Friday, November 24, 2017

Padmavati Controversy: Fair Is Foul And Foul Is Fair

Padmavati Controversy: Fair Is Foul And Foul Is Fair
                                                                                  Saeed Naqvi

Padmavati, in a sense, is a neighbourhood story. My village, Mustafabad, happens to be in Rae Bareli, which embraces numerous Chishtiya Sufi shrines or places where the saints spent some time, including Khwaja Ashraf Jehangir Semnani, the saint Malik Mohammad Jaisi, the author of Padmavat, was devoted to. Jaisi would faint at the controversy surrounding his masterpiece.

From nearby, Salon, Naeem Ata Shah in his flowing orange robes and headgear often visited Mustafabad. Jaisi, who preceded Tulsidas, in the list of great poets of Awadhi, was an endless source of quotations. So was Tulsidas, whose correspondence with emperor Akbar’s premier courtier, Abdul Rahim Khan e Khana, on meter and structure of poetry one heard about later and which is something one would have expected more scholarship on.

To a most unexpected source I owed my acquaintance with the fact that Rahim, known for his dohas, wrote devotional poetry on Lord Rama in Sanskrit. The source happened to be Vishnu Kant Shastri, former Vice Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University, Governor of UP. It always puzzled me how a man of such catholic interests – knew Jaisi as well as Akbar Allahabadi backwards – had actually emerged from the RSS stable.

If Jaisi’s flight of fancy can create so much mayhem, I shudder to contemplate the fate of the 1960 classic, Mughal-e-Azam in a similar circumstance. By today’s yardstick, that was the original, unadulterated case of “Love Jihad”. In fact the settled conventional wisdom in the 60s conceded Akbar victory at Haldighati. The national mood today has reversed the outcome of that battle in favour of Maharana Pratap. There have been suggestions that New Delhi’s Akbar Road be renamed “Maharana Pratap Road”. In other words revenge with retrospective effect is in order. To give this trend a more contemporary twist, Vishwa Hindu Parishad has demanded that an FIR be lodged against Mulayam Singh Yadav for ordering the police to fire on Kar sewaks in 1990. In that framework, it can be argued that producer K. Asif glorified Akbar’s love jihad. For that unforgiveable guilt, copies of the film must be consigned to the flames by way of historical revenge. Dilip Kumar, who played Prince Salim, is lying in coma otherwise he could have been brought into focus of public ire with great effectiveness on the eve of key elections with a singular purpose – polarize the poll.

At a time when logic has been crowded out by a rush of non sequitur, some pundits have attempted common sense. It will not work.

The new cultural brigade destroyed the grave of Wali Dakhni who showered adoration on this land with such verses as:
“Koocha e yaar ain Kashi hai
Jogiya dil wahaan ka baasi hain.”
(The lane where my beloved lives is like holy Varanasi;
The yogi of my heart has made it his dwelling place.) The sentiments the poet represents did not deter the vandals seething with anger against past historical injustices.

Never will the bandish Munmohan Braj ke rasiya in Raag Paraj, steeped in Krishna lore, be sung better than by Ustad Faiyyaz Khan. They tried to desecrate his grave in Vadodara, regardless.

Rasoolan Bai’s plaintive appeals to Rama, in so many of her songs, did not protect her house from being gutted during the 1969 Gujarat riots. It did not matter that the Congress was in power then. What is being tapped into is something which gained a lease of life after Partition and which invites instant, angry, passionate response at the street level. In his very first speech in Parliament after the 2014 elections, this was precisely the nerve Narendra Modi touched: “the nation has to recover from the subjugation of 1200 years”. This is what differentiates the present government from previous regimes. Congressmen may have privately believed in “1200 year of subjugation”, but they considered it tactically proper to speak only of the British as foreigners.

Let us, meanwhile, revert to Jaisi’s purpose in Padmavati. The sentiment is common in western poetry too.
The “desire of the moth for the star, of the night for the morrow.
The devotion to something afar from the sphere of our sorrow”

Shelley’s lines are an ultra simplified version of the interplay between love and beauty which Jaisi is delineating. Padmini and Khalji are secular symbols of Jaisi’s elaboration of the theme on an epic scale.

Keat’s “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know” can also be tossed in to simplify communicating Jaisi.

Maulana Hasrat Mohani communicates the mood thus:
“Maslak I Ishq hai parastish e husn
Hum naheen jaante azaab-o-sawab.”
(Love’s purpose is adoration of beauty.
Gains and losses I do not measure.)

Should the ever expanding tribe of the new cultural warriors run out of ideas, here are some on offer, gratis. They should denigrate with retrospective effect those Muslims who dared to take liberties with Hindu Gods. Remember, how India’s greatest modern painter, Maqbool Fida Hussain was exiled for his supreme guilt: excessive adoration of Goddesses. His “adoration” was considered lewd by the protectors of culture and faith.

Well, in like fashion, Maulana Hasrat Mohani deserves to be shamed retrospectively. He wrote a great deal about Krishna in Urdu, but in his Bhasha or Braj verses he takes liberties:
“Mose ched karat Nandlal”
(Krishna teases me all the time)
“hum hoon jo dei liptai ke Hasrat
Saari yeh chalbal nikaal”
(One day I shall embrace him tight and squeeze out all his mischief)
“Squeeze out”, in a tight embrace, has erotic connotations which should be unacceptable to the new cultural brigade.

#          #          #          #

Friday, November 17, 2017

BBC Investigation Exposes US, UK, Saudis Protecting IS in Syria

BBC Investigation Exposes US, UK, Saudis Protecting IS in Syria
                                                                                        Saeed Naqvi

The BBC expose, with graphic visuals, is quite emphatic: the US and British led coalition forces enabled hundreds of IS jihadists escape from Raqqa after the headquarters of their self declared Caliphate had been bombarded out of recognition. This will set the cat among the pigeons.

The matter will surely come up in the British Parliament and Congressional hearings in Washington. More such mischief is surfacing.

The Defence Ministry in Moscow is already in overdrive. “The US refused to bomb a military convoy retreating from Abu Kamal (in Raqqa). The coalition’s aircraft also attempted to prevent Russian Aerospace Forces from carrying out air strikes against militants.” There is considerable evidence of “direct cooperation and support for ISIS terrorists by the US led International Coalition”, the Defence Ministry said.

In a separate incident “Americans peremptorily refused to conduct airstrikes on ISIS terrorists.” The reason given was that the militants were agreeing to surrender as prisoners of war and were “therefore subject to the provisions of the Geneva convention.” US aircraft obstructed “Russian aerospace from taking action.”

Stratfor, an establishment think tank, offers almost an apology for terrorism perpetrated by returning jihadists. “Looking at recent cases involving fighters returning from Iraq and Syria, they have tended to conduct attacks against soft targets instead of making more complex attacks against harder, more significant targets. Some examples include a Jewish museum and the soft side of the airport in Brussels; a concert in Manchester in the UK; and a cafĂ©, concert venue and sports stadium in Paris.” Is it not too sanguine a tone on the theme of returning jihadists who destabilize Western societies?

Youth, fired by jihad, who have left their homes in the West for destinations like Syria, are unlikely to be less than hostile towards their respective societies when they return home. This hostility will erupt into acts of terrorism listed in the stratfor brief.

The cat-and-mouse that goes on between terrorists and counter terrorism units confronting them provides room for others to advance their rogue agendas. It is a witches brew.

This was lethal enough. What has evolved since the 9/11 wars in West Asia is a system of regularizing terrorists in Company and Platoon strengths, backed by trainers, finance and weapons, as a military asset to be relocated wherever required. Sophisticated propaganda is integral to the project.

If readers have not seen Amaq, the propaganda organ of the IS, they must instantly obtain a copy online. It is a glossy publication which would put to shame some of the better magazines in the business. If IS is an underground, guerrilla outfit, living in bunkers and trenches, how does it have time, skill, printing presses to regularly churn out this professional product?

Non GCC Arab diplomats, with access to their respective agencies, have been informing South Block that US terrorists, air lifted from various theatres in Syria and Iraq, may have been relocated to war zones like Afghanistan and Rakhine state in Myanmar. India cannot consider itself exempt from this global menace.

Almost on cue, appears a piece by Sara Flounders of the International Action Centre, Washington, focusing on how the Rohingyas plight worsened in Myanmar. Hostility between the Buddhist clergy, the Myanmar military and the Rohingya Muslim in Rakhine has continued for years. What then was the need for the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, an armed resistance group, to carry on attacks on 30 Myanmar military posts on august 30? It was only then that the Myanmar military responded with a wave of brutal attacks on the Muslims driving them in thousands over the border.

There is an intriguing twist to the tail: ARSA is headquartered in Mecca, under Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi, a Pakistani national resident in Saudi Arabia.

Why have the US and Saudi Arabia, who have supervised a three year long war in Yemen, rendering millions homeless and killing thousands, turned with so much sympathy to the one million Muslim Rohingyas in Rakhine? It is their callousness elsewhere that invites this cynicism at their concern for Rakhine? Are they driven by a desire to control a group in a poor, mineral rich country bordering China?

Former President, Hamid Karzai has, in an interview to Tehran Times expressed similar fears.

According to him IS “is the brainchild of the US and its allies which introduced this terrorist group to the world under the pretext of fighting extremism and terrorism.” He warns regional powers not to allow the IS to grow in Afghanistan. He said the “number of this terrorist group is increasing by the day in Afghanistan.”

The Moscow Initiative on Afghanistan enunciated by Putin last April sought regional co-operation to isolate IS and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Towards this end the Taleban, an Afghan national entity, should be accommodated in Kabul’s power apparatus. As soon as Trump saw Moscow developing a constructive theme in Kabul, he reversed his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan,. He will stay come wind, come weather.

#          #          #          #

Friday, November 10, 2017

Pinned Against The Wall: Losing The Argument In Srinagar

Pinned Against The Wall: Losing The Argument In Srinagar
                                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

The arrival of Dineshwar Sharma, formerly of the Intelligence Bureau, as the Centre’s interlocutor in the troubled state, has clearly not set the Jhelum on fire. But Hari Niwas, the former Maharaja’s palace, Sharma’s headquarter, has acquired a temporary prominence with Armoured Personnel carriers, TV vans, and a gradually diminishing number of journalists outside. The approaching winter is a deterrence for assembly after sunset.

Reactions range from total nonchalance at the Amar Singh club, to bewilderment among the intelligencia and anger among prominent members of the civil society. “Yet again, this is an insult to Kashmiris; what can an interlocutor find out that the State does not already know after 28 years of total military occupation.”

Subjects that were hush hush in the past are now part of casual conversation over cups of kahva. “Democratization of corruption” for instance. This the intelligence agencies have achieved – transferring cash in ever expanding concentric circles. This kind of money, induces dependency, not gratitude, a sort of helplessness, demoralization, which conceals simmering anger.

Householders are more liable to be implicated in such transactions. This would distance them further from the youth fired by idealism and the social media. It is this youth which is controlling the agitational mood. I must however, add in parenthesis that too much should not be extrapolated from the experience of urban centres like Srinagar.

Hardly a day passes without an encounter, a shootout, disappearances. Director General of Police S.P. Vaid’s boast that 170 militants have been killed this year disguises the hundreds of civilians and security personnel, including the Army, who have also been killed. Figures, in any case, do not reflect the scale of the tragedy.

South Asian Terrorism Portal records 11 civilians, 15 security forces and 40 militants killed in the past two months. These, again, are mere figures. They reveal little. The tragedy is in the empty streets past 9 pm. During a 30 kms ride from a friend’s house near the airport to my hotel past Dal Lake, I saw headlights of one or two cars, but no people, not even security personnel. Has this stretch been totally tranquilized? No one will ever know what fills the spaces within the heart behind those unlit windows?

One of the finer intellectuals in Srinagar tossed in a comparison with Catalonia. He was suggesting that Catalonia is more prosperous than the rest of Spain and is yet in rebellion. seeking independence. The comparison is slightly farfetched even though people in Kashmir are apparently better off than in many places in the rest of India. A study of this relative economic well being would have to be a mean minded accumulation of data. How can you point to the decorous carpet in a man’s house when you have blinded two of his sons with pellet guns?

Lifestyles are sometimes a self-deception, make belief, a cover up for a deeper want. The most spectacular arrangement of colours and motifs in women’s wear in Rajasthan, Kutch and Sind, compensate for the aridity as far as the eye can see.

People living under extreme pressure pick up nuances swiftly. When Mehbooba Mufti, Ram Madhav and Dineshwar Sharma repeat the same image, ears are cocked: “We do not want Kashmir to become another Syria”. This raises a spectre of Jabhat al Nusra, Al Qaeda, the Islamic State. Well, the US had to flatten out Raqqa on the scale of Dresden during World War II and yet allowed 375 IS to sneak out to few know where.

The very mention of Syria invites a kneejerk response. After the massive protests last year following Burhan Wani’s killing, new names are being brought into focus as militant leaders, some of them demanding Shariah law, unusual for youth rebels in their 20s.

Zakir Musa, once associated with Burhan Wani, is being projected as the new jihadist. That Musa is alive in a culture saturated with “encounters”, is interpreted here, by some groups, as the Deep State promoting ogres to justify some drastic action in the future.

In an atmosphere so charged with suspicion, no one is expecting the interlocutor to pull a rabbit out of his hat. He has diligently started visiting senior politicians who ask “what is the bottom line?” To this Sharma cannot possibly be expected to have an answer. Has he been sent to salvage accidental Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s sinking political fortunes? It has certainly given people something to watch – wearily though.

The Sharma initiative makes sense if there is a similar expedition to Pakistan. This cannot happen before the 2019 General elections because such a step would immediately bring down Hindu-Muslim temperatures, a state of affairs most deleterious to the BJP’s electoral health.

In the 70s and 80s I wrote repeatedly with such conviction:
“Indian secularism protects, among a billion others, the world’s second largest Muslim population. Any issue, including Kashmir should be addressed keeping this in mind.’

How foolish I feel when some of the best minds in Kashmir hurl the following at me: Love Jihad, Cow lynchings, Ghar Wapsi, Tipu the traitor, transformation of shrines into temples….

“You in India are a cowering minority” they mock. “We in Kashmir are in battle against occupation.”

“They disempowered you through secularism; they are disempowering us through democracy.” It is a staggering barrage. I find myself wriggling against the wall.

#          #          #          #