Friday, April 28, 2017

Kejriwal A Dangerous Idea: No Establishment Will Let Him Survive

Kejriwal A Dangerous Idea: No Establishment Will Let Him Survive
                                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

The wag has a point. The 2017 Delhi Municipal Corporation elections, we are being persistently reminded, were won by the BJP handsomely because of a single factor: a Modi wave. Fair enough. But the BJP won the two previous Delhi Municipal elections also. Who generated the waves then?

The anchors were hopping on their seats in orgasmic ecstasy. “Kejriwal routed, Kejriwal routed”. One of them, his mouth protruding like he was about to burst a gole-guppa, thrust his three fingers forward in a gesture of uncontrollable excitement. “Kejriwal is coming third; Kejriwal is third.”

As it turned out Kejriwal was not third. He came second with 48 seats. Third was Congress with 30 seats. BJP, ofcourse, was way ahead of either with 181 of the 270 seats contested.

Terms like “routed”, “swept away”, finished”, “buried”, “destroyed”, “crushed”, “smashed” were used for Kejriwal with such relish that one wondered what words would be pulled out from the Thesaurus for the Congress which had actually come third. Moreover, how can Kejriwal and AAP be “swept away” from the MCD where they never were. Yes, Congress was annihilated, but the anchors seemed uncomfortable with that reality. They would register that detail in tones of unbelievable politeness.

This visceral hatred for Kejriwal in the media remains something of a puzzle for me. Having been a pen pusher and TV anchor for decades, I cannot for the life of me understand “hatred” as an ingredient in a journalist’s make up. In journalism, as in diplomacy, the cardinal principal always was to keep ones balance.

The high decibel, partisan hysteria which is the staple at all prime time discussions these days, takes ones breath away: the anchor shouts at inconvenient panelists and hands lollipops to BJP spokespersons.

I hesitate to lay all the blame at the door of journalists who man today’s media. They operate in a particular system of media ownership: he who pays the piper calls the tune.

Circumstances were not dissimilar a few decades ago. A proprietor in the classical mould, Ramnath Goenka, for instance, had abiding political interests. He, along with the RSS’s Nanaji Deshmukh, was one of the architects of what came to be known as JP’s Bihar movement. Subsequently he had a proprietary interest in the Morarji Desai led Janata Government. But keeping these facts in mind, the paper’s policy was enunciated by the powerful editor S. Mulgaonkar. There was credibility in the filtration process. The presentation was plausible.

It is not for a moment suggested that Kejriwal is God’s gift to Indian politics, but he has been quite unambiguous in his opposition to corporate power, xenophobia, communalism and a general militarism. Surely this should be to his credit.

Little wonder none of this registers with the media which came into being in the wake of economic liberalization and accelerated globalization. It was designed to carry advertising which the neo liberal economic policies would boost. A media in the image of Rupert Murdoch became a vogue. This Murdochized media was placed supinely in the service of crony capitalism which reveled in the two-party systems. Whichever party came on top was owned by corporates. I have personal knowledge of even the mainstream Left having its hands in the same till. Rampaging corruption enveloped regimes in Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, US, Indonesia, India, Pakistan any country boasting of an electoral democracy.

A suffocated electorate began to break out of the two party strait jacket. The Left surfaced in countries where economic issues dominated Syriza and Podemos, both communist parties, in Greece and Spain, for instance. Islamophobia and anti immigrant xenophobia were fuelled in Societies fearful of the biggest migration in history from West Asia and North Africa following America’s 9/11 wars. Marine Le Pen is the direct consequence of such fears.

The post Soviet global establishment, with the US as its central column, weakened considerably after the 2008 economic meltdown. But it is resilient enough to fight and contain the two extremities. The formula is simple: where possible, a right-of-centre formation should be supported. But in a situation where extreme Left is in competition with the extreme Right, it is the Right which will obtain the vote of confidence. In other words, xenophobia and racism are preferable to anti austerity politics.

In the recent French campaign, the Communist Jean-Luc Mélenchon surged ahead of most other candidates. Supposing the run-off on May 7 were between Le Pen and Mélenchon, the establishment would have thrown its full weight behind Le Pen. She would have won. But Emmanuel Macron is a crafty candidate of the establishment in disguise: his En Marche! (March ahead) party is brand new and yet as a former banker he is nothing if not the establishment.  

Kejriwal’s strength and weakness derive from the same fact. He is truly anti establishment. It was extremely audacious of him to stand on that kind of a platform. The result is there for all to see. He stunned the nation winning 67 of 70 seats in the 2015 Delhi elections. He stood out all the more because his extraordinary success came within months of Modi’s victory. He alarmed the establishment, Modi, BJP, Congress, Lt. Governor, Police Commissioner and, above all, the corporate media. Kejriwal, unchecked, was a dangerous idea. He had to be waylaid at every turn. He must be politically exterminated.

Providing free water and cheap electricity, mohalla clinics to Delhi’s poor despite his hands having been tied behind his back, is no mean achievement. A fearful Congress and the Akali-BJP combine ganged up against him in Punjab but he came second, ahead of the Akali-BJP.

True, he does not have the please all skills of a Macron. It therefore remains something of a pity that a duplicitous outreach in multiple directions has to be placed in the category of a virtue for success in today’s politics.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Turning Ataturk’s Turkey Upside Down, Powerful Erdogan Arrives In Delhi

Turning Ataturk’s Turkey Upside Down, Powerful Erdogan Arrives In Delhi
                                                                                              Saeed Naqvi
When Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives in New Delhi on April 30, he will find in his host, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, something of a kindred spirit. Both aspire for absolute power.

The April 16 referendum has removed constraints Erdogan was uncomfortable with. He will now be an executive President, a position from where he can manipulate whatever checks and balances may still be theoretically in place.

What Erdogan has achieved is unparalleled in Turkish history. He is well on the way to completely overhauling what the founder of the Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had diligently put together.

When Mahatma Gandhi held Maulana Mohammad Ali’s hand in support of the Caliphate (Khilafat Movement) in Istanbul, the founder of modern Turkey was embarked on exactly the opposite: he was abolishing the Caliphate. It was an anachronism.

St. Sophia, the great Byzantine Church, in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) had been transformed into a mosque by the Ottoman Sultan. Ataturk reversed the decision. Christendom’s most magnificent Church would, were it to be retained as a Mosque, hurt Europe in perpetuity. It is today a great Byzantine museum.

Ataturk saw modern Turkey’s future in Europe. The Fez cap was banned. Turki script gave way to Roman letters. No head scarf for women except as a statement of fashion. Raki, distilled from aniseed (same as Ouzo in Greece, Pastisse in France and Arrack in Lebanon) became the unofficial national drink. It was Ataturk’s favourite.

Ataturk’s inspirational steps towards Europeanism notwithstanding, Ottoman Turkey’s civic and social backwardness remained an obstacle in the way of its union with Europe. Diligently the nation set about improving its infrastructure, environment, laws to make it clubbable with Europe.

What Turkish leaders had not taken into account was European prejudice about the “Turk” from medieval times. Its desire to join the European Union was dodged and spurned. President Valery Giscard d’Estaing of France was the most blunt: “European civilization is Christian civilization.” This became something of a muted European chorus.

On the Aegean Sea or Cyprus, Europe would singly or unitedly thwart any movement in Ankara’s preferred direction. Even the most Kemalist of all Prime Ministers, Bulent Ecevit, was exasperated. Ecevit, Modi may like to know, was almost a self taught Indologist. His translation of Tagore’s Geetanjali is something of a Turkish masterpiece.

The modernism that Ataturk imposed on Turkey was not as shallow as the one in North Tehran under the Shah and Kabul during King Amanullah. But it had not radiated out of Istanbul and Ankara. Had Europe been sensitive enough, the modernism from the top would have taken root across all of Anatolia – such was the momentum Ataturk had imparted to the “Turkey-in-Europe” project.

It was western insensitivity to Muslim societies in general, the rampaging Islamophobia, which  began to shake the secular citadels even in Muslim societies. Turkey under leaders like Ecevit, Suleyman Demirel, Turgut Ozal, and most certainly Army Generals like Kenen Everen jealously guarded its secular constitution despite being a Muslim country, indeed, a deeply Muslim country until the West crossed some Red lines.

The televised occupation of Iraq, the two Intefadas, the manner in which post 9/11 anti terror wars were fought from Afghanistan to each and every Muslim country began to affect public opinion even in a country which retained warm relations with Israel.

An anti western groundswell became unstoppable in Turkey when brutalities against Muslims in the Bosnian war, the four year long siege of Sarajevo were brought into every Turkish home live, mornings and evenings. The West forgot that Bosnia was once an Ottoman province. Sarajevo came from the word “Sarai”, a resting place.

Little wonder the Refah Party under Necmettin Erbakan came to power. Erbakan was a diehard though closet Muslim Brotherhood member. The army dismissed the government – Turkey’s constitution would not tolerate even a trace of religiosity in public life.

Erbakan’s principal disciples, Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gul, reinvented the Refah as the Justice and Development (AK) party, taking great care to abide by the constitution.

Anti westernism was cleverly promoted without invoking Islam. For instance when Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sought permission to ferry US troops to Iraq through Turkish territory, Prime Minister Erdogan tossed the issue to the Parliament which blocked permission. Israeli high handedness against a Turkish humanitarian ship carrying succor for Palestinians led to a rupture with Tel Aviv – an outcome hugely popular with the electorate.

When Greece, the mother of western civilization, was on its knees, in every sense of the term, every Turkish indicator placed the country favourably with every member of the European Union.

By the time of his third election victory Erdogan had performed the impossible: his popularity exceeded even Ataturk’s at his height.

The Arab Spring provided the West with a carrot to dangle before him: he could become the democratic model for the Arab world. Some Turks began to nurse fanciful dreams. If there could be a commonwealth group of nations freed from Britain, why can’t there be an Ottoman grouping? This raised Arab hackles.

During a meal at one of the world’s fanciest restaurants on the Bosporus, the late Mehmet Birand, one of Turkey’s most distinguished journalists summed up the situation succinctly:
“We were a docile ally of the West, swallowing our Turkish pride.” But under Erdogan, “we are a proud dissident nation in the western alliance.”

The war in Syria brought out into the open the closet Muslim Brotherhood in Erdogan. He pleaded with Bashar al Assad to accommodate the Syrian Brothers into the Baath dominated power structure. Assad’s difficulties whetted appetites in Riyadh, Doha, Jerusalem, Ankara, Washington, Paris and London. This is the bubbling, overflowing cauldron – the Syrian Civil war.

The attempted coup last summer by a section of the army and allegedly backed by the hugely influential, US based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, brought out the fighter in Erdogan. He was going to obviate all threats to his rule by ensuring an all powerful Presidential system for himself. There is symbolism in the fact that this most powerful of leaders, not concealing his Brotherhood affiliations, has chosen Modi as an early interlocutor.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

US Fireworks: Awaiting Details From Afghanistan, A Look At Syrian Outrage

US Fireworks: Awaiting Details From Afghanistan, A Look At Syrian Outrage
                                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

President Trump has furnished proof that the leader of the Free World, which dropped the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, remains true to form: it has dropped an even bigger Mother Of All Bombs (non nuclear, we are being persistently reminded) on Nangahar province in east Afghanistan on what are being described as IS tunnels. Since details are not known, let us first sort out the Syrian outrage.
The alleged Sarin gas attack on Khan Shaykhun, a small town in Idlib province where the Jabhat al Nusra’s militant offshoots are now fighting with their backs to the wall, invited a massive US retaliation: 59 cruise missiles were fired on the nearby Shurayat air strip to teach Bashar al Assad a lesson.

Analysts under pressure to meet deadlines, hurriedly suggested the strikes made Trump look virile in his meeting with Xi Jinping in Florida, that Rex Tillerson looked strong in his meeting with Sergei Lavrov and that the North Koreans will think twice before their next menacing launch. All of this is fanciful because the big players know the truth. Yes, the opposition to the Syrian army, mostly al Nusra and IS wearing other labels, and their regional sponsors, now know that the Trump, brow beaten at home, can be dragged into the Syrian fight. The civil war can be prolonged.

To make sense of the air strikes, it would be useful to visit a similar incident in August 2013. Then also a Sarin gas attack was allegedly mounted on an even bigger scale on Ghouta township, on the outskirts of Damascus. Two US missiles took off from a US base in Spain – a retaliation, ofcourse. On this occasion, the Russian anti missile paraphernalia at their base in Tartus, brought down the missiles in the Mediterranean sea. Apparently, a sizeable number of missiles fell in the sea this time too. So the Russian S400 and S300 are indeed operational.

President Obama would have met President Vladimir Putin at the September, 2013, G20 summit in St. Petersburg from what the US “Deep State” had designed to be a position of strength once the two missiles have been launched. Instead his face was in the lower mould during his bilateral aside with the Russian leader. If the Russian intercepts had caused a loss of face, subsequent face saving for the Obama administration in 2013 was also provided by the Russians. They suggested that Syria sign the Chemical Weapons Convention and surrender its chemical weapons.

On September 11, 2013, Putin wrote in the New York Times: “No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with fundamentalists.”

Putin then points to something even more sinister. “Reports that militants are preparing another attack, this time against Israel, cannot be ignored.”

In other words, the opposition were checked in their tracks by timely Russian intervention. Air attacks in retaliation for the false flag at Ghouta were prevented. The desperate opposition was now about to play its trump card: launch a poison gas attack on Israel.

In his weekly address to the nation, Obama said:
“Until recently, the Assad regime would not admit that it possessed chemical weapons. Today Syria has signaled a willingness to join with 189 other nations, representing 98 percent of humanity, in abiding by an international agreement that prohibits the use of chemical weapons.” There was fulsome praise for Russia. “Russia has staked its own credibility in supporting this outcome”, Obama said.

It was clear even then that this Washington-Moscow entente over Syria would set the cat among the pigeons in Tel Aviv and Riyadh. All their huge investments in arms, money, mercenaries and years of planning was liable to be wasted in Obama’s second term when John Kerry because his Secretary of State.

On the issue of Russia and Syria, the Deep State, with the media as amplifier, was not going to give up. No wonder it pitched its tent behind Hillary Clinton’s platform for the 2016 Presidential elections. The spider in the Deep State web, weaving the Syrian yarn is one Robert Stephen Ford, US ambassador to Damascus in 2011 when the “insurgency” was first initiated.

The most accurate narrative of Ford, in cahoots with this French counterpart, Eric Chevallier, and how they stoked the fires in Syria should be available with New Delhi’s ministry of External affairs. Of the entire diplomatic corps in the Syrian capital that this reporter met, the sharpest eye was that of Ambassador V.P. Haran.

The grinding of the US, Israeli, Saudi propaganda machine in Syria never stopped.

Every now and then the White Helmets in Syria would produce a heart wrenching story of “Assad’s brutality”. The photograph of a four year old Syrian boy, his face burnt by “Assad’s” attack on civilians in Aleppo, found its way to the final Trump-Clinton debate in Las Vegas on October 19, 2016. Clinton simulated a lump in her throat describing the child with burns as evidence of indiscriminate Russian (not just Syrian) bombing of civilians.

Exactly on cue, Christiane Amanpour of the CNN, in her high profile interview with Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, produced the very same picture for Lavrov to see. “This is a crime against humanity” Amanpour thundered. Lavrov looked at the photograph. “Very tragic” he said. He then made a bold assertion: the US was probably supporting the Jabhat al Nusra.

Meanwhile, NGOs in the field furnished video recordings of the “burnt boy” being diligently filmed to be presented to the world media: propaganda of the macabre genre.

If the Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh is to be believed, the West is itself implicated in all the Sarin gas scandal. His outstanding piece in the London Review of Books after Ghouta, quite incontrovertibly establishes that “the Sarin that was used didn’t come from Assad’s stockpiles.” He quotes British Intelligence for this detail. He adds:
“A secret agreement in 2012 was reached between the Obama administration and the leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to set up a Sarin gas attack and blame it on Assad so that the US could invade and overthrow Assad.”

Sarin gas has been in the news earlier when Bill Clinton’s Defence Secretary William Cohen caused journalists as senior at Peter Arnett and Bernard Shaw to be sacked for having pointed to US stockpiles or nerve gas which were used on a village in Laos to hunt down US army defectors. It became notorious as Operation Tailwind. The official version then was that the gas was not dropped on Americans. That which was dropped, on whoever, was not Sarin but “but garden variety CS tear gas.” The reporters stuck to their guns.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Kishori Amonkar Soared Despite Media Neglect Of Classical Music

Kishori Amonkar Soared Despite Media Neglect Of Classical Music
                                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

As soon as I read that Kishori Amonkar was no more, I called up Raghu Rai, the pioneering photographer. Raghu had, with me in tow, done a remarkable photo feature on Kishori. Here was an occasion to republish the photographs of our greatest classical singer. Connoisseurs would place Ustad Amir Khan on the same pedestal, but I have my own very subjective preferences.

Raghu’s response was something of a shock: “Where is there any space for the arts in the Indian media?”  

I had momentarily deluded myself that a singer of such brilliance, would, in her passing away, generate fierce competition between media houses to show the best of Kishori. I had forgotten that, by and large, there is no hospitality accorded to culture in either print or our burgeoning TV channels. And this is not a new phenomenon.

True, by the time of Kishori Amonkar’s death, classical music had reclaimed sufficient audiences to warrant front page coverage and reasonable obituary notices in the past 25 years. Amir Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva, Hirabai Barodekar, Mallikarjun Mansur, Ali Akbar Khan, Vilayat Khan, Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee did not go into the sunset unnoticed. The last three or four names were towering banyan trees in whose shadow comparable talents Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, for instance were dwarfed. The Hindu’s Friday Review did have Kishori on the cover.

What has never existed is a tradition of knowledgeable music critics. During a seminar organized by the late Dr. Narayana Menon, then Director General of All India Radio, Yehudi Menuhin, great violinist, pointed to musicologist Nicholas Nabokov (brother of Vladimir Nabokov, of Lolita fame) seated opposite him.

“I perform better when Nicholas is in the audience.”

That level of art criticism the Indian media has never aspired for. Professional dilettantes, not critics, has been the order. 

So, Raghu’s plaint stands. In fact when we entered The Statesman on Barakhamba Road, in 1965 for our first journalistic employment, the newspaper boasted of no regular critics for cinema, theatre, music, dance, painting. And The Statesman was numero uno of Indian newspapers those days.

Much before feminism became a vogue, Amita Malik (Amy as we called her) burst upon the scene with her breezy, aggressively Brahmo partisanship, always tipping the scale for the Bengali particularly if there was a Punjabi in the bargain. This probably derived from Amy’s unhappy marriage with a sophisticated broadcaster from Government College, Lahore. She was India’s first cinema, radio and (when TV arrived) television critic. She was, like all critics, not on the paper’s staff. Amy, made a pittance, lobbying mostly with Lakshman, the News Editor’s secretary, to inflate the column inches on the basis of which her cheque of a few hundred rupees was delivered to her every month.

The cultural scene in the media was dominated by a Hungarian of great elegance, Charles Fabri. Maurice Chevalier could have learnt a thing or two from Dr. Fabri’s flirtatious style with some of India’s greatest dancers. Once he turned up in the reporter’s room with a brochure on Indian dance, placed his felt hat on a Remington typewriter and, smacking his lips, turned the pages “Damyanti Joshi, Yamini, Indirani,……” closing the brochure, he looked at us triumphantly. “I have kist them all.”

Fabri was a pioneer in building up the capital’s art and theatre scenes as well. He died in virtual penury.

Kishori had begun to make waves but it was her mother, Mogubai Kurdikar, who made a mark on Pandit Shingloo, The Statesman’s Hindustani music critic. He was a tall man of aristocratic bearing, a Java Dawson cigar from Trichy, between his teeth was as much part of him as his long sherwani and matching cap which did not cover the silver-white ringlets upto the nape of his neck. He walked into concerts armed with a pad, pencil, rubber and a torch. No sooner had the “alaap” begun, than Shingloo’s torch was focused on the pad balanced on his knees. His pencil would race along until there was something resembling a false note. Instantly, the rubber was brought into play, making room for more critical adjectives to be inserted.

Shingloo was the darling of the news desk because at 10 pm sharp, at whatever stage the concert may have been, Shingloo’s copy, precisely nine inches in a single column, was delivered to a beaming chief sub, because it was well in time for the city edition.

For Carnatic music and dance, Subbudu was matchless. During the winter “Season” at the music academy, Mylapore, Chennai, a dancer of means would buy Subbudu’s up and down second class train ticket and look after his board and lodging for the duration of what in my experience is one of the world’s greatest festivals of dance and music. Subbudu’s financier would, ofcourse, receive a puff in direct proportion to favours done. But all other performances came in for critical scrutiny by a razor sharp mind.

It did not matter that Subbudu was a Lower Division Clerk in North Block. He was a quintessential Brahmin, steeped in music that is what mattered.

Negligible or zero priority accorded to the music critic by the media magnates impacted deeply on Kishori Amonkar’s emotional make up. Her tantrums became notorious. In fact her pain was deeper. She could not forget the shabby treatment meted out by organizers in days when women singers like Kesarbai Kerkar, Hirabai Barodekar and, above all, her own mother, Mogubai, were shuffling themselves out of their “Bai” identity.

A genius like Kishori would have none of it, almost to the point of being prickly. At a performance in which Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah was present, the clattering of saucers, pans and cups would not stop even after Kishori had taken the stage. She furrowed her brow and held the Chief Minister in a fierce gaze: “You are not on a prostitute’s terrace; you are in the Durbar of an artist.”

I would put it down as one of the more difficult assignments, that interview with her. She would not open up until she had reduced us to shaky amateurs. Eventually she psyched us down to where she wanted us to be as her “rasias” or devotees.

I do not know whether she kept up her mother’s tradition to visit “gharana” guru Alladiya Khan’s grave for floral offerings on March 14, his death anniversary.

As for her singing, there will not be another. Momin’s couplet encapsulates it:
“Us ghairat e Naheed ki
             har taan hai Deepak
Shola sa lapak jaaye hai,
              awaaz to dekho”

(Each taan or ascending passage of that singing bird is like the Deepak raga; her notes touch the upper octaves like a leaping flame)

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