Friday, April 20, 2018

He Was, By All Accounts, The Last Of The Gentlemen Editors



He Was, By All Accounts, The Last Of The Gentlemen Editors
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

These are such desperate times for journalism that S. Nihal Singh’s departure at 89, triggers memories about a phase in the profession that dreams are made of.

My personal journalistic trajectory trailed his rather closely. He was The Statesman’s Special Correspondent in Singapore when I entered the portals of that once great newspaper as a cub reporter.

I was, in fact, following Nihal’s footsteps because this was how he entered the profession a decade earlier – as a cub reporter. There were no schools of journalism then, but we received training of exactly the thoroughness which our respective letters of appointment had promised:
“We do not guarantee you employment at the end of the six month training period, but the training you will have received here will enable you to find work elsewhere.” It remained something of a puzzle why the pocket money Nihal was offered during the training period was infinitely higher than mine which was a meagre Rs.300 per month.

Like most of us who entered the profession after him, Nihal covered New Delhi courts, Tis Hazari courts, Municipal Corporation, Delhi State Assembly, Police Commissioner, Chief Minister. The drill of dwelling on nodal points of governance and power, moving upwards in measured step, imparted to the journalist that most precious of attitudes: an indifference to power, an ability not to be overawed.

As the profession expanded behavioural contrasts magnified. Untrained entrants at senior levels, who had romanticized political power from a distance, became unsteady on their feet because they found corridors of power too heady. A sense of balance was a frequent casualty.

This is where Nihal could not go wrong. In 1982, when the nation was convulsed by the Meenakshipuram conversions, Nihal, then Editor-in-Chief of the Indian Express, sent a teleprinter message to me in Madras where I was then posted as editor of five southern editions: “urgently need 700 words on Meenakshipuram.”

I put on my ultra-balanced hat and churned out the required wordage. It was a typical “while on the one hand” but “on the other” piece. Muslims shouldn’t be upto these tricks and Hindus shouldn’t get too excited. I mentioned “structural violence” in the Hindu social order: this was sacriledge and Nihal let it pass. Unaware of the gathering storm, he thanked me for having responded promptly.

What followed took him and me by surprise. We were both completely out of touch with the strength of feelings on the issue. Indeed, a certain indifference to religion which a whole generation cultivated as Nehruvian secularism was being jettisoned and we found ourselves flat footed.

After a brilliant career with the IAS and having established himself as a scholar of the Indus Valley script, Iravatham Mahadevan, had taken up a job as Executive Manager of the Indian Express’s southern editions. After reading my edit, he came charging to my room in a state of high agitation. “How could you have done it?” He looked at me in a daze, blabbering like someone in a motor accident. “How could you have done it?” I learnt later he was from the RSS, shakhas et al. I commend to the RSS to keep more Mahadevans in its stable. He was exceptionally erudite on subjects of his choice.

In the Express compound, in Hick’s bungalow, Ramnath Goenka was bringing the ceiling down: “Hindu Kahan Javey?” (Where should the Hindus go?) “Tum to Makkay chale jaao; Hindu kahan javey?” (You can go to Mecca, but where should the Hindu go?)

He commandeered his chartered accountant, S. Gurumurthy, senior RSS functionary, to write a rejoinder to my editorial. My “balanced” approach to Meenakshipuram, it transpired, was misplaced.

It was now Nihal’s turn to face the music. The piece, authored by Gurumurthy, arrived at his desk in New Delhi. His job as Editor was on the line. What should he do? But Nihal did what he had learnt in The Statesman. In a newspaper, the prerogative for taking editorial decision rests with the editor. He consigned the article to the waste paper basket. Ramnath Goenka too was a larger than life publisher. He allowed his Editor’s line to prevail. But separation was clearly on the cards; they belonged to different cultures.

So did S. Mulgaonkar “apparently” belong to another culture but he was both, a craftier man and a finer writer. In the projection of his image, Mulgaonkar was exactly Nihal’s opposite. Never having been to school, Mulgaonkar cultivated all the airs of English aristocracy. He was adept at bridge, horse racing, angling, and, believe it or not, keeping Oxford and Cambridge cricket scores. He was a gourmet cook, a fad for which he cultivated junior French diplomats as sources for herbs and white wine. All of this impressed the Marwari in RNG. Once an editor, devoted to the amber stuff, looked at his watch and dropped an obvious hint: “I suppose I will not get a drink here.” Pat came the reply from RNG “I keep, but only for English people.”

Nihal had no aristocratic pretenses of a Mulgaonkar. He was content with his buffalo undercut, marinated in garlic and pepper, roast potatoes and Dujon mustard on the side. He called it beef fillet. The Dujon, rather than English mustard was in deference to his warm hearted Dutch wife, Ge. He had first come to know her when she was a young KLM hostess. I remember him flaunt his European affiliation before friends in London: “I prefer the continent”, he would say with a sort of flat, ineffective pomp.

His understanding of politics and International affairs was uncomplicated. He made up in clarity what he lacked in deep insight. He was, by habit, a perfect gentleman.

It was a mistake, I believe, for both Pran Chopra and Nihal Singh to be parked respectively in Kolkata as editors of The Statesman. The only Punjabi that Bengal has ever tolerated was K.L. Sehgal in New Theatre cinema. This elicited no more than a smile from Nihal.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Syrian War Being Dragged On Basis Of Lies For Ulterior Reasons



Syrian War Being Dragged On Basis Of Lies For Ulterior Reasons
                                                                             Saeed Naqvi

If war begins in Syria, it will be on absolutely trumped up charges about the use of poison gas by Bashar al Assad. Why would he gas his own people if he is, by all western assessments, winning the war? And how do White Helmets take perfect close-up pictures of injured children? How do they not get poisoned? How do they not get poisoned? Mine is a small voice but, having travelled to each one of the countries involved in the Syrian tragedy, I can say with all the conviction at my command: this war is being dragged on the basis of lies and for ulterior reasons.

On March 29, 2018, President Donald Trump announced in Ohio that the US would “very soon” get out of Syria. Other nations should shoulder that burden. As if on cue, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, declared that Bashar al Assad would remain President of Syria. He added, in parenthesis, that US troops should remain in Syria for “the short term if not the long term.”

This abrupt change of heart by the two who are principally leading the anti Assad campaign in Syria was explained by an intelligence mishap. In fact a double gaffe was involved. A major plan to surround Damascus, with Ghouta as the spring board was to be boosted by US air cover. Syrian intelligence found out the details about this plan.

How would the US justify a major air campaign over Damascus? White Helmets, a multimillion dollar NGO founded by a British Army officer, James Le Mesurier to boost the propaganda effort of the motley group of militants and state actors, were expected to play a key role at this juncture. They would detonate “poison gas” in Douma, a town in eastern Gouta. This would be blown up sky high as Syrian “brutality”. That would justify an air campaign.

When this plan was leaked the Syrian army barged into Douma. They caught red handed atleast fourteen intelligence officers of whom eight were from Saudi Arabia and one each from the US, Israel, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Morocco. Some nationalities pose a question mark? What is a Turk doing in this gang? Is Turkey playing both sides of the street? Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supposed to be at each others’ throat. What is ultra cautious Morocco doing in Douma? This is all happening in the midst of a fierce urban, guerilla campaign. Who knows how many identification documents are in play?

In brief, the capture of intelligence officers caused Trump and MBS to reverse gear. These two obviously had fears that their officers, may begin to sing like canaries. But no such fear afflicted the British and the French. Their officers are not on the list. These countries face a bagful of problems back home. They did not mind when White Helmet, the False Flag experts, detonated their devices, not so much to kill, maim and suffocate but to saturate the networks and the news agencies with heart rending pictorial coverage. This would divert attention from their problems. In the case of Britain these problems were existential.

The Helmets have clearly been advised by psychologists that children look the most angelic between the ages of four and five. If the children can be plausibly shrouded in bandages, their limbs suspended by slings and ambient sounds given a suitable crescendo, their mission would be successful.

On March 29 and 30 Trump and MBS were cooing like doves. How does one then explain the messy resumption of hostilities in Syria – alleged gas attack in Douma and Israeli missile over Homs?

One theory is that Trump can flourish as many white flags as he likes, the Deep State will proceed on its agenda regardless. This, quite literally, is a singular moment in history when there is no super power to control or direct world affairs.

President Emmanuel Macron is facing a revolt of the Rail Unions and more. With all manner of populisms waiting in the wings, a young President, on a brand new party may seek respite in diversionary moves which direct national focus towards the Russian menace.

It is Britain where the establishment is on sixes and sevens. Labour’s Leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn’s ratings keep rising despite stalwarts of the new Labour like Lord Peter Mandelson declaring in interviews that Corbyn “must be undermined”.

Accidental Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May has not quite found her feet after the Brexit debacle. Then her performance at the party Tory conference last October became an almighty embarrassment. Fighting for her political life, when she rose for her speech she was afflicted by an unstoppable, hacking cough. Then, like a bad omen, letters on the backdrop behind her began to drop off. It became a comical clip for the social media. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, nursing an unrealistic ambition, acquired a bounce in his tread.

Both May and Johnson have invested a great deal by word and gesture, on alleged poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. They were also keen that the embers of Syria must not be extinguished.

Meanwhile not just the conservative MP, Lucy Allan, from Telford, but the entire Establishment is in deep shame at the serial sex abuse scandal of over 1,000 British children, spread out over years which media like the BBC has been accused of covering up. It is disgusting to speculate that Ghouta and Skripal have helped divert attention from the most horrendous of sex scandals mankind has ever known.

What is staring the May-Johnson duet in the face is the prospect of a rout in the May 3 local bodies’ elections. Just the wrong time for Trump and MBS to be embracing Vladimir Putin. Western democracy needs Russia painted in lurid colours for greater cohesion. The West needs a raison d’tre, an enemy image, to be able to stand upright.  Something like a, Cold War. Hence the rumbling of war drums.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Saudi Crown Prince, Trump Together Staring At Syrian Exit Door


Saudi Crown Prince, Trump Together Staring At Syrian Exit Door
                                                                                        Saeed Naqvi

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, 32, has once again given international affairs a twist which has caused a hush to descend on the world centres of power.

He announced that Bashar al Assad would not be toppled. “Bashar is staying”, he said, then continued, “but we believe Bashar’s interests are not to let Iran do whatever they want to do.” He also added, in parenthesis, that “American troops should stay for atleast the short term if not the long term.”

This last bit of advice to the Americans was obviously an immediate response to what Donald Trump had announced in Ohio. He said US troops would be pulled out of “that war weary country” very soon.

Did this statement invite a panicked response from MBS in the course of his interview to Time magazine set up in New York’s Plaza hotel? Or, was it all choreographed with the Americans, in response to some “other” development.

The US President announces troop withdrawals from Syria just when the Saudi Crown Prince is visiting him. MBS goes one better. He makes the entire Saudi policy since the beginning of the Syrian war stand on its head. President Assad can now keep power in Damascus. Until a few days ago “Assad had to go”. This was non negotiable.

The chorus has been joined by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Addressing the UN Human Rights Council, he thumped the table and screamed with emotion. What is happening in Ghouta, south of Damascus is “Hell on Earth” and that “it must be stopped”.

So divided is opinion on the Syrian conflict, that fingers were instantly pointed at him. Does the description “Hell on Earth” apply only to Ghouta and not what the world saw in Aleppo, Idlib, Mosul, Fallujah, Yemen? After all, hundreds of thousands of migrants walked, sailed, drove to Europe to escape the unspeakable horrors of Syria, Libya, even Iraq. No one saw the Secretary General do the “Tandav” then. He was not heard screaming. “Hell on Earth.” There must be something special about eastern Ghouta. What is it?

Sifting details, a narrative does emerge in sharper profile. A major provocation by the “opposition” (for which read US led alliance) in Idlib near Aleppo, cause Syrian troops, their Russian backers in tow, to rush in that direction. Syrian Intelligence, meanwhile, picks up chatter which suggests that Idlib may have been a diversionary ploy. In “opposition” focus was the biggest game of all: attack on Damascus. If true, it was an audacious plan.

Tanfs, on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq (Al Waleed is on the other side) serves as a US base. To grasp the plan a map of Syria, bordering Iraq, Jordan and Israel would help. About 30,000 trained militants, in small batches, were to move along the border with Jordan, looping around Daraa towards Quneitra, the Golan Heights, looking for passages into Ghouta. This is where the White Helmets were to play a key role.

Media audiences may be forgiven for imaging that White Helmets are variants of Medicines without Borders, the Red Cross and so on. This precisely is the way they have been projected on global media. Let me give you an example:
On October 12, 2016, Christiane Amanpour of the CNN, places in Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov’s hand a photograph of a four year old Syrian boy with a burnt face. This is in the course of an interview with Lavrov, who looks at the photograph and mutters “very sad”. In the same interview he says openly that the US was helping the Nusra Front.

On October 20, the same photograph is flourished by Hillary Clinton during the final Presidential debate with Trump in Las Vegas. Clinton even simulates a lump in her throat while dwelling on Russian perfidy in Syria. Remember, throughout that election campaign, Trump was painted in dark colours as a beneficiary of Russian favours.

Now, let’s turn to Vanessa Beeley, of the 21st Century Wire website. She paints the White Helmets in lurid colours. According to her and a host of alternative media, White Helmets are part of the West-led anti Syrian war effort.

It was this alternative media which posted visuals of the very same “burnt boy” being strapped to a chair in a mobile studio even as cameramen produce pictures which find their way to Amanpour and Clinton during shows with record viewership. It is a frightening reality.

Now let’s revert to the plan to take Damascus. As thousands of trained “rebels” close in on the Syrian capital, the White Helmets, who, according to Beeley, are also false flag specialists, will detonate poison gas or something worse which the global media (also part of the operation) amplifies as the greatest detonation since Bikini Island. The day would only be saved by a massive US led air campaign. My source for this drama is only the alternative media which, alas, is the most credible outlet available since the mainstream media appears to have been mobilized for the “war effort”. This I know from my visits to Syria.

As often happens, the Damascus plan leaked. Syrians had spared Ghouta thus far for a simple reason: the human shield factor made it a forbidding operation. But after the leakage of the mega plan, Syrians and the Russians had no option but to go for broke on Ghouta. The white Helmets also went full throttle with their propaganda amplifiers. The world saw the horrors of Ghouta (albeit manufactured) on their TV sets.

In the meanwhile, the Syrian army captured Western, Israeli, Saudi intelligence assets working out of a full-fledged control room in Ghouta. This, as I indicated in an earlier paragraph, is what is special about Ghouta.

Does this explain the suddenness of revelation with which the script on Syria has been altered? And, can peace which results from a gigantic blackmail, last?

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