Friday, April 26, 2019

Ghastly Sri Lanka Tragedy And Strategic Interests Of Big Powers

Ghastly Sri Lanka Tragedy And Strategic Interests Of Big Powers
                                                                                      Saeed Naqvi

Not far back in time, Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 hijackers, Wahabis, Salafis, Jabhat al Nusra and their numerous variants, were all traced to Saudi Arabia. Today all of that has been placed in the margin of amnesia. Instead, the US, Israel and some Europeans are inviting all and sundry to go hammer and tongs at Iran.

In a world order so topsy-turvy, where does one turn for help to gauge sources of global terror like the one which struck Colombo? Which Intelligence Agency does one put ones money on?

The ground for current terrorism was laid in the 80s when Mujahideen were manufactured in the Salafi mould with Saudi money, American training and equipment and hundreds of Pakistan built Madrasas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border primarily to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan. Once this mission was accomplished in 1989, Americans returned home leaving high voltage Islam to find work. And work, it did find with a vengeance, in Kashmir, Egypt and Algeria.

Ingredients for extremism were thus available when the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 inspired the US to put its imprimatur on the great victory. Operation Desert Storm was launched in February 1992 to teach Saddam Hussain a lesson for his transgression into Kuwait. Desert Storm is a landmark: it was to cover this event that the global media was born. For the first time in history, a war was brought live into people’s homes. For the West it was a celebration of triumph over another system. For Iraq and the Muslim world it was yet another defeat, humiliation, helplessness. Coverage of one event on global television had divided the world into two hostile camps – a triumphant West and a defeated, demoralized Muslim world.

This chasm widened a hundred fold with the two Intefadas, the four year long Bosnian war, 9/11, air strikes and occupation of Afghanistan, the bogus search for weapons of mass destruction leading to the occupation of Iraq, destruction of Mesopotamia and so on.

As a reaction, Jehadi terror began to evolve as a target against which nations could forge coalitions. Then, as an afterthought, terror groups also began to be seen as assets to be let loose on enemies. This latter game became transparent during the Syrian conflict. Countries like Saudi Arabia began to play a lead role in inducting, breeding, arming Jehadis of the most ferocious variety against President Bashar al Assad, casting him as a “brutal Shia” (therefore heathen) who had to be replaced. US, Israel, Qatar, Turkey, all joined the expedition. The US, began to train and equip militant groups. President Obama’s Defence Secretary Ashton Carter was virtually in tears at being grilled by the Congress as well as the media. In one instance atleast (there were others) he had to wind up a $500 million project on live TV because the Jehadists trained by the Americans had walked away, with the heavy equipment and presumably joined some other group.

The sudden establishment of the Islamic State in Mosul remains an uninvestigated mystery. When the IS charged towards Baghdad wielding the latest arms mounted on Humvees straight from the showroom, my sources in Najaf were convinced of their American sponsorship. Every Arab Ambassador in New Delhi at least (except the GCC) was quite candid: this is an American project. They seemed to make sense because candidate Trump himself told Jake Tapper of the CNN that the Obama-Hillary Clinton team had “spent millions in creating terror groups in Syria.” In an interview with the New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman in August 2015, Obama admitted to the uses of the ISIS. Asked why he did not bomb the IS when it first reared its head, Obama said: “We did not just start taking a bunch of airstrikes all across Iraq because that would have taken the pressure off Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki.” In other words, ISIS was an American asset at that juncture. Maliki, an aggressive Shia, had refused to sign the Status of Forces agreement with the US preparatory to their departure from Iraq. The pressure worked. Maliki was replaced.

Later, Friedman advises President Trump in one of his columns not to waste his time fighting the IS. He wants “Trump to be Trump – utterly cynical and unpredictable.”

Friedman adds: “Trump should let ISIS be Assad’s, Iran’s, Hezbullah’s and Russia’s headache.” At the opposite ideological end of the spectrum is that great chronicler of West Asia, Robert Fisk. In a different context, he writes, Trump does not realize that “Israel bombs only the Syrian army, the Shia Hezbullah in Syria but has never ever the IS. In fact the Israelis have given medical aid to fighters from Jabhat al Nusra which is part of Al Qaeda which attacked the US on 9/11.” By Fisk’s testimony, IS is an Israeli asset too.

At a conference on regional issues in New Delhi, Morgulov Igor Vladimirovich, Russia’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, startled the gathering. Since the war in Syria has wound down, the Islamic State is as spare today as the Afghan Mujahideen were in 1989. Vladimirovich’s allegation caused raised eyebrows.

“ISIS fighters are being flown to Northern Afghanistan.”

“Since the Afghan air space is under the control of the US and the Afghan government, who is responsible for this transfer of the IS?” he asked. An allegation of much greater global resonance was by Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei. In the course of his Friday address on January 30, 2018, he said: “The US transfer of terrorists to Afghanistan is aimed at creating a justification for its continuing stay in the region.”

Xinxiang, the Caucasus are all vulnerable to IS blackmail, as are other, smaller countries. But remember, IS is also seen by some powers as an asset. A ghastly tragedy can shake a nation. That is precisely when powerful Intelligence Agencies move in with help, advice which, over a period of time, becomes the kind of deep penetration which begins to navigate policy.

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Friday, April 19, 2019

Ram’s Birth In Ayodhya: Memorable View From Sanctum Sanctorum

Ram’s Birth In Ayodhya: Memorable View From Sanctum Sanctorum
                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

There was a singular absence of frenzy last week in Ayodhya on the occasion of Ram Navmi. As the campaign for election 2019 rose to a crescendo, one would have expected the Hindutva Brigade to turn up in full force for several reasons. To obtain the Lord’s blessings for the do or die battle. And to focus on Ayodhya to keep the issue simmering during these crucial elections. True, the matter is in court but so is the Sadhvi Pragya Thakur matter. When were such niceties sacrosanct for the current lot? More likely, the Mandir-Masjid soufflĂ© is not rising.

I have seldom seen Rama’s city so bereft of political presence. The old colonial bungalow refurbished as Faizabad’s Circuit House looks like a spruced up haunted haven. Cooks, bearers, housekeepers, in white, appear at one end and shuffle past with no apparent work in hand. Well past midnight, there is a knock on the door. “Please let me have your remote” a voice implores. Spooky, isn’t it? Apparently someone of consequence has arrived unexpectedly. It turns out that a solitary remote services all the air conditioners which are available in abundance. Even the dressing rooms are air conditioned.

Cross into Ayodhya and throngs of devotees chanting Jai Sia Ram choke the lanes. Milling crowds climb the wide staircase of the Kanak Bhawan Ram temple. Chanting devotees come in waves, their hands uplifted in reverence, eyes focused on the jharoka or balcony beyond which aarti begins at 11 am in preparation for the Lord’s birth at noon. But even at noon there is no frenzy, just chants of reverence accompanied by a surge towards the balcony for a closer experience of the moment of birth.

I do not know how purists will take this report but my wife and I are rather proud that we had more than a ringside seat, virtually within whispering distance of the birthing suite where Ram was born. The pujari with a “thal” or plate of lamps makes circles around the imaginary bed. The lights flicker on the gold silk and taffeta, neatly folded in Ram and Sita’s wardrobes lining the walls all around us. Once Ram lalla is born, Madhukar Singh of Orchha and his Rani wave a “murchal” a sort of whisk in slow, pampering motions around the infant. Madhukar’s ancestors, the rulers of Orchha in Bundelkhand, built the Kanak Bhawan Ram temple complex in the late 19th century. Since then it has been the responsibility of the family to personally supervise Ram Navmi and other festivals associated with Ram. It is hard to imagine larger crowds, steeped in such unadulterated reverence. Pardon the thought, but is there a need for a parallel temple of contention which will only neutralize the good natured atmospherics of the birthday celebrations in this magnificent Ram Mandir?

Our visit was a function of both: my passionate pursuit of the multicultural and Madhukar Orcha’s profound hospitality. The red and yellow thread the priest tied on my wrist was, in its minutest detail, similar to what my mother did to visitors of diverse faiths who visited our village home during Moharram. In fact even the Imambara, where a replica of Imam Hussain’s tomb in Karbala is kept, was not very dissimilar to the sanctum sanctorum – all peculiarly Indian.

Mosques, ofcourse, are different. There is a great deal in common between the Jama Masjid, Blue Mosque or the Shah Abbas mosque in Delhi, Istanbul and Isfahan respectively. But these mosques, in their distinct grandeur, are marvels of architecture. Not surprising, therefore, that in Ayodhya, the thought of Babari Masjid, should cross one’s mind. It was by no stretch of the imagination a historic mosque. It had no architectural merit compared to the ones listed above. In August 1989 when I visited Ayodhya for the Shilanyas, the scene was distressing. I have since found myself on the same wavelength as the moderate cleric, Maulana Kalbe Sadiq. Since his cancer has galloped to its last stages, what the Maulana says is virtually his last will and testament:
“A Muslim can spread his prayer-mat anywhere, facing the Kaaba, and say his prayers; a Hindu consecrates the idol forever. The difference is enormous. Just look at the Muslims in India today: unwise politics around the Mandir-Masjid issue has contributed greatly to their unhappy situation.”

If Muslims win the Ayodhya case in the Supreme Court and decide to make a gift of the land for the construction of the temple, “The gesture will electrify Hindu masses; communal politics will be defeated.”

The soft, reverential tones of the ceremonies at the Ram temple are such a welcome relief from the warlike atmosphere of intrigue and deception that we witnessed during the Shilanyas 30 years ago.

I can never forget, the District Magistrate of Faizabad, Ram Sharan Srivastava’s harassed face under instructions to implement the underhand, duplicitous order handed over to him by the Congress High Command – Rajiv Gandhi, Arun Nehru and Narayan Datt Tiwari.

The situation was this: Allahabad High Court had stayed any brick laying on “disputed” land. But Ashok Singhal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad threatened “rivers of blood”, if Shilanyas were not held where the VHP wanted it. The District Magistrate was instructed to accede to Singhal’s demand “confidentially”. In other words, brick laying would be allowed clandestinely on disputed land. Singhal had agreed to keep this secret. But the Congress, to score brownie points, announced that the brick laying ceremony was allowed only on land which was “not disputed”. No sooner was the handout issued, than Singhal, not to be upstaged, held a press conference. “We have laid the Foundation Stone at exactly the place within our construction plan.” The Congress double crossed the people; Singhal double crossed the Congress – and all in the name of Maryada Purushottam, the perfect man.

I removed this nightmare from my mind and left the sanctum sanctorum remembering Allama Iqbal’s couplet:
“Hai Ram ke wajood pe Hindostaan ko naz
Ehle nazar samajhte hain usko Imam e Hind.”  
(Ram is Hindustan’s pride. Men of vision consider him the Imam of Hindustan.)

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Priyanka Preparing UP For 2022, Rahul The Congress For 2024

Priyanka Preparing UP For 2022, Rahul The Congress For 2024
                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

It is true that there are no permanent enemies or permanent friends in politics. But this Machiavellian law is clearly not applicable when a coalition of parties is in the midst of an existential battle. No one can grudge the Congress party’s desire to revive, but fighting the main enemy, in this case the BJP, and at the same time firing lethal rounds at allies has created bad blood among coalition partners.

Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Ajit Singh (BSP, SP, RLD) have spoken out in unison: “there is no difference between the Congress and the BJP.” The other day “Gathbandhan” was in a huddle, counting the number of seats where the Congress has entered the fray “as a spoiler”. In Saharanpur, Kheri, Badaun, Sant Kabir Nagar, Sitapur, Bijnor and so on – the Congress is helping not the “gathbandhan” but the BJP.

Why is the Congress in this mode of double containment? One does not have to look far for hints and guesses: Priyanka Gandhi has, in so many words, clarified her party’s intention. “We are preparing the ground for 2022” – the Assembly elections. In other words, for the Nehru-Gandhi parivar, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are not a matter of life and death. Will Narendra Modi return signal the end of democracy, usher in Fascism and worse? The Congress is not taken in by such alarmist nonsense.

The Congress has not been able to properly market some of its smart, double edged moves. Fielding Rahul from Wayanad in Kerala has been criticized for the obvious reason: that Wayanad is a seat from where the Congress always wins. The unnecessary insertion of the Congress President in the battle has signaled the party’s antipathy towards the Left with which it had been in conversation for some co-ordination in West Bengal. The Wayanad episode came on the heels of the West Bengal arrangement being spurned by the Congress. The coincidence amplified Congress ambivalence, its inability to decide whether it should strengthen the opposition or weaken regional forces. It probably feels that it looks relatively more muscular for future” battles by undoing its own allies. What the Congress has not marketed is this: Rahul from Wayanad may block Congress candidates fleeing towards the BJP which is aching to open its account in Kerala.

Also the intellectual pool around the Congress President appears to have been influenced by the pro Modi media which has projected 2019 as a Presidential contest. This is not new. During the 2014 elections, Arnab Goswami, as the oracle and arbiter of national destiny, was on the same trajectory. He attempted to lure Rahul into his parlour for a Modi-Rahul debate. It did not work out because Rahul was dreaming dreams of building the party brick by brick, village Panchayat upwards, a high pyramid with a wide base.

In fact Rahul had brought in a former election Commissioner K.J. Rao to organize a system of primaries for election to the Youth Congress and National Students Union of India. He sought expert help to select 16 untainted Lok Sabha candidates as a sort of pilot project. At this speed, one wondered, how long will it take Rahul to identify 543 Lok Sabha candidates?

On the pain of digressing a bit, there is a detail of considerable political import I would like to insert here.

What is the reason that the 2004 to 2009 was possibly the cleaner innings that Manmohan Singh played? One reason is that he had outside support of 60 Left Front members who enabled the Congress to keep the riff raff at bay. True they had ideological objections to the nuclear deal with the US, but corruption was nowhere in the vicinity of that arrangement. Fierce Right Wing pressure resulted in the Left’s departure.

The replacement of the Left by greedy interests, opened the floodgates of corruption on a scale that Modi, backed by the world’s most expensive campaign, harnessed to his dramatic advantage. Very few in the Congress remember: after the party turned its back on the Left, it came down to its lowest ever tally – 44 seats.

I have already dwelt on Rahul’s diffidence on the eve of 2014 elections, when his party had its best score in two decades – 209 seats. And now with merely 44 under his belt is it realistic to expect him to bust his guts for the ultimate trophy?

Not surprising, therefore, that in the space of a month both Rahul and Priyanka have publicly backtracked. They have both said separately that they are preparing the ground, particularly in UP, for 2022. Party men are thinking of 2024 Lok Sabha elections. In striking this posture, they miss the basic point. Election 2019 was supposed to focus on bringing down the BJP. The front page photographs on May 23, 2018 in Bengaluru and January 19, 2019 in Kolkata of the Mahagathbandhan represented a United Front against the BJP. Once this mission was accomplished, the coalition would get into a huddle to select the leader of the House.

Had Congress played the game in good faith, the leadership selection phase would have been relatively smooth. Numbers would have influenced the outcome. Btu the manner in which candidates have been fielded by the Congress, particularly against Mayawati, ensures a messy endgame.

If the results are more or less even, this would, for the BJP be an excellent election to lose. The Ram Temple remains unbuilt. Kashmir and the Pakistan cauldrons are bubbling over. On each one of these issues, the B team of the BJP namely the Congress will simply wilt. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was succinct: chances of an Indo-Pak dialogue are more likely in the event of Modi winning, because a weak opposition government would be too much in a state of funk to go against the current of anti Pak nationalism.

Much of this is highly speculative. Should the BJP numbers fall just enough to qualify it for the largest single party status, Naveen Patnaik, K. Chandrashekar Rao, Jaganmohan Reddy in Odisha, Telengana and Andhra Pradesh will be inclined to leap from their fence but only on their terms which will most certainly include a change of leadership in the BJP.

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Friday, April 5, 2019

Progressive Manifesto Gives One Signal, Fighting Left In Kerala Another
                                                                                         Saeed Naqvi

Rahul Gandhi’s choice of Wayanad as his constituency in South India has set tongues wagging. Is this an insurance just in case there is a shock reversal in Amethi? Since he is fighting the BJP in the company of regional parties, is the Amethi – Wayanad arc designed to give him, and his party, an all India aura?

There was a resonance about “Indiramma” in the South. Even when Indira Gandhi was trounced by the electorate in 1977 for her emergency misdemeanours, she retained her hold in Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Chenna Reddy and Devraj Urs were among the most powerful Chief Ministers the Congress party ever fielded anywhere.

True to form, Indira Gandhi removed the powerful Chenna Reddy from Andhra Pradesh and placed on the Gaddi in Hyderabad a weak, even a comical Tangutri Anjaiah whom she had known as a junior labour minister at the Centre.

Subsequently, Rajiv Gandhi and his cocky cousin and adviser, Arun Nehru, roundly insulted the Chief Minister by keeping him outside the Hyderabad airport lounge while he and the young Prime Minister discussed matters of moment. It was only after the “insult” became part of popular gossip, that N.T. Rama Rao, placed his cinematic charisma at the disposal of “Andhra Pride”. That is how the Telugu Desam party was formed. Chandrababu Naidu, a talented administrator, is the late NTR’s son-in-law.

If the space for Rahul was a little dicey in Andhra and Telengana, a seat in Karnataka would have been custom made for the Congress President. His arrival would have given further coherence to the Congress-JDS alliance which is pitted against a fiercely competitive BJP. The party leader B.S. Yedurappa leapt with joy when Balakot happened: “The BJP will now win 22 out of 28 seats in Karnataka.” Rahul’s participation in this battle would have boosted the combine’s chances and his image as an anti BJP campaigner.

In Wayanad he is not fighting the BJP. He is fighting the Left Front. This confusion has been persistent in the Congress’s approach to 2019. A party with 44 seats in Parliament cannot dream of fighting the BJP on its own. It needs allies. The difficulty is that its quest for allies collides with its innate urge to revive. This causes it to lose focus of the main target, the BJP, and poach in the turf of it’s would be allies.

Ideally the dominant parties in the regions, (TMC in West Bengal, for instance) should have been given the luxury of concentrating on one target – the BJP. In this framework, the Congress should have concentrated in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where the party did well in the recent assembly elections. But this conflicts with the party’s self-image of a national party.

How realistic is this “self-image”? In 1947, the Congress represented shades of interests federated behind a programme for freedom. Extreme, sometimes conflictual ideologies, simmered in the Congress cauldron. Take this as an example. Krishna Menon, a leftist in the Congress, fought an election from Mumbai the same year that arch capitalist S.K. Patil did from another district. In 1967, eight seats were lost to Indira Gandhi. The diversity in the Congress womb left it one by one. The “Hindu” in the Congress DNA was always pronounced. Madan Mohan Malaviya, Purushottam Das Tandon, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad and Govind Ballabh Pant were never creatures of what Jawaharlal Nehru sought to market as “composite culture”. They wanted a Hindu India; Nehru a Hindu led secular India.

The post Babari Masjid hemorrhaging was in two streams. The lower end of the caste pyramid flowed to the caste parties. The reminder, by and large, became interchangeable with the BJP. There has been a bewildering volume of toing and froing between the two parties.

It is against this backdrop that observers will gauge the party’s long term intentions. The irony is that the manifesto that Rahul unveiled is a document of substance which qualifies the party to be slotted as a progressive, left of centre force. This image alone will distinguish it from the BJP whose B team it had begun to look like in its recent behavior.

It is possible to argue that whichever way Kerala’s 20 Parliamentary seats are divided, all the seats will be listed in the margin of parties in opposition to the BJP. But there is a nuance in Kerala’s electoral politics which needs to be understood.

After decades of trying, the BJP has only one seat in the Assembly. This is not for want of RSS cadres. The initial thrust of the Sangh in the state was to weaken the Left in Kerala. Congress leaders like K. Karunakaran exploited the BJP’s anti Left slant to the UDF’s advantages. In fact, there was a phase when two diametrically opposite attitudes towards the BJP had legitimacy within the Congress. Arjun Singh the Nehruvian secularist in the Congress fought the BJP tooth and nail in Madhya Pradesh. Karunakaran on the other hand had a subtle, unstated co-ordination with the BJP in Kerala.

By taking Wayanad in preference to other constituencies in the South, Rahul has decided to take on the Left. This, in my view, is not a happy perception to market. Particularly after having led the CPM General Secretary, Sitaram Yechury up the garden path in West Bengal. It did not agree with the Left’s meagre terms. And now it fights it in Kerala.

It appears that the electronic media as a noisy Modi drum beater and the Prime Minister’s own ranting style has begun to pall to a point where it has begun to affect the electoral turf. The BJP is in some disarray. These are just the moments, when all the opposition parties, including the Congress, should in their own interest, play keeping in mind the people’s pulse.

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