Friday, January 31, 2014

If Not For 2014, Is Rahul Rebuilding Party For 2019 Or 2024?

If Not For 2014, Is Rahul Rebuilding Party For 2019 Or 2024?
                                                                                  Saeed Naqvi
In his interview with Arnab Goswami, Rahul Gandhi came across like Hamlet in the TV age, wanting his soliloquies to be discussed, to become part of the nation’s mainstream discourse. Arnab, on his part, was his Master’s Voice stuck in a groove: “You are avoiding a direct face-off with Narendra Modi …….with Modi……Modi”

In the course of his 137 questions spread over 90 minutes, Arnab implored, requested, urged, dared Rahul 28 times to meet Modi in a one to one. Rahul lamented that the media discussed only superficial issues. This lamentation was aired ten times. On 45 occasions he tried to navigate Arnab towards a discussion on the need for transparency, to change the system, to empower youth and women.

The transcript of the interview runs into 12,800 words. Rahul is granted speaking time for about 7000 words. Arnab takes up 5000 words to ask his questions, making it an interviewer-interviewee ratio of 40/60 percent. This near parity in wordage between Arnab and Rahul in what was billed to be a historic, super primetime interview, must be a path breaking style in the annals of interviewing.

Or it may not be because Arnab has already established himself as a cross between a circus ringmaster and a cock-fight pit owner in Lucknow’s Nakkhas of yesteryears. In this genre of television, a knack for sustained harangue and not intrepid questioning is the accepted form.

Earlier in the week, Barkha Dutt of NDTV and Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN quizzed Arvind Kejriwal methodically to enable us understand the AAP leader. But I gather TRPs chase harangues.

Rahul has a handsome, clean, trustworthy, face of a Greek god but he will never make it as a romantic hero in Bollywood. He does not emote. He doggedly stated his case but he could not, by sheer force, leave an impression that he had done so.

He thought he would give Arnab an opening on which a brief question and answer session would follow. He said it was his “first formal interview of this type” because he had been busy “on internal party work and that’s where most of my energy was going”. But Arnab began to outline his rules for the interview. “I have one request to you right at the start: let’s be as specific as possible on the subjects we deal with today. Do I have your agreement on that?”
Rahul: “Yes we will be specific but if I like to sort of explain things in a broader fashion, I think that will be okay with you?”

But Arnab would have none of it. He unleashed his agenda. “Modi……Modi…..Modi.” The first 22 questions were on Modi.

Rahul sang a parallel tune. He was distressed that a handful of people selected all candidates for Parliament and the State Assemblies. He found in AAP a kindred spirit. They were involving the people in all the processes, something he has had to make heavy weather of because the systems within the party and outside it were extremely resistant to change and innovation.

He referred to his grandmother and his father’s death not necessarily as a tear jerking device, but to tell his tale. “My father was a pilot thrown into the political system by circumstances” and “I saw my father in constant, constant combat with the system and then I saw him die actually”.

And so “I have an aim….. I do not like what I see in Indian politics, it is something that is inside my heart. It is like in our mythology when you talk about Arjun, he only sees one thing, he does not see anything else. You ask me about Modi, you ask me about anything in the system and the only thing I see is that the system in this country needs to change. I am blind because I saw people I loved destroyed by the system”.

This is powerful stuff and would have made for great copy had Rahul not lost sight of the script and made that insensitive remark on the 1984 riots. That is where his inexperience showed up.

Whether it is his obstinacy or his consistency, one cannot be sure, but he continued with Arnab where he had left off with the Confederation of Indian Industry last April. Only 200 people select 5,000 candidates to all legislatures. Beyond these are 2.4 hundred thousand village Panchayats. It were these that had to be “empowered”. Legislatures and policy makers have to develop institutional mechanisms to liaise with the Pradhans who implement policy at the village level.

While the party is contemplating the coming elections in a state of heightened anxiety, the party Vice President, with “2000 workers” he “is proud of”, is busy with his own pilot project, that of choosing sixteen candidates for Parliament through a system of primaries. If successful, this system will be expanded for wider application in 2019, when Rahul will be only 48. By the 2024 elections Rahul will still be only 53. As for 2014, the party maybe in a state of panic on where Rahul is going but, with his eyes only on his chosen target, he is on his way.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

AAP Vs Congress, BJP, Police: Who Won Last Week?

AAP Vs Congress, BJP, Police: Who Won Last Week?
                                                                             Saeed Naqvi
When Delhi Law Minister, Somnath Bharti said he would “spit” on two distinguished men in India’s public life, he was only employing a salivary image, a metaphor. When the pretty pert anchor on a leading Hindi channel, raised her eyebrow, distancing herself from Bharti’s allegedly inelegant speech, she asked: “does he realize that, because of his bad behavior, the world is doing thu, thu (spit, spit) at us”. 
She had inadvertently walked into a spitting image. One better get used to the new public vocabulary as my friends in old Lucknow have. They were proud of their city once known for its “gandi galiyan – saaf zabaan” or dirty lanes but sparkling speech. They have adjusted themselves to a Lucknow where Mulayam Singh Yadav’s successful rally against Mayawati a few years ago carried the emblem “dhikar rally” or “curse you rally”. Mayawati paid him back in his own coin. She led a “thu, thu” rally.

Bharti, the TV anchor and Mayawati, all employed the same figure of speech, a quaint function of growing egalitarianism, something one cannot quarrel with. There is a problem, though, when feudal elegance and an egalitarian culture lay an equal claim on ones allegiance.

It is this somewhat confused set of people morphing into the tinsel middle class which did not know what to make of a Chief Minister at the pickets, who eventually retired for the night on a pavement, not far from Parliament House, under a thick, flowered quilt. It was an astonishing spectacle.

What was Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal trying to dramatize by setting up this spectacle? Throughout her 15 years as the Congress Chief Minister, Sheilah Dikshit, lamented the fact that police and law and order where not in her hands. BJP held the same position.

This is a piquant situation which creates an almighty gap between reality and perception. The reality is that in December 2012, a brutal gang rape and murder took place in a moving bus in Delhi. The guilt in popular perception lay with the elected government. But all authority to deal with the situation was with central government or its agent, the LG.

AAP, exploded on the national scene with an ambitious program to wean out corruption. It is axiomatic that a new political party, determined to fight corruption, must willy nilly, be seen to be fighting the police as well – in order to change it.

Status quo parties like the Congress and the BJP talked about police reform but did nothing. Having been boosted by a raving Delhi public, AAP could not rest on its laurels.

It is for this reason that the contradiction with the police was sharpened so dramatically. Bharti kept pointing at a house in Khirki Extension which, according to his constituents, was a “den for drugs and sex”. The police officer pointed his finger at the Minister. Heaven knows on whose side the TV channels were: they kept this shot in focus for three days without a break. There were allegations of racism but not in the footage that was telecast.

The AAP were keen to demonstrably establish their case: look, the police is not under our control. If law and order deteriorates, do not blame AAP. Blame the central government. If the police do not listen even to a Minister, what chance does the ordinary citizen have with them?

The police was out to highlight AAP as a bunch of law breakers. So were the BJP, Congress and the channels.

After the recent election verdict, whom will the people believe?

It is a deeply political situation too. Any doubts on that score have been removed by the Delhi Congress Chief, Arvinder Singh Lovely: “AAP wants us to withdraw support but we will not oblige them”. Lovely, whose party was down to eight seats in a House of 70, knows in the next round he will be liquidated.

On polling day December 4, the Delhi voter’s support for AAP was blind. After the startling verdict, even the BJP’s bravado rings hollow.

Has there been an erosion in the AAP’s support in the month it has been in power?

Soon after the results I had written:
“There is a split in the ruling class and this must be watched. This class is inherently fickle, anchored to deeply entrenched interests. The rapturous applause with which a section of it received the AAP’s arrival may give way to caution, a cunning reserve, eyeing both sides of the street. A group that may be separating itself from this class is its own youth, a sort of rebellion within. AAP has catalyzed a larger dynamic for change.”

The challenge for AAP begins now as it proceeds to harvest the wild support that has mushroomed in parts of the country.

In Kanpur, a leader announced his support for AAP with hundreds of drumbeaters in tow. Industrialists turned up to plead his case for a ticket. It looked like old times until authorized AAP functionaries introduced some order.

Mumbai is seething with enthusiastic donors. Is there a screening process in place? In Gujarat, agitating farmers are turning to AAP. Narendra Modi is already talking of inclusive politics. Remember his Atal Behari Vajpayee like soliloquy on Gujarat’s pain?

A new political mood for the 2014 elections can already be credited to AAP. Ironically what could cause them to stumble is the pace of their own success. The challenge is to prove wrong the old adage:
“Victors are by victory undone”.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Armed With Nuclear Certificate, Iran To Enter Conference on Syria

Armed With Nuclear Certificate, Iran To Enter Conference on Syria
                                                                                                       Saeed Naqvi

On January 20 and 22 Middle East watchers will be riveted on two different conference venues in Geneva or thereabouts.

The first meeting will concern itself with the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

The five Permanent Members of the Security Council, United States, Russia, China, UK, France plus Germany and Iran agreed on a deal on Sunday, January 12. It will be watched for six months. The same deal, in a somewhat raw form, had actually been announced in November. Technical details had to be filled in. This was accomplished on Sunday.

Coming Monday the process of implementation of the agreement begins. This will be simultaneously accompanied by a “corresponding” lifting of sanctions. The six month period has been divided into 180 days. On each day, or week, you give so much and take so much. Ofcourse, there will be accusations of the scales being tipped one way or the other. But Secretary of State John Kerry is very determined this time.

The second event is a full blown conference known famously as Geneva II, focused on Syria. Geneva I was held in June 2012, a little over a year after the conflict began. It was largely a process led by governments. A concept of a “Syrian led” process towards Geneva II emerged. This resulted in rapid multiplication of insurgent groups inside Syria, some so brutal as to challenge credulity. The anxiety was to cobble together some kind of an opposition to President Assad. So, more murder and mayhem including the destruction of the great mosque in Aleppo, followed.

The war dragged on and on. Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan kept asking the Americans to give the rebel forces more time to alter the ground realities. Only then would a group emerge to give weight to an opposition delegation to Geneva II. Really, more power to the hardline Salafist–takfiri groups who have recently proliferated in Iraq and Syria will result in a credible delegation to Geneva?

All those supporting the conflict from outside have, ofcourse, succeeded in causing half of the population being internally displaced; millions of refugees pushed into neighbouring countries; about 5,00,000 civilians killed, and hundreds of years old monument in one of the world’s great civilizations, wantonly destroyed.

But they have not been able to obtain the trophy they most covet: the head of President Bashar al Assad. They were not able to affect regime change in Syria.

When all else failed, the chemical weapons attack in August 2013, allegedly by the regime (it was never proved), appeared to be the answer to their prayers. What President Obama described as a “Red Line” had been crossed. Missile attacks would follow.

Sergey Lavrov, the most respected Russian Foreign Minister since Andrei Gromyko, intervened creatively. Syria would voluntarily surrender its chemical weapons. The bargain would be straightforward: a political solution to the conflict involving all Syrian stakeholders.

For all their exertions, there is no coherent opposition yet to meet in Geneva to set into motion a “Syrian led” process for peace. Free Syrian Army and the Transitional Council members are hopping from one host country to another in quest of a delegation for Geneva II.

Are these conditions propitious enough for Geneva II to be convened on Wednesday?

Broadly, the game is as follows: the United States and Russia have agreed on two critical issues. That an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme should be given momentum for the next six months. There will then be a pause for stock taking before negotiating the next, long term, agreement.

They are also agreed on the Syrian conflict being brought to an end through a political process.

On both these approaches, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Syria are more or less satisfied. But Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Israel and France are in various degrees of disappointment and nervousness.

This gang’s dream scenario would be that the nuclear deal with Iran be scuttled. Freed of the nuclear taint, (these countries fear) Iran will begin to play a regional role which will diminish theirs. The Middle East will never be the same again. They are trying to scare Washington. “Look a risen Iran will undermine the US in the Middle East”. This kind of talk has some purchase in the US Congress.

Rumours wafting from Riyadh suggest some sort of a conclusion to the Kingdom’s succession stakes. This may bring about a change in its recently aggressive diplomatic style credited to Intelligence Chief and former ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

Riyadh and Jerusalem, hand in hand, are imploring Washington to go slow on Iran and certainly not to invite Iran to the Conference on Syria, Geneva II. Kerry is walking around the minefields with great skill. “Iran has not been invited” says he, or words to that effect. And he is not telling a lie. Iran has not been invited, “not yet”.

It will be different situation when the nuclear deal with Iran is set into operation on Monday. Kerry has made it clear on several occasions that he accords a higher priority to the nuclear deal than to Iran’s stand on Syria.

Once the nuclear arrangement gets going, and Iran emerges with a non stigmatized image in a region riven with terrorism, why would anyone stand in the way of a country with so much influence in Syria?

In fact it could be curtains for the Saudi sponsored Al Qaeda affiliates running amuck in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan? When the sponsorship of these groups is terminated, how will these clusters of high voltage fundamentalism ever be tamed?

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Maulana Azad On The Question Of Mass Conversion

Maulana Azad On The Question Of Mass Conversion
                                                                                Saeed Naqvi
I was scribbling notes for a seminar on the occasion of Maulana Azad’s birthday in February when the mind made an extraordinary connection with a historic event I was witness to.

In February 1981, an obscure village of Meenakashipuram, about 15 kms from Tenkasi, shot into prominence because 150 low caste Hindus converted to Islam. I was then with the Indian Express in Chennai.

Having been trained in my alma mater, The Statesman, to write features of such balance as not to appear to be taking sides, I proceeded to balance the argument on Meenakshipuram too. Hindus must do this and Muslims must do that and so on.

Next morning, I found myself in the eye of a storm. Irathavan Mahadevan, Executive Director and a brilliant scholar on the Indus valley script, came running down from his office upstairs, frothing in the mouth. Every now and then, he would leap a few inches and find his feet again. He was speechless with anger. I should have condemned the conversions, he stuttered, and chastised the Muslim groups responsible for it.

In the Express Estates, Ram Nath Goenka was bringing down the plaster from the ceiling. “Hindu kahaan jaaye? Hindu kahaan jaaye?” (Where should the Hindu go?) He shook with rage: “Tum to Makka chale jaao; Hindu kahaan jaaye?” (You can go to Mecca, but where should the Hindu go?)

K. Sambandam, the solitary non Brahmin member of the editorial team, spread out Dravida newspapers on my desk to prove that the “balance” in my editorial also had a clientele among the two Dravida parties. But I had learnt the hard way that it was wiser to steer clear of intra Hindu arguments. Had I learnt the right lesson?

Meenakshipuram happened when the communal cauldron was bubbling over on account of other factors – the insurgency in Punjab, Zia ul Haq’s Nizam e Mustafa in Pakistan, social imbalance caused by the petro dollar remittances from Gulf, the early appearance of garish Dubai houses in Kerala. Conversions only provided the ignition.

The 80s were marked by a spate of riots in Moradabad, Aligarh, Maliana, Bhagalpur, climaxing in the Shilanyas or the foundation laying ceremony for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya and finally the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December, 1992. Communalism, once triggered, picks up a life of its own particularly in the context of electoral politics.

Meenaskshipuram, however, remains unique in the sense that no Muslim conversion on this scale had happened since Independence, nor did one after 1981. Was it financed by Dubai remittances? What did occur subsequently was something quite different: a spate of attacks on Christian missionaries. These alerted leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee about a rash of Christian conversions in the tribal areas of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. Vajpayee called for a national debate on conversions. K.N. Govindacharya of the RSS, dedicated himself to reclaiming those who had “strayed” out of the Hindu fold.

When a similar situation arose in the first decade of Independence, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru invited his Education Minister, Maulana Azad to tackle the complicated situation.

What happened was this. During a debate in the Lok Sabha on foreign Christian missionaries, Home Minister, Kailashnath Katju said: “If missionaries come to India only for evangelical work, then I commend to them the thought that they stop coming here.” The statement created a furore among Christian missionaries.

Maulana Azad wrote a letter to Cardinal Valerian Gracias in Mumbai.
"Let me assure you that we are fully aware of the outstanding work foreign missionaries have done over the past 150 years in education and other humanitarian fields. For years, the East India Company was opposed to imparting education to Indians. It was a missionary society which opened the first school and college to impart modern education to Indians. After India's independence, many missionary societies asked us if they would be allowed to continue their work and we encouraged them to continue the good work.”

"The acceptable way for religious conversion is simple: if an adult reflects on the faith he has been born into and feels intellectually compelled to adopt another faith, he has all the protection in the Constitution to exercise his free choice. This kind of conversion is a function of proper balance between the heart and the mind.”

The Indian Constitution gives the right to every individual to preach his particular faith and the recipients of such preaching have every right to change their faith.

"But there is another method of conversion: for social reasons or for a common cause, a large group of people makes up its mind to defect from one religion to another. If each individual of this group were asked to explain why he left the faith of his forebears, I am certain he will not be able to advance a reason persuasive enough that such a person has actually reflected on the question of religion and truth. On most occasions such groups are composed of people who have no education, people who are singularly incapable of making up their minds on issues that inform a matter as serious a religious belief.” An elitist view?

But mass conversions, according to the Maulana, “cannot be called religious conversions. Instead of conversion this sort of a shift should be called by some other name. The Constituent Assembly called it "mass conversions".

The Maulana settled the debate two generations ago. How would his reasoning be received by both the sides today?

In 2002, Jayalalitha passed the Tamilnadu Prohibition of Forcible conversion of Religion Act. K. Karuanidhi opposed it tooth and nail.

“Forcible conversion?” Frowned Madar Sahib, who changed his faith when he was 40. “Yes, I was forced by the upper caste Hindus to run away from a system that treated me like a street dog?” According to the Maulana, Madar Sahib “defected” from an unfair system. It was not religious conversion.

Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Marxism are all linear proselytizing systems. There is a problem when they come into contact with a circular system which does not convert.

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