Friday, July 26, 2019

Does Johnson With His Vulnerabilities Make Corbyn More Acceptable?

Does Johnson With His Vulnerabilities Make Corbyn More Acceptable?
                                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

“Ek na shud, do shud”
(We were not done with one, and now we have two.)

There is a quantum leap in derisive mirth that stand-up comedians on both sides of the Atlantic are generating ever since a Donald Trump look-alike entered the black door at 10, Downing Street. In fact if Boris Johnson disciplined the outside of his head with a touch of Brylcream that would confirm a twin-like Boris-Donald duet.

There are other dubious comparisons: racism, for instance. It was a common story at Trump towers that “When Donald and Ivana came to the Casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor.” Johnson measures up quite well. His description in one of his columns of blacks as “piccaninnies with watermelon smiles”, remains a classic in racial insensitivity.

Little wonder Britain’s 77th Prime Minister has been greeted dismally by major newspapers. A “New Nadir” in British public life, screamed the Independent. “A shameless clown” it went on.

The Guardian thought Johnson and Trump made for a pair: “two loud mouthed man-children”, singularly lacking in character. Scheming, devious, lying, unreliable are some of the common adjectives being employed.

In a sense, Trump’s election was clearly more democratic than Johnson’s. Even though he trailed Hillary Clinton in the popular vote, he won atleast 46 percent of that vote. Johnson has been elected by the Conservative party members, which works out to 0.2 percent of the population.

After three years of a non-descript Theresa May, is Great Britain only capable of producing a Prime Minister who the British intelligentsia dismisses as a man of doubtful ability and character. Similar things are happening elsewhere, but let me confine myself to the trans-Atlantic cousins.

To make my point, let me in a few sentences, describe the scene on November 2016, election night at my friend’s Dumbo Loft in Brooklyn, New York, where we had collected, say, 20 friends from all sorts of disciplines: State Department Veterans, World Bankers, Columbia University faculty, artists, writers and a Fox News journalist . Everybody was eager to pop Champaign bottles as soon as Hillary Clinton’s victory became imminent. But when Trump won Florida the party was suddenly in the grip of something between hysteria and melancholia. The woman from the World Bank was shrieking like she had seen an apparition. A woman from the neighbouring loft was banging at the door. “Please let me in; I can’t bear being alone.”

It fell to my lot to commiserate with the crestfallen. They, each one of them, had difficulty digesting my diagnosis. “If you make Bernie Sanders impossible, you make Trump inevitable.”

How does this maxim apply to the elevation of Boris Johnson?

Well, “if you make Jeremy Corbyn impossible, you make Boris inevitable.” I am aware that these formulations would be anathema to friends who are sworn to “liberalism” according their lights.

Liberalism, which defined one’s life in the 60s and 70s, is an open minded accommodation of diversity in faith, tastes, manners and customs. Economists, committed to capitalism, ignore the warts it has developed. Crony capitalism, for instance, which renders the people redundant except for casting their votes during elections. The control this system has on the media helps perpetuate the Corporate-Government nexus. It is then a simple barter deal: you promote my interest, I promote yours. Come next elections, scramble to devise some new strategy to market yourself. Turn to terrorism if other issues do not work.

The perpetuation of this arrangement in democracies worldwide has caused a fatigue factor. In an earlier age, people revolted against the feudal system; they are now trying to bring about radical change through the ballot box. There are known and unknown eruptions in parts of the world where people are “struggling” outside the system altogether because, in their perception, the ruling class controls all the instruments of the modern democratic state.

The unending post 9/11 wars, the continuing ascendancy of the Deep State, disparities leading to Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party in retaliation, generated an anti-Establishment wave. This is what Bernie Sanders sought to ride. But the Establishment in its Democratic Party Avatar, had set its heart on Hillary Clinton who was upto her neck in Deep State plots in Syria, Libya and, ofcourse, Putin’s Russia.

In an anti-Establishment atmosphere, projecting Clinton as the candidate was clearly a risky hand. Clintons, after all, were The Establishment in Washington. Hence the consequent gnashing of teeth at the Brooklyn Loft party.

Reverting to Britain, once Prime Minister David Cameron’s referendum on Brexit in June 2016 had gone wrong, the Conservatives have been on a weak leg. Theresa May, limping from London to Brussels with a hundred stops en route, always empty handed did the Tories no good. In direct proportion to the Conservatives vulnerability is the right wing media’s tendency to paint Jeremy Corbyn in lurid colours as a raving anti-Semitic, a friend of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. The Economist has made him up as Che Guevara.

The spirit of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunt of 50s permeates American public life to this day. But its resurgence in the UK is all part of the Establishment digging its heels in to keep the centre of gravity of global discourse so far to the right that leaders like Corbyn and Sanders look like communists.

There must be deep consternation in Conservative power structure at the BBC’s prestigious Panoroma programme which, with rigorous research, knocked the bottom out of the anti Corbyn campaign. It will now be impossible to pin the anti-Semite label on him.

Meanwhile, the media spotlight is on Boris and his cabinet choice like Priti Patel, the new Home Secretary. According to The Guardian she was sacked from Theresa May’s cabinet two years ago for failing to disclose secret meetings with Israeli Ministers on “India related matters”. With Patel by his side, Boris Johnson has connections which can help win the elections which, by some calculations, can be soon, given that half the Conservative party has its knives out for him.

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Friday, July 19, 2019

Colombo Easter Massacre: Can Islamic Terror Be A Diplomatic Asset?

Colombo Easter Massacre: Can Islamic Terror Be A Diplomatic Asset?
                                                                                 Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 19.07.2019

Prolific punditry on the Easter Sunday massacre in Colombo has taken a pause because investigations have reached a stage where all sides have to take a political call. Different interests would like investigators to be nosy in different directions.

A calamity on a scale where nearly 300 people were killed and 500 injured immediately causes Intelligence agencies to descend with angelic intent, armed with all the technologies. A mystery which Hercule Poirot would leisurely solve over delectable wines and gourmet food is, with the arrival of the agencies, not solved in one go but incrementally, leaving space for stings and hisses, hints and guesses.

The agencies from the US, UK, Israel, Australia and India have been in a scrum according to sources. Even though Intelligence and Security are the responsibility of President Maithripala Sirisena’s office, the direction of the inquiry by the group is more to the liking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. China’s Belt and Road Initiative has taken Sri Lanka in its embrace. This is not what the agencies listed above are interested in promoting.

It remains a puzzle why Sri Lanka did not take action when Indian Intelligence (RAW) alerted them as early as April 4, weeks before the massacre. Have the differences between the President and the Prime Minister percolated down to Sri Lankan agencies too?

Clearly, Ranil is keen to sign the Status of Forces Agreement with the US before the elections next year. This would be anathema to the Chinese who share their confidences only with the President.

Opinion in Colombo is divided on India’s role. One view is that New Delhi and Washington would join hands to impede the Chinese. Others believe it is not in New Delhi’s interest to have the strategically located island transformed into a US base. New Delhi would prefer a drastically toned down, cooperative foreign presence.

How strategically important Sri Lanka is became clear to me during a visit to Mauritius some years. My TV team did a feature on the tragic, homeless people from Chagos Island. The story is not easy to digest. An entire island was emptied of its population by the British along with the Americans to set up a base in Diego Garcia. The International Court of Justice ruled in February 2019 to return the island to its citizens. Has the Judgement been thrown in the waste paper basket?

New Delhi has exerted its influence to keep Mauritius and Bhutan out of the Belt and Road project. Everything else in SAARC has gone the other way. Credit must go to the nimble, creatively ambiguous management of Foreign Policy. Modi-Xi Jinping summit in Varanasi in October may be the culmination of important developments.

The events of Easter Sunday have inspired important research. For instance, “Weaponization of Religion as New Cold War Looms”. The paper has been written by Darini Rajasingham Senanayake, a Sri Lankan scholar and writer.

She wastes no time in coming to the point: China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative “may well have been the prime target of the bombings that rocked the Indian Ocean Island caught in the cross hairs of super power rivalry”.

According to her, there is a clear effort to mislead Sri Lankans. She points to a video tape of Islamic State leader, Al Baghdadi purportedly speaking about the attacks on Sri Lanka. Arabic and French intelligence experts had no doubt that the tape had been doctored.

Hotels that were targeted were Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury. And there, says Darini, hangs a tale. These hotels were owned by Sri Lankan, conglomerates who are into property development with the China construction company.

Four oceanic scientists who were staying at Kingsbury hotel were among the six Chinese who lost their lives. This has been confirmed by the Chinese embassy in Colombo. The deceased were from the South China Sea Institute of Oceanography. Chinese state run Global Times reported that two other scientists from the First Institute of Oceanography, were scheduled to board the Chinese research vessel Shiyan 3. This was to be the start of an important China-Sri Lanka joint exploration mission in the East-Indian Ocean.

Darini sees a design in the venues that were attacked: Churches located among coastal communities with congregations whose livelihood depends on fisheries and other Indian Ocean resources in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa. As continuation of the pattern, even luxury sea front hotels also became targets. No town in the interior was targeted.

She concludes: “Marine affairs and the ocean is the red threat that runs through the design and detail of the selected targets.

It is puzzling that instead of following the leads Darini Senanayake has focused on, the foreign intelligence agencies have dwelt more on the clash of civilizations and “religious strife” as their preferred theme of inquiry.

All sorts of conspiracy theories begin to claim attention. A single column story from Nepal where also Chinese are influential, on inside page begins to look significant as part of a larger design. Near Lumbini in South West Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha, five statues of Buddha are vandalized. Is someone trying to create Buddhism-Hindu strife in the Himalayan state? It is difficult to see what political spin can be given to this vandalism.

Likewise what earthly purpose would be served by promoting strife between two Sri Lankan minorities – Muslim and Christian.

There is another way of looking at Sri Lankan developments, exactly as Darini’s headline suggests. Since 2012 I have written consistently on Islamic terror being controlled by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia as “assets” to unsettle societies with sizeable Muslim minorities – Xinxiang in China, Caucasus in Russia. Since this is Salafi Islam, it may have its uses against Shia Iran too. There is that whole turf of Central Asia. And, why forget India? For an elaboration of “Terrorism as an asset” see here.

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Friday, July 12, 2019

How Battle Of Karbala Conditions Iranian Mind On Palestinian Issue

How Battle Of Karbala Conditions Iranian Mind On Palestinian Issue
                                                                                        Saeed Naqvi

When the application of normal yardsticks on Iran lead to results which analysts find unexpected, a sort of irritation sets in. This is because of a distinct inability to understand that, with the exception of the Vatican, Iran is the only state where the leadership mindset is conditioned by theological concerns.

The epic battle between good and evil is common to many traditions including the one which brings us good cheer during Dussehra, when Ravana is killed. But these traditions are part of mythology.

Iranians, indeed Shias anywhere, contemplate the epic battle between Right and Wrong in historical terms. The battle of Karbala, fought on the bank of the Euphrates River in Iraq is, after all, an event that took place in 680 AD. The first military probe into India by Mohammad bin Qasim took place in 711 AD. By an amazing coincidence, 711 AD also happens to be the year when Tariq Ibn Ziyad crossed the stretch of water from Tangiers in Morocco and conquered the rock which he called Jabal al Tariq. Jabal means a rock. The British renamed it Gibraltar.

The point is that the Shias latched on to Karbala, a relatively recent event in history, as the ideal for morality and sacrifice. Let me explain. The great achievement of Prophet Mohammad was to settle the differences between quarrelling Arab tribes. In fact, Islam taking advantage of the vacuum in global power, soon expanded into an Empire. Fissures reappeared after the Prophet’s death in 632 AD. By 680 AD, a usurper, Yazid, entrenched as the Governor of Damascus, turned to the prophet’s younger grandson, Imam Hussain, to endorse his rule. Legitimacy would always elude him without Hussain’s endorsement. Relentless pressure caused Hussain to leave his ailing daughter in Medina and travel to Iraq. On the second of Moharram (September this year) he entered Karbala along with 72 of his closest relatives and friends.

When Hussain would not submit to Yazid’s dictat, sanctions (note the word) were imposed. In the torrid heat of the desert, water supply from the Euphrates was cut off. Children as young as six months, crying for three days without water would, Yazid had hoped, force a compromise. But on the question of principle, Hussain refused. On the 10th day of Moharram all male members, one by one went into battle against an overwhelmingly larger army, resulting in martyrdom – inspiring some of the greatest epic poetry of all time. Women of the prophet’s household were taken prisoners. And all because he would not compromise his core principles.

Karbala is the balance in which the clerical elements in the Iranian leadership measure rights-and-wrongs. Much to the discomfiture of Israel, Iran’s consistency on the Palestinian issue derives from these uncompromising belief systems. In other words, the principle of Palestinian rights is non-negotiable. Well, in which case Iran exposes itself to the most comprehensive sanctions Washington has imposed anywhere. But Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif told the Asia Society in New York recently: “You must remember we have a PhD in coping with sanctions.”

Zarif could not have meant that it is life as usual in Tehran despite the sanctions. By all accounts, sanctions are hurting. Prices have risen sky high. But is this hurt causing the population to congregate in city squares to curse the regime for having invited US sanctions? Or is the opposite happening? Are people closing ranks behind the regime for standing upto what mural size graffiti in Tehran describes as the “great Satan”?

For a week, shortages of baby diapers caused immense inconvenience. Soon the women in the countryside rediscovered commonsense solutions: cut cloth dipped in Dettol into triangular pieces, then pin the three points below the navel.

Why sanctions are not pinching is that there is sufficient food on the table. For example, meat consumption may have been pruned from four times a week to twice or even once. But there is nourishment aplenty.

Is it possible to apply comprehensive sanctions in a situation where, say, Qatar depends totally on Iranian supplies because of Saudi sanctions? There are loopholes.

The Iranian drama is being played out with a subtle give and take behind the scenes between the hardliner Ayatullah Ali Khamenei and the moderate Hassan Rouhani. Khamenei was always wary of negotiations with the US but it was his good political sense because of which he went along with the public mood for engagement which Rouhani had rightly gauged. But the President exceeded his brief when he called up President Obama during the 2013 General Assembly session. The touch of over eagerness was not Khamenei’s style. But he protected Rouhani, convinced that “Zionist arrogance” will sooner or later hamper the Nuclear Deal coming to fruition. In that sense Khamenei has proved right.

Simmering differences manifested themselves at other levels too. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, very much the face of the nuclear deal, was slighted by hardliners like Gen. Qasim Suleiman of the Al Quds Brigade causing Zarif to resign. What was the slight? During Syrian President Bashar al Asad visit to Tehran, Zarif, was apparently kept out of some meetings.

The unending chant from Washington and Jerusalem that Iran should become a “normal state” is, in the ultimate analysis, a demand for it to “soften” its stance on Palestine. While all the focus has been on Iran, the Bahrain Conference has with a sleight of hands worked towards formulations for virtually annexing the West Bank.

Not unrelated are developments in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu must win the September elections if he is to escape prison term for corruption. But such a victory can only be sustained with extreme far right orthodox Jews who quite openly support an apartheid state. And who stands by the side of the Palestinians? Iran, ofcourse. Always the spoilsport.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

Post Rahul, Party May Splinter But Something New Is Needed

Post Rahul, Party May Splinter But Something New Is Needed
                                                                                       Saeed Naqvi

When Trinamool’s Mahua Moitra took Parliament by storm in her debut speech last month, a thought crossed my mind. In over two decades as Congress President could not Sonia Gandhi have sent a handful of young people to both the Houses who would have been noticed: politically savvy, feet on the ground, conversant with issues, articulate?

She protected the pen and her progeny from running the risk of being upstaged. There were talented youngsters around in the party, but the Gandhi family tied one Jyotiraditya Scinda in a four-legged race in Madhya Pradesh and then took him off Madhya Pradesh altogether. They played him as Priyanka Gandhi’s sidekick in UP. When the “all-fall-down” happened post elections, Priyanka turned up in Amethi to scold the workers for her brother’s debacle – “a bad workman blames his tools.” Poor Sachin Pilot, a political talent by all counts was deliberately dwarfed so that Ashok Gehlot could look tall.

Rahul Gandhi’s resignation was overdue. Yes, the party may splinter but something new is needed. Everyone who has known him talks of his innate decency. He probably knew he was out of his depth, but without him many would not know which way to look. Some have grown so accustomed to a life of sycophancy at number 10 Janpath or wherever else the family is dispersed that they cannot contemplate another existence.

Supposing, by some miracle, the Congress under Rahul Gandhi had come up trumps then all the senior retainers ran the risk of being shown the door. How enthusiastic would they have been in the campaign trapped in a dilemma: victory might lead to unemployment?

I cannot forget Rahul Gandhi’s press conference at the Radisson Blue hotel, Ahmedabad in the course of the 2017 assembly election. He was flanked by Ashok Gehlot and spokesman Randeep Surjewala. One noticed an unmistakable gap: the Congress powerhouse from Gujarat, Ahmed Patel was missing. Word had been sent that his presence would enable the BJP to revive the canard that Congress was a party of Muslims.

A few days later Ghulam Nabi Azad was publicly wailing that he was not being invited by party men to address election meetings, presumably for the same reason: the BJP will polarize.

In any war it is important to know what your enemy is upto. The Congress under Rahul’s leadership had no clue what plots were being hatched. The party President fell back on the tepid, ineffective chant “Chowkidar chor hai”. It was a hopelessly ill-advised incantation. Every shop, business, housing colony, industry has a watchman. This watchman you end up mocking without even realizing the slight. Also, we are a traditional and a feudal people. The Prime Minister may not be the world’s favourite man, but no Indian would like that station to be demeaned as a watchman who is also being called a thief.

Your opponent, Dear Rahul, was not fighting an election; he was marketing himself – a whole team spread across the seas was handing him a daily script. He was not to touch on issues; that was taboo. He had to just peg away at a nagging length on a theme loaded with emotional resonance. It must resonate in an echo chamber keyed to a mood - loathe Pakistan, hate the terrorists keeping Kashmir in their thrall, and portray love jihadis and beef eaters as highly lynchable. The saffron mood will be stepped up at intervals – Pulwama, Balakot and so on. What was your response? Chowkidar chor hai?

Remember Modi had to be on every channel 24X7. This will deify him. “Jidhar dekhta hoon, udhar tu hi tu hai” (wherever I look, I see you). On every page of newspapers there was either a news photograph or an advertisement.

Even a kirtan palls. So by way of relief Modi’s choreographers focused on Rahul as a counter point in a musical score. Focusing on Rahul provides relief, ofcourse, but it also keeps up the illusion favoured by captains of industry that India is willy nilly moving towards a two party system. Among the cleverer things Mamata Banerjee said was exactly this: Rahul is a Modi USP. Rahul, according to Mamata, provides the contrast against which Modi shines.

Rahul, ofcourse, would have been inclined to consider the notice being given to him in self serving terms: he is being noticed because he was the most important opposition leader. From this profound misreading issued a desire to erect an architecture to make a bid for power by the Congress on its own. The cocky assertion by Priyanka the moment she landed in UP was that she was not in the game for 2019; she would first revive the Congress to win the 2022 state elections. She probably had no clue that in May 2018 her mother, Rahul and every possible opposition party had stood on one platform in Bengaluru to fight Modi.

The Congress probably thought that it would lose its stature as more equal than others in the vast galaxy assembled by a dynamic though lesser known politician, Danish Ali who, incidentally won the 2019 election from Amroha in UP.

In this self delusion, Rahul played the worst possible game. Instead of holding hands of all those on the stage in Bengaluru, he opened all cylinders on Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati in UP, Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi and Mamata in West Bengal. In the last melee, the great party of ideological purity, the CPM, allowed its cadres to fight Mamata shoulder to shoulder with the RSS.

As witnesses to this spectacle, who can blame the Modi-Shah duet laughing their heads off . “With such enemies, who needs friends.”

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