Friday, March 29, 2019

Another Arab Spring In Algeria Or Is It Something Else?

Another Arab Spring In Algeria Or Is It Something Else?
                                                                              Saeed Naqvi

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is a tragic variation on Shaukat Thanvi’s short story “Mir Bedana”, the toothless old man who fantasized he could still frolic. Bouteflika is much worse. He is on a wheelchair after a stroke in 2013. Lakhdar Brahimi a former Foreign Minister and a friend of the incapacitated President has the following health report on him: “I think he can hear, but you can’t hear him.”

Robert Fisk of the Independent tells it as it is: “he is being prevented from entering his grave”. But the space in Bouteflika’s heart is not yet devoid of desire. At 82, he was aiming for a record fifth term. But his rendezvous with destiny has been cut by the army chief Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah who, alas, is a loyalist. He owes his stature to the President. So the Gen. has softened the blow by invoking article 102 of the constitution which calls for a constitutional council which, lo and behold, is headed by another loyalist, Tayeb Belaiz. The Council to certify the President’s health, has 12 members.

These fun and games have been managed by a narrow, incestuous elite which is being asked to shed power by a confluence of circumstances. Hundreds of thousands of youth and middle class professional have taken to the streets demanding democratic reforms. What has boosted the power of these protests is because the establishment can no longer conceal the decrepit President from public view.

Arab history has no examples of elites vacating power because the people want them to.

The people smell a rat in the army’s slow moves. They fear that once demonstrations end, the elite will resurface.

The Viceregal presence of the French in Algiers must never be underestimated. The French have coped with stirrings of their own. The yellow vest have been on the streets of France for the past five months. They had started out as a threat to President Emanuel Macron but have, by sheer attrition, been tamed. As a result Macron’s popularity has risen. Since the French have their fingers deep in the colonial pies, whether in Algeria or Mali and Chad, all rich in oil and minerals, they at the moment can set themselves up as a model. Look how patiently the yellow vests are being allowed to dissipate themselves.

The most convenient idea to take root in the minds of the army, businessmen, war veterans – in brief the ruling clique or the oligarchy is this: not to upset the status quo. The easiest trick is to run fast to stand still. The implication is not that the Algerian army, part of the country’s romance claiming continuity with the war which brought independence from France in 1962, may seize power. It is already the most powerful pillar of the establishment. It needs a pliable front. But decades of non-politics since independence has rendered the soil infertile for democratic political faces to shine. As a consequence there is no noticeable political talent around.

A crucial phase of democracy did flare up but was doused. This brief history appears to have become a victim of amnesia. Some Algerians justifiably, claim that they authored the first Arab Spring in 1988 when nationwide violence erupted, demanding an end to one party rule since 1962.

Multi-Party elections in 1991 did deliver a democratic verdict but one not to the liking of the army and its patrons in Paris. The Islamic Salvation Front won nearly two thirds of the seats in the first round. The army panicked and cancelled the second round. That triggered a civil war which lasted a decade.

The myopic elite in Paris, Algiers and elsewhere had learnt no lessons from, say, the coming to power of the Ayatullahs in Iran. The Islamic revolution is a complex subject but, for the sake of simplicity, consider this: the Shah and the notorious Savak shut out all political expression. The mosque became the only ventilator for the people. The mosques were not likely to preach Marxism: they educated the congregations about Islamic tenets to overthrow monarchies. The Shah of Iran was Shia. Consider then the anxiety with which the West Asian Wahabi, Sunni monarchies view Iran. Coordination with Israel has come in handy.

Instead of realizing that snuffing popular discontent by strong arm tactics would heat up the Algerian basement and strengthen anything that grows in mosques, the army chose to throttle democracy by cancelling the election of 1991. At a terrible cost too – taking a toll of 2,00,000 Algerian lives. Embedded in this brief history is answer to a question: why did the Arab Spring of 2011 not touch Algeria? Algerians refused to be infected by the Arab Spring. They had fresh memories of a brutal civil war.

True, the army defeated the insurgency. Btu has the Islamic Salvation Front been totally erased? It would be a mistake to imagine so. Let us for a moment consider the case of the Islamic movement in Turkey. Televised brutalities of Bosnia, Sarajevo, once Turkish enclaves, aggravated anti West Islamism in Turkey. The Refah party under Necmettin Erbakan came to power. The Army as guardians of Mustafa Kemal Pasha’s secular constitution, removed Erbakan. It was later, in the second round, that Erbakan’s disciples, Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gul launched their secular “Justice and Development Party” which has been in the saddle for the fourth term and there is no end in sight.

The Army in Algeria was able to set aside the Islamic Front with the total support of the West. It has never been properly analyzed what contribution severe repression of the Islamic Front played in the post 9/11 exponential growth of both, Islamism and Islamophobia.

More recently, Egyptian army Chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, with full support of the Pentagon and Israel, placed the popularly elected Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi in jail. In whose interest was this expedition undertaken? Have those interests been served? The jury is out on that one.

Incarcerating the popular will is never a good idea in the long run. The Algerian army triggered a civil war in 1992 by suppressing the popular will. They must be careful this time.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Thanks To Ardern, New Zealand Today Soothes The Soul

Thanks To Ardern, New Zealand Today Soothes The Soul
                                                                             Saeed Naqvi

Those who have rushed to psychoanalyze 28 year old Australian, Brenton Tarrant, for the outrage in Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques killing 50 people, are concealing the reality, possibly without their knowing it. This line of inquiry will not explain why Christchurch or Pulwama, Utrecht and now Birmingham happened.

When Phoolan Devi, the low caste “mallah” (boatwoman) shot dead 22 high caste Rajputs in the village of Behmai, 80 kms from Kanpur in UP on February 4, 1981, she had taken the law into her own hands. This she had done because no law enforcement agency had come to her rescue when the very same men had locked her in a room and taken turns, repeatedly, to rape her over weeks. It was gross injustice she was fighting.

During the British mandate over Palestine, Jews formed Haganah a secret, militant organization – guns, hand grenades et al – to protect Jewish enclaves against “Arab gangs”.  Why was Haganah formed? Perceived injustice. In 1939 the British produced a White Paper restricting Jewish immigration. That is when the French built ocean liner, Patria, carrying nearly 2000 Jews to Mauritius was sunk off Haifa killing 267 people. Later, the same group – its offshoot Irgun – bombed the King David hotel in Jerusalem, killing 28 British soldiers. Both were ghoulish acts. But would Menachem Begin, Member of Haganah later Prime Minister have seen it this way? According to their lights, Begin and, indeed, the entire Haganah outfit were fighting British injustice.

April 13 will be the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar. Colonel Reginald Dyer’s character or a psycho analysis will not shed light on whether or not police action was required on a scale which killed 1,000 people. The official British figure was 379 dead. Lt. Governor of Punjab, Gen. Michael O’Dwyer justified military action on administrative grounds. This is not the way Udham Singh the nationalist saw the massacre. He turned up in the UK and shot dead Gen. O’Dwyer in March 13, 1940 at the Caxton hall, now Royal Society for Royal Affairs. It was injustice he was fighting.

In his trial Udham Singh said: “He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I crushed him. For full 21 years I have been trying to wreak vengeance. I am happy that I have done the job.” There are series of such incidents which the state would have considered acts of terror. The perpetrators have been celebrated as martyrs and patriot including the great Bhagat Singh. They were fighting an unequal battle against injustice.

During a visit to Libya, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State appeared on global TV making a V sign and blurting out the unforgettable line, “I came, I saw and he died.” Even as she spoke this masterpiece of callousness, appeared on the screen images of Qaddafi screaming, being sodomized by a knife. Would this not have made the Libyan blood boil with sheer helplessness?

And not just Libya. Imagine the relentless destruction of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, all the 9/11wars. Millions are killed. Begins the migrant trek to Europe which all but shuts its doors, forgetting that just the other day it was complicit in destroying their homes, their cities and villages.

The samples I have touched upon are of people experiencing injustice, suffocated and, presumably, waiting for their time. But the perpetrator of the Christchurch outrage is in a different category. He experienced no injustice. His phobia, like that of his fellow murderer from Norway, Anders Breivik, derives from the contemporary curse called the global media. They have been fed on the post Soviet Union, post 9/11 wars mentioned above. But they have seen these stories covered by a media which has mysteriously cast victims as villains. Jean Raspail’s novel “Camp of the Saints” shows destruction of Western civilization through third world immigration. This becomes Tarrant’s nightmare.

I was witness to the launch of the global media in Baghdad on January-February 1991. The Operation Desert Storm was covered live by Peter Arnett of the CNN. Not to comprehend the significance of this event is to miss out on the nature of International Affairs in the post-Soviet period. Remember, the Berlin wall fell in 1989; Soviet Union came down like melting ice cream in 1991. This was the first time in human history that coverage of a war was brought live into our drawing rooms.

The coverage divided the world into two hostile camps – the triumphant West and the defeated, demoralized Muslim nations. This critical division got amplified exponentially as the two Intefadas erupted, followed by the four yearlong Bosnia war bringing, once again the brutalities heaped upon Bosnian Muslims, day after day. The climax came with the 9/11 wars and the unbelievable fireworks over Afghanistan.

With each war and accompanying global coverage the West-Muslim divide widened. It was this atmosphere so thoroughly saturated with Islamophobia which shaped the minds of Breivik and Brenton Tarrant. Leaders like George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Australia’s John Howard cynically used this “othering” of the world’s Muslims as a strategy for western cohesion. Fear of terrorism, real or simulated, resulted in loss of status of foreign offices. Intelligence agencies acquired saliency.

In India, the sheer hypocrisy of the elite shrouded and thereby aggravated a corresponding division between non Muslims and Muslims stoked by our anchors. The new liberal economic policies of the 90s demanded a multiplication of TV channels. This coincided with accelerated communalization after the fall of the Babari Masjid in 1992. Capitalism and communalism joined hands and set the national agenda conducive to the consolidation of Hindu nationalism. In the ranks of these nationalist it would not be impossible to find willingness to give a sympathetic quarter to Brenton Tarrant. But to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern goes the credit for having taken the fierce current head on. Do an opinion poll anywhere: she is the compassionate leader the world is looking for. Donald Trump minimized the outrage and all but approved of Tarrant. Thanks to Ardern, New Zealand today feels like a land for pilgrimage to sooth the soul.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

The Return Of The Brahmin?

The Return Of The Brahmin?
                                                  Saeed Naqvi

In 1996 my book “The Last Brahmin Prime Minister” was on the stands. The title was so controversial that friends like Dilip Padgaonkar stopped talking to me – but only for a short while. He was too dear a friend.

And now that my mind is working in the reverse direction I am going to miss Dilip’s call as soon as this article appears. “The Return of the Brahmin?” Why has this thought germinated in my mind? Well it was Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala’s emphatic description of Rahul Gandhi as a “janeudhari” Brahmin which first caused me to wonder why a questionable label was being thrust upon Rahul. The penny dropped when I remembered K. Karunakaran’s untiring efforts to Brahminize Rahul’s father, Rajiv Gandhi. A high caste Marar (a caste of temple drumbeaters), Karunakaran held a special office at South India’s greatest Krishna temple, Guruvayur, where he frequently invited Rajiv for “Ang pradarshan”, a ceremony of lying flat on the ground in abject supplication. How many notches Rajiv climbed up the caste order is less quantifiable. What can be confirmed without any shadow of a doubt is something more delicious: Rajiv fell so wildly in love with Guruvayur’s famous “payasam”, or rice dessert that Karunakaran was obliged to ferry vast quantities of the stuff to Lakshadweep where the young Prime Minister was spending New Year’s Eve with his extended family.

So, this time round, a “Janeudhari” Rahul must have a game plan. He could well be in competition with Mamata Banerjee, Nitin Gadkari and, surprise of surprises, Pranab Mukherjee. Folks who know the former President say: “Barkis is willing”. This kind of contingency planning has surfaced because of the hesitant manner in which the Congress President has been playing the coalition game.

First, he allowed Sheila Dikshit to poke her fingers in the eyes of AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal. This sent a shiver down the spine of the “gathbandhan”. AAP was guaranteed to down all seven of the BJP candidates in Delhi. By pitching her flag in all the seven seats, Dikshit was only ensuring a BJP revival in Delhi. That this game plan of hers was not openly criticized by the party high command sent out a signal that the party was more instinctively liable to play an upper caste game than one in a coalition of unequals. Before this nasty thought could be dispelled, came Dikshit’s statement describing Narendra Modi as being more effective in fighting terror – witness, Balakot – than Manmohan Singh. At the time of writing Dikshit was trying to back track: her statement has been twisted. Clarifications count for little when perceptions have gone viral.

Was Congress participating in the coalition in good faith? That would have been the general suspicion had Dikshit’s tantrums been allowed to stand. I gather Ahmad Patel has been asked by the high command to intervene in the interest of an equitable distribution of seats. I have not been able to confirm the exact seat sharing but the story has been “pigeoned” to me by a usually reliable source: that seat share could be 4:3 in favour of AAP.

In Lucknow, the plaint in both the SP-BSP camps is similar: to talk to us is infra dig for the Congress. Akhilesh Yadav has picked enlightened advisers. They are unanimous: in its guts, the Congress is an upper caste party. That it is today more of a Brahmin party is because of a context: the BJP placed Thakurs on the gaddis in UP, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, inviting a Pandit response.

It must never be forgotten that, of the 72 years since independence, the Prime Ministerial seat has been occupied by Brahmins for almost 51 years. In fact the 10 years of Manmohan Singh were, in Karunakaran’s framework, because of a Brahminical consensus – he was in lieu of Sonia Gandhi.

It is a history of sorts that Narendra Modi is the only non-Brahmin Prime Minister to have completed his full term. So long as Modi is committed to the RSS ideology, abides by Manusmriti, which visualizes a stable order of unequal categories, he is a good advertisement for the RSS. He stands for a strong, militarized, unitary India, united uncompromisingly on the issue of national security. Manto’s line: “Khali pet ka mazhab roti hota hai” (Bread is the religion of a hungry stomach), does not figure in Modi’s framework.

In opposition to Modi and his cohorts is a federal India, fighting him from their trenches in the states. All these regional forces have issued from the Congress womb, which once contained all the interests federated behind a programme for freedom. That was 72 years ago. Except in 2009 when the Congress won 209 seats, the party has not risen from 142 seats since 1996. Today it is 44 seats. The party will have to think out of the box and weld a new coalition. It could well be a left of centre group with CPM help. This alas, is what the authors of crony capitalism resident in Mumbai will not stomach. The media, which they control, and Modi have done everything in their power to transform 2019 into a Presidential contest. The concept does violence to a multi ethnic, multi lingual, multi regional, multi religious polity.

What was to have been a contest between two formations, unitary and federal, has begun to look a circular combat movement, where every party has its eye on a post poll main chance. That is going to be a melee. Money bags from Mumbai will descend to stir up more confusion. BJP is not getting an absolute majority – not by a long shot. Yes, largest single party status is possible. This will need a supple leader. Should the regional parties score heavily, the game will be thrown even wider open. That will the situation custom made for the Brahmin quartet mentioned above to be brought into play.

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Friday, March 8, 2019

Congress Dilemma: Neither Ekla Chalo, Nor Whole Heartedly In Coalition

Congress Dilemma: Neither Ekla Chalo, Nor Whole Heartedly In Coalition
                                                                                         Saeed Naqvi

By announcing her own candidature from Rae Bareli, has Sonia Gandhi grounded Priyanka Gandhi quite as abruptly as she had taken off? Or, is it a function of post Pulwama demoralization that is causing the leadership to scale down aspirations? Is the Robert Vadra investigations beginning to tell?

Pulwama or no Pulwama, my impression is that the Congress was never in the fight full throttle. Basically the Congress is all at sea, balancing its self-interest against the larger interest – that of the coalition and the nation.

The Congress President is failing Guru Dronacharya’s fish eye test. Unlike Arjuna who focused on the fish eye, Rahul is scattering his vision. He is not focusing on the only target the coalition had set for itself – the removal of Narendra Modi. Rahul’s cohorts have burdened him with the task of ensuring Congress gains while waging battle with the coalition against Modi. Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka are even more direct: they would go flat out if, at the end of the day, the Prime Ministerial crown were Rahul’s and not someone else’s.

Coalition partners would exert every muscle in the regions of their strength for a unified gameplan. But they will not buy into any guarantees for the Congress. Balance of forces, after votes have been counted, must determine the next phase. Surely, Congress numbers will matter. But bereft of a coherent leadership, the party is creating confusion by pulling its horses in UP, Delhi and West Bengal. It is not focused on the eye of the fish; it is contemplating its navel.

Rahul has been as aggressive as he can be on Rafael and “chowkidar chor hai”, the watchman (Modi) is a thief, and so on! But he would be out of character to take on Modi’s gangster vocabulary, snarling at Pakistan to summon up the nation’s blood. Mamata Banerjee, unlike Rahul, can be a street fighter, a fiery Durga when required. She raised issues of security lapse at Pulwama. How did hundreds of kgs of RDX reach a misguided 20 year old in a state saturated with surveillance? Above all, the lies about numbers killed at Balakot. The world media, taken to the spot, has reported zero casualties.

Last week party enthusiasts were putting together a meeting at Delhi’s Ram Lila maidan where all the coalition leaders will raise the issues Mamata has been dwelling on. The platform might provide Priyanka another occasion to jump-start her campaign. Someone at the meeting produced a Washington Post headline: “After Pulwama, The Indian Media Proves It Is The BJP’s Propaganda Machine”. This prompted another suggestion: which party is capable of mobilizing “Demonstrations for Truth” outside media establishments?

By a singular lack of leadership, is Rahul helping Narendra Modi once again? The state units of the Congress are being allowed to get away with their caprice, provided they throw a ginger fit. Exactly as Sheila Dikshit has done in Delhi.

In Congress culture, regional leaders were always cut down to size. Is Sheila Dikshit in the process of reversing the trend? Is she cutting the leadership down to size? Congress will come third in all seven seats, if that indeed is what she wants in Delhi. Is she piqued that AAP has fielded its strongest candidate, Atishi Marlena, the education whiz kid, from East Delhi which Sheila’s son, Sandeep Dikshit, had been salivating on?

Since it is universally accepted by folks in the Congress that results in Delhi are not likely to flatter, why is this adventure being permitted? Because Dikshit has been able to persuade Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka that for the party to “revive” it cannot afford to be a cypher in the capital city? In brief, defeating Narendra Modi has been deprioritized. Not for the first time, the Congress is thinking “long term”, exactly as it thought in 2013-14. In April 2013, Rahul told the Confederation of Indian Industry that he would first build grassroots democracy in the party. Remember, Election Commissioner K.J. Rao was brought in to set up a system of primaries?

The muddled thinking on show today was available then too. The then party General Secretary, Janardan Dwivedi, volunteered the thought just before the 2014 elections that the Congress should have occupied the opposition benches after the 2009 elections. What kind of thinking did the statement represent? Since 1991, the Congress had never won more seats than the 209 seats it won in 2009. Why should it then have sat on opposition benches? Because the party had not won an absolute majority. Dwivedi was trying to place a premium on “ahuti” (sacrifice) which he persuaded Rahul was the trick for absolute majority.

In other words, had the Congress shunned power because it was short of numbers, the electorate would have rewarded the party with an absolute majority in 2014. Full marks for Dwivedi’s electoral anticipation. Congress won 44 seats, a tally so low that it would require courage of a very high order to even dream of meaningful revival. At the moment the Congress is neither ekla-chalo, nor whole heartedly in the coalition, but in between, clearly not the posture of potential victors.

If in Delhi it was Sheila Dikshit’s soaring vision to be accommodated, in Kolkata, CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury’s yen to rediscover Jyoti Basu’s golden period for the Left is being indulged. Mamata, focused on the fish-eye, has been quite sporting about the combine. By remaining in play, the Congress may cushion some anti-incumbency vote which may have drifted towards the BJP. She is politically sound.

The Congress understanding of Mayawati in UP deserves to be spelt out. “With the Enforcement Directorate constantly hovering over her, there is no certainty on her future behavior.”  

By placing its money both ways in three states the Congress may well have forfeited some of its claim, should the cookie crumble the coalition’s way after the vote is counted.

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Friday, March 1, 2019

Does Imran Khan Know He Has Followed Josh Malihabadi’s Advice?

Does Imran Khan Know He Has Followed Josh Malihabadi’s Advice?
                                                                                Saeed Naqvi

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken the leaf out of great Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi’s book:
“Badlay ki rasm jinse wafa mein haram hai
Ehsaan ek shareef tareen inteqam hai.”
(For gentlemen of conscience, revenge is an odious response.
When the enemy expects the worst, do him a favour – that’s noble revenge.)

Whenever India-Pakistan relations take a turn, for better or for worse, animated discussions with Inder Gujral (Inder bhai, as I called him) come to mind. He would dampen my optimism by giving me a Xerox copy of the latest editorial of Nawa e Waqt. “Read this on your way back home: when this changes, Indo-Pak relations will improve.”

The hardline Urdu newspaper was launched in Lahore in 1940 in direct opposition to Khizr Hayat Khan’s Unionist party which was stoutly opposed to the Two Nation theory. Khizr Hayat belonged to a distinguished line of landowning aristocrats whose liberalism derived from his exposure to western education, beginning with Aitcheson College. Hameed Nizami the founder of Nawa e Waqt was by comparison more homespun, a journalist and a Muslim League activist who worked for a Muslim homeland. The idea had to be hurriedly buttressed because progressive rivals like Saiyid Sibte Hasan, Khawaja Ahmad Abbas and Dr. K.M. Ashraf were making inroads with a Leftist publication “Opinion”.

The Progressive, Muslim line was more in harmony with Jawaharlal Nehru’s derivative of Fabian Socialism, tailored for Congress purposes. It was Nehru’s larger than life persona that he was able to single handedly carry the project for as far as he could in his lifetime. It began to unravel soon after him.

It is the metaphor of our times that the world’s largest statue is not his but that of his senior colleague, and Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. And, to rub salt in the Congress wounds, this statue has been built not by the Congress but by the RSS.

Nehru and his cohorts, the ICS variety, were averse to a Hindu India because they were averse to an image of a muffassil, un-grand India. So they accepted half of the two-nation: Pakistan, a theocratic state. “Secular” India was essential for Nehru’s other great passion. That was the only way to keep Kashmir.

Also, secular India was an advertisement, a blandishment. A thriving, secular state, without any discrimination would be a foil to a theocratic state. It was to guard against this “foil” that Nawa e Waqt had to fortify itself up as the “Guardian of Pakistan’s ideology”. Nawa-e-Waqt. Editor Majid Nizami (he died in 2014) explained why the newspaper had self-consciously adopted a “pro American, anti communist” stance from the outset. “Nehru’s socialism, his proximity to the Soviet Union and the sprinkling of Communist intellectuals around him.”

Indira Gandhi split the Congress in 1969 and flirted with the Communist Party of India. This invited a huge backlash by a “gathbandhan” (coalition) behind Jaya Prakash Narayan’s or JP’s Bihar movement in 1974, leading, after a series of mishaps, to the Emergency in 1975 and Indira Gandhi’s rout in the 1977 General Elections.

When she returned to power in 1980, she was a chastened politician. She fought the Jammu elections in 1983 on a communal, anti-Sikh, anti-minority platform. This appeared to her to be a promising path. In June 1984 Operation Blue Star was launched; the army moved into the holiest shrine of the Sikhs. In October 84 a Sikh bodyguard shot her dead. Rajiv Gandhi won the December 84 elections by a massive majority, 414 seats in a House of 514.

Obviously the sympathy created by Indira Gandhi’s assassination was a factor but the Congress interpreted the massive mandate differently. It was Hindu consolidation against minority communalism. The concept of Hindu consolidation, in other words, became kosher on both sides of the aisle.

In competitive communalism, temple hopping, cow worshiping, cow urine bottling, keeping Muslims out of bounds from election meetings, throwing young Muslims in jails without trial – in all of these the BJP and the Congress are neck to neck. But it must be strongly asserted that cow vigilantism, love jehad, ghar wapsi, changing place names and suchlike are areas in which the BJP has left the Congress sleeping by the lamp post. In her first appearance at the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, otherwise a sensible lady, decided to flutter the flag of Hindu cultural nationalism. She said that 185 million Muslims in India speak many languages including Bhojpuri. It must be amnesia of a very high order she forgot to mention Urdu.

On Pakistan and Kashmir the approaches of the two parties vary marginally but in the post 9/11 global Islamophobia, both are quite snug with the global mood. In the Indian context this acquires a tone of deep saffron. This saffron cannot be softened because much of the largest percentage of communalism has been spread by Pakistan hating anchors of Indian channels. They occasionally toss in Asaduddin Owaisi by way of variety. (Let me emphasize – there are some very laudable exceptions.)

Because I remembered how Inder Gujral repeatedly directed me to Nawa e Waqt editorials, I googled that paper’s editorial page soon after IAF claimed to have destroyed Jaish e Mohammad assets in Balakot. “Maharaj, aag se na khelo, aman ko raasta do, Ilaqai ghurbat ko khatam karney mein haath batao, warna ghamand samet, bhasm ho jao ge.”

“Maharaj, don’t play with fire, keep the door open for peace, join hands to fight regional poverty, otherwise you will be incinerated along with your pride.” At about the time I was reading the edit, an anchor on one channel was growling: “Yeh khooni darinde jhoot bolte hain” (The blood thirsty (Pak) beasts lie all the time). In the Gujral framework, what should Imran Khan say?

Nawa e Waqt’s anti “Bharat” stance was to consolidate the theocratic state against India’s proselytizing, liberal secularism. Now Nawa e Waqt can tone down because we are well on our way to becoming a Hindu state. Hindus don’t proselytize; they don’t convert. But cultivating a hatred for Pakistan, Kashmiris, Muslims is a means to “pursue” the project of Hindu consolidation. Only “pursue” not “achieve”, mind you, because consolidating a multi ethnic, multilingual, multi religious sub-continent will remain a work in progress till the cows come home. The easier way to consolidate is, ironically, mentioned in the Nawa e Waqt edit quoted above.

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