Friday, December 31, 2010

Ayodhya: Battle for Peace - Taking a closer view at the dispute and politics

Did Manmohan Singh reject Sonia's nominee as Lok Sabha Speaker?
Did Atal Behari Vajpayee oppose L K Advani over alliance with Shiv Sena?
- Answer to these questions are in the book 'Ayodhya: Battle For Peace' penned by your's truly this blogger --- ha ha Nirendra Dev.

- Into his second term since 2009, the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is getting more assertive and “persuasive in pushing his personal preferences”. "Grapevine is a senior parliamentarian was denied the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post in 2009 even after his name was cleared formally by UPA alliance in a joint sitting,” it says.
“If the conjectures are to be believed, NCP chief Sharad Pawar,
Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee and even top Congress leaders had
reportedly complimented the said member for being chosen for the
coveted office in June 2009; when Dr Singh threw in the Dalit-woman
card to elevate his ‘Water Resources Minister’ Meira Kumar for the key
job,” says the book, a publication of New Delhi-based Har-Anand
It further says, Dr Singh’s admirers are reported to have floated the
theory that the 2009 mandate for UPA was in effect a mandate for him. His media advisor has already spoken against Congress in a public function; and yet continues to enjoy the Prime Minister’s confidence."
Among other things it argues “the overall future cannot be very good for the communal forces in South Asia” and cites the illustration of the return of Sheikh Hasina regime in Bangladesh in 2008 as a glaring instance.
“The manner in which people responded to the September 30 ruling offers enough reasons to keep the secular disposition optimistic that the days of fundamentalism are numbered for the common man has had enough of it and long since rejected the same".
It also throws light on politics of Rath Yatra of BJP stalwart Advani and in the context of alliance building with Shiv Sena, says, "when he (Advani)and Pramod Mahajan floated the idea of an alliance with Shiv Sena, there was strong opposition from the likes of Jaswant Singh and to an extent by Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself. However, Advani reportedly argued that in the past Congress and socialists had joined hands with Sena to end the leftists’ control on the trade union politics."

Amid high drama in national polity over scams and alleged 'Hindu
terror' under RSS, the book also cautions Congress against going
overboard on ‘Hindu terror’ saying in the process Congress is only
preparing the ground "for political polarization (based on religions)"
"The Hindus in general are anguished as well as shell-shocked at the
allegation that their faith, known for its tolerance, is being linked
to terrorism. They believe the Congress party led by a Christian and
that too a foreign lady is indulging in politics to defame the Hindu
organizations and thus win over its lost support base among the
Muslims. There was a deliberate attempt to blow up the issue of ‘Hindu
terror’ just on the eve of beginning of monsoon session of parliament
in 2010".
"The Muslims should learn to live in harmony as the confrontationist
path does them no good," it says.

Indian Foreign Policy - An Enigmatic Journey

The Indian foreign policy in circa 2010 remained as intangible as it
has been always barring some success in terms of getting Big 5 led by the US knocking its doors.
Otherwise it was typical of its characteristic, more often delivering mixed signals with itself unable to pursue diplomatic billiard well and at the same time often proved vulnerable to fall as a victim. In the process,
India saw a few smaller countries especially in neighbiurhood often snubbing it. Even on crucial front like climate change, India seems too eager to oblige the US.
But in 2011, the government of India is all set to chart out on a more promising roadmap in the coming year with a much brightened possibility of entering the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Keeping that prestigious berth as a virtual ‘jewel in the crown’, in the coming months New Delhi is likely to focus on improving its ties in the neighbourhood, often neglected Africa and the crucial the Indian Ocean rim.
Even during last two years the government has able to improve its relations with countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.

Among the major global players, all five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the US, China, Britain, Russia and France — came calling on India in 2010 extending all round friendship even as each one of them sought India’s help for reviving their economies.

In the neighbourhood front and other smaller nations, India has been lately trying to consolidate its relations. Bangladesh under a longtime friend Sheikh Hasina has been very cooperative during the last two years especially in fostering stronger economic ties and as well as helping Indian government curb the activities of northeast India’s insurgent groups in that country.
Now peace process with ULFA is heading towards a positive direction, thanks to Sheikh Hasina regime's help to arrest the chairman Arabind Rajkhowa and others.
It is the sagacity of the leadership in respective countries in South Asia now that there is a growing realization that economic potential and especially the power front and infrastructure building should be exploited well.
There’s still a large untapped potential to cooperate further to mutual benefits with countries like Bhutan and Nepal.
Taking the Indo-Bangladesh ties to a new high, India has also offered to sell the surplus electricity from the northeastern state of Tripura.

The External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is expected to visit Dhaka in a few months. The Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is also likely to follow.
Similarly on Nepal front, the External Affairs secretary Ms Nirupama Rao is likely to lead a delegation in January.
Similarly, New Delhi has scripted a much stronger tie with another strategically sensitive Myanmar and would strengthen them further with new projects. No wonder, the US was not amused a bit.
Truly, India has been doing its best in fulfilling several developmental commitments. This approach is in fact ideally suited to be the ‘model for development cooperation’ India has been stressing with Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh where in the people from these countries can work together for economic prosperity.

In the coming months, Indian foreign policy managers will also explore other options of diplomatic tools: like marine partnership and energy cooperation and would undertake concrete steps to bridge the gulf with African countries as also strengthen its bond in the Indian Ocean rim.

In this context, countries those will come in focus include Nigeria, South Africa, Mauritius, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Ghana.
Official estimated also say put together these countries account for around 50-60 per cent of India’s total bilateral trade in Africa.

India along with other countries like Brazil and South Africa in blocks like IBSA and BRIC has also inched ahead to enhance India-Africa partnership that has today obviously led to counterbalance the monopolistic G7 nations on the global economic plane.
Among the highlights, an Africa Forum is on card sometime next year and it will be South Africa’s turn to host the IBSA summit in 2011.

During last one year or so, the government of India has also extended cooperation to international community to fight terrorism in general as also help combat the sea piracy. Besides offering itself as a pro-development partner for Afghanistan, New Delhi would also give itself greater engagement in Indian Ocean rim with countries like Mauritius, Mozambique and Seychelles.
There is a growing realization that India ought to enhance its presence in Africa and subsequently build up lasting strategic partners in the continent in order to play a vital role in reshaping the global economy aftermath the 2008 recession and the more recent ‘Greek crisis’ in European economy.

In recent months, therefore, India has tried to strengthen defence ties with smaller countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Lesotho and Botswana.
In the end it must be said that sustaining a lasting friendship in international relation is a continuous stream. The new thinking in foreign policy, therefore, ought to have broader scope as well as show greater flexibility for setting up new goals and compromises.
New Delhi’s foreign policy engine rooms under the constant hawk's eye of the PMO – knows it pretty well.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Has Congress also forgotten the ghost of Bofors?

The web dictionary of the word ‘despicable’ covers a wide range of equally strong words: appalling, dreadful, wicked, disgraceful, vile, shameful …..the list would go on. Actually, in her address to the plenary session of the Congress on December 19, Ms Sonia Gandhi chose to describe the opposition attack on the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh for alleged corruption charges virtually mushrooming under the UPA carpet (read regime) by that select word, ‘despicable’.
In effect it means, the Congress president wants to use all the above adjectives for the opposition parties especially her principal rivals, the BJP.
Seeking to take the battle on corruption to the enemy camp, the Congress president dubbed the BJP's personal attack on Dr Singh as 'downright despicable'.
“He is the embodiment of sobriety, dignity and integrity,” Ms Gandhi said about her hand-picked prime minister, who unlike UPA I is now allegedly doing some muscle-flexing often against the powerful 10 Janpath. She also chose the occasion to compliment the Prime Minister for his “silence” on various charges from the opposition – prime among them being the official explanation why the government was against the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). This answer ought to be answered particularly because the repeated Congress explanation is that the party has nothing to fear on all the charges of corruption!
Even in her address to the plenary session, Ms Gandhi spoke at everything else on corruption and alleged RSS-terror link, but there was no explanation why her party is not in favour of JPC. A demand – apparently even agreed to by key UPA allies like Sharad Pawar-led NCP and Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress.
“On your behalf, I want to compliment him (PM) for his wise leadership, for remaining calm amidst the storm,” Ms Gandhi waxed eloquently from her written speech.
The speech was otherwise well drafted reportedly with intervention of old war horse and expert draftsman Pranab Mukherjee, Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and Dr Singh’s point man, Kapil Sibal.
Meeting against the backdrop of a stalemated parliament and threat of a similar show looming large even for crucial budget session from February over corruption scandals and Congress denial of JPC, Sonia Gandhi outlined a five-point agenda to deal with corruption, including fast-tracking cases of graft against public servants and politicians “like us’.

Terming corruption as a "disease spreading throughout the society", she outlined multi-prong steps to tackle corruption and among other things called for full transparency in public procurement and contracts and that whistleblowers should be protected. Counseling her party men to abjure “vulgar display of wealth”, she advised simplicity and austerity for celebrating occasions like marriages and birthdays.
Making her presidential speech on the backdrop of Rahul Gandhi’s wikileaks controversy, she lashed out at the BJP and singled out RSS for alleged terror links.
"Congress makes no distinction between organizations of the majority and minority communities who indulge in communalism and related acts of terrorism. They are all dangerous and must be all defeated,” she practically endorsed her son’s remarks even as another party general secretary Digvijay Singh harped on his agenda and said the biggest challenge to the country is RSS and BJP. “The way Hitler's Nazi party had targeted Jews, RSS is targeting Muslims. Even in the army, they have sent their people. In Malegaon blasts, two army officers were caught. The terror in the entire country has roots in Advani's Rath Yatra,” he said.

The Congress efforts in these party sessions seem clear: deflect the nation and media from the raging debate on corruption and the Congress complexity and talk more about secularism – a card that goes well with Congress’ vote bank, “Muslim minorities”.
But, the nation’s heart would continue to beat looking for more genuine answers.
Madam Sonia, Where's Mr Quatrochi?

Foot in the Mouth Syndrome: Over to Jairam Ramesh

For suave Jairam Ramesh, Indian MoS Environment, it’s the proverbial case of foot in the mouth syndrome. Known as a ‘good and ingenious’ glib talker, this time at Cancun Climate Change Summit he opened his mouth little more than he should have and thus dragged both himself and the beleaguered UPA government to the receiving end of much brickbats.
Some one who loves to go out of the "box", the Environment and Forest Minister, his detractors say, by way of remarks has shifted the ‘goalpost’ on climate change negotiations. Back home opposition says it’s sell out. The charge is, however, denied by the government even as the PMO, reeling under much attack on corruption, also issued a veiled snub on the suave minister.

If the taste of the pudding is in it’s eating, in diplomacy and international negotiations, winning new friends and to be flexible is the real success mantra. Ramesh and his supporters say, this has precisely happened in the Cancun Climate Change Summit 2010. India has emerged as a key voice in the key conclave along with two influential global players China and the United States opposing the legally binding emission cut.
At the same time, they insist, India has opened the door for negotiations.
But at what cost - remains a question.

The rough weather that he has landed is the creation of a man who loves to fondle his hair and gesticulate with his hands while delivering speeches in parliament – trying to present himself before the camera as an intellectual academician!
Ramesh also wants to present himself as a unique synthesis of a ‘science-knowing-nature-loving-Rahul Gandhi loyalist’ politician. This syndrome –of thinking oneself beyond the size of his shoes – say his detractors - is singularly responsible for getting him the snub from the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who had to issue a statement saying nothing much must be read in the remarks from Ramesh.

Sadly, the PMO had to make the remark about none other than the leader of the Indian delegation at the summit. When the Prime Minister says “nothing much must be seen” in the minister’s remarks – one obvious question startles the observers is why did the Prime Minister give such a free hand to the minister of state for environment.
To a large extent; these only reflect Congress internal power bickering as Ramesh is not only a mere Rahul loyalist. Over the months, Ramesh has also made his pro-environment tilt as the union minister deciding principally by the tour map of Rahul Gandhi.
Rahul has accordingly rewarded by his appreciation of Ramesh at IIM, Ahmedabad as a 'performing' minister; notably the Gandhi scion forgetting to mention the likes of Pranab Mukherjee, the principal trouble shooter of the government.
Therefore, how much damage control can this half-hearted clarification from the Prime Minister can make really remains to be seen?

Objective analysis at this juncture suggests that by Ramesh remarks at international for a, New Delhi has definitely crossed a red line previously seen as inviolate and is also marking a virtual culmination of dilution of its commitment to the
Kyoto Protocol. Rightly summed by his critics at the moment is inescapable conclusion that India had gone along with the US line on climate negotiations.

Sunita Narain, Director, CSE, said, “The minister has shifted goalpost unnecessarily, even when we are not getting anything in return. Instead of putting pressure the entire strategy should be to somehow let the US get off the hook.”
The climate change negotiations is a long drawn battle. But Ramesh has probably committed a blunder for India.
There is a feeling that this US-tilt was deliberate and was with prior sanction of the PMO- Dr Singh's citadel and the foreign policy engine room.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Master Manipulator Manmohan running short of tricks

Time seems to be finally catching up with the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, an underestimated politician and perhaps an overestimated economist. In today’s scenario that he has landed vis-à-vis 2G spectrum, one wishes it is proved wrong, that he is also an ‘overestimated’ honest man! At least, politically, he is not.
The handling of Rs 1.76 lakh crore scam proves that point rather convincingly. Well, the practical argument is he and the Congress party leadership – of virtuous Rahul Gandhi and saint Sonia (sic) – was arm-twisted by DMK. So was the left with regard the Nuclear deal with the United States. But on that Congress and Dr Singh claimed to have taken a principled stand “in national interest”, did not succumb to Prakash Karat pressure; but on 2G spectrum the story was different. Why?

But no longer. The façade is not working anymore.
Till date, Dr Singh used to enjoy the best of the world. While Sonia Gandhi got her share of blame – from time to time for political mishandling or so; an helpless Pranab Mukherjee sweat it out to convince partners, opposition parties and party men as the chief troubleshooter. On the other hand, Dr Singh gave unto himself the role of enjoying the power --- somewhat a Brahminical power without responsibilities.

The responsibilities, he implied was of Sonia Gandhi and Pranab Mukherjee, ironically his boss many years ago.
But the tested adage of P V Narasimha Rao – law will take its own course – has now caught up with Dr Singh. It’s the law which is inferring that he has erred in handling the 2G spectrum issue in more ways than one.

Having said these, one needs to point at certain internal issues within Congress and how the party has itself to be blamed for the present impasse.

The special steering committee meet on November 3, 2010 concentrating solely on RSS bashing and leaving corruption fungus in the safety of AICC cupboards should haunt it any day.

There is already talk about slowly and certain but minor scuffle between Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and the party – even if not Congress president Sonia Gandhi herself.
She is still considered too powerful for ‘non-political’ character like Dr Singh, though his admirers and adversaries feel slowly the ‘underestimated’ politician in him is showing some glimpses of verb.
Into his second year since 2009, perhaps, he is trying to be little more forceful and persuasive in pushing his personal preferences. Grapevine is a senior parliamentarian from Andhra Pradesh was denied the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post in 2009 even after his name was cleared formally by UPA alliance in a joint sitting.

If the conjectures are to be believed, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee and even top Congress leaders had reportedly complimented the said member for being chosen for the coveted office in June 2009; when Dr Singh threw in the Dalit-woman card to elevate his ‘Water Resources Minister’ Meira Kumar for the key job. Kumar was already sworn in as Minister and also allocated portfolio.

There are elements in Congress party who suggest that even while allocating the portfolios, Dr Singh was little more aggressive this time unlike 2004. Making Anand Sharma the commerce minister is seen as Dr Singh’s personal intervention as a special case. Similarly, when A Raja and Prithviraj Chavan moved out of his ministry, all their portfolios were passed on to another trusted lieutenant of Dr Singh, Kapil Sibal. Anand Sharma and Sibal are reportedly being rewarded for backing Manmohan Singh during turbulent days of nuclear deal with the US “by going out of the way”.

Dr Singh’s admirers are reported to have floated the theory that the 2009 mandate for UPA was in effect a mandate for him.
He is the real TINA, there is no alternative, before the Congress party.
His media advisor has already spoken against Congress in a public function; and yet continues to enjoy the Prime Minister’s confidence.
On November 16, 2010 itself, the Supreme Court posed a question for the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh why he delayed in giving sanction for prosecuting Raja for his alleged involvement in Rs 1,70,000 crore 2G Spectrum scam. "For good governance, there must be some time-limit for granting sanctions, if not three months. But 11 months is too long," said the Supreme Court.
"Why was there alleged inaction and silence on the part of the sanctioning authority who is the Prime Minister. Application should have been dealt with urgently. The facts are self speaking," the two-judge bench of Justices GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly remarked.
"I don't recall any incident in the past 60 years of the Supreme Court making such remarks against the PMO. And I believe that the Prime Minister should respond to the Supreme Court immediately," said Advani.
The CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury demanded that the Prime Minister should get his act together on the bizarre episode. Supreme Court has also rightly questioned the manner P J Thomas was appointed as CVC.

Prime Minister needs to do so explanation. The date with destiny could be around and cannot be postponed for ever. India’s heart today beats for some of these explanations!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Obama praises Gandhi, focusses on Indian agro-energy issues

It would be a red letter day, November 8, 2010 for the central hall of Indian parliament as Barack Obama becomes the 4th US president to address the esteemed audience comprising of Indian law makers and other dignitaries.
The US president Mr Barack Obama seemed to have adoped a multi-pronged approach to focus on his India policy going beyond the conventional sense of the terms like economic cooperation and trade and instead has indcated towards addressing the core issues of India's priority areas like energy and agriculture.
In his address to the joint session of parliament at the central hall,
Mr Obama said both the countries sharing several commonality,
strengths and challenges can work together in three vital areas. ".... as global partners we can promote prosperity in both our countries. Together, we can create the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future," he said
adding with his visit the stage is already set for beginning the much
talked about implementation of civil nuclear agreement.
"This will help meet India’s growing energy needs and create thousands
of jobs in both our countries," President Obama said even as he
stressed on the need to forge partnerships in high-tech sectors like defense and civil space. He also said, the US administration has "removed" Indian organizations from so-called “entity list" and both the countries can work together to reform "our controls on exports".
On the agriculture front, he has sought to address the growing
challenge of Indian farmers in the form of getting more accurate
weather predictions.
"Together, we’re going to improve Indian weather forecasting systems
before the next monsoon season,' he made a virtual pledge before
Indian law makers
and said his government aims to help millions of Indian farming
households save water and increase productivity; improve food
processing, avoid wastage of
food produces and enhance climate and crop forecasting to avoid losses
that cripple communities and drive up food prices.
In a much innovative measure, he also said, US will share "India’s
expertise with farmers in Africa" to meet the demand of global food
security. "This is an indication of India’s rise—that we can now
export hard-earned expertise to countries that see India as a model
for agricultural development,' he said.
He said his country would also work together with India to make the
country's second agricultural revolution called 'Evergreen Revolution'
more successful and
Earlier in the day, India's 'Monsoon Mission' had received a shot in
the arm with the signing of a pact that will enable its scientists to
use American models to better forecast rainfall. Under the pact,
signed on the sidelines of the visit of US President Barack Obama,
scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) will
be able to use the Model Climate Forecast System 2.0 of the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for monsoon prediction.
The agreement provides for setting up of a 'monsoon desk' in NOAA
under which one scientist at the American organisation would be
exclusively earmarked for consultations with his Indian counterpart.
"We will start using the model on an experimental basis from next year
to predict the Indian monsoon," Earth Sciences Secretary Shailesh
Nayak said.
Other salient feature was his glowing tributes to Indian pristine past and
the Father of the Nation, peace apostle Mahatma Gandhi.
Paying glowing tributes to the resilience of India as a new global player as well as its pristine glories and ‘treasured past’, the US president exuded confidence that
“the relationship between the United States and India—bound by our shared interests and values—will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”
‘This is the partnership I have come here to build. This is the vision that our nations can realize together,” he said.
On India’s traditional oriental values, he said “India not only opened our minds, she expanded our moral imagination” and went onto observe that even his (Obama’s personal) “confidence in our shared future” is grounded in his respect for India’s treasured past—a civilization that has been shaping the world for thousands of years. “Indians unlocked the intricacies of the human body and the vastness of our universe. And it is no exaggeration to say that our information age is rooted in Indian innovations—including the number zero,” he said.
President Obama praised the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, and noted his influence on Martin Luther King and the non-violent resistance that exemplified the American civil rights movement. "I am mindful that I might not be standing before you today, as president of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared and inspired with America and the world," Mr Obama said
On a rare personal note, he said for him and his wife Michelle, the US president said this visit has held ‘special meaning’. “Throughout my life, including my work as a young man on behalf of the urban poor, I have always found inspiration in the life of Gandhiji and in his simple and profound lesson to be the change we seek in the world.”
Pointing out both the nations share the same commonalities like strong democracies with revolutionary commitment towards “we the people”, he said there were wide range of global issues and for a where both sides and the by working together can make immense contributions.

But all said and done and keeping the rhetoric aside, we Indians should understand that he needs to catch hold of India more with the resolute grip of a friend in need. The US today is no longer what it used to be,
all powerful. And true to Obama's own words, India has already 'emerged' in the global scene. One urnestly hopes, Dr Manmohan Singh's government does not crawl before the Americans at a time when he can show some firmness and probably US needs India more than we need the Americans.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

ASI excavation and other issues related to Ayodhya imbroglio

Besides the legal issues per se related to the Ayodhya case, I suppose the verdict also sparked off a debate on the relevance of historical and archeological studies and can these findings be taken with certainty. In fact, thinking is also that the original error committed in this issue was when the court of the land was expected to decide on such an emotive issue. Thus debating now on whether a court could decide anything based on historical studies and archeological findings is perhaps only academic.

Archaeology by web dictionary Wikipedia, is the study of past human societies, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data including artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes. Also known as the study of the art, customs and beliefs of ancient times, archaeology is often considered to be both a science and a humanity.

In this context, one must take note of the Presidential reference made to the Supreme Court in January 1993 by the Narasimha Rao government seeking an advisory opinion on this question: “Whether a Hindu Temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid (including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of such structure) in the area on which the structure stood?”

On October 24, 1994, the Supreme Court, rightly so, declined to give any opinion saying it was “ill-equipped” to examine and evaluate matters related to archeology and history.
The matter was heard by a five-judge Bench comprising Chief Justice MN Venkatachaliah, Justice AM Ahmadi, Justice JS Verma, Justice GN Ray and Justice SP Bharucha. The majority judgement written by Justice JS Verma on behalf of Chief Justice Venkatachaliah, himself and Justice Ray had said the Presidential reference was ‘superfluous and unnecessary’.

On March 5, 2003, the Allahabad High Court ordered excavation of the land and in the ultimate analysis, the Archeological Survey of India findings were largely cited for ordering retention and continuation of the Ram Lalla’s idols at the ‘make-shift’ temple, erected after the demolition of the Mosque in December 1992.
In fact, the ASI excavation clearly showed distinctive features of a 10th century temple below the ruins of the Babri Mosque. It further mentions discovery of 50 pillar bases, decorated bricks bearing features of 10th century, deities of Hindu gods and goddesses, lotus motifs, and curved architectural pieces, say experts.
It has been also argued by historians that when the Babri Masjid was demolished an inscription was unearthed which said that 'a temple was constructed by a King Nayachandra in the 12th century to honour Ram.' But the Muslims had rejected the ASI report saying it as a 'concoction' of the ASI to please its 'political masters', the BJP-led Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board had said the report was ‘inconsistent’ with the interim report submitted earlier.
Nevertheless, in his ruling, Justice Sharma contended that “the Archaeological Survey of India has proved that the structure was a massive Hindu religious structure” even as he said “It is also established that the disputed structure cannot be treated as a mosque as it came into existence against the tenets of Islam.”
But there remained certain questions on the findings of Archeological Survey of India as well.
There is a school of thought which counters that the ASI’s report was ‘not above controversy’ as on the possibility of Hindu temple its argument rested primarily on ‘pillar basis’ – which according to them could not be ascertained as no final words could be said purely based on the pillars. In fact, the Muslims clergy in Faizabad say the alleged existence of pillars too has been debated by historians on material evidence relating to ASI’s excavation.
They maintain Archaeological Survey of India’s own excavations of certain animal bones as well as of the use of ‘surkhi’ a typical characteristic of Muslim presence would challenge the possibility of a Hindu temple.
The Sunni Board or Muslim Personal Law Board contest ASI reports but accept the authenticity of the discovery of archeological materials. They refuse to take evidence as conclusive evidence that it was a Hindu temple. Even the main advocate for Muslims in the title suit, Zafaryab Jillani, said that the ASI has 'misinterpreted the findings'. The allegation has been also that the ASI report of ignoring the discovery of glazed tiles and pottery indicative of Muslim settlements in the area before Babar's invasion.

However, from the Hindu point of view, Mahant Brijmohan Das, chief priest of Dasarth Garhi in Ayodhya countered this saying “we never disputed the fact Muslims came and set up a Mosque there. We only say they did it after demolishing a temple”.

He said three crucial questions related to Ayodhya case were - Whether the disputed structure that is, Babri Masjid was constructed over some other pre-existing structure after demolishing it? Whether that preexisting structure was a Hindu Temple? And whether that temple, if any, was located on Lord Rama’s birth place in Ayodhya?
The Hindu argument is also that originally there was a Vishnu Temple earlier at the same spot where the Masjid was erected after demolishing the same. This temple of Lord Vishnu, according to faith, existed from time immemorial. It was renovated several times and the temple as well as worship of Ram Lalla, they say is referred to in many texts and inscriptions. This temple of Vishnu was erected exactly on the same holy spot where Lord Rama was born and around the place, Sita’s kitchen, Hanuman’s house, Kaikeyi’s palace etc were all located and worshipped even since Vikramaditya era and even published in official gazettes brought out by the British government.

Those countering these versions say most of the official gazettes prepared during British rule especially in the 19th century were based on here-says.

The Muslims have on the contrary argued that there were official documentation which claimed that the Hindu claim was erroneous and the place used to be a Masjid.

On September 29, a day before the verdict IUML UP unit chief Dr Ghani was a confident person though anxious about other kind of repercussions. He said documentary evidence cannot go against Muslims. Here are some of the points, which Muslims thought would sail them through in the case.

On 23 December 1948, the Inspector of Waqfs, Mohammed Ibrahim alleged harassment and stoning of the Namazis going to the mosque and that yet prayers continued to be offered on Fridays.
Radio message on December 23, 1949, by District Magistrate K.K. Nayar to the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary and Home Secretary: “A few Hindus entered Babri Masjid at night when the Masjid was deserted and installed a deity there.”
The State of Uttar Pradesh, in a document signed by Deputy Commissioner, Faizabad, J.N. Ugra, on April 25, 1950 had claimed “it has for a long period been in use as a mosque for the purpose of worship by the Muslims and not a temple”.
Another strong argument from the Muslims has been that false claims have been made by Hindus on the findings of inscription of Lord Vishnu on December 6, 1992. The Hindu groups had claimed that during the demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992, three inscriptions on stone were found. The most important one was the inscription that the temple was dedicated to Lord Vishnu, slayer of Bali. The Muslim allegation was that the said Hari-Vishnu inscription corresponded to an inscription dedicated to Vishnu that was supposedly missing in the Lucknow State Museum. However, the museum authorities had denied the inscription (stone) had gone missing from the museum. He showed the inscription of his museum at a press conference and it was different in shape, colour and text contents from the Vishnu-Hari inscription.
Another argument from Muslims was that Richard M Eaton, an American historian of medieval India, in his ‘Essays on Islam and Indian History’ documented in details about 80 major instances of destruction of the Hindu temples between 1190 and 1760. But the list did not include any Ram temple at Ayodhya.
The Muslim League leader Dr Ghani had also claimed that “Litigation in the 19th century was only for permission to build a temple at and near the chabutra – and not the mosque”. Subsequently even till 1948-49, till the idol was placed, there were only efforts to build a Ram temple on the chabutra (platform) outside the mosque but within its complex.

This Ram chabutara, which has been now allotted to the sect Nirmohi Akhara, falls on the left hand side as one walks through strictly barricaded security arrangement for the make-shift Hindu temple.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Faith versus Fact debate on Ayodhya verdict

Predictably, the debate between evidence submitted and faith as highlighted in the verdict by the Allahabad High Court
ought to be analyzed here in certain details.
One observation on the verdict was that the majority verdict of the High Court was well intentioned, politically correct, meant to be a measure of compromise and aimed at avoiding any communal riots. The process of national reconciliation has been lauded by many including those not happy with the verdict totally. A local furniture maker near Ghantaghar Market at Faizabad Md Siddiqui, summed up the paradox aptly, “the court had no option but to appease all. Otherwise by now there would have been bloodbath in UP and the rest of India”.

“If it (the verdict) is accepted in that spirit (reconciliation) by the Muslim community, it will resolve a burning communal problem of our nation,” wrote former Solicitor-General of India, T.R. Andhyarujina in The Hindu.
Thus, for weeks aftermath the verdict, political jargons revolved around whether the court order has legitimized the vandalisation of December 6, 1992.
Contemporary historians would recall that so great was the sense of outrage in the country on the demolition that the Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao and the Central Government said on December 7, 1992 that the Babri mosque would be re-built.
Surprisingly neither of the judges took note of December 6, 1992 and virtually give an impression that the demolition as a fait accompli, as if the disputed 2.77-acre site was vacant land. It legitimized the Hindu claim over what was once described as ‘make-shift’ temple.

The Congress party, clearly on defensive following Muslims’ anguish, held its highest policy making body, the steering committee, meeting on October 5. At the end of marathon meeting, the party resolution said in no way the verdict had given sanction to the demolition exercise of December 6, 1992.

This aspect was truly exploited by other players as well. Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari, often known for hardline stance said, “the verdict of the High Court provides legal validity to the shameful and criminal act of the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.” Bukhari, who also held a closed door meeting with discredited secular brigade leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, ruled out the possibility of any attempt to resolve the Babri Masjid issue through dialogue. “Giving away of the mosque, its forcible occupation or allowing idolatry within its premises was totally haram (illegal),” he had said.
LJP led by discredited secular champion, Ram Vilas Paswan, has gone a step further only to put pressure on Congress and urged the Centre to seek Supreme Court's opinion on the verdict and especially address the 'faith'
CPI(M), another key self-styled champion of the cause of secularism, after quite a balanced and guarded statement on September 30; a few days later slammed the ‘faith’ part of the verdict and also the “post-facto justification for the (Babri) demolition".
"There are apprehensions that some of the reasoning set out in the (title deed suit) judgements may be taken as a post-facto justification for the (Babri) demolition" which was a criminal offence, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat told reporters after a two-day meet of the party's Politburo.
In a statement, the CPI national executive also held that the Allahabad High Court verdict was based on "faith and religious belief" and said it did open a few questions on rule of law and principles of secular democracy.
Pushed to the corner by the much goodwill generated for Ms Mayawati-led BSP government in the wake of incident free passage of entire Ayodha verdict imbroglio, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party launched aggressive and detailed roadmap to retain its base among Muslims. On October 1, a day after the verdict, in Lucknow, Yadav, once called ‘Maulana Mulayam Singh’, said, “a nation state is run by the rule of law and not on the basis of religious faith”.

The BJP, predictably, had, however, slammed parties for their remarks that Ayodhya verdict is based on faith and belief. Party’s chief spokesperson and also a lawyer in the dispute Ravi Shankar Prasad instead asked the political parties including the Left to read the length judgement.

Interestingly, L K Advani, though stood vindicated in the wake of the verdict, remarked in a statesmanlike spirit that “what the court has said does not justify the demolition”.
Aptly, Advani’s statement has come in for appreciation by objective observers. “This is a clear denunciation and disowning of the crime of 1992 by a top BJP leader than you have heard of the Emergency of 1975 by a top Congress leader,” wrote Shekhar Gupta in his popular column ‘National Interest’ in The Indian Express, October 2, 2010.
December 6 Vandalism:

However, it goes without saying the vandalism on December 6, 1992 was grossly erroneous and sinful. No less than the Supreme Court had passed an order in 1994 for the demolition of the Masjid, saying “the Hindus must bear the Cross for it.”
Former union Law minister and country’s best known maverick politician Subramanian Swamy argues that while the Supreme Court absolved the Hindus in general sense for the December 6 act, adding, “what was wrong with the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 was that it was unauthorised by law and hence a criminal offence.” (The Hindu)
In this context, those who believe temple was destroyed by Babar and a mosque built in its place, argue that way back on March 18, 1886, the Faizabad sub-judge, a Briton, had ruled that “It is most unfortunate that a Masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus. But as the event occurred 358 years ago, it is too late now to remedy the grievance.”
The case was thus kept open – for political exploitation in democratic independent India where the political class had vested interest to pursue vote bank politics.

Another question which has evaded scrutiny is whether a temple and a masjid be considered equally ‘sacred’? The answer is perhaps a big no as the informed legal opinion suggests strongly “a mosque is not en essential part” of Islam.
“Under Mohammedan law applicable in India, title to a mosque can be lost by adverse possession. A mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaz (prayer) can be offered anywhere, even in the open,” the constitution bench of the Supreme Court had ruled in 1994.

Thus based on this ruling, with due respect, the acquisition of a masjid is not prohibited by the provisions in the Constitution of India. That way Babri Masjid demolition case essentially means a criminal offense because the destruction was not allowed by the state or any judicial order.

Moreover, the point which ought to be emphasized is that the vandalism and subsequent destruction of the mosque had resulted in communal riots in several parts of the country including the hitherto peaceful places like Mumbai or parts of Assam.

“…. in Islamic law as well as in Saudi Arabia the authorities have demolished mosques from time to time for developmental works like to build bridges and lay roads. Even the mosque where Prophet Mohammed used to pray was demolished,” Subramanian Swamy told me in Parliament within days the historic verdict was pronounced.

However, like the political class and other players like Shahi Imam, even legal experts on the other side of dividing line had some strong words for the verdict.
The court’s judgment robbed Muslims of their entitlement to a site and a mosque on no flimsy legal grounds. The Lucknow judgment is a mess of potage,” wrote eminent jurist Rajeev Dhawan.

One would not like to value judgement either on the verdict or the merits and demerits of each of the arguments for and against the bench ruling; but it ought to said that majoritanism-minoritism is a reality.
It is this, I had found during and after post-Godhra riots in 2002.

Unlike their self-styled leaders like Shahi Imam, the common Muslims pretty well appreciate the futility of confrontation.

It is this realization about the “futility of confrontation” that made Ayodhya-based oldest plaintiff Mohammad Hashim Ansari swear by the compromise formula. “Agar masjid chhor dene se aman hoti hae …. Toh chhor do, humey nahi chahihye,” he retorted.
It is in this context, he had said, “Khushi ho ya gam, Band kamre mein raho. Musalman sarko pe ani nahi chahihiye, (Whether it is victory or loss in the case, Muslims should not take to the streets either to protest or rejoice)”.
After the verdict, giving his reaction to it, Ansari told me on October 1, “throughout my life I have maintained that Muslims should not adopt confrontation approach towards Hindus. Most of the time, people did not listen to me. I have gone through all that. Even before partition, Muslims would say, I am coward. But look at the reality today, Muslims are no where. Any further confrontation against the High Court order legal and political will be suicidal. That’s why I am meeting the Hindu leaders; many Hindus agree with me. We should use the opportunity.”


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ayodhya 2010 : Advantage Hindus

On 30th September, 2010; in more ways than one history was written for the Hindus in India. Predictably, the historic temple city of Ayodhya heaved a sigh of relief over the verdict from Allahabad High Court on the six-decades old title dispute with local residents rejoicing.
Sweet-maker Avdesh Kumar lit candles in front of his house near Hanuman Garhi temple with his two children even as a large number of enthusiastic Hindus applied restrain after the Janmabhoomi Nyas (trust) head Nritya Gopal Das said: “Hindus should not be over-joyous".
"... there's no question of half joy or quarter victory. We want the entire land.” The message was clear. The Hindus are again going assertive and would not spare an inch of the land, where Lord Rama was born.
Later, police officials did not allow citizens in Ayodhya near the disputed structure and in vulnerable pockets like Hanuman Garhi to lit candles or so in orde to keep things calm and under control.
But the sweet-maker wasn't interested: “I am happy, my family is happy. We will have Ram temple here. The dispute should end and there should be normalcy so that we can continue to earn our living.”
A large number of VHP leaders and senior members of the VHP-affiliated Digambar Akhara, Karsevak puram and Nyas leaders welcomed the verdict, raising slogans of 'Jai Shri Ram' and ‘Ram lalla hum ayenge …. Mandir wahin banayenge’. Ram Janmabhoomi trust members said the concept of 33 per cent land allocation for the Sunni Central Wakf board out of the 2.77 acres land was “not acceptable”. “This will only open yet another window of confrontation,” one of them said. The Janmabhoomi Nyas president said: “It's a big victory for Hindus that the Sunni Wakf Board’s claim over the land has been rejected by the court. But we have to fight another battle in the Supreme Court. No land should be given to the Muslims”.
However, there is another section among Hindu leaders such as Acharya Satyender Das, chief priest of the Ram Janmabhoomi mandir, who said: “The High Court ruling has come after years of litigation. The dispute should end here. The general demand of Hindus has been that the Ram idol should be placed where he was born and that theory has been accepted”.
He said any further confrontation or litigation would only keep the issue alive which was not good for peace and tranquility. “All parties including Muslims and Hindu leadership should respect the order of the court,” he said.
Muslims in Ayodhya and Faizabad, too, favoured an early end to the dispute. But a section of them felt the verdict was a “big setback” and did not rule out moving the Supreme Court. Mohammad Shafiq, in-charge of Iqbal Dargah near the Faizabad-Ayodhya road said “I don’t understand the logic of 33 per cent land distribution."
“There appears to be a Congress hand behind all this ~ sab ko khush karne ka koshish Congress ki policy hai (appease all parties is an old practice of Congress party)”.
“Muslims feel somewhat let down by today’s judgement,” said one resident of Kazian Mohalla. “All these wars in court or out of court are not good for common people. We suffer the most but the government is happy making security arrangements only,” said a tailor, Kareem Ibrahim.

Congress could be loser: Muslims
The verdict could have significant political fallout with politically
hyper sensitive Muslims already saying that the development could
result in “erosion” in Congress support base among the “aggrieved
Perhaps it will also give a set back to Rahul Gandhi's efforts to revive
party's prospects in UP.
“I am happy about the general peace and amity. But Muslims are
saddened. We firmly believed it was a Masjid as namaaz used to be
performed. Now Congress will have to pay a price for this,” said Mohammad
Zameer, Naib Imam of Farizabad-based Sunni community’s major Tatshah
He maintained the division of the disputed land reflects “a typical
Congress stamp” though it is a judicial order. “The attempt to delay
the judgement by way of special leave petition was also seen as
Congress hand. This party has always betrayed Muslims whenever we had
shown faith in it,” he said.
Several of those who had gathered in the city’s spacious Mosque to
conduct the Friday prayer seemed to have endorsed the sentiments of
the Imam.
In fact, an angry Congress member from Fatehganj Block displaying his
Congress party card said he would “surrender it” in the evening.
Irshad Ahmed, a footwear businessman, said the ultimate message of the
verdict was that “jo Musalman ko milna chahiye thee, nahi mili”.
Agreeing with him, 56-year-old Rais Khan said “yeh faisla sey bahut hi
mayusi hae. Yeh faisla, faisla nahi tha…. Panchayati thi (This verdict
has left us aggrieved. The order was like a panchayati order)”.
Significantly, though the verdict was a judicial order where in
probably even Congress party has been caught unawares; the general
impression among the Muslims in Faizabad and Ayodhya is that the
appease all formula typically reflected a Congress style of
“Actually, what happens, when you try to appease all. You end up
everyone unhappy. No doubt the case would go to the Supreme Court. But
meanwhile, Congress will again have to rethink about their faith in
Congress. Shilanayas was their work and even Babri demolition took
place during Congress rule in Centre,” lamented 80-year-old Anwar

Friday, September 24, 2010

Reporting from Ayodhya - Hindus and Muslims favour early judgement

The people in Ayodhya and adjoining Faizabad strongly favour an early end to the impasse and the surcharged atmosphere that has been offset ever since the possibility of a verdict on the dispute from the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court brightened. “Even after 1990s things were peaceful here. But tension has gripped this time. Not that something would happen here, but whatever happens even in Mumbai or Bhagalpur, it leaves an impact for the people here and more so for the Muslims,” says Haji Mohammad Asif Ansari, who has been a plaintiff to the decades old communally vulnerable legal case.

It is this realization about the “futility of confrontation” that has made Ansari, 90 and a former detenue under MISA during emergency, today swear by the compromise formula. “Agar masjid chhor dene se aman hoti hae …. Toh chhor do, humey nahi chahihye, (If my giving up the Masjid, there is harmony, let us give it up,” he retorted.
It is in this context, he says, “Khushi ho ya gam, Band kamre mein raho. Musalman sarko pe ani nahi chahihiye, (Whether it is victory or loss in the case, Muslims should confined within closed rooms and not take to the streets either to protest or rejoice)”.
He also announced that whatever the judgement, he would accept it. “The dispute should end for once and all. We want the Masjid but peace is also equally important,” he said on September 24 the day within hours the news spread like wildfire in this temple city that the delivery of the Allahabad High Court ruling had
been delayed.
He said he would also not favour moving the Supreme Court on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board as the confrontation would serve no purpose.
“Yeh dalalo ko mauka dena hae (This will only give opportunities to middlemen to exploit the situation),” he said.
“The delay would not affect the strength of the case either way. Whatever evidence was to be submitted has been submitted and court has already applied its mind. This delay has been worked out by those political forces like Congress and Mulayam Singh and their ‘agents’,” he said.
His views are rather strongly shared by the local VHP unit president Brij Mohan Das, who says, “the priests and the general citizens here are suffering for days due to the tension. Pilgrims have stopped coming and further delay has only intensified things”.
He said the case is pending before the Allahabad High court for years and till now there has been no scope of mutual settlement. “I fail to understand what makes people at this juncture feel that out of court settlement was possible,” he said.
It is the economic factor that is driving even Muslim youths. Rais Ahmed, 25-year-old LIC agent, said “when pilgrims don’t come here it is not only Hindu priests and their families who suffer. Even Muslims suffer. My cousins run tempo (auto rickshaws) and poorer Muslim youths survive on catering to the tourists with their horse carts. Now for months, there is hardly anything called income for them”.
The story of Ayodhya and its citizenry in the circa 2010 – about 60 years since the dispute over a place of worship – truly illustrates the combination of triumph and tragedy.
There have been staggering achievement in ensuring harmony and peaceful co-existence; yet there is equally confounding shortcoming. Other than to merely depend on religious sanctity of the place, more as a birthplace of Lord Rama, no other economic exercise and job avenue has emerged here over the decades.
“There is no factory or industry here. The entire economy is based on pilgrims’ visit, their contribution and donations,” points out local VHP unit president Brij Mohan Das, also the head priest at the prestigious Dasarth Gaddi.

Delay could aggravate the situation:

Local VHP unit feels the delay could only aggravate the situation as the Hindus would only feel frustrated. “There is a strong chance to believe that the status quo suits Muslims and so called secular parties. We only feel bad about it. So if anything happens who is to blame,” says Mahant Brij Mohan Das.

VHP leaders and several Hindu priests here believe that the judgement would be in favour of the Hindus. “All crucial evidence pertaining to the Ram janmabhoomi since the emperor Vikramaditya has been submitted before the court. Things are convincing that there was a temple over which mosque was built. It’s a historical fact,” says the Mahant.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Withering Law: The Armed Forces Special Power Act

In a way I am jumping the gun here. We will talk about EVM misuse in another posting. Here I take the opportunity of sharing my views on the highly controversial Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFPSA), which is these days hitting headlines in the wake of a move by the Manmohan Singh government to withdraw it or to ‘weaken/moderate’ its influence to assuage the hurt sentiments of the people of trouble-torn Kashmir valley.

Before going into details on various facets of AFPSA and their use and abuse by the olive green forces, we need to examine certain things most vital in understanding the scenario either in Kashmir or in the northeast.

The natives, either in Kashmir or the northeastern states believe that Indian army is only “an instrument of expansionist designs”. This perception has only increased over the years due to plethora of factors. One of them being sustained campaign by the insurgent groups/militants with tacit and often open support by locals and human rights’ bodies. Then media plays its part by often blowing things out of proportion making a classic case of a mountain being made out of molehill. Thus, knowingly or unknowingly, the country’s biggest asset ‘ethnic pluralism’ turns out to be a great liability practically in all states.
Therefore, in Manipur the controversy over demand for scraping of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFPSA) had local people’s sanction. After all, the army or para military forces like Assam Rifles are identified with the “outsiders”.
Similar is the case in Jammu and Kashmir. Now, the so called high-handedness of the forces has now made even children and women in Kashmir taking to the streets.

Now, what is the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act/

This piece of legislation was passed in 1958 and has been always bogged down in controversies with human right activists in the northeast already called it a ‘draconian’ law.
Under this Act, all security forces operating in trouble-torn areas are given unbridled power to carry out their operations in designated areas declared disturbed. In fact, sometime in the northeast, even the entire state, like Nagaland under Congress chief minister S C Jamir government in 1995 was declared ‘disturbed’ by enforcing the provisions of the Disturbed Area Act.
In fact, the saying goes well that AFPSA is meaningless in ‘peaceful situation’ and in effect it goes hand-in-hand with the Disturbed Area Act.

Under this law, even a non-commissioned officer (rank of havildars) is granted the right to shoot to kill based on mere suspicion in order to "maintain the public order".

No wonder, in the troubled region of Nagaland and Manipur often ministers are held up and ‘insulted’ for their alleged nexus with the militants. These charges are sometime true and sometime not.

Regarding “indiscriminate use of black laws”, the Assam-based potent militant organization ULFA charges the Indian state machinery with “continuously violating basic fundamental human rights of the people of seven sister region although India is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations”. The laws like the Armed Forces Special Power Act of 1958 and the Disturbed Areas Act “continue with the concurrence of Indian judiciary and are means of crushing dissent and struggles,” a popular ULFA leader had said once.

It is of much relevance here to take note of another test case in Manipur.
There is in fact a cycle affect involving governance, deployment of armed forces and opportunistic stand taken by politicians and so-called civil liberty activists.
We must examine how successive governments in New Delhi, in Jammu and Kashmir and in the north eastern states have relied heavily on the presence of the military to perform the basic functions of governance.
Former Army chief Gen (Retd) V P Malik also wrote in a piece to ‘The Indian Express’ (September 1, 2004), “The administration assisted by the Central government ought to create conditions so that armed forces do not have to be deployed for long durations”. In fact, Gen (Retd) Malik cited an illustration where in one Manipur Chief Minister while favoured revoking Armed Forces Special Power Act declined permission to withdraw armed forces from 60 odd posts in Manipur saying, “you cannot do that! What will happen to the law and order situation?”
This is the paradox.

(to be continued)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

EVM misuse – Who will Bell the Cat?

It's not without good reason that the politicians are called strange bed fellows. They are expert in their own way not only in sleeping with the enemies but also change their stand on any issue under the sky, given the context what's their immediate benefits are. A few years ago, the then Punjab chief minister and dynamic Congress leader in the northern region, Capt. Amarinder Singh, had staged a demonstration in the office of a reputed editor of a Chandigarh daily trying to argue that the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) could be misused.
Not long ago, EVMs were billed as an instrument of panacea in organizing elections and which could deal with mal practices of Indian electoral system. However, the table has seemingly taken a gory turn since 2004.
At the national level Congress has bounced back to power and five years since then with a renewed and resurgent mandate in May 2009.
So the general refrain of the political class being, how can Congress now complain of the EVMs.
Worse, the BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has virtually sanctified the theory by suggesting that EVMs are now the “Elections Voting Machines” (sic) for the Congress.
Now, when was the last time, we heard that misuse of EVMs is only a rhetoric of losers.
The Election Commission has quickly denied rather authoritatively that EVMs in India (ECI-EVMs) are stand alone objects and cannot be misused.
This is too simplistic part of the story.
But there are evidences in several parts of the world where experts claim the electronic voting machines were subject to gross abuse resulting in questioning the very credibility of the democratic process.
Theoretically, these arguments have basically raised questions on the credibility of Indian election system, something which had gained much respect globally especially the post T N Seshan era.
So an argument has been placed forward that instead of questioning the intention of those raising the bogey of misuse of EVM machines, the authorities, the UPA government, the Congress party and importantly the Election Commission would do well to appreciate the sincerity of purpose. And in the ultimate, help arrive some conclusive and much importantly a credible conclusion that the EVMs in use in India are above board.
This is what is being suggested by a former IAS officer and ex-chief secretary Delhi government, Omesh Saigal. “It is an important issue as the fate of this country’s democratic set-up hinges on the fairness of the elections. There shouldn’t be an iota of doubt about the same,” he says.
Saigal also cited a study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University and Rice University, which established that if one gets to know the “source code” of an EVM, it is possible for a single person to cast unlimited ballots without detection.
“To see if a similar fraud could be done in India, on my request a young programmer wrote a very simple programme which could skew the result if a pre-programmed code number was keyed in. A mock poll showed that every 5th vote after the first 10 would go in favour of a particular candidate. This poll was conducted in the presence of some eminent people, whose names were sent to the chief election commissioner, Naveen Chawla,” Saigal had said.
However, Saigal later, according to Election Commission officials, refused to stage a demonstration with EC-given EVMs at the Commission office in August 2009.

International Experience:

Electronic voting systems for electorates have been in use since the 1960s. So the hype that the technology is something latest and a 21st century phenomenon is itself a misnomer.
To put record straight, electronic voting system, albeit with differences in specifications, have been used in several countries including Venezuela, Brazil, Netherlands, Estonia, Canada and of course Uncle Sam, the US.
But the developments in certain countries could not be over sighted. After all, as says former Delhi chief secretary, Saigal, election in a democracy like justice should not be simply be fair but also seen as fair and above board.
In Netherlands, the electronic voting machines have been decommissioned after public protests.
There have been contentions, especially in the United States, that electronic voting, specifically DRE voting, could facilitate electoral fraud.
Meanwhile, computer scientists in the US have demonstrated how electronic voting machines (EVM) can be hacked and votes ‘stolen’ using a malicious programming approach that had not been invented when the voting machine was designed. The team of scientists from the Universites of California, San Diego, Michigan and Princeton employed "return-oriented programming" to force an electronic voting machine to turn against itself. Hovav Shacham, a professor of computer science at UC San Diego's (UC-SD) Jacobs School of Engineering and a study co-author, demonstrated that return-oriented programming can be used to execute vote-stealing computations by taking control of an EVM designed to prevent the code injection.

However, the school of thought, which believes firmly that EVMs can be misused and were misused in India, has sounded skeptical about Election Commission’s modus operandi in inviting people to demonstrate about the possibility of ‘tamperibility’.
A sustained campaign is still on in the internet and blogs and not surprisingly many of the participants are technocrats and a sizeable of them from abroad.
One argument from this school of thought has gone like this. “It was a trick played by concerned people, probably with the blessing and active participation of Congress party. To demonstrate the possibility of abuse of EVMs, one has to know the inner details of the programming configuration,” they say. So the refrain being if a section of people, including in political parties know about it, they could misuse it very well.
Another argument has been the Indian EVM is not a computer it is like a calculator. So to decode a calculator is much more difficult, they say but not impossible if there are players “within inner circles” to help you.
Possibilities of Fraud:
One cannot make a value judgement simply based on these theories. However, certain pertinent questions remain to be answered effectively.
Are EVMs vulnerable to hacking/misuse? Could the software of EVM be programmed to alter the outcome? From the global experience, are EVMs more susceptible to fraud than other types of voting machines?
Now take a closer look at these possibilities, as suggested by software professionals.
Someone doing fraudulent and moving 2-5% of the votes from one major party's candidate to the other would be very unlikely to be detected.

On these if precautions are taken like never reduce a candidate’s total votes to a questionable minimum can always ensure that there’s no suspicion raised.
For instance, it could be ensured that winnability of some candidates is not put to question. Vijay Malhotra as BJP leader or Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee need not be defeated.

Next, it is “possible” for a malevolent software developer to successfully insert suspect code.
There’s another aspect to it. Unlike the situation when poll rigging meant violence and involving larger number of people, when computers/EVMs are involved, a small number of individuals could be easily ‘managed’.

Another vital aspect that could not be neglected or overruled; it is not technology that is in question; it is the trust of the official machinery and officials. If a guard protecting the EVMs could be bribed so that a bribed engineer can load a suitable programme to the EVMs, which technology could save one.
There are also technical possibilities on how EVMs can be tampered, essentially through insertion of virus Trojan. To outward appearances and ordinary testing, the programme would appear normal. However, when it is fed a sequence of keystrokes by the agent of the party committing the fraud, the Trojan Horse wakes up, and then, regardless of what buttons the voter actually presses, it can assign a certain (non-suspicious-looking) percentage say 55-60 to the preferred party.
Experts also suggest, a chip’s internal circuitry cannot be verified after it is manufactured. There can be hardly a guarantee that all the chips manufactured were as per original design.
The size, appearance, and even the Unique ID of the Chip would be emulated as it is, and thus it is extremely difficult to verify, if the current Chip components used is indeed the original one.
In Tamil Nadu, in fact, during the parliamentary elections there were allegations by AIADMK supporters, voters and party workers that the LIGHT lit to the wrong party inspite them pressing the button of AIADMK candidates.
Apparently, Jaya TV showed a protest by about 200 voters and group clashes with the workers from the ruling party.
The refrain from this campaign basically is, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence of any fraud.
However, in the ultimate, the responsibility and the authority to take the final call on this vital aspect of Indian democracy are with the Election Commission.
The Commission’s official response is: it is “amply satisfied about the non-tamperability and the fool-proof working of the EVMs.” The Commission’s confidence in the efficacy of the EVMs has been fortified by the judgments of various courts and the views of technical experts. The Karnataka High Court has once hailed the EVM as ‘a national pride’ (judgment dated 5.2.2004 in Michael B. Fernandes Vs C.K.Jaffer Sharief and others in E.P No 29 of 1999), they say. Similarly, the Madras High Court, after elaborate consideration of the issue in a batch of petitions in 2001, rejected allegations that the EVMs could be tampered.

To be continued…../..

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Misuse of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) - a hot potato in India

The debate on misuse of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) has sought to come back yet again into public domain with the stage set for the crucial
Bihar elections. It is truly like a hot potato.
Every one wants to talk about it, but some are cautious not to display their inclination on the issue, others have made up their minds already.
It's not without good reason that the politicians are called strange bed fellows. They are expert in their own way not only in sleeping with the enemies but also change their stand on any issue under the sky, given the context what's their immediate benefits are. A few years ago, the then Punjab chief minister and dynamic Congress leader in the northern region, Capt. Amarinder Singh, had staged a demonstration in the office of a reputed editor of a Chandigarh daily trying to argue that the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) could be misused.
Not long ago, EVMs were billed as an instrument of panacea in organizing elections and which could deal with mal practices of Indian electoral system. However, the table has seemingly taken a gory turn since 2004.
At the national level Congress has bounced back to power and five years since then with a renewed and resurgent mandate in May 2009.
So the general refrain of the political class being, how can Congress now complain of the EVMs.
Worse, the BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has virtually sanctified the theory by suggesting that EVMs are now the “Elections Voting Machines” (sic) for the Congress.
Now, when was the last time, we heard that misuse of EVMs is only a rhetoric of losers.
After all, post-May 2009 parliamentary elections, BJP, L K Advani, Ram Vilas Paswan -- et all come in that club.
In recent times many leaders have spoken about EVM misuse.
BJP’s arch rivals CPI (M), LJP and RJD have supported the contention.
Even a lady at the winning side, Mamata Banerjee has said, “I have been saying that EVMs are being manipulated for years. Now (CPM) are saying the same thing. I have said that EVMs should be replaced with ballot paper. However, we will accept what the Election Commission directs”.

Even during the just concluded monsoon session of parliament, the RJD leader Mr Lalu Prasad, who is leading an aggressive electoral campaign for poll-bound Bihar, and his friend Mulayam Singh Yadav made a strong demand
for abolition of electronic voting machine (EVMs) in the country saying
the earlier manual system was "more genuine".
"The use of EVM has raised many questions about misuse of technology
to infuence the poll results," Mr Prasad said in Lok Sabha on August 31 while speaking during a debate on a new legislation to allow participaton of overseas Indians into the voting system.
"On this even BJP is with us. We all had submitted representation on
this to the election commission," said the former Bihar chief minister,
whose party had suffered a stunning defeat during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. "The unlettered voters often are vulnerable to be misguided on EVM. Many atimes it seems people vote for my party but the tally is shown for cycle (Mulayam Singh's SP symbol)," he said throwing the house into peals of laughter.
Besides Mulayam Singh Yadav even BSP members like Gorakh Nath Pandey also supported.
However, replying to the members, the Law Minister Mr M Veerappa Moily
said the Indian EVMs are foolproof. "It has been testified by a group
of experts headed by a former IIT director'.
The minister spoke on the expected line and said the issue of abuse of EVMs and irregularities with them has been raised a number of times in the Parliament but so far "no one has able to to prove the EVM wrong convincingly".
In the past also, the Election Commission had denied rather uthoritatively that EVMs in India (ECI-EVMs) are stand alone objects and cannot be misused.
But this is too simplistic part of the story.
We need to take a closer view on the vital question; is it right to presume that not having any proof for a crime implies that the crime was never committed.
The new Chief Election Commission S Y Quraishi has to ensure that the polls are not merely conducted fairly but like the judiciary they ought to be seen being conducted above board.

To be continued .....

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Terrorism, Indian Muslims and Muslim intelligentsia

Ever since my last posting has gone on the blog there have been quite a few reactions from friends – both known and unknown. Some have bombarded mails attacking for criticizing my ‘own fellow Hindumen’; while a few said I was not fair to Muslims and that reflected my personal prejudice.
Honestly, none of the versions is true. Without trying to glorify my own involvement, I have tried to put across certain ideas I thought I should write.
This has not happened for the first time. I had faced this on my book ‘Godhra – A Journey to Mayhem’. The argument put across that the post-Godhra violence had a salutary effect in uniting the majority community cutting across caste lines had left many angry.
The Hindus, housewives (many of them my innocuous aunts who have least to do with Sangh Parivar, BJP politics etc), eminent social workers, journalist friends, intelligence officers and academicians would nail me for attacking Hindus. Their argument was if Hindu unity is possible because of a riot so be it!
In fact, I have lost good relations with a family friend of mine. This retired Nagaland government employee, now residing in Kolkata, questioned me, “now that you have written so much against Hindus and RSS, tell me what’s your contribution for the Hindu society you belong to?”
I am struggling to form an answer to this question!
So Hindu unity or for that matter the desire for a Hindu unity and giving a sanction for violence for the same was not merely confined to boundaries of Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, so called Hindutva laboratory. It had takers even in Kolkata and other parts of the country, including Mumbai and of course Delhi and some overseas.
In fact, the theory of unity among the Hindus comes as a major achievement for the champions of Hindutva who have been struggling for decades to integrate various castes into a harmonious force. In Maharashtra, Bal Thackeray’s xenophobic Shiv Sena is seen in that perspective by many Hindus – including Bengalis and for that matter the North Indians though the Marathi chauvinism – especially by the splinter Sena group led by Raj Thackeray has left all and sundry shell-shocked.
This also underlines the success of a VHP line for over three decades that --- “all Hindus should unite against Vidharmis (non-believers)”.
So how much is it different from the schools o Islamic or jehadi terrorism?
No wonder, the Home Minister P Chidambaram’s ‘saffron terror’ remarks has assumed much political debate. Even Congress always keen to keep both sides happy eyeing the all important votes has again played safe. The party’s chief spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi, a point-man of Sonia Gandhi, distanced the party from Home Minister’s statement and even asked him to be cautious while choosing words.
This brings us straight to the definition of terrorism. The internet Wikipedia says, there is no internationally agreed definition of terrorism but largely it is considered that terrorism is the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.
Terrorism, according to CIA’s definition of 1980, which was accepted by US State Department, is a threat or use of violence for political purposes by individuals or groups, whether acting for or in opposition to established government authority, when such actions are intended to shock, stun or intimidate a target group wider than the immediate victims.
In any case, the general understanding is that terrorism encompasses those acts which are intended to create fear (terror), and are perpetrated for an ideological goal --- mostly opposed by the other side.
The disregard shown to the safety of non-combatants forms a basic aspect of terrorism. But conflict remains whether ‘insurgency’ can be called terrorism. So is the debate with Kashmir conflict. Pakistan calls the “secessionist movement” as proclaimed by India as “freedom fighting”. Similar is the dispute as regard the ‘insurgency’ in Nagaland or Manipur!
Radicals from contradictory schools of thought want to dub Naxalism also as “terrorism”, while the secular brigade calls Hindu chauvinism and violence and rhetoric perpetrated by the Hindu groups as also terror.

Indian Muslims and Intellectuals:

Having taken a closer look at the historical factors those led to the present morass the Muslims as a community has landed into, it’s also important that we understand the role of Muslim intellectuals and the Urdu press.

Recently a practicing Muslim politician Farooq Abdullah while speaking in Lok Sabha (on August 26) folded his hands his hands as he looked towards the seemingly stunned press gallery above and urged them to be cautious about the style of functioning of a section of local Urdu press in the valley.
Earlier during the debate reacting to certain remarks by JD(U) leader Mr Sharad Yadav that elections in Kashmir was allegedly rigged in 1980s, Mr Abdullah sprang up on his feet and alleged that it is the media ‘which had ignited the fire”. Farooq Abdullah is not alone.

Moving onto another plane, Mohd. Wahiduddin in his book ‘Indian Muslims: Need for a positive outlook’ draws our attention to a these critical questions.
“The Muslim press has been suffering from what I can only call quite unjustifiable self-righteousness on the part of Muslim intellectuals,” writes Wahiuddin.
It’s typically on the same line, some of my intelligence agencies friends have spoken from time to time. There’s a pattern among “Muslim scholars, press and others” when they deliberately avoid gazing in their own hearts and to do stock taking on their own shortcomings. So the best option is to raise the bogey of “plots and conspiracy”! Therefore, these sections often end up instigating the minority community, mostly battered, playing up the never ending demon of “enemy” --- the Hindus, the Christians, the Jews et all. In the process, constructive engagements and objective way of looking at things is just not there.
Therefore, often non-issues are hyped. The campaigns are launched that “innocent Muslims” were framed and put behind prisons in India. They are “mentally tortured by pro-Hindu police” by depriving them of the Quran in their cells.
Otherwise, what’s the logic when we find local Muslims taking to the streets in Varanasi even preventing the arrest of a terror suspect?
Secular brigade and their distorted championing the cause of Muslims only make things further complex.
So who all are defended by secularists at the end of the day? Afzal Guru, man sentenced to hanging for attack on parliament; or Sohrabuddin in Gujarat!
On the other hand, in historical perspective, the ‘tyrant Aurangzeb’ is often regarded as a saint since he could sew caps and also sold calligraphic Korans to raise revenue for constructing mosques and even persecuted Hindus.
In his book “The World of Fatwas”, Arun Shourie tells how the fundamentalist Islamic Ulema controls each and every aspect of an orthodox Muslim’s life by giving a religious dogmatic dimension to even personal matters like shaving and having sex.
Muslims are also made to believe that the one who dies fighting his ‘jihad’ gets paradise.
Rightly goes that melancholic Urdu couplet, “…. Parai sholon ka dar nahi. Mujhe kauf Ataish Gul Se hae, yeh chaman kahin jala na de (I have no fear of aliens, but I fear that the fire of the rose can burn down the garden)”.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where’s the will to fight the communal menace ?

So Continuing with the previous posting on the mindset of Indian Muslims, it would be now only relevant to look at the Hindu mindset vis-à-vis the Muslims.
Indian Hindus as a group do not have very fond memory of their past – medieval history - when enthroned at Delhi, Indian Muslims reigned supreme from the Himalayas to Cape Cormorin, as stated once by Lord Dufferin.
On the other hand, Muslims have for all practical reasons not been able to give up the obsession of that golden era. “It was an image which spurred them to demand first a special political position in British India and then in the nineteen-forties, independent statehood should the British leave,” wrote P Hardy in ‘The Muslims of British India’ (published in South Asia by Foundation Books).
The Hindus’ views about Muslims, even in contemporary setting, is purely guided or prejudiced much by the happenings during this golden era of the Muslims. Even the violence in Gujarat, the Hindu chauvinists only sought to avenge the injustice meted to Hindus during the period. The Sangh Parivar’s much talked about movement associated with Kanshi, Mathura and Ayodhya temples is no different. It is just aimed at undoing the destruction of the Hindu temples by Muslim rulers.

Hindus think they have natural reasons to grudge Muslims as not only they were empire builders of medieval India, they were also the ruling aristocracy. The period under many Muslim rulers in Delhi also marked aggression and oppression for the Hindus. The ‘jauhar’ by Rajput women only signifies this point as these Hindu women were taught out to end themselves rather than surrender before ‘par purush’, especially Muslims.
Moreover, the caste menace haunting the Hindu society, only ensured that the Islam was a great unifying factor for backwards, underprivileged and lowly social groups. This has left a permanent scar among Hindus that their own brethren had been converted into Islam and in later period to Christianity.
The partition in the 20th century was yet another testimony for the Hindu radicals that Muslims would never be part of Indic civilization, as they understood.
India and Pakistan and in later stage Bangladesh were born in tears and bloodshed. The tears and blood are still flowing. The hatred infused then has now only blossomed - fanned by vested interest, political lobbies in each of these countries, the fundamental elements and also the influence of the western powers.
Over the decades, one cannot agree more that Pakistan has been the epicenter of this ‘terror storm’. On the other hand, India on its part has been a peculiarly soft state as also one which goes into selective amnesia from time to time on terrorism, the terror strike and the need to fight it. Indian statecraft since 1947 has never had any concept of strategic planning be it Pakistan or terrorism.
This school of thought which believes in inherent ‘soft approach’ by the Indian official apparatus is gradually swelling their numbers. A large number of Indians, and more especially the Hindus, believe there is a deliberate ‘Muslim appeasement’ card by the non-BJP political class.
Moreover, the terrorism was gradually getting an Islamic face, partly deservedly and partly due to the overall global campaign on that line.
Now when the government of India’s ‘battle preparedness’ to deal with Pakistan and its proxy war was not reaching the expectation level, the Hindu chauvinists have a vacuum space.
Now comes another damning term the ‘Hindu terrorism’. On the face value and not without reasons, the Hindus in general are anguished and shell-shocked at the allegation that their faith, known for its tolerance, is being linked to the worst challenge before the mankind, the terrorism.
One may not agree with the phrase, but Hindu assertion is a reality in last two decades with educated upper caste middle class particularly endorsing such a scenario. They think the wrong doers --- the Pakistan or the Muslims – should be given a lesson and a large number of Non Resident Indians spread the globe endorse this and even allegedly fund Hindu organizations.
Even doyens among the Hindus seem to endorse what’s going on these days. As mentioned in an earlier blog (see link ..) the legendary scholar-saint Aurobindo had said, “Hindu-Muslim unity should not mean the subjection of the Hindus”. (India’s Rebirth, Page 164).

Shift in Hindu Mindset:
This “shift” in Hindu mindset is not new as illustrated by Aurobindo’s statement. He was not alone. The crave for freedom and influence of Gandhiji was so dominant for Indians that immediately after independence they embraced Nehruvial socialism and democracy.
Sardar Vallabbhai Patel was no doubt, therefore, could emerge as a formidable character before Indians despite his known contradictory opinion on Nehru’s philosophies. Kashmir was one area, when he strongly advocated for hardline stance.
After independence, one must say here in no uncertain term that the Hindu mobilization owes its origin to years of Muslim appeasement by the Congress and the Communists and lately by other secular brigade. It was given a momentum during the Ayodhya movement. Notably, the right wing Hindu leadership also won the support of Dalits and OBCs --- especially the upwardly mobile strata with the electoral slogans “Abki bari Atal Bihari” and “Ram Mandir Banana hai”. Then came Gujarat 2002. The Godhra train mayhem had left the Hindus anguished to the core.
The subsequent riot was precisely the beginning of Hindu assertion as even RSS leader M G Vaidya later admitted in a press conference in Mumbai that post-Godhra retaliation was “unlike a Hindu reaction”.
The middle class Hindus were found looting the shops and hotels run by Muslims. In the process, the Dharma, the essential facet of Hinduism was the casualty though the votaries of ‘Hindu renaissance’ don’t seem to bother.
This is not to suggest that the Sangh Parivar or principal opposition party the BJP or other organizations associated with it are part of the Hindu terror phenomenon. The BJP and other Sangh Parivar elements might not endorse such extreme strategy, but they ought to realize that the demon they have created – perhaps unknowingly – now is a difficult phenomenon to be controlled.
It is like the Naxalism, once patronized and sympathized by the Left and then by Congress party in some states. The RSS leaders are on defensive and suggesting that “unwanted” elements have got into and bringing bad name to the RSS.
Fundamentalism be it in the form of Hindu chauvinism or the Islamic fundamentalism also have a lot to do with today’s polarized situation.
It is not without good reason now that the “common thread” to the 2007 bomb blasts in Ajmer, at Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid, and in Malegaon hail from Madhya Pradesh's Malwa region and all have alleged connexions to Hindu groups.
What started as minor skirmishes and the alleged political vendetta by the Congress-led UPA to discredit the BJP and the latter’s principal support base now has assumed a more serious dimension.
The Congress cannot wash off its hands either.

The Central Bureau of Investigation and the Rajasthan anti-terror squad made a string of arrests from in and around Indore. But all that is being done is not above board.
A large number of people believe the Congress party led by a Christian and that too a foreign lady is indulging in politics to defame the Hindu organizations and thus win over their lost support base among the Muslims. They have been unduly slow and lackadaisical towards the execution of parliament attack accused. The BJP and its friends say Congress appeasement of Muslims has crossed all limits.
In the communal frenzy, as the pun goes, ‘Hamam mein sab nangey haen' meaning no one is away from the needle of suspicion).


Monday, August 23, 2010

The Muslim Mindset and What awaits Muslims in India?

I have said earlier that certain things keep coming back both to me and also to our country and one such hot potato is communal conflict. The issue has again attracted public attention following threats to the Sikhs in Jammu and Kashmir in August 2010. The threat has come from the Muslims posing as a serious challenge to the communal harmony in trouble-torn Kashmir as also in other parts of the country.
According to media reports, Sikhs living in Kashmir received anonymous letters directing them to "embrace Islam, join the protests against civilian (read militants/supporters/sympathizers among others) killings or pack up and leave the Valley."
The issue has already figured in parliament forcing adjournment once in a while amid uproar. The UPA government, swearing day in and day out about secularism, has reacted rather passively saying Sikhs have been assured etc etc.
I won’t dwell much on the imbroglio in Kashmir, it certainly deserves another series of postings.
I rather try to debate on the Muslims’ mindset and how things unfold for Muslims – when secular brigade including the Left, Congress other socialist democratic parties try to overdo each other in ‘appeasing’ the Muslims. The purpose being only to garner their votes.
This is largely because unlike the Hindu voters, Muslims in most elections have voted according to certain pattern.
They voted for Congress and other ‘secular’ parties in 2004 deciding the fate of BJP and BJP-led NDA candidates following a specific pattern. No wonder it is this ‘pattern’ of Muslim voting which makes many Congress men confess in private that they would like to continue to lose Gujarat to Hindutva’s new political icon Narendra Modi, so that they continue to win the rest of India citing Modi’s ‘fear factor’ to the Muslims.

Now, before going at the Muslims mindset, I must share something else here. At a different plane, yet again, I am reminded of an observation made by my Education professor at Kohima College in Nagaland. Prof H Rehman, who once told us that the name Hindus to ‘Hindus’ were not given by the community but by the Muslims to describe those who arguably did not embrace Islam and held fort about their traditional Indus valley civilization. Hindus originally called only Sanatan Dharmi if at all they ought to call themselves. It is only in post medieval period that Hindus started calling themselves Hindus. Thus he would argue when a Hindu aggressively called himself Hindu, he was only parroting a name given by the Muslims and was denying himself the original – putripurush identity of Sanatan Dharmi.
No wonder, that way again there is a big merit in the argument that Hinduism is not a religion and rather a way of life. In the recent times, Hindutva is given that definition and even has the endorsement of the judiciary.
Muslims would not consider Hindutva as a way of life. They would take Hindus or for that matter even Sikhs as ‘kafirs’. Therefore, from traditional Islamic point of view – and in isolation of the concept of a modern state – Muslims, at least hardliners, believe they have the religious approval to act against ‘non-believers’.
Even Muhammad s believed to have prescribed that : “When you meet your enemies Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. ... If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay Jijya (tax) accept it. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah's help and fight them...." (Shaih Muslim 19.4294)
So what’s wrong in threatening Sikhs either to embrace Islam or leave Kashmir?
This brings us to the question, what really awaits the fate of Muslims in the contemporary India. I have posed this question my book ‘Godhra – A Journey To Mayhem’ also. As a Hindu boy, brought up in northeastern hills of India amidst Christian strongholds and continuously confronting the problem of influx of Muslim Bangladeshis from across the border, I had often endorsed and perhaps even believed in pro-Hindutva line.
But I always wondered, what could one really prescribe for a religious group, whom I have occasionally thought of a group supporting Pakistan during cricket match, who have insisted on ensuring a Masjid at Ayodhya, the birthplace of our overwhelming majority Hindus’ Lord Rama, who have pushed out large number of Kashmiri pandits from Kashmir and are now targeting the Sikhs.
May be Indian Muslims have not realized the futility of their confrontation. It is this confrontation attitude Muslims had taken up at the instance of self-proclaimed secularists and their own religious (communal) leaders like Shahi Imam of Delhi Jama Masjid --- that they are perhaps fighting a lost battle.
The same argument perhaps holds good for the partition of India and how much this has harmed the Muslims.
During my stay in Mumbai, I had interviewed noted Muslim scholar Rafiq Zakaria. The author of ‘The Man Who Divided India’ on Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Zakaria, Zakaria had argued that he did not believe in Jinnah’s two-nation theory, as the partition had in no way helped Muslims. In Gujarat, especially after the riots of 2002 and interacting with elderly surviving inmates in the camps, I for one had reasons to endorse Zakaria’s observations that partition has not helped Muslims. Think of a united India and the political strength of Muslims – vis-à-vis – their population size.

On a different plane again, post-1857, Muslims had a very positive contribution at the altar of the nationhood. For the colonial masters, Muslims in general meant a rebel and several historians had recorded that once the Sepoy Mutiny was kindled, Muslims not only joined the Hindus --- they in fact fanned the flames of discontent and took upon themselves the mantle of spearheading the movement against Britain. There have been records of much Muslim uprising against the British in Delhi, Awadh, Meerut, Farukhabad, Bengal and even countryside. In Aligarh and Rohilkhand, Muslims to Britishers were mostly known as rebels. It is not without good reason that Jawaharlal Nehru himself said that the “heavy hand” of the colonial masters fell more on Muslims than Hindus. It is only the quirk of history that Mohammed Ali Jinnah was a man who single-handedly masterminded the partition of India on the basis of Hindu-Muslim division.
In her book ‘The Sewing Circles of Herat – A Memoirs of Afghanistan’, Christina Lamb endorses this view by stating, “although Hindus and Sikhs also participated in the uprising, the British blamed the Muslims and began dismantling institutions associated with the former Moghul empire”.
There’s another aspect to the Muslim history in British India and it is vital for historians and also the followers of contemporary settings. Even as education was unifying Muslims and often threatening Islamic values in the eye of fundamentalists, the Indian Islamic scholars got divided into two camps. One group founded the Aligarh Muslim University, a progressive institution where students wore fez and also ties, played cricket and debated in both Urdu and English. The other group created the deobandi school to train a generation of Islamic followers for whom Koran was the blueprint for everything.
Notably, the madrasas run by deobandis became the fastest growing education system in South Asia, particularly in northern India, Pakistan and in later years in parts of Afghanistan.
To be Continued……

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lalu Prasad Yadav : Riding the success graph in rustic style

Lalu Prasad Yadav, the man who gave altogether a different definition to eccentricity in public life, besides his eventful political career would be also remembered for long time for making Biharis take pride in impulsive and totally unsafe kind of mannerism. The former Bihar Chief Minister admired even among bitter political rivals for his charismatic and mass appeal (had) has his trump card rested on being a parochial casteist leader with a slogan promising a new day to his underdog Bihari voters.
“Bihar can be bifurcated only on my dead body,” was such an example of rhetoric mannerism when he wanted to oppose carving out of Jharkhand state.
His face had an impression of an extra-ordinary rustic look suiting his image and his political constituency. In rest of India or in big cities, while people of all political hues struggled to present themselves as sophisticated and intelligent, Lalu preferred to play a “gaon ke bekoof (rustic buffoon)” promising to even “make Bihar roads shine like actress Hemamalini’s cheeks”.
Paradoxically, he did not earn ridicule for the sexist remark but rather attracted applause.
Instead Lalu’s mannerism and inherent acceptance it had from the crowd only leads one to ponder - which one is more ridiculous: to appear a fool or to pretend to be smart!
A host of internet jokes surfaced on him involving global personalities like US President Bill Clinton and Pervez Musharraf.
Character actor Paresh Rawal has already acted in a film emulating Lalu while another film starring Sunil Shetty has been named after him. Prakash Jha-made ‘Gangajal’ shows politically-motivated violence under his rule and ironically the negative protagonist of the film is named after his brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav.

Born on June 1, 1973, Lalu married Rabri Devi, whom he selfishly imposed as Bihar’s Chief Minister once he was named in the fodder scam and the CBI investigations intensified. Father of two sons and seven daughters, he even made his large family a platform to make frontal attack on Indira Gandhi’s forced sterilization programme during the emergency. He named his eldest daughter Misa Bharati after the infamous Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) enacted during emergency between 1975-77.

He had been also alleged to be so much blinded by greed for holding onto power that he turned blind to reasons and the sentiments of those who should have mattered to him. It took him no time to split Janata Dal when the party favoured his resignation following the fodder scam investigation revelations. He floated RJD anointing himself as its president and made his wife, till then a shy housewife and a semi-literate as Bihar’s chief minister.

In fact, 15 long years from 1990 to 2005 - Bihar’s story has been the story of Lalu’s his love affair with the seat of power of the strife-torn state. For Lalu Prasad Yadav, the state has been his fiefdom – a land where he is alleged to have been presiding over and also inflicting anarchies but he did not want to give up the power. Voted out of power in a fractured mandate in February 2005 assembly polls, he forced UPA regime to deny opportunities to rival parties to take over. Manmohan Singh government’s decision to impose President’s Rule came in for severe criticism by the Supreme Court and its own minister Ram Vilas Paswan took up the cudgels against government’s move.
In the subsequent November 2005 polls, Lalu and Rabri Devi were faced in catch22 situation: can the rendezvous with destiny be postponed indefinitely.

He saw the writing on the wall as the state seemed slipping out of his grip.
In the run up to the polls, voters realized one thing that Lalu’s ‘jalwa’ (magic) was missing.

But Lalu is a person who won’t give up easily and therefore as a strategist to turn disadvantages to advantage, he has made an all out attempt to present himself an innovative administrator. Dubbed as the country’s foremost white elephant, he left nothing to chance to take the credit for bringing about the
financial turnaround of Railways, a portfolio he had reluctantly accepted after Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh denied him home portfolio.

But he has been making news also for wrong reasons in railways. Firstly, he mad a hyped campaign on ‘kulhad’ (earthen tea pot). He also booked railway officials either for mishaving with RJD MPs or not for providing a good service during his trips.
He also used his Railway portfolio and ordered a probe on Godhra train carnage only to be ridiculed by the BJP and his bete noire in Bihar politics Nitish Kumar, the former Railway Minister and the incumbent Chief Minister of Bihar who outwitted Lalu in the backyard of his fiefdom.
Nevertheless, he got a best weapon now to claim about his administrative ability and thus he challenged that he can bring results in any other Ministry. The statement again sounds buffonery but such reasoning of wisdom could be only a metropolitan myth as ordinary Indians do think that Lalu singularly deserves kudos for turning the fortunes of Indian railways.
This profit of Rs 90,000 crore for railways was subsequently challenged by his immediate successor Ms Mamata Banerjee, who implied that the figures were fudged by Lalu.
In the ultimate analysis, only time will tell whether his tales of mannerism and caste idiom politics sprinkled generously with the stance of Muslim appeasement will help future historians to pen a compendium as a political obit or a victory tale of a folk hero.