Tuesday, September 24, 2013

When LK Advani is seen as an inclusive and 'secular' leader in India

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It was really unthinkable once that Lal Kishenchand Advani would one day be described as an 'inclusive' politician and even seen as secular.

But the unthinkable has happened in Indian politics in just over two decades. LK Advani, the man whose chariot, had stoked communal flames across the length and breadth of the country, is today being viewed as a 'moderate person'.

Not just moderate but a secular person. Ironical indeed. Is it because of his old age and the tradition that as a person gets older, we treat him with more respect?

Is it because Rath Yatra took place a quarter century ago, when it needed Newstrack cassettes to be seen on Video Recorders [VCRs]. But Gujarat carnage occurred just a decade ago and at a time when electronic media was well established and we saw it live.

Is it just about the number of years? Communal speeches, violence or riots can't be washed away in this manner. Can they be? We talk of Gujarat riots, but after Advani's rath yatra and the Babri Masjid demolition, the hatred spread across India had led to communal violence in dozens of cities.

Remember, the Surat riots of 1992-93. The scale and magnitude was no less than Ahmedabad. The stories of killings and attacks on women were no less horrific. Or the riots in towns across India then. May be it is something like the old Akbar-Birbal story?  You shorten a line by drawing a longer one adjacent to it.

So as Modi emerged as a hardliner, Advani's Hindutva-wadi hawkish image got diluted. Though he himself made a conscious effort to dilute it, as he realised how Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had remained silent for several years during the Ram Mandir era, had emerged from nowhere to take up the reins of BJP, pushing Advani in the background.

Going to Pakistan, paying respects to the mausoleum of Jinnah, is something that has no resonance with Indian Muslims.

But, he perhaps, thought that it would add to his stature and turn him into a 'statesman' figure.

Media has also been quite charitable towards him all these years.

Advani, A Secular?

I remember very well how LK Advani's speeches turned North India into a communal cauldron in an era when there was no such religious conflict. Whichever town his 'chariot' passed, it left behind a trail of either clashes or increased communalism.

It was during the Rath Yatra, that local-level politicians in their bid to outperform Advani would become even more virulent. It was the impact of his 'rath yatra' that BJP leaders openly addressed all Muslims ass 'Babar ki Aulad' in public spaces.

All that happened long ago! Still, not as distant past. It happened many years after the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Advani's speeches of the era are not telecast now. Besides, he was sharp enough to know how much to say, and  where to stop, so that Singhals, Uma Bhartis, Giri Raj Kishors, Vinay Katiyars, Ritambharas can take it forward from there.

Advani has also been a master of fllip-flop. He went on describe December 6, 1992 as the saddest day of his life. Imagine! From 1986 to 2013, we have seen Advani's urge to lead BJP to a victory in Lok Sabha elections and the wish to achieve get wider acceptability and in turn become Prime Minister.

Now he is seemingly 'secular' but alas, he is out of favour with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Let's wait for a few more months. Advani is clearly nursing the ambition that in case of coalition, he would be chosen as the leader of NDA. So are we yet to witness 'secular' Advani's last hurrah?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Should Muslims excessively worry about Narendra Modi becoming the Prime Minister?

Riding my bike, I was going home the other day when a friend waved at me. As I stopped, he asked me why I was going so fast?

"Now Narendra Modi has become BJP's prime ministerial candidate. So, I, being a minority....I am rushing home", I said jokingly and then both of us began laughing.

Was there anything funny here? Frankly, I don't like the manner in which Modi's rise is being made out as something like an impending doom for Indian Muslims.

Now, the conversation was again on a serious note and the friend tried to reassure me. "Oh, come on, nothing will happen. We, Hindus, are there to protect you Muslim bhais and all the minorities", he said. With Narendra Modi's anointment as BJP's candidate for the post of PM, there is ever increasing worry over what will happen if he becomes PM?

Am I worried? Not at all. Why should I worry? Of course, I don't favour him or his politics. But if Indian electorate plans to elect him as PM, he will be elected. There is no question of any fear at all. We have a healthy, strong democracy, and if an overwhelming majority wants him to be their leader, then its okay.

The BJP is banking on Modi to get extra votes. They feel if there is a Modi-wave, they may get more seats in  North India viz. UP, Bihar, MP and Rajasthan apart from some other states. Then, the next strategy will be to get allies. They hope that if they get close to 200, they can easily get many other parties.

Even if they don't get as many seats, in that scenario, if they are ahead of Congress, they can try and forge alliance, by pushing ahead any other leader--an acceptable face like Sushma Swaraj. The party right now has just 116 seats in 545 member house.

The BJP doesn't have a chance in nearly 267 seats in South India, West Bengal and the remaining eastern part of the country. Clearly, they have to rout Congress in the North Indian states, once again, and do it well.   Then, they can go hunting for the partners.

Who else other than Akali Dal, Shiv Sena and J Jayalalithaa? Will N Chandrababu Naidu extend support to NDA. Mamata Banerji may not risk supporting him. So right now, it's only a matter of speculation. All depends on the outcome of election and the number of seats.
Sudhakar Naik. 1992-93 riots

Even if Modi becomes Prime Minister, skies aren't going to fall. The 'super-secular' Samajwadi Party has already presided over a communal riot that has left tens of thousands displaced in Muzaffarnagar, apart from dozens of other communal riots within 1-1/2 years.

Congress chief minister Sudhakar Rao Naik was chief minister of Maharashtra when two separate rounds of rioting in Mumbai, changed the character of the city for ever.

The figure of deaths was perhaps higher than killings in Ahmedabad.
Naik died long ago. His party promised many times that it would implement Sri Krishna Commission recommendations but even in case of prosecution against a constable, this Congress government in Maharashtra doesn't give nod easily.

So Muslims have suffered enough under Congress governments as well. Modi has a past and the legal battle is far from over. He is under constant watch. I have faith in our pluralistic society, our vibrant democracy, the executive and judiciary. It has always been secular non-Muslims who have fought for justice with Muslims.

Its only a question of months now. The pitch of campaigning and the hysteria would go up as the general election dates draw nearer. But there is no reason for Muslims or any other group to be excessively worried or fear any eventuality. Muslims aren't on anyone's mercy and there is no need to live under [with this] fear psychosis.

Read the earlier post on this blog:

Can Narendra Modi become the Prime Minister of India?

Can Indians, Muslims forget Gujarat riots?

That was about 'Can'. Now whether the Can turns into Will, has to be seen.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

When TV channels didn't go hysteric after a blast, 'ignored' a terror attack in India

Whenever there is a terror attack, everything else gets eclipsed on TV channels in India.

But on Friday, an incident occurred which was totally 'blacked out' by media. The news of 'eight killed in the terrorist strike' was nowhere* seen.

Even in past incidents when a bomb blast took place and no one died but 1-2 persons got injured, the news dominated national headlines.

Then, whey it happened this time. The death penalty to Delhi gang rape accused and choice of BJP's prime ministerial candidate remained the big news.A news agency sent the report and some websites carried it but there was no 'flash' or 'alert'.

This is despite the fact that EIGHT persons were killed in this incident. Is it just because it happened in Manipur in North East? Certain similar incidents in Assam and other parts here have made it to 'breaking news' on TV channels and 'possibility of X,Y,Z outfits' involvement discussed for hours and days'.

All shades of terror are threat to society

The incident clearly shows how Indian media selectively terms certain incidents as 'Terror' and [perhaps inadvertently] causes panic in the society while some other incidents that are of much bigger magnitude are passed off as simple 'blasts' and as a result there is no scare, fear or terror in society.

Yes, in today's world, media sets the agenda. So how this 'selected reporting' happens? But first on another aspect of today's incident. The news agency reported 'eight non-Manipuris killed'. Have you ever heard in any incident. 

If there is a mishap in Gujarat or tragic accident in Maharashtra, do you say 'non-Gujaratis killed' or 'Non-MP residents killed'? Weren't they all Indians?Are lives of non-Manipuris not important? Even if agency's reporter was casual, the desks at newspapers could have checked it and made it look a sensible news. But they didn't bother. Do you know why?
All shades of terror threat to society

Further, see the language. '..bomb was thrown by suspected militants'. What? Aren't they militants or terrorists. Suspected word is ideally used when you name an outfit. This precaution otherwise never taken.  In this case, even terming those throwing a bomb are termed 'suspected militant'.

Can an innocent person do such an act? Of course, not. He has to be a fanatic or militant or terrorist. Then, why so much softness on this occasion. Why no mourning for deaths. No side stories. No condemnation. No messages from ministers?

Let's condemn all forms of Terrorism

Is it just because those reporting from the ground very well knew that there was no possibility of 'so-called Muslim group' involved in this case because it is Manipur..So it became just a 'blast', even though the reports accept that the magnitude was such that it was heard in an area of 1 km.

Perhaps, it is also believed that the news won't interest citizens in rest of the India. After all, when there is no names of shadowy groups or Arabicised names, what would make an interesting copy? Or the reason could be that there is a notion that it is only terror when a Muslim does something disruptive.

Otherwise its not worth sensational reporting. So who expects follow-up stories or later investigation, when on the first day the news has been played down to such an extent. When will electronic media realise the damage this sort of dubious reporting [and double standards] is causing to the society?

Electronic media's 'unwritten' rule on distinguishing between acts of terror

Another point we must remember. There are 66 designated terror groups in India. See the link here. Most of them are not the 'Jihadi' groups, rather, they are the groups active in North East. When they set off blast, this is not termed as 'terrorism'. The same is true for the Naxalites or Maoists.

Howsoever heinous an act they may commit, the acts by NDFB or ULFA remain 'blasts', not 'Terror'. This is perhaps another 'unwritten media rule'. Can we ever expect TV channels to be objective? They promise time and again that they don't need censorship as they will do self-regulation. But are they capable of it? No. 

Now just compare the two incidents:

1. Low intensity blasts, no one killed. 2012 August. All channels had stopped their regular programmes and for hours focused on this news. See the LINK

2. Blast in Imphal [Manipur], eight killed. 2013 September. TV channels don't bother at all. 'Terror' word not mentioned at all. See the LINK

[*a few sites carried it as an ordinary news unlike the scale of coverage over a period days that such incidents get.]

Thursday, September 12, 2013

After Muzaffarnagar riot, Muslims' two decade long strong support for Samajwadi Party (SP) in UP may end, finally

The communal riot in Muzaffarnagar that resulted in at least 40 deaths and displacement of thousands of Hindus and Muslims may finally erode the strong Muslim support for Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh.

The absolute failure of the administration in controlling the violence despite being aware of the repeated incidents of provocation in the region, have upset the Muslims.

The figure of deaths is expected to go up as lot of persons are still missing. Further, the belief that the era of 'major riots' had ended and there won't be communal violence of large-scale after Gujarat riot, has been shattered.

The extent of the Muzaffarnagar riot is not different from the last year's horrific Assam riots or the anti-Christian violence that had occurred a couple of years back in South India.

The long honeymoon with SP may end

Muslims suffered heavily in major riots in UP-Bihar till the decade of 90s. It was during Lalu Prasad Yadav's rule in Bihar and Mulayam Singh's stint in UP that riots stopped. No wonder, Muslims began preferring them over Congress.

People talk about 'firing over kar sewaks' as an example but that's not entirely the reason. It was often recalled how Mulayam Singh Yadav as Chief Minister had immediately transferred top officials of the district as soon as a riot began, and sent new officials by helicopter.

Thus, Muslims' support for SP has lasted well over two decades. In this period, opinion polls mostly [except on the last occasion] proved wrong, as Muslim voted heavily for SP in both Parliamentary election as well as Assembly polls.

But this almost blind support may be ending now. For years there were rurmours floated about SP's links with right-wing leaders. Vast majority of Muslims thought it was an attempt to discredit the party and kept their faith in SP. Often, we heard of tacit support by SP to communal elements.

But Muslim electorate in Uttar Pradesh (UP) repeatedly banked upon him. Either it was Sakshi Maharaj's entry in politics or Kalyan Singh joining the SP, Muslims kept their trust in Mulayam Singh. However, the Muslim perception about SP has changed now for the first time in 20 years.

 No strong action on Hindu, Muslim communal elements

Ever since SP government took charge, there have been several communal incidents in UP. People can't forget the violence in Kosi Kalan or the firing in Ghaziabad when six persons belonging to minority community were killed.

Umpteen such cases occurred lately. But the violence in Muzaffarnagar, a City that never saw such a deep religious polarisation, has come as a major shock and has led to nationwide churning. No stern action was taken to check the riot in the initial phase.

The administration was not tough on both Hindu and Muslim communal elements. The Mahapanchayat was allowed to take place despite the fact that Section 144 was enforced. Swords were openly wielded but no action was taken.

This was condemnable and showed the weakness of the local authorities. When participants returning from the Panchayat were attacked, it was also a condemnable act, but again no strong action was taken.Even in the aftermath of the riot, the administration remains indifferent.

Why not arrest BSP, SP, Congress, BJP leaders who delivered hate speeches?

The BSP, SP, Congress and BJP leaders had indulged in hate speeches. All of them irrespective of their political and religious affiliations should have been booked and sent to jails. Nothing of that sort happened for days. We are still awaiting action.

Just registration of cases serves no purpose.Those who circulated fake videos, morphed photos or inflammatory material, are yet to be arrested. People replaced general headlines with provocative ones and floated these newspaper 'cuttings' on social networking sites.

It was under the nose of SP leaders that everything was planned to ensure that Varun Gandhi got away in the hate speech case, but for a sting operation. Under BSP rule, there was no major riot in UP.

Mayawati wasn't charitable to bureaucrats in this regard. She was feared by the babudom. Samajwadi Party may try to pass off this riot as an 'aberration' or 'other parties' conspiracy' to turn UP into Gujarat, but the truth is that it failed miserably in controlling the riot.

Now Muslims rue the decision to support SP. What about Akhilesh Yadav's promises? From reservation in jobs for Muslims which was unbelievable from the day announcement was made in this regard to promise regarding opening Urdu medium schools and colleges in UP, nothing has materialised.

The frustration is visible even amongst SP's Muslim cadre when the party leaders said that 'we don't want laptop, we first want security' is understandable. After 1992, UP was mostly free from religious conflicts. As a result, like other communities Muslims have also prospered compared to previous decades.

In the last few days, many friends who called me for different reasons, during conversation, also spoke about the riot. All of them seemed disgusted with the handling of the communal riot. The writing on the wall is clear.
Congress may definitely gain.

In Western UP, Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) had been losing its vote share. But now it could be back in the reckoning. After all, nobody wants riots. SP regime has ample time before next Assembly elections.

But the Lok Sabha elections are round the corner. Even otherwise, the party seems to have lost the trust of Muslims largely.

Links on reports about Muzaffarnagar violence:

1. Elderly Mohammad Kadir holding his grandchildren after his son was killed and daughter-in-law critically injured in attack. See report and photo at Indian Express HERE
2. Even kids not spared in the communal violence. The six-year-old boy witnessed his father hacked to death in front of his eyes. See report and photo [on Page 1] at Indian Express HERE

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Delhi by Heart: Raza Rumi's fascinating book on Delhi written from the heart

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It took me sometime before I could buy Raza Rumi's 'Delhi by Heart'. But the moment I got it, I just couldn't put it down.

I read the entire book within a day. Apart from the fact that it is a fascinating travelogue, the book also takes you to a journey into Delhi's rich past.

The book is also Raza's search for his own roots*, as you will get to know after reading it. Delhi is one of the oldest capital cities in the world, which has been the seat of Indo-Islamic civilsation for a millennium.

It was from here that the mighty Mughals ruled and before them there were Slave, Lodhi, Khilji, Tughlaq and Syed dynasties.

The city was plundered by Abdali, the likes of Nadir Shah and later by British soldiers in the aftermath of the first was for independence in 1857.

In 1947, it bore the brunt of partition. Ravaged, it always rose from the dust again [and again] to become a city, more bustling than it was in the past. Raza takes us though the history of this great city. Along side him, the reader becomes a fellow traveller.

The era of Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya and his disciple Amir Khusro, the queen Razia Sultana who ruled India from here, Jehan Ara who planned Chandni Chowk, the emperor of poetry Mirza Ghalib who lived and died in this City, and to modern era.

One of the first books on Delhi, which I read was Khushwant Singh's 'Delhi'. Later, I read William Dalrymple's City of Djinns and Sam Miller's 'Delhi: Adventures in a Mega City'. Delhi fascinates us also but there is a difference.

The Writer from Pakistan

An 'outsider' always manages to spot things which we often ignore about our cities. We may not realise, how certain things that appear mundane to us, will strike a person coming from a foreign country, especially, Pakistan.

With his deep interest in art, architecture, music, heritage, history, Hindu-Muslim composite culture and Urdu poetry, Raza Rumi gives us a complete portrait of the glorious and continuous civilisation that is known as Delhi. Clearly, he is well equipped to deal with Delhi.

Raza Rumi
When he goes to Mehruali or Basti Nizamuddin, he tells you anecdotes and little-known historical facts apart from his own observation. Raza writes about the prominent women of Delhi including Razia, Jehanara and Zebunnisa.

From Amrita Preetam to Gulzar, from his impressions of the left-liberal citadel 'JNU' to his visit to the Jamia Millia Islamia, Raza Rumi touches the world of contemporary politics and literature. He is quite aware of Indian politics.

The author is lucky that during his several visits to Indian's capital, he was able met his favourite fiction writer--the legendary Urdu litterateur Qurratul-Ain-Hyder.

Raza also writes about his interaction with Delhiites like Khushwant Singh and Sadia Dehlvi. In between, he tells interesting tales, attends a mehfil at a khanqah or bumps into a Punjabi man whose family members were killed in Partition. So what happens thereafter!

The real life story of a bubbly Muslim girl whom Raza had met during his earlier trip and whose fate takes a strange turn. Raza also writes about Dehlvi delicates and the street food in Delhi. From Sarmad to Saffronisation, Dara Shikoh to Dalits, he touches a lot in the nearly 325 page book.

It is nice to see that the author has provided translation of Urdu-Punjabi poetry, couplets, Sufi and Bhakti songs, in the book. From Indraprastha to Mughals, Lutyen's and thereafter, modern India's capital in 21st century, it's a long leap by any standards. Still, its enchanting and light to read.

The verdict is clear. Raza Rumi has written the book with his heart. Going by the author's perception, his humanism, broad understanding of the shared heritage of the people of the sub-continent and its future, one surely expects more from him in coming years.

Hope, his literary journey continues. Regions like Doab [Awadh] and Deccan await him now.

[*centuries ago one of his ancestors on his way to Benares had converted to Islam]

Raza Rumi blogs at Razarumi.com