestroika agenda. He supervised the liquidation of the Soviet Empire. History took an unimaginable turn.

There was now no question of any victory for SA leaders. The victorious system’s project was globalization. Freed of the Soviet fear, the West would now, for its own convenience, open the prison doors for Mandela and his cohorts to walk free. They would be brought into focus as pliant victors.

Gavin Relly, chairman of Anglo-American, South Africa’s most powerful company, told me on camera that “Mandela would, we hope, pursue sensible economic policies”. It may not have been a degrading bargain (Kathy protested) but a bargain it was.

The first Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel was not in Robben Island. In fact, in 1994 the World Economic Forum selected him as “Global Leader for Tomorrow.”

Where South Africa has been led is in plain view. Similarities with our own partitioned freedom from a Britain exhausted by war are purely coincidental.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Of Kebabs, Slaughterhouses And Crocodile Meat

Of Kebabs, Slaughterhouses And Crocodile Meat
                                                              Saeed Naqvi

These are trying times. Even some friends are turning. They probably see their interest better protected by keeping their options open for adjustments, should excesses increase. And even if they show their residual spunk by digging their heels in favour of Lucknow’s iconic Tundey Kababi, how will it help matters.

Tundey has already made his compromise; he will now sell chicken and mutton kebab. All those anchors and headline writers reflecting wistfully on the passing away of the “galawati” as distinct from “Shaami”, may need to know a thing or two.

Shaami derives from Shaam, the old name for Syria. The kebab was developed during the Ottoman period. Mince and soaked lentil ground with spices is patted and shaped like a small-mac and dipped in egg white to hold. It is then fried. The best Shaami kebabs in Delhi are at the Gymkhana club.

The “galawati” is a short hand for kachche-keemey-ke-kebab. The mince is marinated for hours with a paste of raw papaya, mixed with spices and in small blobs is allowed to fry in a flat “lagan” or vessel on a very slow fire. The juicy softness comes from the marination. The best “galawati” in Delhi is a difficult to reach Chef Khemraj Sharma.

Sharma is not the only Brahmin in the business. Paris’s iconic La Closerie des Lilas boasted, until last year, a Satish Mishra for his classic Tartar steaks, which is mostly raw minced beef, (yes, cow) richly spiced.

Tartar steak, derived from Tartaristan of Caucasus is different from the uncooked beef steaks in, say, Belgrade. These steaks replicate the 200 or 500 mile steaks made famous by the Mongol hordes in the 13th century. This needs explanation. To start a fire to cook food was dangerous for Gengiz Khan and Halaku’s cavalries. The smoke would give them away.

To avoid detection they developed a system of placing hunks of lightly marinated beef between the lining on a horseback and the saddle. By the time the horse had trotted, cantered and galloped for a 100 miles or even less the intense heat generated by sheer friction had cooked the meat.

In Fiji, Sitiveni Rabuka, the Melanesian strongman, who ousted the socialist government of Timothi Bavandra which had a large number Indian descendents of 19th century indentured labourers, acquainted me with the macabre dietary habits of his ancestors.

When the first Christian missionary entered his village to convert his grandfather, the village head, he was promptly slaughtered.

A traditional Fijian way of roasting a full animal (in this case a human being), was to dig a large pit in the ground call the “Lovo”. It was lined with read hot coal, the body was placed on this fiery bed. Palm leaves were placed on the carcass which was then piled with mud. It was allowed to steam until the time to feast.

The second priest met the same fate. But the Church would not give up. By the time the third priest appeared, the old man had softened. A whole generation of Rabuka’s vintage are today the stoutest pillars of the Christian church.

There are a chain of expensive restaurants stretching from Nairobi to part of South Africa called the Carnivore, known for esoteric meats like Giraffe, wilder beast, Zebra, crocodile and, on rare occasions, a lion, dying of natural causes. I have a video footage of Dara Singh, the original Hanuman of Bollywood, burping outside Carnivore – well, almost.

In the Asia Pacific region – China, Vietnam, Korea dairy produce, one of the reasons for our attachment to cow, is at a discount. These societies obtain their protein directly, from anything that moves including snake, lizards, insects, dogs.

Those currently monitoring our dietary habits may be averse to noticing some of bizarre exotic cuisines – like rats and rodents as regular fare for Musahirs in Bihar.

Every urban settlement has a “bustee”, or a settlement for Dalits, with rows of scavenger piglets playing in the gutter. Pasis, the community which owns these animals – together they are supposed to keep the neighbourhood clean – is required to devour them on ceremonial occasions, every morsel chased by large quantities of home made hooch.

Since unlicensed butcher shops have been abruptly closed in UP so that unclean meat may not find its way to your table, I am sure the government in its benign wisdom will find ways to disinfect rats and gutter pigs.

Everyone knows that the present step is not to protect the cow, because beef is not in the bargain. The question of slaughtering cows does not arise. That is illegal. The petrified meat seller will never take that risk. The burgeoning population of the holy cow foraging on our garbage dumps is ample testimony that the cow is safe from the butcher’s knife.

As far as I know Buffalo and mutton are legal. Why then is the government insistent on shutting down these businesses? I am told they are cleaning up the trade. Will illegal cart vendors, selling sweets, gur and other fare that attract swarms of flies also attract the attention of “Swachch Bharat” brigands?

So what if the garbage dumps outside hospitals and schools have not been cleaned. A beginning has been made with the slaughterhouses.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Portrait Of A Muslim Home In Shadow Of Rising BJP Colossus

Portrait Of A Muslim Home In Shadow Of Rising BJP Colossus
                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

It was a spectacular celebration. The beating of drums, sprinkling of colours, group songs, dancing continued well after dusk.

As I watched from my window, a thought crossed my mind: why had we not been invited? Ours is the only Muslim home in the colony, but a pride of place has always been accorded to us in all celebrations, including holi. We have inherited this knack of integration from our elders. The Mahant of Shiv Sharan Das temple in Lucknow always made special bhang free thandai for my father on holi.

I called up the President of the Residents Welfare Association to register my protest. He was vacationing at Corbett Park. There had been deaths in the neighbourhood; RWA had therefore not organized a holi celebration. It was private initiative – some friends had come together for the festivities.

We know them well, but they probably did not include us in their list of revelers because they thought we may not be in the celebration mode or in depression at the turn of political events. Such are the ogres, imagination conjures up.

Yes, one is afflicted by deep anxiety but Narendra Modi’s extraordinary victory is only a fraction of the problem. The anxiety is accentuated by the context in which politics is unfolding. Spaces for open discussion – political, social, economic and cultural – are shrinking. In any case they are all in the hands of philistinism and propaganda. This afflicts not all of the media, but a large chunk of it. A creeping voicelessness therefore is our anxiety.

I was with family in Mustafabad, my village near Rae Bareli, where my sister keeps a television with its tube burnt out no images only sound. It is surrealistic. We heard the election results in stupefied, stunned silence. My cousin Asghar broke the silence.

“The state of the Muslims in the country is just like your television, Suraiya – blind but noisy”

Suraiya asked:
“How have the Muslims fared?”
Asghar: “They have helped the BJP win and now they are terrified at the outcome:
Khuda ko aihle Jahaan
Jub banaa chuke to, Firaq
Pukar uthe ki, isi ne
Hamein banaya tha.
(After men had completed making their God.
Look, they screamed, it is He who made us)

Juggle around with this couplet and you get a fair idea of how Muslims are themselves responsible for the rise of the BJP. First they help strengthen the BJP, then they cry: we are afraid.”

Suraiya was angry. She sought my intervention. “Why blame the Muslims?” She asked.

I said: “Asghar is right. Blind folded by their myopic mullahs, Muslims have since Partition followed false Gods.”

Asghar chipped in: “The headline story one day was: Mayawati to field 100 Muslim candidates. The media lapped it up. The 100 Muslim candidates became a chant, mornings, afternoons, evenings.

Next headline: Akhilesh-Rahul Gandhi alliance will attract Muslim votes. Will Rahul repel Muslim votes because of Congress inaction during the demolition of Babri Masjid? Will Akhilesh be able to neutralize Muslim anger against the Congress? Muslim, Muslim, Muslim. Do you think this “Muslim, Muslim” incantation is honeyed music even to the most moderate Hindu. It is custom made for Hindu consolidation.”

Suraiya asked: “Which party then should the Muslims have supported?”
There was silence.
“None” I said.
“What do you mean?” Suraiya persisted.
“The only role at this juncture for Indian Muslims in India’s electoral politics is to enable Hindu consolidation. This may not occur to the Muslim voter but this is the consequence of his politics.

Basically, the Muslim is not at fault. The Congress party is from the very beginning. When it agreed with Lord Louis Mountbatten and Mohammad Ali Jinnah to Partition the country on religious lines, it had diluted its own stand on the two-nation theory i.e. Hindus and Muslims constituted two separate nations. Once you created Muslim Raj (Pakistan), India had glided seamlessly from British Raj to Hindu Raj. I have argued this case in my book: “Being the Other: The Muslim in India”.  A fair bargain could have been struck with the Muslim even at that stage, avoiding all the hypocrisy about secularism.

The leaderless Muslim, mesmerized by Nehruvian blandishments, pitched his tent in the Congress Park as its permanent vote bank. In the 80s, V.N. Gadgil, General Secretary of the Congress took me into confidence. “Muslim appeasement is beginning to rankle with the Congress’s Hindu base.” This “appeasement” was exposed by the Sachar Committee Report in 2005. Successive Congress governments had brought Muslim socio-economic status down even below the Dalits. Some appeasement.

After the Muslim vote defected en masse from the Congress following the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, a seering truth has settled in the Muslim mind. The Congress had cheated the community from day one. So he left the Congress but having done so, where should he go? Rank casteist parties SP and BSP opened their doors. In a daze, the Muslim walked in as an enabler of casteist power. There was nothing in it for him.

And now, Congress, SP, BSP are all fallen icons, piled up in a lifeless heap. Where should the Muslim go?

Suraiya’s was the last word. “Are you saying we should not complain about the BJP’s anti Muslim plank? They were open on where they wanted to take the nation? Our plaint should be registered against parties which pretended to protect our interest but knowingly or unknowingly facilitated the BJP’s Hindu Rashtra? With rampaging hatred against Pakistan, unsettled conditions in Kashmir, it is custom made to target us as the Other against which Hindu consolidation will progress.” Had “Hindu Raj” been accepted at the outset, she added profoundly the excruciating process of welding “Hindu Rashtra” from the caste pyramid would have been avoided. The Muslim was used as a foil in this process. This hurt.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Global War On Terror And Anniversary Of Gujarat Riots

Global War On Terror And Anniversary Of Gujarat Riots
                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

The post 9/11 global war on terror was officially launched with attacks on Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. It was exactly on that date that Narendra Modi was sworn in as Gujarat Chief Minister for the first time. He had been sent from New Delhi to replace Keshubhai Patel as Chief Minister but was not even a member of the Vidhan Sabha.

The coincidence mentioned above is probably not relevant, but it is an interesting detail.

Extensive coverage accorded to the anniversary of the 2002 Gujarat Riots (it was more of a pogrom) has brought back images.

A distinctive feature of the riots has remained unnoticed. This was the first time in history that authors of a communal conflagration had taken advantage of the anti Muslim sentiment televised globally in the context of the global war on terror. In the world beyond India, Gujarat was muffled by the din and the fireworks in Afghanistan. But the global anti jihadist atmosphere was a shot in the arm of communalism in India. This aspect of globalization added a shade or two to Indian saffronization. This deepening saffron was to come in handy in the February 2002 Gujarat riots and subsequently.

In a sense, the tussle between hard and soft saffron within the BJP during Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Prime Ministership was won by the hardliners when Pakistan’s Gen. Pervez Musharraf was sent away empty handed from the Agra summit in July 2001. Vajpayee and his Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, were inclined towards improved relations.

Within two months of Agra, 9/11 happened, generating a global atmosphere which was a Godsend for the hardliners. New Delhi began to dream dreams: it would now be in the first league fighting Islamic terror. But Americans had their own priorities. Pakistan, an ally since inception and having a long border with Afghanistan, was enlisted as the frontline state in the global war.
It was a piquant situation for New Delhi. Its plaint in all global forums had been that it was persistently plagued by cross border terrorism from Pakistan. And now on the big occasion, Pakistan had been given the pride of place to wage war on “global” terror.

I can never forget the lunch at US ambassador Robert Blackwill’s round table. Pranab Mukherjee, then an opposition leader, asked the ambassador: how could Pakistan, which was the source of terrorism in India, be invited by the Americans in the global war against terrorism. Blackwill’s reply was unforgettable:
“Yours is an old regional quarrel; what Pakistan is fighting with us is the global war on terror.”

It was only after the December 13, 2001 attack on Indian Parliament and the subsequent military mobilization bringing the neighbours with nuclear weapons in an eye-ball to eye-ball confrontation, that the Americans pretended to shift gears. The situation was full of ironies. Two nuclearised neighbours, rearing to fight each other were extraordinarily yoked together by the mightiest power (remember the US was still basking in the sole super power moment) to fight global terror.

In a situation so conducive to saffronization, state elections to the key state of UP suddenly covered the horizon.

It would naturally be a hardline campaign. I still remember the then BJP President Rajnath Singh, going hammer and tongs at SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India). Kar sevaks (volunteers) in their hundreds of thousands would be allowed to assemble in Ayodhya. They would be allowed to nurse expectations that a BJP victory in UP would be a signal to build the temple.

At the moment of victory, Lauh Purush or the Iron Man, Home Minister, L.K. Advani, would rein in popular enthusiasm in Ayodhya. The BJP would assert itself as the “party of governance”. But the earth moved from under the feet of the Kar sevaks and, indeed, every BJP supporter on February 24, 2002 when the UP results came in. BJP had lost. It must have been in a state of high agitation that Kar sevaks boarded the Sabarmati Express on its 30 hour journey from Ayodhya (Faizabad) to Ahmedabad.

In a detailed report on the anniversary of the riots, Deeptiman Tiwary of the Indian Express quotes an eye witness, Umesh Chandra Dixit, who boarded the Sabarmati Express on February 26, 2002. He and four others were pushed out of the train by “Kar sevaks from Gujarat”. It was the S6 coach of this train that was gutted in Godhra killing 59 passengers, all according to officials, Kar sevaks.

The day the BJP lost UP, it also lost two by-elections in Gujarat. It was in these unhelpful circumstances that Modi eked out his first electoral victory from Rajkot. But the overall mood in the BJP camp was of having been vanquished. Then, on February 27 Gujarat was ablaze.

The late Founder and Chief of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Keshavram Kashiram Shastri, made a rare admission. In a remarkable interview to Sheela Bhatt of Rediff, he owned up.

“It had to be done” said Shastri, “but the choras (boys) did a bit too much.”

When I met Jayanti Ravi, collector of Godhra a few days after the riots, she could not be very helpful. She was not handling the case. It had been quite unusually handed over to Vijay Vipul, Director General, Anti Terrorism Squad. No preliminary investigation had been done. Remember, after 9/11, terrorism was the global flavour.

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