Friday, May 29, 2015

Voters Debunk Two Party Systems in Delhi, Greece, Spain, Scotland Etc.

Voters Debunk Two Party Systems in Delhi, Greece, Spain, Scotland Etc.
                                                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

The new poster boy of European politics could well be a pony tailed Pablo Iglesias, in a dark blue denim shirt, 40, leader of Spain’s new communist movement, Podemos, which threatens to end the two decade old rule of the right wing Peoples Party. Playing second fiddle to PP in Spain were the socialists. As phenomena, is there a similarity between Iglesias and Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party?

Regional and Mayoral elections last Sunday had Prime Minister, Mariana Rajoy, reeling against the ropes. Not only will Podemos now decisively have its candidates as Mayors of the two biggest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, but it will be influential in most regions.

In their sixth year since the global economic crisis, Spain’s neighbourhoods (virtually like Residents Welfare Associations in India) protested against housing evictions, unemployment, austerity, above all, unspeakable corruption. Podemos which means “we can”, provided the ideological linkages across the regions. Where is such a linkage in India? AAP can, at best, be a model regional force depending on how it performs despite the sniping.

Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland, AAP in Delhi, are all part of a global trend.

Electorates in most countries, afflicted by the economic downturn since 2008, are feeling suffocated in the strait jackets of two party systems that have been imposed on them. These systems may have evolved over time but they are now being reinforced by powerful vested interests who have developed links of profit with the two parties.

This exactly is the situation in India too. Narendra Modi’s extraordinary success in May 2014 can be attributed to two major facts. The world’s biggest, most expensive media campaign, which lasted a full year, eversince Modi’s candidature was announced in Goa.

This campaign harvested the disgust against the triumvirate of Sonia, Rahul and Manmohan Singh. Yes, the Gujarat model was repeatedly, mentioned but it was nobody’s case that the Indian electorate had fallen in love with Narendra Modi. Whatever chance there may have been for a pro Modi scent in the air was neutralized by Sakshi Maharaj, Yogi Adityanath and the Sadhvi who divided the world neatly between Rama’s devotees and those she declared were bastards.

Consequently, the record mandate with which the Delhi electorate returned AAP, within ten months of Modi being sworn in, rattled Modi and his cohorts.

Big Business had allowed the media it controls to pay attention to Arvind Kejriwal prior to the elections. If he won, they would still have the BJP and the Congress to play the balancing game with it. But the scale of AAP victory reduced BJP and Congress to ciphers in Delhi.

The electorate had transformed Kejriwal into a Gulliver and his colleagues into Lilliputians.

It was a piquant situation. Even as the multinationals, Indian corporate, Sangh Parivar, the middle class on the make, planned a binge for the next five years, the party was spoilt by the Delhi vote. Kejriwal’s visage had to be tarred.

A triumphant party, with control of South and North blocks, indeed the nation, stood trounced in its capital city.

The media, reasonable about Kejriwal before the elections, unfurled its fangs. First, Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav were boosted on page one of newspapers, on prime time shows, for two full weeks without a break.

Then cameras focused for a week on a man who climbed a tree and allegedly hanged himself. In a burst of investigative journalism, the media found an AAP minister with fake degrees. The allegation was never proved.

In the Lt. Governor versus Kerjriwal quarrel, the media has not explained the Ambani interest in Delhi’s power distribution which seems to be at the heart of the spat.

True, the Union government has four more years to tire out the AAP government. But has the tipping point not been reached when the negative publicity heaped on Kejriwal begins to cast him as the David standing upto the centre’s Goliath?

In Spain the media likewise gave space to Podemos at the outset. But now that Podemos threatens to upturn the capitalist applecart by his victory, Iglesias himself expects the media to turn upon him.

Being Spainish has helped Iglesias and the Spainish left in general in a very special way.

“For us Latin America has been a fundamental reference point – we have worked in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela.”

Iglesias said all this to Tariq Ali on, increasingly a medium of choice as more and more serious viewers drift away from the mainstream, something AAP must learn in double quick time.

For want of space, I have not expanded on President Joko Widodo in Indonesia and President elect Andrzej Duda who are not communists at all (in fact Duda is anti Marxist) but represent the global trend to smash two party systems corrupted by crony capitalism.

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Itinerant Prime Minister Yet To Visit A Muslim Country

The Itinerant Prime Minister Yet To Visit A Muslim Country
                                                                               Saeed Naqvi

Measuring a government’s achievements in its first year has to be inherently speculative. But some things can be put down to Narendra Modi’s account with a degree of certainty. He has in his first year as Prime Minister, never worn a Muslim cap although it is difficult to identify a cap of that denominational description.

Time was when a dopalli topi or a white muslin cap was standard headgear among Hindus and Muslims alike. In winters, muslin gave way to wool. A variety of headgear was on exhibition at Prime Ministerial Iftar parties, a standard Congress fare, but which mushroomed in direct proportion to Congress decline.

Mulayam Singh Yadav, an equally eager Muslim vote hunter, went on an Iftar feeding spree too, wearing funny hats. But he also struck a high cultural note to accentuate his secular identity. So far political leaders had mobilized the clergy from Deoband, Imam Bukhari of Jama Masjid and sundry Mullahs as potential vote gatherers. Mulayam Singh was persuaded that Muslims along with a religious identity, also had a cultural dimension. They were, in other words, amicable to charms of Urdu poetry as well.

It turns out that in UP there is an Urdu poet buried behind every culvert. In the contemporary era there have been some very famous poets. Someone mentioned the name of Josh Malihabadi. But he had blotted his copy by going over to Pakistan where Faiz Ahmad Faiz beat him hollow in the popularity stakes. Next in status would have been Firaq Gorakhpuri. But his full name was Raghupati Sahai. Mulayam asked shrewdly: how would that affect voters?

Jigar Moradabadi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Ali Sardar Jafri (Balrampur) and, the greatest of them all, Majaz Lucknowi, were all within hailing distance of Mulayam Singh. But they all suffered from one handicap: they had no lobbies to promote their candidature.

In this respect, Kaifi Azmi was doubly blessed. His daughter, the distinguished actor, Shabana Azmi and lyricist and poet, Javed Akhtar, worked on Mulayam’s aesthetic aspirations with great diligence. There is no Indian poet in any language who has a railway train named after him: Kaifi does. There is a Kaifiat Express to Azamgarh where in Mijwan village, a girl’s school and haveli have been resurrected in his name. This is not all. All India Kaifi Azmi Academy has been opened in Lucknow in service of Urdu, with generous cash replenishments from the state.

Mulayam Singh’s single minded patronage of Kaifi Azmi does serve the cause of Urdu, which must be welcome. But it surely cannot be anybody’s case that in Lucknow, the city of Urdu’s greatest masters, all iconography must be focused on Kaifi Azmi alone, a remarkable poet though he was.

Excepting a flair for sartorial colour combinations, Modi has in his first year not demonstrated a sensitivity to aesthetics. Muslims associated with him, Najma Heptullah, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Zafar Sareshwala, have all been assigned to maintain some kind of paddocks for Muslims. Heptullah and Naqvi are senior and junior ministers for Minority Affairs and Sareshwala a newly appointed Chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad.

Modi is giving out two signals: in my generous, “genuine” secularism I have three outlets for minorities. There is a second and more important message: away from the mainstream, there are separate watering holes for Muslims. Does it not smack of apartheid? A ministry for minorities is in any case a retrogressive idea in a secular state. And if you must have such a ministry, it would seem more wholesome in enlightened Hindu hands. That would have been more integrationist.

The conceptual framework in which Modi sees Muslims became clear in his very first speech in Parliament after being sworn in as Prime Minister: he talked of “1,200 years of ghulami” or servitude. In other words he sees the entire Muslim period as one of “ghulami”. This is direct, blunt and possibly hurtful but at a wide variance from the Nehruvian construct about only 200 years of British rule being foreign. The professional secularist ofcourse glosses over this one in tactful silence, which is another way of telling a lie. This is one of the unsettled questions of the Indian condition after Partition.

How this appraisal of history plays on Modi’s neighbourhood policy has yet to be seen. His very hectic foreign itinerary has some very revealing gaps.

For a Prime Minister who has undertaken more foreign travel than any in his first year, Modi probably holds an unnoticed record: he has not yet visited a Muslim country. He even refused to attend the 60th anniversary of the Bandung conference on April 22 attended by statesmen like China’s Xi Jinping. Indonesian President Joko Widodo tried to contact Modi on the phone but could not. Whether he was avoiding Jakarta, Capital of world’s largest Muslim country or discarding a Nehru trail remains unclear.

An outstanding success story for India in foreign policy terms happens to be Sheikh Haseena in Bangladesh. Will Modi break his taboo on travel to Muslim countries by an early visit to Dhaka?

There obviously is a new, secretive style being enunciated in South Block of which itineraries are only a glaring part. It would therefore be premature to arrive at conclusions even on the basis of Modi’s travels and the Sangh Parivar’s known stance on minority issues. Who knows what script has been thought through on the BJP-PDP arrangement in Jammu and Kashmir which has been managed with skillful patience and care so far. All these are salient features in his first year.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

The Centrality Of Lucknow In The World’s Shia Culture

The Centrality Of Lucknow In The World’s Shia Culture
                                                                        Saeed Naqvi

How important was Lucknow in the Shia world?

Last year, addressing a group of foreign policy analysts in New Delhi’s Leela hotel, Ambassador of Iran to India, Gholamreza Ansari, made an important admission.

He admitted that Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, came from an important family of divines from Kuntoor, in the Awadh region of Uttar Pradesh, not far from Lucknow.

It was an important admission because this very fact had been denied at the time of the Iranian revolution in 1979 by the Ayatullah’s office in Gumran, outside Tehran. In fact “denial” is too emphatic a term. The fact was not denied, but Ayatullah Khomeini expressed great anger that this connection had been raised so soon after the revolution succeeded.

At the receiving end of this angry outburst was a goodwill delegation, hurriedly put together by Atal Behari Vajpayee, then Foreign Minister in the Janata government led by Morarji Desai. His Foreign Secretary, Jagat Mehta, was even more enthusiastic to establish contacts with the new regime in Tehran.

The delegation was led by the former Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission, Ashoke Mehta. The impressive Shia persona of former ICS Badruddin Tayabji, with his distinctive headgear, was mobilized too. But the pièce de résistance in the group was something else: a young Shia cleric, Agha Ruhi Abaqati, scion of the family of Saiyyid Nasir Hussain Qibla, a theological scholar of great distinction. He was enlisted as the guide for the delegation.

Before returning to Iran, leading the revolution, Ayatullah Khomeini had spent years in exile, among other places, at Neauphle-le-Chateau, outside Paris. Among those who attended on him in France, was Maulana Agha Ruhi. The families of Khomeini and Abaqati are, in fact, linked by relationships.

This fact alone qualified the cleric from Lucknow to be a key player in the Vajpayee-Jagat Mehta initiative to establish links with the new regime in Tehran.

A bright Indian Foreign Service officer, First Secretary in the embassy, Kuldip Sahdev, escorted the delegation to the Gumran headquarters. But before they could be ushered into the Supreme Leader’s presence, they were halted by the leader himself, with a wave of his hand. He then gestured to Abaqati to come closer. Just when it appeared Khomeini might share a confidence with Abaqati, it dawned on everyone that the cleric from Lucknow was being given an earfull by the leader of the Islamic revolution.

He was angry that not only had Abaqati claimed a relationship with the Iranian leader, he had in fact encouraged the government of India to take a diplomatic initiative on that basis. The poor man was not guilty at all. Government of India had contacted him on a tip off.

During a conversation in Qom a year later, ayatollah Montazari, nominated as deputy to Khomeini in the earlier days of the revolution, explained to me the secret of the diplomatic debacle.

“It was a young, insecure revolution; we were afraid ultra nationalists might snipe at the India link.”

The Ambassador’s admission was important because it demonstrated how secure the Islamic revolution now was.

The second, and more important message was one which the audience, typically, did not register. Even by the admission of the Iranian Ambassador, Lucknow and Awadh have always been at the very heart of world’s Shia culture.

True, the Moghul Empire is believed to be Sunni, but that label can lead to misleading conclusions. Ayaz Amir in a recent article reminded us of something interesting: that the great Moghuls were not funless bores like the Maulanas, that some of the seminaries subsequently churned out. They were passionate, pleasure loving, large hearted men with a delicate sense of aesthetics.

Babar barely had time to settle down but all the others leaned on Shia Saiyyids in their courts for administration and advice. The second Moghul, Humayun, had been chased out of the country by the Pathan Sher Shah Suri. Humayun, found refuge in the court of the Safavid King in Isfahan and returned with an entourage of Persian craftsmen and intellectuals.

This considerable Shia influence was augmented when Emperor Jehangir increased his dependence on his Queen, Noorjehan, a strict Shia. The period he spent in Kara Manikpur in Awadh as a fugitive from his father, Akbar’s justice, he dispensed favours and land grants to Shia Saiyyid settlements in the vicinity, increasing their cultural hold on Awadh. Shia power reached its peak with the ascent of Nawabs of Awadh in the 18th century.

There is an incredible amnesia about Bahmani Sultanate, Sharqis, Berar, Bidar, Qutub Shahis, Adil Shahis, Najafi Nawabs of Awadh, Murshidabad and most recently Rampur.

Equally, who remembers the grant by the Begums of Oudh to the Shia centres of learning in Najaf and Karbala? The British continued the stipend because it enabled them keep in touch with Shia theologians in those centres. Surely New Delhi too would have found value in the connection. But is it even familiar with the Shia profile in India?

The assimilation of Indian elements in music, poetry, dance, architecture was common in the Shia courts and Sufi shrines. Both are in the direct line of fire in Pakistan where the murder of 43 in a bus in Karachi the other day has boosted the number of Shias slaughtered in the past two years to 2,000. The great poet Iqbal described a similar situation as the shadow play of day and night.

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Lets Commemorate 1857 And Search For Rani Of Jhansi’s Stolen Insignia

Lets Commemorate 1857 And Search For Rani Of Jhansi’s Stolen Insignia
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

On March 10, 2014, President Pranab Mukherjee, had promised a Citizens Group for 1857, that he would obtain from the government details on how India’s First War of Independence will be commemorated. A change of government may have delayed the inquiries Rashtrapati Bhavan intended to make.

Meanwhile, another anniversary will have gone unnoticed – tomorrow.

On May 11, 1857, soldiers of the British Indian Army reached Delhi after having captured Meerut Cantonment a day earlier. Most of the soldiers were Hindu. Their uprising had wide support among the peasantry. They identified Bahadur Shah Zafar, the Moghul Emperor, as the symbol of their struggle. They proclaimed him Emperor of Hindustan. This was the secularism of common aspirations and a united struggle.

The uprising had been building up. In a sense the British annexation of Awadh and arrest in 1856 of the popular King of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah caused it to spread. The King was exiled to Matia Burj, outside Kolkata.

It is true that powers of Indian rulers had been greatly diminished once the British were ascendant after the battle of Plassey in 1757. About the same time, Ahmad Shah Abdali was menacing Delhi.

In the shadow of the Afghan and British threats the remarkable cultural activity in the courts of Delhi and Lucknow was quite extraordinary. In fact the esteem in which some of these kings were held by their subjects came in for laudatory mention by the then leader of opposition in the House of Commons, Benjamin Disraeli. He was appalled that the British resolve on “divide and rule” had weakened. The uprising itself was proof enough. Hindus and Muslims joining hands against the British in 1857, he argued, was a dismal failure of His Majesty’s government in India.

This “joining of hands” in a common cause was seen by colonial authorities as a serious threat. Surely it is worthy of being commemorated on a national scale. Should 1857 be celebrated as a great national event, vistas would open up for many subsidiary commemorations.

Zafar was exiled to Yangon where he was incarcerated in the garage of a junior British officer where he died. His grave, in a secret location, was discovered much later.

The British ultimately crushed the Indian uprising, marvelously described in William Dalrymple’s, The Last Moghul. The first Indian Editor to face the cannon not far from Chandni Chowk was Maulana Baqar Ali. Delhi’s Press Fraternity might like to take up that theme.

Earlier in its innings, the United Progressive Alliance tossed up a plan to observe the 150 years of 1857 on a spectacular scale in 2007.

Towards this end, in 2006 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called a meeting at his residence of all senior political leaders, artists, social workers, journalists, to chalk out a programme of action for the commemoration in 2007.

Sonia Gandhi, L.K. Advani, A.B. Bardhan, Prakash Karat, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Gandhian social worker, Nirmala Deshpande, Jawed Akhtar and host of others including yours truly, were present.

Several ideas were accepted. For instance the entire route from Meerut be decorated by setting up memorials. What would these memorials be? Details could be further discussed.

An idea which received unanimous approval was the one spelt out by Nirmala Deshpande – that Zafar’s remains be brought to India. It would be a lovely idea because the Poet king had marked out a burial place for himself near the shrine of his spiritual Guru, Sufi Saint Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaki in Mehrauli.

He had lamented in a famous verse:
Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar
            Dafn ke liye
Do gaz zameen bhi na milee
            Kooye yaar mein.”
(Even in his death, Zafar is so unfortunate;
He could not find two yards of land in his beloved country)

It would be a stirring home coming for the poet-king, if Nirmala Deshpande’s wish were to be fulfilled. To help support her idea was a hint from the government of Myanmar three years ago. Just at the time that Zafar was transported to Yangon, the king of Mandalay was exiled to Ratnagiri in Maharashtra. There were newspaper reports that the Myanmar government may be interested in discussing a swap. It is a wonderful idea but probably cumbersome.

A more feasible proposition would be to bring a fist full of earth from Zafar’s grave and give it a symbolic burial in the grave in Mehrauli he had readied for himself.

Memories of 1857 can yet inspire in other ways too. Would not the empty canopy at India Gate provide just the pedestal for a well chiseled, marble statue of Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi on her horse. We almost owe it to her because her embroidered Insignia, with an image of Hanuman dominating it, was stolen from the regimental centre of Rajputana Rifles, where it had been placed for safe keeping.

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