Friday, March 25, 2016

Madrid Mayor’s Soothing Slogan Against Post Brussels Right Wing Hysteria

Madrid Mayor’s Soothing Slogan Against Post Brussels Right Wing Hysteria
                                                                                             Saeed Naqvi

If “terrorize” and “polarize” is the name of the game, the message from the Brussels terror attack has been transmitted to Madrid with lightning speed. Flares reached the sky opposite the Spanish capital’s main mosque located on a major motorway. A banner read: “Today Brussels, Tomorrow Madrid?”

The banner is a very literal effort at polarization because the rise of Podemos, the Spanish Communist Party, in last December elections, inspired the Left Wing Mayor to hang a giant size placard outside the City Hall: “Welcome the Immigrants.”

Even though the centre-right, Peoples Party and Centrist Socialists won 123 and 90 seats in a House of 350, neither has been able to form a government unless Pablo Iglesias, the charismatic leader of Podemos, throws his 69 seats with friendly parties behind the Socialists. Podemos is not for Catalan separation but supports self determination for Catalan and Basque people. The socialists will not give up on a United Spain. There are differences on economic policy too.

A new government has therefore not been sworn in. Mariano Rajoy, the Prime Minister, whose PP party was brought down several notches for its unspeakable corruption and being in bed with “crony capitalism”, is in the saddle until the next prime minister is selected.

Rajoy cannot carry on as caretaker endlessly. There is talk of fresh elections in June. This is the timing for fire and brimstone outside a mosque. The spectacular demonstration is the handiwork of Madrid Social Home which claims descent from the Fascist party associated the Franco dictatorship.

A quick riposte has come from the soft spoken Mayor, Manuela Carmena. “The response to terror must be solidarity, not fear of the other.” She tweeted: “they are not going to criminalize the Muslim community. We fight together against terrorism.” Her punchline is: “Co-existence=safe cities”.

In Madrid the effort is avowedly by a far right outfit to alter the electoral mood before fresh elections expected in June. But this has not been the drift of discussions CNN has been cluttered with this past week.

A notion popular with panelists has been that Paris and Brussels like terror attacks intensify polarization which Jihadists find useful to lure fresh Islamist recruits. These are therefore, as we know Jihadist inspired attacks. But this line of thinking makes nonsense of the Madrid fascists putting up the show. I don’t think we should waste much time in coming to a simple conclusion: the far right and jihadists are each other’s essential requirements in all such situations.

Madrid is not a city seething with Muslims prone to Jihadism. The hospitality sector of Barcelona on the other hand would collapse without Muslims from Pakistan. They have taken advantage of Catalan autonomy for easy entry. Here the Catalan-non Catalan sentiment overshadows other differences.

It does not require large Muslim populations to affect polarization. In other words, Greece, Ireland or Portugal, where communists are already in the government, have all veered away from the two-party structures which “crony capitalism” milked. Economic concerns, austerity policies have ofcourse angered voters away from the right of centre structures promoted by the post soviet world order. But if the spectre of global terror takes centre stage and National Security becomes the primary concern of states there may still be hope for the right to linger a little longer. But this Right will resemble Marine Le Pen’s National Front which will make Spain’s Rajoy look like a Socialist wimp.

The kind of show mounted in Madrid may not immediately polarize society to the required level when a right wing take over can be contemplated, but it certainly nudges all political discourse a few degrees to the right. It all depends how the electronic media develops the theme.

Salah Abdeslam was arrested on Friday, March 18. It was an important story worth a prime time splash and a discussion or two. But CNN, BBC and Aljazeera, birds of a feather under some circumstances, made it a 24X7 show for four full days without a break until their obsessive harping on one arrest in a Brussels ghetto almost anticipated serial terror attacks on Tuesday at the airport and metro terminal in the vicinity of EU and NATO headquarters.

The reverberations are being felt everywhere, most alarmingly across the Atlantic where Republican front runner Donald Trump with Ted Cruz in distant chase for the party nomination, in the world’s most intemperate anti Muslim, anti Mexican campaign, have found more combustible material to set the Cleveland Republican convention ablaze in the coming months.

The vocabulary of Manuela Carmena is not in order in a country where even Hillary Clinton has had to look hostile and belligerent to come this far for the Democratic nomination. Even before the campaign began she had established her aggressive style.

Remember her imperious wave of the hand as Secretary of State. “Get out of the way, Assad?” But it was in Libya that television suitably amplified her toughness. One frame showed Qaddafi, desperately pleading for his life; he was being sodomized by a knife. The next frame settled on Clinton proclaiming without any sentimentalism. “I came, I saw and he died”.

How the campaigns of Trump, Cruz, Clinton and Bernie Sanders are affected by an interminable 24X7 show focused on Brussels, the city of Hercule Poirot, only time will tell. In fact I can almost see the great detective running his fingers over his moustache. “There’s more coming; the worst is not over yet.”

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Friday, March 18, 2016

UN Spat With Morocco: International Community Shifts On “Self Determination”

UN Spat With Morocco: International Community Shifts On “Self Determination”
                                                                                                Saeed Naqvi

Morocco, Algeria, Western Sahara would not be of the highest saliency in South Block had Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi not indulged in some high wire diplomacy involving all three.

The issue has popped up again because the Royal Palace in Rabat and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have locked horns over Western Sahara, where a movement for self determination has for decades been led by a Left inclined group called Polisario. The Secretary General is now endorsing a “referendum” for Western Sahara, something that Morocco was able to thwart with US support for over 40 years. That the US aversion for “self determination” in the disputed territory is weakening should be a matter of some interest in New Delhi.

Spanish dictator, General Franco’s death in 1975 caused two claimants, Morocco and the Polisario Liberation movement, to make a bid for what had thus far been Spanish Sahara.

After Vietnam, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Euro communism in Italy and France, the cold war was going badly for the US. So, Washington dug its heels in support of Rabat’s claims. Algeria, a staunch ally of Moscow, allowed the Polisario to set up its headquarters in Tindouf, Southern Algeria.

When Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister, his Foreign Secretary, Ramesh Bhandari, promptly escorted him to Moscow in May 1985 to meet the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. To restore balance, Rajiv was off to Washington, within a fortnight of the Moscow visit, to remain in President Ronald Reagan’s favour.

On the way he stopped over at Algiers to meet President Chadli Bendjedid who enlisted the young prime minister’s support for the Liberation movement he so aggressively backed.

Polisario delegations were promptly invited into his chambers in Algiers. Decision to recognize the Saharwi Arab Republic was more or less taken but an announcement would be made only after the delegates returned home.

That no Indian had ever set eyes on the “Republic” New Delhi had so abruptly set its heart on, gave this reporter an opportunity to fill in the gap. Tindouf was a sprawling city in tents, neatly arranged along streets and boulevards in the midst of handsome sand dunes. Military, police, civil administration and Health Services had all been trained and supervised by Cubans.

Little wonder Washington would not budge from its stout support for Rabat. UN Special Representatives for Western Sahara were such favourites of the Washington establishment as Sahibzada Yaqoub Khan, former Pakistan Foreign Minister.

Chastened by an audience with Reagan, when the delegation returned home, an anxious Bhandari called the ambassador in Algiers, K.V. Rajan and asked him to hold his horses on the Polisario recognition issue. There had been a change of heart.

The ambassador threw up his hands. Bendjedid had already kissed him on both his cheeks with fulsome Arab affection for his effective diplomacy. Meanwhile the Polisario had lost no time in renting suitable property for an embassy.

To recognize and de recognize an entity in a matter of weeks or months would have been awkward. But His Majesty Mohammad V was hopping mad in Rabat. Former Foreign Secretary, M.K. Rasgotra, who knew the King, was dispatched as special envoy to mollify the Rabat palace. A mollified King would also placate the Reagan White House where Ambassador K. Shankar Bajpai had exceptional access.

By way of a brief digression, the Reagan-Bajpai combination was to cause an even more dramatic policy reversal after Rajiv Gandhi, in some haste, asked Foreign Minister Bali Ram Bhagat to lead a delegation of foreign ministers from four non aligned nations, who were holding a session in New Delhi, to Tripoli to commiserate with Muammar Qadaffi whose baby daughter had been killed in the US bombardment of Tripoli and Benghazi in April, 1986. It all seemed in order. But by the time Bhagat returned, the Prime Minister had been persuaded by Bajpai’s cohorts to correct his course. Bali Ram Bhagat was summarily sacked.

Let me, after this digression, revert to the saga of Western Sahara. What was to be done with the Polisari embassy? MEA had little time for it. Since its budgets were meagre, even the professional embassy free-loaders steered clear. Embassies in the Soviet camp remained steadfastly supportive. But once the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990-91, the Polisario embassy was orphaned. It was left to Jaswant Singh, External Affairs Minister for the BJP led government, to wind up their shop in 2000.

New Delhi generally gets goosebumps at terms like “self determination”, but so long as the US was determinedly opposed to the Polisario, there were no apparent risks.

In recent years the US has reset its global compasses. In his latest interview with the Atlantic magazine President Obama has talked of American inability to be everywhere. This is the background to Ban Ki-moon’s change of stance on the disputed territory.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

His Bookshop Represented His Adoration For Lucknow

His Bookshop Represented His Adoration For Lucknow
                                                                                 Saeed Naqvi

An Urdu aristocracy on its knees, was beginning to make adjustments with the new British rulers when Ram Advani arrived in Lucknow. He set up Ram Advani Booksellers in a prominent corner of Hazratgang. This remained his eye on Lucknow for 65 years – until his death at 95 last week.

He brought the energy of the newcomer when he arrived in the early 1940s from Karachi, in Sindh, where he was born in 1920. It took Lucknow almost a century to recover from its first trauma when, in 1857, even its Begums joined in the door to door combat with the British who proceeded to empty the city of its citizens for fear of unexpected snipers. A year earlier, Wajid Ali Shah had been dispatched to Matia Burj, near Kolkata, where he lived for 31 years, unlamented, unsung. Some of the aftermath was still playing itself out which Ram witnessed and internalized as themes on which his book shop prided.

A shattered intellectual elite, silenced by change, slowly began to engage the new masters on their terms. If Punch was the supreme publication of satire and wit in London, some of the finest Urdu writers like Akbar Allahabadi would elevate Awadh Punch to an even higher level of elegant lampooning.

Ram’s was not an Urdu Book shop but copies of Awadh Punch he would obtain from his sources. When Prof. Mushirul Hasan published Awadh Punch in English, copies were instantly available on his shelves. Books were never flaunted in a commercial scale; they were meant for the connoisseurs for whom the book shop was a meeting place, sometimes with the original authors themselves – Violette Graffe, the French scholar on Lucknow, V.S. Naipaul (India a million mutinies), Veena Talwar Oldenburg (Making of Colonial Lucknow), Rosie Llewellyn-Jones (Lucknow, City of Illusion) and Cambridge Historian, Prof. Francis Robinson, William Dalrymple, Mark Tully, Dom Moraes – and every Indian of cosmopolitan interests who visited Lucknow. The spate of Western visitors to the Book Shop places Ram as an interpreter of Lucknow’s deeper culture which still bustles in Chowk and Nakkhas.

Hazratganj actually divides Lucknow into two cultures. One side are the cantonment, Civil Lines and sprawling bungalows, corroborative evidence of those who saw the writing on the wall early and made cunning adjustments with the new ruling class.

In the other direction beyond Aminabad are chowk and Nakkhas the very core of classical Lucknow. Of this area, the old description is still stunningly accurate: “Gandi galiyan, saaf zabaan”. (Dirty lanes but impeccable speech)

Not only did Ram know this, other Lucknow, but he was also familiar with Lucknow’s other great book shop, Daanish Mahal, which translates as the Palace of learning. This is where Urdu’s greatest critic, Saiyyid Ehtesham held court. Josh Malihabadi occasionally climbed down from the Central hotel where he stayed, to enliven the conversation. In Ram’s persona were integrated these two milestone book shops.

It was Lucknow’s Catholicism which never allowed Ram Advani to claim any exceptionalism. The city’s Ganga-Jamni culture was celebrated, ofcourse. But that did not tell the full story. Recently Sanatkada, a group which dedicates itself to the celebration of Lucknow touched the heart of the matter. It celebrated Lucknow’s “Rachi Basi”, or all inclusive culture.

Infact I recall the expression having originated in Ram’s mind.

Mir Taqi Mir and others, have written copiously of Delhi’s destruction at the hands of Ahmad Shah Abdali, Nadir Shah etcetera. But Lucknow’s destruction, being more recent, has generally been a casualty of the “Victor’s narrative”. Why would the colonial masters dwell on the desolation they had brought about?

Ram was sensitive to the fact that in a century, Lucknow had taken atleast four major hits. The exile of its beloved king in 1856, the destruction of Lucknow in 1857, Partition in 1947 and Zamindari (Landlordism) abolition in 1951 which finally broke the back of the Muslim aristocracy.

Remarkably, as Ram reminded me over and over again, Lucknow picked itself up each time and put up the Welcome sign for all.

Nowhere in the country was there a city which proudly announced: “To be a doctor you have to be a Bengali first”. Lucknow University’s intellectual life was controlled by Radha Kumud and Radh Kamal Mukherjee. Lucknowis proudly accepted “Madrasis” (anyone below the Vindhyas) as brilliant administrators. President of the University Union was Iqbal Singh, a chain smoking Sikh who recited Urdu poetry. Among Lucknows “bakaits”, tough’s or mini gangsters was one Kaul Sahib, a short, muscular man with very broad shoulders. Imagine a Kashmiri Pandit with a reputation that earned the respect of Lucknow’s “badmash” (bad men) like Buddhu Pahelwan, Funtoo, Nannhe, Rashid Ghosi and Pyare Jaani with a revolver in his trench coat.

You would never have imagined Ram Advani to be familiar with this infinite variety. But he was.

Heaven knows how scotch whiskey and soda came up for mention in his shop. A man contemplating a book, spun around in some anger. Traces of paan were virtually dripping from a corner of his mouth. “Mixing soda with scotch was the barbarous custom of the Sassenach”, he growled. He was a somewhat dilapidated scion of some unknown aristocracy. To our astonishment he knew that Sassenach was a derogatory slang Scots (who were the masters of the amber stuff) used for the English. This anecdote says something of Lucknow of the 60s as also of Ram Advani until his death.

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Kanhaiya Windfall For CPI, The Left Or India?

Kanhaiya Windfall For CPI, The Left Or India?
                                                          Saeed Naqvi

Kanhaiya Kumar’s genius as a public speaker is self evident from his first speech in JNU on February 11 and the one he made on the campus after returning from Tihar Jail on March 3. The CPI feels it has a legitimate right to hitch its wagon to this new star.

The JNU affair has infact opened up many possibilities. Some of these possibilities may be imaginary. The Communist Party of India, the original one, suddenly has stars in its eyes. It hopes Kanhaiya Kumar will boost it to its original glory, before the party split in 1964. The CPI became its rump. CPM became the senior party which proceeded to rule West Bengal and Tripura for over three decades without a break. Intermittently, in Kerala too.

Kanhaiya contested, and won the JNU Union President’s election as CPI youth wing All India Student’s Federation (AISF) candidate. Naturally the parent party, otherwise limp and wan, finds its morale boosted.

Visit Ajoy Bhawan, its headquarters, and there is a comradely swagger in everyone’s walk. Overnight, they are feeling superior to their cousins, the CPM, who have otherwise dwarfed them all these years but who alas, have no SFI (CPM’s youth wing) star on the JNU firmament. Kanhaiya’s persona has brought about CPM’s unexpected status reversal vis-a-vis the CPI.

Even in their abysmal decline, the CPM atleast has nine members in Lok Sabha; CPI has only one. How then has a windfall like Kanhaiya come CPI’s way? According to Hindu belief, the party must have done some good in its past life.

Ironically, Kanhaiya is not a creature of Ajoy Bhawan. He got his Marxism from his parentage. Begusarai in Bihar, where his family live was called “Little Moscow”. Senior communist leaders Chandrashekhar Singh and Indradip Sinha were legends in the region.

Infact, when the Indian communist movement split nationally, the Bihar unit remained intact. Under its Secretary General, Jagannath Sarkar, the CPI was so powerful that its alliance with Indira Gandhi in New Delhi made Jayaprakash Narayan initiate his movement in Bihar.

The leftist culture from which Kanhaiya comes, is not necessarily linked to the CPI in the rigid doctrinaire sense. He came up on the strength of his leadership skills and oratory and won the union election without the support of any CPI infrastructure, which is non existent in the campus.

He was able to forge a wide coalition which included Omar Khaled, Anirban Bhattacharya and others recently charged with sedition.

Kanhaiya, Omar and Anirban are all comfortable under a broad left umbrella. But if the parent bodies – CPI and Marxists-Leninists begin to claim them as their respective wards, there will be difficulties.

CPI and CPM do not dispute the Afzal Guru hanging, but the CPML does. There is a whole lot of confusion as to who shouted which slogans at the function to observe Guru’s hanging on February 9. Bollywood should consider a Roshomon II, where the truth remains tantalizingly elusive.

It was just as well that Kanhaiya’s release was celebrated nationwide thanks to the change of heart of some TV channels. But this is only a release on bail for six months. Moreover, bail has been granted as a kind of largesse handed out by the High Court to somebody whose guilt is presumed. The JNU faculty has been advised to keep the students on the straight and narrow, something, presumably they were not doing so far. This is the tone of the judgment.

The CPI would like Kanhaiya’s focus to be on the campuses the ABVP is trying to unsettle. “If we bring in the S.A.R. Geelani’s arrest, the focus will get diverted to Kashmir and other issue” says a senior CPI leader.

The CPML, which has traction on the campus, has a different take on Kashmir, Afzal Guru and therefore on Geelani. In any case the parent party’s hold on Omar and Anirban is, at best, tenuous because the two have had serious difference with the leadership.

At this moment Omar and Anirban have no formal affiliation with a national party. Who then is fighting for their bail. Senior lawyers like Kapil Sibal, Rajeev Dhawan and Indira Jaising got involved in the Kanhaiya matter because that is where the BJP lawyers diverted the focus by their undisguised hooliganism in court.

This leaves, Omar and Anirban without real political godfathers. Bright young lawyers, holding the brief for these two, are waiting for the police to frame charges. But the two are in danger of being forgotten during the fortnight in judicial custody because the media is capricious and has its mood swings conditioned by ratings.

The only one who can help them remain in focus is Kanhaiya. He knows that without his cohorts he too will lose steam.

The general assumption is that the RSS is driving the “nationalism” debate. It is a difficult debate to negotiate in a sound byte format. On the other side of this polarised turf, Left, Dalit and Muslim convergence cannot give comfort to the Hindutva establishment.

The left is propagating the line that the Gujarat police model has been replicated in Delhi. This strengthens the AAP line that the police takes dictation from the Union government and does not allow it to function. The Left and AAP have not necessarily been on the same page so far. Is this another novelty emerging?

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