Friday, September 30, 2016

In Din Of Indo-Pak War Drums, Some Real Losers

In Din Of Indo-Pak War Drums, Some Real Losers
                                                                           Saeed Naqvi
Shaila died in a Karachi hospital on the day when the Army camp in Uri was attacked. Threatening war drums kept her brother, Nazim, a dear cousin of mine, from traveling for the last rites. That was the best he could have done. Forbidding paper work would have been in the way for Shaila’s burial in the family graveyard in Mustafabad near Rae Bareli. So she was buried in Karachi. Nazim wept on my shoulder in New Delhi.

Joint families have dispersed but the sentiment to get together for marriages and death still lingers. This week, even as you read this column, we shall congregate at Nazim’s house to remember Shaila.

In Dubai, my cousin Shireen’s dilemma is of a different order. With some effort, she could have attended the funeral in Karachi. She decided not to. Shireen lives with a paranoia: she is averse to having her Indian passport stamped by Pakistani immigration. Thereby hangs a tale.

Daughter of left liberal author, my uncle, Saiyyid Mohammad Mehdi, Shireen did her Masters in Sociology from JNU, married a Pakistani cousin Abbas, and had a daughter, Mariam. Given her background, Shireen was obstinately opposed to giving up her “secular” Indian identity for a Pakistani one. Mariam born in India, equally stubbornly clung on to her Indian passport.

These compulsions forced Abbas to find work as a banker in neutral territory – Cayman Islands. In the balmy weather, when Shireen was in the family way again, she decided to hop across to Florida for good gynecological support. Thus came Rabab into this world, not only pampered by the most opulent medical facilities but also with access to a gift from the gods – an American passport. She was born in America.

In Herbert’s great poem, The Pulley, God exhausts all his treasurers on man but keeps for himself the “Rest”. This has multiple meanings. In other words, God’s gifts will come with “repining restlessness” so that man does not forget Him.

Well, Shireen had her share of God’s convoluted gifts. A tall, lovely, 28 year old, on a wheelchair, immobile and comprehensively challenged, is Rabab, carrying the world’s most priceless travel document – an American passport.

For long years, Dubai has been their chosen “neutral” territory from where they branch out to relatives resident in either of the countries for which their papers are valid.

To make life easier for her beloved Rabab, Shireen has kept an option in New Delhi near our daughters, her adoring nieces. The problem is that Rabab needs a visa, which is difficult to obtain when Indo-Pak temperatures are high. But she has an American passport? That does not matter. Her father is a Pakistan citizen. Period. But she is challenged. Doesn’t matter.

God’s other gifts to Shireen were soon to be packaged with further complications. The older daughter, did superbly at university in Canada, fell in love with a Haitian film maker with a Canadian passport. It therefore made sense for her to acquire a Canadian passport, supremely confident of her Indian attachment. She was born in India and if an Indian passport is no longer her “birthright”, (she thought) at least an OCI or an Overseas Citizen of India identity card would be hers for the asking.

It turns out that is not the case. Let me quote the official document that has been handed to her.
“As per the MHA’s OCI ruling no person, who or either of whose parents or grandparents or great grandparents is or has been a citizen of Pakistan, Bangladesh at any time or such other country as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify, shall be eligible for registration as an Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder.

In view of the existing OCI rules, you are not entitled for grant of OCI card facility being one of your parents of Pakistani origin.”

But wait a minute, she was born in India; until two years ago she had an Indian passport. That does not matter. Her father’s nationality trumps every detail in her past. Shireen and Mariam are frantic. Will she get a visa for a wedding in the family in India in November?

I realize more than most people that these are abnormal times. In fact my career as a foreign correspondent would have been impossible without unstinted help, on a personal basis, from friends in the foreign office. Additionally, visas for friends and relatives, on both sides of the border, were there for the asking. My friends were a strand in the vast mosaic that kept the nation’s sanity. Thanks to them visiting relatives from Pakistan envied us for the friends we had. “Bhaiyya, can we buy land here?” It all seems so distant in time.

When some of us accompanied the then India’s External Affairs Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee to Pakistan, I invited colleagues K.K. Katyal and M.L. Kotru, among others, to visit relatives in Karachi. The idea was to share with them the Mohajir experience. A teenage cousin of mine took my breath away:
“Bhaiyya, are they Hindus?”
Yes, but why do you ask?”
“Because they look just like you.” The boot was on the other foot those days.

My mother, an eternal optimist, a great favourite of Shaila, Nazim, Shireen, Abbas, indeed our entire universe, died three years ago, determined to believe that sooner or later mists will lift and peace will descend. The following couplet was an article of faith with her:
“Banda maza us milap mein hai,
Jo sulah ho jaaee, jung ho kar?
(There is great pleasure in the togetherness
Which happens after a big quarrel.)

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Why Bijnor Communal Villainy Did Not Spread

Why Bijnor Communal Villainy Did Not Spread 
                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

I had Muzaffarnagar riots of February 2013 at the back of my mind when I drove towards Pedda village on the Bijnor-Najibabad Road where three Muslims had been shot dead by Jats who fired with guns and pistols from the terraces of their homes.

Trouble began when two Muslim girls were harassed at the bus stop. When their men folk protested, the economically stronger Jats decided to teach them a lesson.

Muslims in Pedda have for generations been “dhobis” or washermen. In Sir Saiyyad Ahamd Khan’s framework, these are “arzals” or “menials”. Above them in the caste/class hierarchy are “Ajlafs”, weavers, and “Ashraf”, the genteel lot, the ones for whom the Aligarh University was initially opened.

That Yasmeen and Farheen are college going girls is not a negligible detail: it is a glimmer of hope in a picture of unrelieved gloom which envelopes the community. Jats are prosperous farmers but socially static on issues like gender and are still bound by Khaps. The man-woman population ratio is eerily adversarial to women. In the Muslim hovel, there is economic want, not social regression.

Arrogance of economic power bristles at the sight of the lowest strata crawling upwards. This explains some of the accelerated violence against dalits and muslims. Caste and communal prejudice converge in such instances.

The gram pradhan or village head of Pedda, Anis Ahmad, is a short, dark man with a well trimmed beard and a mandatory skull cap, headgear which defines all Muslims from Madrasas. He has gone through the drill at the Deoband seminary, a stint as a tailor in Kuwait and now a dress designer, (believe it or not) for “fashion shows”. He is not free of the usual Mullah hypocrisy:
“I don’t touch female bodies; I tailor clothes for mannequins.”

With the advent of washing machines, muslim washermen in villages like Pedda have diversified as tailors, barbers, fruit and vegetable sellers, automobile mechanics, handy men of all sorts.

The Pradhan takes me into the house where three men were shot dead on the terrace of their home. Below, in a dark verandah, women wail.

Outside, across the lane, is the fortified house of Pedda’s most powerful Jat, Sansar Singh. He hid in another village five kms away, but has since been arrested along with eight others involved in organizing the violence.

A dozen or so policemen are snoozing outside Sansar Singh’s house, their weapons on their laps. This is the scene outside every Jat house in the lane upto the highway where a large number of policemen keep vigil.

“Look” Anis Ahmad points his finger, “They are protecting only Jat houses”.

At Bijnor’s police headquarters, Superintendent of Police (Rural) Dharam Veer Singh, thumps his table gently.

“Yes, we are protecting Jat houses. If police were not posted as a deterrent, angry muslims may retaliate against Jat women and children.”

Theoretically, Singh has a point but do Muslims in their current state of demoralization, ever retaliate? The two local journalists, Naresh Sharma of Swatantra Awaz and Jalil Ahmad, of a local TV channel, India Voice, are crouching on Singh’s table, symbols of watchfulness.

Singh smiles, “Please give the police some credit for having prevented riots from spreading.”

Why did these riots not spread?

He cites geography as a roadblock to communalism. “The Ganga flows between Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Bijnor – the communal wave that overwhelmed areas the other side of the Ganga some years ago, weakens crossing the river.” There are other reasons for weakened communalism in Bijnor.

Amit Shah’s very determined presence in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli three years ago made the difference. Trumped up stories of “love jihad”; fake video from Pakistan’s north west circulated as Jats being lynched by Muslims; Maha Panchayats of weapon wielding mobs and Amit Shah’s famous refrain, “Yeh badley ka election hai” (We go into this election to seek revenge) – all augmented the incendiary atmosphere. Today, there is saffron in the air, true, but not murderous saffronization.

In Bijnor, Muslims as well as the administration (even some Jats) have praised the local MLA Ruchi Veera of the Samajwadi party who was present in the village round the clock for the duration of tension. In fact she was able to extract Rs. 20 lakhs from the government in Lucknow by way of relief within days of the violence. Assessments of damage are being made for more.

District magistrate Jagat Raj is flanked by City SP M.M. Baig and SSP Umesh Kumar Srivastava, to address about 60 print and TV journalists around a giant oblong table. Seldom have I heard media being so lavishly thanked for having exercised restraint.

On my return when I cross the barrage on the Ganga, I remember SP (Rural), Dharam Veer Singh’s words: rivers block communal waves. Before reaching Meerut, I see road signs to Muzaffarangar. I have horrible memories of that pogrom. Past Meerut is Maliana, the site of the notorious 1987 massacre. The police had separated 42 muslim young men, lined them up by the nearby canal and shot them.

P. Chidambaram was Rajiv Gandhi’s Minister of State for Home. He knows that incident like the back of his hand. He is now a columnist. Maybe, someday he will give us the inside story on why the case drags on into its 29th year? Approaching Ghaziabad, I see signs to Dadri where in September 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched by Cow Protection vigilantes. His family is still implicated in unproved charges.

As lights of Delhi shimmer, the villainy of Pedda recedes. Nastier memories surface.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Zakir Naik’s Travails Part Of Growing Saudi Isolation

Zakir Naik’s Travails Part Of Growing Saudi Isolation
                                                                         Saeed Naqvi

The changing world order is taking its toll of Salafist preacher, Zakir Naik who was otherwise not touched for decades. The recipient of Saudi King Faisal International Prize for service to Islam in 2015, is fighting with his back to the wall in 2016. There is a simple explanation: the Saudi affiliation is showing negative results.

Globally, the approval rating for Riyadh is low. Why? Because the US has gradually distanced itself from Saudi actions in the recent past. Interests, patronized by Saudi Arabia, were tolerated worldwide because it was assumed that America kept a protective eye on all Saudi assets. That is no longer the case.

Just the other day most US advisers involved in the Yemen operation, were withdrawn from Riyadh – as clear a vote of no confidence as any in the mindless Saudi war in the Arab world’s poorest country.

Growing Saudi isolation has an ironical twist. Even arch enemy, Iran has changed its policy on Saudi Arabia. That Iran would change policy will be matter of surprise for many. It is assumed that Iran would have had just one policy from the very beginning: a policy of opposition to Riyadh. But it has never been so.

Iran’s policy towards Saudi Arabia has been much more nuanced. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 introduced a bipolarity in the Muslim world. A Riyadh-Tehran rivalry was built into the situation. But Tehran never allowed one upmanship to degenerate into a conflict.

Its presumed leadership of the Muslim Ummah under assault, Riyadh frequently lashed out. There were many verbal skirmishes. But Iran’s “policy” towards Saudi Arabia remained unchanged.

This “policy” was based on a very clear understanding of the Saudi establishment which consisted of two streams, one led by the king and the other by the Wahabi clergy.

To former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani must go the credit for having always insisted on one line – the government led by a pragmatic king like Abdullah was much better for Iran and the rest of the world than the fundamentalist Wahabi clergy. An internal balance of power favourable to the king was the better of the evils.

Even when King Abdullah advised the Americans to “cut the head of the snake” (Iran) Tehran persisted with the line that it was better to cope with him rather than see the clergy come on top.

Inherent in this policy was a vision of a possible rapprochement with Riyadh. The biggest votary of peace with Saudi Arabia in the past four years has been Iran Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif.

His prestige was sky high after he successfully negotiated the nuclear deal with the US. He was therefore able to extract a go ahead from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, to explore avenues for some understanding with Saudi leaders.

A realization has dawned in Tehran that, unlike, the late King Abdullah, the present ruling clique in Riyadh is not in control of the situation. First, King Salman bin Abdulaziz is ailing and not in control of his faculties.

Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef probably derives his hard line approach and proximity to the clergy from his late father, Interior Minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, who was responsible for rolling tanks and APCs along the 37 kms causeway linking the Kingdom and Bahrain to quell the popular Shia uprising against the Sunni rulers in Manama.

Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, who is actually calling the shots in the Kingdom, possibly does not have the links with the clergy that his cousin, the Crown Prince has. In the midst of this ambiguity, the clergy is becoming powerful.

Internal turbulence is being managed by external wars, as in Yemen, or persisting with the Syrian civil war with an aim to oust President Bashar al Assad.

Iranians, and others, have now given up on keeping reasonable relations with the government in Riyadh to keep down the clergy. Gloves in Tehran are off because an assessment has been made that the clergy is now in a decision making position. A shrill battle cry is on the amplifiers directly against Wahabism.

Ayatollah Khamenei has seldom used such invective. Recalling last year’s Haj stampede in which 2000 pilgrims including 472 Iranians were crushed to death, he exploded:
“The heartless and murderous Saudis locked up the injured with the dead in containers – instead of providing medical treatment or atleast quenching their thirst, they murdered them.”

It is possible to attribute Khamenei’s outburst to the Saudi Grand Mufti’s statement against Shia’s: “they are not Muslims.”

What confirms an altered Iranian policy against Riyadh is foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s very measured op-ed piece in the New York Times. He has finally thrown in the towel. Gloves are now truly off. It is building upto a showdown at a critical juncture. The offensive against the IS in Mosul is in the process of revealing many fault lines. The enthusiasm of those poised for an attack on Iraq’s second biggest city, has to be seen against those who would like their “assets” holed up in Mosul to be protected. Many reputations are on the line.

In this whirlwind heaven knows how many Zakir Naiks will be swept away.

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Why The Indian Establishment Fears Kejriwal?

Why The Indian Establishment Fears Kejriwal?
                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte admittedly has an uncontrollable temper, otherwise he would not have used a common Filipino term of abuse against President Obama: Putang ina, which means “son of a whore”. Over 3,000 people have been killed in three months in extra judicial killings as part of Duterte’s crackdown on drugs. His outburst was in response to leaked reports that Obama would raise the issue of human rights abuses when he met Duterte on the margins of the East Asia summit in Laos.

Let us put aside several issues the outburst raises. Let’s focus on just one: however acid his tongue, would Duterte have had the temerity to employ such floral language against the President of the United States of America in its Sole Super Power moment after the collapse of the Soviet Union right upto the 2008 financial crisis? Only when the centre cannot hold, in Yeats’s framework, do things fall apart.

That the Chinese did not lay out the red carpet for the Air Force One and now Duterte taking liberties are only the latest pinpricks. Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu rapped Vice President Jo Biden on the knuckles on the issue of Jewish settlements. He sailed above Obama’s head to address the US Congress.

The challenge is not always to Obama but to American supremacy. In other words, a new multipolar world order is struggling to stabilize itself.

In this process, the “establishment”, which spells status quo, has become a dirty word. Worldwide, people find themselves increasingly pitted against Establishments, composed of multinationals, powerful Corporates, Banks, Intelligence Agencies, Military-Industrial complex, Media Empires, big and small and, ofcourse, crony capitalism.

Even the American Party System, stonewalled the people. A movement of the Right, the Tea Party and one of the Left, Occupy Wall Street, produced Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as their respective Presidential hopefuls. The popular surge for Bernie Sanders was unnerving. It was checked by the Democratic Party Establishment citing 1962 rules about Super delegates. The rule book was thrown at the surging Sanders to stop him in his tracks. By this one act the establishment had pushed the electoral discourse to the right of centre.

Never mind that Hillary Clinton herself admits to a “trust deficit” with voters, that terms like “untrustworthy” and “unreliable” have been used by her own party colleagues, but she has a priceless asset. She is the Establishment.

Even though Donald Trump defeated 16 Republican rivals on the way to the nomination, he still suffers from a handicap: he is anti establishment. When he had pummeled the very citadel of Republican establishment, the Bush family’s great hope, Jeb Bush, the former President’s wife, Laura Bush, quite spontaneously exclaimed: Lets support Hillary. Little wonder, Hillary’s campaign aircraft has “Stronger Together” inscribed in bold letters, which invites Republican and Democratic establishments to join hands in supporting her. Such stalwarts of the exclusive Republican club as James Baker, George Schultz, Henry Kissinger are counting their worry beads, hoping that Hillary would win. For the first time in 75 years, Dallas News has endorsed a Democratic candidate.

Whatever the outcome, the irony is that come November 8, and Americans will have a President they can’t look upto.

Electoral democracies everywhere are confronting the same dilemma: People versus Establishment.

In Britain, Blairites have joined hands with the Conservatives against the left leaning Jeremy Corbyn who is likely to win the Labour leadership again this month. Nicolas Sarkozy, right wing Republican, and Francois Hollande, centre Socialists, joined hands to block ultra right wing Marine Le Pen.

It is in this context that the spectacle of AAP versus the Rest should be seen – even as the Indian political scene unfolds and unravels at the same time.

The 24X7 media assault on Arvind Kejriwal started a long time ago. It is now in the realm of reckless propaganda. It is ofcourse terrible that out of the six AAP Ministers, three have had to be sacked. The story deserves to be highlighted, placed before panels for sober discussion.

That is not what is happening. The material has been transformed into a chant, a continuous propaganda reel which grows more shrill as elections in Punjab draw near.

Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP rules a mere Union Territory. Why then is the BJP government, Congress, the left parties, media having such convulsions at the prospect of AAP expanding into Punjab?

A wag, who is a known AAP sympathizer, was heard humming this verse the other day:
“Logon ki mohabbat ko, patthar yeh samajhtay hain
Kyon itne pareshaan hain sheeshe ke makaan wale?”
“Why do they perceive people’s support as stones to be pelted at them?
Why are occupants of glass houses so nervous?”

Because in the Indian context the AAP represents the people’s desire to break out of the establishment strait jacket.

The unending skirmishes between the Lt. Governor and Kejriwal on appointments, postings, role of the police are all a clear effort to demoralize the Delhi government. In this effort the media is in cahoots with big business supporting Modi. The media’s pied piper after all is Big Business. It is all building up to a crescendo, a loud clashing of the cymbals in Punjab. Kejriwal will have to survive an ordeal by fire. Every day the media, at the disposal of its czars, will predict his political demise. If he comes through, body and soul intact, the Punjab electorate will judge the David and Goliath contest in February. We all know who won that Biblical battle.

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