Thursday, November 20, 2008

Will the G20 supplant the G8?

Will the G20 supplant the G8?
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

MCOCA and Malegaon Blast Accused

MCOCA and Malegaon Blast Accused
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

Singh a Song

Singh a Song
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

Being 'Anti-Muslim'

Being 'Anti-Muslim'
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

Obama's tryst with Islam

Obama's tryst with Islam
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.