Wednesday, December 31, 2008
By Mubasshir Mushtaq
Israel, the world's only country with no internationally-declared borders, has begun the deadly dance of death and destruction in Gaza city which is located in 1.5 million strong Gaza strip, the world's most densely populated area. As Israel prepares for a long haul with tanks massed along the Gaza after the aerial strikes, the official silence of Egypt and Jordan has resulted in mental agony for the hapless Palestinians. Palestinians have been betrayed not only by Israel alone but by their "own" people. This fact can be gauged from Egyptian government's decision to seal its border along the Gaza strip at Rafah Crossing thus aggravating the humanitarian crisis fuelled by a country whose does not believe in human rights. Israel is the only country in the world which has violated the maximum number of United Nations' resolutions since it came into existence in November 1948 with the help of a United Nation's resolution!
Israel's history of complete disregard to human rights and international law will put any human being to shame. Five years ago, Rachel Corrie, an American human rights activist with International Solidarity Movement was crushed to death by an armoured Israeli bulldozer as she was protesting against the destruction of Palestinian homes in Gaza strip.
The current situation was propelled by an economic blockade by Israel two months ago as a response to what it says "rocket and mortar fire" by Hamas, the ruling militant organization in Gaza strip. An Egyptian-brokered peace truce between Israel and Hamas was broken ten days ago. This situation was exploited by Israel to intensify an already existent economic blockade thus making ordinary life miserable. Just a day before the Israeli offensive, Rami Almeghari, a lecturer of Islamic University of Gaza could not find bread in Gaza! An empty stomach has a right not only to hunger but anger as well. It is in this context that Hamas rocket attack into Southern Israel must be interpreted.
BBC reported on November 13 that "Gaza may be without United Nations food aid from November 15 after Israel has refused to allow in emergency supplies." The Israeli blockade was not merely economic but academic as well. 27-year old Belal Bedwan, a resident of Nuseirat Refugee Camp in Central Gaza told BBC that he had twice missed the chance to study abroad since he was not allowed to move out of Gaza although he had got admission in Malaysian University as late as July 2008! "The Israelis stopped me leaving Erez in the north and the Egyptians stopped me at Rafah in the south," he had told BBC.
A Palestinian noise is never heard through voice. Al-Qassam rockets are the only means to draw the world's attention.Shifa hospital, where most of the injured are being treated does not have adequate medical wares. Laila El-Haddad, a Gaza-based journalist wrote that medical supplies like face masks, surgical gloves, gowns etc. are in short supply.
She wrote that the heading in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz 'Over 50 targets by 60 warplanes' sounds like a "movie tagline or a game." She sarcastically termed the Israeli offensive as "Neatly packaged war in a gift-box."
Among 300 dead bodies, there are at least 20 children. Perhaps this war is the Jewish states' New Year gift to a Palestinian mother. Israeli has lost one war against Lebanon's Hezbullah in 2006. Israel will lose this war against democratically-elected Hamas again because the days of age-old saying 'Might is right' are dead. Israel may win this battle but it will lose the war. An increasing number of non-Muslims are raising their voice against the Israeli barbarism.
An American Christian had this to say in a letter to a Palestinian:
I apologize for what is happening to your people and your family. I wish the U.S. were coming out more strongly in condemnation of the Israeli violent actions. I have called the U.S. Secretary of State office and expressed my concern and my desire that the U.S. more strongly condemn today's Israeli actions. I sent an email of condemnation to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. I also sent an email to the American Jewish Committee, and expressed very strongly my disapproval of that organization's statement today in support of the Israeli action.With the ongoing global recession the downfall of Israel's biggest ally has already begun. Empires don't fall overnight; first comes the decline and then fall. The Mughal Empire's decline began after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. But the fall came 150 years later in 1857. At present America is sinking in a sea of debt. Afghanistan and Iraq wars have severely wounded the backbone of America's economy. Israel is heading the same path of destruction. It is digging its own grave.
Friday, December 26, 2008
By Seema Mustafa
India and Pakistan have stepped up the rhetoric to a point where the terrorists have been given the key to conflict between the two nations. One act of terror now will leave the UPA government with no option but to declare war, with Pakistan having already taken itself into battle mould with fighter jets flying over key cities and the army amassing at the borders with India.
There seems to be little concern in either capital about the consequences of the war rhetoric. Senior leaders in Delhi are heard saying that it will not come to a war, "because the Americans do not want a war as it does not suit their interests." The question that then does not get an answer is, " have we lost the ability to think and act for ourselves?" And is it in India's strategic interests to go in for a war with Pakistan, or is now our policy determined just by US interests?
The confusion in the Congress camp is evident. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently spoke of war not being an option, but this is not ruled out by the Congress whose spokesperson virtually contradicted Singh the very next day by declaring that all options were on the table.
Minister of external affairs Pranab Mukherjee is also currently of this last point of view, with the fast approaching general elections determining the tone and tenor of his rhetoric. He is clearly happy that the Congress has, for the moment, stolen the thunder from the BJP and is determined to cash this to the utmost.
The Pakistan establishment is also making the most of the situation. After the initial hesitation by President Asif Ali Zardari, Islamabad realized that war talk was the best way to unite a fractured nation. And has done so in a manner that today the army is back in the lead with the quiet General Kayani leading the "we will hit back" sentiment while the politicians and civil society quietly fall in line.
The Pakistan army, under attack from its own citizens for its aggressive role in the US led war on terror, is suddenly finding itself with support again. It has also realized that it can use the threat of war from India to move operations from the Afghan border to the Indian border, and thereby regain some of the lost popularity with its people. Its basic constituency that includes the jihadi groups and the Taliban were fast becoming its enemies, and the army clearly hopes to stem this tide by awakening the borders with India. Given the Pakistan army's traditional links, the statement by Baitullah Masood that he and his men will fight alongside the Pakistan army against India is no doubt being seen as a major step forward.
For the past couple of years the attention of Pakistan had shifted from Kashmir and India, to Afghanistan and the US. The strong anti-US sentiment that had virtually engulfed that country was evident during the February elections when the people voted Musharraf out with a vengeance. Not because he was an army general, though that was part of the campaign of the political parties, but because he was seen as a US stooge who had forsaken Pakistan. The army was virtually put in the dock with Kayani issuing instructions to pull back officers from civilian positions. The terror attack in Mumbai and the strong response from Delhi has been strategised into a real war threat in Pakistan, with the country uniting in the process. Experts who had told this correspondent that Pakistan was facing a real threat of disintegration are now wondering at an Indian strategy where even the Baluchis, almost at war with Islamabad, have expressed their support for the Pakistan government and army.
The US is worried but is hoping to make use of this opportunity to bring in a new cooperation ---preferably military---between India, Pakistan in Afghanistan. Although there is no indication of this in American journals at the moment, there will also be a sense of some relief that the Pakistan anger has been diverted to India, that the army which is an extremely important tool for the US is regaining some of its lost luster, and short of a war the crisis can be converted into an opportunity. Needless to say the Americans have started looking at the crisis afresh, and this is evident in some of the recent statements that have emerged out of Washington. For instance, the US joint chief of staffs Navy Adm Mike Mullen told reporters after a key meeting in Islamabad that the long term answer is a regional strategy that includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and other Central Asian nations. The nations must improve relations among one another so attacks like the one in Mumbai don't escalate closer to conflict. He was of the view that military to military contacts can help lessen tensions among the countries of the region and put in place a structure for resolving problems.
So clearly both Pakistan and the US are strategizing the fall out of the Mumbai attack in what each perceive to be their own national interests. What about India? What is the strategy here? If it is war, how does it help India short of demonstrating a macho ability that has not gone well for even the US in Iraq and Afghanistan? If India attacks, Pakistan will certainly retaliate. What then? Will we wait for the US to separate us, or go into a full escalation? If the first, what will be the terms and conditions that India will have to agree to in return for peace? If the latter, what happens if some moron in Pakistan decides to go nuclear? Strategically, neither of these two options can benefit India and will actually have disastrous results.
Peace is the only option. As it gives governments the space required to develop and implement a strategy that protects Indian interests. The UPA government could have opted for hard diplomacy as one had suggested earlier in these columns. It could have used its international clout this time to ensure the economic and political isolation of Pakistan. This time several foreigners have been killed, and the world capitals have realized that the terror attack was as much on their citizens as on the Indians. The pressure could have been revved up to a point where Islamabad would have had to take action against the terrorists. The threat of war has instead united Pakistan, and silenced even those who had been writing and campaigning against the terror industry being nurtured by the Pakistan establishment. Well thought out diplomacy with a step by step approach would have paid India rich dividends but the opportunity has not been seized by politicians who cannot see beyond their nose.
There are some who have been vociferously arguing for war, maintaining that this option requires 'courage.' How is it courageous to go in for the military option without any regard of the consequences? That is what Bush did when all the embedded journalists hailed him as the new hero and now shoes are being thrown at him physically by the brave journalist in Iraq and verbally by the world. The global war on terror has not ended terrorism, just strengthened it.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Malegaon blast probe is still the issue
By Mubasshir Mustaq
"Hemant Karkare's loss has proved to be a severe blow to the Malegaon investigation. The main character of the script is no more. Can a script be completed without the main character? It might be possible that a film can never be sustained with the death of its protagonist but in real life things are different. Karkare has left behind footprints on the sand. Now it is the job of the directors (read politicians) to guide the new actor (read K.P. Raghuvanshi); to make sure that he follows the footprints left by his predecessor. "
The world's largest democracy is going through one of the most critical phases of its 61-year old life. We should call it India's mid-life crisis; a period of dramatic self-doubt where one tragedy is being matched or answered by a greater tragedy. It seems that competition – one of the main features of marketing – has begun to apply even in the gory field of terrorism. We are being pushed into the dirty pit of terrorism in a cyclical motion. Terrorism has begun to apply the rules of communication. Communication is a two-way process. Terrorism is increasingly following in the footsteps of communication; where 'our terror' is being answered by 'their terror' or vice versa. This phenomenon is alternatively known as 'tit-for-tat terrorism.' It is in this framework that Malegaon September 2008 blast must be looked into.
The Malegaon blast probe which made headlines all across the world was earth-shattering. Before the probe could completely unearth all the faces involved in the blast; another terror storm rocked the nation's psyche and Malegaon probe was suddenly put on hold. The worst aspect of 26/11 may be that it consumed the faces involved in Malegaon blast probe but Malegaon can not be put on the back burner. The shocking revelations of Malegaon blast can not be easily erased from peoples' memories; be it Hindu or Muslim. 26/11 may have overshadowed Malegaon, but it can never be forgotten because it has now been associated with the Mumbai carnage.
Does that sound strange that Malegaon probe has been associated with 26/11?
No. The two fateful events had one similar character: ATS chief Hemant Karkare. And whenever, people would recall 26/11, they will surely remember Hemant Karkare. And the name Hemant Karkare has become synonymous with Malegaon blast probe. There emerges a triangle whose dots will always be connected to each other.
Hemant Karkare's loss has proved to be a severe blow to the Malegaon investigation. The main character of the script is no more. Can a script be completed without the main character? It might be possible that a film can never be sustained with the death of its protagonist but in real life things are different. Karkare has left behind footprints on the sand. Now it is the job of the directors (read politicians) to guide the new actor (read K.P. Raghuvanshi); to make sure that he follows the footprints left by his predecessor.
The new actor must remember that footprints on sand don't last long.
The director (Ashok Chavan), his assistant (Chagun Bhujbhal) and the new actor know and understand that Malegaon script has already been drafted. The new players just need to complete the script. Any change or delay in the completion of the script will be detrimental. Audiences are desperately waiting to witness the climax of the story.
The people of Malegaon are not very happy with the track record of K.P. Raghuvanshi; he was the ATS chief when September 8, 2006 blasts took place. But still, we have no grudge against him; our readers will recall that Nanded blast was being investigated by Mr. Raghuvanshi himself. The ATS investigation in Nanded blast was far better than the investigation carried by CBI later. In fact, Mr. Raghuvanshi should be given a free hand to complete the Malegaon probe as early as possible.
With Karkare's departure, the once media-savvy ATS has suddenly become media-shy. People of Malegaon want ATS chief to assert himself in order to restore the faith of the people. He has not made any remark or addressed a single press conference on the issue of Malegaon probe till now. His long silence is open to misinterpretation. He must speak up his mind in order to put rumour mills to sleep.
It's your turn to speak up, Mr. Raghuvanshi! Will you please oblige?
By Seema Mustafa
It was a sad day for the nation when India's elected law makers rushed to push through two draconian legislations, giving the government sweeping powers and seriously curtailing civil liberties, in just a little over six hours. The amendment to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention)Act and the legislation to set up the National Investigation Agency were passed with just a few members pointing to the need for sending these to a parliamentary standing committee to ensure that effective checks and balances preventing governments from misusing this authority were brought into the bills.
Union Home Minister P.Chidambaram, never known for his commitment to civil liberties, shrugged off the few objections by saying that the legislations could be "improved" upon when Parliament met again in February. The blatant misuse of power by investigating agencies when evidence has been planted on suspects to justify illegal arrests reported from all parts of the country has actually been given full support in the new legislations with the police being given the powers now to detain innocent persons for 180 days, that is six months at a time. Currently, stringent laws allow the police to detain a person without filing a chargesheet for 90 days that according to legal experts, is more than enough to determine his or her guilt or innocence.
The minorities, in particular, are extremely worried as in the past years the community has been targeted by the administration in several states, including Congress controlled Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. In Hyderabad, for instance, the Mecca-Mumbai blasts led to large scale arrests of Muslim youth who were kept in custody by the police without being produced before a magistrate, beaten for days and nights on end, tortured with electric shocks and while some still languish in jail, others were released for want of evidence. Their lives have been ruined, they live in constant fear, and the state has done nothing to intervene and compensate them for its merciless intervention in their lives.
The government, as always, has not addressed the basic issues that led to the Mumbai terror attack. These were a complete failure of the intelligence apparatus, with RAW in particular being in a mess, ridden with factionalism and inefficiency. The inefficiency of its chief is now an acknowledged fact but for reasons best known to it, the government is unable or should one say, unwilling, to act against him. The corruption and politicization of the police force all over the state is now legendary, with the long recommended police reforms being ignored by every successive government. The poor become the victims of this corrupt, inept force that, under pressure, attacks those who are unable to defend themselves. The legislations give more power to the same instruments, with the Home Minister, his government and the Parliamentarians endorsing the laws in complete denial of the need to shake the system into becoming more sensitive and responsive to its citizens.
Indian laws are stringent, and what is required is a more coordinated approach. Instead of this, the turf battles between agencies that were evident for the world to see during and after the Mumbai terror attack have crippled functioning. The result is that the poor are further oppressed by the police and the security forces, as they have little intelligence and even lesser expertise to either predict terror attacks, or investigate the trail efficiently. It is no secret that the approach of the Indian police, whether it be a crime or a terror attack, has always been to arrest all it can lay its hands on, beat and torture, and then hope that the confessions will throw up some clues that they can follow. If this does not happen, then often the innocents are thrown into the jails as the prime accused, the masterminds, who then wait for years for the judiciary to catch up with them.
The point being made here is that Parliament should have demanded more time to analyse and discuss the new legislations, and a standing committee should have been given the responsibility to ensure that much needed checks and balances were factored into the final versions. Union Minorities Minister A.A.Antulay did raise the controversy surrounding the death of ATS chief Hemant Karkare and the other officers asking the question that has still not been answered by the authorities: why did Karkare and the other senior officers go to the railway station when they should have been heading towards the hotels and Nariman House. And how did the terrorists have prior information of their movements? Important questions that need a categorical response, starting from the time that the officers got the information, where they were, why did they travel together, why did they go on this particular route etc. It is no secret that Karkare was the target of a virulent hate campaign for uncovering the Hindutva complicity in several terror attacks in this country, and it is thus the job of any government in power to ensure that all possible doubts are ruled out by ordering a thorough and transparent probe into the incident.
The media, taking its cue from the establishment, has been strident in making comparisons between what it terms 26/11 and 9/11. Inherent in this comparison is a certain legitimacy given to the action following 9/11 and a message that India should do the same. The same what? Like the US invade Afghanistan, Iraq, kill thousands of civilians, arrest and torture on whims, and place itself in a situation where the leader---in this case George W.Bush---becomes the most reviled man in the world and has shoes thrown at him during what should have been a famous last visit to Baghdad. Is this what India wants to become?
Governments of secular, democratic and pluralistic India have the added job of ensuring that all sections of citizens feel protected and secure. This is certainly not the case insofar as the security apparatus is concerned, as the levels of corruption and inefficiency have been established over the years. It is also imperative for governments here to ensure that legislations particularly of the kind passed by the lawmakers on Wednesday have sufficient checks and balances to that the poor, the minorities, and all the smaller communities have full access to the law, and do not become its victims. This has not happened and once again Parliament has failed India.
Friday, December 5, 2008
By Seema Mustafa
The UPA government is going around in circles. And this time India's ambassador to the US Ronen Sen would be absolutely right if he were to term his bosses in government as "headless chickens" as all are rushing around following the terror attack on Mumbai,adding to the cacophony of excuses and allegations, with not a plan in their pockets.
The people are furious, and the younger generation even more so. They are furious with the politicians, be these of any party, and the media that not only sensationalized the news but also breached security in its complete ignorance and competitiveness. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi found that he might have been able to dazzle the brainwashed with his rhetoric on terrorism, but he was virtually booed out of Mumbai when he tried to strut around as the expert. Heads had to roll as the government came under tremendous pressure, and finally had to get rid of the totally incompetent Shivraj Patil and the callous chief minister and deputy chief minister of Maharashtra. Not that the replacements, at least in the state, can be credited with political sagacity but then a party with a paucity of talent can only do so much and no more.
The internet is buzzing with postings from the younger generation that has emerged as an active pressure group. NDTV and its prominent anchors are being attacked in blogs and on facebook, but unfortunately journalism as a profession has taken a beating in the process. Emails and petitions are in circulation asking the people to keep peace, to prevent the politicians from dividing their unity, to ensure that the innocent are not arrested, and that the media is made to perform its duty with responsibility and sensitivity. These are important interventions and perhaps all those who are being targeted by the public, need to step back and introspect instead of fighting petty wars that will do nothing to either secure India, or improve their respective stock with the people.
Journalists are not supposed to become the story. But in the case of our television channels, and now even in some newspapers, the anchors and editors insist on projecting themselves as central to the story. The "I", never used by professional journalists in the past, has come to dominate the news as we tell you how great we are while pretending to report the story. The complete absence of training or understanding was visible to all watching the channels during the three day drama, as young and even not so young reporters insisted on telecasting details of the operations launched by the security forces that could only help the terrorists inside. The points of entry were shown, and the number of commandos going in given by the channels in their overwhelming desire to 'beat' the other to the news. It was a sorry spectacle that has now evoked an angry response.
Of course conspiracy theories abound, but while the government is dithering on the question of war and hostile action against Pakistan it is imperative to point out that the first task should be to get the country's own act in order. Corruption and politicization has seeped into the very vitals of India, and the cleansing job will require a committed and dedicated political class that is currently not visible. But nevertheless a beginning of sorts has to be made. And the government has to explain what it has done after every terror attack in this country, apart from arresting and torturing innocents. A war with Pakistan will not stop terror, as George W Bush and Condoleeza Rice. The Americans are the most hunted and insecure people in the world, and the only reason they are secure within their own country is because of the strong system that the US administration has set into place.
The first night of the attack that was crucial to put the terrorists on the run, was lost. The state government barely responded, the police was totally inept, the NSG was stuck at Manesar without an aircraft with the result that the terrorists got a headstart of ten hours in the two hotels. This is after they had already killed over 100 people in other parts of Mumbai, including ace policemen who too did not seem to have been given any intelligence or local information about the ferocity of this particular operation. The NSG reached the venue only in the morning, and fought the terrorists without any help from the local police. The policemen were not even willing to move into the corridors, or fetch water for the NSG commandos. After the operation was over, of course, everyone rushed to give press conferences and in off the record briefings blame the other for the mess.
Nowhere was this more important than in the intelligence network, with the agencies insisting that they had given actionable information and that the Navy was at fault. Strangely enough those in charge of our national security apparatus stood back and let all this happen, regardless of the fact that the loud accusations by RAW and IB left the Navy virtually defenseless. More so, as the intelligence personnel as well as the National Security advisor M.K.Narayanan have far more access to the media that the Navy. In fact the NSA should have been the first to resign, but given his links with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the top echelons of the ruling elite as well as the media in Delhi, he has emerged out of the mess unscathed. Narayanan was too busy chasing the nuclear deal, and more recently working out the constituency by constituency political fortunes of the Congress, to be bothered about security for the common man. He has ensured that the Nehru-Gandhi family is well protected, and there are many in the Congress party who do not hesitate to point out that this is the reason for his survival.
The terrorist who has been arrested is unlikely to have only limited information, relating to just his part in the larger operation. Sources said that the information sent out by the government to foreign governments based on this interrogation was at best sketchy and did not reveal a great deal about the operation in its entirety. Even the part to do with Pakistan was badly handled by the UPA, with a not to be attributed briefing now maintaining that war was out of the question as that would amount to playing into the hands of the terrorists and their mentors.
The government has to take an overall assessment of the security lapses where the military, the agencies, the police and the entire security apparatus comes together for a thorough brainstorming. Accusations can be left behind, as the top personnel go through the attack step by step and work out the slippages on the part of the Indian state. Right from the time the men sailed out of the Karachi port, if that is indeed where they sailed out from. After this is done, an action plan should be formulated and implemented at all the seeping points as it were, on a war footing.
The longer term measures will need another brainstorming of experts----and these must include retired officers from the military who have far more experience and knowledge than the babus who like to call the shots on everything from sewage to security----for an overall understanding of security lapses. These must be understood and plugged by raising more forces, buying the necessary equipment and tightening the system and infastructure under a single, cohesive agency.
The long term measures will lie in depoliticising the security forces, in ridding the police and paramilitary of corruption, in ensuring that merit is recognized and rewarded. The police has to be well equipped and all the reports written and recommendations made should be brought out, dusted, and implemented to bring about sweeping reforms in the security apparatus.
The list can go on and on. In short the government and its agencies have to stop looking for excuses, admit the serious lapses on its part (as the agencies, the navy, the police are all part of government) and take remedial action. The media has to realise that it is there as a watchdog, as an observer, as a reporter and not a player. The journalists reporting events like communal violence, terror attacks, war have to be trained, sensitized, and briefed before being allowed into the field by their editors or whosever it is who controls the channels and newspapers these days. They have to be pulled out if they dramatize the events, to a point where passions are inflamed and security threatened.
It is ironic that the terror attack has united the people of India with many a voice demanding action against the politicians, a plan of action and a plea to remain united (of course there are some exceptions as hosts of television shows always dressed in white); but the government is totally divided with its right arm having little idea today of what the left is doing or saying. Someone has to be in control and usually it is the Prime Minister. Today, no one knows.
Monday, December 1, 2008
By Seema Mustafa
Terror is heinous, as its targets are innocent citizens. It is remorseless, ruthless and as Mumbai has shown, it has the capacity to completely paralyse, even as it kills. And now that the long operations are over, the bodies recovered, the terrorists killed or arrested it is time for India's citizens to take stock of the events before the politicians beating their drums in the usual bid to politicize the event, and seek extra mileage.
The point to be understood by the citizens of India, who are far more mature, pragmatic and reasonable, than the people they elect is that for the moment it is not important whether the terrorists were from Pakistan, from the al Qaeda, from the Lashkar, of from this strange new outfit the Deccan Mujahideen. This is for the security apparatus to investigate, find out and take remedial action. It is not that important for the purpose of this article as this one fact, even if unearthed, will not stop the terror attacks and make us Indians more secure.
What will make us secure is a security apparatus that is alert, vigilant, efficient, skilled and highly trained. And given the politicians---be they of the NDA or the UPA or any other hue---unwillingness to ensure this, the Indian state will remain susceptible to terrorism. The terrorists that carried out the meticulous and highly sophisticated strike in the heart of Mumbai managed to expose the soft underbelly of the Indian state, made even softer by corruption and acute politicization.
The politician was predictable. The gun battles between the commandos and the terrorists were on in the hotels, but the Prime Minister of India had identified Pakistan as the mastermind of this terror attack. And had directed Islamabad to send across its ISI chief to New Delhi for talks. The BJP and its ilk had already started talking of draconian laws, with Advani and Modi on television channels as the experts in countering terrorism.
But not a single politician spoke of the real problem, that the relatives of many of the victims outlined through their tears. And the common man on the street, with his pragmatic wisdom, told the journalists who cared to interview him. There can be no change until and unless India is able to strengthen, not its laws as we have more than enough of these only, but its security network. And for this only two steps are necessary: bring an end to politicization and rid the police and the intelligence and security agencies of corruption.
Merit has long ceased to matter. Policemen now pay the politicians in the districts to be first recruited. They then pay them to get better postings. They are then paid in turn to turn a blind eye to corruption. And at the end in any city or district, the police seniors are men appointed more for their loyalty to the governments in power, than for merit. This is true of all positions, be it the diplomatic service, or the coast guards. But it becomes lethal when those entrusted to maintain law and order, and keep the citizen secure is too unprofessional to do so. Or too corrupt to care.
The politician makes money in equipment and hardware. For instance, the soldiers sent up to fight Pakistanis in the heights of the Kargil mountains did not even have proper snow shoes. Why? Because no one had thought of placing an order, as this was a small ticket item when compared to heavy weaponry, and the commission did not justify the effort insofar as the politician was concerned. Similarly, it was clear from the Mumbai operation that the city police, and even the anti terrorist force that lost some very good officers in the operation, were not equipped to fight the terrorists. The seniormost officer Hemant Karkare, in the limelight for his excellent investigation into the Malegaon blasts, was seen putting on a heavy, outdated jacket and going in for the deadly operation with just a revolver. He did not have a chance.
The police force through out the country is ill equipped. It does not have the right weaponry, it does not have enough vehicles, it does not have enough manpower, and the working conditions are absolutely pathetic, to put it mildly.
The Mumbai terror strike exposed failures at all levels. The coast guards did not detect the rubber dinghy's carrying men with huge arsenal. The intelligence agencies that should have been watching Mumbai like hawks, because of its well known vulnerability to terrorism, had no wind of the huge operation that was carried out with ease. The police was unable to deal with the crisis. The political authorities did not realise the magnitude of the attack until several hours later, leading to a major delay in requisitioning the NSG and the Marine commandos and then of course, the Army. The politicians did little but make statements and visit the spot, making it more difficult for the administration completely occupied with the ongoing operations at the time.
The government and the other political parties must not be allowed to divert attention from the real issues, to points that might give them electoral dividends but will not secure the country. The question is not of Muslim or Hindu terrorism. Today one group or the other might be on the ascendant, but only the fool will insist that terrorism and civil strife will not spread to pockets hitherto unaffected by terrorism. The terror attacks have spread out of Jammu and Kashmir to what some like to refer to as mainland India, and given the widening gap between the poor and the rich, and the growing frustration amongst the unemployed and dejected youth, strife and conflict is going to further test the soundness of Indian security.
Laws are not the solution, as the BJP has been advocating. One was happy to hear Rahul Bose on television pointing out that the US had the absolutely draconian Patriot Act in place, but that had done little to prevent Americans from being targeted across the world. The trick is to develop top level, professional security forces and free them from political meddling. The intelligence agencies are currently demoralized and frustrated. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), for instance has been reduced to a political wing, with little to no freedom to brainstorm and take independent decisions at even the second levels of command. Factionalism and infighting has almost crippled this elite wing.
The National Security Advisor M.K.Narayanan has a lot to answer for. He has spent more time in running foreign policy than on the job for which he was selected in the first place. He spent precious weeks and months chasing the India US civilian nuclear energy agreement than in dealing with the real complaints and problems beleaguering the intelligence agencies. The result is that a group of armed terrorists could hold the country to ransom for two days without the intelligence network getting even a whiff of this earlier. Now of course, every one is claiming that they knew, and that the other had done nothing about it. This was the story in Kargil, when the intelligence agencies –civilian and military---had no idea that the Pakistani soldiers had occupied the Indian heights. This is the story every time, intelligence agencies trading schoolboy charges.
One of the tasks before the NSA and his security secretariat then should have been to put in place a fairly foolproof method of intelligence dispensation and analysis, so that intelligence failure was minimized. And failure should have heads rolling, regardless of political favourites.
Accountability has to be fixed. And this has to be fixed internally. Today it might be one country or group, tomorrow it will be another. The same excuses are being pedaled out again, the same diversions are being created, and it seems that the politician is not willing to admit that he needs to learn lessons, and to clean up the mess after Mumbai. So while there has to be one serious investigation to determine those behind the attack, there has to be another equally serious inquiry to determine who failed in their duty, when and where, and to take action. The follow up action lies in a short and long term overhaul of the security apparatus, with merit being given preference to political leanings at all levels. Of course, this is easier said than done for the politician will not allow the administration to get out of his grasp.
This is where the people of India come in. Instead of getting swayed by the divisive agenda that will be put in play by the unscrupulous men who claim to lead us, we should make it clear to them that they have to be seen to be working on the ground in strengthening the system and making themselves and their officers more accountable. Hard states are not made by stringent laws that take away our right to breathe For then the people become unhappy and open the doors that then no state can shut. Hard states are those that govern with a soft hand, but in the process ensure that the entire law and order machinery, including the security and intelligence agencies, are strengthened through merit and training. And are not frustrated but secure, not angry but accountable, not arrogant but responsive and mete out justice with an even hand. This is when terrorists will be kept out as they will not be able to penetrate the armour of Indian unity.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
by Susenjit Guha
Summits are a success only when the participants unanimously agree on certain changes in the system they wish to make and set about immediately to work on their pre-defined tasks.
Did the G20 meeting in Washington D.C. last weekend achieve anything like that?
Not at all. It seems the only outcome was that the leaders of the 20 participating nations agreed to hold another summit and carry on with the discussion.
The one significant change that occurred with this meeting was that, instead of the usual G7 or G8 groupings, this time it was the G20, with fast-developing nations represented by their heads of state rather than their finance ministers or central bank governors, as was the case earlier. Russia was taken into the G7 during the 1990s for global political reasons rather than to give them a voice on pressing economic problems. Greater presence in the international arena had earlier been granted to the BRIC nations – Brazil, India and China – by taking them on board the Financial Stability Forum, considered the bedrock of the elitist G8. Well ahead of the G20 summit, the BRIC nations had set about framing their own goals, which they had not done earlier.
As Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said, "We are talking about the G20 because the G8 doesn't have any more reason to exist. The emerging economies have to be taken into consideration in today's globalized world." He was trying to bear upon the eight nations used to speaking for the entire world to factor in the gnawing reality of the 21st century. As chairman of the G20 this year, da Silva is responsible for getting the agenda up and running. The chairmanship will pass to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown next year and to South Korea's Lee Myung-bak in 2010.
Though no major decisions were made, the summit in Washington was perhaps the first step in a paradigm shift that will bring more global players to the table to discuss issues that affect them all. Suggested tax cuts and increased spending were thorny issues for nations teetering on the financial brink, but the meeting did offer the safety net of cooperation in economic policy among the 20, which could be a face saver if leaders face flak from their own people.
Mere coordination between central banks, however, will not limit the risk of a bleeding Wall Street lacerating lesser streets in economies around the world.
Can the G20 really effect changes, like coming up with financial regulations to dissuade financial markets form running amuck in future? It is not likely now, as the current players are poles apart. French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan for reining in global financial markets is not shared by an apprehensive U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who are unwilling to pull at the reins. The two sides showed no signs of meeting and were in no mood to even nod at each other.
It is not capitalism that is being blamed for the crisis. It is rather the executives of financial institutions, who were ready to leave millions homeless and without security. These companies’ CEOs take robber barons as their role models and cut deals as if they were out to win the West. Sadly, President-elect Barack Obama was not at the G20 summit, while Bush, as usual, didn’t seem to know what the G20 was all about before the summit.
Still, hope lies in the U.S. president –elect. Hopefully he will make up his mind over issues like changes in financial regulations and come up with a course of action before the next summit, scheduled for next April.
One of the issues to be discussed is executive pay packages. Incentives need to be linked to outcomes to minimize unwise risk taking and eliminate impunity. This is one of the path-breaking steps that could help fine-tune the banking system and immunize it from boom-and-bust cycles couched in jargon like “countercyclical fiscal policy.”
Another idea is Spain’s system of building a cushion in good times to help absorb losses in bad time. But most likely, those who brought the global economy to its current pass will masquerade as its rescuers, and the interests of the creditors will be protected by Washington.
The Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt complained that the meeting was held not in the context of the United Nations, but in the limited context of the G20. “The G20 summit … is a dismal failure," it said.
Still, it is too early to judge the G20 process a success or failure in terms of the current crisis. It will depend on what happens in the year ahead, whether or not the new U.S. leadership will be able to get change going, and whether the decision makers are really prepared to move away from exclusivity to a more universal approach. This will be increasingly important as the freeway from developing to developed-nation status becomes more crowded.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
By Mubasshir Mushtaq
The ongoing twist-and-turn in the investigation of the Malegaon bomb blast of September 29 is stranger than a John Grisham novel. At this point of time, it may be difficult to say with certainty in which direction the investigation will lead to, but there are enough inputs and indicators to make an assessment.
Going by the various media reports, it seems that Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) has got nothing incriminating against the accused so far; the kind of evidence that will stand in a court of law. As one report in Hindustan Times says,
"The hard evidence in the form of materials used in making and planting of the bomb, witnesses and other corroborative and supporting evidence is still missing."
The ATS has reportedly seized arms, cell phones, electronic timers, pen drive, telephone diary and some documents from the accused. The latest arrest of priest Dayanand Pandey makes the case murkier and high-profile as he had some "political contacts." Pandey has reportedly changed his number 4 times in the last 20 days. None of this is incriminating in law unless it is proved that the above mentioned items were used in the blast.
Narco test or truth serum as it is known is not a scientifically-proved and legally-approved method of investigation. Also narco tests are not fool-proof. A person of a military background like Lt. Col. Purohit can easily mislead the investigators. There is no guarantee that a person will only speak the truth in a so-called 'truth serum' test. Also evidence extracted under the test is not admissible in court.
The sincerity of any investigating agency should not be measured on the basis of leaks it willingly provides to the media but its approach in the application of law on the accused. All the accused arrested so far have been booked under Indian Penal Code (IPC), Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and several sections of the Explosives Act. A careful reading of these statutes will reveal that one can easily get bail under these Acts. On the contrary, it is very difficult to get bail in Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).
In MCOCA, confessional statement of the accused is considered as "substantive evidence" and it is enough to punish the accused. In IPC and other statutes confessional statement is not considered "substantive evidence." I am not a great admirer of the draconian MCOCA but still one wonders why the ATS is not imposing MCOCA on the Malegaon bomb blast accused as it had done in the earlier blast of 2006.
To impose MCOCA, there should be at least one previous criminal chargesheet against the accused. Jagdish Mhatra, who was arrested from Dombivali in Mumbai, fulfills this legal requirement since a criminal chargesheet had been filed against him in a case of murder and extortion in 1996-97. One previous criminal chargesheet against any of the accused is enough to bring all the accused under the ambit of MCOCA.
Despite this, ATS is still "considering" and yet to apply MCOCA on the Malegaon blast accused. The same ATS had applied MCOCA on the 2006 blast accused immediately. People of Malegaon are curious to find out why this time the ATS is delaying the implementation of MCOCA.
The ATS claims to have 400 minutes of taped-conversation between Sadhvi and Ramji, the alleged bomb-planter. In a recent judgement, Supreme Court has categorically stated that the taped-conversation is admissible under MCOCA. In simple words it means the ATS can easily convict the accused on the basis of the taped-conversation if they choose to apply MCOCA.
Isn't it good news for the ATS? Why delay then?
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
By Mubasshir Mushtaq
One does not know whether Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, September 29 Malegaon bomb blast accused, did 'sing' or she is made to sing but Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already chosen to sing a song. The singer is none other than a Singh who firmly believes that his ability to sing a song of 'cultural nationalism' will save his party. "Those who believe in cultural nationalism," said Rajnath Ram Singh, BJP president, referring to Sadhvi "cannot ever take to terror."
One does not understand Singh's definition of 'cultural nationalism' but he has been an inconsistent president of a party which claims to be truly "nationalistic." Is he the same Singh who sung the "terrorist" song immediately after the so-called 'encounter' at Batla House? Why did he sing a different song after the arrest of Sadhvi? Is it because of the difference in religious affiliation of those who were killed at Batla House? Or did 'acquaintance' prompt him to defend Sadhvi? The widely-circulated picture of Singh with Sadhvi does not incriminate him but as we say in journalism: A picture speaks a thousand words.
One must note that like the accused of the Batla house, Sadhvi remains an accused and not a "terrorist." A terrorist tag can only be accorded by a court of law.
Sadhvi has created so much confusion within the BJP. Initially, BJP disowned her when it was revealed that she was once a part of its student-wing, Akhil Bharthiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). BJP changed its official policy the moment Uma Bharati joined the strange enigma of Sadhvi. Uma Bharati was merely a political trap; Singh easily succumbed to it. After all, Singh and Bharati share the same saffron soul with varying degrees.
BJP's state of no-acceptance no-rejection of Sadhvi makes its case ambivalent.
A president of a nationalist political party should always stick to one song on a one theme no matter whoever may be the target audience.
BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad thought Singh's song was not enough and decided to write the whole script. His utterance was a good example of hysteria's triumph over common sense. "Why this lead (the alleged involvement of Students Islamic Movement of India in Malegaon 2006 cemetery blast) has not been followed in the 2008 blast?" Prasad asked.
Mr. Ravi Shankar should at least know that the motorcycle used in the blast was registered in the name of Sadhvi.
L.K. Advani, who has responded cautiously to Sadhvi episode, must take notice of his party's official ignorance.
Meanwhile the response of the saffron Hindutva groups has been highly intolerant. The rabid display of the 'majoritarian nationalism' or to put it more precisely 'mobocracy' went unnoticed in the mainstream media. Thousands of the saffron souls protested outside a Nasik court on November 3 where the accused were brought for the trial. They carried placards, chanted highly provocative slogans and openly defended Sadhvi and other army men allegedly involved in the Malegaon blast.
India, being a civilised democracy, gives a right to defend an accused. I am glad that Indian Muslims have never ever done such a protest outside a court. Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, did not witness any such protest when Bali bomb blasts' Muslim bombers were executed on the order of the country's highest court.
Nathuram Godse is dead but his legacy of hatred still thrives on. Himani Savarkar, Godse's niece and president of Abhinav Bharat – the organization allegedly behind the Malegaon blast – has advocated an eye for an eye theory. "If we can have bullet for bullet, why not blast for blast?" she has asked. She has even advocated that Indian Muslims should go and find a Muslim country to live!
Post-Independent India was infected with caste and communal riots. Now the bomb blast is an easy and alternative way to infect the body of India. It has begun to bleed with sickening regularity. Do we Indians realise that the war is no longer across the border? It is being fought within. China and Pakistan are not our biggest enemies. Our biggest enemies are fellow Indians who are striking at will wearing the cloak of anonymity.
Sadhvi episode has highlighted one crucial fact in Indian context: Terrorism is not a Muslim specialty. The bomb blasts in mosques in the Marathwada region (Nanded, Parbhani, Purna, Jalna etc.) were indeed carried out by Hindutva fanatics but government and intelligence agencies ignored it lest they antagonise the majority community. Army men's involvement in the Malegaon blast should not come as a surprise. Our intelligence agencies do have people who share the right-wing ideology. Those who have followed the Nanded 2006 blast will agree that the role of India's Criminal Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been highly controversial and biased.
Initially ATS suspected that SIMI was the behind the Malegaon blast. The ATS knew it from the day one that the killer motorcycle belonged to Sadhvi but yet they continued their combing operations in Muslim areas of Malegaon! The sudden 'right-turn' in the investigation was a result of Muslim resentment across the state of Maharashtra. Dozens of Muslim corporators belonging to Congress-NCP had sent their resignations directly to chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and home miniter R.R. Patil.
With elections round the corner, a dual-theory is being propagated by political pundits. Batla encounter was carried out to pacify Hindus and Malegaon arrests were made to "appease" the Muslims! Congress is being accused of playing a dual game.
A murmur has begun to develop in Muslim mohallas that Congress is indulging in a psychological war of perception management. Is Congress playing a game with Muslim sub-consciousness? We can't say with certainty. But at the same time it can't be ruled out. There is at least one reason to suspect. ATS is yet to apply the draconian MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act) although they have slapped it on Malegaon blast accused of 2006. It is still being "considered."
Quite a Muslim question: Are there two set of different laws for two different communities? That's a question which Vilasrao Deshmukh needs to answer.
The Muslim vote will depend upon his answer and not mere lip-service as his government has been doing for the last 9 years. Sri Krishna Commission report is just the tip of an iceberg. The iceberg of genuine Muslim issues may sink Vilasrao's political boat.
This time 'nine days wonder' trick will not save Congress-NCP government.
A question worth-debating: Can Muslims of Maharashtra sing a different song
Sunday, November 9, 2008
By U Mahesh Prabhu
'I wonder why you write such a column replete with hate and vengeance' alleged a protagonist, who calls himself as a 'secularist', on reading my previous columns. But when I asked him to aid me in finding those words of 'hate and vengeance' he wasted no time to enjoin 'I don't have time for that'! When an allegation is levelled, one cannot but seek elucidation. Not even once have those allegers took some time to warrant those allegations.
Because, for past few months, I have been indicting columns critical of Islam with purports from Holy Koran and Hadith, I am being branded as 'anti-Muslim'. 'You [hate] Islam' many have already declared. But hate is such a strong word. It's opposite to love and thus, when you hate you just end up perverting. I have time and again advocated that 'Seed of hatred begets nothing but destruction.' I have never abused Islam nor have I, ever, used derogatory words against Muslims. How can I speak fetid against anyone when I disown 'hate' in the first place? I am not a phoney.
Though I may have written critical analysis on Islam, I have seldom 'branded' an entire Muslim community as terrorist. I have never called for seizing of their right to practice their faith, their right to exist. The people who allege me of saying so have never read my columns.
Criticism isn't a bad, neither is critic worth considering a pariah. He is not an inevitable foe. He is a person who is trying to give in his stimuli and notions on certain issues. Distinguished journalists and intellectuals in this country have spoken so critically of Hindus and Hinduism at large, but they aren't tagged as 'anti-Hindu'. And I, very strongly, believe that just because someone has criticized Hindus or Hinduism, he cannot be labelled as anti-Hindu. It's injudicious.
If you take a look at Hinduism you will find that it has been ever evolving. It has never lazed. It's true that: Dalits were suppressed here, widows (in some parts of this country) were being burnt alive, child marriage was rampant and lower caste people were never allowed inside the temple.
But today how many of such evil practices do you find in Hinduism now? Isn't it virtually extinct? It is. But how was this made possible? When so many people began criticizing Hinduism umpteen, within the faith, began questioning and thereby sought revision. Renaissance was made possible primarily due to criticism, and Hindus became forward thinking people because of it.
The critics didn't write with the intention of uplifting Hindu but with an objective of endorsing religious conversion and also, at times, with the view of defaming it. But Hindu leaders were relatively prompt to react and thus something good happened. 'Don't debunk criticism and critics blindly.' an old maxim of Hindus, came for them handily. There was of course resistance for change but it was weakened by resolve of the men who sought reform. But when similar situation was put forth Muslims they began playing their 'anti-Muslim' label. Anyone criticizing them is today an 'anti-Muslim'.
If, by bringing to light unpleasant reality from Islam's Holy Scripture, I wish to do anything, it would be to ask Muslims to rethink on it. I want them to rethink on parts of their faith for their own betterment.
Another allegation thrown against me by my Muslim brethren is that 'I am built in the mould of Sangh Parivar.' I am not sure what they mean when they say 'built in the mould'. Yes, I have been associated with Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). I have read their books, for sometime I have complied, or better put, tried to follow, their discipline. I have many friends within the organization of whom I am proud of. But, if my friendship is to be a deciding factor then I also have friends within Jamat-e-Islami, Students Islamic Organization and even from Churches of Southern India. Until two days back from penning this column I did also have a Communist friend who, somehow, himself disowned me by branding me as a 'fascist'. Interestingly he is yet to prove as to why I should be branded so.
My background is diverse. I have read Bible before reading Bhagavad-Gita. I am a product of a Christian Missionary school established by the German Bassel Mission. I have attended classes on Koran by a competent Maulvi. My favourite teacher was a Communist, and thus I can fairly explain communism – first-rate. My close friends during school and college days have been Muslims, who preferred to offer Namaz five times a day. I have been to Mosque and can even imitate actions of Namaz. My most favourite writer is M J Akbar and though I disagree with him on numerous aspects I am equally proud of him and also of my friends who come from so many diverse faiths. Many of my friends, even today, are the ones who prefer to disagree with me. Given this, I would like to know from my critics as to how could I possibly be an 'anti-Muslim' or go against fundamental rights of any religion for that matter?
The greatest diplomat and statesman from India, after whom I have named this column, says in his brilliant work, Arthashastra, that "It's better to have an intelligent & criticizing enemy than a foolish and all-agreeing friend." It's important that our Muslim brethren stand up and respond to such criticism proactively and think candidly of a socio-economic renascence within the community.
Fanaticism is dangerous because it blocks logical thinking and wisdom. It isn't healthy and can be a primary cause for one to perish. And history is a testimony to this fact.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
By U. Mahesh Prabhu
If you think Obama's full name is 'Barack Obama' then you are half right. His middle name, which is hardly flashed in the media, is 'Hussein'. Thus his complete name is 'Barack Hussein Obama.'
Now the question that would certainly follow is: 'Does he, or not, have a Muslim background?' When the very same question was asked to him sometimes back his answer was 'If I was a Muslim, I would let you know.' and I believed in him. Obama is today a practicing Christian and also a member of the Trinity Church of Christ.
Obama in his campaign website on November 12, 2007 posted a statement with the headline 'Barack Obama is not and has never been a Muslim', followed by 'Obama never prayed in Mosque. He has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim and is a committed Christian.'
Speaking personally about his Muslim lineage, on Dec 22, 2007, Obama spoke thus: 'My father was from Kenya, and lots of people in his village were Muslim. He didn't practice Islam. Truth is he wasn't very religious. He met my mother. My mother was a Christian from Kansas, and they married and then divorced. I was raised by my mother so I have always been a Christian. The only connection I have had to Islam is that my grandfather on my father's side came from that country. But I have never practiced Islam… For a while I lived in Indonesia because my mother was teaching there. And that's a Muslim country. And I went to school. But I didn't practice Islam…'
However, in complete contrast to Obama's aforesaid statement, in the article 'Obama Debunks Claim about Islamic School' Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press wrote, on January 24, 2007, that: 'Obama's mother, divorced from Obama's father married a man from Indonesia named Lolo Soetoro, and the family relocated to country from 1967-71. At first Obama attended the Catholic School Fransiskus Assisis where documents showed he enrolled as a Muslim, the religion of his step-father. The document required that each student choose one of the five sanctioned religions while registering – Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic or Protestant.'
In response to the above claim Obama's communication director, Robert Gibbs, responded that 'He wasn't sure why the document had Obama registered as a Muslim.'
What more? Two months later, Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times reported that the Obama campaign had retreated from that absolute statement and instead issued a more nuanced one: 'Obama has never been a [practicing] Muslim.'
The Times looked into the matter further and learned more about his Indonesian interlude: 'His former Roman Catholic and Muslim teachers along with two people who were identified by Obama's grade-school teacher as childhood friends, say Obama was registered by his family as a Muslim at both schools he attended. That registration meant that during the third and fourth grades Obama learned about Islam for two hours each week in religion class.' The article further continued stating that 'his childhood friends say Obama sometimes went for Friday prayers at local mosque. "We prayed but not really seriously, just following actions done by older people in the mosque. But as kids, we loved to meet our friends and we went to mosque together and prayed." Said Zulfin Adi'
Obama's younger sister, the article mentioned, 'Maya Soetoro, said in a statement released by the campaign that the family attended the mosque only for "big communal events" and not every Friday.' Recalling Obama's time in Indonesia, the Times account contains quotes that Obama 'went to the mosque,' and that 'he [was] a Muslim.'
By summarizing the evidence we would get that: 'Obama was born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian step-father. At some point, he converted to Christianity.' also it appears false to state that, as Obama does, 'I have always been a practicing Christian.' and 'I have never been a Muslim.' The campaign, thus, appears to be either ignorant or fabricating when it states that 'Obama never prayed in a Mosque.'
Important also is remarks from Arab Columnists like that of Naseem Jamali of Aljazeera, who recently stated that 'Obama may not want to be counted as a Muslim but Muslims are eager to count him as one of their own.'
Of considerable importance also is a conversation in Beirut, as quoted in the Christian Science Monitor, which captures the puzzlement. "'He has to be good for Arabs because he is a Muslim," observed a grocer. "He's not a Muslim, he's a Christian." replied a customer. The grocer's answer for this was "He can't be a Christian. His middle name is Hussein."' Arabic discussion of Obama sometimes mentions his middle as a code, with no further comment needed!
Some American Muslim leaders also perceive Obama as Muslim. The President of the Islamic Society of North America, Sayyid M Syeed, told Muslims at a conference in Houston that whether Obama wins or looses, his candidacy will reinforce that Muslim children can 'become the Presidents of this country.' What an excitement it should be for them.
But this excitement also has a dark side – suspicion that Obama is a traitor to his birth religion, an 'apostate' or 'Murtadd' from Islam. Al-Qaeda has prominently featured Obama's stating 'I am not a Muslim.' And one Analyst, Shireen K. Burki of the University of Mary Washington, sees Obama as 'Bin Laden's dream candidate'. Should he become the US Commander in Chief, she believes, Al-Qaeda would likely 'exploit his background to argue that an apostate is leading the global war on terror… to galvanize sympathizers into action.'
Interestingly, as per Josie Delap and Robert Lane Green, of the Economist the 'Obama-as-apostate' theme 'has been notably absent' among Arabic language Columns and Editorials.
Somehow I find logic in the analysis of my friend and Director of Middle-East Forum, Daniel Pipes, who believes that 'Should Obama become President, differences in American views of religious affiliations [will] create problem.'
But what is of keener importance, to me at least, is that 'why has not been Obama frank in this regard?' It paves ways for a great deal of suspicion and conspiracy theories.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
By Seema Mustafa
And what has happened since? Nothing. For days and weeks the Navin Patnaik government stood by and did nothing to protect the poorest of the poor as they were killed, and turned out of their houses just because they were Christians and refused to give up their faith. The attackers speak of conversion, but there has been no forcible conversion, only conversion under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution that gives every single religion in this country the right to preach and propagate. The force was being used then, and is being used now, to beat Christians into renouncing their religion and embracing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and RSS version of Hinduism.
The nun was not in hiding, she was in hospital, physically and mentally traumatized. She was treated for not just the bleeding wounds but also for the mental trauma, and has only just about recovered sufficiently to come out in public with her story. It took courage, and she should be respected for what she did. Not just for herself, not just for the Christians but for women and humanity. Her right to privacy has to be respected, and it is now for this UPA government that somehow still claims it is secular to ensure that she and the other victims of the horrific violence in Orissa and Karnataka must not be dragged through the coals. The nun is right, and any one who has visited Kandhamar can vouch for this. It is not safe for her to even step inside that state, let alone the district and be questioned by a police force that has done great disservice to the uniform by allowing the mobs to terrorise and brutalise a community.
Some sections of the Christian community, probably in sheer desperation, opened dialogue with the RSS and its ilk. Others criticized them, for they know that this dialogue is false insofar as the RSS and its front organizations are concerned, and its leaders use it to project themselves as one, secular and two, as alternatives to the state with the power to restore peace. Some time ago, religious Muslim leaders too opened this dialogue with the RSS and even attended BJP conferences and meetings to prove their "we are all one" point. In some ways they are, because fundamentalism regardless of the religion gets together at some point, particularly when it has to counter its real opponent: secularism.
Secularism is an ideology that works around the fundamental principle of equality and justice. It is unfortunate that those in power today cynically exploit this to suit their ends. The BJP is more honest, it does not even bother to pay lip service to the cause, and basically denounces all those who do not agree with its divide and rule policy as pseudo secularists or anti-nationals. The Congress remains as hypocritical as always, and has become an expert at fiddling while mobs destroy lives and homes. The regional parties are not exactly communal but are totally opportunistic using specific vote bank policies with more dexterity now than even the Congress did in its better days. The regional leaders do not hesitate to join up with communal parties as and when it suits them but to give them their due, the Nitish Kumars, Chandrababu Naidus and Mayawati's do manage to preserve some levels of communal amity. After all today the unrest amongst the minorities is greatest in Congress ruled states and not in Bihar, or for that matter Uttar Pradesh (except for Azamgarh that had a direct link with Delhi) where despite the large Muslim population, the atmosphere is more peaceful and harmonious.
Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil has disappeared from view. His greatest achievement has been to escape the axe after he assured Congress president Sonia Gandhi that his loyalty to her could never come under question. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is wandering the world, earning accolades for the nuclear deal and for growth gone wrong. Parliament in a parliamentary democracy has been diminished as an institution. The government is directly responsible. It has done away with the monsoon and winter sessions. It has reduced the sittings this year to just 40 days. The country is reeling under the impact of violence, inflation and a collapsing economy. But the government does not feel that there is any need for Parliament to discuss these and any number of burning issues, as it does not want to be held accountable for non governance. It does not care for either Parliament or for parliamentary democracy as under the Congress, the executive has been given the full mandate to be reckless.
India is a pluralistic state. It is any number of states and any number of peoples all rolled together under one nation, one flag and one Constitution. Its oxygen is freedom based on justice and equality. It will disintegrate and die if it is deprived of any of these, and is compelled to adopt a monolithic mantle that is totally unnatural to its existence. Fundamentalist groups insist on imposing their ideologies, their religions, their thoughts, their justice, their vision on people, even as they create the concept of the 'other' and try and unite their supporters to combat the opponents. If India has to survive and flourish as a healthy, breathing, vibrant democracy, secularism has to be protected and nurtured.
The nun from Kandhamar has shown us how. It is for us to learn the lesson.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
By U. Mahesh Prabhu
Muslims today are being looked upon with strange skepticism. And conditions are certainly getting worse for even those Muslims who are nowhere near the ideas of the fundamentalists. Without doubt, the situation is absolutely frustrating for Muslims. But how can we ever free the Muslims from the clutches of such suspicion? How do we enable them to lead a normal life, in India at least? Are Muslims and non-Muslims doing their share to restore this dignity? These are some of the fundamental questions that seek answers and are yet unheeded, or lost in discussion.
It has to be agreed that terrorists who are carrying on 'jihad' or 'holy war' are Muslims. They have but one objective—glory to Allah and to the Prophet Muhammad. Their ideologies are formed very much by the verses found in the Holy Koran. And because it is so, every time there is a blast, anywhere in the country, the administration first suspects those who belong to this faith. To tell them otherwise or prevent them from taking precautionary measures by way of mass demonstrations in public and the media will only strengthen the existing skepticism of non-Muslims.
Recently, when a ban was imposed on the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), its members are said to have formed yet another outfit named 'Indian Mujahideen'. They sent several mails claiming responsibility for the blasts across the country. When police began arresting the suspects, Muslim organizations, especially pressure groups, raised objections.
The media took up the 'cause' and began calling it 'police brutality'. However, not a word was said about those innocents killed in the blasts who had nothing whatsoever to do with the state of affairs. The Muslims' protests began to gain momentum. 'They are innocent', they asserted, time and again. But they have no proof about the 'innocence' of the arrested either. Muslim journalists and intellectuals began writing of the failure of the system.
Yes, it is possible that the police have made these arrests without any basis. But it should not be forgotten that it is equally possible that these Muslims can be terrorists having contributed, directly or indirectly, to the blasts. But just saying they aren't terrorists is of no use. If the police lack convincing evidence to prove them culprits, then the Muslim protestors are no better either as they have no evidence to the contrary. In the face of opposition, they just claim 'Muslims and Islam are under threat!' What nonsense!
There are several cases of atrocities being committed by people in uniform. But I have never found any logic in saying the entire system is corrupt. It's an insane idea. Even if the entire system were to be corrupt, then the sufferers would not just be Muslims but also Hindus, Christians, and in fact, every single citizen of this nation. It would no longer be an issue of a particular religion; it would the matter of an entire nation which would have to be addressed by everyone together. Such 'police atrocities' don't affect just Muslims, but people of all faiths. Given this, why individualize the whole issue? And what is the point in making this a 'reason' for their resorting to arms?
India is a secular nation. But its secularism isn't one that is imported from the west. India's secularism is where 'every religion is looked upon as equal'. Every religion has equal rights, or better put, is supposed to have equal rights. But to be true, it is certainly not so. Being a democratic nation where heads are simply counted and never weighed, vote bank politics is our way of life. Today, India is home to the world's second largest Muslim population, after Indonesia. And because their population is high, and ever increasing, their votes are simply invaluable to the politicos.
By pocketing Muslims with privileges, they can rule this country. It is no wonder that several governments in turn, have endowed several privileges upon Muslims. Indian Muslims have the special provision of following their Islamic law through the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB). The Indian government gives Rs 10 billion in salaries for 'imams' in mosques and Rs 2 billion in Hajj subsidies. No other, country, not even Muslim nations, in the world endows such privileges on their Muslim citizens. This is contrary to the situation of Hindus, who are deprived of privileges, even after their temples being nationalized. Yet, there seem to be no sense of satisfaction among the Muslim masses. 'Yes, we are given privileges; but only on papers', they reprimand. But even if that is true isn't it possible for them to fight it in a court of law?
What justice are those Muslims who join Jihadi organizations, or sometimes Naxal movements, across the country, hoping to get? Justice? What kind of justice? The movements are supported by Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, and some Arab nations, who have a terrible record of human rights violations themselves. You just have to read their history and current state of affairs to know what they are. No one has the word 'liberty' truly engraved in their constitution and even if written, it's fairly invisible or never brought into force.
If Muslims think the judiciary is unfair then, there are legal means within the constitution to set it right. If there can be a way to bring arms into this country, then can't there be a way to restore the judicial system, should it have 'gone wrong', as contested?
Muslims are criticized by most of Indians today, and not just Hindus. 'Criticism' because they are feeling threatened and they aren't being convinced enough. It's not hate, but apprehension, and an uncertainty. They are also in no mood to assail Muslims. They want words that can prove their worst fears as 'untrue', and they aren't getting it. If Muslims are to talk about the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition, Godhra, and all that, they should also not forget that there are non-Muslims who have lost their lives and loved ones. If Muslims have suffered then the non-Muslim populace of this land has suffered no less.
I wish to recall an instance from the pages of the history of India. When the freedom struggle was on and a great population was following Mahatma Gandhi, there was a section of youth, from all parts of society and religion, who were not content with him. They rebelled against his ideas and started a violent revolutionary movement. But they respected life and their violence was limited. It so happened that Gandhi had to take a stance as to whether he was with or against Bhagat Singh's death sentence. He was very clear in his stance and said 'I can't support violence in any form', and thus, never intervened even when the revolutionary and two of his comrades were hanged.
The Indian media is a great fan of Mahatma Gandhi. Whenever there is violence, the name of Gandhi pops up. 'The Mahatma died again', they will say. But when it comes to following his principles, why don't the media shun talking 'good' about the terrorists? Why can't the law take its course? Every culprit will claim his innocence, but that is not a credible reason to support a terrorist.
Muslims cannot complain about lack of support from the media. They cannot complain lack of privileges from the government, either. But they can complain of injustices whenever and wherever they might have occurred. They have that right. But by trying to justify terrorists, I fear they are antagonizing and even instigating non-Muslims. Thus, the protest undertaken by the Muslims of India is completely out of context and is working against them. And unless Muslims shun the violent members of their community; they will never be able to win the hearts of the masses of this land—ever. This IS an uneven ado.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
By U. Mahesh Prabhu
The Great Uprising of 1857 unnerved the British, though for a while. Within two or three years of quelling it, and with great ferocity, they set to work putting together a version of the incident that would suit their ends. 'The uprising was confined to just a few pockets', they said, adding, 'it erupted as a result of local misunderstandings', and that 'there was no national sentiment behind it for the leaders themselves fought only for their feudal privileges—one because her son was not being recognized, another because his pension was being stopped, and so on.' This version was believed to be the true narration of the incident for so long that it even finds mention in Nehru's 'Discovery of India'!
The British did not stop at rewriting history books. They initiated a series of real politick measures. As Brahmins had provided the ideological leaven for the uprising, the campaign of calumny against them was redoubled. They started their propaganda against the Brahmins and an era of anti-Brahmanism began which lives on till date.
Though the British just gave a boost to such sentiments, they were not the beginners of the legacy. In the book 'Diwan-i-Salman', Khwaja Masud bin Sa'd bin Salman wrote of the Battle of Jalandhar (Punjab) thus: 'The narrative of any battle eclipses the stories of Rustam and Isfandiyar. By morning meal, not one soldier, not one Brahmin remained alive or free. Their heads were levelled to the ground with flaming fire. Thou have secured the victory to the country and to religion, for amongst the Hindus this achievement will be remembered till the day of resurrection.'
In Mughal times, Sheikh Ahmad (Mujaddid) of Sirhind wrote a letter to Mirza Darab excerpts of which read thus: 'Hindu Brahmans and Greek philosophers have spent a lot of time on religion. Since their efforts were not according to the Shariat of the prophet, they were all fools. They will remain devoid of salvation.'
According to the Tawarikh Firishta, Firoz Shah Bahmani (circa 1398-99), kidnapped 2,000 Brahman women, who were later freed by Raja Devaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire.
A country is never fully defeated as long as its martial and intellectual leaders exist. A self-conscious imperialism undertakes to reduce them as its first important task. Muslims coming to India found brave, armed, men and a Brahman class providing cultural and spiritual leadership. Dr. Ambedkar, quoting Muslim historians, says the first act of religious zeal by Mohammad bin Qasim, the first Arab invader, was circumcision of Brahmans. 'But, after they objected, he put to death all above the age of seventeen.'
Rev. C. Buchanan said Indians should be baptized because 'it attaches the governed to the governors.' They thought that Brahmans came in the way of their dream of a baptized India. They started blackening and discrediting them. A brochure called 'The Book of Wisdom' with 279 verses was widely circulated by missionaries under William Carey, touted as the father of the Indian press. It was one of the first he printed and is addressed to the 'mean, despicable Brahmans'. The brochure promises hell for heathens and salvation through Christ.
The British administration found Brahmans to be the only 'national' caste, held in much respect and capable of providing political leadership. They fomented anti-Brahman movements in different parts of the country which are still very powerful in today's secular India. Their fears were well-founded. Brahmins were the intellectual leaders of the Independence struggle. Thus anti-Brahmanism was a construct of the last two centuries. And though learnt under the colonial-missionary aegis, it became an important category of future social thinking and political action.
Brahmans began to be described as 'cunning, parasitic, exploiters and authors of the iniquitous caste system'. A lot of scholarship and intellectual labour was put into this thesis before it acquired its present momentum and currency. Anti-Brahmanism originated in, and still prospers in anti-Hindu circles. It is particularly welcome among Marxists, missionaries, Muslims, separatists, and casteists, of different hues. When they attack Brahmans, their target is unmistakably Hinduism.
Even in the freedom struggle, the contribution of Brahmans under the leadership of the Mahatma was enormous. A great percentage of his followers were Brahmans and hence, the country owes quiet a lot to them, and they certainly deserved special privileges. But when freedom was attained, their services were quickly forgotten. In the name of empowering the lower caste, their right to a fair chance in education, service, and so many other things, was snatched away.
There is no credible testimony to the fact that Brahmins ever opposed upliftment of the lower caste, yet the government, for the sake of 'strengthening the weak', in every sense, weakened the strong. Today, the situation is such that Brahmans have been practically deprived and made to suffer in the same way as the Dalits were 'made to suffer'.
There are 50 'sulabh shauchalayas' (public toilets) in Delhi; all of them are cleaned and looked after by Brahmans (this much-needed public institution was started by a Brahman). A far cry from the elitist image that Brahmans have! There are five to six Brahmans manning each toilet. They came to Delhi eight to ten years ago looking for a source of income, as they were a minority in most of their villages, where Dalits constitute the majority (60 to 65 per cent). In most villages in UP and Bihar, Dalits have a union which helps them secure jobs.
Did you know that you also stumble upon a number of Brahmans working as coolies at Delhi's railway stations? One of them, Kripa Shankar Sharma, says that though his daughter is doing her graduation in science, he is not sure if she will secure a job. 'Dalits often have five to six children, but they are confident of getting them placed easily and well,' he says. As a result, the Dalit population in villages is increasing. He adds, 'Dalits are provided with housing, even their pigs have spaces; whereas there is no provision for 'gaushalas' (cowsheds) for the cows of the Brahmans'.
This reverse discrimination is also found in bureaucracy and politics. Most of the intellectual Brahman Tamil class has emigrated outside Tamil Nadu. Only 5 seats from the 600 in the combined UP and Bihar assemblies are held by Brahmans—the rest are in the hands of the Yadavs. At least 400,000 Brahmans of the Kashmir valley, the once respected Kashmiri Pandits, now live as refugees in their own country, sometimes in refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi in appalling conditions. But who gives a damn about them? This is all simply because their vote bank is negligible.
At Tamil Nadu's Ranganathaswamy Temple, a priest's monthly salary is Rs 300 (as per the Census Department findings) and a daily allowance of one measure of rice. The government staff at the same temple receive Rs 2,500 and above every month. But these facts have not modified the priests' reputation as 'haves' and as 'exploiters'. The destitution of Hindu priests has moved none, not even the parties sympathetic to Hindus.
The Indian government gives Rs 1,000 crores (Rs 10 billion) in salaries for 'imams' in mosques and Rs 200 crores (Rs 2 billion) as Haj subsidies. But no such help is available to the Brahmans and the upper castes. As a result, not only the Brahmans, but also some of the other upper castes are suffering in silence today, seeing the minorities slowly taking control of their majority.
Even after so many years of persecution by invaders and their own countrymen, Brahmans still continue to suffer in silence and yet, contribute in a very positive way to this land. Not a day has ever been recorded in history when Brahmans, anywhere in this land, have resorted to arms.
There are incredible success stories attributed to them. Had there been no Brahmans, the IT sector of India, in which the media and government take pride, would not have even existed. There are so many industrialists, academicians, journalists, engineers, and doctors, who continue to contribute to this land by trying to forget their deprivation.
In light of this, I wish to ask my Muslim brethren as to what they are complaining about. Can they complain of more atrocities than the Brahmans? Everyone has had their share of bad luck. I am a Brahman, but I hold no prejudice against Muslims or Christians for they are my countrymen today. I always say 'we have issues to resolve' and not 'scores to settle'.
Yet, whenever I try to expose the negations and false concoctions of Muslim and Christian intellectuals I am easily branded a 'fanatic', 'fundamentalist' and what not.
The point I wish to wish to make here is simple. If Brahmans, after facing so much opposition from everyone including those of their own faith, can keep up their courage, write stories of passion, and contribute proactively, without brooding over their plight, then it is certainly possible for the Muslims to do so provided they come to terms with modern world dynamics and shun violence in all forms and types.
Note: Most of the statistical data is from Francois Gautier's column 'Are Brahmans the Dalits of today?'
By Seema Mustafa
China is justifiably proud of its Olympics. Souvenirs are still available at select shops. T-shirts with the logo can be bought in plenty. Flower decorations dotting the capital at traffic junctions remain, a fading testimony to the success. The mascots can still be seen at Tianeman square, and literature of the Games is freely available. And what is of course, a major achievement more people are speaking English, at the airport and the shops than before the games. The Chinese government had launched a major “teach English” offensive before the games that has clearly paid dividends, and although the numbers are still few, it is a major improvement. In fact, even sign posts can be found in English. But perhaps the most interesting was when we struggled to order a chicken dish at a tiny restaurant in the suburbs of Beijing, and even drew a rooster with an egg (!) in our desperation. The waitress who could not understand the spoken word suddenly brightened up and wrote down “chicken” although she could not pronounce the word. Rather happy a colleague drew the picture of a pig and although it looked more like a rat with a round nose she understood again and wrote “pork” with new found confidence.
The Chinese are friendly, and extremely foreigner friendly. There is not a single glance, or an odd look, and attempts at communication---like asking for directions or something---is usually answered with a big smile and a gesture indicating “I don’t know English.” Interestingly, Chinese tourism is big and at the Forbidden City, for instance, one can only see hordes of local people with very few foreigners. It reminds one of the Bengalis here, who do not hesitate to get into buses and travel to any part of India that strikes their fancy, regardless of the distance, the language or for that matter the cuisine. A young guide has a novel approach. Smilingly she introduces herself to us as a “student of art.” We stop to talk. She then says that her school has put up an art exhibition at one of the stalls outside the Forbidden City, where we happened to be standing, and she has a work in it. And what have you painted? She goes into some details, and its only then one realizes that she is a guide and not a student. But by then we are inside the exhibition room, and she probably has pocketed her commission for bringing in visitors.
Shopping in Beijing is a dream for those who can rarely venture into designer stores in other parts of the world, including at home. Name the brand it is yours for the asking, and at a price that will make the Versace’s and the Armani’s of the world cringe. Pretty little women with calculators held firmly in hand surround you the moment you are brave enough to enter their space at a typical Chinese mall. A Burberry jacked? Of course and they type anything from 4000 RBM upwards on their calculator. Forewarned, you punch 50. They look at each other, chatter ferociously, look at you, gesture wildly and then say “okay last price” (that is a standard statement they all know) and type 3500. The negotiation is intense and prolonged, as they do not let you leave the shop until the bargaining is complete. There is no way you can get out, as they even hold you physically if the need so arises. Finally, the bargain is struck. The jacket priced at 4500 is now yours for 250 RBM---that is from 670 odd US dollars it is now 35 odd US dollars!
The Chinese government is not particularly friendly, when it comes to hosting left wing activists in the city. APEF, a conglomeration of intellectuals and activists from Europe and Asia decided to hold their annual conference at Beijing which is hosting ASEM (Asia Europe meeting). Expecting a warm welcome, they found that this was not so, and that the Chinese government was not particularly happy to have them in the city lest they make matters difficult at ASEM. So the local Chinese NGOs who were part of the Organising Committee fixed up the accommodation a good hour away from main Beijing; they re-organised the schedule without consulting the others; and what made the participants furious put them through stringent security checks. “Never again” was the consensus with China actually throwing away a great opportunity to win over the support of major peoples organizations across the world.
The Indian delegation was surprised to find two odd invitees from New Delhi in their midst---from the BJP and the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. Both were like a duck out of water but did attend some of the sessions and make suggestions that did not merge with the tone and tenor of the discussions. The BJP member of course, did not hesitate to use one session to remind all present of his nationalist and patriotic credentials. Unfortunately he did so in the usual manner, by accusing another participant of not being patriotic enough until he was asked by the moderator to take his seat. After that he was rarely seen at the sessions, only at meals, as he had fulfilled his part of the agenda. Both had been invited by the NGOs linked to the Chinese government that is clear that it will not constrict its relations, in India or the world, to just the Left movements.
One had to travel all the way to Beijing to hear the ultimate conspiracy theory currently circulating in Pakistan. This is how it goes: McCain wins the US Presidential elections. He dies soon after, Sarah Palin becomes the US President. She marries Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari (remember his “you are beautiful” words). She dies in mysterious circumstances. Bilawal, Zardari’s son, changes his name to Bilawal Zardari Bhutto Palin. Zardari becomes the President of the US.