Friday, June 29, 2018

People Versus Established Order: Contradiction Sharpens In New York And Elsewhere

People Versus Established Order: Contradiction Sharpens In New York And Elsewhere

Saeed Naqvi

Does the stunning victory of a 28 year old Latino bartender in New York this week over a 10 term Democratic lawmaker bear any resemblance to AAP’s victory under a political novice, Arvind Kejriwal in February 2015. He thrashed Narendra Modi’s resurgent BJP and a Congress Chief Minister entering her fourth term? Ofcourse, there are a thousand differences in detail but these are dwarfed by a basic similarity – popular resentment with establishments everywhere. It is a wave sweeping all electoral democracies across the globe. I have just seen the toppling of the Italian ruling class in Rome. Wherever they can, establishments are fighting back tooth and nail. Kejriwal’s endless travails are part of this counterpunch.

The winner in New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was, in her last job, mixing cocktails in a Manhattan bar, sometimes on 18 hour shifts to help avoid foreclosure of her mother’s property. But more meaningful for her career was her stint as Bernie Sanders’ campaigner during the 2016 elections. Little wonder she stands on a similar, leftist platform, demanding universal health care, ending tuition fees at public colleges and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Still recovering from the shock defeat happens to be Joe Cowley for whom the Democratic Party had built many castles in the air. The same party had dug its heels in so firmly for Hillary Clinton as the Presidential candidate that every argument pointing to Bernie Sanders’ chances of victory over Trump were discarded.

I was in Washington for the campaign, surrounded by Clinton enthusiasts who would not answer a straightforward question:
“Popular disgust with the Washington establishment was unmistakable. Given this reality, by what logic do you see Clinton as a winner: she is the very epitome of the Washington establishment.”

Alexandria’s victory places her in line as the youngest woman in Congress after the November elections. This could well be the thin end of the wedge, gradually opening up spaces for younger and more radical candidates.

Considering that Trumpism too is consolidating itself on white working and middle class grievances, the divisions in American society may become more shrill. Once they rise to a crescendo, the clashing of Cymbals will be deafening even though the talk of a civil war is rank exaggeration.

A considerable segment of the Democratic Party, which refrained from radicalism during the 2016 campaign, appears to have sensed the ground realities, almost anticipating the New York result. Democrats like Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren signed onto Bernie Sanders bill for universal Health Care, something they had avoided two years ago when Sanders first introduced the Bill. The platform is picking up.

The New York outcome has clearly set the cat among the pigeons in establishment circles and not just in the US. Another resounding punch will be administered on the establishment’s chin when Andrez Manuel Lopez Obrador nicknamed AMLO, almost as far Left as the late Chavez in Venezuela, triumphs in the Mexican elections on Sunday. The sharp anti US edge to this result can safely be attributed to Trump’s open disdain for the southern neighbour.

A Bloomberg banner headline reads: “Listen, Trump: Firebrand Lopez Obrador Set to Win Landslide in Mexico.”

There is, however, a welcoming warmth to this turn in world affairs in progressive circles in Europe, not the least of it in the higher echelons of Britain’s Labour Party.

Last week I attended a meeting in support of Democracy and Human Rights in Mexico organized in the House of Commons by Laura Alvarez Corbyn, the Labour leader’s Mexican wife. Jeremy Corbyn sat through the meeting, signaling his support for progressive causes.

Is the Democratic Party in the US learning lessons from real life? Until the New York result there was no evidence of any change of heart in the party’s higher reaches. In fact, a year ago, a Fox News poll establishing Bernie Sanders’ exceptional popularity was largely ignored. The poll showed Sanders a +28 rating above all US politicians on both ends of the political spectrum. Trust The Guardian, London, being the only newspaper to pick up the issue. The paper’s Trevor Timm wrote:
“One would think with numbers like that, Democratic politicians would be falling all over themselves to be associated with Sanders, especially considering the party as a whole is more unpopular than the Republicans and even Donald Trump right now. Yet instead of embracing his message, the Establishment wing of the party continues to resist him at almost every turn, and they seem insistent that they don’t have to change their ways to gain back the support of huge swathes of the country.”

On current showing, the British Establishment demonstrates greater suppleness. A few months ago The Economist welcomed Corbyn, a socialist in the Michael Foot mould, as Britain’s next Prime Minister. That the Economist, a pillar of the Western establishment should acquiesce in Corbyn’s impending Premiership, could not have been honeyed music to Blairites in the Labour party, like Lord Peter Mandelson who is committed to “undermining Corbyn”. This kind of cussedness is counterproductive and this becomes clear when a Labour back bencher retorts:
“Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister implementing policies that actually benefit the people terrifies the Establishment. It is no surprise that Mandelson has found space in his busy schedule on an Oligarch’s Yacht to attempt to undermine Jeremy.”

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Friday, June 22, 2018

Meaning Of Latest Turn In Kashmir Lies Outside The State

Meaning Of Latest Turn In Kashmir Lies Outside The State
                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

Two policemen leading the mob which ultimately lynched a Muslim in Hapur is, ofcourse, part of familiar communalism which has to be revved upon to a higher pitch in order to prepare the ground for the General Elections in 2019. The animal to be protected is not the cow, but power.

For this ultimate goal, incidents like the one in Hapur and the more ghoulish ones before it, hundreds of them, are all essential to maintain conditions of edgy, combustible intolerance. Nothing else seems to be working. Why not continue playing the game one knows best?

An accumulation of such incidents, even their simultaneous eruption on a large scale, amplified by the media, can whip up majoritarianism wherever Muslims are visible and where the majoritarian current has not been weakened by caste polarization. This applies much more to what the British called the “cow belt” but which is more accurately described as the “Hindi belt” – UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh plus Maharashtra and Gujarat.

The 2019 Kurukshetra has to be organized, mobilized, galvanized, whipped up (with the media in tow) only by anchoring communalism to a higher purpose. In other words, “nationalism” has to be invoked. Cow and Love Jihad cannot be given the elevation of nationalism. Mere communalism results in finger pointing at the state apparatus; nationalism justifies the deployment of this apparatus. Whether this deployment is for a national or the nationalist’s cause is open to question.

Cow and Love Jihad cannot be posited as harbingers of national danger. They are not issues endangering national security.

This is where the new turn in Kashmir comes in. Polarization on a massive scale is the electoral requirement now that 2019 looms. This polarization would have been implausible with the BJP in chummy proximity to the PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti in Kashmir.

By sliding away from Mehbooba in the state assembly, the BJP has turned its back on the Muslims of the valley, ofcourse. It has also, in effect, freed millions of Hindutva cadres across Bharat Varsha to blow conch shells heralding the great 2019 epic.

The tearing hurry in which the Partition of India was affected may have been one reason why our founding fathers were unable to visualize what we face today. Progressive intellectuals may dismiss The Guilty Men of India’s Partition by Ram Manohar Lohia and The Tragic Story of India’s Partition by the late H.V. Sheshadri, Gen. Secretary of the RSS until 2000. But would they dismiss with equal contempt Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s India Wins Freedom, particularly the crucial 30 pages which were kept in the custody of the National Archives until 1988? The Maulana is worthy of being read again today.

By the act of Partition and the sleight of hand in Kashmir, India trapped itself into a triangle. This truth has to be continuously repeated because the Indian mind is in the drill to chant a mantra faster than it is to understand a shloka. The three sides of this triangle are actually three axes which are New Delhi-Kashmir; India-Pakistan; Hindu-Muslim. These three axes are, in effect, one comprehensive complex of issues. As in a geometrical theorem, the triangle has to be addressed as a whole. It cannot be sorted out axis by axis, one side after another.

If Ram Madhav, the BJP’s point man for Kashmir, marches off to Srinagar with a carte blanche from the High Command to solve the problem at any cost, there is nothing he can achieve without bringing Pakistan into the bargain. Activation of these two axes will have an impact on the third, Hindu-Muslim axis. This would entail the communal temperature coming down considerably. Will that serve the electoral aims of the party in power in New Delhi?

Ofcourse, it will not, and here, to complicate matters, another triangle comes into play. Since the 80s and 90s the primary triangle has become entangled with a very durable caste triangle. The caste pyramid or triangle instead of being left to social forces, time and attrition to equalize at its own pace, was aggravated by the sudden eruption of caste politics in North India in the wake of the Mandal Commission. Communal politics is the upper caste strategy to manage the caste upheaval from below. The upper caste or the ruling class formations project Muslims and other minorities as the “other” to keep the Hindu flock together, the Pyramid in some state of repair. The lower castes, likewise, would like to co opt the Muslim as an enabler in their bid for power and equality.

The Hindu ruling class in its Hindutva Avatar is averse to vertical or horizontal fragmentation. A federal India, corresponding to its regional diversity is anathema to the votaries of Hindu Rashtra. The preservation of this unitary Bharat is an article of faith with those controlling the Delhi Durbar. To mobilize masses towards this end requires a constant harping on an external enemy in cahoots with the enemy within.

The enemy within can be manipulated along the two internal axes of the triangle: New Delhi-Kashmir and Hindu-Muslim. The India-Pakistan axis, essential to complete the triangle cannot be played according to New Delhi’s will alone. External stakeholders include China, Russia, Central Asia and the US. As Charlie Chaplin, having fallen into a drum, his feet and neck protruding in an awkward loop, takes his hat off in an attempted bow, and announces: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are stuck!”

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Saturday, June 16, 2018

“Two Muslims Near The Very Top In British Politics”

“Two Muslims Near The Very Top In British Politics”
                                                                         Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 16.06.2018

The three column, six inch deep headline on page 1 of the Daily Telegraph caught my eye:
“Doors open to thousands more skilled migrants.” Given the anti-immigrant rhetoric I had heard in Rome and elsewhere in Europe, the headline was refreshing. Even more noticeable was the name of the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, the third highest ranked member of Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet who had reversed policy with the statement which formed the headline.

The 48 year old son of Pakistani migrants who started business with £ 500 bank loan had already established his clubability with the Conservative Party when he became Managing Director of Deutsche Bank.

Of comparable agility in the political race is the high profile Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, of the Labour party. He is only 41 but has already graduated through a stint in the cabinet as Transport Minister. “I am the first Muslim in Britain to have attended cabinet meetings” Khan said with pride.

One of the obstacles in the way of Donald Trump making a state visit in 2017, a banquet with the Queen et al, was the Conservative Party’s very bipartisan objection: how can we host a US President who has imposed restrictions on citizens of Muslim countries? “We have a Muslim mayor and therefore a state visit by Trump is out of the question.”

“There are two Muslims in this country who are positioned to make a bid for the Prime Minister’s post” said Lord Meghnad Desai. He was chairing a discussion on “India at 70: Nehru to Modi” in Committee Room 1 of the House of Lords. Instantly a question surfaced: can a Muslim nurse such aspirations back home where he has a history for a 1000 year?

Last year, at a similar seminar at the King’s College, London, someone pointed to the presence of four Muslims in the English cricket team. This time I find that even the ever present Moeen Ali, with a beard longer than W.G. Grace’s, is not in the squad. This waxing and waning is itself proof of a consistent quest for merit. It is not just a blanket upward mobility that Muslims have acquired: a process of distillation is taking place.

The post 9/11 war on terror which distorted most democracies by transferring extraordinary powers to the Deep State, did not leave Britain unscathed. But persistent reliance on the Rule of Law has kept prejudice from taking root at an institutional level. The brief travel I have undertaken from London to Manchester has been something of an eye opener.

A distinguished psychiatrist with the National Health Service married to my sister, has been bed ridden with a stroke he suffered three years ago. The care he has received in hospitals has to be seen to be believed. He is under 24/7 observation. The four very English “carers” who visit him round the clock have virtually become members of the family. It would be malicious to put it down to the aromatic cuisines my sister rustles up every time the carers arrive.

One evening I was invited to a “All Faith”, post Iftar talk on a theme which surprised me because of its incongruity: the “wave of Populism in Europe”. It was all very graceful.

Earlier in London, I had seen Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the local Rabbi and Priests of various churches, breaking bread with their hosts at a “street Iftar Party” outside Finsbury Park mosque. The enthusiastic white, English participation in the event was heartwarming.

The war on terror with its random targets did cast the Muslim in an unfortunate image particularly during the Tony Blair years. But excesses of those years also filled the ordinary people with a sense of guilt and compassion.

This somewhat exclusive focus on the Muslim in Britain must not obscure the overall south Asian profile in the country.  A recent study produced a very negative image of Pakistanis among the public. 1,668 British adults were asked last month to indicate the extent to which Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis made a positive or negative contribution to life in UK. The image of Indians was by far the most positive. 25 percent of those asked thought that Indians made a positive contribution. When positive and the negative figures were placed side by side for Bangladeshis and Pakistanis their score was -4 (minus four) and -3 (minus three) respectively.

Obviously proportionate to their population in the country, there are fewer Muslims in the high aspirational bracket than there are Indians, mostly Hindus in diverse careers. This imbalance can be traced to India’s social history. The majority community took to western education in late 19th century itself while Muslims remained anchored to feudal nostalgia and their rich Urdu culture.

I, in my earlier years, have seen this country rattled by Enoch Powell’s anti-immigrant speech in 1968, exactly 50 years ago: “Like the Roman, I see the Tiber     foaming with blood.” The Liberal press reached out for Powell’s jugular and for a while Powellism appeared to be receding. But soon enough the country experienced another bout of street racism. “Paki bashing” became the war cry in the run down parts of the country. But such upheavals never unhinged Britain from its basic anchor: the Rule of Law. It is this anchor which has been the primary enabling factor in Sajid Javid and Sadiq Khan’s rise.

It may be instructive for us in India that Britain is a very resilient Protestant monarchy which overseas secularism tied with hoops of steel to the Rule of Law.

It would be absurd to compare apples and oranges. The bewildering variety of our civilizational tapestry is unique. Even so our trajectory could have borne some resemblance to “genuine equal rights”, a phenomena Britain can boast of. Instead our politicians dissembled at the very outset leading us into a messy path. I shall explain.

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