Saturday, November 14, 2009

Vande Mataram and Rise of Religiosity
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

Jamiat Ulema has breathed a fresh leash of life into a decaying body called Sangh Parivar. The legitimate and illegitimate babies of the Sangh Parivar, who were on a deathbed, have suddenly discovered the art of resurrection and are on a revival path – thanks to Jamiat’s endorsement of an old fatwa of Darul Uloom Deoband against singing of the controversial song Vande Mataram. It’s akin to activating the dying cells of BJP! One doesn’t intend to question the validity of fatwa since it has already been settled by Darul Uloom. The subsequent endorsement by Jamiat and its timing are questionable since the matter has been decided by Supreme Court and it’s not mandatory. Also the issue of Vande Mataram was not at all being discussed!

Before we discuss the historical significance of Vande Mataram; three important issues must be made clear. First, the song is completely Un-Islamic. One may not agree with the second issue but many Muslims believe that Jamiat has always been the stooge of Congress. And thirdly the sound health of ‘Hindutva forces’ is a pre-requisite condition for the so-called secular parties to entice Muslim community on emotional issues, so that it may forget its legitimate demands and throw them into oblivion. The strengthening of Hindutva forces means that Muslims will be likely to go with the so-called ‘secular’ parties. This creates a conducive environment and greater prospects for secular parties to capture Muslim votes through false slogan of ‘secularism’.

One may recall that a few years ago, it was Arjun Singh, the then HRD Minister, who declared that the centenary of Vande Mataram would be celebrated with its singing in all institutions. Muslims reacted aggressively giving an opportunity to Hindutva forces to spew venom against the community. Arjun Singh later withdrew the circular and emerged a secular figure in the eyes of the Muslims! The purpose, perhaps, was served: to divert community’s attention from its main problems!

The unholy nexus between ‘Hindutva forces’ and the ‘fictitious secularism’ is the most effective instrument since independence to deceive Muslims.

Indian Muslims must understand the fact that Vande Mataram is more than a hundred year old-trap.

The controversial song Vande Mataram occurs in Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s novel Anand Math which was published in 1882. The song was originally written in 1876. Bhavananda, the hero of the novel plans an armed struggle against Muslims of Bengal. While reciting the song, he meets Mahendra. When Mahendra asks the meaning the song, Bhavananda replies, “Our religion is gone, our caste is gone, our honour is gone. Can the Hindus preserve their Hinduism unless these drunken Nereys (a term of contempt for Muslims) are driven away?” When Mahendra is not convinced, he is taken to temple and shown four-armed Vishu, with two decapitated and bloody heads in front. The priest tells Mahendra, “She is the Mother. We are her children Say ‘Bande Mataram’. The same procedure is repeated at the temple of Kali and Durga. Others have been portrayed as saying, “Will the day come when we shall break mosques and build temples on their sites”? The land of Bengal has been identified with a Hindu deity. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that Vande Mataram is a religious homage rather than national tribute to ‘Mother India.’

Nirad C. Chaudhuri describes the times in which the song was written. “The historical romances of Bankim Chatterjee and Ramesh Chandra Dutt glorified Hindu rebellion against Muslim rule and showed the Muslims in a correspondingly poor light. Chatterjee was positively and fiercely anti-Muslim. We were eager readers of these romances and we readily absorbed their spirit.”

Congress Working Committee which met on October 26, 1937 decided that the first two stanzas out of five will be sung (The last three stanzas have got religious connotation and therefore considered controversial). The first two stanzas began to be sung in some provinces and gradually it became associated with India’s freedom struggle. Commenting on this noted jurist and writer A.G. Noorani wrote in 1999, “’National’ songs do not need political surgery; the songs which do, do not win national acceptance.”

A.G. Noorani has termed Vande Mataram as “unconstitutional” citing Article 28 (1) and (3) of the Constitution which read:

(1) No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds.
(3) No person attending any educational institution recognised by the State or receiving aid out of State funds shall be required to take part in any religious instruction that may be imparted in such institution or to attend any religious worship that may be conducted in such institution or in any premises attached thereto unless such person or, if such person is a minor, his guardian has given his consent thereto.

Should a particular religion play any role in a secular democracy like India? The question is obviously rhetorical. The deadly mixture of majority religion with India’s democratic framework has acquired frightening proportions.

Why do public servants break coconuts inaugurating new buildings? Why are religious mantras recited in the presence of bearers of public office? Why do judges invoke goddess Saraswati inaugurating a new court building? What has goddess Saraswati’s picture got to do with Indian judiciary? All this has happened recently at the inauguration of new court building in Malegaon in the presence of Chief Justice of Bombay High Court.

All this injures the spirit of world’s longest Constitution whose preamble contains words “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic.” It is the duty of judiciary and law enforcement agencies to check potent mixture of religion and public life.

Since singing Vande Mataram is not compulsory, Supreme Court must take suo moto cognizance of Bal Thackeray’s utterance that those who refuse to sing it, their tongues must be chopped off. Thackeray’s statement amounts to contempt of court. KG Balakrishanan, Chief Justice of India, must intervene to reassure that India does not believe and practice jungle law.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Crime: the Swine flu of politics

Crime: the Swine flu of politics
By Mubasshir Mustaq

Now that the electoral dust has settled down in Maharashtra, its time we carefully studied each of our representatives with a magnifying glass of honesty. Each one of them is our elected representative and therefore in a democratic parlance our mirror-image. The image which emerges is a collective reflection of us, the voters. It may be beautiful, ugly, twisted and in some cases a camouflage to delude ordinary individuals but nobody can deny the fact that we, the voters, are responsible for that image. Narendra Modi has presided over the genocide of innocent Muslims in Gujarat but he remains a democratic symbol and representative and therefore a mirror-image of Gujaratis. This paradox of democracy is like a bitter pill which each one of us has to swallow it.

We must have celebrated the hat-trick of “clean” and “secular” Congress-NCP alliance. Many of us would have been relieved that voters rejected “communal” and “filthy” saffron brigade. But there is one factor which cuts through all party lines – criminal record of elected members of legislative assembly. Not many would have noted this phenomenon. And those who are aware of this societal reality may not care about it. Or perhaps it makes little difference in their lives.

According to the data compiled by National Election Watch, an NGO working for electoral reforms, Maharashtra leads the list of largest number of legislators with criminal cases pending against them followed by Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh. Out of 288, 143 MLAs have a criminal background or some criminal case is pending against them. Almost half of our representatives come from a criminal background or done some nefarious activity which entitled them to enroll themselves in the muster roll reserved for criminals. The magical figure of 145 is required to form government in Maharashtra. What will happen if all the MLAs with criminal cases pending against them come together to cobble up an alliance and manage to get support of two more MLAs? Will Maharashtra government be led by criminal-like-creatures? This assumption should never come true but the number of 143 is a collective blot on our conscience. It’s a blot on the very idea of democracy because there is no law in India which bars persons with criminal cases from contesting elections. This democratic flaw has enabled some criminals win an election right from inside the jail!

Shiv Sena has 31 MLAs with criminal cases pending against them, the highest from a single party. Congress and BJP are on the second position with 26 MLAs each. NCP is ranked third with 24 MLAs. Then there are 36 successful candidates who are either independents or from other regional parties and have criminal cases pending against them, according to National Election Watch data.

India’s democratic framework is such that crime and politics have always been intertwined. Money and muscle power are supposed to be the first steps in climbing up the political ladder. This political trend does not necessarily apply to all because this election has produced the candidates who have won against the might of money and muscle power. But there can be no denying that fact that use of money and muscle power lead to criminal cases.

The 143 tainted MLAs are dirtying Maharashtra’s political pond. Each one of us is responsible for this criminal contamination. Each one of us is guilty for injecting the criminal blood which is polluting the entire Maharashtra. Each one of us owes a responsibility to wipe out this swine flu which is slowly eating us without our realisation.

Perhaps judiciary can play an important role in the operation cleanup. If not, we can’t expect much from our legislators! Legislators of all hues – green, red and saffron – will come together to save themselves! Therefore, a people’s movement seems to be the last and the most practical option.

Is Mr. Ashok Chavan listening?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Iran suicide attack fuels tensions with Pakistan

Iran suicide attack fuels tensions with Pakistan
By Susenjit Guha

A deadly suicide bomb attack in Iran's Sistan-Baluchestan province, near the Pakistan border, has triggered another round of the blame game with Pakistan, the alleged mastermind and villain. The attack last Sunday killed 42 people, including five commanders of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard.

The incident makes it even more difficult for the United States to kick start negotiations with Iran. Washington is seen as placating, appeasing and buying Pakistan to help fight its war on terror in Afghanistan. Regional players consider Pakistan the epicenter of the very terrorism the United States purports to be fighting.

Iran’s Fars News Agency quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying that security agents in Pakistan had cooperated with militants in Sunday's attack. "We were informed that some security agents in Pakistan are cooperating with the main elements of this terrorist incident. We regard it as our right to demand these criminals from them," Ahmadinejad said, without giving details. He also reportedly told Pakistan not to waste time cooperating with Iran in apprehending the perpetrators.

This type of accusation is not new. In the past, Iran has accused Pakistan of harboring members of the Sunni insurgent group Jundallah, or the People's Resistance Movement of Iran. Based in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, the group claims to be fighting for the rights of Sunni Muslims in Iran. According to Iranian media, Jundallah has claimed responsibility for Sunday's bombing.

India and Afghanistan have also accused Pakistan of harboring terror groups that cause mayhem in their nations.

Pakistan’s English language daily, Dawn, in June quoted Iran’s Fars News Agency on comments by General Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of Iran’s armed forces, saying Iran had located the roots of Jundallah and had passed on the information to the Pakistani government.

Despite the intelligence passed to Pakistan, attacks in Iran have continued. Jundallah has claimed responsibility for close to a dozen attacks in Iran, including one at a mosque in the city of Zahedan. The group’s method is simple – create terror in Iran and then cross over to neighboring Pakistan. According to the article in Dawn, Tehran had warned Pakistan to take action against the terrorists; otherwise it would be forced to employ military forces to track and hunt them down.

Like the terror groups allegedly nurtured in Pakistan to destabilize India, Jundallah had the blessings of both the Taliban and Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, and shifted loyalties between the two while creating unrest in Iran.

After the Sunday attack, Iranian officials immediately summoned a Tehran-based senior Pakistani diplomat to inform him they had evidence of the attackers’ links to Pakistan and were sealing the border between the two countries. Again, the demands and accusations are not new.

India initially asked Pakistan to hand over the perpetrators of last year’s terror attacks on Mumbai, in which nearly 200 innocent lives were lost. Later it provided evidence and demanded that Pakistan arrest them and put them on trial so justice would be done. But the evidence from India was stonewalled, and Pakistan said its courts could not find enough evidence to convict the alleged masterminds.

Pakistan surely will not track down the perpetrators that killed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard commanders. And the problem does not end there. Operating from Pakistan’s Balochistan province, Jundallah is alleged to also have a presence in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Pakistani analysts believe Punjab is a fertile recruiting ground for the local Taliban, al-Qaida, and the country’s armed forces. Pakistan’s civil society is worried about the rogue elements in Pakistan’s army and the ISI that have natural loyalties to terrorists and terror groups.

According to Pakistani media, Jundallah is believed to have links with another anti-Shiite Punjab-based group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, as well as the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida. Their mandate to foment terror is clearly demarcated. Names do not matter; members of such groups hide under the cloak of humanitarian organizations and flip-flop from one to another when the going gets tough.

The main objective and the modus operandi of these terror groups are still fuzzy, but the danger is clear and present. This was evident in the attack on the Pakistani armed forces base in the city of Rawalpindi last week.. Early this year the Long War Journal, a blog on U.S. security, reported that the al-Qaida top brass were toying with the idea of spreading jihad to neighboring countries including Iran.

But Sunday’s suicide attack in Iran could place the United States on rough ground. The Iranian armed forces believe that Jundallah is the creation of the United States and Britain, with the purpose of weakening Iran. And like most anti-U.S. tirades, this too might be believed by many Iranians, making it difficult for U.S. President Barack Obama to enlist Iran in the war on terror in Afghanistan.

It may also be difficult for the United States to explain to Iran that its planned shipment of F-16 combat aircraft to Pakistan is appeasement for Islamabad accepting the conditions in a U.S. aid bill that demands the government maintain control over the military.
After all, F-16’s would not be used by Pakistan’s armed forces to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban in Waziristan or to deal with Jundallah. Or would they?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

India and China: A clash of ideologies

India and China: A clash of ideologies
By Susenjit Guha

Frequent incursions into India by Chinese troops are not only about territory that China considers disputed, but also about ideology the Chinese are not comfortable with. While India is aiming for a top slot in Asia economically, China – way ahead in the race – also has expansionism embedded in its ambitions.

China was never at ease with the largest democracy in the world. India has maintained its democratic institutions, amid other South Asian nations that have frequently undermined their own democracies in the six decades since they attained nationhood.

There may be acute economic problems among the majority of Indians, with intermittent clashes based on caste and religion in some pockets, but the edifice built “of the people, by the people and for the people” was never shaken to its foundations.

Despite the free world’s amazement at the rapidity of China’s economic growth and strength of its foreign currency reserves, its record on human rights and freedom of speech cannot be talked about in glowing terms.

But does that bother China? Not at all, as communist China is a closed regime, totalitarian in nature, and cares not a fig for world opinion.

Paradigm shifts in China’s foreign policy are driven by two power centers. While the militarists hark back to the glory of the Middle Kingdom and want a remaking of the world on Chinese terms, reformers want the traditional world order and rules respected to avoid conflict.

Instead of hard power as displayed by U.S. military actions – taken to the limit during the George W. Bush era – reformers are for soft-power projection, with more cultural exports to realize the Chinese dream. But they are silenced under the din of the former.

That explains why China has denied incursions along the Indo-China border by Chinese troops and incidents of airspace violations. Sun Weidong, a Foreign Ministry official, seemed to be applying balm when he told Indian reporters in Beijing, “China does not pose any threat to India … the biggest task is to develop ourselves so that 1.3 billion people can lead a good life. I don’t think it’s logical to say that when a country grows strong it will bully others.”

Despite such denials, sensitive borders have been breached up north in India’s Ladakh, places like Bara Hoti in Uttarakhand state, Sikkim and the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. Shepherds are repeatedly shooed off and their tents destroyed. The terrain in some of these areas is inhospitable. Also, India has deployed most of its armed patrols along the border with Pakistan rather than the one with China.

Chinese troops have left evidence of their visits by painting in Chinese on the rocky mountainous terrain and leaving empty cigarette packets. Such acts may seem innocuous, but they have triggered the need for more Indian patrols along what is known as the Line of Actual Control that separates India and China.

That brings us back to the opening lines of this piece. Is there a clash of ideologies?

Chinese incursions are an attempt to assert their power in regions they consider theirs, which they believe were wrongly demarcated by the British when India was a colony. India inherited these regions upon gaining independence. No government or political party – except shards of the Hindu nationalist parties – has harbored ambitions of annexing territory from Pakistan, cut out of India during the partition of 1947, or Bangladesh, wrested from what was then West Pakistan in 1971.

If China feels the urge to wrest back certain regions through troop incursions, banking on superior military might – such as the attempt made in the 1962 Sino-Indian war – then it would be a straightforward act of bullying.

So is China’s constant harassment of the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan Buddhist leader plans to visit the state of Arunachal Pradesh in mid-November – around the same time U.S. President Barack Obama will be on a visit to China. If this is seen as provocative, it is also what Indian democracy is all about.

Nowhere in the world has the Dalai Lama been referred to as a terrorist, as the Chinese administration painted him during riots in Tibet in March last year. If ideology is not at loggerheads between India and China, then what is?

Earlier this month, an aircraft from the United Arab Emirates bound for China was detained at Kolkata Airport for not declaring the cache of arms it was carrying. After formalities were completed and it was released, China accused India of espionage over the inspection of its weapons. Again, the Chinese military is unhappy with the Indian media, as it supposedly portrays China in a bad light. But democracies do not control the media. This again is a clash of ideologies; it would never resonate with a closed and totalitarian regime’s method of handling the media.

Lurking behind China’s economic surge is a foreign policy of expansionism, fuelled by embedded militarists, who unfortunately may carry more weight than their soft-power counterparts.

Having the United States in a bind economically, China wants to reassert the historical, political and economic dominance it enjoyed for many centuries over Southeast Asia, Russia, Japan and the Korean peninsula. But political and military expansion is antithetical to democracy in a resurgent India, which has a civilization as old as China’s. And that is why, with regard to its largest neighbor, renascent Chinese nationalism is best expressed by troop incursions rather than dialogue and diplomacy.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

United States bogged down in Afghanistan

United States bogged down in Afghanistan
By Susenjit Guha

Mounting allegations of vote rigging in Afghanistan’s general elections on Aug. 20 and rising U.S. troop casualties in the region, despite a doubling of the troops last year, are eroding public sentiment and confidence in the United States in the country’s role in Afghanistan. Many fear it could turn into another Vietnam.

U.S. President Barack Obama may believe that the war in Afghanistan is more a necessity than a choice, and wish to further beef up ground troops stationed there. But most Americans are not buying the idea. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that the majority of Americans feel the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting. The survey results come amid widespread speculation that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, will request more troops to fight the Taliban insurgency. McChrystal submitted his assessment of the war situation to Obama on Wednesday; the president is expected to review it this weekend.

The majority of people in the United Kingdom, which has the second-largest troop presence in Afghanistan, believe their troops should not be fighting in Afghanistan at all, according to a recent YouGov poll for Sky News.

Obama may have won NATO backing for his new approach to Afghanistan during the NATO summit in the French city of Strasbourg in April. But the allies stopped short of new long-term troop commitments.

So where does this leave the United States now that the war against terror in Afghanistan looks less winnable and more like Vietnam? Even U.S. Congressional Democrats have begun questioning the wisdom of increasing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

When asked whether the elections in Afghanistan would help reduce violence and usher in development, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said that the United States wants to try to enable the Afghan government to take responsibility not only for its reconstruction, but also for its own security.

If the United States, in eight long years of military presence and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, has been unable to build a credible Afghani democratic government in the face of a resurgent Taliban that holds large parts of Afghanistan to ransom, is it really worth continuing the fight to build democracy and stamp out terror?

While voter turnout in the Afghani elections was poor, the specter of increased corruption in all sectors, problems disbursing aid to the people, a volatile political climate and ethnic tensions are a big worry to the Obama administration. During a visit to Kabul in February, 2008, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden – then a senator – walked out on a meal of lamb and rice hosted by Afghan President Hamid Karzai when told by Karzai that there was no corruption in his government and in any case, it was not his fault. Critics slammed Karzai last March for ratifying a bill that would have forced a woman to have sex with her husband regardless of her wishes; the legislation was revised in July following international condemnation.

It is one thing that Karzai was seeking voter support from the conservative Shiite community that makes up some 20 percent of the population, but flouting women’s rights is another and far more serious issue, especially in light of the billions of dollars in aid that he receives for reconstruction purposes and promoting democracy in the country. According to Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, the development and good governance that Obama wants in Afghanistan is “in very short supply.”

Jean MacKenzie, a Kabul-based reporter, in a recent column for Reuters wrote that foreign aid coming into Afghanistan was one of the richest sources of funding for the Taliban and that every major project undertaken included a healthy cut for the insurgents. So international donors, especially the United States, are financing their own enemy, she said. Fears of Obama escalating the war like former U.S. President Lyndon Johnson did in Vietnam are already surfacing, as portrayed in a succinct analogy in the New York Times titled, “Could Afghanistan Become Obama’s Vietnam?” Obama may have inherited the war, but is there a way out? An honorable exit strategy seems less likely than another bogged-down war scenario. After 9/11 the United States could have crushed both the Taliban and al-Qaida with full force and then left.

It could have acted on links with Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, much earlier and brought pressure on Pakistan to fully account for every dollar in aid it received. Instead, Pakistani armed forces are now buying peace with Taliban groups and pushing them back to their havens, short of crushing them when they come too close for comfort.

But if the United States leaves Afghanistan now, terrorists will claim a moral victory, overrun Afghanistan and penetrate neighboring Central Asian nations. Outsourcing the war to Pakistan would take it back to a pre-Afghan war scenario. Top U.S. military officer Admiral Mike Mullen’s scathing criticism of the chasm between U.S. strategy and action in Afghanistan is spot on, but his idea of a replica of a post-World War II Marshall Plan that worked in Europe cannot work in Afghanistan. Then what will work? Anti-American sentiment is high in the Afghan region. There is a clear and present danger of the United States getting bogged down in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Unbottling the Djinn of Jinnah

Unbottling the Djinn of Jinnah
By Mubashir Mushtaq

The powerful persona of Jinnah still reverberates in India sixty years after his death. Dead Jinnah has the potential to shatter and disintegrate an increasingly fascist BJP where freedom and forgiveness are being applied selectively. What would have been the fate of BJP had Jinnah been alive? Nehru and Gandhi have been painted as permanent saints while Jinnah has been portrayed as a permanent sinner in the Indian history. When one looks closely at the cult figure of Jinnah, the famous line comes to mind: No man can be hero all through his life…

Nobody would have thought that Jaswant Singh, one of the tallest BJP leaders, would unbottle the jinn of Jinnah from the bottle of history and mystery! The core issue of the ongoing debate is not that Jaswant Singh’s new book on Jinnah has rattled the BJP but his contention that Jinnah was not responsible for the Partition of India and the blame lay with Nehru and Vallabhai Patel. We will examine this assumption later; let’s first have a look at the kind of man Jinnah was and what drove him towards two-nation theory which culminated in the creation of Pakistan.

Jinnah was a towering national leader much before Gandhi returned from South Africa and entered public life. Jinnah was a colleague of Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He was better known than Motilal Nehru, Tej Bahadur Sapru and M.R. Jayakar. Gandhi’s rise to prominence lies in the Khilafat movement which Jinnah bitterly opposed. Jinnah was a permanent secular liberal while Gandhi adjusted his secularism according to the prevalent condition and the requirement. Gandhi believed in the idea of compromise while Jinnah didn’t. Gandhi appeased Muslims with Khilafat movement and Hindus by intoning Ramrajya. Therein lays the popularity of Gandhi. It is this “compromise” of Gandhi that made him more popular than any other leader in the Indian subcontinent.

In a letter dated October 30, 1920 – which is of historic importance – Jinnah wrote to Gandhi: “I thank you for your kind suggestion offering me ‘to take my share in the new life that has opened up before the country’. If by ‘new life’ you mean your methods and your programme, I am afraid I cannot accept them; for I am fully convinced that it must lead to disaster. But the actual new life that has opened up before the country is that we are faced with a Government that pays no heed to the grievances, feelings and sentiments of the people; that our own countrymen are divided; the Moderate Party is still going wrong; that your methods have already caused split and division in almost every institution that you have approached hitherto, and in the public life of the country not only amongst Hindus and Muslims but between Hindus and Hindus and Muslims and Muslims and even between fathers and sons; people generally are desperate all over the country and your extreme programme has for the moment struck the imagination mostly of the inexperienced youth and the ignorant and the illiterate...I have no voice or power to remove the cause; but at the same time I do not wish my countrymen to be dragged to the brink of a precipice in order to be shattered. The only way for the Nationalists is to unite and work for a programme which is universally acceptable for the early attainment of complete responsible government. Such a programme cannot be dictated by any single individual, but must have the approval and support of all the prominent Nationalist leaders in the country; and to achieve this end I am sure my colleagues and myself shall continue to work.”

Jinnah was beginning to dislike the dictatorship of Gandhi yet he remained a nationalist. After this, Jinnah’s disillusionment with Congress began to develop and there is historical evidence to this. The famous Nehru report which adopted alternative constitutional proposals ignored Jinnah completely. Jinnah’s 14-points were rejected the report. Further, he was personally humiliated at All-Parties Convention yet Jinnah remained steadfast and did not lose self-control. At the Convention he said, “We are all sons of the soil. We have to live together... If we cannot agree, let us at any rate agree to differ, but let us part as friends.”

In 1928, Jinnah advised and insisted Congress to seek Hindu Mahasabha’s assent to which Nehru arrogantly replied, “There are only two parties in the county, the Congress and the government.” Jinnah shot back, “There is a third party in the country and that is the Muslims.” Jayakar questioned Jinnah’s credentials as a representative and Nehru did the same in 1937 when he said, “May I suggest to Mr. Jinnah that I come into greater touch with the Muslim masses than most of the members of the League.”

Jinnah took up this challenge personally and began to work in order to establish his political credentials.

All this did not dishearten Jinnah to such an extent that he demands a separate homeland for Muslims. Till 1937, Jinnah saw “no difference between the ideals of the Muslim League and of the Congress, the ideal being complete freedom for India.”

Jinnah became to nurse a grudge against Nehru and Congress after his repeated attempts to obtain constitutional safeguards for Muslims and attempts at power-sharing had failed.
In October 1937, he said that “all safeguards and settlements would be a scrap of paper unless they were backed up by power.” In Britain the parties alternate in holding power. “But such is not the case in India. Here we have a permanent Hindu majority....”

This is where Jinnah went horribly wrong. His constant humiliation led him to majority-minority trap. He forgot that the key issue to Muslim development was through empowerment on all fronts including politics. Jinnah was so frustrated that he raised the slogan of “permanent Hindu majority”. As ace commentator A.G. Noorani writes, “The solution lay, not in aggravating the communal divide by his two-nation theory; but in the tactics of the Jinnah of old - mobilise both communities, espouse secular values and seek protection for the rights of all minorities as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had urged him to do.”

In February 1938, Jinnah delivered a speech which is not well-known. There he poured his heart out: “At that time there was no pride in me and I used to beg from the Congress.” The first “shock” came at the Round Table Conference; the next, in 1937. “The Musalmans were like the No Man’s land. They were led by either the flunkeys of the British government or the camp-followers of the Congress…”

When viceroy asked him about the alternative, he replied on October 5, 1939, that “an escape from the impasse ... lay in the adoption of Partition”.
If Nehru compromised on minorities rights then Jinnah on India’s unity although both men were secularists. A.G. Noorani writes, “Therein lies the tragedy. Nehru harmed secularism by denying the legitimacy of minority rights. Jinnah ruined it by the two-nation theory.” He adds, “ Yet, it is doubtful if, in the entire history of India’s struggle for freedom, anyone else has been subjected to such a sustained, determined denigration and demonisation as Jinnah has been from 1940 to this day, by almost everyone - from the leaders at the very top to academics and journalists.”
The Cabinet Mission’s Plan of May 16, 1946, for a united India failed and dragged it “into the abyss of inevitability.” Everyone including Nehru and Patel had given up; only Maulana Abul Kalam Azad remained opposed to it. Both Nehru and Jinnah were equally responsible for the Partition.

“Jinnah”, in the word of A.G. Noorani, “was of a heroic mould but fell prey to bitterness and the poison that bitterness breeds.”

No man can be hero all through his life. It equally applies to Jinnah as well.

The last word should be left to M.J. Akbar:

History might be better understood if we did not treat it as a heroes-and-villains movie. Life is more complex than that. The heroes of our national struggle changed sometimes with circumstances.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why Diarrhoea does not Matter in Malegaon

Why Diarrhoea does not Matter in Malegaon
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

Ordinary Indians, politicians and a select group of media organisations may have become paranoid over the issue of swine flu but a placid calm greets dingy by-lanes of Malegaon as the town reels under the shadow of diarrhoea, Calera, pneumonia and other related diseases. The brave hearts of this small and neglected corner of Maharashtra face death with honour. In October 2001, we faced police bullets. The 2006 blasts did not shatter us; we did not lose the element of sanity. 2008 blast was a grave provocation to spark a communal conflagration but saffron souls didn’t succeed. We lost our sense of sanity for sometime but common sense and good judgment prevailed over anger. Malegaon did not crumble.

It’s a different kind of terror this time. It has surfaced in the form an epidemic, a disease which refuses to lie low even after a month, a disease which refuses to take orders from superior government officials. Let’s face it: filth is our recognition. Whether we like it or not, it’s true. That is how a Muslim mohalla is recognised: by heaps of garbage. From Mumbai’s Kurla to Delhi’s Chandani Chowk, it’s the same old story.

That’s only the one part of the story. The second part is equally despicable and ugly. Our representatives have failed us. The issue of Muslim leadership is a mirage. According to records maintained by Bada Qabristan trust, 55 Muslims have died in the last one and half months because of diarrhoea, pneumonia and other related diseases. One may dispute the actual figure of death toll but no Muslim will provide the wrong cause of death to Qabristan authorities. That brings us to an interesting question: Will 2009 be remembered as a year of medical terror? The current estimate exceeds the death toll of two bomb blasts put together. Did anyone realize that?

The wave of diarrhea began in the first week of July. If local administration took time to wake up late then State government was in deep slumber till Shobha Buchao, minister of state for health visited Malegaon on August 10. Her quiet visit to Malegaon did not change the prevalent ground realities. Deputy CM Chagun Bhujbhal repeated the usual platitudes on Saturday when he visited Malegaon General Hospital. He was misled by handful Marathi journalists who even went on to claim that beef-eating and slaughterhouse are the main cause of diarrhoea wave! Muslim politicians kept quiet. Silence may be a virtuous act but in such a time of communal mudslinging, silence must be declared a political sin! It seemed as if those Marathi journalists had been hired to advice the deputy CM and the local administration! The press conference was turned into a public relation conference!

As India marches ahead in every sphere of life, the colonial Indian mindset remains mired in the 18th century. State government is hyper-busy in a much-hyped swine flu precisely because it comes with a made-in-America tag! Diarrhoea is a local phenomenon and it comes with a made-in-Malegaon tag. Any foreign-export even in the form of disease and epidemic is considered worthy of media coverage. Mainstream media may have completely ignored Malegaon epidemic wave because towns are not part of their target audience.

What will happen if this kind of diarrhoea wave grips a metropolitan city like Mumbai? What would have been the response of state government if this epidemic spread in Ashok Chavan’s home town? Malegaon’s diarrhoea wave is more dangerous than India’s swine flu. It has taken more lives than swine flu if we compare it proportionately.

Incidentally, all the victims happened to be Muslims. A question worth-asking: Is Muslim blood cheap in the eyes of state government?

Malegaon should not be remembered only for riots and bomb blasts. Senior journalist Pamela Philipose has rightly observed in September 2006, “The tragedy of the September 8 blasts in this town served to uncover the greater tragedy of Malegaon, a town that Maharashtra — and India — remembers only in times of blasts and riots.”

State government needs to give a human face to human beings of Malegaon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Seeds of Anger and Despair

The Seeds of Anger and Despair
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

The collective Muslim response to dropping of MCOCA against Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and company may have confused ordinary Indians but this response is a mirror image of decades of cries for justice. It encompasses and narrates the story of decades of bias, hate, neglect and subjugation openly practiced by communal forces and at times by the state apparatus directly. It captures the mood of a downtrodden and penniless Mussalman. There is indeed a sense of victimhood among Muslims, but too is not misplaced. Exaggeration of victimhood is a natural corollary to the events that unfolded on the night of Independence Day and continue to reoccur in various forms and manifestations till today.

There was a time when riots were a means of terror. And this terror was being implemented with a sickening regularity. In the beginning, riots were sporadic, localized and controllable but this changed in post-Nehru era. As eminent historian Mushirul Hasan writes, “Riots at Aligarh, Kanpur, Meerut, Moradabad in UP, Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, Baroda and Surat in Gujarat, were bloodier, more widespread, and extended over weeks and months.” Post-Babri and Gujarat 2002 riots are the finest example of this phenomenon. What more, this phenomenon was being helped and abetted by the State governments. As India entered into internet and 24x7 eras, it became extremely difficult to engineer riots. (Gujarat genocide of 2002 is an exception but then it has been heavily documented. It is precisely for this reason that Narendra Modi’s role is being investigated).

The Muslim answer to the riots came in the form of serial bomb blasts. Dawood Ibrahim pioneered this trend at such a time when Muslim self-esteem was below the belt. He successfully channalised Muslim despair into violence which turned to be fatal for the community in the long-run. Dawood’s one-single devilish idea has uncorked blocked arteries of Hindu fundamentalists! Bombs began to explode in Hindu as well as Muslim neighbourhood wearing the cloak of anonymity. Investigating agencies only gave a ‘Muslim’ name to this anonymity and the ‘Hindu’ remained anonymous till the Sadhvi episode. It was being implemented to redress a community’s grievance that it has been denied justice. Bomb-plotters of 1993 have been punished by India’s judicial system. Judiciary deserves a standing ovation for this feat. The culprits of 2003 twin blasts have been punished. But judiciary behaves like a toddler when it comes to punishing the rioters. A toddler cannot do anything without the help of his parents! (read executive). To an average Muslim, it is natural to ask: Is judiciary biased? Does it only favour the majority community?

The seeds of anger breed despair. And despair did begin to crawl in the Muslim mind. Despair can be a deadly weapon as senior journalist Shoma Chaudhury writes, “When you lose faith that a system will protect and play fair by you, it breeds fatal recklessness. It makes you abdicate from the rules that cement human relations. Despair can turn you from citizen to perpetrator. From the hunted to the hunter.”

Meanwhile the trend of exploding bomb was being implemented by Hindu zealots as well. The myth that bomb blasts are only a Muslim specialty was ripped apart only in 2008 when Hemant Karkare’s ATS decided to lift the curtain from the hidden Hindu fundamentalists. Anonymity finally got another name. The long list of deadly masterminds (Safdar Nagori, Maulana Haleem, Mufti Abu Bashr, Atif Ameen etc) got another names in the form Sadhvi and Colonel Purohit. Bomb blasts of Hyderabad, Delhi, Jaipur, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Malegaon 2006 had only the ‘Muslim’ names. Malegaon 2008 revealed a ‘Hindu’ name for the first time although the same set of elements have been targeting mosques and other places in the Marthwada region (Parbhani, Purna, Jalna, Nanded) since 2003.

There was a full stop to a long sentence of despair.

Muslims once again regained faith in Maharashtra’s premier terror agency. The one single act of arresting Sadhvi and the company began to erase decades of mistrust. Hate, revenge, bias and injustice began to evaporate from the Muslim mind and then came the first judicial jolt which paralysed the Muslim psyche. For the first time, Indian Muslims had got an opportunity to prove their innocence. To prove that bombs-making techniques are not taught in their madrasas and homes alone. Temples and Ashrams too have been used as a terror factory. They rightly raised the issue that there was not a single blast after the arrests of Sadhvi.

The first test of sincerity of ATS will be proved in Bombay High Court or Supreme Court of India. The real test of ATS will be the conviction of all the accused of Malegaon 2008 blast; be it under MCOCA or under Indian Penal Code (IPC). If the grave charges of the ATS is to be believed, all the accused can be easily convicted under IPC. Conviction and not the legislation will be the litmus test for the ATS. And even after all this, if ATS fails to convict the accused then they will be remembered as an anti-Muslim agency like Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) of yesterday years which has slaughtered many Muslims of UP in the riots of 70s and 80s. In his book, New Wave of Violence, C.F. Rustamji quotes a senior police official as: “I have watched with dismay during the year 1982, the conversion of the Uttar Pradesh PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary) from the model force that I worked with in the fifties to a unit which is feted by the Hindus and hated by the Muslims in the towns of Uttar Pradesh.”

ATS can’t afford to be compared to dreaded PAC. Krish Pal Raghuvanshi can still save his team and men-in-khaki from the bad name.

The seeds of anger and despair have been planted on the soil of Malegaon. It should not turn into a volcano.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Justice or Just-ice?

Justice or Just-ice?
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

“Doubt”, wrote M.J. Akbar, “is theoretically equidistant from right and wrong, but in real life, there is evidence, evidence creates weightage, and the weight of evidence demands judgement.” Now that stringent MCOCA has been dropped against Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and all other accused in Malegaon 2008 blast, ‘dormant’ doubt of people of Malegaon concerning ATS will get a new leash of life. And why should it not? They have an every right to be doubtful of an organisation which, perhaps, has provided little legal evidence against Sadhvi. Doubt as a consequence of rumour can be dangerous but now it has acquired judicial stamp of approval.
Doubt gives birth to many unanswered and intriguing questions:

Did prosecution go soft on the accused?
Was the arrest of all the accused to buy the time of minority community and hoodwink them after the general elections are over?
Was the arrest meant to alter the thought-process of Muslim sub consciousness?
Did the death of Hemant Karkare make space for the evaporation of “evidence”?
Did KP Raghuvanshi slowly loosen his grip on the baton passed on by his predecessor?
Or did he deliberately forget to implement his successful 2006 blast formula of legal entrapment?
Or is he taking orders from political masters?
What is the quality of evidence available with the ATS?
What were the demerits of legal argument of ATS that fell flat in a court of law?

When Sadhvi and company were arrested, the men-in-Khaki behaved like trumpeters of triumph. They successfully used mainstream media to plant and leak “exclusive” stories in order to create a goody-goody image and leave an impression that they were being very ‘secular’. In a way, they left such an imprint upon people that they had the credible evidence against the accused. No other bomb blast has got so much media coverage and hype in the recent years. ATS was too busy fighting the Malegaon blast case in the media jungle rather than in a court of law. The discharge of Rakesh Dhawde from the Porna mosque blast case on Wednesday was taken lightly by the ATS. ATS officials, in fact, went on record to claim that his discharge will not affect the Malegaon blast case!

The ATS of KP Raghuvanshi must remember that their integrity and honesty is proved in a court of law. We would advise KP Raghuvanshi to follow his 2006 manual which he very “successfully” applied on 2006 Malegaon blast accused. His tactful application of MCOCA has lasted three years and its fate has been reserved in the Supreme Court.

The first major blow is judicial. KP Raghuvanshi and his men still have time to prove their assumptions in a higher court of law.

Meanwhile, a question on everybody’s lips in Malegaon is this: Is it justice or just-ice?

Justice has begun to melt like ice in public perception.

How will you deal with the public perception, Mr. Raghuvanshi?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Why China has to crush ethnic minorities and their culture

Why China has to crush ethnic minorities and their culture
By Susenjit Guha

As official Chinese reports continue to paint the Uighur Muslim minority as the villains in the recent rioting in Urumqi city in the backward Xinjiang province---the worst in decades---the world wonders whether a communist government or the majority Han Chinese, or both are intolerant of ethnicity among them.

While human right violations, as the world terms them, are continuously debunked by China as an internal matter, moral and ethical accountability is something that the country cannot avoid as the Asian tiger prowls around the global space that is under-girded by conscience. Communist China considers ethnic minority culture and religion as circumspect and a threat to the closed society that it is. It was evident from the heavy handed crackdown on Uighurs as well as its past record with the people of Tibet .

Communist China shuts out ‘negative’ information on ground realities that flies around and is available at the click of a mouse, keeps foreign journalists away from conflict and disaster zones to keep the official take on the situation ‘sacrosanct’. Mainland Chinese are fed information that always shows the outside as the ‘big bad world’. But there are few buyers in the world outside as they have seen human rights continuously violated and tamped down with brutal state power.

That is why China feels threatened when documentaries on Uighurs are shown in democracies like Australia and does all it can to stop them from being aired. Death figures of the Han Chinese population in the riots were ratcheted up and that of the Uighurs scaled down.

Tracing their roots to Turkey , the minority Uighurs follow Islam that has made it convenient for China to also link their deep rooted dissent to the call for a holy war and al Qaeda to make it resonate with the west. And the terror group had in their own way also bolstered the Chinese argument by threatening revenge for the killing of Uighurs in the riots.

Any analogy is fine as long as does not morally rub communist China the wrong way. Beijing’s version by Xinjiang's governor, Nur Bekri, in a televised address, dismissed Rebiya Kadeer, in exile in the US and ‘mother’ to all Uighurs---as the vamp who incited the violence over long distance telephone. Some time back China also made a mockery of analogies by calling Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of the Tibetans, a terrorist.

But why did the Uighurs flare up and invite a backlash from the majority Han community as well as the state?

Although development is taking place in oil rich Xingjiang, there has been a furious demographic change with the Han Chinese coming in and filling up jobs. Gwynne Dyer writes in The Korea Times, “The development creates an economy that the local people are not qualified to work in, and Chinese immigrants come in to fill those jobs instead.” While the Chinese authorities feel that the Muslim ethnic minorities never had it so good with so much progress taking place, the Uighurs feel threatened by the filling up by the Hans. Uighur population has fallen to 45% while the Han Chinese population is up to 40%. It irked the Uighurs as they formed nearly 90% of the population six decades ago.

But why does China continue to crush down on ethnicity and sort of sell the logic that the population is benefiting from developmental projects with such pomposity?

It has a lot to do with Communism as a state policy where a monolithic population is easy to control rather than minorities with a popular and traditional culture in their midst. Cultures that are several centuries old can be a threat to a society where the majority of the population are kept cerebrally closeted and make to think, breathe and believe in tandem with the state.
Among the fiercest critics of China are the expatriates while the rabid supporters are among those from the mainland Chinese population. They use the internet to launch counter attacks on the critics of Chinese policies. India ’s sympathy for Tibetans attracts reminders of the presence of troops in Indian Kashmir to keep the place under control without appreciating that the largest democracy is also a place where multiple cultures and religions flourish and does not get repressed.

Chinese state propaganda on TV, trucks and banners are kicking up a storm about the evils of extremism, terrorism and separatism in Xinjiang and in predominantly Muslim, Hotan, close to Urumqi .

If exclusive nationalism gets so fierce with state pomposity and media support, then global apprehension of a link to marauding Nazism on the same grounds 70 years ago cannot be faulted. It has all the makings of a threat as free speech and thinking and protests are not what the mainland Chinese are expected to do.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Liberhan Commission, Babri Masjid: A Historical Perspective

Liberhan Commission, Babri Masjid: A Historical Perspective
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

Had Zahiruddin Mohammed Badshah Ghazi, popularly known as Babar, been alive today, he would be certainly ashamed of modern India. A mosque built in his name razed by Hindu fundamentalists has become a functioning temple but yet it is termed as a “disputed structure.” Babar would have certainly argued with the present rulers that his medieval India was far better than the modern India in terms of justice. In Babar’s India, there was no such thing called as “delayed justice” or “judicial delay.” Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan Commission of Inquiry has taken 17 long years just to ascertain events leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid. Babar would have decided the fate of the so-called “disputed structure” in 17 minutes! Politicians, judges, bureaucrats, journalists all love to use the “disputed structure” tag; it in fact gives them a legitimate right to feel ‘secular.’ Their “secularism” will pale when one compares Babar’s conception of secularism. For Babar, secularism did not mean separation of religion from the state but rather equal respect for all religions.

The secularism of Babar is hidden in a forgotten document. It could be a commandment of good governance for leaders like L.K. Advani.

Babar had drafted a secret will much before his death for his son Prince Nasiruddin Muhammad Humayun. In this will, there is a lesson for each politician father and a politician son. An extract of the will reads:

“Oh son! The Kingdom of India is full of different religions. Praised be to God that He bestowed upon you its sovereignty. It is incumbent on you to wipe all religious prejudices off the tablet of your heart, administer justice according to the ways every religion. Avoid especially the sacrifice of the cow by which you can capture the hearts of the people of India and subjects of this country may be bound up with royal obligations. Do not ruin temples and shrines of any community which is obeying the laws of Government. Administer justice in such a manner that the King be pleased with the subjects and the subjects with the King. The cause of Islam can be promoted more by the sword of obligation than by the sword of tyranny.” (A copy of this will used to be in the possession of the late Dr. Balkrishna, Principal, Rajaram College , Kolhapur).

Can a father who abhors ruining temples and shrines of other religions build a mosque in his name after demolishing a temple?

Babri Masjid was possibly built by a courtesan Mir Baqi on the instructions of Babar in the 1528 at Ayodhya. There is historical evidence in the form of inscriptions inside the mosque to support the assumption that it was constructed on the order of Babar. Also there is nothing in history that suggests that Babar ever visited Ayodhya. A complete and close reading of Babarnama shows that Babar was encamped north of Aud on March 28 1528. According to one historian Babar was encamped at the junction of the rivers Sirda and Gagra. On April 2, Babar went out to hunt in the area north of the camp. Babar must have left the encampment, as he records on March 28, 1528 that he had asked to find ways to cross the river. We are forced to doubt if Babar ever went to Ayodhya. So the question of demolishing a temple at Ayodhya does not arise.

So with Liberhan Commission, Indian Muslims have been awarded with one more inquiry report. Will it suffer the fate of Sri Krishna Commission report? Going by the history of promise and subsequent betrayals by the government, the four-volume report will gather dust in the dustbin of history. First government needs to clear speck of dust from earlier inquiry commissions and reports concerning Indian Muslims. Successive Congress governments have been extremely good in documenting Muslim issues but the true intent of any government is measured by the pace of implementation. Congress will once again show Indian Muslims bubbles of hope but alas bubbles don’t last a lifetime. For last 60 years, Indian Muslims have been appeased with bubbles.

The role of the judiciary in Babri Masjid episode has come under sharp criticism. Strangely enough, Pakistan has done better than India on this front. The story of Lahore’s Shahidganj Masjid is Ayodhya in reverse. All the elements of Ayodhya case were present. A mosque in adverse possession of Sikhs was demolished. Muslims agitated and there was involvement of religious figures. Muslims were frustrated by the court decision. It upheld that the title of ownership was no longer in Muslim hands and therefore Sikhs were entitled to whatever they liked to do with the structure. Muslims decided to move in the Punjab Assembly to enact legislation for the takeover of the site. They all failed. But the situation was not reversed even after the establishment of Pakistan. To this day, when there is hardly anyone to visit it, the Gurdwara Shahidganj stands in Lahore as it did before August 15 1947.

In Babri Masjid case, the ownership of the land was in Muslim hands. It is a wakf property and according to section 51 of Wakf Act 1995, wakf property cannot be transferred to ‘Nyas’ (Shri Ramjanambhumi Nyas) for Ram temple construction.

In the Shahidganj case the judiciary acted impartially and speedily. In the Ayodhya case, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer had angrily remarked: “The judiciary will be described as villain of the piece.”
According to Ms. Anju Gupta, the then superintendent of the police, Faizabad, Police had foreknowledge of the Babri Masjid demolition. Deposing before the Liberhan Commission in May 1994, she told that on December 5, 1992, the then inspector general of police, Faizabad zone, had warned officers of his department that there was clear indication from intelligence agencies that the disputed shrine would be attacked on December 6. She had told the commission that L.K. Advani expressed his desire to go to the area to stop the Kar Sevaks but she was discouraged by SP of Intelligence, PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary). Ms. Gupta told the commission that Advani had in her presence said that temple would be constructed at the very spot and the same was repeated by Murli Manohar Joshi, accepting that they were pleased with the actions of Kar Sevaks. The Bajrang Dal leader, Vinay Katiyar, had mocked Mulayam Singh Yadav by saying over the public speaking system ‘Yahan parinda par nahi maar sakta.’

Will Manmohan Singh speak with clarity of thought over Ayodhya issue? One is reminded of what Jyoti Basu had said on December 9, 1992 regarding the makeshift construction by kar sevaks. “It is an illegal construction and government has every right to demolish it.” When he was asked about the possible Hindu backlash, Basu was honest and blunt, “Let there be repercussions from the Hindu fundamentalists. My party will support any government willing to bring down the structure erected by demolishing the shrine.”

Men like Basu are becoming a rare breed in Indian politics.

Can Prime Minister Manmohan Singh do a Jyoti Basu in 2009?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Unveiling Nicholas Sarkozy

Unveiling Nicholas Sarkozy
By Mubasshir Mustaq

Nicholas Sarkozy is a hypocrite of secular liberalism. His problem is not that he can't accept Eastern tradition of conservatism in the form of burqabut his inability to come to terms with own Western culture of secular liberalism.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is the finest living example of Western hypocrisy. Hypocrisy, bias and double-standard are intrinsic in human nature and Sarkozy is no exception. Sarkozy's racist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant speech at Chateau of Versailles, south-west of Paris on Monday, is bound to draw criticism from the Muslim World. When one dissects Sarkozy and his personal life with the help of a literary and secular knife, he emerges as a confused personality whose hostility against Islam is steeped in his ascendancy; his Jewish origin. His language was quite similar to the one used by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu recently. The draft of Sarkozy's speech itself narrates a tale of his outlook towards Islam in general and Muslims in particular.

The tone of his language must be understood clearly, it is only when one can draw conclusion about his intentions. The burqa, he said, is not a religious sign, it's a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement” I want to say it solemnly. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.

Sarkozy is a self-appointed representative of the same West that believes in the doctrine of freedom. The definition of freedom in Western parlance is absolute. It includes freedom of choice rather than freedom of chance. The expression of freedom has been abused and used to suit Western convenience. So when it comes to freedom to choose one's dress, they have no qualms about bikini but they would always have problem with burqa. A bikini is viewed as a symbol of women's emancipation while a burqa is looked at a form of forced slavery. To men like Sarkozy, the bodily form of liberation is more important than the mental form of liberation. What more, when bodily form of liberation extends their desired limitation, they take the help of a flaccid morality evaporating slowly from the Western geography. So when an old nude photo of Sarkozy's super-model wife Carla Bruni was leaked on the internet, Sarkozy left no stone unturned that it doesn't get republished in any of the French magazine and tabloids!

Will an enlightened West question Sarkozy's definition of secular liberalism? If he really believed in the doctrine that freedom is absolute then he should have allowed his wife's photo to be published. That would have made him an icon and torchbearer of absolute freedom of expression!

Sarkozy's comparison of burqa as a prison sentence can be understood if it is forced and made compulsory in a free Western society. But what if a woman chooses to wear burqa voluntarily? Won't the same freedom to wear a bikini be extended to a lady who wants to don a burqa? In this hypothesis lies the irony of the West. This irony looks like an ugly and a repulsive creature on the mirror wall. The Western leaders claiming to be secular need to take a hard look in the mirror. There they will encounter a bitter pill hard to swallow.

The main problem of Sarlozy is not burqa but his inability to do nothing to stop the rise of Islam in his own country. According to one independent report, Islam is spreading most rapidly in France in the entire Europe. France is the only country in Europe which has the largest number of Muslims, 6 million to be precise.

Sarkozy need to understand the definition of secularism in the Indian context where multicultural and heterogeneous society is flourishing. Noted lawyer Fali S. Nariman has rightly defined secularism as, secularism in India means the ability to comprehend and tolerate an infinite variety of social problems.

The present Century is going to be a Century of soft power. In dress code, if a bikini is manifestation of West's soft-power, then burqa is an Islamic symbol of soft-power. Men like Sarkozy fear that in this bikini-burqa collision, the latter may emerge as a winner given the rise of burqa in the West.

Sarkozy may be comfortable with his wife in a bikini on a beach front but the same will not be true in Eastern countries especially India. No seasoned Indian politician will ever do such a thing. He will not be comfortable in a bikini or a mini-skirt even with his wife. Therefore, if a burqa is a statement of separation as believed by Sarkozy, then a mini-skirt is not an invitation to familiarity.

The ongoing debate about separation of church and state raises some interesting points. If we apply that logic then the Church of England should be disestablished, the blasphemy laws abolished, and religious education in schools replaced by an objective consideration of the role of the various religions as a part of History and Social Studies. Nicolas Sarkozy is a product of secular hypocrisy. He would do well to remember what a British scholar once wrote, My old mother, a very proper Christian lady, used to wear a headscarf“ whether to quell lust or just in order to look respectable I don't know. The simple fact is that in the customs of most societies men and women dress differently.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Real Test of Obama

The Real Test of Obama
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

Is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu following in the footsteps of American President Barack Hussein Obama? Ten days after Obama’s address at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, Netanyahu delivered a speech at the Begin-Sadat Center of Bar-Ilan University in Israel where he laid down his vision to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. One may not agree with his flawed vision but one thing is certain that Netanyahu’s speech was in response to Obama’s castigation of Israel. Then shall we consider it as a step in the right direction? Yes and no.

“I strongly support the idea of regional peace that he (Obama) is advancing”, Netanyahu said on June 14. “I share the President of the U.S.A’s desire to bring about a new era of reconciliation in our region.”

Although his speech was full of flaws, this kind of language has never been used by an Israeli Prime Minister. When was the last time an Israeli prime minister used the word ‘peace’ 32 times in a single six-page speech? We do not hold the view that uttering the word ‘peace’ again and again can bring peace in the Middle-East but there is a fundamental shift in perception-management by the Jewish State of Israel and we have no doubt that this is the result of President Obama’s speech.

Any peace-loving person would be enraged after reading Netanyahu’s speech because apart from the word ‘peace’ which has been used as a camouflage, there is not much in it. The change in lingual tone was to please American President Obama and dullards in United States who believe Israel is committed to the idea of peace. Netanyahu has very carefully pushed the conditional ball of peace in Obama’s court. He wants a “demilitarized” Palestine.

“I told President Obama in Washington, if we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state”, he said in the speech.

Even if one assumes that Palestinians recognise Israel as the “Jewish State”, is it possible for any State or country in the world to be “demilitarized?” Any such condition or assumption will be akin to living in fool’s paradise. Even Maldives, one of the smallest countries in the world with a population of 3, 40,000, has a National Defence Force to defend the security and sovereignty of the country.

Now the real test and truthfulness of President Obama’s Cairo speech lies in just one aspect of Israel-Palestine conflict. How Obama returns the conditional ball of peace in Netanyahu’s court remains to be seen. Obama must ponder over this issue with clarity of mind and conscience. How he deals with this condition will prove to be a litmus test. His decision can make or break America’s relationship with the Muslim World. If Obama wants to win over Muslims hearts and minds, then he must reject any such condition outright.

Netanyahu also warned that the Palestinians must decide between path of peace and path of Hamas. Perhaps Netanyahu has forgotten that Hamas is democratically-elected body of Palestinians. If Netanyahu wants Palestinians and Arabs to recognise the Jewish State of Israel then he must also recognise Hamas as a genuine political and military force in the region.

One common feature in both Obama and Netanyahu’s speech was the language of economics. With world economy looming under crisis, both know that to overcome this depression, Muslims all over the world needs to be involved because of their large population.

Action speaks louder than words. Both Obama and Netanyahu would want us to believe that this Century is going to be the Century of peace and dialogue. Their words must be matched by substantive acts. They also understand that the Muslim world is going through twilight-phase where one world is dead and another is waiting to be born.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Indians angered by U.S. policy in Kashmir

Indians angered by U.S. policy in Kashmir
By Susenjit Guha

If the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama wants to know why anti-Americanism keeps brewing in different parts of the world, it should take a hard look at the dangerous Afghanistan-Pakistan policy it is toying with, at the expense of India, and the inevitable fallout that might result.

What kind of talks did Undersecretary of State William Burns have in mind when he allegedly carried the U.S. message to India last week that dialogue with Pakistan should resume once again? Can India trust Pakistan, especially since nothing serious has been done to arrest the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks that were hatched and carried out from Pakistan?

In the wake of the release by Pakistani courts of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, leader of the banned terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba – now masquerading as an NGO under the name of Jama'at-ud-Da'wah – what can India expect from Pakistan? Saeed has proudly boasted of his organization’s covert jihad in Indian Kashmir. His organization is suspected of numerous terror attacks in India including the carnage in Mumbai last year, which caused the suspension of the India-Pakistan dialogue in the first place.

Indian columnist Tavleen Singh was spot on when she queried, in an article in the Indian Express, why no one had asked Burns during his New Delhi visit whether his country could be persuaded to have a “dialogue” with Pakistan if Osama bin Laden had been similarly arrested and released by Islamabad?

Now the United States is encouraging Pakistan to move its armed forces away from India and toward the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but this is more out of necessity to bolster the U.S. war in Afghanistan than to treat India fairly. Pakistan has moved many of its troops to its western border, but a big contingent still remains eyeball to eyeball with Indian troops on the Kashmir border.

The United States wants India to pull back its troops in Kashmir to ensure that Pakistan will do the same, in order to shore up its western sector where U.S. interests are at stake. This would leave Kashmir in grave danger. Veteran Indian journalist M. J. Akbar called the U.S. advice on Kashmir “lunacy” in a column written for the Times of India.

When Burns spelled out the U.S. message that a solution to Kashmir should factor in “the wishes of the Kashmiri people,” he was repeating the rhetoric of rogue elements in the Pakistani administration and military. Burns would like to see demilitarization in Kashmir. So would Pakistan, knowing that it can count on terrorist elements to continue the fight if both the Indian and the Pakistani armies back down. As M. J. Akbar wrote in the same column, “If America wants a DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) in India they will first have to ensure a DTZ (De-Terrorized Zone) in Pakistan.” This is exactly what the United States is shying away from. It doesn’t want to irk Pakistan to the point that it will resist aiding the war effort in Afghanistan.

It is the narrow U.S.-centric interests pursued by the U.S. administration at the expense of India, the largest democracy in the world, that rankles. Proposals like the one from Burns are only shielding Pakistan, which has long carried out covert operations to terrorize India, as part of its state policy.

With branded terrorists like Saeed walking free in Pakistan, is there any point to a resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue? Who will take responsibility for stopping terrorist infiltration into India through the mountainous terrain of Kashmir?

Britain has also been hinting that India should back off from its Kashmir border with Pakistan, as Foreign Secretary David Miliband mentioned Kashmir and India’s role as a major node on the terror war hub when he visited India a few months ago.

Either the present U.S. administration has got it all wrong on South Asia, or it is simply falling back on the age-old tack of pushing U.S. interests even if it means treading on a few toes. The new wave of “change” that the world was led to expect, along with millions of Americans, when Obama took office, could end up being too abrupt and premature. If meting out justice for acts of terror is recalibrated to suit U.S. interests, Americans may still believe in the mantra of “change,” but not Indians.

If the United States is unable to convince Pakistan to trust India, and rather expects India to take suicidal steps in leaving itself vulnerable to attack, this will pave the way for anti-Americanism to rear its head among a large section of Indian society once again.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Racism in Australia and Indian obsession

Racism in Australia and Indian obsession
By Susenjit Guha

With robberies and assault on Indian students’ Down Under spiraling to 1,447 in 2008-09 from 1,083 last year, it is time for a wake up call not only for Australians, but also for Indians.
The self denial by the Australian police and the government so long about the absence of a racial motive in some of the brutal hate crimes we saw lately exposes the nation’s underbelly that is psychologically trapped between the West it tries to emulate and Asia where it lies trapped in the backyard. Despite its proximity to Asia, Australia is yet to brace up as a nation that is separate from the UK or the US and uphold ideals that are unique to the sunny island nation.

On the other hand, a new breed of middle class Indians is increasingly getting obsessed about somehow getting a foreign degree for their wards to enhance marriage prospects and raise status of their families in their community. Chances of settling down also get brighter if they can somehow make it to an Australia university. Compared to the preferred destinations of the US and UK, it is easy to get into an Australian university where expenses are less. Most of the Aus-bound students are academically mediocre making sponsored assistantships like in the US and Canada out of bounds. How could one explain the rush for a certificate degree in automobile engineering that is something so banal academically?

All they need is money and banks are ready to finance if they cannot afford the full expenses. Australian universities and their counselors set up shop each year in India to take in the growing number of gawky students. Recent estimates peg the figure at close to a 1, 00,000 Indian students in Australia. Most of the degrees are available in India and there is nothing extraordinary that Australia can offer unless one has designs of digging in after a few years.

Australian achievers in professions other than sports still do not consider they have arrived unless they are feted by academic circles in the US or UK. In a recent Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece, a concerned Australian raised the specter of academics taking a back seat with the average Australian family. They would rather prefer their children to hit the outdoors more often than study.

Sports and a laidback lifestyle are not new to Australians, but the flood of immigrants from Asia in the last few decades has underscored the need for education. Undergrad and graduate programs are a passport to success and they have a sizable Asian presence. The average fair dinkum Aussie is feeling left out and is unable to come to terms with education being the basis for development along with sports.

The fallout of a deep rooted hatred for ‘the other’ who is not their type racially, but also made of different stuff---with reliance on education for a better life---has exposed the underbelly. It has also exposed the reality that even though Australia is closer to Asia geographically, it has very little in common with the continent and deep rooted resentment still exists. Australians are trapped in an environment with their conscience lying elsewhere. Hard facts like Asian tiger China bailing out the mining industry and making the nation dependent economically in many ways continue to rankle.

And the impoverished condition of the original inhabitants, the Aborigines, around the mining towns of Western Australia and in Northern Territory does not make frequent allusion to the US ethically acceptable. While the US has come out of the past with Barrack Obama, Australia is still trapped in deplorable sins committed in the past despite Kevin Rudd’s apologies to the community.

While saluting George W Bush last year, the Labor Prime Minister in a way resembled a ‘digger’ in awe of an army captain from Yorkshire under whom he fought in the Burmese jungles or in the western desert in WWII. Australia has since changed sides only to emulate the US, but still lacks a soul of its own.

When Victoria’s chief commissioner of police Simon Overland finally admitted that some of the attacks on Indian students were racially motivated, he owned up to an unsavory truth. Racism is embedded in the Australian psyche as a pre-1965 ‘white Australia’ policy still gnaws with successes among the yellow and dark skinned people abounding.

There could be more attacks in future unless the average Indian student gets over the obsession of education in a nation where nearly 85% of the adult population is involved in gambling. Poker is so popular online and in brick and mortar casinos that nearly 30% of the global poker machine or ‘pokies’ production is lapped up by Australia. It cannot be an ideal destination for students of a nation that is aiming to be number 2 in Asia.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Tribute to Kamala Suraiyya

A Tribute to Kamala Suraiyya
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

“Where ever I go, it becomes my home”, Kamala Das Suraiyya, the world renowned-poetess and writer had said in an interview in 2004. The cemetery of Palayam’s Jama Masjid – where she is scheduled to be buried at 8 am today with State honours – will be her new “home” now. She breathed her last in Pune’s Jehangir hospital early on Sunday morning.

Kamala Suraiyya was born in Palghat, Kerala in 1934. She was a woman of integrity and honesty, who had a penchant for writing. She would write for hours after finishing household chores. “There was only the kitchen table where I would cut vegetables, and after all the plates and things were cleared, I would sit there and start typing,” she is reported to have said.

Her conversion to Islam in 1999 opened Pandora’s Box. She earned lot of enemies and had to bear criticism. She was bitterly criticised even in literary circles. She remained steadfast in her new-found Faith and retorted back, “No one came home when I was a Hindu. Islam brought me friends and love. Several poor women and children come to me, they love me and I reciprocate their affections.”

In 2002, a documentary called Malayalathinde Madhavikutty was made on Kamala Suraiyya but fundamentalists threatened the producer and theatre owners of dire consequences if they release the documentary.

Some of her poems generated controversy but Suraiyya stood firm. In one of her poems she wrote, “If love is a flower, lust is its fragrance. Without love, where is lust and without lust, can life be created?”

When asked about her “controversial” writings, she once said, “My strength is my honesty. I tell it like it is, I don’t pretend to be saintly. Perhaps that’s why my house gets filled with so many young people. They feel I am speaking the truth because I never hide anything.”

In 2004, responding to her detractors, she said, “They want me to go to a place of worship and wait for death to arrive. But I’m not ready for death so early. I’m not tired of life. I may have done a lot, but there’s so much left to do. It worries people that I am not frustrated.”

Kamala Suraiyya knew Arabic as well as Urdu. She wrote a prayer book in Arabic in 2002 which was released in Qatar. “This is the first Arabic prayer book written by a woman.” She had said then. She learned Urdu because it suited her poetry. “I even learned Urdu, which I think suits my poetry well” she has said.

Kamala Suraiyya has been the Poetry editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India and editor of Poet magazine. She won many awards including Kent Award for Asian English writing, Vayalar Award for literature. Not many would know that she was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature in 1984. In 2002, Kerala government conferred Kamala Suraiyya with Ezhuthachan Award recognizing her outstanding contributions to the language and literary world. A Canadian movie company made a film on her. It was about Kamala Suraiyya, the writer, the poetess and her experiences with Islam. Every time renowned linguist and intellectual Noam Chomsky visited India, he made a point to meet Kamala Suraiyya.

Suraiyya was a poet with a philanthropic heart. She ran a charity trust called Lok Seva. She was also patron of Raksha School for children with multiple disorders. As a staunch supporter of purdah, she donned a black burqa.

Kamala Suriyya loved gold jewellery. She used to wear 18 smooth gold bangles on each arm. “I am keeping them as my gifts to my grand-daughters!” She once joked.

As a patient of diabetic neuropathy and respiratory disorder, her eyesight almost failed after 2004 but yet she used to dictate poetry.

In the last five years, Suraiyya changed a lot. From a fighter woman, she became a woman of affection. She has said that the only climate she can live in was that of an ocean of friendship and affection. “If I see someone approaching my house and see criticism and mockery in the tension of their jaw, I refuse to let them in. Time is so rare. I wouldn’t like to waste it on people who don’t love me”, she has said.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Question of Palestine

The Question of Palestine
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

The siege will last in order to convince us that we must choose an enslavement that does no harm in fullest liberty.
(Late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish)

As Palestinians mark Nakba, the catastrophe, signifying the 61st anniversary of occupation of Palestine by the Jewish state of Israel, a question needs to be asked: Is 61 years of Palestinian suffering akin to the holocaust suffered by Jews? In the above question lies the irony of Israel; a nation carved out by the oppressed has become a nation of oppressors.

Theodore Herzel, a journalist, is the father of modern Zionism who toured the world extensively to propagate the idea of a nation for Jews. He worked hard in a mission to explore the possibility of establishing a state for Jews in Palestine. He promoted Zionism through his writings on the international stage. In June 1896, he met the Abdul Hamed II, 34th Sultan of Ottoman Empire in Istanbul, to convince him that Palestine should be handed over to Zionists. But Sultan refused to cede Palestine to Zionists and said, “If one day the Islamic State falls apart then you can have Palestine for free, but as long as I am alive I would rather have my flesh be cut up than cut out Palestine from the Muslim land.”

In 1898, after meeting with German Kaiser Wilham II, Herzel wrote about Palestine, “a perfect beautiful woman, fulfill all our requirements but married.”

The words of Abdul Hamid II came true when Ottoman Empire crumbled in 1918, nine years after his death. Abdul Hamid was the last Ottoman Sultan to rule with absolute power. Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 is seen by many historians as a turning point in Western Arab relations. According to one of the terms of the agreement, Arabs were promised a “national homeland” through T.E. Lawrence for their support to the British forces against the Ottoman army. British never kept their word. In fact, they negated this promise by issuing Balfour Declaration in 1917 promising “a national home for the Jewish people.” The declaration read, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

The Arabs and Christians of Palestine together disapproved of any such move arguing that it could have serious political consequences.

The seed of Israel as planted by Theodore Herzel was watered by fervent Zionist Winston Churcill, who went on to become Prime Minister of United Kingdom in 1940. The seed took shape of a full-fledged tree on November 29, 1948 when United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish territories. Out of 56 members, 33 voted in favour, 13 against and 10 chose to abstain.

Thus was born the Jewish state of Israel in 1948; 44 years after the death of Theodore Herzel.

The tide of history turned against the Arabs and Muslims once again but Muslims all across the world should not be disheartened. Islamic concept of power can be summed up in three words: rise, fall and renewal. Muslims all across the world are undergoing the second phase of Islamic concept of power. Muslims have ruled Palestine from 630 CE to 1918 with a brief Christian rule lasting only 88 years (1099 to 1187).

With the creation of Israel in 1948, 7 lakh Palestinians became refugees. Dispossessed Palestinians were substituted with Jews who come from different parts of the world carrying knives, guns and explosives against the civilian population. A religious propaganda and allegations based on the myth and the falsification of history and heritage, to form that particular ideological falsehoods peddled by the Zionists provide energy to achieve the necessary human colonial project on the land of Palestine.

In the last 61 years Palestine-Israel conflict, Jewish state has annexed thousands of acres of cultivable land and now it almost holds 78% of Palestine.

It is in this context that Nakba must been seen. Commemorating the anniversary of Nakba, is not merely an occasion to remember those who experienced bleeding, homelessness and fear, killed, burned and jailed throughout the sixty one years, but to raise the voices of millions who refuse to accept the basis on which Israel was created as a state. It is a rejection of the project called a “Jewish state “and a determination for the right of return of the Palestinian people to their homeland.

The tragedy which started with the expulsion of 7 lakh Palestinians now affects the plight of at least 10.5 million Palestinians all across the globe. It is a catastrophe, the largest and the most heinous crime committed against a nation. It is against right and reason, human rights and freedom of people.

When Arabs took the initiative of peace in 2002 Arab Summit in Beirut, they demanded that Israel must go back to June 1967 line of control. There must be an establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem at its capital and right of return of Palestinian refugees as per United Nations Security Council resolution 194. All of this was rejected by Israel.

What more, all these years Israel has secretly continued “Judaization” of Al-Quds (Jerusalem). It is not only Palestinians Muslims who have no access to religious sites but also Palestinians Christians are not allowed to visit their holy shrines.

Everybody knows the role United States has played in Israel-Palestine conflict. Will there be a tilt in President Obama’s administration? Going by the recent news item, one thinks Obama is surely going to change US policy although it may not amount to radical change. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s first planned meeting with President Obama has been called off.

Netanyahu was keen to capitalize on his attendance at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington to visit the White House but officials have ruled out any meeting because President will not be “in town.” Experts speculate that Obama would not like to continue the Bush legacy of hosting Israeli prime ministers sometimes with just a phone call’s notice!

Jews have always enjoyed special favour under Muslim rule. When Umar, second caliph of Islam entered Jerusalem on foot, he did an agreement stipulating the rights and obligations of all non-Muslims in the holy land of Palestine. Jews were permitted to return to Palestine for the first time since the 500-year ban enacted by the Romans and maintained by Byzantine rulers. The same tradition was followed by was followed by Harun al-Rashid (786-809) who established the Christian Pilgrims’ Inn in Jerusalem, fulfilling Umar’s pledge to Bishop Sophronious to allow freedom of religion and access to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims.

Jews have forgotten the humane angle of the Muslim rule. How can a people who have witnessed holocaust in the hands of Adolf Hitler tolerate the same kind of madness being leashed by their own government on hapless Palestinians?

Monday, May 4, 2009

China is a threat to global good

China is a threat to global good
By Susenjit Guha

As the world watches without being able to bring about a ceasefire, a humanitarian crisis is underway in Sri Lanka with nearly 170,000 civilians displaced and 50,000 trapped in the war zone.

It has become common for rampaging armed forces and also those in cahoots with terrorists the world is battling with, despots and dictators to cock a snook at the UN. Much of the cockiness lies in the covert moral and logistic support lent by China, hungry for resources for widening its reach to get a major slice of business in the troubled regions and make its presence felt.

The Sri Lankan offensive against the LTTE is not faulted as the terrorist organization has used all possible means of violence over the years to foment terror in this beautiful island resembling a tear drop in the Indian Ocean. Lots of blood sweat and tears have flowed for the fight for a separate Tamil homeland in protest for the marginalization of the Sri Lankan Tamils. But the process of terror was always condemnable and has encouraged later day terror groups like the al Qaeda to emulate their suicide attack techniques.

But what happened so suddenly that the Sri Lankan armed forces finally managed to decimate the formidable LTTE?

It was China once again. Having supported despots with blood on their hands in Africa and Myanmar for the sake of resources to feed a surging Chinese economy, Sri Lanka was a natural choice to complete the string of pearls in the Indian Ocean.

Having set about building and ramping up ports in Burma, Bangladesh and Pakistan, which would in be used for docking and refueling of its navy, China is now building a $1 billion port in the fishing village of Hambantota in Sri Lanka’s north east, very close to the fighting zone. It would also double up as the Chinese Navy’s stop-over point during patrols to guard against piracy of oil imports from the Middle East and establish a base in the Indian Ocean all along the arc.

No wonder the Sri Lankan armed forces are fighting perhaps their last battle to crush the LTTE for ever with an urgency never seen before. Shunned by governments the world over including India when Sri Lanka sought arms for the civil war, China chipped in during the last two decades with arms supplies. Chinese arms supplies increased further when the US suspended all military aid to Sri Lanka citing gross human rights violations. Chinese aid to Sri Lanka jumped to $1billion last year leaving other nations far behind.

Like wise, China beefed up the Myanmar armed forces and stood with them when they were accused of human rights violations last year when monks and civilians rose in protest against rampant corruption, price rise and food shortage. Pakistan can act in self denial of not harboring terrorists and fuel terror acts in neighboring countries on the strength of Chinese military aid and support while the US and western powers resign themselves to the reality and cannot do much about it.

According to Jane’s Defense Weekly, Sri Lanka shopped for $37.6 million worth of arms and supplies for its army and navy. China gave 6 F7 fighter jets for free in 2007 as per reports of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. According to media reports, the bulk of arm shipments fro China was handled by Lanka Logistics and Technologies where the Defense Secretary who is the Sri Lankan president’s brother, has a major stake.

And the arms went into killing 75 civilians in a makeshift hospital by the Sri Lankan armed forces which lay very close to the battle zone. It was the only one available for the trapped civilians.

UN reports peg civilian casualties at 6500 since January this year as the Sri Lankan government vehemently denies and keeps the war zone out of bounds for journalists and aid workers.
Sri Lanka is acting with the same nonchalance to global criticism and pressure as Myanmar’s armed forces did last year on the strength of a counter weight like China. Calls for evacuating the civilians have fallen on deaf years.

China’s desperate need for Hambantota had been cautioned by Pentagon’s Air Staff personnel Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher J. Pehrson in a 2006 paper and by the U.S. Joint Forces Command last November.

With a trail of blood from volatile Africa, Myanmar to Sri Lanka, China is a threat to global good and reticent about gross human rights violations and human catastrophes to preserve its own commercial interests.

US have also been accused of partying with despots and affecting civilian casualties, but democracy allows a groundswell of dissent as was evident in the last presidential elections. China has stifled a moral counterweight which makes it more dangerous.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Indian Democracy: Need for a radical change

Indian Democracy: Need for a radical change
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

Now that the electoral dust seems to have settled in Maharashtra with the end of phase III, it’s time we turn our attention to some serious issues plaguing politics, voting and democracy.

The average Indian still does not understand the power of voting. He thinks that a single vote is not going to make much difference because rarely does in India a single vote decide the fate of aspiring politicians. Not many Indians would have heard of Saifuddin Soz whose single vote toppled Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government in 1999. The average Indian voter interprets national politics through the narrow prism of his individual problem. He forgets that his micro problem is part and parcel of India’s macro problem. He is fed of the same old politicians making same old promises. He thinks the only way out is to skip voting. In some areas including Sonia Gandhi’s Amethi constituency, people have boycotted polls. Boycott is a legitimate tool of protest in a democracy but poll boycott is not driven by mere hopelessness alone; it is fuelled by illiteracy. The Indian voter has started believing in the saying ‘If voting changed anything, they would make it illegal’. The only way to remove this erroneous perception is by mass awareness regarding the power of just one vote.

A careful reading of history reveals that one vote has changed fate of many nations across the world. Indians have forgotten that Adolf Hitler became president of Nazi party of Germany in 1934 just because of one vote. Indian Muslims seem to have forgotten this but Jews still remember it. It was the power of just one vote that caused the execution of Charles I, King of England, in 1649. It was just because of one vote that France became a republic from monarchy in 1875. It was because of a single vote that Texas became part of United States in 1845. It was one vote that saved Andrew Johnson, 17th President of America from impeachment in 1868. One vote per precinct would have elected Richard Nixon, rather than John Kennedy, President of America in 1960. And finally it was the power of one vote that brought down Atal Bihari government in 1999. Indian Muslims must remember these historical instances because those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Given the importance of just one vote, should voting be made mandatory?

Making it mandatory may have some merits; like people would be compelled to vote out of no choice. But it has some demerits as well. Indian democracy would edge towards authoritarianism. Only on two conditions voting must be made mandatory. Firstly there must be inclusion of the concept of negative voting like negative marking in competitive exams. Secondly, there should be an option where a voter can press the button ‘none of the above’. In simple words, he can register his protest that he does not find any of the candidates suitable for the job of representation. If this option gets the maximum number of votes, there should be a reelection in the concerned constituency.

This provision will certainly empower an ordinary voter who feels let down by politicians all the time.

Now to balance our argument we must ask this question: how should we deal with political parties and politicians who go on making lengthy promises which read like a scroll of honour?

Political manifestos are inaugurated with much fanfare; but once the parties form government, it goes in the dustbin of history. Can we apply some provision of Indian Contract Act, 1872? Can political manifestos be accorded the status of a civil contract? In simple words, the contents of a manifesto should be treated like an offer; a proposal made with the intention to fulfill it. Anybody who votes for a particular party would be accepting the proposal laid down in the manifesto. Once such a ‘contract’ takes place, it should be enforceable in a court of law! Voters will have the right to implement the contents of political manifestos!

Some might term this as impractical political romanticism; but something urgently needs to be done in this regard because politicians take voters for granted. The current voting system does not encourage voters because he can’t do anything after pressing the voting button. Arundhati Roy had raised this issue in an interview once. She had said, “The stupid thing about democracy is that you go into the voting booth and push the button and you have fulfilled your duty. Now for the next five years you can sit back and allow your candidate whatever he wants.”

These matters are of serious nature and in the interests of the voters. Whoever comes to power at Centre, these issues must be raised, discussed and debated in Indian parliament because essence of democracy lies in welfare of the people.

The mood of the voter in the ongoing election can be summed up thus: Don’t vote for the best candidate, vote for the candidate who will do the least harm!