Friday, April 27, 2018

Book Ringside Seats For May 15 Post Poll Poker In Bengaluru

Book Ringside Seats For May 15 Post Poll Poker In Bengaluru
                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

On May 15, when the Karnataka election results are announced, and the Congress, BJP and Deve Gowda’s JDS find themselves in an almighty scrum bargaining for power, a certain mysterious lady will be watching the proceedings from her suite in the country’s most luxurious, seven star Leela hotel on Bengaluru’s old airport road.

The hijab clad, 45 year old, Nowhera Shaik, President of the All India Mahila (Women’s) Empowerment Party (MEP) is fielding candidates in all the 224 assembly seats. It is a mistake to regard MEP as a woman only party. “A woman has a brother, father, son”, she says. Moreover, there is no taboo on men seeking MEP tickets.

Her hijab is a far cry from a docile acceptance of male oppression. It is an assertion of feminine independence. She is CEO of Hyderabad based Heera Group of companies, dealing with a wide range of commodities across the globe – building material, gold and diamond. The last mentioned, happens to be something of an obsession with her. Heera, name of her company, means diamond. Her election symbol is Diamond. Who knows her name Nowhera may be a contortion of Nav Heera, which means “novel diamond”.

In the Sherlock Holmes classic, mystery deepens when the dog “does not” bark. In Ms. Shaik’s case the deathly silence of politicians and the media at the high voltage election debut is as intriguing.

There are all sorts of ironies involved. The latest congress policy towards Muslims is based on the appraisal that the BJP’s shrill allegation, that the party appeases Muslims, has begun to affect the majority community. The Hindu increasingly sees the Congress as a “Muslim Party”. How should a party which is greedy for Hindu as well as Muslim votes, cope with the predicament. 

It was to meet this situation that the new “cloak and dagger” policy towards Muslims was enunciated. The party will distance itself from Muslims to prevent a hemorrhage of Hindu votes. But by hint and gesture the Muslim voter will be persuaded that this “distancing” is only a tactic in the Muslim interest. The Muslim must not leap into the Congress lap in full public view, but, with expert slyness, sneak towards the Congress polling agent.

The game acquires a touch of situation comedy when an audacious, hijab wearing lady, with wealth beyond measure, a credible image of a philanthropist, jumps into the electoral fray. The Congress cannot throw up its hands and scream, “Help, help, she is nibbling away at Muslim pockets in a close election where even a few hundred votes matter.”

Nor can the BJP be ecstatic: “Welcome dear Begum Sahiba; go, damage the Congress.”

Unobtrusively, she just may end up marginally harming the Congress. If each one of her 224 candidates is pillowed with cash, the law of averages may return two, three or five winners. This may give her a hand to play in post poll poker. Her ambitions for 2019 leave one gasping.

If the Congress loses the Karnataka election, it will be difficult for the party to escape the label the opposition is in gleeful readiness to paste on the Congress forehead: P2, a party confined to Punjab and Pondicherry.

While nobody is conceding outright victory to the Congress, punters are willing to give it the largest single party status and therefore hope for coming state elections.

A representative group of eight senior journalists and political activists (including two having deep links with Communists and RSS) pondered over the election scene in my Bengaluru drawing room. There was no great difference of opinion on the way the cookie was expected to crumble on May 15. Congress, BJP and Deve Gowda led (JDS) Janata Dal Secular were expected to poll 95 to 100, 85 to 95 and 35 to 40 seats respectively. A hung house will enable the JDS to play a leading role in the post poll poker.

Let us pick up the narrative in 2010 when Siddaramaiah, then in the opposition, chastised the infamous Reddy Brothers (more popularly known in Karnataka as the Bellary mining mafia) on the floor of the state assembly.

The Reddy’s promptly dared him to repeat his charges in Bellary where, they threatened, he “would be finished”. Siddaramaiah took up the challenge. He undertook a 200 mile padyatra to Bellary. The voter, desperately searching for something he can respect, spotted a touch of heroism in “Siddaramaiah”.

There are now three principal caste groups (hundreds of smaller ones) in the contest:
Siddaramaiah with his diligently consolidated Kuruba caste; Deve Gowda, something of a Vokkaliga stalwart and B.S. Yedurappa the tallest Lingayat who had almost been ruled out by the BJP because of a jail term for massive corruption. His powerful caste Lingayat, has trumped all negative considerations.

Siddaramaiah is not a classical Congressman. Rather, his background should be a cause for concern for the Congress: there is in his DNA a trace of Lohia Socialist. This is what kept him in the JDS for 35 years. But his parting with Deve Gowda was so bitter that theirs is now a blood feud. Deve Gowda would rather jump in front of a train than allow Siddaramaiah a second term in Bengaluru.

Yedurappa poses the Lingayat challenge. This has propelled Siddaramaiah towards an audacious gamble. An old demand by a section of Lingayats seeking a status outside the Hindu structure has been dusted up by him. Yes, he says, Lingayats will be outside the Hindu fold. This is far reaching, tearing into Veer Shaivaite Lingayat divide.

Trust a Lohiaite to have played this hand. There are echoes of V.P. Singh’s implementation of the Mandal Commission report. V.P. Singh himself was not a beneficiary of his machinations. But the post Mandal tumult brought to the fore Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad, Rath yatra to Ayodhya and so much mayhem. Let’s see how Siddaramaiah’s gamble plays itself out.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

He Was, By All Accounts, The Last Of The Gentlemen Editors

He Was, By All Accounts, The Last Of The Gentlemen Editors
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

These are such desperate times for journalism that S. Nihal Singh’s departure at 89, triggers memories about a phase in the profession that dreams are made of.

My personal journalistic trajectory trailed his rather closely. He was The Statesman’s Special Correspondent in Singapore when I entered the portals of that once great newspaper as a cub reporter.

I was, in fact, following Nihal’s footsteps because this was how he entered the profession a decade earlier – as a cub reporter. There were no schools of journalism then, but we received training of exactly the thoroughness which our respective letters of appointment had promised:
“We do not guarantee you employment at the end of the six month training period, but the training you will have received here will enable you to find work elsewhere.” It remained something of a puzzle why the pocket money Nihal was offered during the training period was infinitely higher than mine which was a meagre Rs.300 per month.

Like most of us who entered the profession after him, Nihal covered New Delhi courts, Tis Hazari courts, Municipal Corporation, Delhi State Assembly, Police Commissioner, Chief Minister. The drill of dwelling on nodal points of governance and power, moving upwards in measured step, imparted to the journalist that most precious of attitudes: an indifference to power, an ability not to be overawed.

As the profession expanded behavioural contrasts magnified. Untrained entrants at senior levels, who had romanticized political power from a distance, became unsteady on their feet because they found corridors of power too heady. A sense of balance was a frequent casualty.

This is where Nihal could not go wrong. In 1982, when the nation was convulsed by the Meenakshipuram conversions, Nihal, then Editor-in-Chief of the Indian Express, sent a teleprinter message to me in Madras where I was then posted as editor of five southern editions: “urgently need 700 words on Meenakshipuram.”

I put on my ultra-balanced hat and churned out the required wordage. It was a typical “while on the one hand” but “on the other” piece. Muslims shouldn’t be upto these tricks and Hindus shouldn’t get too excited. I mentioned “structural violence” in the Hindu social order: this was sacriledge and Nihal let it pass. Unaware of the gathering storm, he thanked me for having responded promptly.

What followed took him and me by surprise. We were both completely out of touch with the strength of feelings on the issue. Indeed, a certain indifference to religion which a whole generation cultivated as Nehruvian secularism was being jettisoned and we found ourselves flat footed.

After a brilliant career with the IAS and having established himself as a scholar of the Indus Valley script, Iravatham Mahadevan, had taken up a job as Executive Manager of the Indian Express’s southern editions. After reading my edit, he came charging to my room in a state of high agitation. “How could you have done it?” He looked at me in a daze, blabbering like someone in a motor accident. “How could you have done it?” I learnt later he was from the RSS, shakhas et al. I commend to the RSS to keep more Mahadevans in its stable. He was exceptionally erudite on subjects of his choice.

In the Express compound, in Hick’s bungalow, Ramnath Goenka was bringing the ceiling down: “Hindu Kahan Javey?” (Where should the Hindus go?) “Tum to Makkay chale jaao; Hindu kahan javey?” (You can go to Mecca, but where should the Hindu go?)

He commandeered his chartered accountant, S. Gurumurthy, senior RSS functionary, to write a rejoinder to my editorial. My “balanced” approach to Meenakshipuram, it transpired, was misplaced.

It was now Nihal’s turn to face the music. The piece, authored by Gurumurthy, arrived at his desk in New Delhi. His job as Editor was on the line. What should he do? But Nihal did what he had learnt in The Statesman. In a newspaper, the prerogative for taking editorial decision rests with the editor. He consigned the article to the waste paper basket. Ramnath Goenka too was a larger than life publisher. He allowed his Editor’s line to prevail. But separation was clearly on the cards; they belonged to different cultures.

So did S. Mulgaonkar “apparently” belong to another culture but he was both, a craftier man and a finer writer. In the projection of his image, Mulgaonkar was exactly Nihal’s opposite. Never having been to school, Mulgaonkar cultivated all the airs of English aristocracy. He was adept at bridge, horse racing, angling, and, believe it or not, keeping Oxford and Cambridge cricket scores. He was a gourmet cook, a fad for which he cultivated junior French diplomats as sources for herbs and white wine. All of this impressed the Marwari in RNG. Once an editor, devoted to the amber stuff, looked at his watch and dropped an obvious hint: “I suppose I will not get a drink here.” Pat came the reply from RNG “I keep, but only for English people.”

Nihal had no aristocratic pretenses of a Mulgaonkar. He was content with his buffalo undercut, marinated in garlic and pepper, roast potatoes and Dujon mustard on the side. He called it beef fillet. The Dujon, rather than English mustard was in deference to his warm hearted Dutch wife, Ge. He had first come to know her when she was a young KLM hostess. I remember him flaunt his European affiliation before friends in London: “I prefer the continent”, he would say with a sort of flat, ineffective pomp.

His understanding of politics and International affairs was uncomplicated. He made up in clarity what he lacked in deep insight. He was, by habit, a perfect gentleman.

It was a mistake, I believe, for both Pran Chopra and Nihal Singh to be parked respectively in Kolkata as editors of The Statesman. The only Punjabi that Bengal has ever tolerated was K.L. Sehgal in New Theatre cinema. This elicited no more than a smile from Nihal.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Syrian War Being Dragged On Basis Of Lies For Ulterior Reasons

Syrian War Being Dragged On Basis Of Lies For Ulterior Reasons
                                                                             Saeed Naqvi

If war begins in Syria, it will be on absolutely trumped up charges about the use of poison gas by Bashar al Assad. Why would he gas his own people if he is, by all western assessments, winning the war? And how do White Helmets take perfect close-up pictures of injured children? How do they not get poisoned? How do they not get poisoned? Mine is a small voice but, having travelled to each one of the countries involved in the Syrian tragedy, I can say with all the conviction at my command: this war is being dragged on the basis of lies and for ulterior reasons.

On March 29, 2018, President Donald Trump announced in Ohio that the US would “very soon” get out of Syria. Other nations should shoulder that burden. As if on cue, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, declared that Bashar al Assad would remain President of Syria. He added, in parenthesis, that US troops should remain in Syria for “the short term if not the long term.”

This abrupt change of heart by the two who are principally leading the anti Assad campaign in Syria was explained by an intelligence mishap. In fact a double gaffe was involved. A major plan to surround Damascus, with Ghouta as the spring board was to be boosted by US air cover. Syrian intelligence found out the details about this plan.

How would the US justify a major air campaign over Damascus? White Helmets, a multimillion dollar NGO founded by a British Army officer, James Le Mesurier to boost the propaganda effort of the motley group of militants and state actors, were expected to play a key role at this juncture. They would detonate “poison gas” in Douma, a town in eastern Gouta. This would be blown up sky high as Syrian “brutality”. That would justify an air campaign.

When this plan was leaked the Syrian army barged into Douma. They caught red handed atleast fourteen intelligence officers of whom eight were from Saudi Arabia and one each from the US, Israel, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Morocco. Some nationalities pose a question mark? What is a Turk doing in this gang? Is Turkey playing both sides of the street? Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supposed to be at each others’ throat. What is ultra cautious Morocco doing in Douma? This is all happening in the midst of a fierce urban, guerilla campaign. Who knows how many identification documents are in play?

In brief, the capture of intelligence officers caused Trump and MBS to reverse gear. These two obviously had fears that their officers, may begin to sing like canaries. But no such fear afflicted the British and the French. Their officers are not on the list. These countries face a bagful of problems back home. They did not mind when White Helmet, the False Flag experts, detonated their devices, not so much to kill, maim and suffocate but to saturate the networks and the news agencies with heart rending pictorial coverage. This would divert attention from their problems. In the case of Britain these problems were existential.

The Helmets have clearly been advised by psychologists that children look the most angelic between the ages of four and five. If the children can be plausibly shrouded in bandages, their limbs suspended by slings and ambient sounds given a suitable crescendo, their mission would be successful.

On March 29 and 30 Trump and MBS were cooing like doves. How does one then explain the messy resumption of hostilities in Syria – alleged gas attack in Douma and Israeli missile over Homs?

One theory is that Trump can flourish as many white flags as he likes, the Deep State will proceed on its agenda regardless. This, quite literally, is a singular moment in history when there is no super power to control or direct world affairs.

President Emmanuel Macron is facing a revolt of the Rail Unions and more. With all manner of populisms waiting in the wings, a young President, on a brand new party may seek respite in diversionary moves which direct national focus towards the Russian menace.

It is Britain where the establishment is on sixes and sevens. Labour’s Leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn’s ratings keep rising despite stalwarts of the new Labour like Lord Peter Mandelson declaring in interviews that Corbyn “must be undermined”.

Accidental Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May has not quite found her feet after the Brexit debacle. Then her performance at the party Tory conference last October became an almighty embarrassment. Fighting for her political life, when she rose for her speech she was afflicted by an unstoppable, hacking cough. Then, like a bad omen, letters on the backdrop behind her began to drop off. It became a comical clip for the social media. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, nursing an unrealistic ambition, acquired a bounce in his tread.

Both May and Johnson have invested a great deal by word and gesture, on alleged poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. They were also keen that the embers of Syria must not be extinguished.

Meanwhile not just the conservative MP, Lucy Allan, from Telford, but the entire Establishment is in deep shame at the serial sex abuse scandal of over 1,000 British children, spread out over years which media like the BBC has been accused of covering up. It is disgusting to speculate that Ghouta and Skripal have helped divert attention from the most horrendous of sex scandals mankind has ever known.

What is staring the May-Johnson duet in the face is the prospect of a rout in the May 3 local bodies’ elections. Just the wrong time for Trump and MBS to be embracing Vladimir Putin. Western democracy needs Russia painted in lurid colours for greater cohesion. The West needs a raison d’tre, an enemy image, to be able to stand upright.  Something like a, Cold War. Hence the rumbling of war drums.

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