Sunday, October 31, 2004

Twilight of Hope

Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

Byline by M.J. AKBAR: Twilight of Hope

There comes a moment when every man’s obituary appears on his face. Suddenly the hero of a hundred battles is suffused with a childlike helplessness, and his hand clutches for support from a friend, unsure whether this will be the last gesture. It is a moment of truth beyond denial. It is the face of a man who has seen the approach of the angel of death, and knows that there are no answers, there is no negotiation, there is only submission to the will of God. It was such a face that a genuine hero of our times, Yasser Arafat, presented to television when cameras glimpsed him on Thursday, 28 October. May God grant Arafat a much longer life, but his days as the commander in chief of the Palestinian resistance are over.

No man can be a hero all his life, unless that life is a short one. Arafat was a hero in spasms, and stubbornly human the rest of the time, wandering through error, calculation and miscalculation. Tragedy was the inevitable fate of this refugee who never found any refuge, not even in the compound where Israel kept him imprisoned to humiliate as and when it suited some passing policy of Ariel Sharon.

What was Arafat thinking about on Thursday? That his life had been, as Shakespeare discovered in another context, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? The sound and the fury took him to the centre of the world stage, where he played more than one part even as the cast of characters around him kept changing. But because that part ended on the margins, did it also mean that his life signified nothing? That would be too harsh, perhaps. If nothing else, then Yasser Arafat embodied a national dream. The flaw was that it became a dream without a horizon. Or to put it another way, reality always fell short of the dream, and he repeatedly was unable to accept this reality. The horizon was always beyond reach because he had trained himself to distrust what was within reach. Any trained negotiator, or any head of government, would have permitted space for pragmatism, for there are no perfect solutions. The Sadat-Begin pact was not perfect but it has anchored the peace in the region. The Assads of Syria have not, and cannot, forego their claim on the Golan Heights, but they have not gone to war over that claim for 35 years..........

If the world is wise the next Arafat will not be forced to wear a gun in his belt as part of his workday clothes. We are in a time of flux, in a twilight that has lost the sun but not found the stars. As the poet said, one world is dead and the other is waiting to be born.

-Read More@
  • The Asian Age

  • Main Blog site of M.J.Akbar:
  • M.J.Akbar's Blog

  • Sunday, October 24, 2004

    Family Planning is not Anti Islamic

    Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

    M.J.Akbar's Interview with Dr. Rafiq Zakaria on CNBC TV-18 'Encounter' Show

    ‘Family planning is not anti-Islamic’ - M.J. Akbar Interviews Dr. Rafiq Zakaria

    A scholar on Indian Politics and Islam, Dr. Rafiq Zakaria in his latest book, Indian Muslims: Where have they gone Wrong? concentrates on Understanding the problems that affect the community. In this interview which was first aired on CNB-TV-18's 'ENCOUNTER' he looks at these from a socio-historical perspective.


    Q: So Dr Saab, why don’t we begin with the title of your book, where do you think Indian Muslims have gone wrong?

    A: You see, I entered politics in a very sort of emotional way in 1937 when I was in the last year of my school. And by chance I was able to meet Mahatma Gandhi who was waiting at the Poona railway station, sitting on a bench waiting for the arrival of the train. And I rushed to him and I just asked him, "Gandhiji, what are you going to do about Hindu Muslim unity?" He was amused that a teenager like me dared to ask him such a question. But he smiled, and he said, "I’ll do everything that is possible and in my power, and if need be, I’ll die for it."

    Q: Sir, has your love for Gandhi made you into a bitter foe of Jinnah?

    A: In a way you can put it that way, because I also met Jinnah in 1938 when I was the general secretary of my college union. I took him to address our union (Ismail College at Jogeshwari, in now Mumbai)... And his speech was so bitter and he attacked the Congress, called the high command all kinds of names. And I travelled with him back to his residence, and I found him so aggressive about Hindu-Muslim relations that I felt that this is not going to help the Muslims.

    Q: This was in 1938. If we stretch our minds back, then do you realise that this is after 1937, after the elections, and after the Congress refused to come into an alliance with him in Uttar Pradesh and Maulana Azad says very clearly in India Wins Freedom, that it was the Congress obstinacy that finally drove a man like Jinnah towards ideas of separation?

    A: You are absolutely right and I have said that in my book The Man Who Divided India, that nobody tried as hard as Jinnah did to come to some kind of understanding with the Congress. There were two three reasons why it didn’t happen. One, Nehru’s allergy to Jinnah. He somehow or the other, could never get on. And if you see some of the letters he wrote to Gandhiji, specially when Gandhiji was attending the Round Table Conference, and the way he talked about Jinnah. And also in 1938, when we had invited him for the conference of Federation of Students’ Union, and the two of them were together called, he treated Jinnah with a contempt which took everyone aback and that is one of the reasons why I think that no proper understanding with Jinnah and Nehru could be arrived at. And that was in a way an obstacle to Gandhi-Jinnah talks also.

    Q: And won’t you logically, if you take emotions aside, and we take aside the fact that Nehru was genuinely a great man... But in that case, isn’t Nehru as much responsible for Partition as Jinnah?

    A: I have said that in my book, that I hold Jinnah primarily and mainly responsible because after all it was his insistence which resulted in Partition, you cannot deny that. But what was surprising was that Nehru and Patel easily agreed to the Mountbatten Plan and in fact the Cabinet Mission’s plan also failed because of the turn that Nehru gave to it and which even surprised Sardar Patel who called it an "emotional insanity" on Nehru’s part...

    Q: This was at a press conference which Nehru...

    A: And (it also) shocked Gandhi. But it was quite clear that somehow or the other Nehru was not prepared to share power with Jinnah and that to a large extent applied even to a majority of members of the Congress Working Committee. They sort of forgot Jinnah’s secular role till 1937, and the communal garb that he took... And specially the propagation of the Two-Nation theory that he did which alienated him completely from the Congress high command.

    Q: But isn’t it true that in March 1947, Nehru and Patel actually got the resolution for the partition of Punjab passed without telling Gandhiji?

    A: Gandhiji wrote to them and asked them as to how this happened, and they didn’t reply to him. And Gandhiji then also asked in that very letter that are you thinking of doing the same thing with Bengal? Therefore, they kept Gandhiji completely out of the picture when the crucial talks with Mountbatten took place. And Mountbatten, though he sort of talks ill of Jinnah, was really in league with Jinnah because that was the message that Churchill had given him, that whatever happens you see that Jinnah’s demand is accepted and these Hindus are taught a lesson because they are the ones who have driven us out of India.

    Q: And knowing that Nehru was very close to Mountbatten, do you think that he was also in on this secret understanding?

    A: No, I can’t sort of put Nehru in the dock as far as that is concerned, but Nehru was somehow or the other not ready to work with Jinnah or with the Muslim League because he felt that they are reactionary, they would be coming in the way of the progress of India, they are the people who will be obstacles and other things. You see they didn’t have the vision of a Lincoln. After all, Lincoln faced the same situation in America in 1860. The relationship between the North and the South was worse than between Hindus and Muslims.

    Q: Yet, Jawaharlal Nehru always had the hand of Lincoln on his desk.

    A: That is surprising. You see, he didn’t have the vision and courage of Lincoln, I am sorry to say. I am a great admirer of Nehru who had done a lot for India, there’s no doubt about it, specially as far as the freedom struggle was concerned and also for rebuilding India after Independence. But the fact remains that somehow or the other as Lohia has said... He was tired, he was... Lohia says he was hungry for power or whatever it is. And somehow or the other he came to the conclusion that let us get rid of these Muslim Leaguers and Jinnah and all these fellows and we shall have a more consolidated India to rebuild.

    Q: Well, that’s a point on which many people outside the Congress might agree. But that makes it twice in Jinnah’s life that he was snubbed. Once by Nehru and in 1920 by Gandhi.

    A: No, you see Gandhi tried his level best to come to an understanding.

    Q: But isn’t it true that Jinnah was against the politics of the Khilafat Movement?

    A: The whole question is, that Jinnah had no emotional attachments to Muslims. Let us be quite clear.

    Q: Jinnah is 57 years ago. The past is the past. Why are Indian Muslims today still mired in poverty, still mired in some kind of intellectual backwardness? These are the charges against them. When people read, for example, the Muslim Personal Law Board chief saying that family-planning is anti-Islamic.

    A: I think you have said in your book also and the other day during the launching of my book, that this whole business of numbers should not really affect us. And you are right there because what has happened is that the Muslims have always had a kind of insecurity as far as the Hindus are concerned. And, therefore, the entire politics of the Muslim leadership has been confrontationist. Right from 1906 if you see or even you go back to when the Congress was founded. And somehow or the other this confrontationist attitude against the Hindus... And Hindus also never seriously tried to ease that kind of insecurity that the Muslims felt, that resulted in Partition and after Partition also the Muslim leadership continued the same game of confrontation.

    Q: Doctor Saab, you are a scholar. I think people would like to know a very clear answer. Is family-planning anti-Islamic or not?

    A: Family planning is not only not anti-Islamic, but... I have written about it enough. There is the Quranic injunction about it that never take a weight which you cannot bear. There is also the...

    Q: And in the Hadis there is the recognition of Allah’s...

    A: There are a number of traditions about it. There are many ulemas who have sort of supported it, but more than that, the Al Azhar has given several fatwas in favour of it. Even the Grand Imam of the Masjidul Haram which is within the precincts of the Holy Kaaba and he is the sort of most respected religious leader, they have all said that family planning is not against the teachings of Islam. And more than that, the document that was passed unanimously by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1966, has been signed by every Muslim head of state including Saudi Arabia.

    Q: Then why are Indian Muslim leaders particularly those who belong to the clergy, so anti-reform? Why are they so ... conservative is the most polite word I can use!

    A: You see, they are because, the media we shall blame...

    Q: You can hardly blame the media.

    A: You see media always, and that has been the unfortunate part of it, that whenever anything wrong can be said about the Muslims or any pronouncement is made if you put them in a bad light, they will highlight it. And what is being done for a progressive attitude, progressive outlook, that is never never given any importance or highlighted by the media. Both electronic and the print, that has been my experience. I am giving you my own example. I have fought more than seven to eight Assembly and Lok Sabha elections and because I have been a "progressive or a reformist etc" 99% Muslims have voted for me.

    Q: Doctor Saab, what is the validity, let us say, the moral validity of the Muslim Personal Law Board?

    A: They have no validity whatsoever, because really speaking, all issues of personal law are decided by the courts. Under the Shariat Act this has been so provided, in 1938. And let me tell you, that at that time many Muslim members insisted that these cases of Muslim Personal Law should be heard and decided by Muslim judges. Jinnah was the strongest opponent of it. And it was because of Jinnah that that provision was not incorporated. And for instance, there is much talk of triple talaq. Even if the AIMPLB decides against it, it can’t be abrogated because of the Muslim Personal Law. Because it was approved by the Privy Council in 1919, that it was legal and it was valid. Now if it has to be abrogated, then you must go to the Supreme Court. It is our Supreme Court alone that can reverse the Privy Council decision. And even today, all your cases of inheritance, of marriage, of divorce and other things are decided not by the AIMPLB but by the courts. And that’s why the Personal Law here is known as Mohammedan Law.

    Q: But then why are these people so averse to going to the Supreme Court, because they think that their power will be finished?

    A: No, I mean after the Shah Bano case...

    Q: What do you think about the Shah Bano case?

    A: The worst thing that could have ever happened as far as the Muslim leadership is concerned. I think it has done more harm to Islam than anything else. And that’s what even Justice Javed who was then the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan... He said I’ve never known a more stupid way of agitating about a non-issue as the Indian Muslims did.

    Q: Mrs Gandhi allowed... During her time the Muslim Personal Law Board was created I think at a meeting in Bombay and you were very close to Mrs Gandhi.

    A: I was close to Mrs Gandhi, but Mrs Gandhi had nothing to do with... Please remember this thing. You see it got some kind of an importance because of its founder president popularly known as Ali Miyan. And the membership is predominantly Deobandis. And the Barelvis... 90% of the Muslims owe their allegiance to the Barelvis, not even 10% give their allegiance to the Deobandis. And the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has no enforceable authority in law and as far as the generality of Muslims is concerned, the Barelvis have refused to accept any kind of verdict by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

    Q: But three things, burqa, polygamy and I think talaq, talaq, talaq. These are the three things which reinforced the image of Muslims being anti-women.

    A: You see you have been very active both in politics and you are one of the most outstanding editors that India has ever produced...

    Q: That’s very kind of you...

    A: No, no, no. I want to ask you, have you ever taken any kind of a poll, as far as these issues are concerned, what is the reaction of the common Muslims? I mean, they go on passing some resolution expressing some views and you people go on highlighting it, but as far as the common Muslims are concerned, they are not bothered about all these things.

    Q: The whole agitation against the Babri mosque, the fears that came in, did that give rise to certain kind of conservatism, or as some people say, even fundamentalism?

    A: No, you see I’ve always told you that the main bane of Hindu Muslim relations has been the insecurity that Muslims have felt vis-à-vis the Hindus. And, therefore, when Babri Masjid was demolished, psychologically, practically every Muslim felt that perhaps these people are going to destroy every mosque. And there was even a widespread rumour throughout the Muslim mohallas that they will not allow you to do your prayers etc. So it was that thing psychologically that created a kind of a scare among the Muslims. And, therefore, they have still not got out of it, because the whole attitude of those who acclaim Hindutva creates that kind of a fear among Muslims and you cannot write it out. You see, Vajpayee talked of liberalism, secularism and other things, but really speaking, as far as the influential Hindus are concerned, they have become much more anti-Muslim than ever before. And the Babri Masjid (demolition) was a symbol of that hatred against the Muslims which they experienced.

    Q: Do you see the Indian Muslims emerging out of the madrasa-poverty trap in the near future? Or is there any other way?

    A: I am running about 15 colleges in my old constituency of Aurangabad. I am running here (Mumbai) three colleges, and I can tell you that you look at the university results now, and much larger number than ever before is coming into the merit list. Therefore, there is now that awakening among the younger Muslim generation to really stand on their feet, to harness their own talents.

    Q: Is there a growing recognition among Muslims in our country that we have the privilege, that perhaps we are the only Muslims in the world to have enjoyed nearly 60 years of uninterrupted democracy?

    A: That you are right. This is another aspect of it. In your speech you also referred to the Brahmins... Look at the Brahmins... It is a small microscopic minority. It was driven out of Tamil Nadu, driven out of even Maharashtra, but still because they sort of harnessed their own talents, their own energies, they have managed to hold their own.

    Q: Lastly Doctor Saab, are you optimistic or are you pessimistic about Hindu Muslim relationship?

    A: Well, really speaking after Gujarat I was very pessimistic. But then again after the Lok Sabha elections and the results in Gujarat itself, I have again come to the conclusion that Hindus will not be so aggressively hateful of the Muslims, and therefore...

    Q: We must never really confuse some Hindus with all Hindus, and if India is a secular nation it is not simply because I as a Muslim want it to be secular but because by far the larger majority of Hindus of our country want it to be secular.

    A note from Zakaria: To Akbar's question whether I was optimistic about the future of the Hindu Muslim relations, I failed to add that I could not but be optimistic because Hindu-Muslim unity had been my life long mission. I told Balasaheb Thakeray that he had said to Time Magazine that he would like to throw all these Muslims into the Arabian Sea but I told him,"Balasaheb, they would all swim back." He laughed and said, "You are right. We must all live in peace."

    Can We Privatise Facts?

    Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi


    This is a past article of 25th September 2004. Dr. Rafiq Zakaria was interviewed on the show 'Encounter' on friday, 22nd Oct.2004 and the problems that afflict the Muslim Community were debated. Lately, Population statistics, and particularly the alleged "leap" in the Muslim population of India, have entered the public discourse. The Byline 'Can We Privatise Facts? is a musing on Dr. Rafiq Zakaria's Book 'Indian Muslims:Where did they go Wrong?

    Can We Privatise Facts?

    The point is not the venue, except to stress that it was the last place where I would have expected the "concern" to be raised. We were at a gathering of publishers, and publishers were engaged in what they love best, jockeying for power within an institution. That was understandable, acceptable and even welcome, for any institution is worth only as much as the hunger of its members. Suddenly a member from a town in North India got up and urged everyone's attention on the census figures. We had a wise man in the chair, who used the first opportunity to interrupt and change the subject. The implication is obvious.

    Population statistics, and particularly the alleged "leap" in the Muslim population of India, have entered the public discourse.There have been some tart responses to the tardy sequence of claim, correction, denial and distortion that has been inflicted upon us by the census bureau. But this confusion is not, anymore, a cloak that hides facts. It is instead a backdrop on which a single message is being advertised by certain politicians and social activists: that the population of Indian Muslims is rising at an "alarming" rate. This "alarm bell" is a "wake-up call" to Hindus to rise and meet the "challenge".

    Every marketer knows that an advertisement persuades only if it fits complementary perceptions. This one finds an audience because of a long and continuous demonisation of Muslim men as sex-hungry predators with four wives apiece, and Muslim women as subservient cattle hidden inside tent-veils. Such rubbish gets sustenance, paradoxically, from the more luridly conservative Muslim clergy, who periodically hit the headlines with nonsensical claims, the most silly being the one that Islam forbids family planning. Dr Rafiq Zakaria, whose Indian Muslims: Where Have They Gone Wrong? should be on every sensible reading list, was categorical and vehement when I asked him whether family planning was unIslamic. There was absolutely no justification for such a claim in either the Holy Quran, he said, or in the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet). He pointed out that every single Muslim country, including Saudi Arabia, had signed the United Nations charter on population control. Dr Zakaria quotes Iqbal on this kind of mullah:

    Qaum kya hai? Qaumon ki imaamat kya hai

    Isko kya jaanein yeh do rakat ke imaam!

    (What is a community? What is its leadership? What do they know of this who only know how to pray two raka of namaaz!)

    The dialectic of alarm raises its own dictionary of questions. How do you deal with this "problem"? By competition or elimination? By encouraging Hindus to have more children or by forcible contraception of Muslims. Those in parties like the BJP or Shiv Sena who raise such questions take care never to provide answers. It is far more convenient to leave answers to the fertility of thought or imagination. The politics of confrontation is played out in the mind, for that is the true battlefield of opinion.

    Such politics is not the exclusive privilege of Hindu hardliners; all through the 20th century a section of Indian Muslim leaders continually upped the ante in their search for "Hindu" enemy. In a sense their need helped create the enemy. At the forefront of such politics were conservative clergy, seeking to convert their influence into control of the community, and salivating politicians, who were sure this was the easiest route to votes.

    Victimisation, thereby, was raised to the status of a political virtue. Indian Muslims were encouraged to see themselves as constant victims of one conspiracy or the other. Before Partition, an imagined future was constructed in which the Muslim "minority" became an enslaved underclass to the Hindu "majority". The rhetoric revolved around the single dimension of numbers, as if either Hindus or Muslims were a monolithic entity shaped by a single fear or passion. After Partition, when it became obvious that much of that imagination had been, at the very least, heated, the politics of victimisation-confrontation sought fresh monsters, and, of course, found them. There was never any shortage of Hindu fundamentalists willing to oblige, nor of governments and parties who fished for votes in pools of blood.

    Everyone got hurt, but who got hurt the most? Such ideas could only produce the mentality of a ghetto, into which their own leaders drove Muslims. The law and the courts, arguably Indian democracy's finest estate, were demonised. The process reached its nadir in the Shah Bano case where every major player, including the government and Parliament of India, behaved with callous irresponsibility in pandering to anti-woman barbarism that sullied the reputation of a faith that has also been one of the great reformist movements in world history. Pakistan's judges described the Shah Bano episode accurately: it was stupid. The Muslim politician-clergy elite at the apex had a vested interest in keeping the base insecure, and therefore ignorant; exploitation becomes more difficult with education and economic progress. Consciously or unconsciously they shared this objective with Hindu fundamentalists.

    It may have been a coincidence, but two crises visited India simultaneously. The economic collapse in 1991, symbolised by the transfer of Indian gold reserves to London, forced economic reform. We were fortunate to find an excellent leader in the then finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh. The social collapse was symbolised by the destruction of the Babri mosque in 1992, and the vicious riots that followed. This collapse needed drastic social reform and a doctor and determination of equal ability. It was a role fit for Prime Minister

    P.V. Narasimha Rao, who could have -- should have -- done for social reform what Dr Manmohan Singh did for economic reform. This social reform was needed as much among Hindus as Muslims; the mobs who hunt during riots are hardly the paradigm of civilisation. Prime Minister Rao had credibility and cachet among Hindus, just as Mr Arjun Singh had the confidence of Muslims. Perhaps it was a moment that called for cooperation between the two. But Mr Rao's horizon generally never crossed self-preservation, and Mr Singh lost the plot. But when leadership fails, people seek their own answers. Indian Muslims learnt the best possible lesson from December 1992. Their trust in politicians withered, and they, at long last, took to education with the kind of missionary zeal that Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan induced in the 1880s. This is why at least one census figure has surprised those with conventional ideas about Indian Muslims. They are virtually on par with other communities in literacy and education.

    Just as economic reform needed a heavy injection of privatisation, social reform also needs privatisation. I do not mean privatisation of mere schools; and certainly not the privatisation of the school syllabus. But I do offer an idea. The time has come to privatise facts.

    Today the government of India is the sole owner, and therefore the sole dispenser of facts. The census is a case in point. Every ten years we are presented with statistics that are vital to our understanding of our nation, essential to policy-making, and determinants of political behaviour which in turn creates or destroys government. These statistics are delivered unto us from a bureaucratic Mount Sinai, with all the certainty of the Ten Commandments. How accurate are they? No one knows. Experience in other matters indicates that while you can accuse a government of many things, you can never accuse it of efficiency. How many errors and prejudices are hidden in those statistics? How much laziness and indifference clogs truth? The simple answer is that we do not know. The government will not close down its census bureau or its statistical departments, nor should it. (This is analogous, in fact, to the government's continued participation in some parts of the economy, irrespective of liberalisation.) But the government's monopoly over facts has become counter-productive.

    That is a necessary prelude to rescuing communities from the numbers game. We need to redefine terms that have become ritual in political discourse, the worse instances being "minority" and "majority". They certainly do not mean what they claim to mean. The Hindu in Kerala does not vote in the same manner as the Hindu in Karnataka. Reading in a straight line from south to north, Hindus have voted totally differently in different states in the Parliament elections: for Marxists in Kerala; for BJP and Deve Gowda in Karnataka; overwhelmingly for the BJP in MP, and substantially for Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP. There may be more commonality among Muslims because of their antagonism towards the BJP, but it is absurd to treat them as a monolith.

    What are the facts? We will never really know until we have privatised them.


    Edited & Brought to You by ilaxi


    Politicians can survive a great deal — plague (corruption charges), pestilence (electoral defeat), famine (not made a minister) — but very few survive a sense of humour. That may be one reason why there isn’t much of it around. After all, if you want to laugh at others all the time you have to also laugh at yourself some of the time, which is difficult to reconcile with the ego. There is a very thin line between cracking a joke and becoming a joke. Lalu Prasad Yadav, for instance, is now expected to entertain at every public meeting and at many private ones. He succeeds because he does have the sense to laugh occasionally at himself, although he takes care never to joke about corruption just in case the boomerang effect gets him squarely on the nose. When a joke falls flat it takes the joker down with it.

    The just-removed BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu, never quite got his jokes right. He fashioned an image as the bluff, hearty, alliterative leader who could demolish deathly demons with devastating daring — you see the point. Bad alliteration is like the flu. You catch it easily and it lays you down. Naidu was always shooting off some homily or the other about those opposed to the BJP, and since his relationship with the English language was at best quaint, the combination was often hopelessly funny for all the wrong reasons. He overdid himself during the press conferences in the general elections. Correspondents are too polite to snicker in front of the high and mighty, but behind his back was another story. The slippage on the credibility graph was significant.

    This may, in the history books, end up as a very minor reason for the BJP’s troubles this year, but when the going is bad everything adds up. A more important reason could lie in another verbal statistic. The BJP has a large research division. It should put together a team to find out just how many times the party president used the word “poverty” or “poor” and compare it to other words in his repertoire. Even a rudimentary analysis would prove that the BJP had slipped to its Jana Sangh roots and returned to a middle class political culture.

    It might be of interest to the party, as it struggles once again to find a road map, that communalism and communism emerge from the same concept: commune. In theory, both communalism and communism accept the rationale of conflict. But whereas the first seeks to advance its cause through the demonisation of the minorities, the second seeks to expand its base through a challenge to the rich. This is what makes the first ephemeral and the second sustainable.

    The BJP rose in the late 1980s because L.K. Advani struck a chord with the poor. He did not do so with an economic agenda, but a religious one. He took the Ram temple construction movement into the villages, where the party had insufficient presence, and to women, whom the party had never wooed. The strength of an emotional upsurge can at best be limited, and much of the steam exhausted itself with the destruction of the Babri mosque. But Advani had something else to offer his party: a rational analysis of weaknesses and strengths when opportunity presented itself at the end of the 1990s. The BJP leadership took the unsentimental view that if it wanted power in Delhi then it could only be through partnerships.

    This meant that it would have to cede space in parliamentary calculus, and withdraw from the confrontational heart of its ideological compulsions. This was not without internal pain, for there were always the Murli Manohar Joshis to push the envelope at inconvenient moments. However, it was implicit that both concessions were temporary. Neither did the party have any qualms about exploiting crass communalism, as for instance in Gujarat.

    One faction, offered shelter in the Vajpayee wing, did begin to believe after 1999 that power would diffuse the original ideology, but it was a minority (pun intended). Very adroitly, Atal Behari Vajpayee used Pakistan, an antithesis of the BJP, to redefine the thesis of his years in power. It was not another political game. He genuinely believed in peace with Pakistan, and sustained that belief through the Kargil war, the turmoil of terrorism and the expensive failure of Agra.

    When push came to shove, as in Gujarat, the Atalites had to retreat. Power, however, provided this faction with sufficient cover, and the prospect of continued power made it complacent. Defeat has marginalised the Atalites to the point where the Maharashtra election campaign scheduled only one Vajpayee meeting, and that too in the company of Bal Thackeray. Nor is Vajpayee the only “traitor” to the hardliners. Narendra Modi has greeted Advani’s return as party president with deafening silence. It is pertinent to note that Advani is a sitting MP from the capital of Gujarat. Equations have changed in Modi’s calculations. Two years ago, he needed Advani. Today, he believes that Advani needs him.

    Pramod Mahajan, belligerent in victory but astute in defeat, has made a very perceptive point in one of his mea culpa interviews offered to the media as part of the atonement process. He learnt to play bridge, he says, while under arrest during the Emergency. One of the basic rules of the game is “When in doubt, lead a trump”. The BJP, he explained, has pulled out its trump card, Advani, since it is trapped once again in the uncertainties of the 1980s.

    The mention of the Emergency was incidental, but has a deeper relevance. The doubts of the 1980s were a direct consequence of three years of power after the Emergency, and the extraordinary compromise that the party made in 1977 when it merged its identity into the Janata Party. Three years of power led to seven years of doubt, until the mishandling of the Shah Bano crisis provided a route back to relevance. How many years of doubt will emerge from six years of power?

    The nub is this: can Advani of the 2000s be the Advani of the 1980s? Or is Narendra Modi going to be the Next Big Thing? There is little doubt that Modi sees himself as the future of his party. He has positioned himself as the incorruptible soul of Hindutva, both ideologically and financially, untainted by the temptations of body, bank account or ideological compromise. He believes that he does not have to wait for more than a couple of years before the call comes. Ironically, he needs the Manmohan Singh government to last the course, so that he can campaign against both incumbency and “pseudo-secular-minority” rule. However, windows of opportunity in public life tend to be flirtatious. They beckon. But a sudden breeze can also shut them. Events change life more than intentions.

    The tried and still trusted Advani has an obvious immediate challenge: how to energise the base that keeps slithering away. The Bharatiya Janata Party is still Bharatiya, and still a Party, but the Janata has disappeared.

    Politics is never static. If you do not grow, you slide; you do not remain stagnant. The base has two dimensions, the party and the electorate, and to an extent they are interdependent. It is obvious though that a party depends more on the voter than the voter does on a party. The Modis may not believe it, but the voter is not going to return through the brutal mechanism of communal riots. The spirit of democracy dies each time a Modi thrives.

    A story from a favourite source might prove instructive. Hazrat Maulana Jelaluddin Rumi is well known. But his father, Bahauddin Veled, was also a famous divine. Sultan Alauddin, ruler of Qonya, once took the elder sage to his palace and fortress, and showed him the splendid new roof, walls and towers that had been built to protect the kingdom. Bahauddin Veled remarked to the Sultan: “You have raised an excellent defence against the hordes and horsemen of the enemy. But what protection have you built against the unseen arrows, the sighs and moans of the oppressed who live inside the kingdom? They can sweep whole worlds away to destruction. Strive to obtain the blessings of the poorest of your subjects. They are a stronghold compared to which the finest turrets and strongest castles are nothing.”

    Venkaiah Naidu concentrated on building castles, at least some of them in the air. Lal Krishna Advani needs to find those subjects.

    Sunday, October 17, 2004

    Tin Man Vs Scarecrow

    Edited & Brought to You by ilaxi

    BYLINE BY M.J.AKBAR : Tin Man Vs Scarecrow

    Since the only functional law of democracy places perception above facts, logic can only be a secondary guide to the fate of fortune hunters in an election. Let us attempt a new methodology.

    Why not throw random facts, picked arbitrarily from a day’s reading of newspapers and a special issue on politics of the New Yorker, into a kaleidoscope and see if any pattern emerges about the Great American Race.

    In the days of studio domination of Hollywood, when stars were given weekly wages, Warner Brothers used a scientific audit to rate the popularity of the stars on its payroll. The winner in 1941-42 had more support among girls of 17 than women of 30 or more; received more applause from moviegoers who earned $25 or less a week than those taking home $60 or more; and sold more tickets in towns with a population of 10,000 or less than in the big cities. His name? You guessed it. Ronald Reagan.

    At the time he was still surging ahead in the primaries, the Democratic meteor Howard Dean permitted an enthusiast to pour a milkshake into a glass perched on his head. Dean retained his physical balance, but the first doubts began to creep in about his mental balance.

    The Democrats cut short their primary process, gave John Kerry the nomination and then watched him cool down on the electoral thermometer even as George Bush warmed up by stoking up a fear psychosis. A guest on the Jay Leno show, a bitter sort of comic, told Leno, "Jay, the poop I made in your dressing room has more heat than John Kerry". Kerry was sitting onstage at the time. He kept his cool.

    The 20 electoral votes of the Midwest, and therefore currently conservative, state of Ohio will make the difference between victory and defeat as the contest goes to the wire. An executive of a company called Diebold proudly claimed that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to President (Bush)". Diebold is a maker of the voting machines that will be used in the United States on 2 November.

    When Bush’s daughter Jenna got stuck in the elevator of a nightclub while on the campaign trail, she opened the door with a chopstick and later calmed herself with a tequila. Jenna is now so popular that she introduces her dad in the Republican heartland before he delivers his stump speech.

    In the first of the three debates Bush attacked the "moolah" of Iraq. He didn’t mean the moolah paid out to Cheney-crony companies like Halliburton. It was his preferred pronunciation of "mullah". Last year, he ended the nuanced Clinton policy towards Iran, in which the elected Muhammad Khatami was the good guy and leader of the clergy Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was the bad guy. Iran was placed unambiguously on the axis of evil. The word from the neocons around Bush is that once Bush is elected Iran will be punished with a military attack on its nuclear facilities, since moolahs are not going to be permitted the luxury of a nuclear arsenal. The military operation could be outsourced to Israel.

    Nicolas Lemann notes in the New Yorker: "If voters give Bush a second term … he would pursue ends that are now outside what most people conceive of as the compass points of the debate, by means that are more aggressive than we are accustomed to. And he couldn’t possible win by a smaller margin than last time, so he couldn’t possibly avoid the conclusion that he had been given a more expansive mandate." Lemann also recalls what Bush told Bob Woodward in December 2001: "I have no outside advice… First of all, in the initial phase of this war, I never left the compound. Nor did anyone come in the compound. I was, you talk about one guy in a bubble."

    On 6 August this year, five billionaires and six liberals met at the Aspen Institute in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and swore themselves to secrecy. They then concentrated on a single purpose: how to defeat Bush. The moneybags were Peter Shore, chairman of an insurance company called Progressive Corporation and owner of a 250-foot yacht, Lone Ranger, that is often his home; John Sperling from Arizona; Herb and Marion Sandler from California; and George Soros, king of Wall Street. Soros, who started with $6 million in 1969 and turned it into $7 billion, is the most public face of this alliance. He donates some $400 million a year to causes he likes. He believes Bush is terrible for the world, America and him, in that order. Officially the Kerry campaign keeps him at arm’s length, worried about any radical outburst. Clinton once kept him waiting so long that he had to send officials after him when he walked out. Soros was convinced in May that Bush could be defeated although the opinion polls put him so far ahead Kerry couldn’t see where the frontrunner had gone. Since he is a Jew, rightwing attacks on him include more than a hint of racism. He says he is too old to care. His philosophy is simple. "If I want it, I own it." He is convinced that the Iraq invasion was a disaster, and America should pull out as soon as is decently compatible with national interest.

    Kerry relaunched himself on 16 September in Las Vegas at the annual convention of the National Guard Association which, two days before, had cheered Bush to the rafters. Kerry said, "I believe he (Bush) failed the fundamental test of leadership. He failed to tell you the truth. (He) did not even acknowledge that more than a thousand men and women have lost their lives in Iraq. He did not tell you that with each passing day we’re seeing more chaos, more violence, more indiscriminate killings. He did not tell you that with each passing day our enemies are getting bolder — that Pentagon officials report that entire regions of Iraq are now in the hands of terrorists and extremists… You deserve a President who will not play politics with national security, who will not ignore his own intelligence, while living in a fantasy world of spin."

    Stanley Presser, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, believes that opinion polls should not be trusted if they merely ask whether respondents are for or against X or Y. There is no certain answer to "How are you?" There is a far better answer to "How are you compared to yesterday, or compared to someone?"

    A Gallup poll released on 17 September showed a 13-point lead for Bush. A Pew poll a day earlier found the candidates to be almost tied.

    The first polling was done by a magazine called Literary Digest. It would send around 20 million postcards and receive an average of five million answers. It correctly named the winners of the 1924, 1928 and 1932 American presidential elections, and predicted in 1936 that Alf Landon would defeat incumbent Roosevelt by five percentage points. A young pollster who sampled only thousands, but went door to door, made a public bet that the Digest would be wrong. Roosevelt won. George Gallup went on a roll, and is still rolling.

    Have you heard of the Push Poll? It is designed to push the respondent towards the answer the client wants. When Zogby did a poll for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) it asked Americans whether they would give up eating meat if they knew that chicken, only days old, get their beaks seared off with hot blades to prevent them from pecking one another in jam-packed cages. Or that bulls and pigs are castrated without painkillers. Politicians who find they have won in the polls but lost in the ballot box may want to check if they have been flattered to deceive.

    Incidentally, when you read that a particular poll has been conducted on the telephone, remember a few facts: women answer the phone more than men, and young people don’t hang around at home.

    Zogby got the Bush-Gore election right with an unusual question. "You live in the Land of Oz, and the candidates are the Tin Man, who’s all brains and no heart, and the Scarecrow, who’s all heart and no brains. Who would you vote for?" The response was a dead heat: 46.2% for each. He asked the question again in the last week of September. The Tin Man was ahead this time by ten points.

    The share price of Halliburton, the Cheney-propped American multinational that received a multibillion dollar grace-and-favour contract in Iraq, has dropped sharply on the New York Stock Exchange, from $50 to around $30.

    The day after Bush lost the third straight debate a news report from Baghdad said: "Prime Minister Ayad Allawi threatened Wednesday that a military assault would be mounted against Falluja if the rebel bastion did not surrender Iraq’s most wanted man, the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." Translation: Musharraf can’t deliver Osama bin Laden before 2 November. Hamid Karzai hasn’t been asked to pick up Mullah Omar. So it’s Allawi’s turn to deliver an also-ran. Does it matter that the CIA says that Zarqawi had no links with Saddam Hussein, and that official investigations confirm that Saddam had neither weapons of mass destruction nor any connections with Al Qaeda? No.

    Sunday, October 10, 2004

    An American Diary

    Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

    BYLINE BY M.J. AKBAR : An American Diary

    The biggest tourist attraction in America now is the immigration service at the airport. It evokes the same mild dread that was once reserved for Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. Common sense suggests that nothing will happen when you encounter them, but who can erase the faint consternation that you could be the next big story in the news? There is never any logic to an accident. Surely the most famous face on the Washington-Boston air run is that of the unmistakable Senator Edward Kennedy, and yet he has been stopped, and even denied permission to emplane, six times. (Thought: which computer could have possibly programmed a likely terrorist with a name like Edward Kennedy? It must be Republican black humour).

    Senator Kennedy might grin and bear it, but one can see the apprehension on the faces of anonymous browns, particularly those with unfamiliar headgear or shaped beards. There is also the fear and loathing associated with fingerprinting. For Indians it must arouse the collective consciousness of disgust for the thana level of suspicion. Nothing is more greasy than the thought of the thumb being jabbed on carbon ink by a fat police hand before it is pressed again on smudgy government paper. Why do Indian constables insist on holding the victim’s hand all through the process? Middle class sensitivities are also affronted by the implicit suggestion of illiteracy. Only those who cannot sign must be fingerprinted, isn’t it?

    Now for the good news. The immigration service at the San Francisco International Airport is as friendly, efficient and fast as it is possible for a government service to be. The premonition of long, horrible queues turns out to be a mistaken nightmare. This might be because my flight landed at 12 in the afternoon instead of 12 at night, but the pace of clearance was brisk and standardised. Someone has been dictating from the relevant chapter of How to Win Friends and Influence People. The thumbprinting is psychologically painless, since 19th century ink has been replaced by 21st century electronic ray. On domestic flights the democratisation of security is reassuring. You do not have to be a defence minister of India to take off your shoes. Everyone, white, yellow, brown or black, has to do this. A minor side-effect is that travellers have become conscious of their socks now that they are required to take off their shoes. Branded socks are in.

    I have not fully recovered from the glow of my most painless journey to America in over two decades of travelling to the land of hope, glory and immigration. If the news changes, I shall report that as well.

    Berkeley is the kind of campus they make for the movies: relaxed, sunny, gentle and anti-Bush. The weather is splendid with views (both geographic and intellectual) to match. One could make a career of doing a doctorate out here, and indeed many do. This is the first leg of a three-university lecture tour. The reaction to an alternative, Washington-sceptic presentation on Muslims, South Asia and the world after Iraq is absorbed and sympathetic from both faculty and students. Raka Ray, who heads the South Asia department, has unambiguous faith in her guests; she is unfazed by the fact that the lecture has been scheduled at precisely the same time as the Edwards-Cheney debate. My ego gets a boost when I learn that there is even a gatecrasher. It is quickly deflated when I learn, upon investigation, that he has come for the free wine and cheese. I actually see him stuffing his baggy and bedraggled pockets with cheese. What I once thought was pedantic dressing-down is practical for minor theft. He has been known to walk off with a full bottle of wine stuck in his waistband.

    Iowa is the heart of America, and the heart of America is serene, silent, rural and decisive. This is the kind of archetypal mid-western state that Dave Barry ribs when he is short of a topic for his weekly humour column. It is true that you are welcomed to Cedar Rapids, home to the University of Iowa, by a massive statue of a milch cow. The pavements of the two-avenue downtown are punctuated by large plastic eagles in American football uniforms. Milk and patriotism are the passions of Iowa. In a mellifluous piece this week in the New York Times, R.W. Apple reveals that the information centre on the highway linking the capital, Des Moines, with Kansas City boasts a sign proclaiming "Iowa — where exciting things happen" but treat that as an advertisement. It is generally believed that the liveliest movement in the state is the swaying of amber fields of corn. Trust me, that corn on endless miles of flat, relentless plains can look beautiful. Apple notes that John Wayne comes from Iowa, but it is entirely in character that when Wayne was in Iowa his name was Marion Morrison. However, Iowa is poised to do the most exciting thing it has done in decades. It could be the decisive swing state in a close election between George Bush and John Kerry. The fate of the world could lie in the silence of Cedar Rapids.

    Frederick Smith and Philip Lutgendorf breathe life and energy into India studies. They are known familiarly as Fredji and Philipji. Fredji speaks Sanskrit like a Chennai pandit, from whom he learnt his classics. Philipji recites Tulsidas like a charm. Their Hindi, needless to add, is impeccable. Philipji makes a splendid cup of chai and his listening music includes Fifties’ Hindi hits as well as Dil Se. We indulge in a lengthy and passionate conversation where I deliver myself of theories on Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar. Only one of them, Dev Anand, I argue, is a genuine iconoclast. Raj Kapoor weeps too quickly at the sight of mother earth, and Dilip Kumar weeps too quickly, period. We are in total agreement on Waheeda Rehman, the most glorious creation of the Almighty in the history of civilisation, with some competition from Madhubala. Philipji not only teaches medieval Indian literature but also a course on contemporary Bollywood. Later on, during my lecture, I use the excuse of a wandering question to trace the history of Indian Muslims through the confidence levels of Muslims in the film industry. The proposition is tentatively titled "The Guilt of Dilip Kumar" who was christened Yusuf Khan but was forced to adopt this nom de plume in order to become acceptable at the box office. True, even Hindu stars took on screen-friendly aliases, but they did not have to change their ethnic associations. Mehmood and Waheeda Rehman were the first important stars to retain their original names. It is a tribute to changing India that the three Khans, Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh, are not required to play hide-and-seek.

    The secret is out. The future of the world may lie on a couch. John Kerry’s resurrection is being attributed to two reasons. He brought in some sharp Clintonians into the upper echelons of his strategy team. And they brought in Sigmund Freud. The way to George Bush Junior’s jugular vein is through his dad. All you have to do to destroy Junior’s composure is to praise his father, particularly on Iraq. That is what Kerry did, at judiciously spaced intervals in the first debate, now uniformly acknowledged as an unequivocal victory for Kerry. Bush Junior, also nicknamed Bush Lite, hates being told that his father showed more sense during the earlier war against Saddam Hussein. Kerry rubbed that nerve with salt, pepper and chilli: "You know the President’s father did not go into Iraq ... beyond Basra ... he wrote in his book, because there was no visible exit strategy. And he said our troops would be occupiers in a bitterly hostile land. That’s exactly where we find ourselves today. There’s a sense of American occupation."

    It has been whispered that Junior was at least partially motivated in his Iraq adventure by the desire to be one-up on his father, who defeated Saddam but refused to pay the price that destruction of Saddam demanded. That whisper has become a shout.

    Kerry brought up Father Bush in the second debate as well, although Son Bush was better prepared to handle the trap. He was under strict orders not to scowl, or appear like a petulant rich kid watching his toys being taken away. But his advisers forgot to tell him not to blink. He kept blinking whenever Kerry spoke in the debate, like a faulty but obstinate neon light. His spin doctors tried some post-debate repair work. One of them told CNN, for instance, that Bush was having so much fun during this debate that he kept winking. Good try, but no goal. You can’t wink with both eyes.

    Success or failure is determined in these debates as much by what you say as what you do not say. Bush was damaged severely by his scowl in Round One of the Great Presidential Heavyweight Championship. He could lose on blinking points in Round Two. He was, generally, more assured in this round. There was a sense that if he messed up again he would be out of the count and he did enough to stay in the race. But Kerry was in command, of the facts, of the language, of the dynamics of argument. Kerry, to return to Freud, was the son that Bush Senior might have wished to beget: patrician, patriotic, educated and balanced rather than merely gutsy, guttural and plain old lucky.

    This remains an election that Kerry can’t win unless Bush loses it.

    Tuesday, October 05, 2004

    War, Terror & The Space Inbetween

    Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

    BYLINE BY M.J. Akbar : War, Terror & The Space Inbetween

    President George Bush made a sensible remark recently when he suggested that it was impossible to win the war against terrorism. The candour was unusual for a politician, and almost unbelievable during an election in which George Bush has bet his whole presidency on the assumption that enough Americans will believe that he rather than John Kerry can lay to rest the nightmare of 9/11. Candour died instantly when Kerry challenged honesty with deception. The war could be won, he claimed, which is within the bounds of reason; but his implication that he knew how to win it was electoral fraud. Naturally, it worked. Bush retracted, and a chance for a genuine debate on a complex problem at a defining moment was lost. Instead of a debate we will see one-liner upmanship. The discussion might as well be handed over to Jay Leno and David Letterman who, in any case, make more sense on most issues.

    I believe that the war on terrorism can be won, but the first, critical, stage is to get the definitions correct. We must mean what we say, and we must know what we mean. Let us take the most obvious example of a misplaced dictionary. George Bush went to war in Iraq ostensibly to find illegal weapons of mass destruction. Let me suggest the names of two nations with weapons of mass destruction without the approval of legitimate world bodies. India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons that were condemned as illegitimate, and which provoked international sanctions. Neither the United States nor Britain has considered invading either Delhi or Islamabad. Bush should have said what he meant; that he was not going after weapons of mass destruction but rogue governments that he could not trust. That story would have had a happier ending.

    The problem with war on terrorism is that while there is now sufficient consensus on the meaning of terrorism, there is equal confusion about the definition of war. Where is the primary battlefield of that war, on the ground, or in the mind? The dilemmas only begin at this point. What if the suicide-missionary is born in the rubble of a mistake, or the devastation of injustice? What if the pursuit of terror multiplies its dimensions? Is there any count of Iraqi teenagers who only wanted an education yesterday but want a gun today? Are the terrorists of Chechnya taking revenge for some terror that never appeared on our television screens? These questions would have inevitably flowed from the debate that Bush initiated and Kerry aborted.

    Read More @ Asian Age

    Sunday, October 03, 2004


    Edited & Brought to You by ilaxi


    Four years in power and two years of war have improved George Bush. The last time he discussed foreign policy with a presidential opponent on television, he couldn’t quite remember the name of the guy from Pakistan. More to the point, he didn’t really care.

    This time the phonetics department of the Oxford English Dictionary could have advertised his mastery of the syllables in the name of the Polish Prime Minister.

    Bush also caught a potential fumble just in time. He was halfway through accusing John Kerry of sending a "mexed missage" when he drew away from the spoonerism and returned to "mixed message". At one point Bush did claim that he was "fighting vociferously" against terrorism, but Jay Leno and David Letterman are not going to be able to have as much fun with that. They would have put "mexed missage" on a slow fire and tortured it to death.

    The problem, alas, is not Bush’s mexed missage but his fixed message. While Iraq burns on every television screen, the leader of the free world whistles in the dark. His recipe for the colossal mistake (Kerry’s phrase) is to condemn anyone with an alternative view, as unpatriotic or confused or possibly in secret dalliance with Osama bin Laden.

    The first of the three debates between Bush and Kerry was not really a debate but a statement of partisan positions. In theory, this suited Bush fine because he has danced successfully to old tunes before and seemed to be swinging back to the White House again. Kerry seemed, in contrast, to trip over every phrase. Moreover, Bush can be dogmatic even when there is no dogma to lean on. That always energises his pre-programmed base.

    Bush chose the dogmatic way out. He did not answer most of the questions that Kerry raised. It is possible that he was surprised at the main thrust of the attack. He may have convinced himself that Kerry could never be direct. Kerry however had all the clarity of a man staring at a noose.

    - Read more @ Asian Age