Saturday, March 29, 2008

Islamofascism, not Islamophobia, is the problem

Our liberty and future are at stake
The resolution adopted by Muslim theologians representing the various schools of Islam at the All-India Anti-terrorism Conference organised by Darul Uloom, Deoband, ‘denouncing’ terrorism but condoning radical Islam’s ghastly excesses, apart from remaining silent on Islamist terrorism in India which continues to extract a terrible price, is of a piece with the Observatory Report on Islamophobia released by the Organisation of Islamic Conference at its recent meeting in Dakar, Senegal. Both documents seek to justify manufactured Muslim rage and lay the blame for the resultant death and destruction at the doors of everybody else but Muslims.
It is ironical that Darul Uloom, Deoband, should have taken it upon itself to preach to others the virtues of tolerance — Deobandis are known for neither tolerating others or their faith nor allowing Muslims the freedom to subscribe to modernism and its attendant values. Indeed, Deobandi madarsas at home and abroad, especially in Pakistan, are known to breed Islamofascists whose dark thoughts and darker deeds generate Islamophobia against which the OIC has demanded an international law. Of course, Islamofascism must remain unrestrained and Islamofascists must be allowed the right to practice their ideology of hate. To contest this would amount to Islamophobia, and Islamophobes, as we have now been told, have no right to exist. So, like the proverbial lamb, we should meekly surrender to our slaughter. The least we can do is believe the bogus declaration issued by mullahs who gathered at Darul Uloom, Deoband.
Here’s a confession: There was a time of innocence when I believed in the thesis that there is more than one Islam. There were those with whom you could swap ideas, share jokes and even the cup that cheers. A decade later, during which time I spent three years in Cairo and travelled more than once into the heart of Islam — well, almost, since non-Muslims are not allowed beyond Jeddah, the gateway to Mecca and Medina — I stand converted to the view that any talk of there being a moderate Islam or Islam as a religion of peace merely because of the salutation sa’laam is so much bunkum.
In any event, the ummah sees Islam as a religion that demands absolute submission, which is not really the same as a religion that is predicated on peace and equality. And although the Quran does not stress on compulsion, it does not overflow with kindness towards those who do not submit to god’s will either. The best they can hope for is to be protected by a treaty (dhimmah), which in this day and age would mean unlimited appeasement, and the privileges of the dhimmi are purchased by paying jiziya apart from humiliating conditions of subservience, for instance communal budgeting and a ‘Muslim first’ policy, as is being done in our country.
The manufactured rage over Pope Benedictine’s comments at a German university about how the Sword of Islam cleared the way for Islam’s march beyond Arabia — he was quoting from an obscure Byzantine text — revived memories of the late Aurobindo Ghosh (he spent his last years waging an intellectual battle against Islamofascism from his perch in Texas) and his painstaking research to prove that Islam and peace never co-existed; that the sword of Islam is as much a reality today as it was in the distant past. In a sense, he was right, as much as the Byzantine text the Pope quoted is correct in pitilessly stating a fact that we tend to overlook in our zeal to draw distinctions between moderate and fanatical Islam to cover up for the crimes of the latter more than anything else.
Indeed, India’s history records this fact in the most lurid colours. The mass slaughter of Hindu men and enslavement of Hindu women and children, the destruction of Hindu antiquities and temples (of which the best examples are Somnath, Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura), the brutal efforts to efface Hindu tradition and the rapacious means adopted to expand the frontiers of Islamic rule — Jadunath Sarkar and RC Majumdar have chronicled how Muslim invaders, and later those who sat on the masnad of Delhi, were relentlessly engaged in waging jihad against Hindus — are too well-known to require elaboration.
The bloodletting in Jammu & Kashmir, the ethnic cleansing of the Valley to lay the foundation of Nizam-e-Mustafa, the bombings in Mumbai and elsewhere, the persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh and Malaysia by preachers of fanatical Islam who have now come to dominate the centrestage of politics in those countries and the pathetic, craven approach of accommodation and concession adopted by the political class of India which was, and continues to be, reluctant to confront the truth, should fashion any honest critique of Islamism and highlight its fascist character. This is not about indulging in Islamophobia, which so agitates the OIC and its cheerleaders, but about coming to grips with the true dimensions of Islamofascism, which should be of over-riding concern for those who believe in freedom and cherish the values of modernism that collectively form the foundation of free and plural societies.
Yes, there will be strident criticism and staunch opposition to any attempt to expose Islamofascism for what it is. And the most strident criticism and the staunchest opposition will not come from the OIC and the mullahs of Darul Uloom, Deoband, but from those who wilfully ignore facts to foist fiction which encourages bigoted hate mongers to typecast those who are appalled by Islamofascism as Islamophobes. The protest will primarily come from two quarters:

  • The Lib-Left intelligentsia, which continues to labour under the self-perpetuating myth that all of Islam is a religion of peace and only an insignificant, fringe minority is to be blamed for distorting the great faith that was born in the sterile sands of Arabia; and,
  • The so-called moderate Muslims who till now have skilfully used doublespeak to position themselves as representatives of the ummah, more so in liberal democracies. Their status is now seriously threatened by those who have no hesitation in acknowledging the true nature of Islam both as a faith and a weapon of subjugation.

Those who believe in liberty and freedom of thought need not fear either. Being charged with Islamophobia is a small price to pay for securing our future.

April 30, 2008.

Monday, March 17, 2008

India's Lajja: Taslima leaving for freedom

India's Lajja: Taslima leaving for freedom
Dissident Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen has decided that rather than suffer solitary confinement in a ‘safe house’ where she is kept under virtual house arrest by intelligence agencies, she will “leave India in the next few days to live in freedom” in another country. Nasreen says she has conveyed her decision to officials of the Ministry of External Affairs.
“I wanted to, I still want to, live in India, make it my home. But look at my terrible existence. I can’t meet friends; people can’t meet me. E kemon bechey thaaka? Is this any way to stay alive?” the author of Lajja (Shame), told The Pioneer on Monday evening.
She describes her stay in the ‘safe house’ as “incarceration”, adding, “My hands have been shackled… I can’t accept these chains any more. I am not doing this (leaving India) of my own volition. I am being forced to leave. It gives me no great pleasure to do so.”
Nasreen, whose resident permit was extended on February 14 after keeping her on tenterhooks for weeks, says she is not even allowed access to doctors. “I need to urgently consult a cardiologist. I am suffering from high blood pressure. But I am told that I cannot be taken to any hospital, as it will ‘create problems’. So I requested them to bring a doctor (to the ‘safe house’). But even this they refused to do,” she adds.
Unlike previous occasions when she would be feisty and insist that she would not succumb to pressure and leave India, on Monday she sounded tired and despondent. “Aami morey jaabo… ei bhabey thaakley aami baachbo na. (I will die… if I continue to remain in this solitary confinement, I will not survive),” she says, adding, “I want to escape to freedom.”
So is she giving up her fight? “If I don’t live to fight another day, how can I continue with my struggle? I tried my best to stay in India. All I wanted was to be in Kolkata. If I can’t do that, if I cannot be among my friends and the people I love, what’s the use of my staying here?” she shoots back.
And then she becomes despondent again. “Because of high blood pressure caused by stress, I have developed heart disease (hypertrophy) and hypertensive retinopathy, which will eventually cause me to go blind. My blood pressure, if uncontrolled, will destroy my heart and kidneys. Tell me, what should I do?” Nasreen, a qualified doctor who gave up her profession to become a writer, asks.
She claims that her request to visit her apartment in Kolkata to collect her bank cards and some documents before she leaves India has been rejected. “Officials of the Ministry of External Affairs have finally had their way,” she says.
Nasreen, exiled from Bangladesh since 1994 when Islamic fanatics demanded she be sentenced to death for Lajja, was forced to leave Kolkata, where she had been living for two years, after Muslims rioted on November 21 last year, accusing her of being anti-Islam and demanding she be thrown out of the city and the country. She was brought to Delhi via Jaipur and has been in the custody of Central intelligence agencies since November 23 in a 'safe house' in the National Capital Region, from where she is not allowed to step out.
Nasreen's offer to delete ‘controversial’ passages from her autobiographical book, Dwikhondito, has been ignored.

March 18, 2008.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Oh! Calcutta was disappointing

Oh! Calcutta was disappointing
Even during the Swingin’ Sixties, records of the times inform us that official London was quite stuffy and staid, and four-letter words were frowned upon. Films, books and plays were closely monitored for anything that could be considered remotely licentious. Had it been otherwise, the Fab Four would not have made history. So, it isn’t surprising that Mary Whitehouse, who made quite a name for herself as a keeper of public morals, reminding the BBC every now and then that strait is the gate and narrow is the way, should have felt outraged when Kenneth Tynan, a dilettante much in demand in London’s fashionable drawing rooms, managed to smuggle a four-letter word into The Observer and then repeated it on BBC3, a late night show. An incandescent Mary Whitehouse dashed off a letter to the Queen, demanding that Tynan’s “bottom be spanked”. The Queen, of course, demurred, but the House of Commons went into a tizzy and the BBC was forced to issue a public apology.
Whether it was Tynan’s way of getting back at Mary Whitehouse or his craving for what Paul Johnson later described as “calculated self-publicity”, in the late-1960s he began putting together a revue comprising short sketches penned by well-known playwrights and musicians of the time, including Samuel Beckett, John Lennon, Sam Shepard and Edna O’Brien. He named it Oh! Calcutta! after Clovis Trouille’s painting, O quel cul t’as! It had nothing to do with Calcutta of the 1960s (or, for that matter, any other period); O quel cul t’as! is French for ‘What an arse you have!’ Tynan chose it because it fitted in very well with his show which featured total nudity that left the audience gaping. Oh! Calcutta! opened in Off-Broadway in 1969 to furious protests, but it was a huge success: There were 2,400 full house performances in London and 1,600 in New York. In 1976 it was relaunched as a Broadway production and ran for 13 years. Tynan had truly thumbed his nose at Mary Whitehouse and the stuffed shirts of Westminster.
In due course, news of Tynan’s revue reached Calcutta and poor sods not aware of the origin of the name thought it was based on the Second City of the Raj and the play was a celebration of its unique cultural identity. I have heard an apocryphal story that Amrita Bazar Patrika, which printed news in Benglish and was disdainful of English as it is otherwise known, began headlining every city report ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ — for instance, ‘Oh! Calcutta! CMDA digging road’, ‘Oh! Calcutta! Tram breaking down’, ‘Oh! Calcutta! Hangings in early morning’, the last referring to overcrowded buses with people jamming footboards. ‘Oh! Calcutta! Flooding again’ was about waterlogged streets during the monsoon. ‘Oh! Calcutta! Dead body of man found dead’ left little to the reader’s imagination. Funny as the headlines were, they would have been funnier if we were to substitute ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ with the French original, ‘O quel cul t’as!’ I recall my editor at The Statesman, Sunanda K Datta-Ray, telling me how he would rave and rant every time somebody would try to smuggle ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ into the news or editorial pages, and strike it out furiously. “Imagine, a headline that says, ‘Oh! What an arse you have!’ for a story on how the corporation has made a mess of Chowringhee. It’s not funny.”
But Amrita Bazar Patrika, which went out of business years before The Statesman fell on bad times, has had the last laugh. ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ as defined by this newspaper has stuck in the popular imagination. Why else would the owner of a chain of Bengali restaurants in Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai settle on this name? Till last Sunday, I steered clear of Oh! Calcutta because it made me feel queasy thinking of dining at a place that could well have been called, O quel cul tas! After much hesitation I did set foot into the place, accompanied by the three women in my life, for Sunday lunch. The restaurant, at Nehru Place, was jam-packed and we had to wait for a table that had been booked a week ago, which does not speak very highly of service. Nor can a restaurant claim sholo ana Bangaliana if it serves chicken tandoori, whose overpowering smell tends to swamp the delicate flavours of Bengali cuisine.
The food was remarkably bad. The chholaa’r daal was sweet, the shukto (bitter vegetable stew) was overcooked and the chochchori (mish-mash) was watery. The laau-chingri (gourd with prawns) was an amazing concoction in which the laau had been reduced to a gooey mash and the chingri tasted as if they had been made of rubber. The kaankra-shorshey (crabs in mustard sauce) was inedible: The mustard had no zing and the crabs were finger-sized. The fish curry was passable, as was the railway mutton curry. We had to wait for the boiled rice which took an inordinately long time to arrive. The notun gure’r paayesh (rice pudding made with palm jaggery) tasted fine, but the roshogolla had Haldiram Bhujiawala stamped all over, and the ledikeni (named after Lady Canning as it was her favourite sweet) was a poor country cousin of Delhi’s gulab jamun. It truly felt like eating at O quel cul t’as! The tacky décor with bogus Raj prints and Bengali waiters who insisted on speaking in Benglish popularised by Amrita Bazar Patrika as the nationalist alternative to English did not help reduce the pain when the bill arrived. The loo looked snazzy but the flush didn’t work. Worse, the food settled down in my stomach like a lump of lead and made me feel heavy and bloated for the rest of the afternoon. Was I plain unlucky?
Oh, well. At least the woman who keeps home for us had an afternoon off. When we told her about the meal we had had, she smirked, and later at night produced an excellent fish curry-and-rice dinner.

Friday, March 14, 2008

OIC's sinister message

OIC's sinister message
The Organisation of Islamic Conference, whose membership is understandably restricted to 57 Islamic countries, at its meeting in Dakar, Senegal, over Thursday and Friday, has released a report that stands out for its remarkable casuistry. The 'Observatory Report on Islamophobia', a bulky document that lists a variety of imaginary grievances to make the point that Islam is being defamed and Muslims are being discriminated against, is of a piece with the OIC's untiring efforts to promote imagined victimhood as a convenient cover to justify Islamist terror.
In the past, the OIC has lashed out at India for 'suppressing' Muslim aspirations in Jammu & Kashmir; it has now lashed out at the entire world (barring, of course, those countries where Islam rules) for "defamation of Islam and racial intolerance of Muslims". The bulk of the OIC's anger is directed at "Western societies", but that is essentially because it wishes to play to the gallery and reflect the "concerns of the Islamic ummah". The report, however, should cause concern across the world, not least because it seeks a "binding legal instrument" that will delegitimise "negative political and media discourse" on issues with which Islam and Muslims are intimately associated, severely restrict freedom of expression, and force universal acceptance of, if not compliance with, all that is claimed in the name of Islam.
A fortnight before the official unveiling of this compendium of rant against the free world and denunciation of open and plural societies, the OIC Ambassadorial Group at the United Nations issued a statement on Islamophobia in New York on February 29. The statement is a summary of the obnoxious contents of the OIC report; its tone is belligerent and dismissive of dissenting opinion. "The Group is particularly and deeply alarmed by the intensification of the campaign against Islam, as it impairs Muslims' enjoyment of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and impedes their ability to observe, practice and manifest their religion freely and without fear of coercion, violence or reprisal," the statement says.
The statement and the report, however, are deliberately silent on non-Muslims being denied the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - for instance, as has been denied to the Pandits of Kashmir Valley and is now being denied to Hindus in Islamic countries like Malaysia - and thus impeding their ability to observe, practice and manifest their religion freely and without fear of coercion. This is not surprising as the OIC is known for speaking with a forked tongue. Nor is it surprising that it should seek to bring into popular usage a neologism like 'Islamophobia' that serves its sinister agenda, while insisting that others like 'Islamofascism', along with 'radical Islam' and 'Islamic terrorism', must be banned from public discourse. Those who persist with using these terms shall be seen as, and held guilty of, Islamophobia. Terror has a new identity.
Ironically, what Europe is now being accused of owes its origin to entirely misplaced European, more specifically British, faith in 'multiculturalism' which has become the magic password to escape censure for indulging in Islamofascism, the ideology of those who subscribe to radical Islamism. The world first heard of Islamophobia when the Runnymede Trust set up the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia in 1996, much before New York's Twin Towers and the London Underground were bombed. It is no less ironical that the commission's report, 'Islamophobia: A challenge for us all', was released in 1997 in the House of Commons by then Home Secretary Jack Straw. In October 2006, Mr Straw was pitilessly denounced by those who claim to be victims of Islamophobia in Britain and abroad for daring to describe the Islamic veil as a "visible statement of separation and of difference".
By 2004, it was felt necessary to denounce Islamophobia to keep Islamofascists in good humour. In May that year the Council of Europe summit formally "condemned Islamophobia". Seven months later, Mr Kofi Annan, who brought shame and disgrace to his office as UN Secretary-General, gave it the stamp of international recognition by presiding over a conference on 'Confronting Islamophobia'. Between then and now, it has become fashionable to condemn any criticism of radical Islamism and fanaticism of the variety practiced and exported by Saudi Arabia, as Islamophobia, much the same way it is considered politically correct to describe the terrorism of Hamas and Hizbullah as "resistance against Zionism".
The truth is that Islamophobia is not about 'undue fear of Islam'. Well-known scholar Daniel Pipes, who is known to berate those who use Islam to justify their perversions, but not Islam (that has not prevented the OIC from naming him, along with Samuel P Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, and eminent historian Bernard Lewis, as an Islamophobe) says, "While prejudice against Islam certainly exists, Islamophobia deceptively conflates two distinct phenomena: Fear of Islam and fear of radical Islam." So, those who feel repelled by the ideology of radical Islamism and fear the terrible consequences of not putting down its practitioners, are also accused of Islamophobia. Similarly, it has become a convenient tool to silence critics of Islam and reformists within the ummah. It equates freedom to question with racism.
Worse, it gives fanatics the right to abuse others and vilify their faith, secure in the knowledge that anybody who dares protest will be branded an Islamophobe. When Britain toyed with the idea of adopting a law against hate speech, this point was made eloquently by Mr Azzam Tamimi, a senior member of the Muslim Association of Britain, who insisted that while the law should gag critics of Islam, it should not prevent Muslims from berating other religions since it is their 'duty' to do so, or from glorifying Palestinian suicide bombers because, as he put it, "We love death, they love life." Mr Tamimi, curiously, is a leading light of the 'Stop the War Coalition'.
Similarly, criticism of textbooks used in a London school funded by Saudi Arabia, describing Jews as "repugnant" and Christians as "pigs", would be considered Islamophobia, as would any attempt to rein in Islamist terrorist outfits anywhere in the world. When the British Government tried to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, it struck back by launching a 'Stop Islamophobia' campaign on British campuses. Apart from referring to the 9/11 terrorists as the "magnificent 19", as was done by its prominent leader Omar Bakri Mohammed, who later floated Al-Mohajiroun and now sends out e-mail 'advising' Muslim youth from his hideout in Lebanon, Hizb ut-Tahrir is guilty of practising anti-Semitism, abusing Hindus and Hinduism, and preaching that "suicide bombers go straight to heaven". To stand up to Hizb ut-Tahrir, therefore, amounts to Islamophobia.
Closer home, the Students Islamic Movement of India, which has been banned for being a terrorist organisation, insists that it is being targeted because its members are scrupulous adherents of Islam. Hence, if the OIC report is to be taken seriously and its definition of Islamophobia accepted, the order banning SIMI is a manifestation of Islamophobia. The Government of India is equally guilty of Islamophobia for providing dissident Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen with a resident permit. And, those in media who refuse to endorse the humiliation of Gudiyas and the persecution of Imranas by the ulema, and believe there is a connection between radical Islamism and Islamist terrorism, stand accused of "targeting Muslims and Islam".
We can afford to ignore the ringing message from Dakar only at the expense of the values that set us apart from those who decree that a woman who has been raped should be publicly flogged, if not stoned to death.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Artistic freedom yes, but not with Aurangzeb

Artistic freedom yes, but not with Aurangzeb
Artistic freedom in increasingly 'secular' India has come to mean the right to denigrate Jesus Christ and Goddess Shakti, as was done by a callow student of the fine arts faculty of Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda last year. But permission to exhibit exquisite miniatures and firmans related to Aurangzeb has been denied, because 15 Muslims and a bogus nawab have demanded so.
French journalist Francois Gautier's Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism (FACT) has painstakingly -- and at great expense -- put together a collection of 40 miniatures and firmans that tell the story of Aurangzeb's rule. The exhibition is called Aurangzeb as he was according to Mughal records. "We have taken care to present all facets of Aurangzeb, including his piety," says Gautier.
The collection was first exhibited to critical acclaim at the Habitat Centre in New Delhi. It next travelled to Pune where one lakh people visited the show. It was equally well received in Bangalore where the popular Gallery G hosted the exhibition. FACT then decided to take the collection to Chennai where it was supposed to be exhibited at the Lalit Kala Akademi from March 3 to 9.
The exhibition was inaugurated by N Vittal, former Chief Vigilance Commissioner, and B Raman, security expert and former R&AW official, March 3 at 5 pm. Some 100 people attended the inauguration. Since March 4, a continuous stream of people came to see the exhibits.
On March 5, a group of 15 Muslims (Gautier says "they were no more than six") affiliated to the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam, Manitha Neethi Paasarai and other Muslim organisations, entered the exhibition hall and confronted FACT volunteers who were present there. Raising their voice, they rubbished the show and alleged that it did not portray the right image of 'their' Aurangzeb.
"They threatened they wouldn't allow the show to go on, that they would send hundreds of protesters after Friday prayers from a nearby mosque," says Gautier. The organisers lodged a complaint with the local police station and the next day policemen were posted at Lalit Kala Akademi.
Meanwhile, RM Palaniappan, manager of Lalit Kala Akademi, rattled by the protest by 15 men, asked FACT to pack up and leave. He panicked after Assistant Commissioner of Police KN Murali visited the exhibition hall, had a cursory look at the miniatures and firmans (written in Persian and hence unintelligible to him), worked himself into a rage and shouted at the organisers, lacing his diatribe with expletives, before stomping off, threatening to return.
On March 6, Prince of Arcot Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali made a surprise visit to the exhibition at 3 pm. After spending some time looking at the miniatures and the firmans, he lashed out at FACT volunteers and accused them of "misrepresenting facts". He was particularly enraged by two miniatures -- the first depicted Aurangzeb's army destroying the Somnath temple and the second showed the destruction of the Kesava Rai temple in Mathura.
He insisted that the paintings amounted to "fabrication and distortion of history" and that Aurangzeb had never done anything to harm the Hindus. He demanded that the exhibition be immediately shut down and said he would take up the issue with "higher authorities" in the State Government. Later, the 'Prince of Arcot' issued a Press statement, claiming, "the exhibition seemed to dwell only on Aurangazeb's alleged misdeeds and not a word about his munificent contribution. The exhibition would only promote enmity between various groups."
By Thursday, March 7, "higher authorities" in Tamil Nadu Government had issued instructions to the police to shut down the exhibition. Murali, along with his men, stormed into the exhibition hall on Thursday evening and began taking down the paintings. "He was looking for the paintings showing the destruction of Somnath and Kesava Rai temples. He threw them to the floor," said a FACT volunteer.
The police say they acted after receiving "three complaints that the show would disturb communal harmony". They wanted the exhibition to be shut down immediately as the next day was Friday. The police also forcibly took into custody three FACT volunteers -- Saraswathi (65), D Vijayalakshmi (62) and Malathi (47) -- although women cannot be detained after sunset in police stations. They were not allowed to contact their families.
The hall has been sealed and FACT has no idea about the fate of the paintings and other exhibits, including the priceless firmans. "I am told some of the paintings have been damaged beyond repair. This is shocking, especially because what we have witnessed is vandalism by the police," says Gautier.

Khalistan, via US, Britain, Canada

Khalistan, via US, Britain, Canada
An artist's drawing of the Air India trial shows (L to R) accused Ripudaman Singh Malik holding a book and co-accused Ajaib Singh Bagri in bare feet in the Vancouver Law Courts, Vancouver
This past week there have been worrisome reports about attempts to reignite separatist violence in Punjab by inciting Sikh youth to revive the demand for 'Khalistan' with the help of funds collected abroad and more than a little involvement of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence. India, more so Punjab, had to pay a terrible price on account of Khalistani terrorism during the 1980s and 1990s; countless human lives were lost, innumerable families were devastated and young minds were scarred forever.
The genesis of those years of blood-letting was the cynical ploy of the Congress to promote a rabid preacher of hate, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, as a countervailing force to the Akali Dal. Rajiv Gandhi, as a callow politician being groomed for the 'big' job by Mrs Indira Gandhi, much like his son, Rahul, is being groomed today by Ms Sonia Gandhi, had famously described Bhindranwale, responsible for the slaughter of innocent men, women and children, many of them Sikhs, as a "man of religion". Coincidentally or otherwise, reports of attempts to revive the Khalistani movement come at a time when the Congress is in power at the Centre and the Akali Dal rules Punjab.
We know the tragic consequences of that initial blunder by the Congress - Operation Blue Star was Mrs Indira Gandhi's desperate attempt to put an end to a strategy that had gone horribly wrong; it didn't quite serve that purpose. In the end, the Frankenstein's monster she had helped create devoured her, triggering the horrendous pogrom that saw Congress lynch mobs massacring 4,733 Sikhs, most of them in the streets of Delhi.
But the blood-soaked Khalistan story did not end in 1984. Next year, 'Emperor Kanishka', Air India's Flight 181/182 from Toronto to Mumbai via Montreal, London and Delhi, was blown up off the Irish coast, killing all 329 people on board. Peace continued to elude Punjab where casualties had ceased to matter. The ISI, by then in command of the Khalistanis, kept the fire of separatism alive, fuelling it with money, Kalashnikovs and explosives. It took the combined efforts of a determined Chief Minister, Beant Singh, and a tough police chief, Mr KPS Gill, to douse the blaze.
Beant Singh's assassination was perhaps the last act of terrorism before the guns began to fall silent. With the Khalistanis routed, there was jubilation in Punjab and across India. I recall spending a week travelling across Punjab, marvelling at the peace that had descended on the troubled land. Accompanied by my wife and my elder daughter, who was then a child, we travelled at night on roads that till a few months ago were known as 'death zones'.
Gurdwaras that had been taken over by extremists now wore a festive look. Our most moving encounter was with a young granthi who had deserted the Army after Operation Blue Star to join Babbar Khalsa, but later repented his decision and surrendered to the police. Dedicating his life to the Panth was his way of seeking forgiveness; it was his act of repentance. But many others like him were not so lucky - they either fell to police bullets or just disappeared, leaving behind families burdened with memories.
Strangely, those who played Dr Faust to Pakistan's ISI and instigated young men to pick up AK-47s have never been brought to justice. They continue to be ensconced in their plush homes in the US, Canada and Britain, and still dream of Khalistan. Dr Gurmit Singh Aulakh, 'President' of the 'Council of Khalistan' with offices in Washington, DC, has access to huge 'private funds' and continues to lobby with American politicians to press his case.
Among those who actively back Dr Aulakh are Mr Edolphus Towns, member of the House of Representatives from New York who wants the US to declare India a "terrorist state", former Senator Jesse Helms and, across the Atlantic, Lord Avebury in Britain. Dr Aulakh's website is indicative of his faith in terrorism, yet the US Administration has chosen not to touch him. When I met him in Washington, DC, in the fall of 1990, Dr Aulakh spent more than an hour lecturing me about the "atrocities being committed by India against Sikhs" in the "occupied nation of Khalistan". After listening to his jaundiced version of events, I retorted that he was talking gibberish. The Indian American who had set up the meeting was horrified by my feisty response; Dr Aulakh looked at me witheringly; and the tea never came. Eighteen years later, he is older but not wiser. Or else he would not still dream of Khalistan.
Jagjit Singh Chauhan, who described himself as the 'President of Khalistan', was more welcoming when we met in London at a common friend's house in Islington. Having served as Finance Minister and Deputy Speaker of the Punjab Assembly, Chauhan continued to maintain a vast network of contacts in the State even after moving to Britain in 1971. There was no dearth of funds and he even had 'Republic of Khalistan' passports, currency and postage stamps printed that he would provide in exchange of British pounds and American and Canadian dollars. If I remember correctly, one Khalistani 'dollar' was valued at one American dollar. I was tempted to purchase a Khalistani passport as a keepsake, but better sense prevailed.
By 2001, Chauhan was a decrepit man, resigned to the fact that he would not live to see Khalistan. He struck a deal with the Government of India and returned to his hometown, Tanda, in Hoshiarpur district. His Khalsa Raj Party remained a letterhead organisation and the man who had once hoisted the 'Flag of Khalistan' at Anandpur Sahib died a broken man last year. But there are many wealthy Sikhs in Britain who continue to subscribe to Chauhan's separatist ideology and ardently believe that Amritsar shall be the capital of Khalistan. Funds continue to be collected; it is anybody's guess as to how the money is spent.
If we were to look for the real instigators trying to rekindle the flames of Khalistani terror, we would find them in Canada, more specifically in British Columbia. To a certain extent, American and European authorities have realised the folly of not cracking down on Khalistanis during the 1980s and 1990s. But in Canada, the Government continues to remain as indulgent as it was in 1985 when 'Emperor Kanishka' was bombed over the Atlantic.
Just how indulgent the Canadian Government is can be gauged from the fact that neither Ripudaman Singh Malik nor Ajaib Singh Bagri, who plotted the bombing of 'Emperor Kanishka', has had to pay for his sins. They have been declared 'not guilty' by a judge who refused to accept overwhelming evidence against them as being conclusive enough to convict them. Both are now claiming damages running into millions of dollars - and possibly plotting how to revive their industry of death and destruction.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

US too pushy with nuclear deal

US too pushy with N-deal
Americans want Indians to believe they know what's good for this country and are pushing for an early closure of the nuclear deal. This is gunboat diplomacy in disguise: Coercive tactics couched as constant, mounting pressure. Should India get hustled?
Back in 1850, a Gibraltar-born British subject, David Pacifico, was 'harmed' in Athens. The British Foreign Office imperiously demanded that Pacifico be 'compensated', but King Otto chose not to oblige. Lord Palmerston, the British Foreign Secretary, was incandescent with rage and ordered the Royal Navy to blockade the Greek port of Piraeus. Many consider this to be the origin of latter day 'gunboat diplomacy', though others insist it began with the British sending a gunboat up the Yangtse river to quell the Chinese rebellion during the Opium War.
Over the centuries, powerful countries, taking a cue from Lord Palmerston (and/or whoever decided to despatch a gunboat up the Yangtse) have devised various coercive methods to force foreign Governments to toe their line, taking recourse to gunboat diplomacy. As a contemporary commentator has said, "Government's use of coercion is now a well-oiled machine" -- gears are shifted depending upon who is being coerced. After 9/11, the Bush Administration despatched Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Islamabad with a simple message for Gen Pervez Musharraf: If Pakistan did not join the US war on terror, "we will bomb you back to the Stone Age".
But such crude coercive tactics cannot be used by the US against India in its effort to push through the civil nuclear cooperation agreement, which the Americans seem to want more than Indians do. If the absence of support for the deal in Parliament is any indication, only a section, and not all of, the Congress-led UPA Government wants the deal to come through; many among the votaries of the deal do not have the foggiest idea about what the Hyde Act is all about or the technical details of the 123 Agreement.
That, however, has not prevented the US Administration from 'stepping on the gas' and, at times gently and on other occasions bluntly, telling India to hurry along and close the deal because Washington believes it is good for this country. Gunboats have not been sent to the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea, but an endless stream of deal-pushers have been jetting their way to New Delhi where awe-struck mediapersons are told -- and they dutifully report -- that great benefits lie in India signing on the dotted line. This is gunboat diplomacy by another name, a more sophisticated version of what Mr Armitage told Gen Musharraf.
This "we-know-what's-best-for-you" attitude has been on display right from the beginning when the US first offered the deal in July 2005 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left for Washington, DC, without any knowledge of the contents of the crucial portion of the final draft of the joint statement; he got to see it only on arrival.
Recall Mr Singh's statement in the Lok Sabha: "I hope I am not revealing a secret. I think when the final draft came to me from the US side, I made it quite clear to them that I will not sign on any document which did not have the support of the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. It held up our negotiations for about 12-15 hours." Mr Anil Kakodkar, the AEC chairperson, was not a member of Mr Singh's delegation; he was in Beijing when the Americans sprang the surprise. He was asked to take the first flight to Washington, DC, arriving on the eve of the signature ceremony.
Between then and 2007, there was little movement as the US discovered India was no pushover, that Parliament could not be ignored, and that not all Indians are convinced that it is a 'win-win' arrangement. With time running out for the Bush Administration, which is keen to showcase the nuclear deal as its 'foreign policy achievement' in the absence of any other visible successes abroad, the US began to mount pressure in the last quarter of 2007, insisting that India must begin negotiations with the IAEA.
Such was the urgency to get the deal moving, Mr Bush called up Mr Singh while the latter was in Africa. Even Mr Henry Kissinger, who ordered the Seventh Fleet into the Bay of Bengal in 1971, was trotted out to sell the deal. The American pressure worked and India began negotiations with the IAEA, which are now believed to have reached near-conclusion.
That done, the US has now begun to put pressure for an early closure of the IAEA negotiations, so that it can seek India-specific exemptions from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers' Group, which is scheduled to meet in Berlin in May. After that, the deal is only an up-or-down vote in the US Congress away, and Mr Bush could yet claim a foreign policy success heavily weighed in America's favour. Senator Joseph Biden has summed up the US's policy gains with his trenchant comment, "(The deal) will limit the size and sophistication of India's nuclear weapons programme." This is apart from commercial gains that will accrue to American firms.
Mr Biden has been economical with his words. The US has a two-fold strategic stake in the nuclear deal. First, it will make India more than just a strategic partner. Given the geopolitical realities of the 21st century, nations mindful of their national interest are pursuing multiple partnerships with different players in diverse settings. The deal seeks to prevent India from doing that; the US wants India to become a new Japan or Britain, a 'faithful ally' who will not look elsewhere but only up to America. Second, the deal is the means to prevent India from emerging as a full-fledged nuclear-weapons state and bringing it into the US-led non-proliferation regime -- America's central goal since Pokhran-II -- even if this strategically disadvantages New Delhi vis-à-vis Beijing.
Meanwhile, the UPA Government's not-so-strange inability to read the writing on the wall has prompted Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee to tell Parliament on March 3: "The Hyde Act is an enabling provision that is between the executive and the legislative organs of the US Government... India's rights and obligations regarding civil nuclear cooperation with the US arise only from the bilateral 123 Agreement that we have agreed upon with the US." Mr Richard Boucher, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs and the latest deal-seller to visit New Delhi, had a different, and more correct, take on this issue. He told newspersons on March 5: "The Hyde Act is a domestic legislation and the 123 Agreement is an international agreement. I think we can move forward with both in a consistent manner."
For a better understanding of Mr Boucher's comment, take a look at what US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on February 14: "We will support nothing with India in the NSG that is in contradiction to the Hyde Act. It will have to be completely consistent with the obligations of the Hyde Act".

Banning books doesn't work

Banning books doesn't work
A book, an essay and a film have run into trouble in recent days. The Bundelas, to use a cliché, are up in arms against London-based author Jaishree Misra and want the Union Government to impose a ban on her novel, Rani, a fictional account of the life and times of Rani Lakshmibai published by Penguin. The book has already been banned in Uttar Pradesh where politicians not known for either rectitude or probity have feigned outrage over Jaishree Misra's audacious suggestion that Rani Lakshmibai, immortalised in folklore as the chaste and brave Jhansi ki Rani, had an affair with Robert Ellis, the British political agent. Meanwhile, the Bundelas are incensed that the author should have claimed Raja Gangadhar Rao was impotent. MM Kaye was wise not to identify the dissolute raja in her bestseller (later made into a popular television serial) The Far Pavilions, as was JR Ackerley, who displayed exemplary inventiveness while fudging the identity of the degenerate ruler in his Hindoo Holiday - An Indian Journal.
The demand to ban Rani, however, has been largely peaceful, unlike the agitation against the inclusion of 'Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation', an essay by AK Ramanujam, in the recommended reading material for students of history in Delhi University. It appears that a committee of teachers compiled the reading material two years ago; it is only now that Ramanujam's essay has raised the hackles of the ABVP whose members ransacked the university's Arts Faculty on February 25. The ABVP insists Ramanujam, an acclaimed scholar of the Ramayan tradition, has 'defamed' Ram. "It goes against everything we have been taught as children. What is the point of applying logic to religion? It is a matter of faith," says Manil Mayank Mishra, an activist of the ABVP. In their belligerent mood, Mishra and his fellow activists are missing out on two points. First, Ramanujam has referred to the various Ramayan traditions that exist; rubbishing him and trashing his essay would mean repudiating the existence of these traditions. Second, it is not a theological text that lays down the line for the faithful; it is an academic exploration that has nothing to do with either religion or logic.
Often our response to that which we perceive to be offensive is no more than knee-jerk reaction. A case in point is the hostility with which the Rajput Sabha has greeted Ashutosh Gowarikar's film, Jodhaa Akbar. The film is clearly an attempt to cash in on an alleged episode of history, which by all accounts and available records of the period, never really happened. It is a frivolous film that seeks to dazzle viewers rather than recreate Akbar's foray into Rajputana; to do that, it would require more than a pea-brained Bollywood director. Does that mean Ashutosh Gowarikar's jaundiced version of history should go unchallenged? Not really. After all, it is in conflict with what history texts tell us and what children learn in school, and later in colleges and universities. It does serve to perpetuate the myth about Akbar's impeccable secular credentials, but Bollywood need not worry itself silly about such political concerns. Sensing trouble, the film's distributors have steered clear of Rajasthan, thus sparing Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje the trouble of calming riotous mobs. What they had not anticipated was Rajputs in Madhya Pradesh taking to the streets, forcing the State Government to impose what was clearly an ill-advised ban that has since been set aside by the High Court. So, how do we deal with truly disgraceful films like Jodhaa Akbar? Not by banning them or by threatening violence. If our pride as a nation -- the history of Rajputana is integral to the history of India -- is hurt by such wilful distortion of history by a callous film-maker -- or a writer, for that matter -- then we should just boycott it. No multiplex will screen a film, nor will a bookshop stock a book, if there are no profits to be reaped.
In this context, it is amusing to note how some champions of 'freedom of expression', 'tolerance' and 'liberalism' have sought to put down the anger generated by Ashutosh Gowarikar's disregard for facts as "hooliganism" and "fascism". Such strong words were not heard when Rajiv Gandhi ordered the ban on Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses or when the Congress encouraged its State Governments to ban the screening of Ron Howard's film, The Da Vinci Code, based on Dan Brown's eponymous book, alleging it hurt the sentiments of Christians. Before that, another Congress Government at the Centre had banned Martin Scorsese's cinematic version of The Last Temptation of Christ, written by celebrated Greek author Nicos Kazantzakis, citing similar reasons. In sharp contrast, the Censor Board had no compunctions about giving a 'U' certificate to Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ whose gory scenes cannot but scar young minds and whose portrayal of Biblical history is not entirely free of anti-Semitism. Nobody insisted that the film's distributors should insert a parental advisory or a disclaimer about its historical accuracy.
Yet, a Government that bans, to public acclaim, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom because of its latent racism, also proscribes Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, unmindful of the lurid versions of Vatsayana's treatise -- the coffee table editions are clearly meant to shock and awe -- that are on sale in bookshops, at kiosks and on pavements. The urge to save the masses from the corrupting influence of 'obscenity' does not, however, extend to prohibiting the sale of Playboy and Penthouse DVDs that are now openly displayed in music and movie stores under the category of 'Health & Physical Fitness'. Curiously though, both Playboy and Penthouse are listed as contraband items in the little black book that Customs officials carry. Which only goes to show how meaningless it is to ban a book or a film, especially in this day and age when anything and everything is only a click of the mouse away. It was as meaningless before the information superhighway made a mockery of official restrictions. Let's not forget that despite Chief Justice M Hidayatullah ruling in favour of the ban on DH Lawrence's novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, in 1964, the book continued -- and continues -- to be available.
So, the next time we ask for a ban on a book, an essay or a film to assuage our hurt feelings, let us also bear in mind that it shall serve no purpose other than allowing desecrators of another shade to seize the moral high ground. We are seeing this happen in Delhi University where Left-wing activists, who are no paragons of 'tolerance', are out denouncing the ABVP as a "communal fascist force".