Friday, May 18, 2018

Ramadan Ceasefire In Kashmir Meaningless If Media War Continues


Ramadan Ceasefire In Kashmir Meaningless If Media War Continues
                                                                                        Saeed Naqvi

I have never seen the electronic media so totally defiant of the BJP government. Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s avowed intention to calm Kashmir by announcing a Ramadan ceasefire appears to have been dismissed as “appeasement of Pakistan and terrorists”.

A guest peering out of one of the six windows on the TV screen was frothing in the mouth. “Murderers of our brave jawans are being shamelessly appeased.” The other went one better: “a brave nation does what the Sri Lankan army did to the LTTE – just finished them off.” The anchor on this Aaj Tak show Thursday evening looked angrier than both. This apparently is common fare.

The Communist Party of India is receiving signals from its Kashmir unit that it may have to rename itself. The ‘I’ in the CPI has been hurting the state unit for quite some time. But after the recent surge in shootings, stone pelting, “encounters”, sustained images of wailing women, trailing the spate of funerals, and relentless media jingoism, the “I” now invites physical danger. True, a defunct party by any name will remain defunct, but even so, Communist Party of Kashmir (CPK) will atleast not incur the wrath of the street.

The relative Ramadan peace is a good occasion to take stock. Even in days of drift in Kashmir during the time of P.V. Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, there was a semblance of political control by the National Conference and the PDP. Elements of the Hurriyat had fingers on the street pulse. The scene recently has been anarchic: there was no control.

Recent increase in violence was described by reliable sources as “indigenous” which is not what officials say.  A narrative which discounts outside “meddling” is not honeyed music to the establishment. Nor to that shrill panel – on Aaj Tak. Ironical, isn’t it, that absence of outside support to the insurgency disturbs us?

Just when Kashmir was at fever pitch, the mayhem in Aligarh Muslim University erupted around the photograph of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Friends are in error if they consider the undiluted hooliganism on view in Aligarh an occasion to engage in a serious debate on Jinnah’s culpability in partitioning the country. The hoodlums of Aligarh were not busting their guts to have Jinnah’s portrait removed from the AMU union office. Quite the contrary. Hindu Yuva Vahini would love to provoke Aligarh hotheads to dig their heels in to preserve Jinnah in the university precincts. This will be the ammunition which can come in handy at all times. The campus will be the ordnance depot for frequent explosions in the service of the projected Hindu Rashtra.

This is not the first time in recent decades that AMU has been exploited for saffron politics. Ever since Prime Minister V.P. Singh aggravated identity politics by implementing the Mandal Committee report providing reservation in government jobs to lower castes, the BJP has rushed to prevent the caste structure from crumbling. Hindu consolidation, by building up the Muslim ogre, has been the obvious strategy.

Aligarh was frequently the target as part of this strategy. There was no Arnab Goswami in the 90s but Hindi newspapers played a lead role in widening the Hindu-Muslim divide.

A story appears in newspapers that, after horrendous riots in Aligarh city, some of the injured Hindus being taken to the University Medical College for treatment, are being killed by Muslim doctors and interns. Even though the university is only three hours drive from New Delhi, newspapers choose to rely on unverified agency copy which, in turn, quotes upper caste Hindi newspapers.

An incredible scene is being enacted on the outskirts of the university. Local scribes seated on chairs arranged in a circle under a mango tree, sip tea even as one Krishna Kumar Navman, BJP MLA from Aligarh, holds them in his thrall with graphic accounts of murders in the hospital.

“Has anyone visited the Medical College?”, I ask. They had not, they say, because it is “risky”.

At the medical college the picture is surreal: petrified doctors encircle me.

“No one has come to us for clarification”, they complain.

Why have they not reached out to the journalists with their story? After a long, pregnant silence, they speak up. They thought it would be dangerous stepping out of the campus “in the midst of communal violence”. This is what I call uninstitutionalized apartheid.

That was 30 years ago when there were no TV channels to inculcate saffron nationalism on the scale I saw the other day and which I have mentioned above.

Folks overtly agitated or elated at the turn of events in Aligarh, may find it sobering that Pakistan’s Jinnah is not the only leader around whom communal polarization can be contrived. Ram Navami processionist in Kankinara, 24 Parganas in West Bengal were so overpowered by the spirit of Rama that they pulled down the statue of Congress President and India’s first Education Minister, Maulana Azad – a person, who in his outlook was exactly the opposite of Jinnah. This was in preparation for the Panchayat elections currently in the news.

Protection to anti namaz lumpens in Gurugram, or those who pasted a Maharana Pratap Road placard on Akbar Road (the placard was removed the next morning), Modi clenching his fist at Tipu Sultan during the recent campaign, are minor episodes in an epic of hatred being manufactured for 2019 ofcourse, and beyond if need be. In this gameplan there is no real, long term respite for Kashmiris, Muslims, or Indo-Pak peaceniks. Alongside, the rage of the dalits and tribals is spiraling out of control. There is an element of simulation in anti Muslimism for political reasons but the retribution faced by dalits and tribals in the countryside is visceral.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Record For US President: Tears Multilateral Deal Then Publicly Endorses Torture


Record For US President: Tears Multilateral Deal Then Publicly Endorses Torture
                                                                                               Saeed Naqvi

In the Trump multiplex, three shows are on simultaneously. First, the stages between the announcement of withdrawal from the deal and real withdrawal – how signatories respond at each step. That is one play. Without the US to lean on, will Britain ever countenance a grouping of which Germany is the most muscular member? Riveting stuff.

Second, consequences on West Asia. And finally, sauce for Iranian goose is not sauce for the North Korean gander. Nail biting suspense for the audience because no one will know what turn the three narratives will take.

Those smacking their lips at the prospect of Europe drifting away from the US, into another lap, would do well to delay celebrations. True, Donald Trump has just handed them money for jam by withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Deal, but as I have said above, between announcement and actual withdrawal there is time for a slip.

Almost on cue, Israel has provocatively sought to escalate the Syrian conflict by attacking what it says are Iranian assets. Israel must have been very peeved at Iran protégé Hezbullah’s Hasan Nasrallah administer an electoral one-two on the chins of Tel Aviv and Riyadh. After this week’s elections in Lebanon, he is indomitable in the country’s politics. He fulfills one of the laws of nature: he whom Washington opposes must win.

The other big reversal for the US led alliance is Syria itself. Iran was beginning to loom menacingly over Riyadh and Tel Aviv. Does Washington’s withdrawal from the deal bring Iran down a few notches? Or quite the opposite happens? Iran looks dignified. Trump it is who has bartered away American trust. He is replacing measured policy with caprice and impulse.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry sought to address the West Asian scene differently. Their world view was at a variance from Trump’s “non world view”.

The Obama-Kerry approach to the Iran deal was conditioned by serious nuclear concerns, ofcourse. But it was also a function of re prioritizing US role in world affairs in the context of China’s rise. The “pivot to Asia”, in their conception, required a more “hands on”, focused attention to the Asia-Pacific region. They placed the Korean Peninsula in that framework. Diplomacy would advance US interests but without risking strategic alliances.

Having inadvertently enhanced Iranian stature by dismantling Taliban in Afghanistan (with Iranian help, let’s remember) and Saddam Hussain in Iraq, the nuclear deal was one of the ways to manage Iranian power.

The deal had conferred legitimacy on the power structure in Tehran. A new balance of power in West Asia had become feasible. Tehran, Tel Aviv, Ankara, Riyadh, Cairo, would be part of this pentagonal balance of power.

The Palestinian Peace process, Syria’s civil war, Yemen, money spinner for arms merchants but a diplomatic disaster all demanded American attention on a daily basis. This stalled the crucial “pivot”.

Obama and Kerry sought to place Tel Aviv, Riyadh and others in the same tent as Iran. This was anathema to Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammad bin Salman. There was a frenetic stamping of feet at this prospect.

They were encouraged from the “New Cons” lobby parked in Washington think tanks, campuses, media and sundry Zionist groups, that Israeli-Palestinian was no longer the West Asia’s core conflict. It had been superseded by the Shia Sunni schism. This was now the basic faultline conditioning West Asian affairs. “No one talks of the Palestinian issue these days” remarked a very old but alert Henry Kissinger during a talk at the Nobel Academy in Oslo two years ago.

The issue which underpinned Arab unity until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990-91 was Palestine. Thereafter, Iran remained a thorn in the sides of regimes where the street was sensitive to the Palestinian tragedy Egypt, Jordan, for instance. How did Iran aggravate the situation? Sustained focus on the Palestinian issue during Friday prayer sermons by the supreme leader in Tehran were routine. The agitation in the Arab street, and the basement, in response to these sermons gathered further strength in direct proportion to disturbing news from Gaza or the West Bank. It was continuous crisis management.

Swollen ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood would cause Hosni Mubarak to go running to the Saudi King who opened his coffers for mosques and radio stations in Egypt which propagated exactly the political Islam which Saudi investments were supposed to quell.

Cairo’s discomfiture was a source of anxiety to Tel Aviv too: the Egyptian regime, under the American yoke, was well disposed towards Israel. But the Muslim Brotherhood’s growing links with Gaza were disturbing.

For the international community to remain consistently focused on the Shia-Sunni divide, the Palestinian issue must be placed under a haze. With their combined clout, Tel Aviv and Riyadh succeeded in shifting focus to Shia perfidy against Israel and Saudi Arabia. Remember, how livid Netanyahu was with Obama? Totally ignoring the US President, he sailed above his head to address the US Congress.

There was an ironical twist to the tale. Excessive focus on the Shia Sunni divide, quite unintentionally brought anachronistic Wahabism under global searchlights. This is one of the reasons for the Saudi Crown Prince’s impatient and risky gallop towards modernization.

If the Israeli-Saudi duet considers Trump a Godsend, the partners better investigate such qualities as Trump’s attention span, his intellectual stamina. Can he stand by impulsive decisions until they acquire the outlines of policy? He announced he was leaving Afghanistan, then ordered a military surge in that country. High appointees have been in and out of Trump’s rotating door with such rapidity that it is something of a world record. What becomes of the CIA Director-to-be Gina Haspal, celebrated torture expert, will be watched with interest. His chilling endorsement of Haspel is in words that no American President, no “leader of the free world” would have uttered in his wildest nightmare. He made one’s hair stand: “Torture works” he repeated with cold deliberation “Torture does work”.

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Friday, May 4, 2018

Winners May Be Losers In Karnataka’s Catch 22 Endgame


Winners May Be Losers In Karnataka’s Catch 22 Endgame
                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

It was what a film director would have described as a perfect take. “You are a beginner” says he, grinding his teeth in simulated anger. “These are your days to learn”. A measured pause; he emotes. “And you are insulting a former Prime Minister, a senior most leader?” This was Narendra Modi, straight from the Method school of acting.

He was chastising Rahul Gandhi, the Congress President. In the course of a fierce three way election campaign, Rahul, prompted by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, described the JDS as the B team of the Sangh Parivar. Modi tore into Rahul.

The manner in which Modi leapt to Gowda’s defence raised eyebrows. The outburst cast the JDS as a party which had BJP’s sympathies. Modi, at that moment, could have reached out and kissed Gowda.

If this creeping murmur reached Muslim enclaves which were once Congress vote banks, a section of the Muslim vote which would otherwise have travelled towards Gowda, would check itself. This would be ironical: the “S” in JDS stands for secular.

After the demolition of the Babari Masjid in 1992, the disenchanted Muslim vote, walking out of the Congress fold, was waylaid by regional parties. In Karnataka, this vote took respite under the JDS umbrella.

In these circumstances, is the Congress delusion, of being the “only” national alternative sustainable when a pan Indian quantity like Muslims is permanently averse to it in the states? To overtly woo Muslims, Congress leadership has been advised, risks loss of Hindu vote in direct proportion to the saffron in the air. Congress avionics are now conditioned entirely by these weather conditions. Such abject dependence on the weather will have its logic. There will be occasion when the flight will not take off at all.

Now, the post Babari shortfall has to be made up by holding on assiduously to the Hindu vote. This requires the kind of Hindu cohesion the Congress is not geared for. If it plugs upper caste hemorrhage, the lower castes flow out into regional receptacles.

It cannot do what the BJP does: pose the Muslim as the unstated other for Hindu consolidation. The Congress simply steers clear of the Muslim like one would steer clear of trouble. It differentiates itself from the BJP, though. It has a distinct self image: it’s the party of “good Hindus”. It does not endorse the lumpenization associated with “street” Hindutva or the BJP.

It is a difficult pirouette. How do you project yourself as a squeaky clean Hindu without criticizing excesses in the name of the cow, love jehad, Muslim youth languishing and in jails without trial. National monuments like the Red Fort will now be handed to cement magnates for repair and maintenance and so on.

Alright, the BJP erects its “hard” Hindu  edifice “othering” the Muslims. How does the Congress delineate its “soft” Hindu outlines? Is there clarity or is it all hazy and vague?

Modi chastised Rahul for bad mouthing Gowda. Rahul found it so important to come clean on the subject that he agreed to give his very first newspaper interview since he became Congress President in December to Karnataka’s Deccan Herald group of newspapers.

He said he was not attacking Gowda at all; he was only inviting Gowda to explicitly declare whether he was on “that side or this side”. An epic ideological battle was on between the Congress and the BJP. Choose one.

What was the urgency for him to seek this clarification? In fact it is all the more puzzling because Modi’s intervention was designed to soften Gowda towards the BJP – it was like an olive branch to the JDS. If amplified, this would have the effect of the Muslim vote shifting away from the JDS towards the Congress. Why would Rahul need to neutralize conditions for this possible outcome? Well, it was a gamble. Rahul needs an outright victory with a safe margin. In a House of 224 he needs well in excess of 113 seats. Muslim support might help.

Conventional wisdom in Bengaluru gives Congress 95 to 100; BJP 85 to 90 and JDS 35 to 40 in a hung house. This is dicey – for the Congress. Deve Gowda, as kingmaker will immolate himself but not make Siddaramaiah the Chief Minister.

The moment Rahul looks for an alternative to Siddaramaiah in order to keep Gowda in good humour, a new game will have begun.

If Congress wins outright, the credit must go to Siddaramaiah, whatever self serving message the Congress coterie in New Delhi coaxes out of the result. In a state historically dominated by Vokkaligas and Lingayats, Siddaramaiah has brought under one umbrella the upwardly mobile Kuruba (Shepherd) community as one powerful group. By accepting a demand by a section of the Lingayat community (the late Gauri Lankesh for instance) that they are “outside” the Hindu fold, he has created mild disruption in the Veer Shaivite, Lingayat ranks. BJP’s Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat, will face that music.

By replicating, Jayalalithaa’s canteens, selling subsidized rice and pulling out every implement in the populist tool kit, Siddaramaiah has cast a wide net to ensnare the voter. At a time of Rahul’s frenetic temple hopping, Siddaramaiah’s irreligious, Lohiaite persona is refreshing.

What profit for Siddaramaiah to remain affiliated to the Congress if he sees regional actors play a greater role in post 2019 calculations? Who knows he may like to consolidate his regional base. Siddaramaiah is not the only one who is basically averse for a ride in a messy coalition just months before 2019. Supposing Modi calculates that Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh can be bunched with 2019 to his advantage. That is why any long term player will not be enthusiastic about the unstable Karnataka gaddi. But the eager bearer son of Deve Gowda, H.D. Kumaraswamy is aching to ascend the throne even for a few months with BJP support, Gowda’s denials notwithstanding.

From the Bengaluru throne, the Gowdas, BJP, everybody will then train their guns on Siddaramaiah. It is Catch 22 for all.

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