Friday, May 30, 2014

Ministry For Minorities: Tokenism Yet Again?

Ministry For Minorities: Tokenism Yet Again?
                                                        Saeed Naqvi

The appointment of a Minister for Minority Affairs has been a huge let down.

During the election campaign, Modi had stated that he would be the Prime Minister of all 1.25 billion Indians. So demoralized has the Muslim been in recent years that a simple promise of equal rights was music to his ears.

What the Congress has done to him in six decades of independence is clear in the Sachar Committee Report of 2006. In it he saw his decomposing visage. So deep was the rot, that anything the Congress did to keep the pretense, was no more than a highly advertised relief camp for administering palliatives – a Ministry for Minority Affairs here, a Minority Commission there and, if elections are nigh, call in the town criers to read out a hundred point programme for Muslims. And, yes, as a final act of electoral craft, call in the Imam of the grand apparel, always ready with his skates on.

Having been seduced early by Jawaharlal Nehru who wore the Shervani with a rose in the button hole, spoke Urdu, visited Maulana Azad once a week and befriended left leaning Arab leaders the Muslim felt he was being led by one of his very own. Mahatma Gandhi secured the Muslim’s right flank: he supported Maulana Mohammad Ali’s call to save the “Khalifa” in Turkey.

With such gestures aplenty, the Indian Muslim took little note of the miraculous appearance of Ram Lalla idols in 1949 under the central dome of the Babri Masjid. Nehru was the Prime Minister. Thereafter, it became the “disputed structure” which was eventually pulled down.

Congress leaders not only opened the locks of the temple for daily puja, but they upped the ante for the BJP. They promised to usher in Ram Rajya, on the eve of the 1989 elections.

And what were the gifts handed to the Muslims? The leadership banned Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, reversed the Supreme Court judgement on Shah Bano, delayed upgradation of relations with Israel citing Muslim anxieties. In every instance, what profit for the Muslim? These steps, instead, further alienated him from the mainstream consensus.

As part of this variety of tokenism, came the Ministry for Minority Affairs, the Minority commission, and sundry steps which issued from the party’s transparently insincere commitment to secularism.

There were considerable expectations of the Congress. The cumulative effect of disappointments resulted in an irretrievable Muslim exodus from the party from 1989 to 2014.

The outcome of the 2014 elections has left him in a state of psychological bipolarity. He is actually quite indifferent to the demolition of the Congress. Across the board he has the same lament. The Congress used him as a vote bank. But a satisfaction at Congress collapse has been balanced by the colossal scale of Modi’s ascendance.

In an outstanding film, Queen, the protagonist is shocked to her foundations by an unexpected turn of events. She resists the temptation to turn back. Instead she bravely proceeds on the path she would have traversed if the traumatic incident had not taken place. It becomes a wholesome journey of discovery.

The Indian Muslim was rapidly preparing himself for the New Deal of equal rights. Hence, acute disappointment at the unimaginative Congress style tokenism of a Ministry for Minority Affairs.

Such a Ministry creates an impression of special facilities for minorities without delivering anything of consequence. Let me introduce you to a handful of annoying tokenisms.

Visit the Indira Gandhi International Airport and watch the Haj Terminal. It creates an impression of privilege, one which irritates non Muslims, without being of substantial use to Indian Muslims. Haj takes place once a year. Does a terminal round the year make any sense?

Likewise, what possible sense is there for the Ministry of External Affairs to keep one Ambassadorship reserved for Muslims? It is an unwritten rule that the Ambassador to Saudi Arabia must be a Muslim.

Is there a particular advantage in posting a Muslim ambassador to Riyadh? Ambassadors in Washington, Moscow, Beijing and hundreds of other countries are unlikely to be all Muslims.

The argument that Muslim pilgrims travelling to Mecca and Medina need consular help is only partly valid. For this purpose, the Consul General at Jeddah would suffice. Jeddah is not far from the two holy cities. But must a full fledged ambassadorial post in Riyadh be out of bounds for non Muslims?

The convention of posting only Muslims to Saudi Arabia is flawed on the secular principle, ofcourse, but also for practical reasons.

In a pool of 800 IFS officers, barely one percent are Muslims. A result of the special dispensation is that Muslim officers end up with a series of Saudi postings. When MEA official spokesman Syed Akbaruddin was offered the Riyadh ambassadorship, he excused himself. He had already done two extended postings in Saudi Arabia. This turned out to be a boon for Ambassador Hamid Ali Rao who was to have retired. He has been given a year’s extension.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

To Gain Muslim Confidence, Discard UPA Tokenism, Rethink War On Terror

To Gain Muslim Confidence, Discard UPA Tokenism, Rethink War On Terror
                                                                                             Saeed Naqvi
Just when the nation was preparing itself for Narendra Modi’s swearing in ceremony on Monday, all Indian newspapers have published a story the Prime Minister must find time to read.

It is a story of Mohammad Saleem and five others set free, after eleven years in jail, by the Supreme Court for having been falsely implicated in the Akshardham temple attack case. In fact the police had earlier offered them a choice: would they like to be charged for the Godhra train burning, Haren Pandya’s murder or the Akshardham attack. This is exactly what the six said at a press conference in New Delhi on May 20, implicating the state.

Can we persuade the Prime Minister to ensure action against officials who, by their callousness destroyed so many lives.

The story was fresh in our minds when the very next day, on May 21, another saga began of Muslims being arrested. The story on page one of the Hindu and other newspapers read:
“The National Investigation Agency on Wednesday claimed to have unraveled the conspiracy behind last year’s Patna and Bodh Gaya blasts with the arrest of four persons (one a juvenile) on Tuesday. In the past seven months the NIA has arrested 14 suspects.”

“Those arrested include the top fugitive Haider Ali, alias Black Beauty who carried a reward of Rs. 10 lakh on his head.” He was the link between the Students Islamic Movement of India and the Indian Mujahideen.

“Haider Ali was arrested along with Mojibullah Ansari. Their disclosures led the agency to Numan Ansari. Other arrests are Tehsin Akhtar, alias Monu and Waqas (Pakistani national and alleged bomb making expert).” This strange amalgam of names, aliases, frightening job descriptions, nationalities etcetera, the entire story has been attributed to the NIA chief, Sharad Kumar, who has been quoted in inverted commas.

With lightening speed, the 7/11 serial train blasts in Mumbai has also been solved. Page one of the Indian Express carries the story as an anchor. It is a miraculous, sequence of cases cracked just days before the swearing in. Strange, unlikely names tumble down.

One had to grow up in old Lucknow to know the difference. The best perfume manufacturers of Awadh were Asghar Ali – Mohammad Ali but the best tobacconist, particularly manufacturers of tobacco for the hukkah or hubble-bubble, were Mohammad Omar-Mohammad Siddiq. It is elementary that the first set of names are Shia and the rest, Sunni.

Obviously, sleuths on NIA payroll have had no such drill. In the Patna and Bodh Gaya blast cases, a Shia name, Haider Ali, has been listed along with patently Sunni names. Is there a Shia-Sunni joint assault on India? Nothing like it has happened anywhere in the world. Two years ago when Mohammad Ahmad Kazmi, an unabashed Shia, was detained for being an Iranian agent who was allegedly involved in an attack on the car of an Israeli embassy employee, his religion was given as “Sunni” by the police in the First Information Report. And it was an extremely high profile case.

My petition to the Prime Minister would be simple: those convicted in acts of terrorism must be severely punished. But we must avoid at all costs the lengthy media trials which end in no convictions.

In these cases, officials must be penalized for callousness. Media trials implicating innocent Muslims lead to a sense of helplessness, a total alienation of the minorities. They begin to see the establishment as their enemy. The majority community, on the make in the neo liberal environment, finds the minorities an irritating distraction, spoil sport, anti national.

Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association has compiled a remarkable book, “Framed, Damned, Acquitted: Dossiers of a Very Special Cell” under the UPA. It is a catalogue of Court Judgements which acquit Muslims who have been framed and detained sometimes in excess of decades for crimes they never committed.

Nothing in recent history has aggravated communalism more than these media trials, particularly the ones which run into a dead end. All that the State has to do is to restore the decencies which conditioned Indian journalism a few years ago. Names were never published or announced on TV unless the accused had been proved guilty.

By a coincidence, last week also happened to be the 28th anniversary of the Malliana Massacre. There were riots in Meerut after Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi opened the locks of the Babri Masjid/Ram Janmbhoomi. Minister of State for Home, P. Chidambaram, issued instructions that rioters must be crushed. Congress Chief Minister of UP, Bir Bahadur Singh, was of the same mind. Thereafter, 42 young Muslims from Malliana and Hashimpura in Meerut were picked up by the PAC in trucks. They were lined up along the Gang canal and the Hindon river, shot and pushed over. One or two pretended to be dead, swam to the other side and have lived to tell the story. The case has dragged on for 28 years in the lower courts alone.

Consider a contrasting story from the Balkans. In 1995, thousands of Bosnian Muslims were lined up and shot in the village of Srebrenica. The murdering General, Ratko Mladic, is facing trial at the Hague.

If the new government can help clear up the unholy mess left by the Congress and the UPA on this score alone, Muslims will be freed from the anxiety and fear they live in.

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Congress And Caste Parties Decimated, Whither Indian Muslims?

Congress And Caste Parties Decimated, Whither Indian Muslims?
                                                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

Over 180 million Indian Muslims will stand on the margin looking stunned and petrified, watching Narendra Modi and the BJP make history and colour the nation with saffron. What a predicament for the world’s second largest Muslim population which equals the populations of Germany, France and Spain put together.

Where will the Muslim turn now? In UP and Bihar he stands at a cul de sac.

Disenchantment with the Congress had been gradual from fairly early on. They had been shortchanged by the party since the Partition in 1947. But it hit them like revelation when P.V. Narasimha, the Congress Prime Minister, watched the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, inactive and pulverized. The Muslim vote walked out on him. The Congress came down to its lowest tally of 140 seats in 1996. The Muslim sleep walked into the parlours of caste parties in UP and Bihar. This is the state of play when Modi enters the fray in elections 2014.

The RSS had for years been embarked on a project of “reclaiming” dalits by offering them respectability in the Hindu order. A story to make my point. Recently, a group for communal harmony in Kerala placed on the dais two individuals from opposite sides of the Gujarat 2002 pogrom. One was Qutubuddin Ansari who became the iconic image of the pogrom imploring his attackers to spare him. The other was a sword wielding young man looking fearsome with a red bandana around his head: his name was Ashok Mochi. A Mochi means a cobbler. Herein lies a tale.

By giving them frontline roles in communal conflicts, the Sangh Parivar has dignified Mochis, Khatiks (fruit sellers), Lohars (blacksmiths), Nayis (barbers), Valmikis (toilet cleaners), dhobis (laundry washers) in large numbers as Hindutva’s foot soldiers. Amit Shah has been something of a genius who, by employing this new Hindu infantry, has altered UP’s political sociology.

By focusing on Mayawati and Mulayam Singh as Muslim appeasers in an atmosphere of perpetual communal tension, Amit Shah succeeded in luring dalits and OBCs into the burgeoning Hindu Parivar. Rather than be taken for granted by the two who were busy concentrating Muslims electoral support, would dalits and OBC’s not be better off with a dalit Prime Ministerial candidate? Rather than remain static with Maya and Mulayam, they would progress with a dynamic Hindu formation.

The challenge for Modi now is to reach out to a frightened population which has grown accustomed to caste protection for the past 25 years. The most rudderless, running helter skelter for security, have been the Muslims.

BJP’s stunning success in the Hindi belt, Maharashtra and Gujarat, provides a startling contrast to an extraordinarily incompetent Congress, completely out of touch.

Seldom in the history of modern India has New Delhi been more bereft of power than it has been during UPA-II. Elements in the Army, Intelligence Agencies, Senior Judiciary and the Bureaucracy defied orders under UPA-II. They worked quietly for the new regime which was expected to take over. If ever the nation was in peril, it was during UPA-II. It was a laughing stock too everywhere including in influential diplomatic circles.

Many wondered why Modi was launched into the campaign as early as June 2013, after the BJP conclave in Goa. In retrospect, it turned out to be superb strategy. The Congress party, divided between groups loyal to Sonia Gandhi, the Prime Minister and Rahul Gandhi, never got together in a serious huddle to chalk out an election strategy. By the time they reconciled their electoral gameplans, the BJP campaign had already generated something of a wave. The Congress was demoralized even before the campaign began.

I had some idea of the spectacular way in which the Congress was going to lose because I was present at Gandhi family confidant Sam Pitroda’s interaction with the media at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in New Delhi in mid April.

“Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi refused to meet the Press even when the opposition campaign consisted overwhelmingly of media management” Pitroda despaired.

Everytime the bright young hope of the party, Rahul Gandhi, was consulted, he spoke in parables and confused the workers with his hair brained schemes for grassroots selection of candidates.

Towards the end of the campaign, the family, in a state of funk, commandeered Priyanka Gandhi to ensure that mother and son did not lose in Rae Bareli and Amethi. They held onto the two seats by the skin of their teeth. Once the campaign ended, Priyanka was back in the “zenana”. The grand old party has been decimated beyond recognition under Sonia Gandhi’s watch. Only when it is freed of the dynasty’s stultifying presence will new seeds sprout before the onset of the coming monsoons.

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Friday, May 9, 2014

Will There Be A Surprise End To Modi’s Tale?

Will There Be A Surprise End To Modi’s Tale?
                                                                   Saeed Naqvi
If this election campaign is to be remembered like a suspense drama, it must have a surprise end.

What a roller coaster it has been since June 2013 when all senior BJP leaders assembled in Goa to strategize for the coming elections. Instead of discussing the roadmap with senior leaders, Narendra Modi and his cohorts imposed on them a fait accompali: Modi will be the head of the party’s election campaign.

There was much consternation and beating of breasts until something was whispered in their ears. They fell in line – but only to regroup in L.K. Advani’s Prithviraj Road bungalow in New Delhi. “We do not agree, we do not agree” went the chant. Two days later RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat arrived from Nagpur. He put his finger on his lips. A hush fell on the congregation. They fell in line again.

This time they marched in step, only occasionally remembering the seniority they had surrendered. On one such instance they asked for their preferred constituencies. No, they were told. You go to Gandhinagar and you to Kanpur and so on and so forth.

Surrounded by brilliant directors and choreographers, Modi embraced the Method school of acting and became the Prime Minister, parallel to the one in Race Course Road.

On august 15, Independence Day, while Manmohan Singh looked pale, weak and quite out of place at the Red Fort, Modi looked like an ad for vitality capsules as he stood in his designer kurta at the Lalan College in Bhuj. It was a wondrous show. A split TV screen had two Prime Ministers, Manmohan Singh and the presumptive Prime Minister.

That was in August. Modi has since been offering performances at the rate of two every day without a break for the past nine months. In the old days even a circus never stayed in town for more than a month. To expect a nation to be riveted on a one-man show for months without a break, belied scant understanding of the Indians’ sense of fun. This is a country of fairs, nautankis (village theatre), folk songs, chutkulas (jokes), kahavats (sayings). It is unbelievable that a year long campaign yielded not a joke, a quip, a pun. Viewers had a surfeit of an aggressive, taunting, vicious, menacing Modi. There was no humour, no gentle touch. This, in a nation of the pastoral lyric. If the nation is not all cock-a-hoop with Modi, something must have palled.

Yes, we love our Gods and Goddesses, but not in our living spaces, mornings, noons and evenings. That would be tiresome. Modi was in our living rooms all the time for a full year. The blame will have to be placed somewhere here if the world’s most expensive election campaign does not deliver him the Prime Ministership.

What was conceived by TV script writers as a Modi versus Rahul Gandhi serial dialogue, lost considerable audience appeal when Rahul refused to come on stage. Even until December, when Arnab Goswami trapped Rahul for his solitary interview, there was hope that he would be persuaded to duel Modi. Arnab asked him eighteen times in the course of the interview to agree to a debate with Modi. But Rahul was fixated on one theme: he was devoting himself to a system of primaries for selection of candidates. This reporter had written years ago that Rahul’s eyes were set not on 2014 but more on 2024 when he would be only 53 years old and possibly more willing.

After a disastrous UPA-II, the Congress had reconciled itself to sitting in the opposition. But panic gripped the family when reports trickled in of the party dipping to double digits. Hence, the frenetic action by the Gandhi family in Rae Bareli and Amethi. The thinking around Congress President Sonia Gandhi is that a tally of 110 plus will enable the party to give outside support to a grouping and somehow keep Modi out.

But Rahul is singing a different tune. He would like to sit in the opposition and reconstruct the party according to his lights.

This would have been a sensible strategy and in harmony with the party Vice President’s laid back style, if Modi were zooming ahead, towards the magic figure of 272. He is not. The news from the game changing states like Bihar and Andhra Pradesh is not good for the BJP. Only Modi’s very reliable Amit Shah’s machinations are keeping the party in serious contention in UP. The BJP’s hopes hinge on this state. So, Rahul wake up. You may be required to be nimble.

The manner in which Modi, Arun Jaitley and Amit Shah have pitched their tents in Varanasi against the administration and the Election Commission, does not make them look like a victorious trio. Have you ever seen a winning team abuse umpires?

With the Akalis fighting for their lives in Punjab, there is little of the NDA left to induce confidence. And before the party flaunts its Shiv Sena affiliations take a look at Saamna, the party’s mouthpiece. Gujeratis, it says, are not trustworthy.

If numbers do not help him ascend the Delhi throne, Modi would be loathe to have the “oldies” he sidelined in Goa be resurrected. That would fritter away the good he has accumulated in the course of the lengthy campaign. The Sangh Parivar is now in possession of new data on dalits, how Valmikis, Lohars, Khatiks, Mallahs are willing to be Hindutva’s new infantry, deserting caste parties. This is a huge advance on the work among dalits done by RSS social workers like K.N. Govindacharya in the 90s.

If Modi were interested in an enlarged NDA, he would not have burnt (or weakened) his bridges with Mamata Bannerjee, Jayalalitha, Mayawati or Naveen Patnaik. But Murli Manohar Joshi has turned up in Nagpur to advance the interests of the BJP, in the event of Modi’s electoral eclipse. This signals a power struggle.

Just look at the awesome power of the Indian people, as the world waits with bated breath for the May 16 election results. Heaven knows what fate awaits all of us. And, as I asked at the outset, what surprise twist awaits the Modi tale?

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