Friday, May 30, 2008

Quitting Rumours

Quitting Rumours
by Seema Mustafa

In South Asia , rumours about the exit of a particular leader reflect his growing weakness to hold the fort as it were. There have been moments in India when 'quitting' rumours flood the grapevine about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In Pakistan the impact is more lethal, and this is the first time that President Musharraf has been at the receiving end despite his low and quiet profile over the last few weeks.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, his country's grapevine suggests, is thinking of stepping down. This change of heart has reportedly happened after a particularly long meeting he had with army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and even as the stock market dissolved into chaos, the President strongly refuted the reports.

This story, he said, was being spread by those who wanted to drive a wedge between him and the army. It had caused incalculable harm to the nations economy, he said as in a damage control drive he met Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and at a farewell dinner for General (retd) Khalid Maqbool made it clear that the rumours that had virtually paralysed Pakistan were baseless. Has Musharraf resigned? Has he been removed? Is he on the way to Turkey ? were the various versions as the rumour spun out of control in Pakistans streets.

The story was further fuelled by comments made earlier by PPP's Zardari where he described Musharraf as a "relic of the past." And added to by PML's Nawaz Sharif who ruled out a safe passage for the President, insisting that he would be tried on charges of sedition. Clearly there was also something in the Musharaf-Kayani meeting that added to the rumours that had gripped Pakistan on Thursday, as all does not appear to be well between the two. The army chief, for instance, has transferred known Musharraf favorites out of key position. And while spokespersons for both sides say that relations are fine, the response is devoid of effusive rhetoric. The fact that the meeting lasted over three hours is also interesting, as clearly there were elements that needed to be sorted out between the two. Kayani has taken over the army in real terms, is regarded as a professional soldier, and is seen as a soldiers man, at least for the moment. In other words, the army has not taken long to shift loyalty from the President to the general.

The rumour, thus might or might not have a grain of serious truth. But it is definitely indicative of the new situation, where the anger against Musharraf and the US has not died with the elections, and the people are expecting him to leave or to be made to leave. This might or might not be a good thing. For one, it suggests a state of continuing uncertainty that Pakistan can ill afford. By now those entrusted with the future of the country should have taken a decision one way or the other about Musharraf. Comments such as those by Zardari and Sharif create further confusion and uncertainty, at a time when Pakistan is in dire need of stability. If the decision is to remove the President, this should be done with a certain grace and dignity so that the transition is smooth. If the President is to stay in office, then the institution should be respected and the politicians should censor their own comments.

The differences between Zardari and Sharif are well known, with both aware of their limitations and yet fearful and suspicious of the other. The people of Pakistan , as the turn out and the enthusiasm during the elections demonstrated, have a love for democracy. And after the spate of army rule that brought the war on terror to every doorstep, adding to the insecurity and vulnerability of the people and the nation, the desire for a political break is overwhelming. But the suspicions surrounding Zardari remain, and Sharif despite the good will is still not in a position to spread his wings outside Punjab in any meaningful way. The differences between the two over the restoration of the judiciary---an emotive and important issue in Pakistan ----are well known, and it will need a high level of maturity and sobriety for the leaders to forge lasting links between the PPP and the PML-N.

It is true that Nawaz Sharif has an eye on the next elections, and Zardari is trying to keep in power with reports suggesting links with Musharraf and the US . The Bush administration still sees the President as its best bet, largely because he could control the army and was not accountable to the people. The politicians in power cannot embrace the US in the same manner, as their constituencies are hostile now to Washington and will not condone any underhand deals. The army under Kayani might also not be as pliable, as one he is a soldiers general and does not seem presently inclined to allow the army to suffer losses for another country's war. It is perhaps because of these factors, that the US has had no option but to accept Pakistan 's decision to move for a political settlement with the Swat Taliban, even as various functionaries continue to issue threats of direct US action if this initiative fails.

In the midst of this, the visit by Minister of external affairs Pranab Mukherjee to Pakistan could at best keep the peace dialogue going. Little more could be expected, as Mukherjee has to forge new working relations with the leaders in power even as he continues to maintain good relations with President Musharraf. His was more in the nature of an exploratory visit, and one can only hope he has come back with the right readings that will feed into a sound strategy on Pakistan . Of course, given the UPA governments track record this is highly unlikely but then there can always be an exception to the rule.

In South Asia , rumours about the exit of a particular leader reflect his growing weakness to hold the fort as it were. There have been moments in India when 'quitting' rumours flood the grapevine about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In Pakistan the impact is more lethal, and this is the first time that President Musharraf has been at the receiving end despite his low and quiet profile over the last few weeks. This is indicative of one, the peoples desire to see him go; two, the uncertain political situation where anything is possible; and three, a possibility that his days now are actually numbered, and he is in office on sufferance. President Musharraf realizes the gravity of the situation as apart from the dinner denial, he has made efforts to meet the political leadership immediately after. He definitely does not want to be in a situation where rumours are able to determine the reality.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

State win and a Capital Dream

State Win and a Capital Dream
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

One might term this ludicrous but I firmly believe that four pillars of UPA government have played a pivotal role in BJP's victory: Sharad Pawar, P Chidambaram, Manmoham Singh and Sonia Gandhi.

Change is the only constant factor in the Indian politics. Political parties are not winning by chance but by the slogan of change. From Mayawati to Malegaon, change is the only constant noun voters are keen to pronounce. This seismic change-flow has the potential to change a young man's dynastic dreams! After Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in North, change is threatening to travel to a dreaded territory: Southern India.

BJP's impressive and historic delivery in Karnataka was a result of a clever conception. BJP planned a political pregnancy much ahead of Congress party. Congress would love to get politically pregnant but it does not know the time of its conception. In-vitro-fertilization does not work in politics. Congress thought November to be an auspicious month of delivery while BJP delivered a full-grown baby in the last week of May!

Five months' delay in a political delivery can make you wait for another five years.

Rahul Gandhi, "the future Prime Minster of India," had planned to impregnate Karnataka in five hours. He visited Karnataka for a day and dedicated barely five hours to woo (campaigns, of course) its voters. Even a Romeo would not be so harsh for his Juliet!

For Janata Dal (S), Karnataka election was a total dejection. Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda's political career has been eclipsed by 30-seat loss. Deve Gowda considered Karnataka as his mother-in-laws' house where he will only be pampered by votes but the verdict proved to be totally different. You can't fool the same set of people again and again. Before Deve Gowda could outdo BJP by playing caste card; BJP wrote a political obituary of Janata Dal (S). Voters don't forget politicians who don't honour their words. Public memory is definitely not short. Deve Gowda must always remember one thing: In politics, loyalty can turn lethal if you don't distribute royalty!

What brought saffron party to power is an interesting question. It portrayed itself as the only "alternative." A party whose fate has suffered "backstabbing" and "betrayal" can expect public healing. It was the wave of change that worked in favour of the BJP. Public believed in BJP but yet Rajnath Singh did not believe in himself. "BJP is an all-India party now," he said. That statement lay between excitement and hysteria. Nobody said that BJP is a regional party.
One might term this ludicrous but I firmly believe that four pillars of UPA government have played a pivotal role in BJP's victory: Sharad Pawar, P Chidambaram, Manmoham Singh and Sonia Gandhi.

Sharad Pawar, who has a penchant for cricket (its no longer cricket, it should be called moneytainment), does not have time for agriculture ministry. He only believes in politics and not policy. All of a sudden he wakes up from his deep slumber and declares total ban on the wheat export. Is that policy? That's the politics of next general election to control the monster of inflation. Our union finance minister, who wears a sophisticated dhoti, does not know a thing or two about the inflation. Does he know that 19 lakh power loom weavers across the country are incurring losses because of the inflation? When his ministry could not contain inflation, all he did was to threaten steel and cement companies. To him, inflation is like a desert storm which comes all of a sudden with no prior warning. Manmohan Singh, India's gentlest Prime Minister, believes in delegation but not in responsibility. He keeps himself in mute-mode and perhaps considers assertion a sinful indulgence. Even if he tries to assert himself, our Finance Minister does not care. Sonia Gandhi, a woman of conscience, observes but still keeps her cool. Where is the power of authority?

Mismanagement at the Centre had an impact in Karnataka. It's high time that Congress learns from sins of omission and commission. In an era of coalition politics, Congress is still searching political partners in order to get pregnant in the second half of 2009. Conception depends on the right match. Will Congress find one or many? Ground is fertile but Congress does not have a conception plan yet. BJP has just won a state; it can win entire India if Congress continues its policy of indifference.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Medvedev makes his mark

Medvedev makes his mark
By Susenjit Guha

Russian President Dmitry Medevedev’s China visit should be an eye-opener to the US Presidential hopefuls that nearly two decades of untrammeled power with blatant unilateralism in the last decade may be on the wane. With more powerful consumers than ever for scarce and fast depleting global energy resources, alternative power structures and alliances may finally threaten the so - far - unchallenged ‘Great American way of life’.

The world has traveled a long way since Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to China in 1971 in a bid to contain the Soviet Union. Now, a fractured Russia and China are coming together to contain United States’ irresponsible interventionism displayed by George Bush.

And there is no surety that pathological hatred of some of US’ enemies---fallout of Bush’s actions--- will not lead to terrorist strikes on its global interests and not get the next President mired in the mess.

Although Medevedev and the Chinese President Hu Jintao condemned terrorism in all forms believing its ideological expansion cannot be de-linked from global crimes and drug-trafficking, they emphasized combat should be within the ambit of UN’s multi-lateral frameworks and principles of international relations.

Dmitry Medvedev said Russia and China would work to shape global security even at the cost of disapproval by other powers and enhance cooperation in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, ASEAN regional Forum and APEC on the way.

And it is anybody’s guess why Medvedev wanted cooperation to be enhanced in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Set up by in 2001 with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to combat terrorism, the SCO has also become the stage for Russia and China to offset US’ influence in the Central Asian energy hub.

SCO’s decision to bring in Iran as observer in 2005 perhaps set Bush mulling about missile defenses systems in EU nations which were part of the former Soviet Union. Several Chinese quake victims--- middle and primary school children--- were invited to recover in Russia. Not only Russian aid flowed in out of the way for quake victims, a $1 billion deal was struck for supplies to China’s nuclear power industry. Orders worth $500 million for supply of semi-enriched uranium and construction of a fuel enrichment plant were also inked.

Future diversification into myriad areas of IT, space, energy, forestry, tourism, aircraft building and hi-tech between the two countries are also on the agenda. During Vladimir Putin’s time, trade between Russia and China had already galloped fivefold to $48 billion and is expected to reach $80 billion by 2010.

It was no wonder why Medvedev chose Beijing for his inaugural foreign tour and why the US should be concerned about slow erosion of American power.

Thomas Friedman was only echoing popular fears when he wrote in the New York Times “The failure of Mr. Bush to fully mobilize the most powerful innovation engine in the world — the U.S. economy — to produce a scalable alternative to oil has helped to fuel the rise of a collection of petro-authoritarian states — from Russia to Venezuela to Iran — that are reshaping global politics in their own image.”

Bush’s experiment with alternatives like ethanol has already created a global food scarcity---the blame for which he passed on to the burgeoning Chinese and Indian gluttons.

Power with increasing wealth is not only bound to follow as Friedman felt, it has already started following. And the counter balance to US by nations clubbed together can give the necessary fillip to the EU to finally wriggle out of a trans-Atlantic alliance rendered long redundant with the end of the Cold war.

Barack Obama’s idea of friendship with China, not competition, may be visionary, but then again, will it be possible to “ask the American people to drive 55 miles an hour, buy more fuel-efficient cars or accept a carbon tax or gasoline tax…..”, as suggested by Thomas Friedman?

Another visionary US President Jimmy Carter tried, but drew flak from Americans not willing to settle for half a loaf when they craved for the entire bakery produce. And didn’t Ronald Reagan play on the American psyche of ‘more the merrier’ to ride to power after Carter had to do a re-think when US interests were harmed?

But this is the most challenging era for the US. Faced with a Presidential election, it is no mean task for the next White House occupant to steer clear of a clear and present danger of having to play second fiddle to stumbling power blocks not willing to shy away at using similar tactics used so far by the US only to maintain global supremacy.

Former chairman of the state run behemoth Gazprom, Medvedev, an economic liberal, believes ‘freedom is better than non-freedom’. He is not Hollywood’s comic Russian character. It was a dream fulfilled for him---as was buying jeans, records of Pink Floyd and Deep Purple--- when the rock group Deep purple played at the Kemlin last February to mark the 15th anniversary of Gazprom.

And counter balance with not only the requisite power but freedom and obviously moves towards more accountability and democracy in Russia and China---some of it displayed by the nine member Chinese politburo standing committee during the earthquake---will sustain the firewalls to any future US imperial Presidency revival.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Nuclear bloat

The Nuclear Bloat
By Seema Mustafa
The government knows that the Left is clear cut about its opposition to the nuclear deal. Despite briefings to the contrary, the Prime Ministers Office and Congress party managers are fully aware that they will not be given a green signal to conclude the IAEA safeguards agreement as long as the US deadline has not run out.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh does not want to give up. There is a great reluctance to officially declare the India-US civilian nuclear energy agreement dead. So every now and again just when talk of it not happening gains ground, a well placed government functionary from the prime minister to any other, lets it be known that the nuclear deal is still very much on the cards. And that the dead line has not run out as the agreement has bipartisan support in the US Congress that will be more than willing to pass it till the 9th day.

The assertion is usually accompanied with off the record speculation about the role of the Left, and the usual 'they will eventually agree because of Russia canard that appears to make sense to some sections in government and outside. The government knows it, but plays on the peoples ignorance about the one crucial fact in understanding the current CPI(M): that the present general secretary Prakash Karat does not do back door deals, and is not known to say one thing and do another. So the best way to understand the Left is to listen to what its top leadership is saying. And when Karat says that the safeguards agreement cannot be delinked from the 123 agreement and the Hyde Act, he means it, and this will determine the course of Left action.

The government knows that the Left is clear cut about its opposition to the nuclear deal. Despite briefings to the contrary, the Prime Ministers Office and Congress party managers are fully aware that they will not be given a green signal to conclude the IAEA safeguards agreement as long as the US deadline has not run out. "After that we will see," a senior Left leader said pointing out that the objection was not to getting nuclear power, but to get this through an agreement framed to compromise Indian sovereignty. The government, thus, is well aware that if it goes ahead with the agreement it will have to face the electorate earlier than scheduled.

The current argument is that if the government falls in June-July, the process will take the mid term poll to February 2009. And since this is just a few months before the scheduled time, the UPA allies who were protesting earlier will have no objections. True, but the real problem for the Congress is not this any longer, but its ability to face the electorate as a virtually isolated entity. Regional parties like the RJD and DMK are currently swearing their loyalty not just to the Congress but to the Dynasty but these are at best fickle parties, and can change direction with the weather vane. Price rise with the nuclear deal (read pro US policy), inflation with dismal failure to implement basic promises on education,,health, minimum job guarantees, inability to address the growing problems of the tribals and the minorities - it is an endless list - are worrying the Congress that is not fully convinced about the so called popularity polls being carried out by corporate owned agencies. After all similar polls before the last general polls had pointed towards the supposedly unwavering popularity of the BJP and the NDA.

There is a certain hesitation within the party to face the forthcoming Assembly elections this year as a minority government that has lost the confidence of Parliament because of its insistence to conclude the nuclear deal with the US. And that instead of staying in power and taking measures to control inflation and the spiraling prices, it has preferred to align with the US and risk the withdrawal of support. Remember, that it will not just be the Left saying this, the BJP too has decided to campaign against the government on this issue. The 'loyal' regional parties will nottake time to desert a sinking ship, regardless of the dinners and breakfasts, being hosted for them by the Congress leadership. Z class security might silence Amar Singh but he will risk losing complete support in his party if he persuades the seemingly captive Samajwadi party chieftain Mulayam Singh Yadav to take an unpopular stand.

The Left will continue the dialogue with the Congress on the nuclear deal for as long as it takes to ensure its natural death in Washington. This could take the talks into July, depending on when the Bush administration finally throws up its hands and admits that it no longer is in position to get the deal through the US Congress. There are problems within the NSG and reports suggesting that the draft for waivers is not as Indiafriendly as envisaged by the negotiators here are now making the rounds. The safeguards agreement too does not appear to recognise India as a nuclear weapon state, and till date it is not clear whether this has been negotiated by the IAEA under the existing rules in which case there is no question of a special status, or whether a new India specific framework has been evolved. Only parts of the agreement have been shown to the Left parties that areprepared to discuss each point as the days go by. As in the Hyde Act and the 123 agreement the devil is likely to be in the undisclosed details.

The Congress has to remember, even if its supporters outside do not, that it has lost every Assembly election since it came to power. It is in trouble in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Maharashtra where it is currently in power. In Uttar Pradesh its leaders are divided between Mayawati and Mulayam Singh although currently the Delhi top brass are favouring the latter. In Karnataka it is unlikely to emerge as the party in power. And even the anti incumbency factors in states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh is, spoken of these days with a question mark. The party came to power with the pledge to revive itself in states like UP and Bihar, but it has spent the four years riding piggy back on the regional satraps. In Bihar, the confusion was most apparent when one election was fought with the Congress seeking to isolate Lalu, and the other with him in firm alliance.

Its allies, even if they stay with the Congress, are not expected to do as well in the polls. The DMK had defeated Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu, a feat it is not likely to repeat now. The Congress had trounced TDP in Andhra Pradesh, but the latter now is reset for a comeback. Lalu has not gained ground in Bihar and in UP, both Mayawati and Mulayam are at best uncertain commodities. Those convinced of a certain invincibility, it always comes with power, will do well to pause for a reality check. And inthe process realize that somehow the Congress has lost touch with the masses. Its top leaders, in all seriousness, insisted that they were winning Gujarat while those working on the ground were positive that Modi was still in command. The same leaders were equally confident of winning Tripura, with the results in fact giving them even a lower tally than the last polls. Clearly in their desire to please, Congress leaders and workers in the states have stopped even trying to make real assessments. "We will win" is the mantra that brings them temporary relief.

Even so there are some in the party who are not heard in its corridors of power, but are aware of the developments on the ground. And they point out that the clamour for the nuclear deal is heard mainly from the Congress MPs in the Rajya Sabha for whom the corridors are more significant than the streets. There can be no other explanation for the governments continuing insistence to go ahead with an agreement which has been opposed by the majority in Parliament, and is regarded with deep suspicion by the nation.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Break the walls

Break the walls
- U. Mahesh Prabhu

For harmony to be established we ought to cultivate awareness of belonging and preclude the tendency of revulsion from each other. Hatred begets nothing but destruction – let's by no means disregard this fact, but what is happening in this nation is from tip to toe contradictory to it.

When I met MJ Akbar (MJ) for the first time at his office in Green Park, New Delhi, we had a very transitory interaction. Though not much noticeable happened, in the last minutes of discussion, however, he made a statement which was to make a lasting impression on me – for life. 'We have built walls for generations… now its time to break them down.' he said, as I hopelessly agreed.

For over hundreds of years walls have been built and fortified in this country. It's stronger than the walls erected by the Israelis to keep away the Palestinians from crossing into their territory. The wall we are talking of is the Hindu-Muslim emotional divide. Apart from the four metros and other cosmos, when I move towards the rural areas, if not all – most, I see how agitated people are against each other. I am saddened by the hatred person of one faith harbors against another in a sense of utter disbelief.

Certainly both have valid reasons from their perspectives to this mutual distrust. But, the issue that baffles my mind is as to why be it that no efforts for lasting reconciliation have been made from either side until today? I am unable to comprehend as why do populace retort to hostility, fighting and brutality when frustrated without giving talks-for-peace a chance? Many may argue that we hadn't had much of riots in the past ten years. But that is not to say that mutual discontent has vanished. It is gathering momentum, though steadily, even today.

This April when I met MJ in Manipal, he was to express me his discontentment over the existing interdict on religious conversions. 'It's not democratic.' he asserted. Yet, as I often do not, was not provoked, I did not loose my temper though I disagreed by stating my viewpoint, strongly. He too was tolerant, and perhaps more than me, as I spoke of my attitude on Ram Janma Bhoomi Babri Masjid that which was in complete contradiction to his, of course. We certainly were pragmatic and sensible in our approach. Before we bid farewell to each other in Manipal we exchanged a warm hug. This is not to say that we resolved our differences, you certainly can't conclude ages old disputes in few hours, but because we realized that we believed in each other. Our mutual faith and admiration had nothing to do with our political and religious viewpoints. Friendship is never based on terms and conditions.

Let's become aware of the fact that to be a Hindu, which I am and will be, you don't need to be anti-Muslim and vice versa. I was showered with criticism when I defended MJ after his abrupt removal from the post of Editor-In-Chief of The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle, by some of my friends associated with RSS. 'He's anti-Hindu' some claimed. But I was against this allegation. MJ had defended the Islamic viewpoint when he had to, and quite convincingly. But just because he defended doctrines, in which he had faith in, is not good enough to declare him to be an 'anti-Hindu'.

For harmony to be established we ought to cultivate awareness of belonging and preclude the tendency of revulsion from each other. Hatred begets nothing but destruction – let's by no means disregard this fact, but what is happening in this nation is from tip to toe contradictory to it. Even petite tussle between two inhabitants of different religions is taken as a rallying point, at times, for hatred and violence. Instead of showing steadfastness for peace, I earnestly feel that advocates of Hindutva as well as Islam, and even Christianity, are occupied in defending cases against them, and most of the time - blindly. I consider this to be a completely shameful state of affairs.

If by building walls we are to trust that we are acting wise, then, perhaps, its time we learn from the walls that stand between the Israelis and Palestinians, where on either side only innocents are killed, almost everyday. There the hatred is fortified against each other so dreadfully that establishing lasting peace seems to be just unfeasible.

If there is someone, who derives a dividend from these legacies of detestation, vengeance and violence they are our politicians, who camouflage their criminal acts with these ideological identities to win back to power. 'I vote for BJP not because of the candidate, but for ideology of Hindutva.' expressed a friend to me during the recently concluded Assembly election in my home state - Karnataka. Similarly is the case with Muslims who vote, and blindly, for the candidates pitted against the BJP for simple reasons that it considers the Sangh Parivar to be an organization against their 'existence' and 'interest', then be that candidate a notorious criminal, who cares?

Yes, I admit of my associations with RSS, though on emotional ground. I do admire its founding fathers Keshav Baliram Hegdewar and Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar (aka Guruji) and yet in the same candor I admit of my zeal to see harmony among all religious faction.

I am convinced that Hegdewar and Guruji were more of nationalists before anything else. Denouncing them as 'fundamentalist', 'fascist' and 'anti-Muslim' is a complete travesty of fact. They certainly did have point of disagreement with Muslims and Christians, and undoubtedly criticized them, but they never hated them. In this country criticism is often associated with hatred, most of the time it may be true. But that's certainly not the case with these two legendary nationalists. Neither Hegdewar nor Guruji asked for extermination of religions, not even Islam, from this land – as it is wrongly told. All they promoted throughout their lives is not 'Extremism' but Patriotism.

I have known so many journalists who have never been to a RSS Shakha, Muslim Madrassa or even Christian proselytizing centers - yet writing on them as if an authority! Isn't that a blunder? It is, indeed. I wonder if some one could get our 'pride-puffed' journalists back to their senses.

For hundreds of years now we have bickered, fought, backstabbed and even slit open the throats of our own countrymen yielding no noble results, why don't we try something for peace now? Let me keep you advised that the itinerary for peace is not uncomplicated but I am also definite that it will not be excessively hard either. We need to try, and with great conviction!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Some justice at last for stateless Biharis

Some justice at last for stateless Biharis
-By Susenjit Guha

Why were the Biharis singled out? If participating in hunting and killings of East Pakistani intellectuals with the West Pakistani armed forces during the last days before the fall of Dhaka is the reason for their miserable plight, then why were the Bengali collaborators or razakars left out and granted amnesty after the Sheikh Mujib’s assassination by successive governments which allegedly allowed Pakistan’s ISI to also dig in?

Three acts in quick succession in the military backed care-taker government of Bangladesh---granting citizenship to stranded Biharis, charging former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and arresting Jamaat-e-Islami chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, both on graft charges---maybe just accidental or coincidental. But citizenship at last for some of the stateless, stranded Biharis in Bangladesh after 37 years, is highly incidental.

Of the 300000 Biharis scattered in nearly 60 camps with their status in limbo since 1971, nearly 140000 of them who were either minors or born after 1971---after a recent high court ruling--- are now eligible for Bangladeshi nationality and can vote in the elections scheduled this year end.
But what happened to the rest?

They were adults when the crackdown began in March, 1971 and had supposedly in their right minds sided with the West Pakistani forces. While the world media focused on the genocide and the mass exodus of refugees to neighbouring West Bengal, few reported the large scale brutality perpetrated by East Pakistanis on the Bihari minority.

Having opted for Pakistan during India’s partition, most Bihari Muslims found it convenient to cross over to East Pakistan. But while they shared linguistic similarity of Urdu and Islam with the West Pakistanis, they had nothing in common with the Bengali Muslim majority in East Pakistan except Islam.

Naturally, they had to collaborate with the West Pakistanis for preservation of a united Pakistan and did everything possible to quell the liberation struggle which was the handiwork of East Bengali Muslims. Leading mostly middle-class lives, Biharis staffed the bureaucracy, corporate offices and had business interests. After taking back some of them, Pakistan washed its hands off. Karachi had already become an ethnic cauldron.

Those stranded, continued to be discriminated by successive Bangladeshi governments in all spheres of life. Biharis were reduced to eking out a living in squalid camps in Dhaka and other cities as rickshaw-pullers, labourers, domestic helps, daily wage earners doing back-breaking embroidery work for a pittance for boutique owners in upscale Dhaka neighbourhoods. Only during Bangladeshi weddings till the 80’s and 90’s, to avoid making a mess of the biryani and kebabs, some of them were much sought after for their famous culinary skills.
And their virtual ‘outcaste’ status had a lot to do with ‘linguistic nationalism’ of Bangladesh’s constitution since apart from economic discrimination by West Pakistanis; the issue of Bengali language fuelled the liberation struggle in 1971.

Some lucky Biharis managed to end their plight by marrying local Bengali women. But the rest had nowhere to go. Bangladesh didn’t want them; Pakistan refused to acknowledge them even though like many Muslims from the sub-continent, they were instrumental in the creation of Pakistan. Although India was out of bounds, some Biharis began renewing lost ties with residual relatives in their ancestral Bihar in successive decades after 1971 when their never-never-land, Pakistan, was reduced to a painful fantasy.

But did only the Urdu speaking Bihari side with the West Pakistanis? That brings us to the arrest of Motiur Rahman Nizami, recently arrested for graft charges. He was a minister in the last Khaleda Zia government and heads the Jamaat-e-Islami, which along with the infamous Al-Badr and Al-Shams which had several Biharis in their ranks, identified resistance members during the crackdown. Neither is Nizami nor his predecessor, Prof.Golam Azam---also a former minister in the last government--- Urdu speaking.

Several Bangladeshi Bengalis who opposed the liberation struggle and helped the West Pakistani armed forces in their weeding out operations had become senior bureaucrats, ministers and prosperous businessmen in the last four decades. Apart from East Pakistan’s academics, intellectuals, members of the armed forces and the police, large peasantry, the low and middle-income groups, West Bengali Hindus and Indira Gandhi’s government, the mukti-fauz or the liberation army had few sympathisers. Most civil administration members, migrants from Bihar and undivided Bengal, had a stake in an undivided Pakistan.

So why were the Biharis singled out?

If participating in hunting and killings of East Pakistani intellectuals with the West Pakistani armed forces during the last days before the fall of Dhaka is the reason for their miserable plight, then why were the Bengali collaborators or razakars left out and granted amnesty after the Sheikh Mujib’s assassination by successive governments which allegedly allowed Pakistan’s ISI to also dig in?

It was the worst form of linguistic discrimination which aggravated during the Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina. Even her father, also the nation’s father, Sheikh Mujib, had resettled members of the administration. And during Sheikh Hasina’s tenure, there was hardly any agitation during Bangladesh’s silver jubilee celebration when the Pakistani High Commissioner in Dhaka referred to the liberation struggle as an act of miscreants.

Even now, those Biharis who were in their senses in 1971, alleged to have opposed the creation of Bangladesh and perhaps still nurture a dream of being accepted by Pakistan, mainly because they are stateless, stranded for too long in Bangladesh---numbering around 160000---have been denied citizenship.

Although it is a landmark judgment by the high court, made possible under a military---ironically headed by someone confined to his barracks in West Pakistan during 1971--- backed government which has also put the two warring leaders behind bars for the first time and now has convicted Sheikh Hasina of graft charges, the basis of discrimination of those old enough Biharis of 1971, has become irrelevant.

But at least, there has been a beginning in delivering much delayed justice to the Biharis of Bangladesh. It would be interesting to know their voting pattern during elections if and when they are held, in perhaps what might be the first ‘cleansed’ political scenario in Bangladesh’s history.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Fitna of Geert Wilders

Fitna of Geert Wilders
By Mubasshir Mustaq

Be aware of the learned man's false knowledge! Don't be surprised if you come across scholarly essays which argue that Qur'an is full of contradictions! Even a scholar like Fareed Zakaria's stature has suffered from this syndrome.

In just six different verses of the Qur'an, Geert Wilders, the infamous Dutch Parliamentarian who had once said that the Qur'an must be banned - sums up the world's fastest growing religion: Islam is essentially an intolerant and violent religion. This approach itself is a fanatical example of Fitna. In Arabic, the word Fitna means tumult or oppression. The selective approach reflects a sordid act of oppression. Cinematic oppression based on bias, hatred and a half-hearted understanding of a Christian fundamentalist who does not know the comprehensive meaning of the word 'freedom.'

I can quote six, sixteen and even sixty verses from the Old and New Testament which openly advocate violence. Does that make Judaism and Christianity violent religions? I can quote the same number of violent verses from Bhagavad Gita in which Krishna tells Arjuna to wage war (Dharma Yuddha) on his own brothers and relatives. Does that make Hinduism a violent religion? The answer is a firm no.

Text and context of the violent verses must be kept in mind. I am not an Islamic scholar, but it is true that plenty of verses of the Qur'an were revealed in the midst of a battlefield when Prophet recited them in a state of trance. Also, one would be shocked and not surprised to find out that the Qur'an contains *naskh* (abrogating) and *mansukh* (abrogated) verses.Qur'an says, "When We substitute one revelation for another and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages) they say, 'Thou art but a forger':but most of them understand not." (16: 101)

Be aware of the learned man's false knowledge! Don't be surprised if you come across scholarly essays which argue that Qur'an is full of contradictions! Even a scholar like Fareed Zakaria's stature has suffered from this syndrome.

Conjecture is a dangerous approach when speaking of the Qur'an. Conjecture follows lines, which reflect the lust of men's own hearts.

Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the ace commentator of Qur'an, describes them as "men with a manifest turn of mind" and whose knowledge will be "limited to the narrow circle in which their thoughts move."

Qur'an must not be interpreted on the basis of some verses it must be interpreted in its totality. To quote professor Abdur Rahman I Doi would be apt:

"Supposing someone takes the Qur'an in his hand at random, then begins to read it by grouping together all the chapters dealing with the same topic or rearranging them subject-wise or according to order of their revelation, and then begins to interpret it according to this newly designed system andlooks for some hidden meanings within the text. Then this would be wholly inconsistent with the spirit of the Book, because the Qur'an in fact reflects the totality of vision, and with perfect comprehensiveness, it presents an integrated picture of life. While treating the study of the Qur'an like the study of any other book, many superfluous scholars have gone wrong."

The 17 minute documentary opens with the cartoon of Prophet Muhammad in whose turban a live-bomb is attached. Verses from the Qur'an are pitted against the various terrorist activities and bombings worldwide as if every suicide bomber and martyr wants a virile virgin in the Paradise. Social and economic issues the root causes of most of the violent activities all across the globe have been carefully overlooked as if Islam is the opiumwhose sole quality is to stimulate violence.

What troubles Wilders is Islam's growing "spell" on Netherlands and Europe. No doubt, Islam is on the rise. In fact it has been resurgent in Europe and America. The hate speech of Pope Benedict XVI in September 2006 reflects official Christendom's discomfort with the growing Islam. Pope's rant (Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached) does not find any takers in today's globalised world where Islam's rate of growth is simply based on one word: Peace!

Which Islamic army went to China, America, Indonesia, Japan and many more countries where Islam has spread by other means? Suffice it to note that Islam spread to China because of business ethics. Muslim traders taught Chinese what business honesty means.

Wilders' wildest fantasy is to "defeat" Islam the way Nazism and Communism were defeated in 1945 and 1989 respectively. Islam is different from 'isms' and 'ideologies.' Isms and ideologies can be defeated but Islam can never be defeated. Am I sounding like a fatal fundamentalist? No. The reason is simple: Islam is not a religion but a way of life. Can you defeat a way of life?
Wilders understanding the word 'freedom' is flawed. He only believes in the bodily forms of liberation. No wonder he is concerned that there is no ban on burqa in Netherlands! We are living in a strange world where bikini is 'civilised' and burqa is 'barbaric!' What we do is 'freedom'. What others do is 'fanaticism!'

Wilders can't digest the flourishing Halal-investment industry inNetherlands. What would happen if Muslims suddenly withdraw their savings and investments from various financial institutions of Netherlands? The country would receive an economic jolt. Should we call it an economic boycott or an economic Jihad?

Wilders carefully avoids portraying his own faith. The history ofChristianity is bloodier as well as more spiteful than the history of Islam. Any historian blessed with common sense would agree. One only needs to read M.J. Akbar's 'The Shade of Swords'. In a chapter called 'Circle of Hell', the author conclusively proves that the hate culture of Christendom was more venomous than that of Islam. To deny Jesus is to deny Islam. "Islam can survive with Jesus as a Prophet; Christianity cannot if Muhammad, and not Christ, is the last Messenger," Akbar writes.

Qur'an is not a book of hatred but a book of humanity. Qur'an calls Christians and Jews as 'Ahle-Kitaab', People of the Book, a respectable title indeed. It does not call them 'pigs' as the documentary purports. The documentary ends when the live-bomb attached to the Prophet Muhammad's turban explodes. By portraying Prophet Muhammad in offensive cartoons, the'enlightened West' is using its best weapon: ridicule.

A messenger of hate bares the strategy of ridicule:

"The ridicule-armed warrior need not fix a physical sight on the target. Ridicule will find its own way to the targeted individual To the enemy, ridicule can be worse than death. At least many enemies find death to be a supernatural martyrdom. Ridicule is much worse: destruction without martyrdom: A fate worse than death."

Islam is not a religion of ridicule; it is a religion of reason. "Invite(all) to the Way of thy Lord," says the Qur'an, "with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious(16:125)

Sane voices do good things in strange ways. Not many would know that Dutch Jewish TV producer, Harry De Winter has criticised Fitna, which he calls as "anti-Semitic." Harry has come out with a bold advertisement on the front page of the newspaper Volkskrant. The ad reads:
What is your message?

"We Jews know better than anyone else what this sort of discrimination can lead to. Wilders claims that the Muslims must be dealt with and that the Koran is a fascist book. That's how the persecution of Jews once started, by generalization. Therefore, it is time for a sharper criticism from the Jewish community. If you say the same thing about the Jews or Israel, you are considered an anti-Semite and ostracized. It is good that this feeling of justice is so strong, but, for me, there is no difference between the yarmulke and the headscarf.

If Wilders had said the same thing about Jews (and the Old Testament) as he does about Muslims (and the Koran), he would have been ostracized a long time ago and accused of anti-Semitism."

Rabble-rousers like Wilders will not flourish in today's multi-cultural society. They would go down in the dustbin of history as nobodies. Hyper-reactions, Akbar writes sensibly, tend to suggest nervousness. "Islam is not a weak doctrine; it is built on rock, not sand. Reason is a more effective weapon than anger."

Hard Line

Hard Line
- Seema Mustafa

Mr Mukherjee might just find that his 'hard line' on terrorism will be fully eeciprocated by a 'hard line' on Kashmir by Pakistan. It is too early to say where this will take the two governments, and whether the rigid positions will affect the better ties or will the peace process indeed prove irreversible?

India and Pakistan are getting ready for another round of talks, to basically review the last composite dialogue and get ready for another year of pretty much the same thing. That is dialogue on the issues identified by the two sides - Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, terrorism, etc. with little progress on any.

Minister of external affairs Pranab Mukherjee will find that the situation in Islamabad has changed perhaps even more than his government anticipated. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, eager to remain out of the limelights, has gone indoors as he has decided to be very careful about not arouse opposition ire and thereby fuel the demand for his ouster. He has been keeping unusual silence, and although he has the support of the Bush administration he cannot be sure that the next President in office will be as kind. In fact, judging from the statements of the Democrat aspirants he is certainly not in favour, and can expect a major shift in policy once old friend Bush is out of power.

Musharraf has some understanding with PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, but this does not extend to PML's Nawaz Sharif. His relations with army chief Kiyani are supposedly good, but then the latter is a canny soldier who is aware, like the rest of Pakistan, that the old general has lost much of his popularity and appeal. One of the main targets in the recent elections in Pakistan was General Musharraf with the common man turning against him entirely. Not just the honeymoon but the relationship was over. Of course, National Security Advisor M.K.Narayanan was amongst those giving him a clean chit, even when the Americans were becoming a little cautious, and in the process inviting criticism from the political parties in the fray.

Zardari has been unable to win Nawaz Sharif over, with the restoration of the judiciary proving to be the sticking point. This was expected, as Sharif had contested the polls on this platform while Zardari and the PPP had kept away from what they regarded as a contentious issue. Despite the talks held in cities outside Pakistan the two were unable to hammer out an agreement, largely because Zardari cannot compromise on the judiciary without compromising his own future in politics. Nawaz Sharif, for obvious reasons, cannot back off from his promise without losing all credibility and it does seem to the casual observer that his long years in exile have matured the politician. He is looking at the immediate future, and knows that he has a good chance of getting the majority in Pakistan on his own if he stands committed to the restoration of the judiciary and the removal of Musharraf.

It was clear that the sympathy vote for Benazir went to Nawaz Sharif in the elections. No one expected him to do so well, least of all he himself. That is why he first decided not to contest the polls, and when he agreed he set up candidates in limited constituencies. Even then he emerged as a major factor in the polls, who could not be ignored by the PPP without weakening the new government. The common mans philosophy was simple: Bibi is no more and we are not sure of Zardari. We know Nawaz Sharif so we have voted for him. What all did not say, but many did, Zardari is still suspect in the eyes of the average Pakistani as they do not trust him completely and regard him with suspicion. In the PPP itself he is not widely popular, and is already earning the reputation of working with a coterie that is becoming more influential than many mainline leaders who are gradually being sidelined. Zardari's wariness of lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan was a matter of great gossip in Islamabad and Lahore circles, particularly as the latter was virtually ignored by the PPP leadership during his days under house arrest. His demand for the restoration of the judiciary was picked up by the PML-N but not by his own party.

Nawaz Sharifs decision to pull out of the government and extend it issue based support has worried the PPP. His call for a street stir for the restoration of the judiciary might not have had great impact, but retains the potential in the days to come. The confusion in the government has given the army a free hand and Kiyani a much needed breathing space. Jammu and Kashmir, according to reports appearing here, is facing greater infiltration and this is supposed to be because of the absence of political control over the army's movements. Of course, infiltration statistics have become political in India, with the numbers varying according to the status of relations between New Delhi and Islamabad. There have been several occasions in the past when the statistics given by the Indian army have differed from those reeled out by government agencies and the Home Ministry.

Judging again from the planted briefings by the ministry of external affairs on the eve of Pranab Mukheree's departure for Pakistan, it does seem that India will be taking a hard line. Or at least not as soft as it had been in the last couple of years, with terrorism back as the main issue for the consultations. The new rulers in Pakistan have already been speaking about Kashmir, and even suggested it be resolved according to the UN resolutions that President Musharraf had been more than willing, at one stage, to forego. Clearly the politicians in Pakistan do not have the mantle to ignore the extremist opinion, and the weaker that the government is the more it will rely on rhetoric to keep itself in power. There is some truth in the Pakistani belief that relations with India could have been improved only under a military ruler, for if once convinced that this was essential he had the power and the ability to ignore shades of opinion, and deliver.

After a hardline stand, Musharraf did dissolve into a benign dictator in so far as India was concerned, quite willing to give a long rope for the composite dialogue. He was prepared to talk on Kashmir, a better position than the usual "it is ours" line that has been the base from which successive governments in Pakistan operated. It is of course, another matter that our governments did little for Jammu and Kashmir, and even today have no internal policy to resolve the longstanding problem regardless of the fact that a large section of the population has been alienated from Pakistan over the last several years. The window of opportunity has again been lost because of political dithering and apathy here.

So Mr Mukherjee might just find that his 'hard line' on terrorism will be fully reciprocated by a 'hard line' on Kashmir by Pakistan. It is too early to say where this will take the two governments, and whether the rigid positions will affect the better ties or will the peace process indeed prove irreversible? The Americans are not particularly happy with the current political situation in Pakistan and would not mind India putting some pressure on the new government that has been making anti-US noises lately. Perhaps this has been more out of compulsion than belief, but even so it cannot be music for the years of the Bush administration that has placed the Repulicans in the dock on issues of foreign policy.

All in all, it will be an interesting visit by Mukherjee and foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon. But it will at best be a process of edification for a government quite out of tune with Pakistan developments as recent statements by top functionaries have shown, rather than a path breaking event that will chart out a new course in New Delhi-Islamabad relations.

Friday, May 16, 2008

After Arrack went off the Rack

By U. Mahesh Prabhu

I wonder if it is viable to ban the Liquors in a world where the IPL Cricket Team of Bangalore itself is named after one of premier liquor brand. Would liquor barons like Vijay Mallya stay mute observer?

Father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi, had no place for alcohol in his grand vision for India. In prompt compliance to this 'vision', his condemnation was written into the constitution. All the states, according to it, are supposed to be making it gradually more complicated to obtain alcohol until none is available. The motives of our founding fathers were commendable: in rural India booze is a dominant anaesthetic against the pains of destitution and yet it exacerbates that deprivation and ruins families! But there was never a pragmatic chance of eradicating the 'demon drink' completely. Many efforts were made, but with little success.

In 2007, during the reign of BJP-JD(S) coalition government in Karnataka, B S Yediyurappa (BSY), under the capacity of Dy. Chief Minister took a 'very brave' step of eradicating the arrack by banning it. Though it was a bloody blow to the arrack barons, it was, however, well received in the rural areas. The Stree Shakti Group, an NGO, and other Seers of Hindu Monasteries, who have been campaigning hard for the eradication hailed the former Dy. CM for his commendable measure. It can be called commendable because in Karnataka 50% of revenues from the liquor industry come from arrack alone. To put it in figures: of 3,414.94 Crores excise collections in 2005-06, arracks share was 1,565.40 crores.

The intention of ban was precisely to ensure that: habitual boozers won't have their supplies and thus would be forced to give up. Alas, that never happened and is now proving unwise of BSY to have imagined that liquor consumption among the poor would come down because of the ban. What has really happened is that: Denying arrack has sent habitual drinkers towards brandy or illicit liquor – as arrack lobby had contended before the ban. And now the sale of Indian Made Liquor (IML) has doubled in the state since the ban, i.e. from July 1, 2007. The situation currently is such that Excise Department of the state is under heavy pressure to issue fresh licenses to CL2 (retail) and CL9 (pubs and bars) licenses. But given there is no government in the state and the elections on, they are just unable to do so.

This ban has now turned out to be a major election issue in Karnataka with the Congress and the JD(S) vowing to lift it if elected to power. Congress leader B Janardan Poojary and Central Administrative reforms commission Chairman M Veerappa Moily have gone on records to state that the party would revoke the ban if voted to power. However contradictory statements have been issued by other Congress leaders in unison – leading to perplexity within the party's top cadres. What's amazingly interesting to know, also, is that H D Kumaraswamy, one who had approved the ban as Chief Minister, has shifted in stance, and completely. This is because there are around 200,000 families that are largely dependent on arrack sales. Only BSY and his party, BJP, is still keen on sustaining the ban which according to him 'was done to save poor families in the state.' and not for vote bank politics.

But the ground reality is that the BSY's measures have failed to save the poor families as they have now retorted to IML. So it's a point to consider that, as to whether, would you ban also the IML and the other liquors in the ascending orders when you regain the power? Or are you going to revoke the ban to make the poor still suffer as the Congress and JD(S) candidates contend?
I wonder if it is viable to ban the Liquors in a world where the IPL Cricket Team of Bangalore itself is named after one of premier liquor brand. Would liquor barons like Vijay Mallya stay mute observer? For a baron who could buy a cricket team for crores and start a Formula One (F1) team for another millions, would not be hard to bribe a minister or two? He, in actual, can buy them out rightly!

History has testimonies in it to the fact that there was never a realistic chance of eradicating the demon drink entirely. They tried it in the United States, too, where total prohibition was enforced from 1920 for almost fourteen years. Gangsters like Al Capone and the mafia made multi-million dollar fortunes from the sale of bootleg liquor and organized crime. As every country has since discovered with drugs: make it illegal and a profit centre is born. An especially ugly feature of American prohibition was the extortion of hush-money from the owners of illegal bars, the speakeasies. There were more than one lakh of them in New York.

So, as you see, it's not a great thing to revoke a ban as Congress is JD(S) seems to be doing. If BSY is voted back to power I am keen to learn as to how would he respond to this situation then?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Changing Rules for the VIPs

The Changing Rules for the VIPs
-By Seema Mustafa

Over six decades later the poor are engulfed in a sea of emotion---resentment, anger, frustration, resignation, unhappiness, sorrow, fear. Security has emerged as a major issue with communal forces gaining ground. Terrorism is the new mantra for the ruling elite that uses this to arm the security forces with extra constitutional powers, and justify every act of violation.

Its strange how the government does not know anything until some one or the other at the top "experiences" it. And if he does not then the people have to continue facing the hardship, as those who move in VIP corridors just do not care. So the gods smiled for the thousands and millions of commuters when Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia actually rubbed shoulders with the unimportant common man when he went to leave someone at the international airport in Delhi. It was then that he realized that ordinary mortals, traveling in cars without the famous 'red battis' (red lights) often do not even manage to reach the international terminal in time to catch their flights. They are stuck outside in the jam of cars and crowds and by the time they reach the terminal and fight their way inside,the international flight has left. Ahluwalia has asked for an explanation but its unlikely he will be able to proceed much further on this. More so as there are many in the government who do not find any need for a Planning Commission and are keen to wind it up altogether.

In fact peoples woes are hardly the issue within the Congress party, where individuals spend days and nights wondering how to keep themselves in power. It was not a surprise then to find many Congress leaders coming out of the woodwork to attack HRD Minister Arjun Singh for daring to criticize the party (read Sonia Gandhi) by attacking the environment of sycophancy. Of course, the very next day he announced his 'sycophantic' credentials by speaking of his loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family and letting it be known that he would serve the members for as long as he lived. However, its unlikely that Sonia Gandhi will accept the second thoughts, and this is what the others seeking to revive themselves in the party are talking about. Jairam Ramesh is never behind in taking on the cudgels on behalf of the Congress president, and this time he has been joined by friend Salman Khursheed who has been left cooling his heels on the sidelines by both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. He just might make it back to favour on this issue, provided he keeps the criticism of Arjun Singh muted and yet loud enough for all to hear.

No one knows in this government what is happening to the people. For instance, hundreds of innocent people have been killed through the Salwa Judum 'brainwave' in Chhatisgarh where the government armed villagers to fight the Maoists. It has been a complete fiasco that could have been laughed off as yet another government blunder had the repercussions not been so tragic. But some one is quoted somewhere in the newspapers as admitting that salwa judum did not work, but at the same time no one at the center has done anything about calling it off. Farmers continue to die of agrarian distress all over the country, but after his one visit to Vidarbha where dole was given, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has had little to say on the subject. Stories of caste violence, of communal discrimination, of police atrocities do not even elicit a blink of the eye, as those in power at the center and the states remain immune to the plight of the people. Of course, there is immediate action if someone defiles a statue of Ms Mayawati, or dares question the rule of Sonia Gandhi, or comes in the way of a VIP cavalcade, however, innocently.

The rules have all changed. There was a time----and not so long ago either, perhaps just a decade ago---when people squirmed at the charge of communalism or corruption. The ruling elite took on a shifty look, did not meet your eye as they too strongly denounced communalism and those who indulged in dirty corruption. Today both are justified. In fact, those who live on their salaries are regarded as "fools", the "clever" space being occupied by the men who know how to twist the laws and rake in the black money. Every other government servant has his or her children studying in the most prestigious institutions abroad, mostly the US. How? Every other politician suffering from some undisclosed disorder, is treated abroad. Again the preferred destination being the US. How? No wonder then Washington is able to dictate policy, and pull us up for our relations with Iran, for eating too much and for consuming more oil than we should.

In most urban cities across the country, development is an euphemism for selling real estate at contrived prices. Huge hotels, shopping malls for instance are mushrooming all over Delhi and its satellite towns Noida, Gurgaon but not even an acre of land has been reserved by the government for a public hospital, or an educational institution serving the poorer sections of society. Industrialists, it now seems, are also being sold Waqf land for a penny. Unofficially the penny probably was converted into crores. Villagers have been thrown out of their land with meager compensation, all in the name of growth and development. Government rehabilitation policies remain in a sorry mess for obvious reasons. Land fetches a good price, people are just a liability. Many are paid just a fraction of the money promised, and told to find themselves new homes and new land. The Hyderabad airport - state of the art - displaced 12 villages with the residents having disappeared from sight. The poor are not on any governments map, least of all the Congress led UPA's, with even the supposed messiahs of the poor like Lalu Prasad Yadav finding the air conditioned comfort of Delhi infinitely preferable to the backwaters of Bihar.

And for good reason. Delhi is growth visible in the traffic jams, the big malls, the five star luxury, the black money, the pollution. In a Bihar village nothing has changed. There are no schools, no hospitals, no cars, no roads, no drinking water, no growth. Children run around half naked, with swollen bellies. Their mothers die for want of health care. The ruling elite does not speak of this because it does not have to experience this, and like the three monkeys shuts off all senses when confronted with grim reality. Elections after elections, the same promises. Year after year, the same lies. Over six decades later the poor are engulfed in a sea of emotion---resentment, anger, frustration, resignation, unhappiness, sorrow, fear. Security has emerged as a major issue with communal forces gaining ground. Terrorism is the new mantra for the ruling elite that uses this to arm the security forces with extra constitutional powers, and justify every act of violation.

But then if those in power do not see, they need not act. The other day a group of editors were returning from a junket to Europe. The immigration line was long, and eventually it took over an hour to clear. One editor , prompted by the others, called the minister of civil aviation to inform him of the mess at the airport pointing out that most of the immigration booths were unmanned. Within a few minutes an official came looking for the editors to get them out of the line ahead of the queue. That was the ministers response to the telephone call. Save the VIP's (if editors can be called that), the rest be damned.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Political Shifts

The Political Shifts
By Seema Mustafa

Petty manipulations have always complicated the issue and the leadership at the centre must learn that the only real intervention can be through addressing the long standing grievances of the people and institutionalizing the process of free polls and peace in the state.

The jostling for space in Jammu and Kashmir has already begun. Assembly elections are due in October, and the political leaders are positioning themselves for new results and new alliances.

The Jamaat e Islami has announced its decision to boycott the polls. The All Parties Hurriyat Conferece is also not likely to participate with leader Omar Farooq timing a long stay in the United States with the polls.JKLF's Yasin Malik who is now close to Peoples Conference leader Sajjad Lone is also likely to stay away, although he has to make a formal announcement to the effect. In fact political activity is again confined to the predictable: the Peoples Democratic Party, the National Conference, and of course the BJP, the Congress and the other smaller parties. But there have been changes. And these could be significant in the times to come. For instance both PDP's Mehbooba Mufti and NC's Omar Abdullah received a warm welcome in Pakistan under the new dispensation. Mehbooba in particular, had a very successful visit where she met both Zardari and Sharif and even addressed a joint press conference with the former. The photographs and the reports carried prominently by the Pakistan media has irked the Hurriyat no end that has grown to become very possessive about the neighbouring country. And in a rather absurd move, the Mirwaiz met Pakistan prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani to protest against the hospitality accorded to the supposedly "pro Indian" Kashmiri leaders. The Mirwaiz is also planning to visit Pakistan in June where he will take up the matter even more forcefully with the leadership.

Another shift is the clear determination of Mehbooba to actually take over the Hurriyat space in Jammu and Kashmir politics. Apart from positioning herself as the new chief minister, if her party wins the required number of seats or forges an effective coalition after the polls, she has clearly taken over what was the moderate Hurriyat agenda. And in the process added to it in what constitutes a larger appeal. For instance, the PDP campaign is not just for the relief and rehabilitation of victims of human rights violations but also the victims of terrorism. It does not just advocate better relations with Pakistan but is firm on more confidence building measures, and takes the credit for the bus and rail links between the two countries. At the same time Mehbooba Mufti does not mince words in questioning central government policy and has taken a strong position on autonomy.

This is clearly troubling the Hurriyat whose leaders have at best an untested base and except for the Mirwaiz most are confined to their homes or mohallas. The result it has become a statement based organization, with attempts to bring in other leaders into the fold proving futile. The only addition has been Shabir Shah but Yasin Malik and Sajjad Lone have refused to accept the conglomeration as the spokesperson for the state. So has hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani who has refused to compromise with the local leaders or with New Delhi and Islamabad. His relations with the latter soured when the peace talks started in earnest as he perceived these as a sell out by Pakistan.

A third change, although it was expected, is the return of NC leader Farooq Abdullah to state politics. The party was reportedly finding the going tough under son Omar Abdullah who lacked his fathers charisma. So far as the NC is concerned its candidate for chief minister is the older Abdullah who has been touring the state even as he is forging links with the national political parties for a post poll tie up. The NC remains with the NDA at the moment, although Farooq Abdullah has been sharing a platform with the regional parties as well. He is keeping his options open, and while he has not said so his dislike for the Congress is well known.

A fourth change, and this too is significant, is the growing role of the media and civil society in Jammu and Kashmir. Journalists, academics, lawyers and others will play a more active part in influencing public opinion in these elections, and many who had left the state have returned to take up influential posts over the past couple of years. This election will be fought at a level of awareness that was missing perhaps earlier, with the elected representatives doing a great deal to join hands with civil society and push forward an agenda for peace and harmony. The state is actively debating issues of self rule, autonomy, independence with Kashmiris from Muzzafarabad and guests from Pakistan with very few now inclined to boycott the elections. At least at this moment as in Kashmir one incident can completely change the picture from relative peace to violence and anger.

The Kashmir political parties are not particularly keen for pre poll alliances and indications are that they will contest on their own, and then look at post election possibilities. There is a strain between PDP and Congress, with the latter now again reaching out to former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in an attempt to bridge the divide. The two parties in government in the state have been at loggerheads, with snipes and barbs characterizing a highly uneasy relationship.

The central government has done little for the state, except for lofty announcements that mean little on the ground. It is strange that instead of taking advantage of the political confusion in Pakistan to work on Kashmir, the government here decided to opt out and wait for *Islamabad to sort out its problems so that the talks on the resolution of this issue could begin again. It is almost as if the UPA government has decided that Jammu and Kashmir cannot be dealt with by New Delhi, and there is little point in dealing with the problems that had triggered off the alienation in the first place. The Kashmiri leaders admitted that they have little to no contact with the centre with the Prime Ministers round table becoming an aborted reality. The recommendations submitted by the various groups are gathering dust in the files as the government clearly has neither the interest nor the will to implement these and perhaps, radically alter the dynamics of the Srinagar-New Delhi relationship.

Elections in the sensitive border state cannot be seen as the solution. Petty manipulations have always complicated the issue and the leadership at the centre must learn that the only real intervention can be through addressing the long standing grievances of the people and institutionalizing the process of free polls and peace in the state. This can be done by measures to win over the 'hearts and the minds' of the people, and while this is a very tall order now it can still be done. More so as the people of the state are disillusioned with Pakistan and are prepared to review their relationship with India in a manner that ensures them justice, dignity and respect.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Karnataka Elections: So who will loose?

Karnataka Elections: So who will loose?
By U Mahesh Prabhu

Everyone in this state, and country, will agree that we need a much deserving leader, but what is the definition to that 'deserving leader'? We certainly aren't clear. Why? In answering this 'Why?' lies the key to our prosperity. But we haven't ever thought over it. And that's because: we have our own personal 'problems', 'commitments' and 'crisis' to attend to.

The election campaigning is going on in full swing in Karnataka. The destiny of the state polls would also decide the next Lok-Sabha (LS) elections due next year. It is well anticipated that if BJP is to be triumphant Congress is sure to put off the early elections. If not, premature LS polls are assured.

In the helm of affairs while H D Deve Gowda is acting as a proverbial Jackass, Congress is trying its level best to prove itself as 'the most principled' and 'ideal' party to rule. For 'all deserving' former Chief Minister (CM), B S Yediyurappa (BSY), of the BJP, it is all about: as to whether or not he would be seated on the chair of CM, yet another time. Every one is desperate for Power. But why are they seeking Power? Is there a sustainable mission to it? I have my own incredulity, though for many it may seem otherwise.

Yes, they do talk at a great length on principles, ardor and pledge. But how much do they really observe in action? For decades now we Indians are forced to choose from best of the most dreadful politicians to rule us and to administer the affairs of the government. Everyone in this state, and country, will agree that we need a much deserving leader, but what is the definition to that 'deserving leader'? We certainly aren't clear. Why? In answering this 'Why?' lies the key to our prosperity. But we haven't ever thought over it. And that's because: we have our own personal 'problems', 'commitments' and 'crisis' to attend to. Amidst which there is hardly any time for the nation? Thus we suffer.

HD Deve Gowda, the former Prime Minister and head of the Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S), is so puffed with conceit that he seems to be thinking himself of nothing less than 'God Almighty'. His son, and former CM, is 'confirmed' of his party's 'highly deserving victory' in the coming elections. How come are they so confidant? Many of his opposition term it to be a classic case of psychosis.

Congress, that which formed the government first, under the Chief Ministership of Dharam Singh initially, not to forget, with the help of HD Deve Gowda's JD(S) and that which lost power because of it, is keen to rein supreme in the assembly polls, scheduled for May 16. Its point: 'JD(S) and BJP have ruined the state' and that 'people of Karnataka have been tired of mismanagement ever since because of corruption instigated by them and are keen to give back the power to Congress'.

Did they say 'people of Karnataka are tired of mismanagement' and that people are keen to give back the power to them? Then, perhaps, they have to answer: As to why is it that when Yediyurappa declined from power sharing and decided to fight elections instead did Congress government at the center installed President's Rule instead of calling for elections? I am sure, it is very much because, Congress should have promptly recalled the day in history when Vajpayee government was toppled by 1 vote after being in power for a meager 13 days, and that which led to its staggering comeback in the subsequent election. They feared of history repeating itself.  

So, am I here to say that BSY is the one to rely on? No, certainly not. I am convinced that for BSY nothing is as important as gaining the Chair of CM. It's not that bad to deserve the power. If no one is to lay their claim to power, who is to run the affairs of the state? His party's manifesto clearly depicts the sheer desperateness in him to be the CM yet again. If those promises in the manifesto are to be attained the entire state's treasury is to dry up in a day. I am still unclear how he promises things like rice for such a modest price (INR 2.00), though for the poor, especially when there is an increase in inflation alongside the drop in the agriculture productivity. Isn't there any economist, or a person who understand basics of economics, to tell him about the fundamentals?

Coming to my viewpoint as to who would win, let me tell you, that no one wins when the condition is such that voters are to choose from the best of the most terrible candidates. It's someone's defeat that which makes the other to win. The people of Karnataka are certainly not the 'jackasses', at least not all.

Voters in the state are affected, and badly, by the inflations which is currently over 7.5% in the country. They are not happy with the increase in the price of regular commodity. They know that it is currently Congress's regime, though indirectly, which is running the state. And it would certainly see to it that they have their voice made clear. By pulling the chair beneath BSY's ass within a week of assuming charge the Gowdas have shown their callousness, a quality which not many Kannadigas appreciate. Also the voters in the state have witnessed the Congress rule under Dharam Singh and JD(S) under Kumaraswamy. None could make a worth point to ask for power yet again.

People of Karnataka, like most of the other part of the country, are the ones with kind heart, they are also emotive. They have, I sincerely feel, a sense of sympathy for BSY and also a sense of logic that perhaps he needs to be given a chance to rule, fairly and independently. So it is more possible that they might give a majority for the BJP to rule by, as benefit of doubt, diverting their votes from the other contenders. If I am to depend on my sources all the parties would technically agree with me on this.

Every party's internal pre-poll survey, I am told, is pointing at a safe majority for the BJP. However, these are all like fortunetelling, that which seldom works. It's prudent to wait and watch, not many days left you see. Until then keep your fingers crossed or just enjoy the Tamasha.

America’s Obama dilemma

America’s Obama dilemma
By Susenjit Guha

Didn’t Hillary play up to America’s fears when she said on TV ‘not that I know of ‘---leaving enough space for dilemmas---on being asked if she thought Obama was a Muslim?

As Americans try to figure themselves out of a dilemma, the world---better part of which has become US-wary during the George Bush presidency and are hoping for a Democrat to take over---cannot do anything but watch how the super delegates ultimately home in on their choice.

Are they ready for first time choices like a black president with a Muslim middle name who thinks out of the box---like going and meeting Iran’s Ahmadinejad or engaging North Korea’s Kim Jong II without preconditions---or a desperate woman stopping at nothing to exact her pound of flesh?

Barack Obama’s 20 year association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright may be finally coming home to roost if recent polls about the thinning lead over Hillary Clinton and reverses are to be believed.

Rev. Wright’s outrageous comments like whites infecting blacks with AIDS virus, Goddamn America and not so outrageous---but highly debatable outside the US---analogy of 9/11 when he said America’s chickens had come home to roost. Wright had been Obama’s mentor and even solemnized his marriage...

USA Today Gallup poll put Obama behind Clinton by 7% after leading by 10% in a nationwide vote among Democrats and independents. This came along with a New York Times/CBS poll showing 60% approved Obama’s trashing of Wright’s comments, but half of them believed it was politically motivated.

Hillary Clinton pounced on Obama. She had been trying ever since the presidential campaign kicked off to belittle the fellow Democrat, even at the expense of the party. Maureen Dowd wrote in The New York Times some time back that Hillary would ‘lift her torso up the Obama wall’ to somehow park herself in the White House.

Didn’t Hillary play up to America’s fears when she said on TV ‘not that I know of ‘---leaving enough space for dilemmas---on being asked if she thought Obama was a Muslim?

Nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh kept on ‘mixing up’ Obama with Osama. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews suggested late last year that the "Hussein" moniker “will be interesting down the road." Republicans started using the middle name more prominently ever since.

Wasn’t this all done to play up to the psyche which demonizes Muslims and with whom the relatively inexperienced Barack Obama plans to do business unconditionally?

Why did the middle name get bandied about so much when Obama is the very embodiment of the American dream? If 94% of Americans are religious--- as a recent Pew research suggested---then do they lack the spirit of accommodation in the sub-conscious?

And wasn’t Hillary playing to the Judeo-Christian gallery when she promised to obliterate Iran if Israel was attacked with nuclear weapons?

It doesn’t matter when Yugoslavs, Nordic or any other European immigrants deck themselves in traditional finery during festivals in the US, but pictures of Obama in Kenyan attire in Africa became good opponent trashing material for the Hillary camp.

Instead of value addition to his candidature, Obama’s part Indonesian schooling, Kenyan roots, travels to Pakistan during law college days---his room-mates were Pakistanis and Indians---are shooting up thorns in his way.

Presence of the Christian, Muslim and Hindu holy books in Obama’s mother’s study may have endeared him to many, but Pope Benedict too had drawn applauses all over when he cautioned Americans against Catholicism---all religions are true--- during his recent visit.

Obama drew flak from the media and working class Americans for being elitist, tracing love for guns, resentment and religion to lack of jobs and government apathy. Historian Arthur Schlesinger wrote in ‘War and the American Presidency’ that ‘market fundamentalism, with growing economic disparities at home and jobs exported abroad, excites social resentment and revives class warfare.’

US exceptionalism---the divine right to rule and the Biblical town on the hill concept---of neo-conservatives has been on an upsurge during the Bush presidency. It is updated Wilsonianism---President Woodrow Wilson believed internal policy should impact foreign policy---where democracy was sought to be exported wherever and when ever it was found wanting. Wilsonianism’s roots can also be traced from the fear of isolationism or non-interventionism.

But interventionism has threatened to isolate US by most of Europe and the world in matters of security alliances, fearing they too would be drawn into unnecessary conflicts and invasions.

Whether Obama can reverse the trend if elected doesn’t matter as much as the innate apprehension gradually surfacing after his surge bubble burst.

Is middle-America really comfortable with increasing non-European immigration which will make their nation more multi-cultural, multi-religious with more Obama’s in future?

And in a post racial society, why was Colin Powell---the most famous black face then--- not allowed to attend a conference on racism in South Africa by Bush during the initial years of his presidency?

Did he fear that Zionism too would be dubbed racism and reparations for blacks might have come up since the whites in the US benefited directly from their enslavement?

Americans are in an Obama dilemma which will persist till the final Democratic nomination. And surely the final bare-knuckle rip-off by the Republicans who will play and tinker with the very deep-rooted psyches that have put Obama in the news for the wrong reasons are bound to weigh heavily on the minds of the decisive super delegates.