Friday, February 22, 2019

Post Pulwama Strategies: A Journalist and Politician First to Speak Up

Post Pulwama Strategies: A Journalist and Politician First to Speak Up
                                                                             Saeed Naqvi

Prem Shankar Jha’s column in The Wire caused my mind to wander in an unlikely direction: Kanpur riots soon after the demolition of Babari Masjid. Jha’s piece headlined “In Pulwama, Narendra Modi has found the trigger he needed before 2019 elections” must be read keeping in mind that he was the first to push the barricades.

I shall revert to this, but first Kanpur:
Cameraman Kabir Khan, (now a fine film maker) with a keen eye for the story, ended up shooting something refreshingly different from the riots we had originally turned up to cover. In fact Gopal Gandhi picked the video for special screening at London’s Nehru Centre of which he was the director then.

The first of four scenes opens in a small room in which the dominant furniture is a high settee, the size of a bed. The sole occupant of the room is a middle aged woman in a crumpled, cotton sari. The neighbours, guiding us, addressed her as Panditayin, one married to a Pundit. The settee, it turns out, is a large size trunk which Panditayin had used to hide her neighbour, one Aayesha Bi, a woman of considerable bulk whom we also met. Rioters carrying rods and lathis, barged into the room. They lunged towards the bathroom. “Are you hiding her there?” Panditayin told us she “swore in Rama’s name” that she was hiding nobody. Only after they left, showering expletives on “Pakistan”, did Aayesha Bi emerge from the trunk, drenched in sweat.

Scene two has Tripathiji, standing between a threatening mob and a large iron gate opening onto a park where Muslim families had taken shelter. “Musalman ke do sthaan; Pakistan ya Qabrustan”. (A Muslim can only go to Pakistan or a graveyard), the mob shouted, brandishing their weapons. But Tripathiji would not budge.

Scene three cuts to a terrace full of building material at the corner of a narrow lane leading to a Muslim basti. On the day of the riots, the approaching mob was checked by a hail of bricks from the terrace. The sole occupant of the terrace, an elderly woman in white sari had launched the missiles single handedly. One of the rioters recognized her.

“O’ Mishraen, please let us pass.” She did not relent. Mishraen means one married to a “Mishra”.

Later, when we interviewed her, she was in tears. She spoke in a rural dialect “dui din se roti naheen khai payin, betwa, itni nafrat dekh kar.” (I couldn’t touch bread, my son, at the sight of so much hatred.)

The last scene shows Pandeyji holding back the sword wielding rioters by simply standing in the middle of the lane, arms stretched sideways.

Panditayin, Tripathiji, Mishraen and Pandeyji, among others, must have saved, say, a hundred lives. The moral of the story is quite plain: a great deal of innate decency shines through even in the midst of blinding darkness. When this decency asserts itself, it can turn the tide, as happened in the four instances mentioned above. But it is almost incredible that bloodthirsty mobs would slink back when confronted by one individual of courage? Somewhere here is the sort of leadership which is recognized by a settled social order. Another point: all the four who stood upto the mobs, happened to be Brahmins. Was this a coincidence? Could individuals from another caste have felt secure enough to stand upto a rioting mob?

Against this backdrop, consider Prem Shankar Jha’s audacious intervention on the post Pulwama gameplan. The tragic death of 40 plus CRPF jawans had caused an eerie silence to descend on all, particularly Muslim enclaves. It was ominous. Telephones kept buzzing. These were more in the nature of signals – signals of anxiety. Not much conversation took place. Folks were afraid to talk on open phone lines, just incase, in their nervousness, they blurt out something which is not in line with prevailing jingoism.

The video footage of candle vigils in and around towns and villages where funeral processions were being taken out, reminded me of “shila pujan”, when bricks consecrated in local temples were taken out in procession towards Ayodhya as part of preparation for the Ram temple. This was in 1989. The fierce Hindu Muslim divide that the “shila” processions created, resulted in the Bhagalpur pogrom, among scores of other, smaller ones. I was there.

Communal violence by itself does not yield electoral advantage, but communalism tied to nationalism can be stretched out until the real, or contrived, denouement, which can, if perfectly timed, create the potential to turn elections. Except for some exceptions, the electronic media has all but declared war on Pakistan. How long will it last? Supposing they raise their dedicated jingoism to the heights of one Geraldo Rivera of Fox News. Remember, when the hunt for Osama bin Laden was at its peak in Afghanistan around November 2001, Rivera whipped out a revolver, taking aim at the camera. “I shall blow his head off should I see him.”

Why did I not write on this theme all these days? Well, no journalist worth his salt did. Everybody was in a state of funk. What a sigh of relief all around when Mamata Banerjee took the Prime Minister to task for building an election campaign as the only patriot. “Why did New Delhi not act on the intelligence available to them?” she asked. Rahul Gandhi’s soporific response was a mystery. Thank God he woke up.

The truth is that the suffocating silence in the media was first broken by Prem Jha. The tone of my piece betrays a query which I have posed on the pain of being politically incorrect. As in Kanpur did it take a Brahmin to stand up where others were fearful? Is the Brahmin a metaphor for the leader whom societies will always need at critical moments? Ofcourse, this runs headlong into the metaphysical dilemma: the constant quest for egalitarianism.

But in the context of Prem Jha’s intervention, Josh Malihadadi’s lament seems apt:
“Koi awaz pe awaz naheen deta hai”
(No one transmits the call, from one peak to the next until the deafening echo pulverizes the enemy.)

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Friday, February 15, 2019

What’s The Hitch In Congress Leading Post Poll Coalition Opposite BJP?

What’s The Hitch In Congress Leading Post Poll Coalition Opposite BJP?
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

The ghastly news from Kashmir did cast a shadow, otherwise Lucknow has had a festive February. The first week was filled with the five day annual Sanatkada jamboree with fabled Baradari as the festooned focal point. While the mood still lingered, the city found itself riveted on Priyanka Gandhi’s roadshow with her brother, the Congress President, Rahul Gandhi in tow.

Those who had expressed doubts about her ability for hard work must have gasped: she interviewed candidates all night. Never mind if many of them did not come out with flying colours: some did not know basic facts about their respective constituencies.

Diplomats, who would normally send their Indian staff to study the local mood, have turned up themselves. While the Congress office at the Mall Avenue is crawling with aspiring netas, Taj hotel, where both Priyanka and Jyotiraditya Scindia are staying, has enough security to annoy the hotel’s other guests. Has security obstructed Priyanka kicking off the campaign with a dip in the Ganga during Kumbh? Congress choreographers had also floated the idea that a visit to a temple in Srinagar would authenticate her Kashmiri lineage. Who knows, that expedition may still be undertaken.

If arithmetics alone were to determine electoral outcomes, the SP+BSP arrangement in UP is formidable. But the chemistry of their workers at the constituency level has been adversarial.

True, grassroots workers are grappling with instructions from their leaders to tone down their animosities. But there are other complications, particularly in Akhilesh Yadav’s camp. His uncle, Shivpal Yadav, is not reconciled to Akhilesh’s unbridled control over the SP apparatus. So he has opened his own shop to trade his dwindling clout at the grassroots with anybody eager to damage the BSP-SP alliance. BJP is so flushed with funds that it will loosen all its purse strings for Shivpal’s anti Akhilesh mission. The choice is Shivpal’s: pocket the money or waste it.

Meanwhile, Mulayam Singh Yadav, founder of SP, is so torn between his son and younger brother that he waffles something in favour of both alternately. In Parliament last week he left Sonia Gandhi, like everyone else, in a state of wonder. Making eye contact with a grinning Narendra Modi he said: “May you come back to power”. The ear to ear smile on Mulayam’s face was interpreted by most as a clue to a deep understanding. Mulayam has so far been protected from the Enforcement Directorate.

“We shall not be on the back foot” was Rahul Gandhi’s reaction to the insult heaped on the Congress by SP-BSP distributing nearly all the 80 seats among themselves, leaving two each for the Congress and RLD. He virtually advanced his proprietary claim on UP by announcing that his party would contest all 80 seats.

In making this announcement Rahul fell back once again on a delusion the party has nursed eversince it dropped to 140 seats after the Babari Masjid debacle. It is aching to revive. It is well nigh impossible for this desire to be fulfilled. A political party waxes and wanes, revives and loses, is up and down alternatively only in a two party system. In a country with 31 states, each with its own shade of politics, the seesaw model cannot work. The Congress must recognize the reality of a federal India. Otherwise it will continue to reset its target. Let me explain.

For 2019, the declared aim of all parties is to remove the BJP. Mamata Banerjee has grasped the reality. At the meeting called by AAP at Jantar Mantar Road, she said that all regional parties must fight the BJP from their respective states and regions. “The Congress should fight from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh – states where it has shown that it is strong.”

The Congress is uncomfortable being so circumscribed. It will not recover from a hangover of years long past when it was the only political party. In its origins, it represented diverse interests federated behind a programme for freedom. Subsequently, almost every political party came out of the Congress womb. Once Krishna Menon, Congressman closest to the Communists, and S.K. Patil, far right capitalist, fought the 1957 election on the Congress ticket from different districts of Bombay (Mumbai). In time, disparate interests, glued together, splintered. In 1967, eight Indian states had non Congress governments. But the Congress remained in power in the centre for a simple reason: its social base remained relatively cohesive. But when in 1990 Mandal Commission report giving reservations in government jobs to the OBCs whipped up the tempo of caste politics in North India, the Ram Janmbhoomi agitation was dusted up to promote Hindu consolidation. This would minimize the settlement at the lower reaches of the caste pyramid. Hindu consolidation would be best affected by bringing out the “other” in bolder relief. I have always believed that in India communal politics is a strategy to manage caste upheaval.

The unease in Hindu-Muslim relations since Partition, exploded into full blown communalism in the 90s. It peaked with the demolition of the Babari Masjid on 6 December 1992, the blame for which the minorities placed at the Congress Prime Minister’s door. The Muslim voter left the Congress en masse. In the 1996 elections, the Congress was down to its lowest Lok Sabha tally ever – 140 seats. It hovered around that figure, leapt to 206 in 2009 (for a range of reasons) and dived to 44 in 2014. Post 9/11 global Islmophobia was a Godsend to Hindutva, compelling the Congress into temple hopping and relentless cow worshiping for sheer survival.

There are reasons to believe that the BJP will not be able to repeat its 2014 performance in 2019. The nation is therefore headed for two distinct coalitions, facing each other across the aisle. One coalition will be led by the BJP. It is to make sure that it alone leads the other coalition that the Congress is playing risky games in UP, Delhi and to some extent West Bengal. In these states it is either threatening or fighting formations implacably opposed to the BJP.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

US, Russia And Blackwater Mercenaries Plot Different Futures For Afghanistan

US, Russia And Blackwater Mercenaries Plot Different Futures For Afghanistan
                                                                                      Saeed Naqvi

Two parallel peace processes on Afghanistan are underway. In Doha, Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan has held extensive round of talks with Taleban leaders, spread over several days last month. The authorship of this process is, quite jealously, America’s. But on February 5 and 6, Taleban and other Afghan political groups also met in Moscow. A roadmap for the future, titled the Moscow Declaration was announced. Among its nine points is one which also suggests coordination with the Doha process – there is no jealous guarding of ownership of the peace process here. Anyone interested in Peace is the joint author. The Declaration was immediately rubbished by the Presidential Palace in Kabul. “Moscow declaration will not have impact on the peace process in Afghanistan” said palace spokesman, Haroon Chakhansuri.

There are, meanwhile, doubts in many capitals on whether the US is truly contemplating total withdrawal. To some extent these doubts are a function of Trump’s confusing statements and tweets. Take his recent statement in Iraq. His troops in Iraq will enable him “to keep a check on Iran”, something way outside the US-Iraq agreement. In Afghanistan too, while Khalilzad is ploughing the furrow promising one kind of crop, his President makes a totally confusing statement. Trump says he will leave behind in Afghanistan “intelligence elements”. How many?

I have Russian estimates of five years ago. They may have changed, but in those days the Russians were convinced of 30 US bases in Afghanistan.

Of these, the ones at Bagram, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Helmand, Shindand (Herat) and Mazar-e-Sharif were, by the sheer volume of masonry and architecture, not temporary. These bases will remain. Are we then talking about a qualified departure?

If the US is actually planning departure, why would it build a consulate in the heart of Mazar-e-Sharif on a scale which would dwarf large embassies? Renaissance is the only reasonable hotel in Mazar-e-Sharif.

It does not take long for great powers to develop more than one point of interest once they have entered an area of strategic significance. It would therefore be fanciful to imagine an America-free Afghanistan in the foreseeable future. “All this blood and treasure was spent for what?” some Americans will ask. Also the chant in Kabul once was “We must remain in the vicinity to keep a watch on the world’s only Muslim nuclear state.”

After Obama announced in a speech delivered on December 1, 2009 US intention to leave Afghanistan in July 2011, I had argued in a paper for the Observer Research Foundation that Americans can simply not leave Afghanistan. I have been proved right so far. And now once again the “We are leaving” story has been let loose. True, this time the circumstances are different, but let us take a look.

Last July, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Morgulov Igor Vladimirovich, Russia’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, (who was behind the scene in the Intra-Afghan dialogue in Moscow on February 5 and 6) attend a high power meet in New Delhi on Regional Issues.

In a more cooperative world order, one would have expected the representatives of the US and Russia to exchange notes on Afghanistan. What transpired was to the contrary. Vladimirovich made an allegation that startled the gathering. “ISIS fighters were being flown to Northern Afghanistan” from Syria. The Afghan air space is under the control of the US and the government in Kabul. “So, who is responsible?” Khalilzad offered a tepid denial. The denial lacked credibility because the Russian allegation had been preceded by another made by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatullah Khamenei. In the course of his Friday address in January 30, 2018. Khamenei said, “The US transfer of IS terrorists to Afghanistan is aimed at creating a justification for its (US’s) continued presence in the region.”

In countries surrounding Afghanistan doubts about American intentions may be more muted but are quite as strong. It is deeply ironical that Jehadism, terrorism and Islamism manufactured in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the 80s, may be returning to complete the circle. Indeed, there is a certain inevitability about Islamic Militancy becoming a tool of American foreign policy. The triangular romance between Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh will ensure this state of affairs for as long as this romance lasts.

Let me explain the inevitability. When Animal Rights groups forced the famous annual fox hunt to stop in South India’s most Anglaise hill station, Ooty, I expressed my curiosity to the master of the Hunt: “What have you done to the hundreds of hounds of high pedigree trained diligently for the Hunt.” The lovely canines had been transferred to an expensive kennel from where dog lovers could acquire them.

So now we know what to do with redundant foxhounds of high pedigree. But what does a state like Saudi Arabia do with spare Islamic militants who have been heavily equipped and trained to kill at the cost of billions? They can only be relocated to newer theatres of conflict like Afghanistan. From here they can plague all the countries the US wishes to destabilize – Xinxiang in China, the Caucasus in Russia, Iran and Pakistan too if it does not behave according to the US diktat.

To make confusion worse confounded, Erik Prince, founder of the world’s biggest mercenary military company, which has mutated from Blackwater to Academi and Triple Canopy, is back in Afghanistan floating the idea of US troops to be replaced by Prince’s mercenary army. His plan that Afghanistan be administered by a “Viceroy” was shot down by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Defence Secretary James Mattis. After the two were shown the door, Prince has been all over Afghanistan again in and Khalilzad’s notice. The only person who has refused to meet him in Kabul is President Ghani.

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Friday, February 1, 2019

If US Invades Venezuela, Who Will Report The Resistance?

If US Invades Venezuela, Who Will Report The Resistance?
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

Tectonic shifts are taking in various parts of the globe which reach us only in biased, broad brushes. The key “Ws” of journalistic inquiry, What, When, Where, Who, Why, remain comprehensively unanswered. Stories like Brexit and the Trump Hunt in the US fall in a different category.

On Brexit, British newspapers, if not the electronic media, have persisted with fair debate, reporting diverse approaches represented by, say, The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. Ofcourse, nothing veers too far outside the establishment format. One reason why Theresa May has been given a long rope to hobble from capital to capital indefinitely is the almighty fear that should she trip up, God forbid, fresh elections may become inevitable. These may bring into focus the ultimate ogre, “friend of Hugo Chavez”, Jeremy Corbyn, as Prime Minister. To postpone that epic battle, which will bring the people and the Establishment on opposite sides, Theresa May must play BREXIT for as long as possible.

The American melodrama is singularly lacking in balance which one sees in Britain. It is a Media Hunt of the President which is inviting a snarled response – not an edifying sequence.

The media in the US and Britain (I suppose, elsewhere in the West too) has one set of rules when it covers itself, the Anglo-Saxon world. Rules change radically when the focus is on the “other”, when the media covers the West’s imperial expeditions like Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya etcetera – and now possibly Venezuela.

National Security Adviser John Bolton has been salivating on Venezuela for military action. In fact has been carrying a notebook for ships and frigates to be deployed. Supposing military action takes place, how shall we ever know what is happening in Caracas, how many US missiles have taken position in neighbouring Colombia, what is the civilian response to the US invasion? This last one is likely to be the most intractable because your TV screens will be saturated with “Venezuelans” berating the “brutal dictatorships of Chavez and Maduro”. Who will report the resistance?

It is a persistent American dream to have invading US troops embraced as liberators by the local citizens. The only time such propaganda nearly succeeded was when Saddam Hussain’s statue was pulled down in Baghdad’s Firdos Square. Author of the Iraq war, Vice President Dick Cheney, was eager to announce victory within three week of the invasion. The date chosen for this global address was April 9, 2003. By way of choreography, Cheney’s address would be interspersed with the people in a state of high agitation pulling down the statue. When the expected jubilant, masses did not materialize, the Marines placed a lasso around the neck and pulled the statue down by a crane. To insert a celebratory touch into the proceedings an ingenious script was played out. Saddam’s crackdown on Shias in Najaf and Karbala in 1993 had caused hundreds of thousands of Shia refugees to seek shelter in a ghetto on the outskirts of Baghdad popularly known as Saddam city. The visceral hatred of Iraq’s Shias for Saddam Hussain was brought into play. These Shias, mostly followers of cleric Muqtada Sadr, were mobilized to come out in celebration. They came out abusing Saddam and beating his photographs with sandals. Cheney now had a powerful visual support to adorn his address. Listen to that address again. At key points he thanks “religious leaders”. It was in gratitude that Saddam city was renamed Sadr city.

The point is this. In imperial expeditions, the embedded media is part of the plot. Supposing this expedition is totally against your national interest but the slanted media coverage conditions your masses to a point of view which is in line with the imperial purpose, do you see the fix you are in?

Should the Venezuela story be placed on John Boltan’s preferred track, what access do we have to a narrative which integrates the perspectives of Caracas and Washington in the interest of balance? Or will those who have exhausted all of the Trump Presidency blaming Russia for interference in the 2016 elections be handed a carte blanche to invade sovereign nations in the name of American Exceptionalism?

Should events take a turn for the worse (chances are they will not because Russians and Chinese too may begin to grope for pressure points), how should we confront a situation in which judge, jury, executioner and the eventual informant is one and the same?

In this phase of imperialism so much of the load has had to be carried by the so called liberal, global media, it follows logically that the cost borne by liberalism must be considerable. Indeed, the media has taken a big hit. Its credibility has collapsed. Witness the mushroom growth of the alternative media.

During the Libyan operations, stories being put out by the traditional carriers – CNN and BBC – made no impression in the region. This is when the late king Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, extended his hand of peace to Qatar despite adversarial relations. He needed the relatively more credible Al Jazeera channel to help sell the yarn of Qaddafi’s brutalities to advance the Libyan expedition which will incidentally remain etched on my mind for Hillary Clinton’s imperial assertion: “I came, I saw and he died”. Accompanying this visual was one of a screaming Qaddafi, being sodomized by a knife.

When wars take place, the first casualty always is the truth. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West has been involved in umpteen wars causing the media’s image to collapse. They often look like professional drum beaters and town criers, ofcourse with notable exceptions.

The plummeting credibility of the liberal media has spawned the social media which checks the perfidies of a propagandist information order but also has inherent misleading imperfections of its own.

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